I was tooleying around 40-Acre Lake at this park, tripod and camera set up and pointing out toward the wetlands next to the lake. All of a sudden, I saw a flurry of feathers from the corner of my eye. Aiming my camera in that direction, I managed to capture a series of photos of a great blue heron and it’s eel breakfast.
Camera data: Canon 1DX, Canon 100-400mm lens (at the 400mm focal length – the resulting original images were ultimately cropped by about 50%), ISO 250, shutter 1/800, f8
As a rule, Texas enjoys nice, mild winters that are warm enough to encourage many bird varieties to stick around. So on a nice, sunny Saturday morning, I took my Canon 1DX and 5D Mk III along with my 100-400mm and 24-70mm lenses for a morning visit to a nearby state park.
A Warmer-Weather Harbinger
Early Morning on Creekfield Lake
Watching and Waiting
Quite A Mouthful
Aw Cmon, Baby, Just One More Kiss
As a contributing photographer and writer to the National Parks Traveler site, I share monthly photo column space with another photographer. In addition to this, from time to time, I also write reviews about various and sundry photography gear. The Traveler has just published my most recent review about a Lowepro camera backpack.
For those of you who might be thinking about taking a photo tour or workshop for 2014 (or later), my most recent article about doing just that has been published in the National Parks Traveler website. If you are interested, click on the underlined words and go check it out.
I noticed a number of photographers posting their favorite images taken over 2013 and thought I would do the same. I decided to choose 15 images and provide some commentary about the photo. It was a difficult choice, believe me.
These are in no particular order.
To see a higher-res rendition, just click on the photo and you will be taken to the spot where that particular photo resides on my photography website. You can order most of them for yourself, as a print in all sorts of mediums, or a coffee mug or within a 2014 calendar or photo journal creation of mine. And I even have a 30% discount on orders $30 or over on my website right now through the end of January 2014.
1. Evening in the Chisos Mountains, Big Bend National Park, Texas
I was getting a little anxious to arrive at the Chisos Mountain Lodge before it got dark (easier to find my way to my room in the daylight), but I passed this particular spot and knew I needed to turn around, park the car alongside the empty road and capture this mountain-backlit image with the wispy clouds and the century plant anchoring the foreground.
2. They Know All the Words to Her Song, Evening Pirate Pub Sing at the Sea Devil Tavern, Texas Renaissance Festival
Low-light images are difficult to capture well, even at the best of times. This was an image captured with no flash, using my trusty Canon 1-DX. Note the people around the singer, raising their mugs to her and singing along with her. Total groupies at a Renaissance rock concert as they sing along with their favorite pirates. She and her husband (for real) “Captain Basil Drake” are huge favorites out at the festival.
3. Helping the Bride with the Finishing Touches
One of my favorites of all the wedding photos I took of Maegan that day (and I have a lot of favorites from that day, believe me). The natural side lighting highlighted the bride’s excited, expectant look as she stood there while the ladies in her bridal party arranged her necklace. The looks given to her by the other ladies, in addition to each of their actions (look at the hands) make this a memorable moment for me (and I hope for the bride).
4. Park Avenue Snow Day, Arches National Park, Utah
It was a magical morning. I awoke at about 2AM to peer out of my hotel room window and see huge, feathery snowflakes falling to the ground. Talk about excited! There’s something about red rock and white snow. There’s also something about being one of the first people (actually, I think I was the second person) to enter the park and to get to a spot at which nobody else has yet arrived. That was Park Avenue. Those footprints you see in the photo are mine. A total of about 5 inches or so piled up that morning. By late afternoon, it had almost completely melted, and by the next day, only the shadowed areas of the park still sported snow on the ground.
