Friday, December 30, 2011

Zion National Park: Prickly Pear Cacti and the Watchman

The Watchman has captivated my imagination since I first saw photos of it a few years ago. I have since seen a half million shots of the Watchman, all from the same bridge, using the Virgin River in the foreground. That composition is beautiful and I made several images from that bridge, but in the end I wanted to make my own composition. I am sure that this is not a unique composition, but I have not seen it anywhere else. So, I consider it original. There are probably at least 10,000 shots very similar to this one. With millions of visitors every year, it is incredibly difficult to make new images of the national park icons, but we can try.

I only wished that I had visited these prickly pear cacti a week earlier when they were still in bloom. Later that night, I ate at the restaurant at the park's hotel and had a pork chop with prickly pear sauce. The prickly pear sauce was delightfully sweet. Its funny how something so harsh looking as the cactus, can taste so good...

I must say that I was very pleasantly surprised with the best national park meal that I have ever had. National Park restaurants are often sub par. They are usually the only game in town. This lack of competition allows them to serve poor meals at high costs. The restaurant at Zion was excellent. This may in part be due to the proximity of many restaurants just a short drive from the park. Competition is a good thing and essential to capitalism. These were some of my thoughts on the 4th of July.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Zion Canyon: Sacred Datura

The sacred datura is a beautiful white flower also known as the Zion lilly. The sacred datura has a slightly sweet fragrance, but it is highly poisonous. Visitors to Zion are urged not to touch the plant, which can cause hallucinations and possibly death.

The sacred datura opens its large white flowers during the night and closes them up again, usually by mid morning. They are fairly abundant in the southern section of the park and are often found growing side by side with wild squash plants. The flowers of the squash plant have a strong smell much like bad body odor. When I first encountered the squash, I had worked up quite a sweat and smelling the squash caused me to stop my hike to double check my deodorant. After a few moments I realized that the squash was the worst smelling pumpkin that I have ever encountered.

These sacred datura happened to be in the perfect spot to dress up this early morning composition of the towers of the Virgin. I was fortunate to be able to find an area where I could photograph the Towers of the Virgin and the Watchman with beautiful floral foregrounds.

The second image on this post is a macro of a sacred datura in the late evening, before the flower reopened for the night.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Zion Canyon: Garden of Eden

I celebrated the 4th of July in Zion National Park. Zion Canyon is an amazingly beautiful landscape. The Watchman is an icon of the park and of the West. This image shows the Watchman just after sunrise. I had been searching for a unique viewpoint of the Watchman when I crossed paths with a doe. I quickly readied my camera and made a few images as the deer made its way past me. The animals in Zion, particularly the deer are fearless of humans. This doe walked within 10 feet of me.

The fearless animals, the wild squash, prickly pear cacti and the sacred dutura, a beautiful lilly, reminded me of what the Garden of Eden must have been like. The fantastic mountains and flowing Virgin River create a stunning and peaceful scenery. Early morning in Zion is a truly blissful experience.

At sunset, I met a birder who pointed out six large birds along the ridges to the north of the Watchman. They were too far to conclusively identify, but they may have been California Condors! The other possible species was the turkey vulture.

I found Zion to be truly enchanting. I can hardly wait to return!

Saturday, November 26, 2011

How to Approach a Snowy Owl

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 take a few shots. 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. 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.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Snowy Owl on the Prowl

Yesterday was another exciting day photographing snowy owls. This image was made when the owl decided to relocate. It flew a few hundred yards down the beach and then turned around and flew right back at us. It swooped about ten feet off the ground as it passed by. I was very fortunate to be able to make this image as the owl flew very fast.

When I returned home, I saw Tim Kelley, the weatherman for New England Cable News, show a photo of photographers and a snowy owl. Then he asked for a close up of the owl. I decided to send him a photo and he put it on tv in his next segment! I asked him to mention that snowy owls are wild creatures and that people should keep a safe distance from the owls, for the owls sake. As he did that, the entire screen became my photo. Then Tim stood in front of it, just as if he were standing in front of a weather map. Then he talked about how cold it was in the arctic and that the snowy owls must be enjoying our warm weather. You can watch it here:

Seeing my image on tv was quite a thrill! I made sure to record it on DVR and then I watched it on the repeats later in the evening. I am glad that I sent in the photo. Hopefully the people who go will remember to treat the owls with respect.

The owls need their space and their rest. Try to stay at least 50 feet or more away. When approaching the owls, stay low and move slow! Too many people try to walk right up to the owls. Please care for the owls and be considerate of other photographers.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Snowy Owl vs. Peregrine Falcon

On Saturday, I was fortunate to photograph a young snowy owl. It was perched on a post, looking quite striking. After a few minutes it flew away. As it was flying, it was attacked by a peregrine falcon!

The snowy owl was seriously outmatched in flying maneuverability, so it hit the deck as fast as possible. From the beach it defended itself from the falcon by raising its wings and trying to look as large as possible.

The falcon swooped at the owl at least ten times. Each time the falcon attacked, the owl ducked. After the falcon passed, the owl seemingly taunted the falcon by puffing its chest out and flapping its wings in the direction of the falcon.

