Friday, October 10, 2014

Adventures in Photography: Before the Storm




The dawn was frigid and windy.  A strong N’oreaster was blowing in.   The slate gray sky did little to warm the landscape.  

A snowy owl was nearby.   This was my third attempt to photograph this particular owl.   It had been wintering on a local golf course.   I had seen the owl twice in less than ideal conditions.   My goal was to make an image of the owl while snow was falling.   The storm however had slowed down overnight.   With an important afternoon engagement, I had a limited window of time to find the owl and wait for the snow to arrive.

The temperature was a bone chilling seven degrees Fahrenheit with twenty five mile per hour winds.   Dressed with five layers, including the thickest parka LL Bean sells and numerous hand warmers, I set out onto the golf course.   On a previous trip, I had spoken with the caretaker and the manager of the course.   Both had agreed that I could photograph on the links.   The caretaker was adamant that I stay off of the greens.   With a foot of snow on the ground and no greenery in sight, I wondered how I would do that, not knowing the layout of the course.   Apparently, my footsteps would pack the snow down, turning to ice and taking longer to melt.   This could damage the grass.   Grateful to be let onto the course, I did my best to stay off of the greens.

The snowy had been spending a lot of time perched on a wood pile that was somewhat sheltered by the wind.   A nearby cove had served as a winter feeding ground for a variety of ducks.   The owl had survived by hunting the ducks.

As I cautiously approached the owl, I did my best to stay low and move slow.   This helped me to get reasonably close to the owl (approximately 100 feet) and to keep my footing on the icy terrain.   After about an hour of getting myself into position I was able to make a few beautiful images of the owl.   Perched on the woodpile and surrounded by tall marsh grasses, the snowy was in a unique setting.   I was thrilled to make these images, but I waited even longer for the chance to photograph the owl in snowfall.  

After another frigid hour, I had run out of time and I could barely feel my extremities.    With no snow and a pressing engagement, it was time to leave.  The snow arrived as soon as I had started to drive away.   I was disappointed to miss the opportunity of photographing the owl in the snow, but it had been worth my effort.    The resulting image was very exciting!

This month’s tip: In this article, I highlighted the respect that it takes to make excellent wildlife images.   Get up well before the sun, ask for permission and treat wild animals with care.   These are a few of the maxims that are critical for wildlife photographers to follow.  
 
Greg Lessard is a professional photographer.   You can view his latest portfolio “Snowy Owl – Soul of the Arctic” at the Bridgewater Library during the months of November and December.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Adventures in Photography: The Elusive Snowy Owl





The winter of 2013-14 was a record year for snowy owls in New England.   More owls were seen in Massachusetts than had ever been seen before.   It seemed that they were everywhere.  

No one is exactly sure why the irruption occurred.    The prevailing wisdom is that there was a large increase in the lemming population of eastern Canada.   This strong food source caused the owls to breed in high numbers.   One owl’s nest was reported to have more than seventy lemmings stacked in a ring around a few unhatched eggs.    It was obvious that those parent owls would be able to feed their young and ensure their survival.    It is believed that as winter set in, the lemming population dropped due to predation.   This in turn caused all of the young owls to head to warmer climates in search of food.   Many of them came to New England.

I have been intrigued by snowy owls for many years.   Their elusive nature and beauty are irresistible to this photographer.    The challenge of making a great image of snowy owls continues to engage me.

During the winter of 2013-14, I had seen so many owls that I had become very discerning about which owls I would photograph.   I had specific images in mind.   At the outset of the winter, I had not seen a darkly barred snowy owl before and I was very excited to photograph them.   The dark bars or spots on their feathers imply that the owls are either female or very young or perhaps both.   With so many young darkly barred owls arriving in New England, it became a challenge to find an owl that was mostly white in coloration.  


