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.
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Birding as Opposed to Bird Photography

 

Male Red-necked Phalarope and His Reflection
Male Red-necked Phalarope and His Reflection

I have been thinking about birding and bird photography a bit. Especially since, I hosted some birders recently on a trip down Elkhorn Slough in Moss Landing, and to Point Lobos to photograph birds and wildlife. They are avid birders, yet learning to become better bird photographers.

At different times in my life I have been both, a birder first, now a professional bird photographer. After giving up hunting and killing birds during my teenage years, I then cultivate to looking at birds through binoculars, identifying them, determining what species they were, learning all I could by looking and observing. I still do this. I also make species list for my ranch and other places I have visited.

I still get really excited when I see a new species, like most birders. I know a lot of birders take pictures to share and identify birds. For me though, bird photography is about art, creating an image of a bird that speaks emotionally to the viewer, sings with soul and spirit.

I am an artist, who also loves nature, and birds. Through my photography, its style and vision, I hope to convey to others my love of birds. I just don’t what to id them; or document what kind they are, or count how many species are in a given area, even though these are admirable endeavors; I want to go beyond that. I want to show their beauty, and have my images sing a song of a bird spirit, a song of aliveness, a song of life.

Getting close, very close, is necessary to create beautiful bird images, by doing this, you see more, more behavior, more beauty. Ultimately, you learn more about birds, about different species, even the idiosyncrasies of individuals.

At some point, I think if you pick up a camera and buy a big lens, you want more than just to document and record, you want others to see what you see, what you feel when you look at a bird closely. Nature and life has a soul and spirit, and through your images you want that to come through.  A camera with a telephoto does this equally or better than any pair of binoculars. Memories can be fleeting; pictures are more enduring.

Male Red-necked Phalarope Twist Body As He Prepares to Preen
Male Red-necked Phalarope Twist Body As He Prepares to Preen

Secondly, birding is more of an observing activity, recording and documenting what you saw; where as bird photography is about creating. Your photographic style and vision comes from how you visually see, and is different than anyone else’s. This creativity comes from deep inside, from the essence of your being; this is what makes you an artist. Not everyone can be a great artist, but each of us can learn and develop our photography eye and skills, get better, create images that improve over time. Learning about nature and birds is great, nothing can replace that excitement of seeing life enfold and develop before your eyes.

Yet, sharing that “nature moment” with others, telling this story visually is what the medium of photography is all about. It is an art form. It’s translating that moment of life into a picture—an image that looks into window of a bird’s behavior, its life, and describes a living moment.

It’s worth doing well, like all photography, because a picture is worth a thousand words; it’s an evocative art. Great photography timelessly reaches hauntingly into the soul and connects that momentary experience of life and makes it enduring–communicating what you felt at the moment.

On this particular trip I was excited about some phalaropes, because I haven’t had many chances as a bird photographer to photograph them, so I wanted to get close. As a result of trying to get close, I took a dive into the mud of the Moon Glow Diary. (Another adventure tale for another blog post)  Thankfully, I can laugh about it, and it made things interesting, but it didn’t stop us from having a great photographic day.

Speaking of phalaropes, here are a few phalarope images I took at Radio Road…This is what I am trying to achieve in my photography, it’s different than birding, it’s getting close and creating art.

Red-necked Phalarope Ruffles Feathers Along The Shore
Red-necked Phalarope Ruffles Feathers Along The Shore

I am not saying that you should give up birding or that birding is any less of an activity or passion than bird photography, but if you carrying a camera, and you get excited at seeing your hummingbird or bluebird image on the back of the camera or on your computer screen. Then, why not do photography the best you can, learn and grow, and become a better photographer. Recording, viewing, observing, and documenting is fine, but art stirs the soul, and very good and great photography is art.