Monday, March 31, 2014

Hawkeye Wildlife Management Area

Today was the first day I explored area 1 which is the first pull in spot on Amana Road. After putting on boots I walked down the small hill and in to the grass plan. The open area is mainly grass but as you go towards the river you run into colored branches growing out of the grass bed. As I moved close to the river the flatten grass becomes wet and bog like, good thing I put on boots. I moved west along the bank crossing soft bog like grass until I found a muddy gap to cross. There was a bit of trepidation that passed through my mind but I went for it anyway.  About half way through the crossing I lost my balance only to catch myself with my hands, which in the left one was my camera. I quickly wiped the chunks off and moved forward.

I arrived on the bank and waited for the birds to calm down. Most of the birds I saw were Ring Billed Gulls which were easily spooked unlike the Sea Gulls that mob us if we have food around. Their body is predominantly white with grey wings tipped in black. Eyes yellow as well as the bill that has a black ring around the front portion. With my 500mm I got many shots but only a few I believe were worth the trek across the mud. I placed my camera in the bag and made my way back only to lose my balance once more. The mud wanted to keep my boots but I found if I open the hole my boot made by tipping my foot forward, I was able to extract my boot easier. By the time I reached solid ground I was carrying at least 4 pounds of mud on each boot.

I spied birds about a mile or so east, which with the amount of mud I had on each boot, this could be fruitful.
As I moved along I came across scat that could be
coyote. I am not a biologist so I am not completely certain of this but the scat was the size of my dog’s poop.  I made my way to my target area trying to not spook the birds but to no avail. I must work on this skill or I will never get a great close shot. Jim makes it look so easy. As I drew closer I stumbled upon a mallard decoy stuck butt first in the mud. I pulled it out and laid it out for the rising waters to take with it. Maybe it will be a friend to a lonely duck someday.

I finely arrived at a spot that was mostly dry and sat for a spell. Most of the gulls had moved on but a few hung around at somewhat of a distance. I waited to see if some of them would return to a closer position and in that wait I saw a flock of American White Pelican flying over head. Mostly white with black on the back half of the wings they flew south against the strong wind. A few flew close but moved slowly on and for a while I thought I had missed out. After 20 minutes passed I noticed another group of same kind of Pelicans flying over. They were closer and bunched up closer together in formation which lend to some great group shots. Once they passed one more group came over once again or I think it was another group but who cares it was another chance to get more shots.

After the fly over I decided that the gulls were not coming and it was time to move on. Almost 3 hours has
passed since my arrival and I had shot over 100 frames. Half way to my car I noticed how the sun lit up an area of small tree like stems. Some of them were red and some yellow and against the blue sky it created something I hadn’t seen before. As I moved to get the shot I noticed the skeletal remains of a large fish probably eat by coyote due to the lack of trees nearby for birds of prey to eat on.  A few shots of the carnal mess and back to my landscape I originally set out to photograph.

By now thin wispy clouds were forming in the sky and with the red of the twigs I could not ask for a better set up for this time of day. I made several exposures with the sky being in the majority of the frame leaving the land in the bottom quarter portion. Once I was satisfied with the shot I packed up and headed to the car. It was a long enough day and I wanted to get back to see what I really had.

I am not done with this area and will most likely go down there at twilight to take more photos. Not sure if this area lends itself to long exposure black and white shots but with further exploration I may find something yet. This place has a hold on my attention.  

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Does it pay anymore?

I am not sure if anyone caught this report on ABC News during a segment called Real Money aired on March 5th 2014, but I did. The segment is on how to make money with your smart phone photos you have taken. You don’t need to be a professional photographer if you sign up with Foap and sell your photographs to Corporate America who is dying to underpay you for the photos you shoot. Yes because of the amount of images being uploaded on to the web it seems to be easier to pay pennies to the dollar for someone’s snap shot rather than pay a pro to make a great image. Sorry I know I am sounding a bit negative but I am just a little frustrated at where the photographic industry is heading.  

