Conquering My Fear Of Heights

Conquering My Fear Of Heights

I have always wanted to go see the Ancient Bristlecone Pines. Seeing other photographer’s images from there only heighten my desire to do so. Only one little item held me back; it’s the fear of heights. As a young boy, I would always close my eyes and pray, as my parents would drive across the Golden Gate Bridge. Mountain roads with steep drop-offs would especially terrify me.

One time in the middle of the night my two amigos and I, in separate cars, were heading for Mono Lake on the dreaded Tioga Pass road. I was behind them as we started down the steep backside toward Lee Vining. Soon they were out of sight as we headed down. I, on the other hand, was slowly hugging the inside part of the road, the part that normally automobiles use for going up the pass to Yosemite National Park. At 1:30 am, I didn’t think anyone would mind me using the wrong side of the road. Well, I let a big breath out, as I got down to the Mobil Gas Station parking lot near the bottom. As I got out of the car, my two friends mercilessly teased me about making them wait for me. “Where have you been”, they demanded!

I feared the road to the Ancient Bristlecone Forest would be just like the Tioga Pass road down to Highway 395. In my mind, I imagined it to be so. This always held me back. Finally, last week, with a little trepidation, I push these fears aside. Every time I would feel the urge to turnaround and go back, I would tell myself to relax and say to myself that it can be all that bad.

Full Moon Over Ancient Bristlecone Pine

When I got to the Schulman Grove Visitor’s Center in midday. I bought a nice green sweatshirt with an ancient Bristlecone Pine emblazoned on the front as to always remind me I can indeed conquer my fear of heights and steep mountain roads with big drop-offs.

I climbed up the Discovery Trail looking for a particular pictorial Bristlecone Pine. As it happened, I found the one stitched on to my sweatshirt just like the park service employee at the visitor center said I would. However, I had a problem; it was four o’clock in the afternoon. I had over three hours to kill before the stars would come out and show themselves in the sky.

To idle the time away, I sat down and watched a few cars down below me, coming back and going to the other Bristlecone Pine Grove—the Patriarch Grove. I also spend some time examining the intriguing small little “purple” pine cones. Mostly, I would walk back and forth along a small stretch of the trail underneath this giant Bristlecone Pine. Other times, I would take some images of the late sunlight striking its hard-dense branches that reach for the sky.

Finally, it was a night, a few days before the full moon. I was a bit disappointed because there was so much light; I wouldn’t be able to capture a starry sky behind the Bristlecone Pine.

At home many days later, after reviewing my images, I am proud and happy. Proud that I conquered my fears, and happy with the image I created. I realized my dream; I “didn’t let my music die within me”. This beautiful image will always be a testament to my perseverance.

What do you think? Does this image stir your soul like it does mine?

The Dichotomy Between Lion Cubs And Cell Phone Photographers

Young Lion Cub Takes A Breather From A Lion Buffalo Kill Feeding Frenzy

It was our first full day in Serengeti National Park. We spend the morning cruising the tree line river beds, of the Central Serengeti, looking for Leopards in the riverbed trees. When our driver and guide received a message on the safari guide’s short-wave radio that a pride of lions had killed a Cape Buffalo just north of our area. It was about a forty-minute drive from our current location. And yes, the Serengeti is an enormous place, so this location was relatively close.

We decided to change our plans and head there. Soon we began to see other Land Rovers also heading that way. When we top the final rise, it was easy to spot the kill because there were at least twenty-five vehicles surrounding the feeding lions.

Then, the dance and jostling for vehicle position began. I was disturbed by how close some Land Rovers were to the lions. The vehicles formed a semi-circle around the lions. More and more vehicles kept coming in, as we finally found a clear space to view the lions feeding around the kill. It wasn’t easy, specifically; we found a small window to shoot through the sea of vehicles, and yet the kill was still a decent distance away.

For us with large telephoto lenses, it wasn’t necessary to be that close to the lions. Other safari vehicles with only cell phones viewers seemed overly aggressive pushing ever closer to the lions to get a better shot. In some cases, close as five feet away. I find this human behavior stressing to the lions and other wildlife of the Serengeti. No matter how important getting a close portrait image is to the photographer, nothing justifies getting this close and alternating their natural behavior and adding stress to their hard and difficult lives.

