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Snowy Owl Arrival Causes Media Circus
Last weekend a group of my fellow photographers and I were standing in the dunes at Salisbury Beach looking for Short Eared Owls, when we noticed a large commotion along the access road. There is only one thing that could have snarled traffic and had people frantically running from their cars like that. No, Elvis had not appeared, nor had the band One Direction’s bus broken down.
It was a Snowy Owl (Bubo Scandiacus) who had just landed in a tree alongside the road.
Why are We Fascinated With Snowy Owls?
So, what is it about a Snowy Owl that causes people and even wildlife photographers to act out of the norm? I’m referring to trespassing on private and federal lands, feeding mice to the owls to get them to fly, or just chasing them from perch to perch.
Well for starters, Snowy Owls are a rarity in our neck of the woods. Many New Englanders only reference to a Snowy Owl is through Harry Potter.
Typically this species will irrupt south every four to five years, yet today we find ourselves in the middle of the largest unanticipated irruption of Snowy Owls in some say over 50 years.
Snowy Owls are big, white, mystical birds with incredibly piercing yellow eyes.
Unlike most owl species, they are active during daylight hours (diurnal). This gives many more people an opportunity to see and or photograph them. And you shouldn’t pass up the opportunity.
I truly believe that everyone who can, should make an effort to see one of these beautiful birds while they are here. However, I would like to offer some suggestions on how to make the most of your experience:
- Do some research before you go to enhance the experience that much more.
- If at all possible go mid-week. There must have been 50 cars following the Snowy down the road at Salisbury last Sunday.
- When you do find a Snowy, observe him from a respectable distance. You are more apt to witness natural behavior such as hunting and feeding when they aren’t feeling pressured.
If you have a camera, don’t just stare through the viewfinder but take the time to just watch them. Take memories with your eyes. I watched several people literally run up to where a Snowy was perched in a tree with their point and shoot cameras or smart phones, snap several pictures then turn around and leave without ever spending a minute or two just observing the owl. Instead of a great memory, all they will have is a photo.
A couple of links for further research…
The Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Snowy owls cool facts
The Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Snowy owls more info and what they sound like.
Respect the Bird and Your Fellow Watchers
Be respectful of other observers. It should go without saying, but again seeing this mystical bird can bring out bad behavior. I have watched on several occasions groups of people observing a Snowy from a respectable distance who had their experience cut short by an individual who insisted on getting closer and flushed the owl.
All the Snowy Owls I have spent time photographing appear to be in great shape. They all have either been actively feeding, or have blood on their feathers and talons suggesting successful hunting. Once they have established a hunting area they will probably stay until late March or until the call of Mother Nature beckons them back to the arctic.
The Take Away
In closing, I hope you get the chance to see this magnificent bird. All I ask is that you are respectful to the bird, its environment, and your fellow observers. I hope to see you in the field!!!
~ John Vose
Winter In New England
It’s been an interesting winter here in New England thus far. We’ve certainly seen an extreme range of temperatures, not to mention some “wicked” ice storms and a recent Nor’easter blizzard.
During this time of year, many of my fellow photographer friends love to grab their camera equipment and venture out to face the elements head on. I wish I could say that I was one of those adventurous photographers, but alas my thin blood and extremely low tolerance to the cold has me instead living vicariously through them.
While I’ve added many new “To Buy” items to my “Winter Photography Clothing Gear List,” in reality I spend most cold winter days indoors staying warm and exploring my creative side through a variety of post-production filters and techniques. I will touch on a few of my favorite post-production filters here today.
I Know I’m Not Alone…
I suspect I’m not the only photographer who tends to avoid the possibility of frozen fingers — and exposing my equipment to ice, snow, and sub-zero temps. So for those of you with simpatico minds — and I know there are more than just a few of us — this article might give you a few new ideas on how to reinvent an existing image, or perhaps take your post-production process in a new direction altogether.
So let’s get to some of those favorite post-production filters of mine…
Photoshop comes equipped with several built-in filters. Poster Edges is one of them. You can easily access it from the Filter pull-down menu at the top of your screen. (Filter > Artistic > Poster Edges). The filter’s image adjustment sliders then let you alter such things as Edge Thickness, Edge Intensity, and Posterization to your preference for that image.
For this image, I took a macro shot of a coneflower. I then added a texture layer for a fine art effect. For a final step, I applied the Poster Edges filter to give the image a contemporary look.
Oil Paint Filter
Another favorite Photoshop filter of mine is the Oil Paint Filter. This filter comes packaged with Photoshop CS6 and Photoshop CC. The Oil Paint effect also shipped as a free Pixel Bender Gallery plugin for Photoshop CS5.
Note: Variations of an oil paint effect are also available as third-party PS plugins from software makers such as Topaz Labs.
