Saturday, February 28, 2009

Elephant Seal & Star Trails

Hi all, here's a very quick post because I'm in Death Valley with very limited internet access.

There are two approaches I usually take in photography: 1) cowboy style "yeehaw, there's something cool to photograph" and 2) planned images. The two below photos are the result of planning.

Photo 1) After about a week photographing elephant seals, I came up with the idea for this photo. The hardest part was finding a location where I could get down low with the seals, and of course doing it safely (the bull seals weight thousands of pounds)! EOS 1DsIII; 24-70/2.8 lens; Singh-Ray warming polarizer and 3 stop hard-edge ND grad; 580 EXII flash

Photo 2: I scouted this location to shoot star trails in the Jumbo Rocks campground in Joshua Tree National Park a couple of nights ago. During the day I planned the composition and figured out the focusing distance. When I went back to make the shot at night, it was easy to set up the gear and trip the shutter before going back to my van for a glass of wine! [As a side note, Jumbo Rocks is one of the best campgrounds I've ever been to.]
EOS 1DsIII; 24-70/2.8 lens; 1 hour exposure at f/5; foreground rocks subtly light-painted with a dim flashlight; Canon multi-function remote shutter release

Monday, February 23, 2009

Wildflower Workshop - June 6-7

Just a heads up that I've posted details for my Orchid & Wildflower photography workshop on the Bruce Peninsula in early June. This is one of the premier wildflower locations in Canada, especially for orchids. The tour is timed to coincide with the blooming peak of Yellow Lady Slippers and a handful of other specialities.

Check out the link:

If you're interested in joining, be sure to sign up soon.... it's booking quickly!

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Point Lobos State Reserve

It finally stopped raining after several very wet days here on the coast. It wasn't a pleasant drizzle that you can keep shooting in and end up with rich, moody photos. It was windy, with driving rain... impossible to keep the front of my lens dry. So I drank coffee, read and edited photos to wait out the weather.
With great weather conditions back, I spent yesterday at Point Lobos State Reserve near Carmel. My photo targets at Point Lobos were harbor seals and seascapes, both of which were obliging.

Photo 1: Harbor Seal
EOS 1DsIII; 500IS + 1.4x TC; 580EX flash + Better Beamer (for fill flash); Singh-Ray LB polarizer (drop in). There was no way to move to the other side of the backlit seal, so this was a classic situation for use of fill flash. Without it there was basically no shot.

Photo 2: Weston Beach sunset
EOS 1DsIII; 17-40mm; Singh-Ray Colorcombo polarizer & stacked 2 & 3 stop hard edge ND grads (4x6" size, handheld in front of the lens); mirror lock up & cable release; ISo 200; 5s @ f16
This beach is named after pioneer photographer, Edward Weston.

Photo 3: Kelp stems at sunset - Weston Beach (horizontal)
EOS 1DsIII; 17-40mm; Singh-Ray Colorcombo polarizer & stacked 2 & 3 stop hard edge ND grads (4x6" size, handheld in front of the lens); mirror lock up & cable release; ISo 400; 25s @ f18

Photo 4: Kelp stems at sunset - Weston Beach (vertical)
Whenever possible, I shoot both horizontal and vertical compositions to have variety for publishing. I think the vertical is a stronger image. What do you think?

Monday, February 16, 2009

Elephant Seals

The California coast is outstanding for marine wildlife! Although I've only been here for a few days, it's been a blast photographing elephant seals. These are charismatic animals which are highly entertaining to watch. At this time of year, the bulls basically spend their days loafing on the beach, fighting with rival males and mating with their harem. What a life!

Photo 1: Bull elephant seal charges a rival
EOS 1DsIII; 500mm IS; 1/800s@ f5; ISO 400; Singh-Ray LB warming polarizer (drop in)

Photo 2: Elephant Seal cub
EOS 1DsIII; 500mm IS + 1.4x; 1/80s@ f5.6; ISO 400; Singh-Ray LB warming polarizer (drop in)

Photo 3: Bull elephant seal with wounds from rival battle
EOS 1DsIII; 500/4 IS; 1/8s @ f4; ISO 800; Singh-Ray LB warming polarizer (drop in)

Photo 4: Bull elephant seal rears at dusk
EOS 1DsIII; 70-200mm/2.8 IS 1/60s@ f2.8; ISO 800; Singh-Ray LB colorcombo

Friday, February 13, 2009

Quest for the Lewis' Woodpecker

Of the species of birds that I have always wanted to see, Lewis’ Woodpecker has been at the top of the list. I’m not sure what it is about this bird, but it has captivated my interest for decades.

I’ve been following the bird reports hoping to find a Lewis’ location that meshed with my travel plans. Thankfully, several had recently been sighted in the San Bernardino Mountains at Silverwood Lake State Recreation Area. I added it to my itinerary.

When I arrived at the park a few days ago it was closed due to heavy snowfall. I opted to camp nearby, hoping that that the conditions would improve and the park would reopen. Thankfully the next morning was sunny and warm, which melted the icy park roads. I was waiting at the gates when the ranger opened the park mid morning.

I searched for a long time in the area where the birds had allegedly been hanging out, but to no avail. Finally, as I was walking back to the van - ready to pack it in and head to the coast - I made one last scan. In the distance there was a lone bird sitting high up on a dead tree. Could it be? Elated, I had found my life (first ever) Lewis’ Woodpecker.

Now that I was on to them, I quickly found two additional Lewis'. After enjoying satisfying views, I rigged up my camera gear with lots of magnification to try for some photos. It was very difficult to get close to them with an unobstructed view, but I kept working until I had a few reasonably clean shots.