I would have to declare a draw on the bout. While the falcon was clearly the aggressor, it never landed a strike. The owl successfully defended itself from the peregrine falcon.

My other impression of the encounter came from watching the two birds fly. The falcon was obviously incredibly quick and maneuverable in the air. In comparison, it made the snowy owl, which is a very graceful glider, look like a clumsy oaf. It reminded me of what a battle between an F-15 and a WWII era bomber might look like. This was clearly a lightweight vs. heavyweight battle.

Please be respectful of the owls and the other photographers. Saturday was very frenetic. There were a number of photographers and birders looking at the owls. Most kept their distance and did not pressure the birds. A few over zealous photographers kept getting too close.

The owls need their space and their rest. Try to stay at least 50 feet or more away. When approaching the owls, stay low and move slow! Too many people try to walk right up to the owls. Please keep other photographers in mind and don't set up shop right in front of another photographer. Today, I watched a photographer step in front of another photographer who had been quietly and patiently watching the owl for more than two hours. Please care for the owls and be considerate of other photographers.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Snowy Owl Part 2

Here are two more images of the snowy owl that I saw yesterday. The first image shows the bird resting with its wings casually splayed out to the side. The owl spent nearly an hour in this position until a crow flew nearby.

The second image shows the owl in a defensive crouch just after the crow flew by. The owl stayed in this crouch position for a little more than a minute. Then it stood up and walked around before settling back into its rest position.

I was thrilled to see this owl in such a clear spot. Later in the morning it flew into some very thick ground cover, which made it very difficult to see, much less photograph.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Woo Hoo!! Snowy Owl!

Adventures in Photography: Snowy Owls

The word was out that a snowy owl had been frequenting the area since early November. I set out for a long stroll with my fingers crossed. Within my first half mile, I met a jogger who told me that an owl was just around the corner. “Can’t miss it,” she said. I have heard that line before…

I quickened my pace. I kept telling myself not to get too excited. Birds often fly away before you get a chance to spot them. I could only hope that the owl would still be there when I arrived.

My anticipation was growing. I was eager to see the owl. I was like a kid at Christmas waiting to see what was under the tree.

Finally, I arrived and surprise, no bird. Disappointed, I decided to walk further on. After a quarter mile I spotted two photographers with giant lenses. I was getting excited again. They had to be photographing the owl, but I couldn’t see it.

After a few hundred more yards I spotted what looked like a large white volley ball near the photographers. It had to be the owl. It was in some dune grasses and it seemed to be resting. Immediately, I went very close to the shore to give the owl as much space as possible. I had to pass the owl to get on the right side of the light. The last thing that I wanted to do was spook the owl and spoil the opportunity for the other photographers.  

I walked approximately 75 yards past the owl and approached the photographers while staying low to the ground.   Setting up about ten feet behind the photographers, I made my first images about 50 yards from the owl. At this distance, even my 500mm lens was not long enough to make a great image of the very large bird. I quickly added my 1.4 teleconverter to gain 40% more focal length, effectively making my lens a 700mm lens. The teleconverter helped magnify the owl tremendously. One of the photographers waved me up to join them. The extra ten feet helped as well.

For the next hour, I sat with two very experienced bird photographers. We intently watched the snowy owl. It barely moved. We were very excited when a crow buzzed by and caused the owl to go into a defensive crouch. Then the owl walked a few paces before settling down for another nap. Eventually the owl perked up and flew away. The three of us were thrilled to spend some time with such a magnificent bird.

This month’s tip: Persistence pays off. Eventually, being in the right place will result in being there at the right time.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Point Imperial Sunrise

This summer I was fortunate to be able to photograph the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. On my second sunrise I went to Point Imperial, the highest point on the Grand Canyon. Point Imperial is an amazing landscape with endless views of red sandstone mountains. Mount Hayden and its spire look like an ancient temple presiding over the canyon.

The North Rim is a fantastic place to visit. The North Rim is not a desert landscape. In fact it is a mountain forest reminiscent of the Rockies of Wyoming and Montana. During my visit, the wildflowers were just starting to bloom. Thousands of lupine and indian paintbrush decorated the landscape in a glorious manner.

The most bizarre surprise at the North Rim was the herd of beefalo that lived in the forests near the canyon. This herd is the descendants of a cattle and buffalo cross that was bred near the turn of the last century. Imagine buffalo with long steer like horns.

I was thrilled to be there for this sunrise. A few people joined me on the edge of the canyon, but I didn't mind sharing this incredible view.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Pink Granite Versus an Azure Sea

The waves were pounding the coast of Acadia after a storm unsettled the sea. Ocean Drive was simply stunning. The pink granite coast stood in stark contrast to the azure sea. Each wave seemed bigger than the last. It was a fantastic fall day.

This composition was inspired by well known Acadia photographer Ed Elvidge. He created an amazing black and white of a wave crashing into the coast. I had shown his photo to some of the participants on the Acadia tour as an example of excellent photography. I was thrilled to have the opportunity to make my own image later that day.

