2015 Year in Review

As we get older doesn't it just seem like the years pass by faster and faster? Even though they are going by quickly it seems each year is filled full of amazing memories.

Well this past year started off with a bang.  As a dream of mine came true, I found out a few of my images would be in Canadian Geographic. On top of all that I ended up getting the back cover of the magazine for Best of Birds with my Northern Gannet image seen below

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The above image also graced the cover of Wildlife Photographic Magazine as well, along with my article on low perspective called How Low Can You Go?

What a start to the year and of course it was all down hill from here lol..just joking but really what could top all this?

As winter set in things began to slow down. Here on the island during the winter months I often find myself stuck to only a few locations for photography, one of which is Quidi Vidi lake. On a cold morning in mid Jan I spent a short time with a small group of Bohemian Waxwing. Each winter I cross my fingers in hopes of running into these flocks as they pass through. Even though the session was short I came away with my best ever image of a Waxwing(And it has become one of my best sellers)

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As the rest of winter slowly went by uneventful my focus began to shift a little. A goal I set for myself this year was to focus on improving my landscape photography skills. Any area I had stayed far away from but felt it was time to take on this adventure. 

One of the many beauties of Newfoundland is that we are very fortunate to have Icebergs that pass along our shores which brings people from around the world to see them. Now some years are better then others in terms of the Iceberg numbers seen and how close they are to shore. There is a site called Iceberg Finder that can aid in locating the icebergs (not the most reliable site but it does help). Checking the site I noticed that one iceberg had made its way to the small cove in Torbay. 

For one full week in May I spent each morning leaving my house at 4am before work to head to Torbay. See the iceberg had lodged itself against some rocks keeping it just out of sight from the beach. Finally as I was about to give up hope some strong North winds blew the iceberg out into the open waters and I came away with one of my fav Landscape images of the year

Normally in May I make a special trip out to Terrenceville, NL to spend sometime with a small herd of Caribou but May seemed to slip by quickly and I found myself heading into the June with out a visit. So in the first week of June we made our trip out and my goal was to try and photograph the herd at sunset. With the open barren landscape surrounding Terrenceville its the perfect location for warm beautiful light falling on your subject. Only mins down the road I located three individuals and as the sun began to set I found myself only yards from this individual. It was one of my best encounters with the herd to date.

Of course no year is complete without a trip out to Elliston to see the Puffins. Normally I make my annual trip at the end of July but I found myself heading out there at the end of June because of a busy summer schedule. Being so early in the breeding season proved to be not a great idea and my photo ops were limited with the Puffins though I did manage a few nice keepers including this one.

It was during this trip that I gained a whole new respect for landscape photographers and also grew a new love for my province. It was at this time that I finally realized what it was that I wanted to photograph from this beautiful island...its rugged coastline...See whenever I had thought about doing landscape photography I always drew a blank on what it was that I wanted to capture...with the lack of high peaking mountains, stunning lush green rainforest with breath taking waterfalls and many of the other subjects you see in other photographs from around the world, I could never pull myself to do landscape photography. It was my ignorance and jealousy of other peoples photos that overshadowed the beauty hidden within this province...but this tiny location called Lancaster found only mins from Bonavista opened my eyes and my heart..and the fire inside was lit

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June month continued to provide more photo ops with my first ever encounter with a Great Horned Owl. Not only did I get a chance to see one but I got to spend time with the whole family and see the young fledge from the nest. On one very rainy day before heading to work I capture this fledgling hanging out on a fallen tree waiting of  mom to return with breakfast.

Another annual trip  I make each year is out to see the Gannets. Actually I normally make a few trips out since it is only 2 hours away. I never get tired of seeing them and each trip presents itself with new challenges or at least challenges me to try and see things in a different way. Probably one of the most challenging aspects of capturing images of wildlife is to show emotion. But sometimes we are given unique opportunities like this couple that appeared to embrace on the edge of the cliff while their young tucked in safely between them

Heading into the latter part of the summer my focus shifted to moose. Even though we have a abundance of them on the island I have very few images of Moose. For a large creature they are very elusive in our thick forests.  I did manage to come across this young Moose that reminded me how fragile life can be...it appeared that its mother had been struck trying to cross a road and this little guy spent weeks in one field grazing and awaiting her return. As sad as this story may sound it appears that this little guy is still doing well as it was spotted only a week ago and is looking health.

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Heading into October I got word that my local printing company was providing a service for doing Calendars. I was super excited as for a few years now I have wanted to put one together but could never find a company I was happy with. Its always nerve racking to know if something you produce will sell but I have to say I was very pleased at how it all turned out and will certainly plan to do them again next year.

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Sprinkles of snow began to blanket the landscape and the air was feeling cool and crisp as I reached Cape Spear. This iconic location have been photographed to death but I wanted to try and challenge myself to capture one of its lighthouses in a perspective that you may not have seen. Of course this is certainly no mind blowing composition but it was one I really liked. I had hopes of capturing an image from this location before winter set in but this sprinkle of snow certainly added to the image and I was pleasantly surprised.

With 2015 coming to an end its time to look forward to another great year and make some plans for the future. It is always a good idea to set goals for yourself in photography(and in life) and push yourself to grow. So below are a list of my thoughts/goals for the coming year:

- Revamp my website to better suit e-commerce. I have plans to redo my who site so it is linked with the printer company I deal with which will in turn help my clients make orders directly thru my site.

- Continue to improve on my Landscape skills. I have a bunch of ideas for the year and look forward to the adventure.

- Work even harder to capture Moose images

- Try incorporating some wildlife in my landscape shots

- Finally get an image of an American Bittern since I had no success last year though I did see one

- Now that my daughter is old enough to take on the trails with me its time to bring my family along with me on more of my outings.

- Revisit the Great Horned Owls in hopes to learn more about their behaviors

-  Revisit the waterfalls in Terrenceville now  that I have more knowledge about landscape photography

Of course there are many other goals and ideas I have but those are just a few. I wish you all a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year and I look forward to sharing more of my adventures with you in the New Year.

 

Puffins and more...

Heading into this summer one trip/outing I was looking forward to was photographing the puffins in the Bonavista area. This is a trip I make annually but this year was different because my good buddy Brendan Kelly was coming along and it was actually his first time photographing puffins. I normally make this trip at the end of July but with July booked solid I had to move the trip to the end of June.

