Fortune Favors The Prepared

My “Little Bee Eater Toss Moth In Air Before Swallowing” image made the top one hundred images in the NANPA Expressions 2016 photo contest.

My 2016 NANPA Expressions Top 100 Winner
Little Bee Eater Tosses Moth In Air Before Swallowing
Little Bee Eater Tosses Moth In Air Before Swallowing

My “Little Bee Eater Tosses Moth In Air Before Swallowing” image made the top one hundred images in the NANPA Expressions 2016 photo contest. There were around four thousand images submitted, to make the top one hundred is a high honor indeed.

STORY BEHIND THE IMAGE:

We were in Tarangire National Park, the fourth day of our three-week safari. We had driven most of this particular morning and were at the edge of the large Lormakau Swamp. My friend John who organized the trip is a bird photographer like me. As a result, we weren’t just after the big five. In fact, John knew our driver and had especially requested him, because they had built up a good relationship over John’s previous trips to East Africa. Both the guide/driver and John loved birds and shared that love with each other. On the most difficult sightings when they would disagree about the identification, I would keep a mental scorecard of who was right and periodically announce who was ahead. They were very competitive in a friendly way.

John’s wife and I were keeping a bird species list as we went from National Park to National Park. During this particular moment, we were photographing a big bull elephant feeding on the edge of the swamp. On the hillside above the swamp where we were parked, there were several large bushes with open branches on top. Since we had been stationary for quite a while. The little bee-eaters resumed their hunting and sallying from these bushes. They came down the slope sparsely dotted with acacia trees. Important was staying put, this allowed the bee-eaters to become accustomed to our presence. Because they were so close, both John and I were watching this particular bee-eater with our cameras trained on it. When it sallied out it would usually come back to the same perch; we didn’t attempt to track our cameras out trying to get an image of it flying. Our focus remained on the perch when it came back with the moth, we were ready when it tossed the moth into the air, before eating. John and I got the shot. A fortune shot, yes, but those who are prepared and observant do get the prize.

A fortune shot, yes, but those who are prepared and observant do get the prize.

TECHNICAL DETAILS:

Equipment: Canon D7 body, 600 mm IS f4.0 lens, with a 1.4x Canon III teleconverter, 840 mm at 1/3200 of a sec, f6.3, ISO 1250, Pattern Metering, no flash.

Technique: 600 mm lens mounted on a bean bag from the top of A Safari Type Landrover vehicle.

Processing:  Some darkening of the background and slight reduction of overall contrast with Nik Viveza. Raw conversion with Photoshop ARC, some cropping.

NANPA 2016 Bird Winners:

NANPA Site Bird Winner Image

This image is also part of my Wildlife Beyond Borders collection. You can view the rest of the images here. My Astounding World of Birds.

Also, you can find more information about this incredible collection of images at our Facebook page.

https://www.facebook.com/wildlifebeyondborders/

Practicing Photography Close To Home

 

Practicing Photography Close To Home

(Zoo Photography)
The Bald Eagle Look
The Bald Eagle Look

Fantastic animal and bird photography can be done close to home. You don’t have to travel to faraway lands. I am advocating for taking images in your backyard and at local wild areas around where you live. Of course, if you love wildlife and can afford to go, a safari to Africa is a trip of a lifetime. So yes, definitely go if you can, but if you can’t travel to these iconic wildlife destinations. Concentrate on practicing your craft locally. Even if you are in an urban area, there are still places to go. One of my places to practice nature photography is at your local zoo.

Prairie Dogs Show Affection
Prairie Dogs Show Affection

Now, I am not a supporter of having animals in small cages or animals treated without care, dignity, and proper respect. Wildlife Parks and zoos have become much better recently at providing good care for animals that cannot be released to the wild. In fact, I would not go to or support, any place that mistreats animals within their care. Most of us can go to local wildlife areas, preserves, shorelines, parks, preserves without the exorbitant costs of foreign travel. Here in the Bay Area, we have been blessed with a large green belt that surrounds our mostly urban areas. The San Francisco Bay itself provides great shorebird photography opportunities, being a special place on the western migration route of many birds.

Even if you are planning a trip abroad or to Africa, a trip to your local zoo, can be beneficial. By learning a new camera’s menu and controls of a recently purchased camera body, so when you get to Africa you are not fumbling with these controls and making the wrong settings decisions. Practice makes perfect or at least gets photographers a long way towards making great images. The process of photography and making images becomes second nature with practice, and allows you to be in that focused Zen-like state of total concentration.