Let’s look at the big picture as it stands today. At no time in history since the introduction of the Eastman Kodak’s Brownie Camera has photography been obtainable to the masses. We have cameras everywhere and we constantly take and upload snapshots to the web. Unlike the Brownie, we can see the photograph instantly and decide whether to delete and take it again or keep it. Because there are so many images out there everyone fancies themselves as a photographer. They can shoot anything, portraits, landscapes, weddings whatever people want for either really cheap or free. This is starting to and will kill the professional photography industry. No there will be a need for real pros out there but the amount of money for the real pros will get smaller and smaller until it will not pay to be one.

Right now if you are a professional photographer (where you drive most or all of your income from photography) you are most likely supplementing your income with classes or educational material. That was not heard of 15 years ago. And there is nothing wrong with having an education element in your business model but that aspect is starting to get saturated and then what?  Unless you can draw on a large cliental for your living, the education aspect will dry up and you are going to have to come up with something different.

Speaking of professional photography, I would have to say I am one. All of my income comes from taking photographs of clothing for a (remain nameless) online store. Not to complain but I don’t make a whole hell of a lot. It is in the ballpark of a better part of a starting wage. But that is the point. The person believes that what they are paying is what that job is worth. Yes it helps them sell the item, yes the photos are the first thing they look at, but they believe that anyone can do it. In fact they set it up so that anyone can do it. It is just that easy to do so.

So what is the solution? I am not sure but the path professional photography is taking is the same path graphic design has been on. The mentality of most people is if I can push a button, throw it through some effects and have it turn out good, they why pay a professional? Corprate America is on that road, the regular consumer has been going down that path for awhile now. If someone told me that they wanted to be a professional photographer I would tell them this; get a business major or marketing major, hell any major that works with data or microbiology. Do that and shoot on the side for fun because there is not a lot of money out there to make a living.

Something will have to change. We must show value to the images created. The path of photography has to change direction or it will not pay to take photographs.  Read the article, watch the clip and tell me that I am wrong. I would like to be convinced I am wrong. 

Monday, March 17, 2014


I started with Squarespace because I have been interested in using them for my hosting for a long time. I just never had the money to do it. It seems that most of the photographers I listen to on podcast seem to like their Squarespace site. And knowing that some of them are being sponsored by Squarespace I believe that they would not take the money if they did not believe in the product. Well I am hoping that is the case for the most part. So Squarespace had some name recognition with well known photographers, let’s see what else they have.

When you select the template from the menu you are brought over to a selection of templates to choose from. On this page they have them in selections of “Business, Portfolios, Stories, Restaurants, and Personal.” For myself, I chose Portfolios and nine templates of the twenty six remain on the screen to choose from. All nine are very clean and easy on the eye to look at. Click on one that strikes your fancy and you are in another screen of portfolios using that template. In the template that caught my eye there were twenty four examples of customer’s websites using that template. On the top of the page you can click on and see an example of how that template will look on a mobile device or a live view on screen. Because mobile is the trend of how people consume their internet, how it will look on a smart phone is important to me. Going back to the selection of templates from customers, you are able to click on one and explore their site without actually opening a new tab. All features of their site are operational which is great because you can see how they organized their work using the template that you like.

Templates have Blogs:
The template that I had selected has a blog feature and for most like me I believe that is important. The blog gives you the ability to create postings about the projects you are doing, shoots your doing and events your attending. Blogs let potential clients and followers know the human side of you and what you feel is important in your life. I like to use it to bring knowledge, talk about projects or the things that bug me. So I am excited to see this part included with the website. It bothers me to be shuffled off to other links to read or see work the photographer has. Keep them all in one spot.
Social Networks:
Being socially connected is important in order to be seen. With Squarespace not only can you link to your pages but update to your pages as you update your site. No more copy and paste to each of your social network pages just one touch and you can update them all according to their feature page.