Maybe, I am being too hard on the paparazzi and human beings, by having some expectations that people have ethics and will take the right action, like putting wildlife first, before themselves. Let’s face it, I too am part of this dance. I am taking part too, and this sickens me.  I want this changed, for it gives photographers a bad name and puts the negative spotlight on all of us.

Pride Of Lions On A Cape Buffalo Kill With Safari Vehicles Close By

I am digressing and giving some background information. This image of a lion cub above taking a momentary break from feeding was captured later in the day close to evening. After our late morning encounter with the feeding lions, we left, and late in the day, decided to go back. I am glad we did because in the middle of the day there were no lion cubs at the carcass. We also thought there would fewer vehicles there around the feeding lions. In reality, there were fewer, but still a lot of vehicles.

There were other members of the large pride now including at least three, four-month-old cubs, which were feeding on the buffalo carcass too. What was so amazing was that they were actually feeding inside of the abdominal cavity of the buffalo while adult lions’ mouths were feeding inches away from them. We could barely see them, and at times they were completely inside of the belly of the buffalo. It was a wonder that one of the adults didn’t bite down on the bodies of these cubs, as the adults moved their eating positions and their chewing mouths.

I captured this image as one of the cubs came out of the belly of the buffalo to take a momentary break from the feeding frenzy. This scene of the cub’s side by side with the feeding adults, disappearing into the abdominal cavity for their share is something I won’t forget. The determination of these little lion cubs and their audacity to get their share was something to behold.

Trapped Lion Cub Within A Buffalo Carcass Feeding Frenzy

The desire for life is strong and here it was so clearly visible with these cubs. A remarkable moment and a life lesson, which observed has the power to change and affect your own life. The dichotomy of how we behave, with the actions of the vehicles, ever crowding closer and closer for some hungry connection to these wild animals, to the purity of how they live their lives is very striking. And I am afraid, not a good or shining example of mankind’s behavior and not best actions towards the natural world.

It is my sincere hope that my lion cub image can put your heart in the right place, and all of us can do more to save this iconic species before it is too late and another species goes extinct at the hands of man.

Postscript:

There are other places in Africa that place limits on the number of vehicles around an animal. I know for a fact, Londolozi, in South Africa, has a three-limit vehicle rule. If a fourth vehicle wants to view the kill, this vehicle must wait until the first vehicle or one of the three leaves the scene, before it can approach the sighting. Maybe, three isn’t the appropriate or right number for the number of vehicles traversing the large Serengeti. Ten perhaps? Or maybe establishing a 75-foot rule, where no vehicle can come closer than this distance, is a better solution.

In Ndutu, there is a plaque on the lodge wall stating this 75-foot rule for Cheetahs. I believe this policy should apply to all large African mammals, especially for the big cats. There is room too for common sense, and judgment based on how the animal reacts and whether the animal is accustomed to vehicles. If the animal closely approaches you and the vehicle peacefully you need to stay put, be silent and let the mammal pass—panic doesn’t help either cause.

If the truth is told, while on safari and expecting to get portrait images of lion cubs, a telephoto lens is required, and you can’t rely on a cell phone for these types of images.

Little Lion Cub At The Cape Buffalo Kill

 

 

Awakening Just In Time

Bobcat In the Long Dry Grass

Awakening Just In Time

Saturday was a full day, and a productive day spent with a client at my beloved Ramrod Ranch. We photographed many bird species. The House Wrens nesting a knothole in the cabin particular provided lots of photo opportunities, as the parents brought in worms and spiders for the young ones who’s voices you could hear calling out for food.

Still, it was a long day, up before 5:00 am, and I was exhausted after the client left. I normally would work on my images from the day until 11:00 pm or so. However, I was so exhausted as the day turned to the night, that I just plopped down on my bed and went to sleep. I was too lazy and tired to even charge my sleep machine battery and went without.