Crashing waves are simply mesmerizing. If we had the time, many of us could have spent the entire afternoon photographing the waves. The power of the sea is truly enchanting!

Monday, October 31, 2011

Happy Halloween!

These Jack O'Lanterns were photographed on my recent tour to Acadia. They were on a bridge in front of one of the most famous scenes in the park. They had already been lit with glow sticks. It was a lot of fun to photograph something so whimsical!

Sunday, October 30, 2011

October Snowfall

With the first storm of winter arriving in New England, I took advantage of the snow and foliage being together in the same scenes. The trick was to find decent foliage and a worthy subject before the snow melted.

I was fortunate to find a number of excellent subjects. In addition to looking for snow and foliage, I started to look for agricultural scenes. New England is full of pastoral scenes. They can still be found in Eastern Massachusetts if you know where to look for them.

I was pleasantly surprised to find an old farm that I had not visited for many years, had cows on it again. They were making their way through a forest with wonderfully backlit foliage. While photographing the cows, I also saw some bluebirds and some yellow rumped warblers. What a great morning!

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Monarch Butterfly and Yellow Legs

A few weeks ago I went birding with my dad and our friends Robin and Dick. We went to a local hot spot that is known for having shore birds, even though it is more than ten miles from the coast. My dad had been visiting this spot regularly and wanted us to bring our cameras, because we could approach the shore birds within a few feet without disturbing them.

The shorebirds were congregating in large puddles to feed on insects, worms, and anything else that moved. My dad was able to make a shot of one of them eating an earthworm!

The foliage along the edges of the puddle created a beautiful yellow reflection. I decided to wait until the bird walked through the reflections to create this image. The golden reflection adds a lot of punch to this image.

On the walk back to our cars, we had an opportunity to photograph some monarch butterflies that had started their migration. They would pause on the wildflowers that lined the trail. I like this image, because the butterfly is surrounded by the flowers and the sun has beautifully back lit the wings creating a soft orange glow.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Fall Color

This image was made at a local cranberry bog in Carver, Massachusetts. This has been a difficult year for foliage. It has been spotty at best. I have been keeping my eyes open for small stands of trees that display excellent color. This was one of the best spots that I have seen this year.

I had noticed this tractor the day before while making the photo of the yellow maple leaf that I posted in the Fall in New England blog post. The light at that time was not particularly good for the tractor or the foliage. When I returned for this image, I was pleased to see the contrast between the blue tractor and the red, orange and yellow foliage in the background.

This was the first of a handful of scenes that I was thrilled to be able to see and photograph on Sunday morning. It was great to go on a short loop through Carver looking for fall scenes. Exploring with a camera is one of my favorite things to do. It doesn't hurt to know the area and have an idea of places to look for certain themes. Scouting ahead of time is always a good plan.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Foggy Day in Acadia

This image was made on the first day of our recent tour to Acadia National Park. The fog was settled in over the tarn. With just a little color showing on the trees, I used my 70-200mm lens to isolate just a few trees along the water's edge. This is one more example of taking advantage of bad weather to make a beautiful image. Getting out in the rain takes some extra preparation, but it is often worth the results. Bad weather makes for great images!

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Old North Church

Today I joined my friends from the Plymouth Digital Photograpers at the Old North Church in Boston. My friend Jean did a great job organizing this meetup. She arranged for us to enter the church before hours and we were able to go up to the balcony, which is usually restricted.

I was intrigued by the various flags that were posted around the church. Seeing the 1776 version of the Stars and Stripes with the autumn colors peeking through the windows was wonderful. Being in the church where such a pivotal moment in our history took place inspired me to try to photograph it as it may have been seen in 1776. Unfortuntaely, the radiator in the corner and the lightbox at the bottom of the blacony didn't conform with that thought. With a little photoshop magic, I was able to highlight the flag, which served to emphasize the importance of the church and to distract the eye away from the radiator. I also used a subtle touch of HDR to preserve the fall colors in the windows, which would have otherwise been blown out.

Revolutionary history has always fascinated me. I was thrilled to be able to visit this remarkable church.

Later in the morning, I visited Copp's Hill Burial Ground. I really wanted to show some fall foliage amongst the head stones. There were very few trees that had turned. Fortunately, there were a few yellow leaves piled up against one of the stones. Their contrast of bright color against the grey of the stone drew my eye to the scene. The scalloped carving on the stone reflecting the shape of the leaves also added more form to the image. The decaying foliage also serves as a symbol of what will be...

Fall in New England

This yellow maple leaf caught my eye. It was in the middle of a sea of bright red cranberries and dark blue water. The color contrasts were fantastic! I had scouted this bog the night before and knew that it held a lot of potential.

My favorite cranberry bogs are the ones that are slightly overgrown, but are still in active use. I love to see the maple saplings turn red, orange and yellow in the middle of the bogs. Finding wildflowers and grasses of all colors and sizes in the bogs, adds a lot of interest and beauty to any composition. I often drive by a well tended bog. For me, the more weeds a bog has, the more beautiful it is.

