Category Archives: Photo Tip

Car Blind? What the Heck is That!

Car Blind? A Hot Topic

There’s a fairly busy discussion going on at one of the popular nature photography forums concerning “the best color for a car blind.” This seemingly innocent question actually opens the door to a few interesting insights into nature photography today. For example, what the heck is a car blind?

Many “nature photographers” spend a good deal of time taking photos out of their car or truck windows. Many, if not most National Wildlife Refuges have a road called “Wild Life Drive.” There are many drives in National Parks that are known for providing a lot of looks at wildlife (the Cades Cove Loop road in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park quickly comes to mind). Additionally, forest roads, state parks and even country roads may provide looks at wildlife and birds. So the vehicle you use to drive along these routes becomes your “car blind.”

Now you may be thinking, “it sounds like Bob has a little problem with this idea.” Well, yes and no. I’m as guilty as the next photographer of taking advantage of an opportunity if it presents its self. But usually when this happens it’s when I’m traveling from point A to point B and cross paths with a photo op. I really can’t fault anyone for taking the “car blind” approach, especially those with physical disabilities that make hiking, setting up a blind, etc. difficult or impossible. But there are draw-backs to this practice.

It should be obvious that the you’re going to see a lot of repetition of locations and point of view from the “car blind” crowd. After all, the use of the vehicle as your shooting platform limits the areas you can access and also dictates the shooting height of your photos. You’ll never get that nice, low perspective shooting out of a car or truck window.

The other disadvantage to this kind of approach to nature photography is the photographer isn’t really getting the true nature experience. There’s something special about spending time hiking along a trail or sitting for an hour or two in a hide that cannot be matched by restricting your outdoors adventure to the inside of your car. Plus the car-bound photographer isn’t getting the exercise that hiking through nature provides. A little walking is good for the heart, the mind and the entire body.

Perhaps I’ll tackle the question of what makes a good car blind in another post. Like I said, there’s nothing wrong with doing it. I just wanted to get people thinking a little about some of the advantages and draw-backs to using that as your primary nature photography method.

A typical whitetail deer shot taken out the window of a car.

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

Greater Yellowlegs

I enjoy finding these birds when I’m out doing shorebird photography from kayak. One of the larger shorebirds, these are migrants. They travel to Canada for breeding in the Spring then winter in warmer climates… including the North Carolina coast. A somewhat similar looking and named bird, the Lesser Yellowlegs, is difficult to tell apart unless you find them together. The Greater is larger, has a slightly upturned bill that tends to be blue-gray near its base.

For shorebird photography I like to work from my kayak. Even though I’m approaching from the water, these birds can be a little skittish… ok, most shore birds can be a bit skittish… so a slow, careful approach is called for. The best bet is if you can let the wind and/or current drift you into camera range. If you need to paddle you need to keep the paddle movement to a minimum. Don’t make a direct approach of the bird is bound to take to wing.

Making photographs of small shorebirds from a kayak requires a long lens and hand holding rather than using a nice, sturdy tripod. The combination of a telephoto lens and hand holding the camera sets up a bit of risk of camera shake and motion blur. The trick is to keep the shutter speed fast to minimize the effects of this problem.

Greater Yellowlegs at Rachel Carson Estuarine Reserve.

Also posted in Avian Photography, General Photography, Natural History in the Carolinas, Nature Photography, Uncategorized Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , |

Flutter Bys

While it’s not the primary focus of my photography, I definitely have a love for shooting macro. When one sees a close-up photo of a flower or insect they usually assume it was shot using a macro lens. While that may be true in many instances, it’s not always the case. The shots below, for example, were taken with my “super-zoom,” the Sigma 50-500mm lens. This lens certainly has no close-focus capabilities and would not fit the criteria to be considered a “macro lens.” It is possible, however, to make some nice close-up shots of small critters and flora using a telephoto lens. The fact is these were opportunistic shots. I wasn’t actively pursuing butterfly shots but when the opportunity presented its self I wasn’t hesitant to take advantage of it. When out in nature you need to be observant and willing to make adjustments when photographic opportunities knock.

Butterfly in the Croatan National Forest.

Non-macro butterly close-up

Butterfly photo taken with a Sigma 50-500mm lens

Also posted in General Photography, Macro Photography, Uncategorized Tagged , , , , , , , , , , |

Wild Horses in Motion

There are few things as beautiful and graceful as a horse in motion. Expressing that motion in a photograph can be a little tricky. You can choose to pan along with the motion, blurring the background behind the animal. Sometimes the motion will be apparent, especially with an animal like a horse that has a flowing mane. Another though less used option is to allow some motion blur in the subject. Many modern viewers will not appreciate an image in which the subject is blurred. But I think it can add a feeling of great energy and motion. Take a look through this series of images and decide for yourself.

Wild horse in motion.

A wild stallion chases away a rival horse.

