Has your eye been replaced by a viewfinder??

Do you always “see” photos in your day to day life? When you are in the produce aisle are you thinking more about how a macro shot of the recently sprayed head of broccoli would look than what to buy for dinner?  When you drive to work on a rainy day are you paying more attention to what’s reflected in the big puddles then on the car in front of you?(BTW watch out for this last one!!)


The form and pattern are what really drew me to photograph these artichokes. What things grab your attention??

Well I sure do!! It’s so common now that I am not even conscious of it! This is one of the reasons I always have my camera with me, you just never know when you might find a photogenic subject! Yesterday I had to go to one of my favorite stores, it is called OWL hardwood, and it is a local wood supplier. Yeah they have trim and plywood, but the real gem is all the exotic species they have in all shapes and sizes! Several times I have been there just to look around its just such an amazing place!! As Iwalked down the aisle yesterday I was struck by the piles of wood and how cool they looked and what great patterns and lines they had, so after getting all the wood for a mantle I am building, I asked the manager if he mined if I took a few photos! “Have at it!” He replied!!

6/4 walnut pile

This is a collection of 6/4 walnut planks, and the random pattern just really spoke to me! As much as I like the “form” of nature, I am still drawn to the other elements of design.  As Bryan Peterson talks about in his great book “Learning to see Creatively” all images have at least one of the following (and many have more than one) Line, Pattern, Color, Form, Texture, and Shape. I think no matter what you like to shoot there are times when your creative mind will be wooed by one of these 6 “devices” and you should honor that urge to capture what the rest of the world may see as a pile of wood, but you see as a beautiful pattern.

On the ground???

Just AFTER lunch!!! 

This was another one of those, “turn around dummy! Did you see that awesome looking Hawk!” moments! (after another U-turn!) I had a great vantage point on the opposite side of the road for these shots and it was pretty interesting to watch because he spent most of the time looking straight down at the ground looking for lunch!

Check out those talons huh??? ISO 200, 340mmm, F/4.8, 1/1250

Once I realized what he was doing I calmly waited for the “big” moment and was ready when the "mouse course" was served!! He was only on the ground for 30 seconds or so, but I was totally ready!

First Course!!    ISO 200, 340mm, F/6.3, 1/800

A couple things to point out from this experience. Notice the settings on the wire and then on the ground shot.  After getting the first few shots I realized I had plenty of light to shoot in, so thinking about what was about to happen and not wanting any of it to be out of focus, I bumped up my aperture to get a little more in focus. Normally when I shoot wildlife the most important thing I worry about is if the eyes are in focus, but here I did not know what kind or size of creature he was going to get and I didn't want to have part of it OOF, so with plenty of midday sun, I could easily afford the smaller aperture.  Also, remember: do NOT get out of your car/truck unless you absolutely have to!! You’ll read this all over but, vehicles are amazing “blinds”!! I used to miss every single hawk shot the first year I was trying because I would always get out of my stupid truck!! Animals are not alarmed by vehicles for some reason so stay in the car!

Hoooo would have guessed???

I think everyone loves owls! They are so mysterious since they are generally not seen as often as other raptors like hawks and eagles, and who doesn’t love those great eyes!! I have wanted to capture an owl for a long time and have searched a local preserve that was rumored to have a snowy owl in residence, and then a verified sighting was seen in a town a couple hours away and I strongly considered driving out to see it! Well Mariellen had known of my owl hunt and had started hearing hooting late at night on several occasions but chalked it up to the power of suggestion, and never mentioned it to me. Then on Saturday morning it was too loud to be her imagination so she woke me up and yes indeed there were these amazing hooting sounds! During the day we researched the sounds and found out we had a Great Horned Owl in the area! I was so excited! I went on the roof to scan the trees, looking for his nest, I even sent notes to Flickr contacts looking for owl advice! Then around 4:30 I heard the first hoots of the evening, and ran and grabbed my camera and coat and headed outside!!

Let me pause the story for just a second for a quick tip, and that is know your camera, and know your lenses!! When I grabbed my camera it was prepped for shooting in the daytime, so I had my 70-200/2.8 with my 1.7x teleconverter on it. While I knew I would probably not be able to get real close and would need the distance that the TC would give me, the loss of 1.5 stops of light at dusk was just not going to work well, since the shutter speed would probably dip so low that either the Owl or I would move! As I was walking outside I did several things to my camera based on the current shooting conditions: I quickly removed the TC and put the 70-200 back on, I made sure I was in aperture priority and shooting wide open(f/2.8) and I also bumped up my ISO to 1000. I knew from previous dusk shooting that I need all the light I could get, and that a little noise was better than not getting the shot. So knowing your camera inside and out is SO important, and being able to asses a lighting situation and adapt on the fly will get you more keepers and minimize the “maybe next times” This stuff comes from shooting a lot, making lots of mistakes, but learning from them! And as I have learned it requires you to make adjustments in a matter of seconds, and that just takes practice, so again know your camera, know your camera, know our camera!!!