The Face Of A Ring-tailed Lemur
The Face Of A Ring-tailed Lemur

For beginners especially, a local zoo can be a great place to learn, improve, and develop your technical as well as your visual skills. My favorite technique is to use a 600 mm lens to isolate subjects and remove the man-made elements that you naturally find at zoos. I have used this lens for a long time and have had much practice with it.

Male Peacock Portrait
Male Peacock Portrait

In fact, these type of images has become a calling card—my style. One problem with long lenses is the weight, and thus I have a special cart(1) that I can wheel around with my lens, tripod, and camera, securely tied down, and ready to use at a moment’s notice. This allows me to create engaging animal portraits, without showing the hand of man.

The composition of animal portraits is very similar to that of people portraits. What to include and what to exclude decisions, posing, and the position of the animal in the frame, as well as learning how light affects your final image. Making decisions on aperture, exposure, and which shutter speed and ISO combination to use, all the while waiting for the decisive moment to occur. With the goal to capture arresting behavior and interesting facial expressions. Focusing is another element where practicing is essential. Decisive or peak moments of action and behavior are fleeting and almost split second in nature, with practice, you can capture a great percentage of these moments. Before taking that once in a lifetime trip to exotic lands like Africa, go to your local zoo or wildlife preserve and enhance your skills by practicing. I have included some of my best zoo images here for review so you can see for yourself that works of art and wonderful portraits of animals are possible.

Golden Eagle Head Shoulder Portrait
Golden Eagle Head Shoulder Portrait

Become experience and competent with your camera, develop and improve your skills before you go to Africa, you will be rewarded that you did make this effort and happy taking the time to do so.

If you love wildlife photography like I do, then, you’ll have fun and the exciting experience watching your efforts come alive as works of art that “sings with beauty”.

(1) http://www.eckla.de/en/eckla-beach-rolly.html

Meercat Resting On The Back Of Another
Meercat Resting On The Back Of Another
Female Gorilla Eats With Her Fingers
Female Gorilla Eats With Her Fingers

 

 

 

Songs Gone Silent

Male Northern Cardinal
© 2013 Bruce Finocchio — Male Northern Cardinal

Songs Gone Silent

Each morning a bird call awakens me. Its song is familiar yet unknown. I have not been able to identify it yet, to come know what species makes its familiar call. It’s bothering me not to know. Nevertheless, it is very pleasing to hear each morning–like hearing an old friend’s voice again after a long absence.

Imagine the world without songbirds–without bird songs to wake you in the morning. The world would be diminished, and Rachel Carson’s vision of a “Silent Spring” would be realized. How sad would that day be, not to hear the thrilling sound of birdcalls? Have their calls only remembrances in our dreams!

© 2013 Bruce Finocchio --Immature Male Vermilion Flycatcher
© 2013 Bruce Finocchio –Immature Male Vermilion Flycatcher

Songbird populations across the world are in trouble. From the pesticides that worried Rachel Carson, “to the feral and domestic cats catching many birds in their claws, to those who die in collisions with skyscrapers, communication towers, wind turbines, and even glass windows and doors of suburban homes.”(1) Just the other day, I found a female Lesser Goldfinch outside of my glass back door lying dead on my backyard porch. It happens more than you realize.

Habitat fragmentation is a great concern as our world becomes more commercialized for our needs. Our exponential growing populations place greater demands upon the natural world. As more of wild nature succumbs to our human environments and less and less is left for wild creatures including songbirds. As we pave over, build our structures, and alter the world’s surroundings to meet our needs and wants. There simply are fewer and fewer places for songbirds to live and flourish.

Black-crested Titmouse On A Mesquite Branch
Black-crested Titmouse On A Mesquite Branch

Bird populations are falling fast; we have lost almost half the songbirds that filled the skies forty years ago, by some counts over a billion birds.(1)  Year by year more songbirds become endangered of going extinct. One of my large bird books has a picture of a passenger pigeon. An artist drawing of a beautiful bird of subtle pastel colors. Wow, I say to myself when I see this picture. I would have loved a chance to see one alive. However, it is extinct, and no long possible to see one fly in the sky, yet over a hundred and fifty years ago, millions blotted the skies of the eastern North America.