So 3:00 am Brendan and I were packing his Civic to the rafters with photography and camping gear. We were only staying one night so for two days the plan was to shot, shot and shot while living off sandwiches and protein bars (with only 48 hours to shoot who has time to go to a restaurant to eat? lol).

Conditions were looking promising in terms of weather and about 20mins outside of Elliston we bagged our first wildlife shots ..a young moose…

 

I mean what’s a road trip without a moose sighting right?..lol

Heading up to the main road with the puffin colony in our sights I could see the excitement in Brendan’s eyes. As excited as I was I also had the fear in the back of my mind that we just might not get to see the Puffins up close. See in Elliston the puffin colony is located about 20 yards or so off the mainland and with the size of the puffins it’s near impossible to get any decent shots of them from that distance. Under the right conditions and a little bit of luck the Puffins will land on the mainland providing some amazing photo ops.

I took Brendan along my usual walk towards the Puffin Colony which is along the cliffs edge allowing for some great photo ops of Black Guillemots. These little guys can be tricky to spot and before you spot them they have jumped from the cliffs edge and back out to sea. You have to approach the edge of the cliffs slowly looking ahead of you hoping to spot one and then plan you approach..peek your lens over the cliff side and nail your shots..here are a few from the morning session.

 

One interesting note which I noticed and have noticed on almost all my trips is that Guillemots are best seen in the morning along the cliffs. They seem to disappear out to sea in the afternoons.

After having our fill of Guillemots we began our ascent up the hill to the puffins. It’s always an intense moment as you reach the top and peer down to the colony hoping that the puffins are on the mainland…to our disappointment not one…they all seemed to be out at sea feeding..we sat for some time watching their flight path but it appeared the conditions were not promising.

We decided to head back down the trail to photograph what seemed to be a very cooperative American Pipit.  After a short session with him I came away with one of my fav Pipit shots..

Our plan now was to do some exploring and check out a location for puffins which I can not disclose (out of respect for the wishes of a fellow photographer). 

Shortly after arriving at this new location we spotted them. Puffins..small pockets of puffins spread out all along the cliffs. My excitement level hit the roof. It was Brendan’s chance to finally bag his first photo of a puffin. We began our approach on the first group…GONE...at the very sight of us they took flight out to sea. Clearly these puffins were not use to humans like the ones in Elliston. The next group we planned our approach very carefully…as we crested a small hill I heard the machine gun sound of Brendan’s camera go off and saw the smile on his face nearly wrap around his whole head..as he looked back to me his hand reached out and we exchanged a very quiet high five..he now had his first puffin images…for the next few hours we worked along the cliffs edge and the puffins began to ignore our presence. 

 

The morning session went by fast and it was time to set up camp.

To our disappointment the afternoon was a complete bust. The light got harsh, Guillemots were basically non-existent and the puffins in Elliston still seemed to have no interest in approaching the mainland. What Brendan and I could conclude was that it appears all the female puffins were in their burrows on eggs while the males were out feeding and gathering food for the females. With this being the cause our chances of photographing the puffins up close in Elliston went very low and not really worth spending our time waiting on.

That evening we went to Lancaster to scout the area for landscape ideas. The clouds looked promising for a sunset shot but as the day came closer to an end the clouds quickly disappeared and we were left with nothing but an empty sky (not the most interesting sunset opportunity). So we packed up our gear and headed back to the tent. We were both tired and knew we were in for a short but cold morning…forecast was for chance of frost..what the hell?...end of June and chance of frost…that’s Newfoundland for ya..lol.

With a 3:00am rise planned the night was short and even though it was cold it wasn’t as bad as I thought…I woke with the sudden urge to pee as the alarm went off. Before leaving the tent I said to Brendan..”That wasn’t too bad..not that cold”…upon my return it was as if my body came to life and the chili in my body was nothing I have ever felt before…I opened the tent door and said “Brendan..kkkaannn yoouuu ssssttart the kkarrrr?”…my teeth couldn’t stop chattering. Brendan threw me the keys, I grabbed my cereal and headed to the car..2 seconds later Brendan joined me chattering as well…

4:10am with back packs on we headed to our spots along the cliffs of Lancaster awaiting our fate…would the cloud formations be good? Color vibrant? Sun in the right place? Compositions nailed down?..I’ve become more and more excited about landscape photography over this past year and the anticipation of a sunrise or sunset is like no other. There are many many failures and disappointing shots made but boy when all the moons align you can really capture some magic. Here are my two fav shots from that morning. No saturation or vibrancy was added to these images..this is how the sunrise was..magical.

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This sunrise capped off an amazing trip. Our time shooting seemed short but boy we came away with some great images in our eyes and a few good laughs.

All the pieces...

This past week I have dedicated  all my time to one specific location in hopes of captures an image I had in mind. Actually this location has been on my radar since last year when I photographed some icebergs. This area is Torbay, NL and during the month of May the sun rises straight down the middle of the open ocean creating a perfect setting for some landscape shots. 

May is also the start of our Iceberg season. Not ever year is  magical but this year(similar to last year) is starting off great. A about two weeks ago a medium size iceberg made its way into the bay and seemed to have gotten grounded in Gallows Cove.

On Monday of last week I made my first trip down to try a sunrise shot. I had hoped that the Iceberg had moved into the middle of Torbay but no luck on this visit. A slow moving storm was approaching but a little opening right at the horizon created a beautiful setting for some shots. Below are two shots I captured that morning.

The following one I captured just as the storm clouds drowned out the last remaining light

4 am two days later I headed back to Torbay..I had hoped some of the low North winds would have moved the Iceberg but again no luck. The winds had moved the Berg closer but not close enough. As you can see from this vantage point I was able to captured just a hint of the Berg sticking out around the far left point.

Saturday morning I woke again at 4am..this time I knew for sure the Berg had moved as Friday night called for 60km North winds. I woke to wind and fog. My heart sunk as it was calling for sun at sunrise.