In late February, I was photographing a darkly barred owl resting in a tangle of thorns.   The owl had settled down for a long winter’s nap and had not stirred for more than two hours.    Then a jogger came by and told me that there was a completely white snowy owl nearby.    The heavily barred owl I was watching was unlikely to move for a very long time, so I decided to look for the white owl.


After a brief search, I was delighted to spot a small, but beautiful, mostly white snowy owl perched on a pine fence pole.   Based on its size and coloration, I assumed that it was a male owl.   There is no way to tell the sex of an owl for sure without capturing it.    Male owls are typically smaller and paler than the females, but this is not always true.   As I photographed this stunning owl, it flew from its perch and landed on a nearby snow covered dune.   The more natural setting was very appealing and I was thrilled to create some excellent images.

This owl was on the prowl.   It was very active, constantly moving around.   At one point it scooped snow with its beak, presumably for a chilly winter drink.   Within a few minutes the owl flew further away, but it had made my day!  


To photograph this owl, I used a 600mm f4 lens and a Nikon D 7000 with a 1.5 crop sensor.   This combination effectively functions as a 900mm f4 lens!    This allowed me to keep a safe distance from the owl (more than 50 feet) and still make sharp and close images, without disturbing the owl.

It is my goal as a photographer to make great images.   However, when photographing wildlife, I make sure that I keep the animal’s well-being as my first priority.   Having the right equipment is critical.   Snowy owls need their space.    Keeping 50 -100 feet away from an owl requires a minimum of a 300mm lens on a crop sensor.    That is for a distant scenic shot like the image below.   To make great close-up images, longer lenses are required.   

In addition to having a great lens and camera, you will also need a sturdy tripod.   To handle the load of my Nikon 600mm f4 and my d7000, a little more than 12 pounds of gear, I use the Manfrotto 055 Aluminum 3-Section Tripod with Horizontal Column.   This tripod has a great combination of excellent support and affordability.   It supports more than 18 pounds of gear and it is very easy to use!     Hunt’s is currently offering a 10% discount on this tripod to my workshop students.   Please visit this link to receive the discount http://www.huntsphotoandvideo.com/detail_page.cfm?productid=MT055XPRO3&sp=jyEwv

Approaching a snowy owl is tricky business. Too fast, too tall, too excited, too close translates to stressed owls and missed photo opportunities.

All of us have our own comfort levels. Owls are no different. Imagine how comfortable you might be if you had a member of the paparazzi aiming his camera at you. If he is far away, you might not be bothered by the intrusion. But imagine him rushing at you, firing away. How close will you allow him to get before you either confront him or run away?

Now imagine that you are sunbathing on the beach. Then 5 photographers quietly crawl towards you on their stomachs, until they are 50 feet to your left. They keep snapping your photo, but they aren't really bothering you too much. Still, its kind of creepy right?

The 5 photographers spend over an hour, firing multiple machine gun like shots each time you make the slightest movement. Then 7 more photographers arrive on your right, shouting and pointing and running right at you. Are you still feeling comfortable?

Most of us would have packed up our beach towel and picnic basket as soon as the first group of photographers tried to sneak up on us. A few of us might have called the police and the rest might actually enjoy having their picture taken.

So how do we get close to a snowy owl without scaring it away? Here are some tips:


1. Stay low. Snowy owls tend to stay relatively close to the ground, but they do like to be higher up than the rest of the creatures in their neighborhood. Crouch down until you are approximately 150-200 feet away from the owl. Then sit on your bum to slowly go the rest of the distance. If you can, you might try the good old belly crawl to approach the owl. At the very least kneel and crawl on all fours.

2. Move slow. The slower you approach an owl the better. When you come in for a fast landing, the owl has to quickly decide whether you mean to harm it or not. If you move slowly, this gives the owl more time to get used to you. In addition to moving slowly, stop every few feet to make a few images. This allows the owl to hear you taking the photos and hopefully get used to all of those strange clicking noises.