5. Plucking at the Head Feathers
This was the first time ever, in all 8 years of photographing the little ruby-throated hummingbirds, that I had ever witnessed such aggressive (and oftentimes amusing) behavior as exhibited by these territorial little birdies as they vied for perching space on one of the three feeders my 88-year old mother and I set out for the hummers as they stopped for a month-long break during their annual fall migration further south into Central America and Mexico. This just goes to show what going out every morning and/or evening to photograph the hummingbirds during their September sojourn can bestow wonderful images upon the patient photographer using a telephoto lens, fast camera, and flash.
6. Quite A Mouthful: Ibis with Crayfish (aka Crawfish), Brazos Bend State Park, Texas
A few months prior to my Katmai NP trip in July 2013, for which I had reserved a Canon 500mm prime lens, I rented this same lens for a weekend in order to get a feel for the lens so I wouldn’t be totally clueless and clumsy during the Alaska vacation. I lugged that lens out to Brazos Bend State Park, where I knew there would be a good chance of birdlife and I also knew the birds are a little more habituated (and less skittish) to humans there than at the national wildlife refuge. There is a particular spot where the birds (and alligators) like to congregate at 40-Acre Lake and I parked myself, tripod, and lens right at that spot. My entire goal that year had been to capture a sizeable tasty morsel in a bird’s mouth, and with this shot, I nailed my goal.
7. Sunrise at the Refuge, Brazoria National Wildlife Refuge, Texas
Ah yes, I love getting sunrise shots. It helps that I am a morning person. And some of the best sunrises I’ve seen in the refuge are across and to the south of the gravel auto tour road alongside Olney Pond and Cross Trails Pond. The trick here is to getting a decent sunrise shot without having your entire composition filled with sun flare spots – and that’s difficult to do if you eschew a lens hood in order to make use of your polarizer filter and grad neutral density filter. These two filters allow you to use a slow shutter speed or wider-open aperture (unless you are aiming for a starburst effect) to keep the foreground lighter and not blow out the horizon. They also help with making the clouds (if there are any) more dramatic and with adding some color saturation as well.
8. Portrait of a Brown Bear, Katmai National Park and Preserve, Alaska
This place is totally amazing. I had never in my entire life ever thought I would be viewing such incredible creatures as these 700+ lb brown bears….in Alaska…with a 500mm prime lens (rented). My favorite thing to do was create portraits of the bears. Sometimes the 500mm lens did a perfect job on its own, and at other times, I did a little cropping to focus the eyes more on the bear’s face. When you first look at all the bears, they sort of look alike. But even after just a couple of hours in their presence, you can begin to suss out differences in appearance, facial expressions, and little quirky movements they have when fishing the Brooks River or looking for berries. I could see that each bear has its own personality and I tried to capture that with my portrait shots. This is one of my favorites. And it’s quite cropped, actually. This bear had been standing out in the river rapids, just below Brooks Falls. It turned away to warily look behind it before resuming its steady watchfulness of the rapids with the intention of catching dinner.
9. Alaska From Above
I had the best time during my one-day bear-viewing trip to Lake Clark National Park; probably because I thoroughly enjoyed the 5-seater plane flight to the park. The windows were clean enough that I captured a number of aerial images of the Alaskan landscape. This is one of my favorites because of the landscape itself, the colors, and the lighting. This image also brings back the feelings of excitement and wonder I experienced as I viewed this remote Alaskan land. Plus, I was pretty darned pleased with my attempt at in-plane photography, since I don’t attempt this sort of thing very often. The key is to use a wide-angle lens and to put the lens as close to the window as possible without touching the vibrating plane glass. It also helps (tremendously) to have a camera with a fast frame-per-second capture – especially if your lens does not have IS (or VR or any of the other acronyms for image stabilization). I did not use a polarizing filter for this photo (or any of the other aerial images) because sometimes a polarizing filter can do wonky things to photography through an airplane window).