It appears you can sell in the U.S, U.K, and Canada but in beta are Australia, Belgium, France, Germany, Ireland, Netherlands and Spain. When you sign up Stripe gives you instant approval so you can receive your earnings via direct deposit. Stripe charges a 2.9% + 30 cent transaction fee which to me doesn’t sound like too much. You can sell both digital and physical goods on one page. Digital downloads are delivered by email links and expire in 24 hrs. Depending on what plan you are using you are able to sell one item only on the Personal Plan, twenty items with the Professional Pan or unlimited items on the Business Plan. If you are looking to set up Donations there is a way to set up a page for that. There is a lot more to go into but to be honest I am not sure how it all fits into what I want to do. I know that I will have to keep records of my sales and with the Xero Intergration you can do that. There is data collected for marketing and social integration about your store to your social pages.

Search Engine Optimization. According to the site there is no plug-ins that is necessary. Squarespace has multiple ways of getting your website easily found through the major search engines. By creating clean HTML mark ups, Canonical Tagging, Automatic Tagging and more they are helping you get out there and be discovered.

In order to understand who the people are visiting your site you need to know here they are coming from. Website Analytics helps you understand just that. According to Squarespace they monitor you site for page views, including raw, unique and robot hits. All web stats are computed every few minutes giving you real time numbers. They also let you know the keywords that sent them there, what content held them there and what platform they are using.

The big question; how much will this cost me? Well there are 3 plans, Personal, Professional, and Business plan. Each plan offering a group of core services like free custom domain, e-commerce, the site and storage and a monthly charge if you rather pay for the site that way. But as you go up in price so does all the goodies that come with it. For the most part the cost is not as high as some webhosting sites I have seen but it is not the cheapest either. To me with all they offer it seems to be a fair price for what you get.

Personal plan runs eight dollars a month (billed annually or ten dollars month to month). With that you get twenty pages, galleries and blogs with five hundred GB bandwidth along with two GB of storage and two contributors. Contributors are others that can access your account.  Fully integrated e-commerce selling one product and accept donations. Mobile website and store, custom domain and twenty-four seven customer support. To be honest this sounds like a great pan for the price if you are looking for a gallery site only which is not what I am looking for.

Professional plan runs sixteen dollars a month (billed annually or twenty dollars month to month). That plan gets you unlimited pages, galleries ,blogs, storage, bandwidth and contributors. Fully integrated e-commerce with twenty items you can sell, developer platform, Mobile site and store, free custom domain and customer service. This is a plan I think I like, in my budget and I can sell more than just one thing. I will most likely go with this plan if I chose Squarespace.

Business Plan is twenty-four a month (billed annually or thirty dollars month to month).   You get unlimited galleries ,blogs, storage, bandwidth and contributors. Fully integrated e-commerce, unlimited products, Real-time carrier shipping, label printing via shipstation, integrated accounting. Developer platform, mobile website and store, free custom domain and customer support. Although this plan would be the best I am not sure it is within my budget now but if I end up selling enough then I can upgrade to this plan.

So far this space looks good but I do have a lot to learn about websites and all that go with it. Right now everything looks great and confusing at the same time. I still need to look at SumgMug and compare the services and price to Squarespace. When I do pick one I guess that is when the real learning begins and I will know if I pick the right one or not. I just have to compare, make the choice and get my work out there. 

Monday, March 3, 2014

Looking for a Website Host

Now that I have a little birthday money and some put a side I am looking for a website to host my webpage. I had a free one a long time ago but it did nothing for me. One down fall was the fact the templates for photography did not look very professional and I think that turned off a lot of potential customers. To be fair I did not invest a lot of time or energy in it therefore it I got nothing in return. But if you want to get noticed and more to the point, make some money you need a website. Oh and you have to work on it as well as on your social networks.