As I often do I struggle with my own mind. One part of me said crawl back in bed it will be a waste of time. On a good day Torbay is usually fogged in, in May. I pushed on..with Tims in hand I turned onto the highway heading out to Torbay...more fog...each exit I struggled with the choice of turning around. Finally off the highway I decided to move forward and at least try for some black and whites images. As I descended down into the the bay I could see the beautiful IceBerg sitting proudly in the middle of the ocean for all to see.(ok well not for all see as who else would be out crawling around in the fog at 5am). 

I began snapping some shots but each one my will power got less and less. Finally the Iceberg but no sun...looked down at my phone 5:36am(time of sunrise)...no sun...6am..still no sun..Decided to grab my camera gear and take a scenic walk back to the CR-V looking for future compositions. I noticed a small beachy area between some jagged rocks.. I climbed down on to the beach and began shooting. I was liking the various compositions when the fog began to roll out...clouds began to form from the flat grey sky...panic set in...as much as I loved the composition I had it wasn't going to maximize the full affect of the clouds. So I quickly moved position and after a short 10mins of magical light I captured this image....

all the pieces had finally come together....

The fog rolled back in and in what seemed like a blink of an eye it was all over as if nothing had happened. 

I have only begun my landscape photography journey but boy have I learned a lot in this short time. One of the key things I have learned is to not give in to that internal struggle. Push through it and get yourself out there because it only takes one short moment of light to create beauty. 

To create the above image I manually blended three images. One for the foreground, one for the sky and one for the sea gull. All were taken with the Nikon D610 and tokina 11-16mm at 16mm with a circular polarizer on. 

The foreground water was captured at F18, 1/2sec exposure at ISO 100 to create that smooth look. The sky was captured at F18, 1/6sec exposure at ISO 100 and the sea gull was captured at F7.1, 1/640s at ISO 500. 

Whatever your passion is put your all into it. Let nothing stop you from doing what you love. Let no one tell you you cant...not even yourself. Be there for those magical moments while the rest of the world sleeps... 

Returning to the scene of the crime :)

After receiving my copy of Canadian Geographic Best of Birds 2015 and seeing my image on the back cover I just knew I had to make a trip out to see the Gannets again to start the spring season off…

So Saturday morning I was up at 2:00 am preparing for my trip to Cape St Mary’s with my good buddy Brendan Kelly. He arrived at my place at 2:45 am and with our much needed coffees in hand we were off on our 2 hour drive by 3:00 am. Heading down Salmonier Line in the dark you better have some strong coffee in you as your eyes need to be wide open for Moose. Sure enough we spotted one only mins down the road having an early breakfast.

We arrived at the interpretation center by 5:15 am and enjoyed up close looks at 4 horned larks feeding along the parking lot from the car. With the lack of sunrise(thanks Weather Network for another accurate weather reading lol) it was impossible to get any decent images of the larks so we packed up our gear and headed down to Bird Rock. At first we were a little worried as we never say one Gannet in the air from the parking lot which normally by this time of year you see them all around…as we reached the coastline along the trail to the colony we could see the white dots scattered all over Bird Rock…it was a pleasant sight. As you make the decent down to the Sea Stack the sound of the sea birds gets louder and louder and it’s like music to my ears.

Photography at Bird Rock presents an interesting challenge I find. It’s not like most other wildlife photography that I do in the sense that here the birds are plentiful (thousands of them) and I don’t have to go looking for them. What becomes a challenge here is finding that interesting composition; isolating one individual from all the rest or photographing a pair as they interact.

Brendan and I started the morning off by trying to capture some interesting poses as the Gannets approached Bird Rock looking for a place to land. This is the best time to capture in flights in my opinion as you often capture interesting/coward poses as they try to squeeze in amongst the rest of the Gannets without landing on their heads.

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This session was very short lived as the winds shifted to the East forcing the Gannets to change their approach angle and now had them flying into Bird Rock back on to us. Even though it was a short session  I was happy with the shots I captured.

From there it was time to shirt my attention to some intimate shots. Here I noticed this one individual sitting on what I thought was a perfect nest. It’s not often you get to isolate an individual on a nest like this and for the nest to look so well made.

It seems over the past few years the birds have been moving further up the right side of the cliff. With my teleconvertor on giving me 700 mm I’m now able to capture some intimate moments.

With all this nest building and courtship it’s always good to stretch.

While focusing in on this one individual it did something very unusual. It bent over and picked up this rock and seemed very proud that it did; stretching out its neck

When we had arrived at Bird Rock we were disappointed to see the lack of other sea birds on the cliffs like Kittiwake and Murres. As the morning progressed our luck changed as the Kittiwakes made a move for the cliffs. It’s always entertaining to watch them claim their position.

These little birds are fast and trying to capture them in flight is a challenge. The best opportunities I find are when they make attempt after attempt to approach the cliffs. Hundreds of feet below you they make tight circles around and around trying to find that perfect landing spot. This allows you to track them and nail that perfect dorsal flight shot.

With some great images bagged Brendan and I decided it was time for some fun with his GoPro and capture this unique selfie…

We had a little lunch and decided to return to shoot but the light had gotten harsh and was now at an angle that was undesirable. So what do you do when the light is harsh..you sit back and enjoy the view.

Or you take a shot of your buddy taking a rest after a hard mornings work

It turned out to be a wonderful morning of shooting and a great way to start off spring (we always like to start spring off late here in Newfoundland)

Settling for an Osprey...

I think as a wildlife photography we all have a set of images in our head that we would love to capture. A top 10 if you want to call it...on my list was to capture an intimate moment between a Bald Eagle and its chick on a nest. There are a lot of elements that make this type of image difficult to capture but I think the most difficult is capturing the image without disturbing the birds during this critical nesting period.

I remember one spring day driving around Terrenceville and Jenelle's father pointing out an Osprey nest along the main road heading into the small town. The nest was high up on the cliff side in the deep valley. A light blub went off..could this possible be my chance to photography a raptor on its nest with young? I studied the pair that year watching their flight paths, keeping note of the sun direction and the times the adults would head out for food and how often. In Sept after a successful breeding year the family headed off to their wintering grounds. It was time to scout the area further....

Climbing the cliff side was not easy...at times I would have to pull myself up using the trees that clung to the cliff. As I ascended to an eye level view of the nest I was surprised to see that the tick forest opened up giving me a perfect view. In the far distance was the other side of the valley creating the perfect back drop. 