All these factors contribute to a Sunday where I was still very tired. I wasn’t about to miss a morning shooting in my blind at the Upper Pond. However, during the morning in the blind, I kept nodding off. A couple of California Quail came up to the perches that surrounded the pond; it was their constant chuckling that woke me up.

The female and the male flew up to my raptor perch. I took several images of them both. The female quail stayed longer and started calling out. Photographically, I was having a hard time fitting her image into the frame. My 600 mm IS f4.0 lens is sometimes just too tight, and this was the case here.

Female California Quail Calls Out From Behind A Old And Gnarled Oak Branch

I had my 100—400 mm lens with me in the blind just for this case. As I took my camera body off the 600 mm lens, putting on the shorter lens, I looked up and saw that the female quail flew into the little blue oak tree that’s right behind the pond, and out of sight. My frustration was high, for it appeared that I changed the lens in vain, and for nothing.

With the 100—400 mm lens and camera on my lap as the minutes ticked by, I noticed a change in the quail’s chuckling coming from the little blue oak tree. It was different, and I was instantly alert. For these calls were their warning calls that a fox, bobcat, or some other predator was nearby. I had heard them many times before.

I looked out toward the brush line where the jeep road goes up the mountain and walking into my sight line appears a beautiful bobcat. For once I was prepared with the right lens, for all I had to do was raise the camera up from my lap. It has taken many years of coming close and many missed opportunities, I finally had my chance to capture a good image of Bobcat. I have seen them around the ranch many times over the years. My clients have got images of them from the same pond. Somehow my luck and fortune through the years weren’t good.

The bobcat might have come up to the pond to drink, like the Gray Foxes, have over the years. However, I think it heard the clicking from my camera shutter and after about thirty images it turn around and disappeared into the brush. For next time, I need to use the silent shooting mode that’s available on my Canon 7D Mark II camera body, for this mode really reduces the noise coming from closing and clicking the shutter. Then, I might get that coveted drinking image.

Bobbed Tail Up As Alert Bobcat Searches For Prey

The male and female quail were still giving their warning calls, so I knew that the bobcat was still around. After a few minutes, I looked up through what I call the breezeway towards the big metal water tank. There was the bobcat next to the tank sniffing the ladder I have there to check the water level in the tank. It was between the tank and the ladder. I took a few more images before it moved off into the thick brush. As the minutes passed, the quail stopped their warning calls; I knew that the bobcat was gone, and no longer in the immediate area.  

Thrilling moments, after a lifetime of disappointment. This beautiful bobcat is now forever close to my heart. I will remember and cherish these moments, every time I look at these images. I am so happy and glad I awakened just in time!

Bobcat Peers Over The Wooden Ladder Step In Front Of The Water Tank

First Image Of My Deep Space Portfolio

Supermassive Black Hole Within The Sagittarius A Galaxy

Supermassive Black Hole Within The Sagittarius A Galaxy

The base image or original image is a deep dark red bearded iris from my mom’s garden. When my mom was still alive, I used to take a lot of images of her bearded irises. They are a very deep flower, and I used to have to set my aperture to f32 or f64 to get the back parts of the flower somewhat sharp. If done properly, the macro images resemble a very colorful cathedral.

For camera club competition, I would wait to the last minute to come up with a title. I would insist that the image title had to be the real name of the iris. My mom and I would pore over her iris catalogs looking for the right iris. This would exasperate her, especially the time crunch of my waiting until the last moment. These were the days of slide shooting for me, and I would write the title information on the slide then dash off to the camera club meeting.

Looking back, I feel bad that I put my mom through this every time I entered an iris image. She could have refused to help, but her character shined true and her love for me was always there. I think she would be happy and proud of me with the creative art I created from an image of one of her irises.

The technique is from a tech tip column from a PSA (Photographic Society of America) magazine. “Put a little twirl into your work”, was the title of the article. I look for colorful graphic images that have a significant negative space. Then, I follow this technique of creating lines, blurring them, and then using Photoshop’s twirl filter, making a twirl with a positive setting, then on another layer using the opposite twirl with a negative setting.

