Tag Archives: Outer Banks

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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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

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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

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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.

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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.

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Wild Horses in Black & White

Lately I’ve really been enjoying doing intimate crops of the wild horses. I especially find myself trying to make the eye the primary focus of the photo. Of course, in this case,” close-up” may be a good term for the image but it certainly isn’t accurate about how the photo was made. By using a “super-telephoto” lens it’s possible to make intimate portraits of these beautiful animals without getting too close to the horse.

I’ve also found my love for black & white imagery reinvigorated recently. Years before the digital photography age I had a love affair with black & white film. Grain, the noise of the film days, was considered a nice artistic addition to a good mono-tone photo. One of the nice things about digital photography is that every image can be both a black & white photo and a color shot. It’s all done in post processing. If you look at a number of different photographer’s work in black & white of similar subjects you’ll notice there will be differences. Some subtle. Some extreme. It’s simply a matter of the photographers expressing their artistic tastes. Here are my most recent takes on black & white equine fine art photography.

An intimate portrait of a wild horse.

Wild horse of the Carolina coast.

North Carolina wild horse in black & white

Detail shot of a wild mustang in black & white.

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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.

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Jonathan Livingston I Presume?

Perhaps the most often over looked bird by avian photographers, it seems the lowly seagull simply gets no respect. Considering “locals” use terms like “sky rats” to describe them I suppose it’s little wonder that we don’t bother pointing our lenses at them if there’s anything else around to photograph. Still, tourist find the fascinating. And really, who didn’t crack a smile during the movie “Finding Nemo” when all the gulls were chanting “mine… mine… mine?” Frankly I think these birds get a bit of a bad rap. They can make for interesting photographic subjects. So without further excuse or apology, here are a couple photos of a young laughing gull. I do hope you enjoy it.

A Young Laughing Gull on a Perch

Laughing gull along the Noth Carolina coast.

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Belted Kingfisher

Anyone that’s picked-up a camera equipped with a long telephoto lens to pursue making images of shore birds probably has a few stories to tell about their encounters with Belted Kingfishers. These handsome little birds are small, fast and ever so camera shy. For many avian photographers they are considered a “nemesis species,” a bird that’s really tough to get in front of the lens. I’ll readily confess that my success with these little guys is less than great. Count me among those that have been heard saying, “any photo of a Belted Kingfisher is a good photo of a Belted Kingfisher.” I got lucky this morning and managed to get within camera range in my kayak and squeeze off a few snaps of the shutter before my subject took to wing. Are these the best photos of a Kingfisher I’ve seen? Not by a long shot. But hey, they’re Kingfisher photos… so they’re good, right?

Belted Kingfisher at the Rachel Carson Estuarine Rerserve, Beaufort, NC

Belted Kingfisher with Little Blue Heron in the background.

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Portraits of Crystal Coast Wild Horses

In a lot of my wild horse photographs I choose to frame the animals loosely and to include a nice look at the environment in which they live. This gives the viewer and opportunity to better understand where these animals live and the challenges they face to survive. However I also like to frame tightly from time to time… to make more intimate portraits of these interesting animals. Closer examinations of the horses reveals their curiosity and their personalities. Hopefully such images provides the viewer with a little insight into why I find these creatures such interesting subjects and what motivates me to keep coming back to visit them again and again.

Portrait of a wild horse.

Wild horse in black & white

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