Over the past few years, I have made many images of leaves, flowers and grasses in cranberry bogs. This may be my favorite image. The strong contrast between the colors is stunning. I usually see red and orange maple leaves in the bogs. This yellow leaf seems exceptionally rare, making it even more captivating to me.

For this image, I used my Tamron 200-500mm lens that I usually reserve for wildlife. This allowed me to get a close up shot to minimize distracting elements surrounding the sapling. Minutes after this image was made, the sapling was plowed under by the farmer harvesting his bog.

Creating this image was the culmination of a fantastic morning that started with a walk on the Freedom Trail and a visit to the Old North Church. Fall in New England. It can't be beat!

Friday, October 21, 2011

Sunrise Over Frenchman's Bay

Just a few short hours after making some beautiful moonlit images from the top of Mt. Cadillac, we had the opportunity to return for some sunrise images. The contrasts between night and day was obviously striking and very rewarding!

Sunrise is always the most magical time of day. It is the symbol of new beginnings and opportunities. It can be an incredible moment of soul searching and reflection. Viewing the sunrise from Mt. Cadillac is especially powerful.

The first rays of the new day (in the U.S.) can be seen from the top of Cadillac Mountain, warming the island studded Frenchman's Bay. During summer, the white throated sparrow celebrates the new day with its beautiful song. In the fall, brisk breezes bring cool autumn air with the promise of winter. Anytime of year is exhilerating. Once the colors start to play across the sky, the grumpiness from the early wake up is long forgotten. The heart stirs and the soul begins to sing with a vibrancy that can't be supressed. The view from the top is worth the effort!

On each trip there is always groans of "You want to get up when?" and "We won't get coffee until what time?" This is usually followed by a collective sigh and often some more grumbling. Then, once nature has put on her show, come the breathtaking moments that make everyone realize that their sacrifice was worth the lack of sleep and the delayed caffeine fix. Nature has a way of soothing over such worldly concerns. Nothing else seems to matter. The fringe hours of light are what nature photographers live for. Too often we trade those hours away for some extra sleep in a comfy bed. Moments like the one pictured above are to be cherished. Make a point of getting up early and greeting the sun!

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Going, Going, Gone

I am happy to tell you that the Beauty of Billingsgate Farm Calendar 2012 is nearly sold out! There are only a few copies left. You can pick yours up at Billingsgate Farm, located at 6 County Road (Route 106) Plympton, Ma 02367. The calendar can be purchased for $13.99. While you are there, be sure to buy some fresh apples and pumpkins.

This image is one of my favorites from this calendar. It was made in July when there were dozens of butterflies visiting the zinnias at Billingsgate farm. It was a blast photographing all of the different species of butterflies on the colorful flowers. I have many wonderful images from these morning photo shoots, but the bee flying in the background made this image stand out from the rest.

Creepy Crawlies

My friend Gil found this spider on the side of the Park Loop Road, during our photo tour of Acadia National Park. It was laying out its web and didn't mind posing for us. The early morning light was perfect for this spider. The wind however was quite a challendge. With a little patience we were able to make some nice images.

My basic approach to photographing an area is to think big and look small. We had just photographed the sunrise at Otter Cliffs. This is one of the most iconic scenes in New England. It speaks of the grand landscape. Once the sun was up, we turned our backs to it and enjoyed the warm early morning light upon the coast. Gil demonstrated the look small approach by noticing a tiny detail like this spider. Many people were still photographing the grand landscape of the coast of Maine. Both approaches are excellent, but it amazes me how much nature has to offer for those who seek it out!

I thought this image was rather appropriate with Halloween just around the corner!

Monday, October 17, 2011

Moonlight Over Frenchman's Bay

On my recent tour to Acadia I went to the top of Cadillac Mountain with a couple of the workshop participants for some night photography. The moon was shining and providing some nice light over Frenchman's Bay. We also used a flashlight to paint the foreground in.

The wind was gusting rather strongly. More than once I was nearly blown over. Fortunately, we were able to duck behind a wall at the edge of the parking lot. In an effort to keep the camera from shaking in the wind, I would huddle around it after I tripped the shutter. This is an effective technique that helps to keep images sharp even in bad weather.

Finding new ways to photograph Acadia National Park is always a challenge. While I am sure that night photography has been done from the top of Mt. Cadillac before, I have not seen any other images like this one. It was worth staying out late and braving fierce winds.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Rainy Day in Acadia!!

Today was the first day of a three day workshop to Acadia National Park. It rained pretty hard for most of the day. Some of the participants were pretty bummed out and desperately wanted to see the sun! I was pretty excited about the opportunity that the "bad" weather provided.

Bad weather often means great photos. The fog today provided a great chance to create some moody images. My favorite image of the day was of a red maple leaf on a rock in a shallow stream. While I have been known to place a leaf on a rock or birch tree to create a still life image, I honestly found this one as you see it.

The red of the maple leaf drew my eye to the image. I had to work hard to find a composition that I liked. It was too easy to completely center the leaf. With this composition, I was able to position the leaf slightly off center. The water flowing by adds a mysterious elemental etherealness to the image. Not a bad image for rainy day!