For me, these images remind me of deep space. Thus, my space portfolio was born. With other base images, I have created a group of a dozen or so of these types of images. One base image is an image of the Palace of Fine Arts in San Francisco, another is orange wet sand from a beach at sunset in Santa Cruz. I never know exactly what I get when I play with this technique, but that’s why it is so fun.

In memory of my mom, Lillian A Finocchio, I dedicate this image to her. It is like she is still here with me. We were so close. I miss you so much; I’ll always love you, mom!

Metal Print of this Image is now showing at the Avenue 25 Gallery through January 18, 2019.
32 West 25th Avenue, 2nd Floor
San Mateo, CA 94403,
Open: Monday to Friday, 8:30am to 5:00pm

My Mom’s Iris=War Chief
Base Image!

War Chief

Five Fabulous Days

A Thirsty Young Gray Fox Laps Up Precious Water From A Small Pond

I just spent five fabulous days at my Ramrod Ranch, setting up my photo blinds for bird photography, adding new perches, and preparing backgrounds by clearing grass around the ponds.

Because of my serious back injury, there was a period of 767 days from early 2015 through early 2017 that I was unable to go to my sacred place. During this visit, I reconnect to this place again, emotionally and spiritually. These five days I soaked in all the bird life. I took moonlight walks each evening, hearing a Great Horned Owl hooting its deep voice on a nearby hill. Each day I was surprised by a special and rare bird species. First, it was a Yellow Warbler, then, a Nashville Warbler—my first real photographs of this bird. The next day a Sharp-shinned hawk came by the cabin pond searching for its next meal.

The third and four days a Pacific-sloped Flycatcher made an appearance. I love Flycatchers; they are very shy but I got some very good images with good backgrounds of this wary bird. It seemed to favor the five o’clock hour to make an evening show.

However, it was the fifth day and my last morning where up by the water tank and the large main pond that I was graced with a special visit by a Gray Fox. They are so beautiful. It was thirsty and ran around the pond just feet away from me. For once I was prepared by having my 100 – 400 mm lens ready so I could zoom back and forth, getting wide-angle full body shots as well as tight portraits. This moment lasted only a minute or so but was so wonderful it seemed to last much longer. It is also forever imprinted on the view screen of my mind.

A Portrait Of An Alert And Watchful Gray Fox

That’s not all, the Gray Fox, made a second appearance twenty minutes after the first, still thirsty. It drank again. The few quail around scattered deep into the brush. I was blessed and felt honored by sharing these few moments with this beautiful fox.

Water Drops From A Gray Fox’s Chin As It Raises Up From Drinking

Due to a recent cancellation, I have spaces available for the October 6 and 7th, if you would like to share nature with me, and take the journey to become a better nature photographer.

It’s an incredible experience to watch birdlife so close, behaving so naturally as if you aren’t even there. I have included a couple of images of this beautiful Gray Fox and one of the Pacific-sloped Flycatcher. If I can capture these images, it possible for you to do so too. Let me teach you how.

For more information and to register, follow this link to my signup page.

https://dreamcatcherimages.net/bird-blind-workshops-at-the-ramrod-ranch/

A Pacific-sloped Flycatcher Tilts Head As It Searches Its Surroundings

Open To Everything And Attached To Nothing

Female Acorn Woodpecker With Captured Crane Fly As Another Flys By

Be Open To Everything and Attached To Nothing

I went to Arastradero Preserve in Palo Alto on my way back home, after I had visited my photographer friend who was selling his prints at the Saratoga Art Festival. Last year, another friend got wonderful shots of White-tailed Kites on some dead oak tree branch at this preserve. At the time, she describes the path and location of this particular dead oak trees. Yet, I couldn’t find it. Also, Arastradero is known for having a lot of Lazuli Buntings; I have seen countless images of this species taken there. These were my target species. However, all though, I did see White-tailed kites flying around, and the same for Lazuli Buntings. I could never find a good place to photograph them. Also, I never found the particular location from last year where my friend got those excellent White-tailed Kite images.