That winter was very long..painfully waiting for all the snow to melt and for the opportunity to build my blind. The construction of the blind had to be done before their arrival. I did not want my presence to disturb their natural behavior. 

The blind was constructed out of a camo tarp, then completely covered in spruce tree branches. I cut a small hole out of the front of the tarp just large enough to fit my lens through. 

April 18th they arrived. As much as I wanted to head to the blind I waited. My goal was to capture the parents with the babies so no need to head to the blind yet. Mid way through July I finally made the journey through the think woods to the blind. This time I climbed higher into the hills making sure the osprey couldn't see me and I slowly descended to the blind from above using the trees to conceal my presence.

Finally I was inside the blind and starring my dream straight in the face.

My heart was beating so fast..I was unsure if the eggs had hatched yet. I had assumed but could not see any chicks. Mom seemed impatient with dad as he fished in the river near by. She would call out to him as he passed by

One of his first return trips was without food but with nesting material. 

The mother didn't seem to be all to impressed and drove him off again to hopefully return with food.

After waiting sometime I finally  caught a glimpse of something small moving in the nest 

not one but two heads popped up...then..a Third

When the third one popped up and was close to the parent I knew it was chance. The little guy seemed very eager to get food and moved closer to the mom..As he looked up at the parent I capture this shot

All my hard work and patients paid off. I was more then happy with the images captured but was even happier that I was able to do so without disturbing the birds. I want to make sure to point out... that in no way were these birds disturbed. Everything was carefully planned out so that I was able to get in and out of the nest site without being noticed. Their well being was top priority and I would never put them in harm just to get a shot..no image is worth that. The parents successfully raised all three young that year.

Some of you might be thinking..wait didn't he say he wanted to photography an eagle on a nest with its young?...Yes yes but come on..I think this is a great consolation price...lol

A Love Hate Relationship...

At the beginning of each winter as surrounding ponds freeze over Quidi Vidi Lake becomes a hot spot for bird sightings. Many photographers and birders head to the lake for up close looks at the diving ducks and even eagles as the try to make a meal out of one of the thousands of gulls that roost on the lake and other highlights. As the winter lingers on and spring time gets closer and closer the lack of interesting subjects seems to get less and less..the thought of heading to the lake is like waking up for work on a Monday morning...but the potentials there keeps me going back.

Early Saturday morning I  headed for the lake hoping to get there for sunrise. Along my drive through downtown  St.John's I noticed a Cormorant enjoying the rising sun as it spread beautiful warm light through the narrows. As the light reflected on the water I thought it would be a nice chance for a back lit portrait shot. 

A flash would have made this image that much better as I could have added a little fill light but what can you do...

On word I went and made it to the lake. I was hoping the recent cold temps would have iced up the lake a little more then it was last weekend since it was a little too open and the divers were much further away then I would like. Lucky me(not lucky for them) the open water was reduced to the size of a backyard pool..here is a shot from a month ago but basically the open water was about the same size

As I gathered my gear from the CR-V an Eagle took a dive at the resting gulls and made chase after one who luckily got away. The Eagle circled around and landed on a near by pole. Knowing that the sun would soon rise above the ridge behind me I waited patiently until the sun light up its face 

Since the top of a pole isn't all that interesting I decided to get in tight at 700mm for head shots and I'm glad I did as the Eagle decided to show it's frustration from its unsuccessful attempt at a catch and let out scream...

The Eagle made one more pass but again it was unsuccessful and head out towards Quidi Vidi village. 

It was time for me to settle in lake side as the large flock of divers had just arrived. Just as I laid flat on my belly on the cold ice my attention was drown to two Cormorants just below the bridge airing out their wings. This location isn't great for photos as their are way to close to the rock wall and you can't get a good angle on them. So I figured it would be a great opportunity for some head shots from the top of the bridge looking down. 

They didn't mind my presence at all as I assume they are use to humans walking across the bridge all day. 

The light was rising fast so I left the Cormorants to prune and headed back to my original spot lake side.

With so many ducks in such a small area singling one out was near impossible...but with a little patients opportunities arose.

Having been to the lake so many times to photograph the divers one beings to have the same images over and over so the challenge becomes capturing unique behaviors/poses 

or ducks with varying plumages

One duck that has caught birders attention over the past months is a Ring-necked duck with a lack of distinct markings. The first shot is of this very duck and the following is of another male Ring-Necked duck seen at the lake...you can clearly see the difference in markings.

and well we can't forget the female as she is always looking her best

Once again the lake proved to provide great photo ops but spring can't seem to come fast enough as I have many exciting plans ahead...

Solitude...

Solitude is a state of seclusion or isolation i.e.; a lack of contact with people. We often see this state as a negative thing or even a sign of weakness. The thought of being alone is something I feared for many years and at the time I was surrounded by people. We often surround ourselves with people in hopes that they provide a sense of happiness in our lives and in some way motivate us to be a better person. That can create a false since of security inside us because what if one day we are alone...left to figure out life for ourselves? Can we stand on our own two feet without the back support of others?..for years my answer was no..until I found photography..

Photography started off as an escape from life for many years for me. A way to shut out the world around me. What I didn't realize was during that time I was reconnecting with myself. I was starting to understand what I loved about life, what made me happy. How I wanted to live my life. As photographers we often spend hours and hours alone in the field. Watching the world around us, connecting with nature and ourselves...its empowering. We often push ourselves further and further then we have before, both mentally and physically. Sure we will sometimes head out with fellow photographers or cross paths in the field sharing sightings or ideas but in the end most of us enjoy the many hours in the field alone. 

We should not fear being alone...it allows us the time to connect with ones self. It allows us the time to better understand who we are as individuals...because in the end with truly are individuals.

Last week I came across an image on line that spoke to me in this way. It made me think a lot about the word solitude and were I have come in the past few years in my life. How I have reached the happiest time in my life. I headed out Saturday morning to Flatrock, NL to capture my version of the vary image I saw online...and I've called it Solitude..

A Spruce tree stands on the cliffs of Newfoundland's rugged coastline braving the harsh conditions and growing stronger each year even though spending many winters encased in an ice wall alone.