Monday, October 10, 2011

Adventures in Photography: Photographing the Mayflower at Night

I recently participated in a night photography workshop in Plymouth, MA. It was time to brush up on my night photography skills and learn the latest tips and tricks from an expert. Lance Keimig is a renowned night photography specialist. He led us to the Plymouth waterfront on a mild night in late September.
After giving us some basic instructions on how to make great images at night, Lance set us loose to wander all over the waterfront and downtown Plymouth. I headed towards the Mayflower II.
The Mayflower is an icon of all that is Plymouth, the Pilgrims and the settling of this great country. It has been photographed millions of times. Even at night. Yet, I wanted to make a unique image that would stand out from the rest.
Fortunately, I had recently met one of the caretakers of the historic sailing vessel. He was a very kind gentleman and allowed me to photograph from a nearby dock that was usually off limits. This dock afforded me a unique angle from water level.
Of course, photographing at night from a dock, created a whole new series of challenges. Most night photography requires long exposures from 15 seconds to up to six hours or more. While the camera shutter is open, the camera must remain still and usually the subject needs to remain still as well. Any motion on the part of the camera or the subject will create blurs in the image. Sometimes the blur due to motion can be desirable. For my image of the Mayflower, I wanted everything to be tack sharp. The dock however and some of the boats in the foreground were gently rising up and down on the swells in Plymouth Harbor. A long exposure would not work.
With a few adjustments to my camera, I was back in business. I raised the ISO from 100 to 1600, gaining four stops of light. Then I lowered my f stop or aperture, from f8 to f 2.8, gaining three more stops for a total of seven stops of light! This resulted in a shutter speed of ½ second.
With some patience and careful timing of the waves, a crisp shot could be made. The trickiest part would be to time the shot to start at the height of the incoming wave. There is a brief moment at the top of a wave where upward motion suspends and you will remain still for a split second before descending with the wave. My goal was to make my images while I was briefly suspended at the top of each incoming wave.
In addition to correctly timing the waves, I made numerous images of the scene to insure that I had at least one that was sharp. Upon review at home, I found that many of my images were perfectly sharp.
Some of the workshops participants were surprised that I could make a shot at ISO 1600 with very little noise in the image. My camera is a Nikon D7000 which is fantastic for shooting at high ISO’s while keeping noise to a minimum. This camera is less than a year old. Many older cameras can not shoot as well at high ISO’s.

This Month’s Tip: Trying new techniques can help keep photography exciting. Night photography is a great way to see classic scenes with a fresh perspective.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Billingsgate Farm Calendar

The 2012 Billingsgate Farm calendar is now on sale! This was a great photo project that I have been working on for the past year. Billingsgate Farm is located at 6 County Road (Route 106) Plympton, Ma 02367. The calendar can be purchased for $13.99. While you are there, be sure to buy some fresh corn, apples and pumpkins. Billingsgate farm has the best fresh fruit and vegetables in Southeastern Massachusetts!

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Neither Rain, Nor Hail...

On our first full day of our trip to Montana, we woke up around 3:45AM to go to Logan Pass for sunrise. It was supposed to be 35 degrees Fahrenheit. Much to our surprise it was a balmy 60 degrees and we were way over dressed.

As we arrived at the Logan Pass Visitor Center, there were three big horn sheep standing in the parking lot. They were licking salt off of the asphalt, which is one of their favorite summertime activities.

Many of the participants piled out of the vans and began to excitedly make photos of the sheep. I stood there a little confused by the temperature and very concerned about the thunder head approaching the pass from the southwest.

The thunderhead was dark, menacing and booming. I immediately started counting the seconds between distant lightning strikes and thunder. It started at 15 seconds apart, implying that the storm was roughly 15 miles away. Very soon, the gap had become only 10 seconds. I began to request that all of the photographers stop making photos and quickly return to the vans. True to classic photographer form, many of the participants looked at me like I had three heads. They couldn't believe that I was taking them away from big horn sheep that were seemingly posing for their cameras.

By the time the last participant finally entered the van, the gap had narrowed to four seconds. As soon as the participants asked "Why are we sitting in the vans?", lightning cracked around the surrounding mountains and thunder shook our cars. Within seconds, a tremendous down poor started and we sat back to watch mother nature's show.

After the rain storm, I suggested that we should try to wait for the sheep to leave the parking lot to make images of them in more natural settings. As it was, many of the shots were made with the sheep standing in front of porta potties. While that made for a somewhat unique photograph, it was not what I had in mind when I planned a trip to Glacier!

The sheep eventually obliged us and we were able to make some excellent images. Of course we also had to endure being pelted by a sudden hail storm, while we waited. Fortunately, we were able to jump into the vans for safety.

Getting up early and waiting out the wild weather certainly paid off. Not only did we get better shots of the sheep, we witnessed one of the most amazing sunrises I have ever seen. Persistence is paramount to making successful photographs!

Monday, August 22, 2011

Fire in the Sky

The third morning of our trip was by far the most visually stunning of many outstanding sunrises. Fortunately we were there to witness it. This was dawn in all its glory.