3. Keep your distance. Owls need their space. Stay at least 50 feet away from them.

4. Stay quiet. The more noise you make, the less comfortable the owl will be. Owls have fantastic hearing. While you think that you are quietly whispering, they are clearly hearing every word. Even at a great distance.

5. Be patient. Snowy owls often like to sit in one place for a very long time. Sometimes hours. Eventually the owl will do something interesting. Just wait for it... In the mean time, please don't call to the owl or try to flush it to get a flight shot.

6. Do not bait the owls. Do not use food of any type to attract an owl closer to you. Baiting is bad for the owls.

7. Try to approach the owl with the sun at your back. This will allow you to be on the "right" side of the light. This means that the owl will be well lit and not have its face in shadow and the background will be pleasant rather than harsh, blinding light.

8. Stay out of off limits areas. Owls will sometimes be in restricted areas. These areas are restricted for a reason. If the signs clearly say "Do not walk on the dunes", please don't walk on the dunes. Even if it means missing the shot. Even if no one is around. It only takes one person to ruin it for everyone.

9. If you follow all of these tips and you are still not close enough, try adding a 1.4 teleconverter.   This will increase the size of the owl in your frame by 40%.    Try using a high megapixel camera and crop the image closer in post processing.

10. Last, but not least, watch the owl's behavior. If it seems nervous or agitated, do not approach any closer. The goal is to be able to view the owl without disturbing it. 

I hope you find these tips helpful. Please keep the owls' safety and comfort as your first priority when photographing them.
  
 Greg Lessard is professional photographer.   You can see his exhibit “Snowy Owls- Soul of the Arctic” at the Bridgewater Public Library in November and December.   To read more about photographing snowy owls, visit Greg's blog at blog.greglessardphotography.com

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Are You Coming? Only a Few Spots Left for Acadia!


There are only a few spots left on my upcoming photo tour of Acadia National Park.  The price of the tour includes photo instruction, lodging and ground transportation for all three days.  At $375 per person this trip is a deal!   The tour will be for three days from October 17-19.   Be sure to reserve your seat today by calling the South Shore Science Center at 781 659 2559.   To find out more about this trip you can visit my earlier blog post here: http://blog.greglessardphotography.com/2014/05/fall-photo-tour-in-acadia-national-park.html

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Hunt's is sponsoring my workshops!!


I am pleased to announce that Hunt's Photo and Video is now sponsoring my workshops!   Hunt's is a leading photo and video store with local roots.   Based in Melrose, Hunt's is a national business that takes great pride in taking care of their customers.   I have been working closely with Gary Farber and his team to identify a few quality products that I use and recommend.   Gary is graciously offering the following discounts to the participants of my workshops:

Promos expire end of November.  Shipping is free.
 
10% off Manfrotto 055 Aluminum 3-Section Tripod with Horizontal Column
or use coupon code: jyEwv
 
10% off Manfrotto Grip Action Ball Head
or use coupon code: IDSvQ
 
20% off any Lowepro backpack, bag or case
or use coupon code: 7IRAy
 
You can also order these products by calling (800) 221-1830 .  Please use the coupon code to get the discounts.
 
I like the Manfrotto 055 tripod legs, because they support 18lbs. of gear and with their new QPL levers, they are easy to quickly assemble.  
 
The Manfrotto 322RC2 grip action ball head is a fantastic tool.  It allows me to rapidly adjust my compositions and instantly lock my camera in place.   This is the easiest ball head that I have ever used!
 
I love my Lowepro backpack.  It has taken a beating for more than six years and it is still going strong.   Lowepro puts a lot of thought into their designs and they build quality products.   20% off any Lowepro backpack, bag or case is an excellent deal!
 

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Adventures in Photography: Just Like Heaven


 
 
 
 
Adventures in Photography: Just Like Heaven

Photography is expression.   Expression of emotion.    Photography is communication on a level that is not defined or tarnished by words.   It is a primal expression of the essence of the subject.