Well now that I've either made you feel depressed or bored you to death lets jump into some more ice fall images I captured later that morning. The following shots were taken at Middle Cove. This location is well known for this beautiful ice structure. Many images have been captured hear but this is my first time photographing it. These images were capture in a single exposure and I used my recently purchased actions from Tony Kuyper to process them.

The power of Luminosity masks are mind blowing and have opened my eyes to the possibilities of landscape photography for myself. I look forward to getting to use them more and trying to perfect the art of landscape photography. 

After capturing a few decent shots of the ice I decided to make a quick stop to try and captured a glimpse a rare bird called a Brown Thrasher which has been hanging out in Pippy Park the past week or more. This guy has been pretty secretive but has provided many birders with great sightings as it comes out in the opened for a free handout of food. The area he visits is poorly light and covered in dense foliage so during my short visit with him I choose to get in my usually low profile and capture close ups as he feed. This allowed me to eliminate the surrounded food in my image and great a clean portrait.

  I have said it a million times and I will saw it again..GET LOW...it has so many advantages with wildlife photography. If I had stood up or even knelt up I wouldn't have liked any of my shots as the surrounding snow would have been covered in seeds. With this low profile you get a nice clean image.

Feeding Birds and Making Friends...

As we all know social media is a great way to share our images and sightings with the rest of the world. Recently in one of our local facebook birding groups someone posted a few images of Evening Grosbeaks at her feeder and stated that "she wished someone with more experience taking images of birds was there to see all the beautiful colors at her feeder". With February month being very slow this year in terms of photography I thought this would be a great opportunity to do a feeder setup. So I fired off a message and Joyce was more then happy to allow me on to her property to try and capture some images.

Feeder setups aren't something I do often so I'm not expert but I would like to share with you a few tips of how I go about doing them. First task is finding a suitable perch. I try and think about the types of birds I might photograph and what perch would suit them. Since my goal was the grosbeaks I decided to go with the top of a Spruce tree and tie wrap it to one of my old tripods as seen below

With a perch found it was time to place it. The idea is that the birds will use this perch while waiting for their turn at the feeder. So not only does it benefit me but it also benefits the birds as it provides them with a place to rest while they wait. Lucky for me Joyce as a line of Spruce trees(Joyce I didn't cut the top of one of your trees don't worry lol) that run down the side of her property creating the perfect back drop. I placeed the perch eye level with the feeder and only about a foot or two away. The perch was placed there the day before my session with the birds as I wanted to allow them time to get use to it.

I arrived at 7:00 am setup my tripod and waited. It didn't take long for the birds to arrive but what should have been a beautiful sunrise was blanketed by clouds. So my settings were less then desirable..ISO800, F4, 1/125s...what can you do but shoot and pray.

First to arrive was the beautiful Northern Flicker

Obviously he wasn't going to use my perch but the large tree in the middle of Joyce's lawn worked out nicely. 

Then arrived a large flock of American Goldfinch and a couple Pine Siskin which seemed to love the nyjer sock hung out for them.

The American Goldfinch loved to hang out on the thinner branches of a small tree near the feeder providing some decent opportunities.

After a few mins one landed on the perch...success

Finally I could hear the arrival of the Evening Grosbeak..some 20-30 individuals. Their presence certainly helped get the blood flowing through my body again as by this time the cold weather was already getting to me. The sun was also beginning to break through the clouds which was a welcome sight as well.

The Grosbeaks slowly took their time descending from the top of the large tree..the males seem to be the first to make the move downwards but then the females get tired of their slow movements and drop down ahead of them. Once one lands on the feeder its all hands on deck..the feeder is soon flowed with action and in turn the new resting place becomes a great asset.

As stunning as the female is the male was my main target and soon enough they became comfortable enough to use the perch

All in all it turned out to be a successful outing. I came away with some great images but better yet I came away with a new birding friend Joyce. Thank you once again Joyce for allowing me to your feeders and I hope to be back again soon.

 

The Search for that Perfect image..and some sponging

I've heard these statement many times as I'm sure many of you have as well if your into wildlife photography..."You're going to photography eagles(any subject) again? Don't you have enough pictures of them? I have heard this so many times from photographers and mainly non photographers...

For me there are many reasons each year I photograph pretty much the same subjects over and over..one I can't afford to travel after spending so much money on gear..lol so I have to photograph the subjects that are native or migrate to my province. That reason aside my main reason is the search for the perfect image. Now that image varies from person to person but I think deep down photographers have the desire and motivation to try and capture what they feel is the perfect image..sad thing about this is we are all cursed and will never be fully happy with our images so this "perfect image" will probably never be achieved..but we try.

So with this said I headed out to Cape Spear this past Saturday to once again photograph the Purple Sandpipers. For me to achieve a perfect image there are a list of things that I need to have checked off..

1. Nice clean background with colors that complement the subject.

2. Obviously nice light...no harsh shadows on the subject or in the BG

3. Subject posed to the side parallel to the viewer to see the full subject with head turned to the viewer.

4. Obviously tack sharp from front to back.

5. Catch light in the eye.

6. Visible feet(in many cases harder then you think which I have found with the Purple Sandpipers)

7. Proper exposure

Now this is for a static pose. There are many other "Perfect Images"..action shots, inflight, etc...but the above is what I look for in a "Perfect image"

So lets look at some of the images from Saturday. The Purples were moving around alot on Saturday as their were decent size waves forcing them to move about to find food or a safe place to rest. This provided a great opportunity to photography them in different lighting and background settings. 

One of the first images captured which I liked was this one

This image hit most of the check marks but one important feature was missing...the feet. It doesn't ruin the image but it does make me wish they were visible making it less then perfect.

On to the next

So a little better..this time we have the feet or at least one showing. For me the background doesn't do it for me. Its nice and colorful which isn't  easy to find down on the rocks at the Cape but its a little busy for me. 

Ok Ok lets try another one and see if this will fit the checklist.

Both feet, clean background, sharp from head to tail, catch light..this pretty well cuts it but..