We arrived at Lake McDonald a few minutes before this incredible show took place. It lasted for at least 40 minutes. During that time a mother merganser and her brood took a swim through the fiery reflection on the perfectly calm surface of Lake McDonald. If you look closely, the mergansers are on the left side of the image and their wake is the orange streak that runs through the middle of the dark mountain reflection.

I have never seen such a beautiful sunrise last for so long. I had noticed on my previous adventure in Utah that the sunrises seem to last forever out west. Here in the east, the best color lasts for a maximum of ten minutes. Comparatively the western sunrises that I saw this summer seemed to last for ten days.

There are few places that are as beautiful as Lake McDonald at sunrise. I was thrilled that the two mornings we spent there offered two very different, but equally beautiful sunrises. You may compare this image with my previous post "Cerrulean Reflections" at

Friday, August 19, 2011

Rootin' Tootin' Cowboy

On our first night in Montana we went to an authentic rodeo complete with bucking broncos, big mean bulls, cowboys, cowgirls, colorful clowns and a sea of ten gallon hats. This rodeo was the real deal.

This image may be my favorite of many wonderful shots that I made that evening. The essence of the rodeo and the west is captured in this photograph. The cowboy captured in mid-air, his hat flying off in the background, and the steer's hooves locked into the ground in a desperate attempt to escape, all hint at the wild energy of the rodeo.

Few things represent the cowboy tradition of the west better than a small town rodeo. Cowboys and cowgirls came from all over Montana and Canada to compete in the contest. Some of them may not have been old enough to finish the 6th grade, while a few were old enough to potentially be great grandparents. Young and old, they all shared a fire in their bellies for the thrill of the ride.

Many of the rides, whether on a bull or from a horse started with a gut check and a quick prayer finished with a sign of the cross made for protection. Then the excitement would build as the rider exploded out of the gate as if a cannon had fired. Within seconds the ride would be over and the crowd would cheer to congratulate the rider for his or her courage.

Watching these events with the naked eye is fascinating, even exhilerating. Seeing them afterwards as snapshots brings about an even greater appreciation for the effort and courage that these modern day wranglers display. The still shots show the raw power that the broncos and bulls are capable of. Even an event like barrel racing is fraught with danger. Twice, riders trying to cut corners too hard in an effort to shave seconds off of their time, managed to topple their horses to the ground. I was particularly impressed by the cowgirl who remounted her horse and finished the race, even though there was no chance for her to win. That type of hard nosed attitude prevailed throughout the evening as rider after rider attempted to tame the beasts to which they were bound.

If you find yourself out west, be sure to find the local rodeo. You won't regret it.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Cerulean Reflections

The tour to Montana was blessed with perfect skies for every sunrise and sunset. I have never seen such a beautiful series of skies in succession like we did for that entire week. Usually you are lucky to get one great sunrise every 10-20 days. The skies started out great on day one and just kept getting better!

This was my second favorite sunrise of the tour. The photo was made on the shores of Lake McDonald. At first, I thought we might get a poor or non-existent sunrise, but this one turned into something truly special indeed.

I loved the reflections of the sky upon the perfectly smooth lake. The mirror image was enchanting. This sunrise was a great start to a great day!

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Silhouette at Sunrise

This horse stopped munching on its breakfast of plains grass just long enough to watch the sunrise. I wonder if it enjoyed the sunrise as much as I did. This image was made at the Lodgepole Gallery and Tipi Village in Browning, Mt.

The sunrise was as beautiful as the sunset and the milky way from the night before. This is truly a special place. Spending time with the local band of horses was a fantastic way to start the day!

Please note that this is a captive horse. The wild horse band was only ten feet away, but they were not high enough on the ridge to silhouette against the sun.

The Setting Crescent Moon

This image was created at the Lodgepole Gallery and Tipi Village in Browning, Montana. After we watched the sun set, we were able to make images including the waxing crescent moon. Placing the moon among the tipi poles seemed only natural. I was witnessing a scene that had occurred on the plains thousands of times before. How many more times will it happen again? I was thrilled to be there, in that moment, connecting to something greater than myself.

Monday, August 8, 2011

The Beauty of the Plains

This image was created near sunset at the Lodgepole Gallery and Tipi Village in Browning, MT. The plains have hundreds of species of flowers and grasses, birds and butterflies. I was very fortunate to have a beautiful bouquet of wildflowers to anchor the foreground of this image.

To create this image, I used an 11-16mm wide angle lens. One of the best techniques for using a wide angle lens is to get as close to possible with the foreground subject. This is a classic technique that has been around forever. Don't forget to use a high f stop to help maintain excellent depth of field. In this case, I selected f22.

As you can see from my previous posts, I found the Lodgepole Gallery and Tipi Village to be a truly beautiful location rich with many photographic opportuinities! I can hardly wait to visit again!

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Dreams of Tipis and Stars

This image shows the milky way rising like smoke out of the tipi. The stars on the Plains of Montana are bright and beautiful. My friend Nancy and I stayed out until nearly 1:00 AM making compositions of the tipis and the milky way. We both wanted to keep photographing, but I had the longest drive of the trip ahead of me the next day. We were back at it by 5:30 AM for sunrise.