There are a lot of website hosts out there that I could choose from but I have narrowed it down to two sites. The first is Square Space and the second is Smug Mug. Both are popular and have been around for quite some time, but which one to choose? Deciding on which one to go with has been the problem rattling in my head for too long. So I have written down what I am looking for in a webhost and with that I will compare the two sites based on that. Whichever one fits my needs the best I will go with.

So why am I telling you this? Why don’t I just go out, compare and buy a website and announce the web address on my blog? Well I can’t be the only one who is paralyzed by the myriad of choices out there. So as I investigate each site and write about it, I am hoping to help others out who are in the same boat as I am. This is a sort of a ride along to either a great outcome or a spectacular crash that will benefit you, the reader, in what to or not to do. I am your crash test dummy and I am ready to take a fall that either I live or die in. On with the list and note the categories are not listed in order of most to least important.

Professional Looking Templates;
My last free website was ok but because I did not have professional looking templates to choose from I believed I lost more customers than gained. What I am looking for are clean and simple templates that are easy on the eyes as well as easy to find your way through the site. One thing you cannot have is the viewer thinking hard on how to get around your site. You get one look and if it is not eye catching or too hard to navigate through to the next pages they will move on. I know I do. Also I am not looking to create a flash movie or add music to the site. I find that when it takes time to load I tend to move on to the next photographers website. Keep it simple, be eye catching and don’t make them think too hard.

Being able to Blog;
I believe that blogging is important so that I can let you into my little world. To tell the story of what my work is about and get feedback from you as the audience. So it is vital for me that I can either create a blog as one of the pages or link my site to my blog.

Social Networking;
Let’s face it, without being able to link your social network to your web and vise versa you can’t drive traffic around to the website or out to the posts you place. For the most part the two I have in mind do place social networking buttons on the site. What I am looking into are the ascetics and ease of placement it has for my audience.

How easy is it to upgrade or downgrade my site? I need to be able to grow the site to handle any additional commerce that I may get. As well as downgrade incase after a year my site sucks and I make nothing. In that event I will still keep the site but in only gallery form because that should be the least you should have to direct people to see your work. A flicker account is really not professional enough.

How easy is it to use the commerce part of the site for myself and my customers? I need a site that I don’t have to think too hard to set up. That I can use and when someone buys something I can get paid. I also want to control the price of items and offer discounts. I want to offer a gallery page that requires a special invitation to see and purchase from. Is that possible? I am looking for price points for commerce items. How much do I have to spend in order to get these types of amenities?

Customer Service;
I want an easy way to contact customer service if I have a question and get a quick and understandable response. Not that I am worried that my customer service comes from India but the answer I get is not so far above my head that I am not able to rectifying the problem. Be there when I need them and to advise me on ideas I may have.

Great Analytics;
I am not a rocket scientist nor did I go to school in marketing. I am an Art Major with the inability to comprehend advance statical information. I am willing to meet half way and learn as much as I can but I don’t have the funds to take a Stat Class. So the Analytics must be simple and to the point. I need to have the information in a simple format so that I can act on it as I see fit.

One thing I don’t have a lot of at my house is storage for my digital files. At this time I burn my files to disk. So part of the service I will need to be storage of my best work on the site. I need it to be safe and downloadable when I need it. As I make money I will start looking for a better solution to the storage situation because I know it is just a matter of time before something bad happens. Then I will be shit out of luck.

I have to balance affordability with service. If money was no object I would have someone build it for me but because I have a budget I need to get the most for what I can pay.

Membership Benefits;
By being a part of this webhosting group I am looking for helpful information in order to be more successful in my business. I am looking for tips, education on the market place, and information on people who are successful in areas in or outside of photography. A really good webhosting company wants to be successful, grow and make more money. The only way to do that is have their clients grow and make more money. A symbiotic relationship that is vital in order to succeed in the business world.

I am sure this foray into the world of webhosting will open be eye opening. I will learn more about it and what is possible to do as I dig into the nuts and bolts of it all, and my hope is you will too. In the next post I will be breaking down each webhosting site in the categories I have listed. Then the last post I will give my decision on which site I chose and why. Until then Shoot well and Shoot often. 