© 2010 Bruce Finocchio --Male Mountain Bluebird
© 2010 Bruce Finocchio –Male Mountain Bluebird

Ultimately, I think it comes down to a choice. Our generation and the next must decide to save and protect our natural world, preserving the diversity of life on our wonderful living planet.  Now we alone hold the future of life on earth in our hands. We must change our thoughts and actions from one of domination to one of coexistence.

Evolve enough to understand, I am because of you; I am because of other life forms. (2) Relearn that humankind has not woven the web of life. We are but one thread within it. Whatever we do to the web; we do to ourselves. All living things are bound together. All living things are interconnected and dependent on each other for survival. (3)

Beautiful Male Cassin's Finch
Beautiful Male Cassin’s Finch

Otherwise, if we don’t relearn and absorb these lessons, take it to heart; it will be very bad and a very sad hour for mankind. No more melodic birds’ songs will grace the airways and bring music to our ears each every morning we awaken to greet a new day. Truly, their songs of life will go silent for the last time.

Nature has incredible restorative powers. Life has an indomitable spirit. If we make the right choice, then there is optimism. Hope for mankind and for a better future. Eventually, my singing songbird will come out of the dense tree foliage, and I’ll have my identification. I will have kept at it; the way mankind must persevere in the coming decades.

Bruce Finocchio is one of the WBB photographers who images are currently showing at the Art Ark Gallery in San Jose, California. Meet Bruce and the other WBB photographers at the June 3 reception from 5:00 to 9:00 PM, and hear their incredible stories of photographing wildlife all over the world, and how they take their work from “Beauty to Deeper Understanding”.

Register for the Reception: Register Here

 

(1) 1,000,000,000 Birds – Just Gone by Austin Baily, Daily Kos, 5/20/16

(2)Boyd Varty, Ubuntu, I am; because of you.

(3) Paraphrasing Chief Seattle’s famous words

 

 

Taken For Granted

Mesquite Frames A Calling Audubon Oriole
Mesquite Frames A Calling Audubon Oriole

Taken For Granted

Taken for granted are the sounds of nature, bird songs in the morning’s dawn, the whispers of the wind gently touching your face, and the powerful smell of raw wilderness. These are a few of the healing and soothing gifts of the natural world.

Male Allen's Hummingbird Does Tail and Wing Stretch On Cape Heath
Male Allen’s Hummingbird Does Tail and Wing Stretch On Cape Heath

Too often today, we have divorced ourselves from nature. This loss of connection has sent us adrift. Most of us are ill without even knowing it. There is so much nature can bestow upon us if we accept its gifts and live close to it. A timeless peace, a sense of harmony and balance, and a belief in the essential goodness of life are a few of the benefits of living with nature.

I have a friend who is a morning person. He would get up very early before dawn and prepare some coffee on the gas burning stove at the cabin we shared. Then, he would go outside with his cup of coffee and wait for dawn to break and watch the day begin. He would listen to the birds’ songs begin as the night passed to day, as the darkness faded minute by minute. This simple act gave him peace and rid him of the anxiety created by life in the modern world. I treasured sharing these moments with him; they became part of my early exposure to tranquil powers of the wild.

We shared another passion. He fueled my desire to learn about the birds whose calls we heard, to distinguish one from another, to learn their calls by heart, and discover their unique behavior of each individual species. I started my first species list. The mysterious California Thrasher whose spring calls from the tops of the chamise bushes first intrigued us became the first species on the list.

Black-crested Titmouse On A Mesquite Branch
Black-crested Titmouse On A Mesquite Branch

Yet, at some point keeping a list was not enough, nor was just taking their pictures. After a few years, I took my creative passion to capturing their beauty, their very essence, and their spirit of life. I now have gone a step further with my art and my photography to capturing the sacredness of life itself.

In this way, I can share this sacredness of nature with others. Through my images, they can glimpse within their hearts and minds the mystery and wonder of the natural world–regenerating the strings that once connected and attached them to the earth. They can learn not to take nature for granted, especially the morning serenade of bird songs, and again become part of the sacred circle of life itself.

Pileated Woodpeckers Chicks Beg Mother For More Food
Pileated Woodpeckers Chicks Beg Mother For More Food

Here with my Wildlife Beyond Borders collection of bird images, I hope to ignite the love of birds, spark feelings of marvel in their brilliant colors, and open people’s hearts to their unique world. Wherever we are in our daily life we must listen, and not take nature’s gestures for granted, for bird songs are windows into the natural world.