Watching the stars wheel above the tipis, smelling the smoke from the campfires and hearing the coyotes howling across the plains made me think of days long past. Every so often a train would rumble by in the distance that would also remind me of the wild west. I couldn't help but imagine what it would be like to see and hear a herd of a million buffalo running across the plains...

As the temperature began to quickly drop, I began to wish for a buffalo robe and a seat by the fire. This was truly a memorable experience.

The Bird Woman's Tipi

This photo was made at the Lodgepole Gallery and Tipi Village in Browning, Montana. I offered an optional star photography session for the photo tour to Montana. As the sky was getting darker, we kept small campfires in the tipis. Combined with a long exposure, the fires created an ethereal glow in the tipis. The tipi in the foreground glowed in the shape of a woman or an angel. Having recently photographed the famous Bird Woman Falls in Glacier National Park, I am inspired to title this photograph "The Bird Woman's Tipi."

Our stay at the Lodgepole Gallery and Tipi Village was fantastic! We had a wonderful dinner of fresh trout and buffalo meatloaf. Then we photographed wild mustangs and the tipis at sunset. The star photography was outstanding. I will soon post a photo of a tipi under the Milky Way. The next morning, we revisited the mustangs at sunrise. This was truly a magical place to visit!

Mmmm Huckleberry!!

I just got back from leading a fantastic photo tour through Glacier National Park and Northwest Montana. The scenery and wildlife all showed up on cue. (I am glad that the union contracts were mostly settled:) We saw so many amazing things that it will be hard to retell all of it. For me, the best part was the people who came on the trip. I have never laughed so hard for so long. These folks were all kindred spirits and I had a blast getting to know all of them!

This black bear was photographed in the National Bison Range. It was foraging for huckleberries, a Montana delicacy. If you look closely, you will see a huckleberry on its tongue! What an amazing chance we had to observe this bear in the wild. We watched it for about 15 minutes before we had to leave. When we first saw the bear, my friend Sue, who was sitting behind me in the van got so excited that she screamed "BEAAARRRR!!!!" so loud that I still can not hear anything in my right ear. So much for quietly approaching wildlife:) Fortunately, the bear didn't seem to mind. The huckleberries were probably just too good!

I will keep posting my favorite photos from this trip as I edit them. Check back here regularly.

Monday, July 18, 2011

The Sorcerer's Apprentice

Last Monday I joined my friends from the Plymouth Digital Photographers Club for a day in Boston. We spent the afternoon on George's Island visiting the civil war fort and photographing Boston Harbor from the ferry.

After dinner, three of us walked back to a parking garage near the aquarium. We were treated to a magical scene of young children playing in a fountain in front of the Custom House Clock Tower.

The water from the fountain reflected the different colors of lights that surrounded the park, making for a truly beautiful scene. The kids could not have been any cuter. I had a blast photographing them.

One girl stood off to the side of the fountain and pretended to direct the water as if she were a conductor. She reminded me of the Sorcerer's Apprentice magically shooting colorful water into the night sky.

What a fun night! The only thing that could have been better would be to jump in and play in the fountain too!

I made these photos hand held at ISO 6400. I am quite pleased by my D7000's lack of noise at such a high ISO!

Monday, June 20, 2011

Lupine in Sugar Hill, NH

On Saturday, my dad and I travelled to beautiful Sugar Hill, NH. We went there to see the annual Lupine Festival. Local residents and businesses have grown thousands of lupines in locations with fantasic views of the White Mountains.

I was blown away by the beauty of Sugar Hill. Lupines are one of my favorite species of flowers. Combining them with one of my favorite regions in America is a can't miss photographic opportunity.

We started our day at Polly's Pancake Parlor. We partook in the famous pancakes while we waited for the early morning rain to dissipate. While my dad settled for plain pancakes, I tried the coconut corncakes and the the buckwheat walnut pancakes. Both were excellent, but the buckwheat walnut were definitely my favorite!

After breakfast we photographed the lupines across the street from Polly's. This view included a beautiful light grey horse, an old barn, thousands of buttercups and a view to the Franconia Range. Quite frankly it was stunning!

Later in the morning we photographed St. Matthew's Church, where we saw a bride and groom taking their wedding shots. Then we traveled down the Sunset Hill Road where we made multiple stops for more shots of the lupines and fantastic mountain views.

After touring through most of the sites that were included on the Lupine Festival Map, we doubled back to revisit the early morning locations when it had been cloudy. The afternoon brought sunshine and clear views for miles.

This was one of my favorite days and locations in all of New England. The only places that compare to the Lupine Festival are Acadia National Park at any time of year and the Kancamagus Highway and Crawford Notch during peak foliage. Sugar Hill when the lupine are in bloom is truly a special place!

Sunday, June 12, 2011

How Sweet It Is...