Friday, February 28, 2014

Chris Jordan

Chris’s work is unique in that the idea is not to create some stunning landscape or beautiful portrait. No he creates photographs out of the objects, sometimes garbage that illustrates a large complex number. Chris’s website, Chris Jordan Running the Numbers: An American Self-Portrait shows his latest works followed by facts about the subject of each photograph. In one he has letter blocks that explains how important education is. Once you click on the image it zooms out to reveal that each block is made of many blocks to eventually illustrate what 1.2 million children that drops out of school each year looks like. And that is his point.

Chris explained in an interview with Chase Jarvis, that someone can tell you that 1 million cups are used every 6 hours on American airway each day but do you really understand what 1 million looks like? That is what Chris has set out to show us. We hear big number but we don’t know how to comprehend it.  And most of the subjects and numbers that he creates in to art are, unlike his images, disturbing.

On project photography the dyeing and dead birds full of plastic on Midway Island Chris moved from the realm of stills to moving picture. Again listing to his interview I felt that the subject matter was so compelling those photographs were not enough to convey this story. With donations he started to create this documentary that shows the beauty and grief of these birds on to the big screen. At last news update Chris was showed the film last April. Any further news of the film I will be sure to bring it up.

What attracts me to Chris’s work is the fact he is able to create his large panel art using a photo repeatedly to show you what a statically large number looks like. I have never see one in person but I would image, like Chuck Close’s work that the majority of people walk up close to see the finder detail. Chris, at least to me, motivates me to look at my life and how I impact all that is around me. Overall Chris shows the unintended consequences of our actions and that is very appealing to me. I also feel that need to show the unintended consequence of those around my little world.

But don’t just read my words about Chris please follow the links and watch his interviews and talks about his passion. I hope you find it both educational and motivating to you

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Shooting in the Cold

This winter, unlike the past few, has been very cold and because of that I would bet that the majority of you have not ventured out with your cameras. Understandable, it is hard to get up early knowing that the arctic wind can find every seam in your clothing to crawl through. Not to mention that the cold is hard on your equipment, but that should not hold you back from photographing the beauty of winter. You just need to prepare well with warm cloths and a zip lock bag.

Before you go out for your next session you must pick up some one or two gallon zips lock bags and put a couple in your bag. I like zip lock because they are much easier in the cold to open and close than the regular bag. The reason you need these bags is to save off condensation when you go back in the house.
As hard is the cold on your camera, so is condensation. Your camera is cold and will help draw the moisture out of the air much like a glass of ice water does on a hot summer’s day. That moisture finds its way into the electronics and sensor of your camera wreaking havoc and eventually turning it into a brick. Preventing this is simple.

Fist; once you are finished photographing power down the camera, take the battery out then open the bag and slide it in.

Second; before closing it squeeze all the air out of the bag. This way if there is any humidity in the outside air it will be purged from the bag.

Third; it is ready to bring into the house, but don’t open it yet. You must wait until the camera has warmed up to the touch. Then inspect to make sure there is no sign of condensation. If it is all clear then it is ready to use.

This technique works well for the summer. Late last summer there was a vigorous lighting display that I wished to capture. Because the air in my house was cool and the humidity outside was so high, condensation formed on my camera. Had I been in possession of a large zip lock bag I could have sealed it up, taken it outside and let the camera warm up to the outside temperature without condensation.

So don’t let winter’s cold keep you from your photography. With a little planning you can still have a great time getting shots of the winter that seems to never stop. Shoot well and Shoot often. 

Monday, February 24, 2014

A camera does not make the photographer

It doesn’t matter what kind of camera you use or how much you plunked down on the counter for it. The camera does not make the photographer. It is a tool that one uses much like the carpenter uses a hammer to craft his cabinets. The camera, in its most basic form, captures light through a lens onto a sensor or a strip of film where it is stored for the artist to process. It is as simple as the job of a hammer for driving a nail into wood. It is the human element; the brain, eyes and the heart that makes the photographer as it is for the carpenter in their craft.