OK, back to the story! As I exited the garage I slowed my pace dramatically, I obviously did not want to run out and scare away the owl, I have done that with Hawks enough times to have learned my lesson!! ;-) I turn the corner and this huge flapping bird flys 20 feet in front of me heading towards the backyard, he was right there!! I continued to walk toward the back yard and look up to see another Great Horned Owl sitting on the branch right in front of me! I could not even believe it was happening!! I took careful aim and started shooting images, I chimped the LCD screen after the first shot to see if I need to adjust at all, it looked about as good as I would expect.(It was really much darker out than it looks, which shows how amazing these high ISO cameras are) I could have bumped the ISO even farther up but really didn’t want the noise associated with those levels on my camera. As I looked over towards my neighbor’s house I saw the partner sitting atop their tree looking over at us. Several seconds later the owl left my yard and went toward his buddy, and he was almost landing on his head! They were all fluttering around it was wild to see! In the picture above, the blur you see under the sitting owl is the other owl flying away! As I slowly approached to try and get a few more shots, the owl flew away and it was over, the entire experience happened in less than 5 minutes!!


No expectations, no regrets...

I went for a photowalk with a friend the other day and we had about and 1 ½ hours to hang out. He is really into birds, so we went out initially with that in mind. As I was packing for the walk I decided to bring not only my birding lens but to bring my general walk around lens too. As he was hunting for birds, I tried to stay open to whatever crossed my path. We were walking along the river and I became drawn to the reflections of the barren winter trees and the partially icy river that slowly wove its way through the forest in front of me. Initially we had timed the walk to coincide with catching the sunset, but when we met, the clouds dominated the sky so I had kind of put those thoughts aside and instead embraced the great lines and shadows of the near colorless scene I saw in my viewfinder.

I used to go out with specific thoughts about what to shoot and mental “shot lists” in my head, and over the years have now moved to the point of being able to go shooting without preconceived notions of what I might capture or where I might go. I also try to never assume I might even get a keeper. When I was doing my 365 last year I used to try to plan shots ahead of time and it always felt forced. As a newer photographer this was actually a good thing, being forced to “find” interesting shots helped me push the boundaries of not only my creativity but to explore the world around me, that is filled with interesting images just waiting to be captured! As the year went on, and my abilities increased and my creativity expanded I moved more into this current style, and it has led to even better images than before. For me the freedom has allowed my creativity to have a wide open field of possibilities and I go with the feeling of the day and the moment, but without those months of having to force images and find my creativity, I could not be where I am today…

As the hidden sun passed the opposite bank of the river, the western clouds broke and the sky brighten to an amazing orange and red streaked beauty, as is so common we could not really see the sun setting but we could sure see the colors reflected off the clouds above us reveal themselves in the water, and I was ready, with all expectations tossed aside and following the muse to wherever it took me…


Turning around...

I have already missed so many inspired shots in my short life as a serious photographer. I try to forget them but they still haunt me!  Those moments of instant inspiration are so rare you would think it would stop us in our tracks, but the thoughts of work, to-do’s, traffic, hunger pains, and even overdue bathroom breaks flood our mind, overriding the nudging of what many like to call our “muse.”   This is that thing inside us that tingles when we see the clouds stacking up for an amazing sunset, or the sky breaking after a clearing storm, or even the sight of an old couple holding hands as they walk along a garden path.  Each one of us has their own individual creative spirit inside them, I for one believe mine was planted in me by God.  When I see the beauty of nature that He created, it stirs my soul and a long to capture it in order to be able to relive that precious moment again and again, and hopefully even learn more about the Creator Himself!!

This is one of those images that almost didn't get captured...After driving by this scene, my muse started nagging me..."Are you really going to NOT go back and try and capture that??!!"..."Remember the last time you blew off a shot and promised you'd never pass up those creative lightning strike moments??"..."That moment may be gone forever in 10 minutes, if you don't get it now it will be lost forever, and no one will ever see it..."

So, I did two u-turns to get back into a good location, climbed out into the crazy falling snow, crawled up into the bed of my truck to get a better angle, and started shooting....and I am so glad I did!  You can’t always spare the time, or turn around, but if you can…DO it!