This image was made during the first sunrise that I had seen in Acadia National Park for nearly two years.   Acadia is a place that calls and beckons to me.   I have returned to its welcoming shores many times.   Always with great excitement! 

This day break was no different.   Waking at 3:45AM, I made my way to the renowned Otter Cliffs to enjoy the earliest sunrise in the United States.    My anticipation grew steadily as I noticed light clouds and fog on the horizon.   Clouds and fog often make for the most fantastic sunrises.   

As I travelled along Ocean Drive, I opened my windows to savor the fragrance of the pines and the sea.    My anticipation was almost palpable.   

Listening to the waves roll against the shore and hearing the small boulders churning with a deep rumble thrilled me.   I made my way to the water’s edge.   Quickly I set my camera and then I waited for nature’s show.

As the sky lightened, the clouds turned a multitude of hues announcing the impending arrival of the sun.   Looking to the east, I eagerly created an image as the sun broke the horizon.   I made a twenty second exposure to create an ethereal fog effect with the ocean waves.   This represented the timelessness of the beautiful scene before me.   Selecting f16, the sun’s rays were diffracted into a beautiful starburst. 

Witnessing the scene before me, I felt at peace.   There was vibrancy to the land and sea.   I was at ease with my surroundings and in harmony with the earth and sky.   Appreciating the moment and conveying these emotions in a photograph was my goal.

Later, while I was processing this image, I showed it to my wife Brenda.   With a sharp intake of breath, she exclaimed “It’s just like Heaven!”   At that point, I knew that I had succeeded.    Brenda was able to see and understand much of what I had felt that morning.   While I did not specifically try to convey my interpretation of Heaven, I was trying to share emotions and ideas that many associate with Heaven.  Timelessness and peacefulness were on my mind and I am often moved to pray and offer thanks when I witness the beauty of nature.   These feelings were made obvious in the resulting image.

This Month’s Tip:  Photography can be so much more than simply making a pretty picture.   Try to get in harmony with your inner most feelings.   Then find a way to tell your story.    Your images will improve and your experience will be enriched.   At its best, photography is about communicating your innermost spirit.

Greg Lessard will be leading a three day photography tour to Acadia National Park.   You can learn more about this trip by visiting his blog at: http://blog.greglessardphotography.com/2014/05/fall-photo-tour-in-acadia-national-park.html

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Cape Cod Canal - Celebrating 100 Years!


The Cape Cod Canal was officially opened on July 29, 1914.   The idea for the canal is commonly credited to Myles Standish nearly 400 years ago!!   The journey through the canal saves shipping traffic over 100 miles and at least a day's journey.   To say that the canal has been a major improvement to commerce for Massachusetts and New England is an understatement.

Local community members formed a committee to plan a variety of celebrations for the 100th anniversary of the canal.   Perhaps one of the highest attended events was a firework show over the Cape Cod Canal Railroad Bridge.   This fantastic event was sponsored by philanthropist David Mugar.  

In addition to lighting the railroad bridge, a firework barge was positioned near the Massachusetts Maritime Academy.   With two tall ships at the academy, the Kalmar Nyckel and the Mystic, there was a magical ambiance to the evening.   With the fireworks exploding over the academy docks, the scene looked like it was the set for a movie.



Making these images was a lot of fun and a little bit tricky.   The fireworks were being launched from two different locations.   Switching back and forth from one scene to the other was not ideal, but it did offer a little variety.   The firework show was so prodigious that it was hard to make an excellent exposure of the fireworks and the docks.   The docks and the tall ships were generally underexposed and the fireworks were overexposed.   Originally I tried for longer shots of 10 seconds or more in order to give plenty of light to the ships and the dock.  I had hoped to use a relatively low ISO to minimize noise.  There were so many fireworks, that long exposures were simply blowing out the highlights.   Using my Nikon D 7000 I switched to higher ISO's such as 1600 and 3200.  This allowed me to correctly expose the dock and the ships.   It also gave me the opportunity to isolate individual fireworks with shorter exposures of 1/5 of a second.  