However, I wasn’t dismayed or discouraged. I just took what was there, and what I did find. I used my powers of observations as a naturalist, and check all the dead oak trees that I came upon. I brought my carrying cart and pushed my 600 mm lens and tripod around. If I found something, I need to be sure that the situation was going to be productive. It becomes extremely tiring very quickly, if I have to take my lens, tripod, and camera body out of my cart, repeatedly taking them out and putting them back.

Male Acorn Woodpecker Watches The Countryside From A Favorite Perch

Observing from a distance, I saw one dead oak tree with some birds flying around and on it. At this point, I didn’t know what species they were. As I got closer, I saw that they were Acorn Woodpeckers. They were sallying back and forth between this tree and one farther down the hill. As I got set-up I noticed that if I moved around to the other side of this dead tree; I would be able to put the coast ridge of mountains in the background, at least for most of this perch. The sky was an ugly gray color, and the clouds covered most of the sky. Rather than having the sky as a background, I preferred the tree-covered hills in the distance.

Then, I waited patiently for the Acorn Woodpeckers to come back to this dead old oak tree, a truly a landmark sentinel of the past. It had some orange lichen on its bark, which also excited me. I just had to wait and see if the Acorn Woodpeckers would come back with my presence 40 feet away.

Being spring now, the grasses were tall, still green, plenty of food to go around. I did notice the crane flies hovering and flying around this dead oak limb perch. However, I did expect that when the female woodpecker came back she would have a captured crane fly in her beak. As I composed and pressed the shutter button, I noticed a few crane fly buzzing around the woodpecker. However, there was a little serendipity and luck that I got a live crane fly flying around in my image.

The moral of the story is that don’t be rigid and at strictly follow your shot list or goals. Be flexible, nature will open up its wonder and glory, if you have an open mind and heart. I didn’t sulk, nor abandon my efforts, nor close myself off from what was possible. I went with natures’ flow, kept an open mind, taking what she gave me.

In the end, I am ecstatic over the images I did create, and the White-tail Kites and Lazuli Buntings with have to wait for another visit.

Male Anna's Hummingbird Shows Off Brilliant Gorget While Stretching
Male Anna’s Hummingbird Shows Off Brilliant Gorget While Stretching

Other Technical Considerations for the Lead Image: Female Acorn Woodpecker With a Crane Fly.

Equipment / Source:   Canon EOS 7D Mark II camera body, plus 1.4x Canon Tele-converter, at 840 mm focal length, 1/320 of second shutter speed, at f8 aperture, ISO 2000, Aperture priority, Evaluative Metering

Technique:  Camera Body and 600 mm lens, plus 1.4x teleconverter on a Gitzo Tripod with a Wimberely Gimbal Type Tripod Head

Processing:   I cropped the image. Although, I am sure someone will say that I need to crop more, especially from the left side. However, I like the offset subject and the diagonal line of the perch leading into the image from the left, allowing the mind to flow to the subject. I also increased the overall mid-tone contrast. Used Viveza to lighten the crane fly that was flying. Define noise targeted noise reduction on the background and raw sharpening on the woodpecker itself.

*The Male Anna’s Hummingbird Images Taken On The Same Trip To Arastradero Preserve.

Frontal View Of A Male Anna’s Hummingbird With A Wing Out

Male Anna’s Hummingbird With Wings Back While Stretching

Purposeful Persistence

California Gull Shakes Feather Off While Bathing

My PSA Nature Study Group Image for August

Title: California Gull Shakes Feather Off While Bathing.

Goal: I belong to three Bay Area birding lists or groups, East and South Bay, as well as Peninsula Birder’s Group. I receive email postings by members as to rare and unusual sightings. Birders also just publish their adventures and sightings to share with other birders. Its focus is birding, but many bird photographers use these postings to find and photograph rare and uncommon species. I am no exception! However, there is a big difference between birders and bird photographers. One obvious difference is that birders take pictures mostly for identification, whereas bird photographers are trying to create art. Another one is photographers need to get close, very close to make compelling beautiful imagery. I could go on with the differences, as I have in a previous blog post.

