Sunday, January 27, 2013

Mineral Waters and Frozen Time

Cool Imagery                               26 January 2013

The game is a good one.  Wake early, walk slowly, and stay warm.  Plan and conserve.  Keep fingers alive. Use a tripod.  Plan each exposure and make art.  Plan each step and stay safe.  Look high. Look low. Perspective is everything.

I am an animal photographer.  I shoot from the arm, shoot fast, and shoot wide-open.  I have grown used to stalking and planning to intercept the usual routines of animals I have come to know.  As for landscape imagery, I have learned this other craft over time and with reluctance.  Capturing the personality of a landscape is a completely different challenge, but at least there is time to contemplate the nature of the art here. The necessity of the tripod has evolved into a love for the opportunity it creates and the pensive moments that draw me deeply into the subject matter of nature.

All images were made at 0 degrees Fahrenheit, using the Canon 7D, a remote trigger, and the "kit" Canon 28 to 135mm lens.  I kept it stable on a Gitzo basalt fiber tripod with Gitzo ball head.  I was delighted to learn that the Canon 7D has an internal camera level that is identical to the horizon gauge used by pilots. To maximize depth of field and to blur moving water, I stopped down to f22. Bruce Leventhal has been a tremendous mentor in my pursuit of landscapes, my newly found joy in making such images, and my growing understanding of how cameras are supposed to work.  Thanks ol' friend!  Check out

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Life Bird #575: Iceland Gull

Pleased to Meet You                                      13 January 2013

Iceland Gull

My most celebrated days in nature are deliberate journeys into truly wild places.  In Northwest Wisconsin, we are surrounded by hundreds of thousands of acres of public land, wild and scenic rivers, and large tracts of contiguous habitat.    True expanses of wilderness thrive to our north, but the land here where I live is plenty suitable for packs of wolves, fishers, bears, Cerulean Warblers, and so much more.  This is the wild.

On rare occasion, my journeys afield take me elsewhere, to strange places where endless and vast wildernesses intersect bustling humanity.  Today, the vast and unforgiving wilderness of Lake Superior spanned out before me, so inviting in its mystery.  But my nose filled with the smell of grilled food, and the roar of tires on the metal planking of the Duluth lift bridge busied in my ears.  I was standing at the hard edge between a world of ice and wild waters and a world of tourist shops and grills.  With cement under my feet, I found it unusual to think that the only thing between this city and a herd of wild woodland caribou in Canada is that spectacular stretch of icy water fading to the infinite distance.  As if to celebrate this odd transition and, perhaps, my life as a birdwatcher, an elegant little Iceland Gull floated past me on ivory wings and settled in the water just a few meters away.  Hello!

The Iceland Gull truly lives up to its name, and it is rare here.  Almost every winter a very small number of them overwinter on the open waters of Lake Superior.  They come from the Arctic Circle, nesting in Iceland and Greenland.  It had taken me a long time to finally make the acquaintance of this smaller, rounder, and softly sweeter cousin to the similar Glaucous Gull.  And it was about time, since my life list of birds in the wild has many, many much more unusual sightings.  Nice to finally meet you, wonderful visitor from the Arctic.   You are Life Bird #575 for this ornithologist.   Cheers!

All images were made with a refurbished Canon 7D and Canon 300mm f4 IS flourite lens.  I always shoot my images in RAW, and the silvery light of thin, low overcast and snow flurries at 3 degrees F required some white balance adjustments.   The Common Goldeneye ducks provided endless entertainment at Canal Park.   Canal Park, Duluth, Minnesota, is a great place to get a life bird...and a burger! 

Common Goldeneye, drake
Common Goldeneye, hen

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Corkscrew Swamp, Florida

See You Later, Alligator                               19 February, 2011

Family friendly, conservation-minded, and justified as famous, Corkscrew Swamp is a biological universe in a relatively small space.  It was the first day I ever heard the haunting cries of the Limpkin, the first day I ever saw my own reflection in an alligator's eye, and the first time my watering eyes ever glimpsed the rainbow colors of the Painted Bunting. In the afternoon sun, an Anhinga dried its wings.  I was so fortunate as to study the hungry mosquitoes collecting around a patient Great Blue Heron's eyes, to see a Little Blue Heron dance between moments of feeding and moments of alligator evasion... Enjoy a short hike along the boardwalks of Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary through my lens.