Sometimes a little motion blur can add a feeling of energy to a photo.

black prints

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

Rough Green Snake

The weather broke a bit late this afternoon so I decided to venture out and see if I could find something interesting to photograph. The skies were still threatening a bit so I decided to stick to the car and explore some forest roads. That type of outing is always a bit hit or miss… with miss being the most common. I got lucky and notice a Rough Green Snake in the middle of the forest road. While they’re probably common enough their bright green color makes them very difficult to find when in vegetation. They are generally fairly tolerant of close contact with humans, seldom if ever bite so I decided to take advantage of those tendencies and used a macro lens combined with a 1.4x teleconverter and, eventually, an extension tube. For some of these shots the front of my lens was probably within 3 inches or so of the snake’s face.

A Rough Green Snake in the Croatan National Forest

Rough Green Snakes are fairly docile and approachable.

Green snakes eat primarily insects and spiders.

Rough Green Snake.

Also posted in General Photography, Macro Photography, Nature Photography, Uncategorized Tagged , , , , , , , , , |

My Attempt at Photographing the Super Moon

Last night a friend asked me how to take a photo of the “super moon.” In all honesty I really didn’t have a clue. I made a couple suggestions that included try a lot of different settings and see what works. After our discussion I decided to stick my head outside and see of the moon was visible here. It had rained most of the day and I presumed there would be cloud cover. To my surprise there wasn’t. So I decided to give it a shot.

I mounted my camera on my 50-500mm Sigma lens, set that atop my Induro CT 314 tripod and, as I’d advised my friend, tried a variety of settings. They all seemed a little “soft” to me, regardless of setting. (From what I’m seeing this morning of other posts of the super moon that may be par for the course). I opened the file in Photoshop, sharpened, and used the “Detail extractor” filter in Nik’s “Color Efex Pro 4 to crisp it up a bit. It’s a bit noisy but I’ll settle for it.


Also posted in General Photography, Nature Photography Tagged |

Dramatic Rim Lighting Image

Probably not too surprisingly this image looks quite a bit different than it did when it came out of the camera. Obviously it was a color shot when the photo was made. But there was certainly more work involved that a simple conversion to black & white. For example I used a Nik plug-in in Photo Shop bring out more detail in the image. As is done with virtually every image you see the photo was sharpened, contrast was adjusted and in this case some manual burning and dodging was done to increase the drama of the image. One could argue that the image is no longer a nature photo because of the work done during post processing. That’s fine. I understand that position. In fact I’m alright with the image being referred to as a piece of art if you prefer.

If you’d like to know more about my post-processing techniques, including how to produce an image like this, and if you’d like to photograph wild horses you might be interested in my Wild Horse Photography workshop this fall. Workshop Page.

A dramatic photo of a wild mustang in black & white.

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

Black & White Wild Horses

I usually do my black and white conversions manually (and likely will continue to do so in the future), but I’ve heard so much about the Silver Efex Pro 2 module in the Nik software bundle that I decided to play. In addition to the Silver Efex Pro 2 module I used the Detail Extractor in Color Efex Pro 4 and reduced noise using the Define 2 module. One thing for sure, the Nik software has the ability to make ones workflow easy.

True to her name, Marleigh, this wild mare has a dreadlock in her mane.

Two wild mustangs feeding on the tdal flats.

Neck detail of a wild horse.

Wild horse with a wind blown mane.

wild mustang photos

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

Sometimes the “Wrong” Lens is Just Right!

Usually when I want to take close-up photos of plants and flowers I reach from my trusty 100mm macro lens. But recently I decided to play around with doing some close-up work with a wide angle zoom. Instead of mounting my macro lens I reached in my bag and pulled out my Tokina 12-24mm wild angle lens for the job. This lens has a very short minimal focus length allowing me to get a reasonably sized image of the subject. In the case of the images shown below the front of element of the lens was probably only 3 or 4 inches away from the subject…AT MOST! The disadvantage of this lens choice is that you have to work much closer to the subject than if using a longer lens. Honestly, I frequently use a 1.4x teleconverter with my macro lens to either allow even greater magnification or to allow me to work from further away. There is an advantage to using the wild angle lens for close-up work though. The perspective is quite different using this lens when compared to that of a longer lens. Below are the results of this endeavor. I hope you enjoy them.

Fern shot in the Croatan Forest using a 24mm wild angle lens.

Sometimes you need to think out of the box to create unique images.

Southern blue flag iris shot with a wide angle lens.

Wide angle of a wild flower photographed in the Croatan National Forest.

Also posted in General Photography, Macro Photography, Wildflowers Tagged , , , , , , , , , |

Breaking My Own Rules

As a general rule I like to incorporate some environmental elements in my images of the wild horses. My thinking has always been that if I shoot too tight on these animals it’s hard for a viewer to tell a wild horse from a domestic one. I’m also a strong believer in the idea that images that include a sense of where the animals live tell more of a story. However sometimes it’s fun to do something a bit different. Here’s a really tight crop on a wild horses living in the Rachel Carson reserve.

A tight crop on a wild horse.

equine photos

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