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When I view the wonderful landscape images taken by my fellow NEPG photographers, I am constantly amazed. Even though the location is familiar to me, I often don’t “see” it as they have captured it. Reading through the comments on the NEPG Facebook page, I realize that is the case for many of our fans as well.
So, how do we go about “seeing the shot”? Each one of us brings our own life experiences into every image we make. How we chose to present that is what makes an image unique.
Landscape photography, according to iconic photographer Ansel Adams, was “knowing where to stand.” It’s all about finding a perspective and composition which brings the image to life. Some photographers are blessed with the ability to see the composition immediately. Others like myself, struggle to find it. I have stood right next to great photographers who were gushing about the image they were composing that I just didn’t see.
As a wildlife photographer, my eye has been trained to focus on a specific target, like a hawk or a fox, and build the image around that subject, often times using a wide open aperture to blur everything but the subject (bokeh).
With landscapes, such as grand vistas, I have difficulty seeing the composition beyond the obvious. When that happens, I use a simple tool such as a 5 x 7 photo mat, to help me “frame” the image in a pleasing manner.
But that is about to change. Tom Schoeller was recounting a discussion he had early in his career, with an accomplished landscape photographer, who, when asked about why he (Tom) wasn’t seeing all these great scenes, asked him pointedly “Are you looking?”. Tom said that question caught him off guard, and haunted him for a week before he realized what he meant. It only haunted me for a few nights before I realized that I really haven’t been looking. It’s not something that I can change over night. I still break out in a sweat when facing a vast scenic vista, but Tom has shown me the importance of searching for interesting shapes, textures, patterns, or lines that may help lead to an interesting overall composition, in other words, how to look.
Every foliage scene, every beautiful sunrise, every stunning sunset is a gift. When we truly look at a scene through the lens of our life experiences, the perspective and composition that unfolds is the one that pleases the most important person, you.
~ John Vose
Stewardship 4-Watching and Waiting
In my last blog I documented the rebuilding of The Johannis North Platform and the building of a new platform in the Jacob’s Point Marsh. After finishing both projects, all we could do was sit and wait. In all likelihood the birds, especially the males, had left South America before I actually started to build anything. It takes them about 3 weeks to make the trip. After both platforms were done, I began the process of checking both platforms every few days.
For me, it’s kind of like waiting for your kids to come home from the prom. The new platform, if it gets taken, will be new birds. The Johannis North nest is another story. I feel like I know these birds. I have been watching them for 6 years now. Last year they were the most prolific pair in the state, raising 4 fledglings. When the fledglings were nearly full grown, there wasn’t a lot of room in the 40 inch x 40 inch platform.
I kept checking both platforms every couple of days. On March 19, 15 days after we had finished the Johannis North platform, I walked out to the marsh – binoculars in hand. When the platform came into view, I didn’t need the binoculars to verify what I already knew – Notch was back! I put the binoculars to my eyes to get a better look. He was sitting on the perch adjacent to the nest.
While I watched, he flew up onto the platform and walked around, no doubt checking out the new digs. The males arrive up to 2 weeks before the females. They establish ownership of the nesting site. The birds mate for life and return to the same nest every year. While the pole and place were the same, the platform was new. Would they accept it? Only time and Joanna’s return would answer that question. As time passes, there probably will come a time when I return to observe a platform in the spring and no one will show up. It’s a long hazardous journey between Columbia, South America, and the East Bay of RI.
It includes a 460 mile crossing of the Caribbean Sea, twice a year, once during the height of hurricane season. They have monitored birds making the trip. One bird, from Jamestown RI, flew from Cuba to South America – 460 miles in the air and 26 hours flying time – with no stopping to rest, eat, or drink. Next time you go out for a jog think about this.
The new Jacob’s Point platform became a real hit in a short time. Situated along the East Bay Bike Path, it is visible to everyone who uses the path. That, and the local paper running a front page story on the installation of the new nesting site, gave it instant notoriety. I really didn’t have to check this one because people were calling and emailing me everyday with updates. It didn’t take long for an osprey to be spotted sitting on the platform. This raised everyone’s hopes for a nest being built this year. At the same time the birds were being spotted in the platform, a new nest started taking shape in the top of a tree about 200 yards south of the platform. There had been a pile of sticks there last year that may have been an aborted attempt to build a nest, but it was never active. Apparently it will be this year. Over the next 10 days or so the pile of sticks grew into a nest. I watched the male bring in dried seaweed and the female position it in the nest. The platform sits empty, and, barring some last minute activity, will likely remain empty this season.
Meanwhile I was returning to the Johannis North platform every 3 or 4 days. Notch was lording over his new digs and I could see sticks beginning to show over the edge of the 2×4’s. About a week to 10 days after Notch’s return, we walked out into the marsh. The first thing I noticed was Notch wasn’t alone, Joanna-had returned. Together, they began to build in earnest. The platform began to show the nesting material above the sides of the 2×4’s. On one of our trips out to see what Notch and Joanna were up to, we were able to witness something few people see. Joanna and Notch were flying above the nest. She came in low into the wind and landed. Notch was right behind her, reminiscent of fighter planes coming into a carrier. She raise her tail and he landed on her back. They were going to mate. The males will ball up their talons when landing on the female in order not to injure her. We watched as they mated and then he flew off again, in typical male fashion, probably going fishing.
So as of this writing, the Jacob’s point platform remains empty but there is a nest in a tree nearby. Notch and Joanna have mated. Soon she will lay her eggs and the long incubation period will begin. Once Joanna lays her eggs, she will remain on the nest until the chicks fledge. Notch will fish and feed her and the fledglings. Once again it becomes a waiting game.
Having never seen a Snowy Owl in the wild before, I was very excited to hear of the irruption taking place this year. With the report of at least two Snowy Owls being seen in Hampton, New Hampshire, I packed my equipment and headed for the coast.
I arrived at Hampton Harbor, the area that the Snowy was last reported, at about 6:30 in the morning. I was hoping to find and photograph him with the sun rising in the background. After 30-45 minutes of searching, I finally located him next to a rock pile hunkered down out of the wind.
Locating him turned out to be the easy part. On this particular day, the wind was blowing 30-35 mph resulting in a wind chill well below zero. In addition to trying to stay warm, the wind made it impossible to shoot handheld, and nearly impossible with a tripod. Battery life was cut in half. In order to have any chance of capturing sharp images, I laid on the ground and rested my lens on a bean bag.
The wind and biting cold temperatures created several issues for me that day. First was keeping warm, especially my hands. Trying to adjust camera settings wearing mittens or gloves is difficult at best. Disposable instant hand warmers serve dual purposes for me. I keep them in my coat pocket to warm my hands when not actively shooting, and to keep my spare camera batteries warm.
The wind direction changed frequently. This made it extremely difficult to position myself to take flight shots. Owls, like most birds, take off into the wind. It seemed like whenever I was in the proper position to shoot flight shots based on the owl’s position and wind direction, the wind would shift, necessitating a move to a different spot, and leaving me hoping the new location would not be shooting directly into the sun.
To me, photographing a Snowy Owl is a dream come true. I was fortunate enough to photograph another Snowy Owl in Addison, Vermont, earlier this winter when there was no snow on the ground, and the temperature was in the low 40’s. Hardly arctic, tundra-like conditions. The photographs in this article of the Hampton, New Hampshire, Snowy were taken in brutally cold temps with below zero wind chills and blowing snow. Despite the logistical issues those types of conditions can create, it gave me the sense I was photographing and experiencing the owl in his element. A much more satisfying experience.