10. A Morning View of the Chugach Mountains, Alaska
I had just enough time that Sunday to make a morning sightseeing trip north of Anchorage before having to return the rental SUV and get ready to meet up with the rest of my fellow Katmai photo tour members. My intention was to drive up to Hatcher Pass. I noticed this scene to the right of the highway and passed right by it. All the while, I thought to myself that I really ought to turn around and capture the view before heading on. Surely I had enough time for that. So, I turned around and captured the view.
11. Icy Morning Glow, Arches National Park, Utah
By now, you can see that I have a number of favorites from this February visit to Arches. This image was sort of an afterthought. I’d driven to my favorite viewing area within the park: La Sal Mountains Viewpoint. When I realized the sunrise was going to be a bust, I turned to head back to the rental vehicle. I happened to look down to the slickrock ground and noticed several shallow potholes filled with clear water that had frozen during the night. The creative part of my brain kicked in and I captured this scene.
12. On Top of the World at Delicate Arch, Arches National Park, Utah
Favorite photos don’t have to be people-less. I love this image not only because it proves I made it up the steep, sometimes ice-coated hike to such an iconic feature as Delicate Arch, but it also shows that I had that entire place all to myself! Now that was an awesome feeling! So I set up camera and tripod, then tripped the shutter with my wireless remote to capture exactly how I felt and where I was. Plus, the photo gives a pretty good scale and sense of reference.
13. Sunset Over the Chisos Mountains and Chihuahuan Desert, Big Bend National Park, Texas
I shot this image prior to capturing the image at the very top of this post. I was trying to get to the Chisos Mountain Lodge before it got dark. I’d gassed up at the small Panther Junction station and was heading toward Basin Drive when I looked to my left to see this amazing scene. Naturally I had to get a photo, so I pulled into a small turnout, grabbed camera, tripod and grad ND filter, then hoofed it across the road to get this photo. It was a little tricky to capture with as little flare spots as I got because I was not using a lens hood. You see, my grad ND filter is a 4×6 and I don’t use a filter holder; instead I just hand-hold it against the camera lens. Makes it easier and quicker to move the filter up and down.
14. An Autumn Scene on Mount Desert Island, Maine
I’d had the good fortune and the misfortune to visit this part of Maine during the government shutdown. This meant I would not have access to all the places I wanted to see in Acadia National Park, which bummed me out and really cemented my utter disdain over congress. Nonetheless, I managed to capture some beautiful images of Maine during autumn. I had just turned off the road from Bass Harbor and was heading toward Bar Harbor when I looked to my right and saw this autumnal marsh scene with this wonderful tree in the foreground.
15. The Visitor Center View at Dead Horse State Park, Utah
Ok, we know people who travel to this place, – a hop and a skip from both Arches National Park and Canyonlands National Park – generally photograph that iconic scene of the canyon looming over the river oxbow. But, there are other incredible scenes to be photographed in this state park, and this view right next to the visitor center is one such area. The short rock wall provided an excellent frame to the expansive landscape beyond.
So, there you have it: my 15 favorites (actually, I have about 20+ favorites, but this is a long-enough post.
Here’s to 15 more favorites taken from the photographic possibilities I hope to experience in 2014!
So, yesterday’s short blog was a “Happy New Year” post. Today’s post is a “what I wish for you (and for me) in 2014” short blog.
I posted this image of me at the Sotol Vista overlook of Big Bend National Park, Texas, because it represents all of the expansiveness of photography that I wish for you as well as myself.
I hope that 2014 brings many photographic possibilities your way. And I hope that your camera gear is all fresh, ready and repaired (I just received a bill from the Canon Service Center for work on my 1-DX…..a bit of a surprise but I should have expected a pricey repair for a pricey camera – ahem).
I hope you get to travel more, see more exciting lands / people / vistas, capture more weddings / portraits / portfolios / events, or whatever it is that you enjoy photographing the most.
I hope to hear from you out there as to what your photographic aspirations are for this 2014. Got any trips planned? Wedding sessions reserved? Contests to enter? Other photographic resolutions?
To all of you from me: Happy 2014!