I prefer this shot. The sandpiper's body is turned just right and so is the head. There are no harsh shadows and the background color is interesting and very clean. This would be a pretty well perfect static image of a Purple Sandpiper for me :)

So regardless of what people might say keep photographing your favorite species..continue your search for that perfect image...and I hope one day you find it :)

Before I go I wanted to share with you a little tool I discovered in my research of landscape photography. The tool is called the Sponge Tool and is found in Photoshop. I'm not sure if its part of all versions of photoshop but it is in CS6 and CC. The tool in found in the toolbar on the left side of your window in Photoshop under the Dodge and Burn tool

 

Once you have selected the tool make sure its set to Saturate in the top menu, put your Opacity at around 10% and make sure vibrance is checked on. 

Now paint any parts of your image that you want the saturation to pop. With the images above I painted slightly over the iridescent color in the birds feathers to give it just a little pop. Not much but the camera doesn't always capture the way out eye see it so I give it a little pop. Try it out and it just might be another tool in your tool kit :)

Cement Feet...

I think we can all say we are guilty of this. A bird flies into an area or we spot our subject..we get in position..then that is it. Our feet become cemented to the ground and we don't move. We shoot off 300-400 pictures if the subject allows. We get home and all of them look the same..same background, slightly different pose maybe but no major difference.

Now don't get me wrong if the setting your looking at through the viewfinder is magical and there is no way you can bet what you see then by all means sit and shoot...but for me personally that might happen 5% of the time. Again as I mentioned before I'm guilty of the cement feet but I try and remind myself in each situation to move around if the subject or area allows me. Lets look at an example from this past weekend.

We have been very very lucky to have a Peregrine Falcon take up resident at Quidi Vidi lake. I've only photographed him three times over the past three years. One of the main reasons is that his favorite perches and location just doesn't allow for very interesting pictures in my eyes.

 Sure you can get beautiful detailed full frame shots of him at 700mm as you can see here

For me personally the image does nothing...there is no depth, nothing of interest other then this stunning bird which for some that is enough.

So what do we do...we move...as mentioned we don't always have the luxury of moving but since this Falcon is so cooperative we can. 

I want to create some kind of depth..with a simply perch and blue background its hard..so I move more to the side...making the perch more at an angle and having our viewer look down the perch at the subject instead of straight on.

k ok its a little better but still nothing to do back flips over..again many might disagree.

So I search...move around more...then move further back from the subject...hmmm a very distant hill side by quidi vidi village..could work?..it has a few houses on it but I spotted one small area that is clean and the falcon fit perfect

ow we're getting somewhere..much more interesting background, nice side light but I'm still not full happy with the image. For me the main tree to the left is a little over powering and well no catch light in the eye but unless I used a flash I won't get any from this angle. 

So I move again..a little more to the right and in slightly closer...this time using a different more distant hill side.

nd there it is..the shot. Nice clean perch, interesting background, interesting pose from the subject..beautiful side light to highlight the fluffed up feathers.  Since I was on a slope as I moved to the right I went down slightly so I couldn't get the full hill as the background but I'm still happy with it. Only thing I would change would be catch light in the eye but I don't use flash so nothing I can change there.

So if you can try moving around. I always take a few "Safe Shots" so that if the subject does take off I know I have something but after those shots move around...in 90% of the cases there is always an interesting background to be found.

Setting Goals for 2015

After reading a blog post by one of the local birders on the island Alvan Buckley on his goals for 2015 I thought it would be a great idea to do the same.

Like most photographers I look to improve on my skills each and every time I go out in the field. I look for new ways or better ways to show the world the sightings I see and wildlife I encounter. Here is a personal list of my goals for 2015

- begin to take landscape photography more serious. Continue to learn as much as I can about the craft and hopefully produce some stunning images. I have 4 locations in mind for this year which I have researched extensively.

- Spend as much time as I can with the herd of Caribou in Terrenceville this May. Learn what I can about them and take note of the herds size to see if their has been any growth over the past year. Try and capture wide angle shots of the herd at sunrise and sunset.

- Enter more contests through out the year in hopes of being published in one of the leading wildlife magazines. Last year was a great year with BBC.

- Spend more time with the Eagles in Terrenceville in hopes of capturing more images.

- Approach at least one local gallery, tourist location or local souvenir store to sell some of my work.

- Photograph an American Bittern which was a goal from last year that I didn't complete.

- Try and capture more of Newfoundlands mammals especially moose since I have very few images of them.

I find setting goals motivates me to push myself further and harder to achieve beautiful and breath taking images. It pushes me to learn and try new things. 

Set some goals for yourself for this new year..mark them down so that when the year comes to an end you can look back and see what you have achieved. 

Don't forget to following along with me on Facebook by Liking my page at https://www.facebook.com/bradjameswildlifephotography

 

 

2014 in Review

Boy what a year it has been. Sitting here and looking back over this past year I've had so many amazing wildlife encounters, so many new changes(camera equipment) and so much to be thankful for. I've been able to achieve many of the goals I set for myself and have added so many new species to my life list. I finally built my personal website which I love (thank you squarespace) and I created a Facebook page. Both of which have grown quick fast.

I've began this post a few times now wondering which direction to take it. I decided to do a Top 10 Images/Wildlife experience from the year and give a little info on each one. Well enough talking lets jump into it:

Number 10 - Great Cormorant Playtime

Last winter was a nasty one and almost ever body of water was frozen solid. Even Conception Bay behind my house was frozen over and that has never happened in the 5 years I have lived here. The freeze brought some amazing photo ops as species of birds that I have been unable to get great shots of had been forced into the small sections of open water at Quidi Vidi. On a very cold and windy morning this Great Cormorant showed up at the lake and decided to have some fun with this think branch. It was the first time I had been able to get close shots of a cormorant in water and was happy to capture this behavior.

Number 9 - Tree Swallow

Certainly not the most difficult shot I've ever taken but why this made the list was the fact that a lot of planning went into this shot. Brendan Kelly and I have a number of nestboxes setup at Nevilles pond a small pond in Paradise, NL. Each year a large flock of Tree Swallows show up to use the boxes. It provides an amazing opportunity to observe and photography this beautiful species. With in the first few weeks of their arrival they begin to claim their territory and so I setup this perch next to one of the boxes for them to use.

Number 8 - Long-Tailed Duck

In November after a great morning of photography I decided to make a quick stop by a small pond/outflow area near my house. I don't allows get the time to check the pond but over the years there have been some great species spotted there. 