All images were made using a Canon 30D and a Canon prime 300mm f4 IS flourite lens. I enjoyed seeing the Painted Buntings, even if they didn't cooperate for photography that day.  Still, I posted what I got that day so that you can enjoy the rainbow too.  Joining the National Audubon Society is just one way to help save biological diversity for future generations.  Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary is an Audubon Society affiliate and, when I was there, offered discount admission for members.  You'd have to check with them, but I think it still works that way today.   

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Crisp, Cold, Clean Swans

What It Takes to See It                            6 January 2013
A million tiny stars scattered across a perfectly black sky this morning, and a tipsy crescent moon hung in the midst of the last parting mists of the sky.  As much as the moon was waning, the wispy moon doggy was losing its grip to an icy clear morning.  The deep cold felt good, familiar, crisp. It was a long time before sunrise.  I headed to a familiar patch of open water with high hopes for a morning with Trumpeter Swans. 

I know these swans well, and sometimes it seems they know me too.  Yes, we talk. We share hours together.  They are close to my heart.  And, as is often the case, I enjoy sharing their company with a good friend and fellow nature photographer, Bruce Leventhal.  Bruce and I have been making images together since 1992. 

The sun rose slowly, and, as we arrived, the birds were in open water, conserving energy the best they could.  We studied the light for a long time, waiting for something to happen.  Only eleven swans of the previous visit’s thirty-eight occupied these waters, so I assumed the morning would bring arrivals, inbound flights with exciting landings. 

The light was another old friend, but, today, in the complete absence of cloud cover of any sort, the light was a little ornery, a difficult partner in the pursuit of imagery.  As the light grew warmer, we could hear the distant bugles of departing swans, the slapping of big, webbed feet on the water, the jumbled flight calls resonating and bouncing off of one another.  Small sorties lifted off, each heading our way.   Anxiously, Bruce and I began sharing what we each knew of this cantankerous light.  Meter.  Check.  Re-check. Meter.  Focus.  Brace.  Compose.  Photograph!

Cold fingers, athletic reflexes, a wealth of knowledge about our favorite swans’ usual patterns, and good dose of luck soon placed the arriving swans squarely in front of us, splashing down just a few feet away.  Our cameras sprang to life, celebrating the spectacular moments we share with this wild beauty.  The swans bustled with newly found energy as the arrivals greeted those already here.  Old friends.

What does it take to see a part of nature?  What does it mean to see it?  To see it, really see it, one must come to know it. This takes time, dedication, and more. To know it, one must feel.   To see, as a photographer, is to search for the image that feels, the image that shares the feelings within. I really love these swans.  I have worked hard to know them.  It is that feeling, that love of nature, that drives the photographer's vision.   Seeing runs deeply.  Sharing the vision is even harder. I never know for sure if I've come close.

I photographed these old friends with a refurbished Canon 7D and reliable prime 300mm f4 IS Canon fluorite lens.   The light was very unusual, and it proved very difficult to make an exposure.  Most image exposures were made by focusing on the northern horizon and setting a manual exposure based on that average reading. Check out some of Bruce’s artwork at

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

A Happy New Year

Comfort in Patterns                              1 January 2013

Last year was unusual, often lacking in the certainty of cycles as a mild winter was soon followed by heat wave and drought.   For now, the first step into a new year shows promise for restored order. 

The Saint Croix River is frozen, snow abounds, and swans have returned to patches of open water.  Mist rises where running, open water meets the still, cold air.  The frozen snowscape of the river is speckled with carnivore tracks, and deer trails are beginning to show on the hillsides.    The snow promises to replenish our rivers and lakes with new water.

It was just 9 degrees Fahrenheit as I made these images, and all seems well in the world.   May this great start continue on into a year of healthy land, traditional cycles and circles, a more predictable script for an age-old ecosystem.  Winter cold, sweet winter cold, is back.

I made these images with a refurbished Canon 7D and Canon 300f4 IS flourite glass lens.  I exposed +2/3 stop for some of the images to add light to the snow and avoid gloomy gray from overcast skies.