Some may say this is the fanciful thinking of an idealistic dreamer. Yet, I believe in the power of nature to heal, comfort and soothe the human soul. All my life experiences with nature have led me to know this truth.

Come to the Wildlife Beyond Borders reception at Keeble and Shuchat and learn more. Meet my fellow artists Mary Aiu, Susan Carnahan, Diane Rebman, Wendy Hannum, and Oliver Klink. Reception is Saturday, April 16, 2016, from 2:00 PM to 5:00 PM at Keeble and Shuchat, 290 California Avenue, Palo Alto, CA 94306.

To register for the VIP at 1:00 PM and/or Main Event click register link below

Register

A Few Tips For Nature and Wildlife Photography

Guest Blog Post by Peggy Bechtell

Nature or Wildlife Photography

Camera Settings: Aperture priority, f4 to blur background, ISO 800, Drive Mode. F11-F16 for surroundings – carry large black plastic bag to lay on the ground. Often my camera is on a tripod with pistol grip head for tracking.

Stance: Eye level with animal or below = grandeur
Back to the wind with birds – they take off and land into the wind.
Soft Front light directly facing animal with for close-up face shots, and eyes of big cats.
Sidelight = nice texture for fun and feathers.
Backlight = silhouettes, reflections, and glow around the animal.

What to watch for: Patterns of behavior. Birds move differently just before flight. They will often start looking around with more agitation just before takeoff. Eagles generally poop before take-off. Watch wildlife for a while to learn their patterns which almost always repeat. Anticipate behaviors and start firing before the anticipated behavior occurs.

If you see the behavior in your viewfinder, you have missed it.

Patience, Patience, Patience. It is fun to just sit back and enjoy the animal you want to photograph. You will learn a lot, enjoy a lot, and know when to take the picture. For tracking, practice focusing and firing on moving broom, then the handle.

Where to focus: On the eye of the animal when there is a catch light in it = tack sharp face

Where to get information on wildlife: PSA has a membership service which puts you in touch with photographers in the area you are going to.
Fixers (Guides) are available on the internet for areas and animals you want. Local farmers and rangers often know about local animals, the best locations and times of day to see them.

by Peggy Bechtell – bechtell@comcast.net

 

Reviewing Images

A Second and Third Look
Through Your Images

After a long trip to Africa or Alaska, where you have taken many images, and hopefully some specials ones. Upon first review, you go through your images and think you got all the best ones marked out. Sometimes you are so excited you potentially could miss an image that’s really a star. One of the best ones of your trip.

Bald Eagle In Flight
Bald Eagle In Flight

I actually flagged this one and rated it, but never did anything with it until now. Sometime a second pass, or a third pass through your images after a reflective period of time gives you some gems out of rough stones that are most of your raw captures.

This image is one of my best Bald eagle in flight images. I would not have recognized it as a jewel, if I did not go through my 2014 Alaska trip images a second and a third time.

Also, with the advance in post-processing techniques, sometimes an image doesn’t appear at first glance to be something that can be truly great. Now, I look at raw files from the point of view of what is possible and how I can make the image closer to what I saw at the moment of capture.

So it pays sometimes not to give up on an image, and to keep your raw files instead of permanently deleting them.

With storage so cheap, you can keep the rejects as long as you want. One of my friends, use to laugh at me for keeping all my slides, even the ones that were a bit blurry. She would be laughing at me now as well.

Here though I found an image that I really like. One that I could have easily deleted and been gone forever. With technology forever changing and getting better, it pays not to be too hasty in deleting images.

I am going to get a scanner soon, and scan some of my old slides, ones that have the prospects and could become great with a little post-processing miracle.

I just can hear my friend saying, “yeah, really” to this, knowing that I probably never will. We will see…

Embracing Life

An Alert Young Burrowing Owl
An Alert Young Burrowing Owl

“If you have no love in your heart, you have nothing, no story, no dreaming, nothing.”* That’s why you need to follow your passion and be “in spirit”.  Inspiring others, with your love and imagination, and love will come back to you a thousand fold.

I love nature, and wildlife! This young burrowing owl is taking its first steps away from the home and safety that’s been its burrow. It’s alert and cautious about this strange and wider world, yet willing to embrace what life has to offer.

Are you willing to embrace life like this young burrowing owl?

*Quote from the Movie Australia.