Upon arriving at the pond I quickly noticed something black/white dive under the water almost like a loon. I thought for sure that's what it was until it surfaced and noticed it was more like a duck..it dove again. I quickly jumped out of my rig and got eye level to the water before it surfaced again and to my surprise it was a female Long-tailed duck. This was an amazing opportunity as they are rarely ever seen on inland waters. I spent the next 4 hours with this amazing duck and was provided some great photo ops.

Number 7 - Mink Family

While on vacation with family over the summer we made a stop over at my uncles place in Wesleyville (my mothers hometown). We arrived just before dark. I brought Jenelle and Lily down to an old wharf behind my uncles house to show them were I would hang out when we made visits as a child. Within moments Jenelle spotted a Mink swimming in the water. It was my first time seeing one. The fading light gave me no chance for a photo but we did realize it wasn't just one Mink but a family living under a pile of wood next to the wharf. The following more I woke at sunrise and spent the next few hours with this cute family. It was an amazing experience.

Number 6 - Red Fox

Heading out of Terrenceville from one of our monthly visits with Jenelle's parents I spotted something moving along the road side near a truck that had pulled over. I quickly realized it was a Red Fox. I pulled over on the shoulder of the road and kept my distance so not to scare off the fox...boy was I in for a surprise..upon getting out of the CR-V and getting in my usual low position the Fox made a V-line straight for me..so close I had to stand up and make it known I didnt want him to come closer. It was obvious this guy had no fear of humans and what made him so unique was the lack of tail. For the next half hour Jenelle and I spent time with this beautiful creature.

Number 5 - Clown of the sea

Since moving back to Newfoundland in 2010 I have made an annual trip to Elliston to photograph the Atlantic Puffins. I've been very luck during each of my visit that the Puffins have landed on the mainland providing great looks. This past July was one of the best visits yet. It was a rainy/windy day not fit for any normal person to be out...bonus for me as it gave me the chance to have the viewing area all to myself for most of the morning. Within mins of my arrival puffins were all around me and with heavy rain falling it helped to create some great images.

Number 4 - Caribou cool down

I consider myself very lucky to know the location of a small herd of Caribou that hang out around Terrenceville each summer. It was a nice warm evening in July when I took my family for a short driving to kill the evening. With camera in tow we headed out to the Branch when I spotted two caribou along a small pond about 1km out on the barrens. With brand new sneakers on I grabbed my camera and quickly made my way over the barrens...through water and mud I reached the waters edge just as the caribou decided to cool off

Number 3 - Million Dollar View

During my family vacation this past summer we spent a few days in Twillingate enjoy some spectacular views of Icebergs. This past year was simply amazing for Icebergs and you could find numbers of them around almost every corner. A min walk down from our campsite were two massive Icebergs and we were woke a few times during the night when pieces of the Iceberg broke off..it would sound like gun shots. It was amazing to sit and enjoy them. 

Early one morning I headed up the side of a hill where the evening before I spotted a very vocal and cooperative American Pipit. With my Tokin 11-16mm lens at 16mm I set myself up on the cliffs edge and captured this image as the Pipit enjoyed the view. I had always wanted to capture a wide angle birdscape image so that's why this one made the top 3.

Number 2 - Close Encounter

I've only ever done one whale tour previous to the one this summer and that outing was simply amazing. The whale we encounter that time breached for us at least 10 times if not more and just put on an amazing show. One that I thought would never be beaten...well I think the one in July just might have.

I headed out with a group of local photographers to see the whales and we happened to find a mother and calf. Our captain for the day mentioned he had some tricks up his sleeve that might bring the whales closer....well he certainly did and for 2 hours we had a mother and calf circle our boat and at times splashing water all over us as if wanting to play.

The captain asked if one of us could whistle so I did and man was I surprised when I did as the mother came in for a very close look..this was shot at 70mm no crop. It may not be the most amazing picture but to have this massive creature so close, interacting with us and showing how truly intelligent they are makes this one number 2 

Number 1 - In Love

About 2 weeks before one of my annual trips to Cape St.Mary's my new 500mm VR lens showed up (I was previously told it was out of stock as if meant for me one magically showed up in Henry's database and was in my hands). I couldn't wait to test this bad boy out and have the extra reach at 700mm with my tele convertor on which would come in handy with the birds here on the island.

I've photographed the Gannets at Cape St.Mary's a number of times and was always looking for one specific image. The image I was looking for was one showing the intimate courtship display that the Gannets perform by clicking their bills together. 

After spotting two Gannets along the cliffs edge that were showing signs of performing this ritual I belly crawled up to the edge, switched to a vertical shooting position and captured this image

 There are about a handful of images I have in my head that I want to capture before I'm too old to lift a camera. The above image is one..I truly love everything about this image and its why it comes in as number 1

I want to wish all of you a Merry Christmas and Happy New year. I wish you all a safe and joyful holidays. Thank you to all that support me and my work. Thank you for all the wonderful comments and encouraging words I've received through out the year. I look forward to sharing more of my wildlife adventures with you in the New Year..who knows what it will bring :)

 

 

 

MOJO...

With the morning session under my belt and some renewed energy from the MOJO bar fellow photographers John Williams/Dave Hawkins gave me during a great chat at Cape Spear it was time to move on.

My target was Virgina Lake. The lake is location behind a Junior High School but it is tucked further enough away that it doesn't feel like your standing in a residential area. Up until this year I had only visited the lake once before and that was when a Great Egret was reported at the lake...well fast forward to this year at almost the same time and guess what has showed up...a Great Egret. The Egret has been very elusive and seems to be finding shelter up a narrow stream from the lake...but that wasn't my target.

I arrived at the lake at 1:00pm and made my way down the short trail to the waters edge. I brought some food along for the ducks in hopes to draw in any usual subjects. One of those subjects I was aware of and was really hoping to finally capture an image of him..A male Gadwall. I noticed him right away so I laid flat on my belly and grabbed this shot as he drifted along keeping its distance.

Laying on my stomach I decided to move myself slightly behind some tall dry grass in hopes this would make him feel comfortable enough to move closer. I began to throw feed out for the ducks and before long pretty much every domestic duck at the lake was around me...but then something grabbed my attention from across the lake..both individuals were very small..much smaller then the rest of the ducks...so I stayed very still and low as they made a quick and curious approach...but only to a certain distance then they zig zagged inch by inch closer...