The point is that I was following a lead to find and photograph phalaropes in Sunnyvale, in the South Bay. When I saw the poor digiscope camera image from a birder; I knew that I was chasing a “wild goose”. Yet, because of his effort to tell me where the phalaropes where, I went anyway. I tried hard by putting my big 600 mm lens and tripod on my Rolle cart and got about a mile out, but the phalaropes were way out there another couple of miles. Too much for me to physical at this stage in my life. I decided to head north on the west side of the bay instead. I ended up at Atascadero in Palo Alto, here not that far from my car I found a shallow pond that must have been fed by some underground water source. It was July, not April and most or practically all non-tidal water had disappeared. I noticed a large collection of gulls in this pond, and I notice the center area seemed to be a little deeper and flowing or upwelling with water. The gulls were taking advantage of this relatively fresh upwelling and flowing water by bathing.

Even though it was still hard to get close to them because the water surrounded by a dry pan and the levy I was on was still farther away than I liked. Nevertheless, I had the reach with my 600 mm lens and a 1.4x tele converter and a cropped sensor with my 7D Mark II camera body.

The light was working for me; the sun was setting in the west behind me. Perfect conditions for creating painterly nature images. I kept waiting for them to bath and then jump up in the air which is their typical behavior, not all the time, but most of the time. I also took a few flying in and out images as well. Trying to take advantage of the beautiful photography conditions in any way I could.

You are waiting for the moral of the story or the point. Well, I could have given up twice: once by not going at all, second throwing in the towel after my researched location was a bust, but I didn’t give up and persisted in my efforts. As a result, I think I was richly rewarded. Nature is full of surprises, and it never disappoints if you’re opened to its secrets and its mystery!

Equipment/Source: 600 mm IS f4.0 lens, 1.4x tele converter, 7D Mark II camera body, on a Gitzo 3025 tripod. Shot Information: 1/6400 sec; f7.1 aperture; ISO 1000, Aperture Priority Shooting Mode, and Evaluative Metering, No Flash.

Technique: The light was so good I didn’t do much to the raw capture file. Some slight cropping targeted noise reduction and sharpening. Also, I did a mid-tone contrast enhancement technique using the RGB channels layer.

There is one point or criticism of the image that I know of, but it couldn’t be helped. I am interested in seeing if anyone mentions it.

My Response To My Fellow Study Group Participants Critiques:

California Gull Shakes Feather Off While Bathing

Bob Brown correctly pointed out the flaw or possible flaw depending on your viewpoint. I took the photo from a top of a levee. I was higher and above the gull and the bathing area. Ideally, I would have like to be at eye level, for the possibility of a more dramatic image. Looking down on a subject is condescending and implies an inferior place or position. However, since I was so far away, my angle of view above eye level was minimized with my 600 mm and 1.4x teleconverter. David is right there is a slight very slight tilt of the horizon to the left.  Also, if I tried to get lower, picking my way through the tule reeds covering the bank, I would have disturbed the birds, causing them to disperse and possibly abandon the bathing site. In this situation, the view angle above couldn’t have been helped.

Yes, I would like a little more room on the bottom too. However, I purposely left more space above as the gulls would jump up a lot of the time after bathing. I didn’t want to miss or crop out parts of the bird, especially its wings. If you don’t pre-plan for the jumping out of the water, you are going to have a lot of images where the wings will be clipped. I don’t have a 50 MB camera body. Thus, no option to crop post capture by using a smaller sized lens or less magnification.

The water disturbance made for a poor reflection, more important to me was to contain the image of the gull in the frame.

As far as cropping, I did want to include the concentric rings of the water at the legs and the jumping off point. Cropping this out, I think would take something out that is contributing to the nature story. It’s a third or four element that adds to the story and the composition, not subtracts. I am pretty tight as is, as Steven says.

I hope this helps in the understanding of the choices I made here and gives you a feel for what is necessary to think about when you are faced with a wildlife moment.

* I changed the names to protect the privacy of my fellow nature study guide participants.