“Less Is More”
To what degree one applies the Oil Paint Filter to an image very much depends on personal taste. I’m a big proponent of “less is more” when it comes to using this filter. Being conservative with the adjustment sliders gives the image a far more realistic oil painting look in my opinion. However, there are no “rules” to creativity. Surrealism certainly has its place, so by all means feel free to experiment and turn reality into something as abstract as your imagination envisions.
Flaming Pear Flood Filter
I love the Flood Filter by Flaming Pear. You can use it to turn the ordinary into the extraordinary, or to give added dimension to a visual story.
In this shot, I used it to add a dramatic — and somewhat surreal — effect to one of my HDR Battleship Cove images taken in Fall River, Massachusetts. The adjustment sliders for this filter give you great latitude for “flood placement” and water detail manipulation.
Topaz Star Effects
Who doesn’t like adding a little pizzazz to images that already feature an illuminated light? I certainly thought this sunrise shot of Maine’s Portland Head Light deserved such a treatment — and Topaz Star Effects made it possible. Again, I believe in the “less is more” approach. The “blue hour” of morning was beautiful in and of itself. Adding a subtle star effect to the beacon seemed like a nature fit to accentuate the beauty of the moment.
So there you have it. Several examples of the different type of post-production filters you can play with on a cold winter’s day.
As you know, it’s only mid January. We still have a couple of months of this New England winter to go. Since we can’t change it, I say let’s embrace the opportunities it offers.
For some that means bundling up and dazzling the rest of us with spectacular winter images. For the rest of us, it means having fun — and staying warm — at our computers while we enjoy some post-production experimentation.
However you choose to survive this winter’s cold weather, enjoy!
~ Liz Mackney
A lot of big photographers tell you that you don’t need a lot of gear to make great photos. Easy for them to say, with many of them sporting over $20,000 in photographic equipment. I’m here to tell you that you really can do a lot with very little, because that’s exactly what I’ve done.
For starters, let’s go through a rundown of what I have for gear:
- Canon Rebel t2i – My one and only camera body.
- Canon EFS 18-55mm lens with IS – This is the lens that came with my camera, also known as a ‘kit’ lens.
- Manfrotto Tripod – I got this for $30 at Target. It had a really cool picture of kids skateboarding on it. Sold.
- Rocketfish Circular Polarizer – $3o at the camera store.
- Lens Cloth
- Two 16GB Sandisk SDHC Memory Cards
… and that’s it.
Here are some of the photos I’ve taken with this setup:
The Importance of Post Processing
While I haven’t invested a lot in equipment, I have spent some serious time learning how to edit photos. I purchased Adobe Lightroom 3 about a year ago and immediately saw a huge improvement in my photos. Some people scoff at photographers who edit their photos, preferring to take photos as they come straight out of the camera. I’m not going to say that they are wrong, but you are limiting your artistic and creative expressions immensely by doing so.
Here’s a very short list of techniques I’ve used to make images:
1. Long exposures – You don’t need expensive ND filters to take long exposures. Yes, they make it easy to do long exposures in bright light situations. How do you get around that? Shoot in low-light. I prefer shooting at the end of the day for the best light anyway, and when the light is low, you are more likely to lengthen your shutter speeds, especially if you are shooting at small f/stops for maximum depth of field in your landscape photos. The real imperative here is a tripod. Gotta have it.
2. Following the Weather – One of my biggest obsessions, since I was a kid, is following the weather. I can’t tell you how much that has helped me with landscape photography. Planning your shots around the weather is an essential for getting the images you want. Yes, there is a lot of chance and luck involved with ole’ Mother Nature, but the rewards of keeping an eye to the sky can’t be overstated.
3. Taking Lots of Photos – This is obvious. Do it because you love doing it.
4. Be Very Still – Though my tripod is incredibly light and flimsy, I shoot about 90% of my images using it. For sharp images, I set a 2- or 10-second self-timer for the shutter release, as well as use the mirror lock-up feature. Setting the timer allows any shaking from pressing down the shutter to settle down. If it’s windy, I’ll stand trying to block the wind using as much of my scrawny body as I can.
The point of this posting is to encourage folks who feel limited by their lack of expensive gear. I feel limited every day, but by putting my mind to it, I can be very productive and even creative using what I have. If your goal is to enjoy photography as a hobby, go do it! Don’t let what you don’t have stand in your way. There will always be something you don’t have.
~ Ben Williamson
I’ve been all over most of Maine, from the Allagash at Fort Kent, to Katahdin and Bar Harbor, but I couldn’t tell you much more about the coast of Maine below Mt. Desert Island than that there’s a fabulous campground called Hermit Island I discovered on a memorable camping trip with my family when I was fourteen. Some day, I’ll have to find my way back to that childhood memory with its secluded sandy coves and windswept headlands where my dad and I grilled the flounder we caught over a campfire and I searched in vain for starfish. As a kid from Ohio, I didn’t know starfish don’t inhabit sandy beaches.
