Category Archives: Nature Photography

Shoot or Don’t Shoot: A Question for Workshop and Tour Leaders

The question was raised on a popular nature and wildlife photography forum as to whether workshop leaders shoot make photos when leading one of these programs. I thought I’d share my reply on my blog:

As a participant every workshop I’ve attended the leader also did some shooting. Most times their shooting was limited in comparison to that of the participants, but they did shoot. These, however, were always workshops aimed at wedding or portrait photography, employing paid models to demonstrate using lighting or shooting in certain situations/locations. In nearly every case there was classroom time involved during the workshop and a critique session at the end. I really had no issues with the leader making photos. They kept the level low so they could observe and make suggestions to the participants and were available to answer questions 100% of the time. FWIW I’ve never taken a nature/wildlife targeted workshop.

As a workshop/tour leader I shoot. I don’t have my face glued to the back of my camera the entire time we’re in the field. In fact I’m fairly selective about what I shoot when leading. After all, I’m leading the group because this is a location I’m intimately familiar with. I shoot in these locations a lot. I spend a lot of my time observing our subjects (wild horses) and the participants. I make suggestions, answer questions. I alert the folks in my charge when I see an interesting situation developing. Obviously I don’t let my own shooting get in the way of my doing my job. I have a responsibility to get the photographers in my charge in front of the horses, to impart some information about the horses, the environment and photography in general, and to try to make sure no one does anything to endanger themselves of the animals we’re photographing.

I offer two kinds of experiences; a “tour/safari” and a “workshop.” They are not one in the same. For a “tour/safari” my primary job is to get the participants in front of the subjects. They are hiring me for my expertise at finding these animals and to handle the logistics such as transportation and meals. Tours are for experienced photographers that don’t feel they need a lot of hand-holding and direction. They’re confident in their camera and compositional skills. They need to be given opportunities, not a lot of instruction. Obviously, at least in my mind, there’s little reason for me not to shoot during these kinds of outings. If they have a question or need my input, all they have to do is ask.

The other experience I offer is a formal workshop. For a workshop there’s going to be some classroom time involved. Instead of a pre-trip briefing given during a tour, we’re going to spend the first morning learning about the history of these animals, the rules concerning interaction with them and we’ll discuss things like lens selection and composition. My assumption is that someone that signs up for a workshop is looking to improve their photography skills as well as getting photo ops with the wild horses. During our first session in the field I’ll shoot very little, but I will shoot some. I’ll be observing everyone, analyzing the strengths, weaknesses and needs of each individual. Just as when leading a tour, I’ll be alerting folks when things are going to get interesting, be responsible for locating the animals and be dealing with the logistics of the thing. As the workshop progresses I’m usually able to shoot more and more… but again, while being very selective about what I shoot. Near the end of the workshop, but before the last field session, there’s another classroom session. This session is all about composition and post processing. It includes a critique session. I do this prior to the final field session with the idea that the participants will be able to apply what they learn to their final shooting opportunities. During that last field session I’m answering questions if asked, but not offering unrequested input. The idea is to let them try to put it all together on their own.

Keep in mind there’s an educational aspect to the leader shooting. By observing how the leader shoots… things such as tripod height, lens selection, long lens technique, etc… the participants can gain some insight into maximizing their photographic opportunities during their tour or workshop. The short and sweet – I shoot. I shoot more during a tour than during a workshop but I shoot.

Also posted in Banker Horses, Education, General Photography, Guided Tours, Photo Tip Tagged , , , , , , |

Eastern Phoebe

While I was photographing the Yellow Rumped Warblers the other day I was blessed with another visitor. A lovely little Eastern Phoebe perched on a bare branch, watching to see what I was up to. Obviously this was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up. The Eastern Phoebe is a member of the flycatcher family. This handsome little species of bird was the first to be banded in the United States. In 1804 John Audubon, (yep… that Audubon), attached a “silvered thread” to the leg of an Eastern Phoebe so he could track its return in the following years. A year round resident of the Carolinas, these pretty little birds winter farther north than other flycatcher species. These small birds will use buildings and bridges for nesting sites, a trait that has allowed them tolerate urban growth into their natural habitat.

Photographing small birds is one of the few situations where I like to have my camera at my eye level. For shooting most wild subjects I prefer a low point of view but birds are often perched high in the branches of tree. A shot taken on at eye-level with the subject always has more impact than a shot taken at an extreme upward angle. For this series the Phoebe was perched very close to my eye-level making a good situation even better. I made these shots with a Canon 7D and a Sigma 50-500mm lens mounted atop an Induro CT314 tripod.