One of the mantras of photography is to be persistent.   Perhaps my favorite image of the evening was made with the last firework of the night.    Near the end of the firework show, I knew that I had made excellent shots from my original vantage point.   I took a risk and moved approximately 100 yards and reset my focus.   This allowed me to show more of the docks and tall ships, which truly made the scene!



Many photographers might be surprised to learn that I used f stop 2.8 for my final image.   Using one of my favorite lenses, the Nikon 24-70 f/2.8, I had positioned myself far enough away from the scene that it didn't require a large depth of field to make this image work.  The additional light helped to correctly expose the docks and it allowed me to use a faster shutter speed.  Night photography is often a game of compromise.   In other words, using a shallow depth of field allowed me to use a faster shutter speed.   In addition, I set my white balance to tungsten which helped to make a cooler blue cast on the images.

Post processing was easy.  I used Lightroom, Nik Color Effects Pro and Nik Viveza to adjust levels, minimize noise and to maximize sharpness.   Photographing such a unique event was well worth the effort!   For more info on upcoming Cape Cod Canal 100th anniversary events, visit this website: http://capecodcanalcentennial.com/events/

You can join me on a fall photo tour to Acadia National Park by visiting my blog here: http://blog.greglessardphotography.com/2014/05/fall-photo-tour-in-acadia-national-park.html

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Star Trails Over Jordan Pond


On my latest trip to Acadia National Park, I was acutely aware of time.   My family had one precious week to stay in one of our favorite places.   Our daughter was 9 months old and growing stronger every day!   The ocean waves at Thunder Hole were arriving approximately every ten seconds in a relentless pounding of the seemingly eternal pink granite shore line.   Every where we visited, time was on my mind.   It became a major theme in my portfolio of this journey.  

On my last night of the trip, I visited Jordan Pond to create an image with star trails.   This beautiful wheel of time has been spinning over Acadia for thousands of years.   It has presided over the glacial actions that formed this beautiful landscape.   It was present when the Abenaki people first visited these verdant summer hunting grounds.   The stars above are as close to eternal as we mere humans can comprehend.

This scene is one of the iconic, clich├ęs of Acadia National Park.   Two Adirondack chairs romantically overlooking Jordan Pond and the famous Bubbles has been photographed numerous times.   By photographing at night, I hoped to put my own spin on the famous scene.

This is the lawn that the wealthy and famous rusticators reposed on during the Gilded Age.   The most powerful Americans at the turn of the last century came here as a way stop on their journeys from one side of Mount Desert Island to the other.   They would drink tea and eat popovers to refresh themselves on their long carriage rides.  Today, one of the highlights of Acadia National Park is to enjoy a popover (I prefer them lathered in strawberry jam or ala mode:) and take in the incredible views from the lawn.   It is hard not to imagine Jordan pond a century ago.

Acadia is well known as one of the best spots for star gazing on the east coast.   The island hosts an annual star gazing festival each September.   The bright stars allowed me to make this star trail image even with a full super moon!   I often try to use the moon as a natural lighting source for my night images.   Of course, the brighter the moon is, the less bright the stars will appear to be.   It is a testament to the dark skies of Downeast Maine that these stars can be seen so clearly.

This fall I will lead a three day photography tour to Acadia National Park.   We will definitely visit Jordan Pond.  If the skies are clear, I will lead an optional night photography session during the tour.   I hope you will join me on this tour to experience the timelessness of Acadia for yourself.   To sign up for the tour, please call the South Shore Science Center at 781 659 2559.  You can find out more about the tour by visiting my earlier blog post here: http://blog.greglessardphotography.com/2014/05/fall-photo-tour-in-acadia-national-park.html

You can also visit the South Shore Science Center website here: http://southshorenaturalsciencecenter.org/event/photographing-acadia-national-park/








Nature Blog Network