Like fried eggs, Maine seems to sort people into two schools, those that like their shores hard and those who like them soft. The latter gravitate to destinations southwest of Ellsworth to where the coast is covered by sand or silt owing to greater deposits of sedimentary rock along the southern Gulf of Maine that more easily erodes into beaches and mudflats and provides the substrate for extensive saltwater marshes. The rest of us prefer our coasts hard and rocky. We head to points northeast (or, “Downeast” as the old salts say) to where the granite and metamorphic geology resists erosion and there’s no cushy segue from land to sea. The Bold Coast of Maine. I also come here because by my admittedly rough estimate 90% of all tourists belong to the former school and they, along with the infrastructure they count on – the usual claptrap of boutiques and gift shops and the like disappear almost entirely as one heads Downeast of Ellsworth.
Any fourth grader (though, for a boy from Ohio, it took a Master’s Degree in Marine Zoology) growing up on the coast of Maine can tell you that the rocky intertidal is where to look for starfish and anemones and mussels and crabs and a host of marine life easily visible at low tide. Animals living on sandy beaches and mudflats tend to live in the sand and mud, not on it. Photographically, the rocky intertidal is much more productive.
At low tide, a pair of well-soled shoes is all you need to see critters that, otherwise, require SCUBA gear to find. With a hand-held camera equipped with one or two strobes, and a macro lens during a full-moon spring tide, I’m as happy as…a clam wandering from tide pool to tide pool framing some of the most exotic animals that have ever evolved on Earth. What’s more, every high tide brings the promise of new discoveries and novel photos as the ocean delivers a fresh collection of marine life that temporarily gets trapped in the pools at ebb tide. An ever-changing tableau of photo opportunities and you don’t even have to leave the spot!
Seals and nesting seabirds also prefer rocky shores to haul out and establish rookeries. From Andy’s boat (see my previous post of the bold coast), one can get calendar shots of guillemots and terns and razorbills, gray and harbor seals as he cruises along the headwalls and granite islands outside of Cutler Harbor. Again, leave your tripod in the car and simply bring a body and an IS or VR lens in the 200 – 400mm range. Andy will do the rest to get you eyeball to eyeball with a seal.
I’ve sat on the rocky intertidal at Schoodic Point with my wife, Cheryl, our dogs, Charley and Bela, a picnic basket, and my camera gear watching the sun set over the ocean and enjoying some fruit and crackers and cheese while reviewing on my laptop dozens of photos of marine life I’ve taken that day. It’s the fourth of July and we’re the only humans in sight. Try that at Old Orchard Beach.
May the Light Be With You,
Lessons Learned on the Road
I like to take family road trips. My favorite ones are those where we toss sleeping bags and a tent in the back of the truck and just go where we want. Waking up each morning without any destination in mind and sleeping that night wherever we are at the time we decide to camp adds to the fun and spontaneity.
I always bring my camera on these journeys and frequently these road trips yield some of my favorite images. So, I thought I would share some of the photography lessons that I have learned, or been reminded of, during these adventures. Though hardly revolutionary insights, I think they are worth mentioning. It is so easy for us to get comfortable in the way we take photos and to lose both a little bit of our passion as well as the opportunity for some inspiring images.
All of the following suggestions apply to more than just “road tripping” of course, but I have been reminded of each during my recent weeks on the road.
Turn Around (Version 1)
The moment only happens once so take advantage of it and TURN AROUND.
How many times have you driven by a place and said to yourself, “Wow, that’s striking. I should stop and capture that.” But you don’t. Instead you continue on because stopping is such a hassle, or not in your plans, or you don’t have time for it, or (fill in your own reason – we have SO many of them).
The “Pink House”
There is an abandoned pink house along the road to Plum Island which I have driven by dozens of times in the past. Each time I thought about how I should stop and take a picture. And each time I talked myself out of it because I was in a hurry to get to the Parker River National Wildlife Refuge before I lost the good light.
Finally (I literally caught myself in mid-excuse), I said aloud “Then stop and take the damn photo!” And, I did. It is still one of my favorites. My advice, as you drive by that “perfect scene” while you are on your way to somewhere else, is to “make the U-turn and take the damn picture.” Just try not to illegally cross the double yellow line. I never have.
TURN AROUND (Version 2)
If you think you have a great image in front of you, TURN AROUND.
I think we have all heard this one before, but it is so often true that I think it should be a rule rather than a guideline. I was set up for the iconic shot of Bass Harbor Lighthouse near Acadia National Park in Maine thinking about how lucky I was to be there for such incredible light.