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Eastern Phoebe at the Rachel Carson Estuarine Reserve Yawnig Eastern Phoebe

Eastern Phoebe

Also posted in Avian Photography, General Photography, Natural History in the Carolinas, Photo Tip

They Grow-up So Fast

I still remember the excitement of that day. I had heard there was a new foal living in the Rachel Carson Estuarine Reserve and was on my second trip to try to get some photos of her. There she was, standing next to her mother. Seemingly so small and fragile, yet elegant and beautiful at the same time. That was in August of last year. I also remember how thrilled the participants of my wild horse workshop were to get to see and photographer last April & May. She was still small, impish and cute. Last week I was photographing a lovely little filly. It took a few minutes before I realized it was this same little youngster. She’s not exactly all grown-up yet, but she’s certainly anything but small, fragile and delicate. What they say is so true. They grow up so fast. Here are a few photos of the youngest wild horse living in the Rachel Carson Estuarine Reserve. I hope you enjoy them.

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Wild Horse of the Carolina coast.

Also posted in Banker Horses, General Photography, Wild Horses, Wildlife Photography Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , |

Yellow Rumped Warbler, AKA Butter Butt

I have a friend that moderates the Wildlife South photo forums. Jim is a retired photo editor that used to work for National Geographic. He has a love for photographing small birds and the Yellow Rumped Warbler, a little bird he’s nick named the “Butter Butt,” seems to be one of his favorites. Naturally when I get the chance I have to snap a few photos of these little birds to share with him. I had braved the cold the other morning, scraped the frost off of my windows, loaded the kayak and headed over to the reserve to photograph the wild horses. After spending some time with the horses I decided to head back to the kayak, make the paddle across Taylor’s Creek and go enjoy the warmth and comfort of home. On the hike back I noticed several of these handsome little birds and decided to make a few photos.

Yellow Rumped Warbler

Yellow Rumped Warbler

Yellow Rumped Warbler

Yellow Rumped Warbler

Also posted in Avian Photography, General Photography Tagged , , , , , , , , |

Tangled Mane: Portraits of a Wild Horse

Life and weather have conspired to keep me from getting out to do any shooting this week. I did, however, find some time to go through my files from my last outing and to work up a few photos. While portraits lack the dynamic energy found in the fight sequences I recently posted, it is interesting to get a close look at these beautiful wild horses. In this series I showcase a pretty mare with a severely tangled mane. I think the tangle adds a bit of character and helps with impart the feeling of “wild” to the viewer. See what you think.

A wild horse feeding on marsh grass sports a tangled mane.

Portrait of a wild horse with a tangled mane.

Wild horse of the Carolina coast.

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Also posted in Banker Horses, General Photography, Wild Horses, Wildlife Photography Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , |

Wild Horses Clash: Drama on the Tidal Flats

When most people think of a wild horse fight they visualize the horses standing on there rear legs, hooves flailing and teeth gnashing… (kind of like in the post below this one). But in reality it doesn’t always work that way. They can clash with all four feet planted firmly, well semi-planted, on the ground. The photos below show a clash between two dominate stallions on the tidal flats. During this scrimmage neither horse ever reared up. Still the action was intense with mud and water flying in the air.

During the editing process I quickly recognized that I wanted to use a contrasty black and white treatment for the first image. I desaturated the image in “Adobe Camera Raw,” then opened it with Photo Shop. Next I applied some “smart sharpening” then used the NIK “define” plugin to tame down the noise a bit. Next I used the “detail extractor” in the NIK Color Efex Pro 4. I then zoomed in to do some dodging and burning by hand to create the look I wanted. The final step was to create a duplicate layer in “soft light” mode to add some “pop,” then adjust the opacity of that layer to taste. I then decided I wanted to do a series, selected the next two images and used the same workflow to maintain a consistent look between the three photos.

Wild horses clash in a vicious battle on the tidal flats along the North Carolina coast

Fighitng wild stallions, North Carolina Outer Banks

Wild horses of the Outer Banks

Also posted in Banker Horses, Education, General Photography, Natural History in the Carolinas, Photo Tip, Wild Horses, Wildlife Photography Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

Wild Horse Fight Sequence

To those not familiar with horse behavior it seems to happen in a flash. Teeth gnash, sharp, hard hooves flail, thousands of pounds of muscle, bone and hide explode in a vicious battle over dominance and breeding rights. It’s a scene that’s played out for as long as life has walked the planet. For those that witness one of these epic clashes it is clear why Federal, State and Local laws set boundaries on how close humans can approach wild animals. You really wouldn’t want to be caught between a pair of these battling animals.