This squirrel was sitting on my garden trellis enjoying the first strawberry of summer. Below is a sneak preview of my July Adventures in Photography Article. This series of articles can be viewed monthly in the Freebird Times. Past articles can be found on this blog and on my website at

Adventures in Photography: Once in a Lifetime Shots – Be Prepared
In regards to once in a lifetime shots, the Boy Scouts motto “Be Prepared” is the best advice. Photographing wildlife consistently puts this theory to the test. Wild creatures are unpredictable. They often turn up in odd places at odd times, when you least expect them. Having your camera gear ready maximizes your potential for capturing these fleeting moments.
I am fortunate to own two camera bodies with interchangeable lenses. I always keep one camera body ready for sudden wildlife action. This includes having the camera set to aperture priority mode at a low f stop, with an ISO of 400 or higher. My longest lens remains attached to the camera while traveling around. In a moments notice I can stop the car, grab my camera and begin to photograph. The ability to be quickly ready dramatically increases my chances of making a successful image.
This afternoon, my beautiful wife Brenda, suddenly called me to the kitchen. When I arrived, she was pointing out the window and exclaiming “Awww…It’s so cute!” Sitting on top of my garden trellis was a squirrel eating a fresh strawberry. It was cute!
My mind went into overdrive. I hadn’t used my camera for quite some time. Where was it? My day job gets extremely busy during the months of May and June. Often, my camera sits in a lonely corner all but forgotten, while I march parades, direct concerts and take my bands to various competitions. Fortunately, it was exactly where I always leave it and it was easy to find.
As I got back to the kitchen, I had my camera turned on and ready. I didn’t need to spend time adjusting my settings. My only decision was where to take the image from. If I left my house, I would scare the squirrel away. Shooting through the screen of my window turned out to be my best option. Many professional sports photographers often photograph through protective mesh nets, by using a trick. They set the aperture to a very low f stop. This makes the netting practically disappear in the photograph, allowing for a clean image of the subject. In this case, the subject was not a baseball star, but a very charismatic squirrel.
After quietly opening my kitchen window, I pressed the edge of my lens to the screen and composed my image. Over the next ten seconds I made a handful of excellent images. Then, the squirrel left to eat his strawberry in peace. Not only did I make a great image of an unexpected wildlife encounter, I had protected my strawberry patch too!
If I had not left my camera set up with the correct lens and settings and been fore armed with the knowledge of how to photograph through a mesh screen, I would not have successfully made this image. Being prepared is the key to successful photography!

This Month’s Tip:
Try to plan for the situations you may encounter as a photographer. Having the correct equipment and knowledge available at a moment’s notice will help you to make many exciting images.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Only 2 spots left on the photography tour to Glacier National Park!!

There are only 2 spots left on the Mass Audubon Photography Tour of Glacier National Park! I will be co-leading this trip with naturalist, author and historian John Galluzzo. Glacier National Park is known as the crown jewel of the national park system. From majestic mountains to alpine lakes and waterfalls, we will see and photograph the best of what Glacier has to offer. The modest trip fee of $1575 includes lodging, ground transportation and photography instruction. For more info, visit my website at or call Mass Audubon at 781 837 9400.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Adventures in Photography: Bash Bish Falls

Photographing waterfalls may be the most satisfying experience in nature photography. Photography is essentially about capturing time. Most photos capture a split second in time. The camera shutter opens and closes within the blink of an eye. Making an image of a waterfall is a different experience altogether.

My favorite technique for photographing waterfalls is to make a long exposure and let the water flow through the image. This creates a silky smooth effect, while capturing longer moments of time. Any exposure from 1/8 second or longer will create this effect. Using your camera’s manual setting and a tripod are necessities. Set the f stop as high as possible and set the shutter speed for the correct exposure.

The rushing water creates enough sound that every day life can be washed away in the rushing torrent. Time simply passes away as the water rushes down stream. Hours seem to pass like minutes while a connection with nature is re-established. Often, my inner self will “awaken” as I finish photographing. I had been in another place at least for a little while.

Last fall I spent a morning photographing Bash Bish Falls in western Massachusetts. These beautiful falls are the tallest in Massachusetts, measuring over 60 feet. They are classic icons of the Berkshires and have been the subject of numerous artists since the 1800’s. Making a new and interesting composition is very challenging, but the effort is well worth it.

On the day I visited Bash Bish falls, the autumn leaves were past peak, but a few maple trees tenaciously held onto their yellow leaves. Other trees had conveniently dropped all of their leaves on the rocks in and around the river. The contrast of the yellow leaves against the grey granite rocks made for a very interesting foreground.

Be careful when visiting Bash Bish Falls. They were recently ranked by AOL as one of the most dangerous destinations in America! Climbing on the rocks around the falls can be treacherous. Be especially vigilant on the dangerous cliff side trail that leads to the falls. For an easier, much safer hike, park in nearby Taconic State Park in New York. The state of New York maintains a beautiful trail that follows the river for approximately 1 mile to the falls.

This Month’s Tip: When photographing waterfalls don’t be afraid to get in the water. Standing in the water creates an interesting perspective. It also allows you to more fully connect with your subject, Mother Nature. Be wise when wading in the water. Make sure that the current is not too powerful and that the water is not too deep. At a recent workshop, renowned photographer Tony Sweet suggested wearing waders and testing the water without your camera first. Once you have established a safe location for shooting, go back and get your camera. This will save you and your camera from getting in over your head!
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