A storm had just passed through, it was evening and I managed to get a good spot among the multitude of photographers who were also there. (I may be exaggerating, but I think the Professional Photographers of America association even had an exhibition booth there at the time and there may also have been concession stands hawking food and drinks).
Knowing it was afternoon light and that the rain was in the air, I thought there might be the possibility of a rainbow. Since the antisolar point was behind me, I turned around to a scene that was more interesting to me than the lighthouse: The wife of one of the photographers was relaxing and reading a book while oblivious to the full rainbow above her.
At least several times a month, there is a better image behind me than in front of me.
Take the iconic shot and then find your own.
While some may disagree, I’m okay with positioning myself, or finding the spot to place my tripod, based on the images of the multitudes that have gone before me. First, it will never be the same image because the light and scene is always different and as unique as a fingerprint. Second, it’s a shortcut to finding interesting places you might never find on your own due to limited time.
The Bass Harbor Lighthouse that I noted above? I had never been there before so I looked to others’ images to see what was accessible, possible, and interesting. Then, once I was there, I looked for my own shot and captured one that I liked even better.
If you don’t know what the iconic shot is for a given location, there are some pretty simple ways to find out including using Google Images, photo books of the area and, my personal favorite, postcards in the racks of the service station, tourist center or park headquarters. I’m not suggesting that you set out only to recreate the images of someone else, but rather take advantage of the knowledge of others about where to go to find naturally scenic places.
There is often a secondary benefit too. The route to these iconic places will likely bring me through areas that are more interesting than the destination itself. This brings me to my other point…
Sometimes the journey is more interesting than the destination.
My daughter and I set out on a hike through the woods to visit a set of waterfalls. I hadn’t been to them in over 25 years and remembered them as dynamic and beautiful. They still were. However, now there was a boardwalk the last few hundred feet to the falls and a viewing platform designed to provide visitors with a view while minimizing the environmental impact.
It was a great view for a tourist, but not a great one for a photographer. So, reality intruded on my goal to achieve the magnificent image I envisioned while hiking there. I was determined to find some vantage point that would salvage the shot but I came up with nothing that was either safe or responsible to do. So, I appreciated the falls, snapped off a few casual shots and turned back.
I think it was because of this disappointment that my eyes were perhaps a little more open during the return journey. If I had obtained my waterfall shot, I may not have seen the lovely “S” curve of the path through the woods during my return. In the end, I think I came away with a more interesting image than if I had achieved my original vision.
Dig deep and stretch big.
Most of you who have seen my images know that I gravitate toward ultra-wide perspectives, taken down low to the ground of landscape scenes with plenty of water, rock and sky.
I know I’m in a rut when I look at a beautiful scene and am unable to find anything in it that moves me emotionally. I have found that the best way to keep my passion for photography alive, and to continue to find fresh images, is to try and move out of my comfort zone.
I do this by taking streetscapes, people scenes, scenes requiring unusual lighting or flashes, images that require me to pull out my camera manual and figure something out, scenes that are fleeting, human and emotional.
My dirty little secret? I love my landscapes, but these “out of my comfort zone” images are often the most rewarding to me personally — even though they may never sell or be seen by anyone other than a Facebook follower. Taking images outside of my comfort zone and trying to apply new techniques keeps my perspective fresh and the joy of photography alive and vibrant within me.
It may not be perfect light… but so what?
If you wait for the perfect light that occurs during the one-minute period each morning and evening, then you are going to be doing a lot of driving and not much photography. So, don’t wait. Shoot with the light you have and try to find its perfect subject match.
All the textbooks seem to indicate that you can only achieve good images during the magic hour of just after dawn or just before sunset. Do I shoot super-wide landscapes on sunny, clear, blue sky days? Not often. Why? Because that can be a pretty boring shot. But does that mean I put my camera away and call it a day? Nope. On such days, I may use it as an opportunity to practice my streetscapes or close-up/macros.
Recently while in Bar Harbor, Maine (during the harsh mid-day light), I struck up a conversation with the store clerk while the rest of my family shopped in the small boutique. It turns out she had a fascinating work history.
She traveled from Romania each of the past five summers to work various jobs around our country. (The Grand Canyon area is her favorite place to work – sorry Bar Harbor). While the light outside might have been terrible for landscapes, it was perfect as a portrait side-light to convey her open, friendly nature. Light that was more suitable for outside shooting would not have yielded this wonderful glow inside the shop.
Even when the light isn’t perfect for what you may originally have in mind, there is probably a perfect subject for the light you have.
So, get out on the road, take a bunch of photos, keep your passion alive and your camera on-hand. Set your sights on a goal but don’t stick to your guns — and please make safe U-turns.