Noted in caption.

As you look over the extremely large collection of images on the internet you begin to notice the need for people to note what camera was used in their captioning. For the most part if the image is stunning why then should we care what camera was used to capture the image? Wasn’t it the photographer that created the photograph? Wasn’t it the photographer that worked the image until it matches their vision of what they saw in their head? I have yet to find a camera that goes out on its own and take the picture.  I know that I am sounding a little obtuse but really do we need to be so gear minded?

What makes a photographer?

A true photographer knows their craft. Photographers learn how to balance the exposure equation by using the meter and the histogram. By understanding this balance they get it right in the camera first and not relying on PhotoShop to bail them out later. PhotoShop can’t always fix all your mistakes in your images. And if you were able to fix it in PhotoShop, how much stronger of an image would have it been had you taken the time to do it right in the first place?

A photographer studies all the elements of composition not only in their own craft but others as well. Looking at how Rembrandt use lighting to move your eye through the painting. By creating what is known now as Rembrandt lighting he is able to tell a story and move you through the painting. Vincent Van Gogh’s use of his brush and pallet knife to create motion in his “Starry Night.” By adding motion to a static scene he adds a new element to painting that later becomes part of the impressionist movement. By learning how other artist who work outside photograph handle composition in their subject, one can then apply that to better their work.

A photographer has passion to get up everyday and wonder what to create next. To look at the world with different eyes and show the possibilities, the beauty and the ugly. Engaging their audience to feel the aw of the wonderful planet we live in. To bring other people from other places into your space and on the walls to create an understanding about them you may have never had otherwise. To create something so unique it fills you with emotion that moves you  to do something. Passion is what drives a photographer.

None of these qualities have ever been built into a camera. I have never scrolled through a menu on the back of my camera and found Knowledge, Passion or Creativity. What I have found it the programs that will help me make a better decision about an exposure but  rest is up to me. So remember, next time when you are typing information into the title or comment page, skip the part about the camera and instead give yourself credit  for the image. If someone really wants to know what camera you used, they can find it under the photo information.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Second Round

It is early but I know that my efforts will be rewarded the more I get out photographing the eagles. I put my layers of cloths on and make my way downstairs to make coffee. My wife is up already and has, to my delight, started the coffee. Once it is finished I drink a couple of cups in hopes to warm and wake me up. I eventually work my way up to putting the dogs out for their morning constitution.

After feeding the dogs I pack my bag and head out the roller dam on the Cedar River. The air is cold and the light of the sun is on the horizon as I make my way. “This time I will park a small distance from the river and walk in” I thought to myself. “This way I will hopefully not disturb the eagle or the rest of the wildlife.” Arriving, I parked the car and got myself situated for the walk. The sun is now just below the tree line so I quicken my pace to the spot I want to start shooting.

I entered the river bank area by an opening that seems to be a boat ramp. It is just less than a quarter mile from the dam and where the eagles like to hang out. I figured on hiking into the area they are roosting and take photos along the way. The sun is now just breaking over the trees. The warm light catches the steam lifting off the water and bathes the duck and geese on the river. I stop and set up to squeeze off a few frames.  Taking this moment I sit a listen to the river rushing downstream, the ducks and geese calling out, alerting every one of my presents. A that moment I caught a faint sound of the eagle cry in the distance. I turned and up in the trees next to the dam I could see them.

The sun was up and the light caught 5 white heads of the eagles as they sat in the tree. Crying out they took flight on the crisp morning air. The hunt was on. For them fishing was first priority but for me I had to hike some distance over uneven snow packed ground before I could start photographing. I quickly switched my lens to the 500mm mirrored, secured my bag and made my way slowly to a good safe spot.