Those of us that pay our dues and spend hour after hour observing and photographing these magnificent animals, such dramatic events rarely just happen instantaneously. We’re able to read the pre-fight behavior, the posturing and taunting that takes place before the action begins. It’s that kind of intimate knowledge that allows us to be ready to capture these duels as stills and videos. This is a simple truth that applies to all wildlife photography; knowledge of your subject substantially improves the odds of capturing interesting, compelling images. To improve ones success to failure ratio one needs to do their homework and pay their dues.

So how does one gain knowledge and pay their dues if they don’t live near their intended subject or cannot commit the hours of observation? There are really three choices: Take your chances, go it on your own and hope to get lucky. Hire an experience guide to help get you in the right place at the right time. Sign-up for a photography workshop dealing with the subject you’re interested in photographing. Of course doing a little homework doesn’t hurt either. Read a few books and articles, watch some video, follow some blogs… in short gather some information to give you a head start in your quest to make exciting photos of wild animals in their natural environments.

The following is a sequence of images from a recent wild horse fight I witnessed.

A clash of titans - a pair of wild stallions fight on the tidal flats near Beaufort, North Carolina

Wild horses battling over the right to breed on North Carolina's Outer Banks

Wild mustang fight near Beaufort, NC

Wild horses in combat along the Outer Banks of North Carolina

Dueling wild mustangs along the Crystal Coast of North Carolina

The wild horse fight ends

Also posted in Banker Horses, General Photography, Natural History in the Carolinas, Photo Tip, Wild Horses, Wildlife Photography Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

Another Wild Horse With Texture Applied

I had so much fun adding textures to images that I decided to try it again. First I needed to choose a base image to work with. I don’t believe textures work with every image, though that may be more a matter of taste than science. I settled on a favorite shot from last winter to play with. After selecting a subject the next trick is choosing an appropriate texture to overlay. This choice can make or break the final product. Once settling on which images to work with the process is the same as I previously described. Here’s the step by step process I use in Photo Shop CS6 (you could use Gimp, Elements, Paint Shop Pro, etc.):

Open subject image in Photo Shop, open texture image, select and copy texture image, paste over subject image, adjust opacity to taste, use eraser tool at a low opacity and flow to clean texture off of subjects face, flatten image, create duplicate layer in soft light mode, adjust to taste, flatten image, apply vignette, flatten, and save.

Wild horse stallion with texture applied.

Also posted in Banker Horses, Education, General Photography, Photo Tip, Wild Horses, Wildlife Photography Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , |

Applying Textures to Photographs

It’s not a new technique. Layering textures on photos has been around for a long time. It’s an interesting effect that can take a documentary style photo and turn into a piece of fine art. The process isn’t too difficult. You’ll need some kind of image processing software… Photo Shop, Elements, Paint Shop or others. The software needs to be capable of working with layers. Open the image you want to work with. You’ll then open an image of the texture you want to apply. (Choosing the right texture for an image is the real art to the entire process). Place the texture on top of your photo as a layer. Adjust the opacity of the texture layer so the photo below it shows through. Your taste, goals and artistic vision will play a role in how much opacity you want. You may want to use an eraser tool to reduce or remove the amount of texture over key areas of your subject such as the face, eyes, etc. Once you’re satisfied flatten the image. At this point I find the image usually lacks a bit of “pop”… seems a bit flat and boring. I like to create a duplicate layer and select a mode such as “soft light” or “overlay.” Then, if necessary I adjust the opacity of this layer as needed to get the look I want. It’s really that simple. Below are a few photos I worked up recently using the process described.

Overlaying a texture on a photography can have a dramatic affect on it's look and feel.

Applying textures to photography to create digital art is a simple process.

Photograph of a wild horse with a texture applied.

Also posted in Banker Horses, Education, General Photography, Photo Tip, Wild Horses, Wildlife Photography Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

Gray Squirrel: A Common Creature That’s Oh So Cute

When it comes to squirrels people either love them or hate them. Folks with bird feeders may see these quaint little rodents and thieving pests that are constantly stealing their bird food. Others find these creatures to be cute furry little animals. It’s all a matter of perspective. Personally, I kind of enjoy watching them. If you’re sitting in the forest, waiting on a deer, bear or whatever your target subject might be, squirrels can provide a great deal of entertainment. If you’ve ever sat in a blind for a few hours, waiting for your subject to present its self to your lens, you’ll understand the value of being entertained by small critters like squirrels.

A few mornings ago I had a spot staked out, waiting for a whitetail deer to present its self. Now mind you, I didn’t just walk out into the middle of the woods with no rhyme or reason, but I’m staking out a location I’ve scouted for signs of frequent deer travel. While waiting on a deer a couple of squirrels were kind enough to pose for me. Below are a couple of the resulting photos.

Squirrels con be entertaining when sitting in a hide.

A cute, furry squirrel sits in a tree.

Also posted in General Photography, Wildlife Photography Tagged , , , , , , , |
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