That evening, when I went to download the memory card to see my precious photos, they were all gone! There had been a problem with the card or camera and it appeared that all the files were either lost or corrupted. My heart sunk! After a frantic email to Lexar for technical support, they promptly sent me the recovery software. The photo gods must be on my side, because it worked!

Although these aren't prize winners, I'm just plain excited to have any photos of Lewis' Woodpecker!

EOS 50D; 500/4 + 1.4x TC

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Naturescapes Award & Popular Photo magazine

Hi all, just a bit of flagrant self promotion here...

1) My photo of the Subway in Zion National Park has just been selected for honorable mention among the Images of the Year on . Check out the slideshow on the main page.... mine is image #8.

2) There's a brief editorial feature on me on page 11 in the latest (March) issue of Popular Photograph magazine. The magazine is widely available in bookstores and newstands.


Snow, Rain and Great Light

Here's a photo of heavy snowfall in Joshua Tree. I'm not a big cold weather/snow fan (it's why I've escaped from Canada for the winter), but even I was taken by the beauty of snow in the desert.

After leaving Joshua Tree en route to the San Bernardino Mountains, I got a call notifying me that someone had been attempting to fraudulantly use my credit card. What a pain to deal with! After many calls and wracking my brain to figure out where I would be so that a new card could be couriered (not an easy thing when you're travelling like a photo nomad) I finally got it all worked out. At this point I was a bit cranky, but kept focussing on the goal of seeing my life Lewis' Woodpecker. So you can imagine my mood when I arrived at the park where the woodpecker had been seen, only to find the park closed indefinitely due to heavy snowfall. I found a nearby campsite to chill out for the night.

The campground was pretty darn nice and there wasn't another person there - I had it entirely to myself. There were electical hookups to run a heater (it was going well below freezing) and showers. You can't imagine how much of a luxury a hot shower is when you're living on the road. Things were looking up.

And here's the view from my campsite.... not bad, eh!

I quickly forgot all of the hassles of the day at dusk, when the passing storm front resulted in this incredible light. The sky was purple!

EOS 1DsIII; 24-70; Singh-Ray LB Colorcombo filter & 3 stop soft edge ND grad

EOS 1DsIII; 24-70; Singh-Ray LB Colorcombo filter & 3 stop soft edge ND grad

As for my attempt to find the Lewis' Woodpecker...... did I end up seeing it? I'll save that story for the next post. Check back soon.

Monday, February 09, 2009

Joshua Tree National Park

Hi all, I've been in Joshua Tree National Park the last couple days. This is a superb park for landscape photography.... the combination of interesting boulder piles and gnarly joshua trees is awesome. The weather has been very tough to photograph in..... extremely windy and cold with bouts of overcast skies. Nevertheless I've worked hard to get a few good images.
And for all my friends back up north, envious that I am in a warmer climate, it's been cold here the past couple days. I froze my butt off camping the last two nights and woke up to heavy snowfall this morning (will post a photo of the snow later)! Tonight I'm staying in a park with electical hookups so I can run my heater.

I'm now en route to try to see (and hopefully photograph) a Lewis' Woodpecker in the San Bernardino Mountains. This is a bird I've been wanting to find for a long time.

A quick post-script.... it's snowing like mad! The park where the woodpecker was seen is closed due to the weather.... damn! Crossing my fingers that it opens back up tomorrow.

Photo 1: Me and the van in Joshua Tree.

Photo 2: Backlit Teddy Bear Cholla
This species of cactus is evil..... they almost jump at you. And once you've gotten stuck, it's a pain to get the spines out.... I still have several stuck in my hand from when I shot this photo.
1DSIII; 17-40; Singh-Ray LB warming polarizer & 2 stop hard edge ND grad

Photo 3: Jumbo Rocks campground at dusk
1DSIII; 17-40; Singh-Ray Gold-n-Blue polarizer
The sky was fairly blah, but I salvaged the photo with the Gold-n-Blue polarizer.

Photo 4: Moonglare through Joshua Tree
I shot this well after sunset will the nearly full moon rising.
1DSIII; 17-40; Singh-Ray 2 stop hard edge ND grad
Light-painted the foreground plants slightly with a flashlight.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Back in the southwest: Short-tailed Hawk & Saguaro

I'm back in the south and enjoying fantastically warm weather. I don't miss the snow and cold of Ontario at all! Today I joined up with some bird photographer friends and we spent the day chasing birds around Tucson. In the afternoon we photographed a very rare species for the southwest.... a Short-tailed Hawk. This particularly interesting individual has tan coloration.

Let me tell you a quick story about my relationship with Short-tailed Hawks. About 15 years when I had just finished university, I took my first big birding/photography road trip from Ontario down to Florida and across to Texas and Arizona. Prior to the departing I had decided that I would get a tattoo of my 500th life bird species, which I would inevitably see during the trip. This occurred in Florida and it was a close call between Red-whiskered Bulbul (an exotic songbird) and Short-tailed Hawk. Thankfully a careful recount confirmed it was the hawk, lest I would be stuck today with a wimpy Bulbul tatooed on my arm.

By the way, I bought a 50D body last week for backup and this is the first photo I've posted with it. Will share more thoughts about this camera soon after I've had a chance to put it thought the paces.

Photo 1: Short-tailed Hawk, Tucson
50D + 500/4IS; handheld; manual exposure

For those of you who are tired of seeing bird photos on this blog, here's a cactusscape that I shot tonight on the way to the campground. I love Saguaros - they're my favorite plant.

Photo 2: Saguaro Cactus, Tucson
EOS 1DsIII; 14-40 lens