As I made my way I ran across a crow that tolerated me being very close. So close in fact I could almost touch him. Surrounded by twigs I slowly put my view finder to my eye, focused and started to take photos. Slowly moving around the crow I got three different shots with the third one being the best, a head shot. “My wife will like this one.” I thought with the click of the shutter and with that I made my way to the eagles as the crow remaining undisturbed.
With the eagles on the hunt I moved in quickly to a spot halfway to my intended destination. Pulling the viewfinder up to my eye I started my exercise of fixing on a target and keeping it focused. This time I had a plan. As the eagles flew away I turned the lens focus to the left and to the right as they got closer. I fired off a few frames and watched as they retreated back into the trees. After a few minutes I started slowly making my way to the spot close enough to get good shots. 20 minutes and 80 yards passed and I reached a place where I was close enough to photograph the eagles but not spook them. Now the waiting begins.  

In between flights I would turn my attention on the other birds that occupied the area. Just out of sight I hear a cardinal, blue jay, and chickadee calls but always at a distance. The duck and geese continued to call and fly in and out of the area. Then out of nowhere the eagles would take to flight again and the exercise would begin again. I worked the lens as I trained my eye on the targets. They would fly close but not close enough for that one money shot similar to the one I got my first day shooting. And as soon as it started, it would be all over and the eagles would return to the trees waiting for the next flight.

The eagles did not seem  keen about getting too close so I took my shots were I could. The cold was getting to the lens so quickly focusing was becoming a problem which in turn yielded a lot of missed shots. I did however get a few more photos of them perching on the trees. One in particular had the eagle framed by the branches in the foreground which turned out to be the best of the day shot for me.

Time passed and eventually the cold got to me so I made my way back to the parking lot. I managed to grab one more photograph of geese swimming on the river in the fog rising out of the water. Up the ramp and to the parking lot I put my camera in the gallon bag and sealed it up tight. Stuffed it back into the bag and made my way home. It is 0930 and the sun is now warming up the trees and the snow is falling off of them. It is bright and colors have been washed out from the sky as I make my way home. I think I will try a late afternoon shoot next time that could be fun.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Eagles on the Dam

It’s 7am and the temperature has reached a balmy negative 3 degrees as I pack up my camera bag. The sun is just starting to broach the horizon as I climb in to the car and start to make my way to the roller dam on the Cedar River. The eagles have gathered there for the winter and today I am going to try my hand at photographing them. I have a 500mm Mirrored lens that I borrowed from my father that I plan to use for this adventure. I haven’t really shot with it so I my expectations are low on a lot of sharp images coming out. Nor have I spent anytime down by the dam to know where I should be to get the best angles for this time of day. I am starting out a bit behind the eight ball, right?

As I get close to the area I realize that my quick glance at Google maps was not helping me in anyway. Lost and loosing time I rush around trying to find a sign pointing me to the dam. The sun is now up and I can feel the pressure mounting. If I arrive too late the eagles will not be as active and I will have missed my opportunity to photograph. I eventually find a road that leads a little farther south from my position and follow it. Pay dirt, I get lucky and follow it to the dam. Just before I hit the parking lot I see them, hanging around in the trees waiting like old men with fishing poles for the fish to arrive.

I quickly but quietly get out of my car. I move this way knowing that they can see me but hoping that by not making too much noise I will not spook them. I head down off the parking lot and on the banks of the river when the first one takes off, spooked. So much for my plan, so I hang around putting the lens on and planning my next move. The eagles are east of me as well as the sun. I need to move east and photograph them looking west but getting around them will not be easy. There are only a few left in the tree, two adults and one Juvenal. I move into the trees and up to the road where I will cross in back of them. For some reason they were okay with me walking behind them but not on the river bank.

I found a place and tried to work my way down a steep incline to the river bank. I wish I could say I did this gracefully but I did land hard on my ass and cause the ducks and geese to scatter. This was not helping my effort in not disturbing the eagles. None the less I gathered up my tripod and my pride and set myself up to start photographing.

The eagles did not disappoint. They flew majestically over head searching for fish to catch. Because the lens is a manual focus lens and fixed at f8 I had to squeeze off a few photos to get the exposure right. I set the ISO at 1250 and shutter speed between 640 and 1600. I was not thrilled about the noise I was going to get but again I also knew that I would miss a lot of shot due to miss focusing.

Shooting with this lens was hard. I could have my subject locked on and just a smallest movement of the lens or the eagle and the whole image was soft. But damn how close I could get with it. The first half an hour was spent getting use to the lens while following the rapture. I found myself loosing the bird every once in a while in the middle of panning or focusing. I would peek over the view finder then lock on and reacquire it again in the viewfinder. Missing a lot of shots doing this I reminded myself that I have time and I am just getting the feel for the whole situation.

As the hour past the warmth of the sun was not enough to keep me from shivering while I was photographing. This proved problematic in focusing because of the amount of movement in the viewfinder I was creating was not helping me focus this touchy lens. So between the Arial show the eagles put on I turned my attention to the geese and ducks that were bathed in the steam coming off the river. I got down low and through the viewfinder composed images of them against the rising vapors. I loved the shadows the trees were casting on the river and found them helpful when composing the shot. I snapped a few frames off and turned my attention to the eagles once again.

I lasted about two hours before I got too cold. In that two hours I got to see an Arial display that shows why they command the skies. The sound of the river and cries of both eagles and crows still echo in my ears as I write this post. Just before I left I looked out over the dam and reflected on the event and how important these areas of open water are to these birds of prey.  By keeping these ice free areas clean from debris and chemicals we can continue to enjoy the beauty of the rich wildlife that seek out these open areas. These are great places that are close by to see animals that you might normally not see in town. So get out and enjoy them. Seeing these birds in person is much better than seeing them on TV or even in my photographs.

Enjoy and remember, leave no trace.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Winter's White Blanket

As the year ended and we slide into the New Year, Iowans are being inundated by snow. We are in a state of perpetual shoveling, clearing a path for our cars in order to continue or daily commerce’s. Our lives do not stop for the white fluff on the ground.  Instead we move it aside or drive over it treating it as one of the many burdens in life we must bear. But for some of us we embrace the fluffy white powder and revel in its complexity that makes it so unique. Capturing it in photograph it’s depth, contrast and soft fatherly playfulness upon the skeletal remains of plants form summers past.

Between the snow showers of last I crated these photographs of the harden remains of the summers creation piercing through the icy winter's precipitation. On the canvas of snow the shadows cascade over the surface, bending  to reveal the slight imperfections of the surface or the ground below. It is a landscape. It is a small landscape among giant trees and vegetation of the past summer that one could almost imagine a winter scene out of a New England painting.  Children sledding down the hills, building snowmen and having snowball fights. A microcosm of activity that only winter can hold until the inevitable arrival of the melting warmth of spring.

These images are the start of a project that I hope will be ongoing for many years. I love the seasons and want to create  images that when look upon them it says winter or summer. I think it would be fun to have a small group of images  on your wall that you can change out as the season change.

I find snow to be the tougher of the subjects to photograph. When you ask people what color is snow generally the answer most of the time is White (duh). But it isn't. There are shadows and highlights that help to define the surface of snow. They give it depth and texture while give contrast to the objects around them. Our meters are often fooled by the reflective surface so we capture a grey sheet. But even if you understand how to properly expose snow we often push it to look more white. It is a conceptual bias that we perpetuate in order to make the overall piece aesthetically pleasing. I do find myself wrestling with the overall grey scale of the snow but feel it is what it is. I plan to do more as the season goes on and maybe I show them all or just a few. Who knows. 

So embrace this feathery white precipitation. Enjoy the complexity of the individual flake that builds the blanket of white covering the ground. And most of all, photograph it.