A female Bufflehead and male Green Wing Teal...in my eyes it was a match made in heaven. Buffleheads are rarely ever seen on inland waters on the Avalon. There are reports of one seen once a year or once every two years usually at Quidi Vidi lake. The only place I have ever seen one is in Conception Bay and with their tiny size and distance from the shore there was no way of getting a decent image. Not this one..she was coming closer and closer.

I barely moved a muscle as this curious and beautiful duck tried to see what all the other ducks were feeding on...and continued to drift closer

With no interest in the food she decided to tuck herself in for a nap. So with some great images secured I shifted my attention over to the Teal. I've personally had no luck with this species as they are very skittish here on the island. There are a few locations where very small groups of them hang out but those locations are near to impossible to get a great photo of them in.

As the Bufflehead moved closer so did this guy

A feeling of joy came over me after securing great images of both birds and know seeing how comfortable they were around me..made me want to stand up and raise my wings in success...

lol sorry Hands in success.

By this point I was very happy that I had decided to make the trip over to the lake and boy was I glad I brought feed...in doing so I made these two curious enough to come in for a close look. Having feed in the vehicle is a most every time I head out now because you never know when it will come in handy.

Since my visit to the lake last Wednesday I made another quick trip to the lake over the weekend. There was no Bufflehead but the Male Green Winged Teal as become very tame and easily coming in for feed. Often coming so close the camera is unable to focus on him. The Gadwall was present as well and I was able to grab another few shots of him. Here are the best images from that short visit.

If there is anything at all you can take away from this post that would be getting low...as low as you possibly can. For this shot I did not use a tripod as I wanted the lens inches from the water to help give that soft look. It also paid off huge as I personally don't feel the Bufflehead would have come as close as she did nor felt as comfortable with my presence. Getting low is beneficial for both you and the birds :)

Purple Fun...

This past Wednesday I decided to take a personal day and head out to the most Easterly Point in North America...Cape Spear. During the winter months it is a great location for photographing Purple Sandpipers...it might not be the safest but it is certainly the best to my knowledge.

So 6:30 am Wednesday morning I headed off to the Cape. Looking at the weather the night before it seemed like it might be a great chance to do some landscape photography as well. 7:00 am I arrived at the parking lot and headed down to the point where the Purples are usually seen. I had an image in mind for my landscape shot as I have spent many mornings looking at this same scene as I wait for the Purples to arrive. 

First off I just want to say in no way do I consider myself a good landscape photographer. I have spent very little time in this area of photography but heading into the New Year this will change. I want to learn to Master the art of landscape photography and show all of you some of the breath-taking scenery Newfoundland has to offer....Lets hope that idea works out lol

Here is the beautiful sunrise that warmed my face as I waited...

This image is a manual blend of two exposures. One for the sky and the other for the foreground. 

This image is a manual blend of two exposures. One for the sky and the other for the foreground. 

Shortly after this shot I spotted the Purples gliding over the open ocean and heading straight for their usual spot. Which was on the rocks to the left of me and down closer to the waters edge from where I took the sunrise image.

A little selfie with my cell phone before the serious photography started

A little selfie with my cell phone before the serious photography started

I have photographed Purple Sandpipers in this location for 5 years now and I never get sick of seeing them. They usually show up around Nov and stay through out the winter. The flock at times can reach up to a 100..I did a rough count of the flock on Wednesday and it was 70plus

This is a portion of the flock which shows about 50 individuals.

This is a portion of the flock which shows about 50 individuals.

Photographing the Purples at Cape Spear has many challenges. The main one being safety. Purple Sandpipers love to feed along the slippery rocks at the waters edge. They play a cat and mouse game with the waves as it crashes against the rocks.

You can hear the Purples calling just before the wave hits. The weather was super calm on Wednesday and these waves are small compared to most days.

The waves at the Cape change very quickly. The waters can go from almost dead calm to deadly. If you are not careful you could be dragged out to sea in a flash. With my 500mm lens and 1.4x tele convertor giving me 700mm reach I don't have to get as close to the water as I once did.

There are many signs that I look for when watching the waves. One are the Purples. They will often make chipping sounds just before a wave crashes against the rock where they are feeding or resting. If they flush from the area it is a good chance the next wave will swallow up the rocks so its best you move away as well. I also find that if the waters all of a sudden seem to get calm that means there is a big wave coming next so keep your eyes open. Make sure that you position yourself in an area or stance that allows you to move quickly at a moments notice. I personally never stand on any rocks that are already wet..this is a good indicator that the water as reached that level at sometime already...it also makes it hard to move fast when your feet are slipping from in under you. 

Purple Sandpipers are fairly tame individuals and will allow you to get very close if you take your time. 

When using the ocean as your background try and wait for that right moment when the water color shifts to blue or aqua. You don't want shots with the foamy whites of the water as your BG.

Since the Purples like to feed amongst the rocks it often becomes a challenge to get the proper exposure and enough shutter speed but with the right light you can produce some great images.

And whats a session with out a nice head shot. I got lucky as this individual took a short flight after a wave crashed against the rocks and he landed right next to me.

On occasion the Purples will find a small pool of water up from the waters edge. Here they will often take a bath, clean their feathers or continue to feed. I've yet to capture a nice shot of one bathing as usually the pools of water are in difficult locations to get a nice low angle. On Wednesday I was able to finally get low but still was unable to get a bathing shot that I like. Here are some images from the pool :)

The morning had come and gone so fast as it normally does. It turned out to be an amazing morning...I planned to make a few quick stops at two locations before heading home. I was already satisfied with the images I had captured and never thought the day could get any better...boy was I wrong...

Check back soon to see what I encounter later that day :)

Moments like these...

Heading into Remembrance Day my main goal was to see and photograph a pair of Coots that had showed up in a small pond near work. American Coots are uncommon to the island and since none had appeared last year it was a real treat to have them return this season. 

Upon arriving at the pond the pair were at the far end of the pond and feeding along the tall grass. Myself and fellow photographer Brendan Kelly decided to make our way out into the tall grass to the waters edge to get a closer look. The Coots didn't mind our presence and continued to feed

The sun was quickly rising over the tree tops as they kept feeding. This pair was inseparable and often tried stealing each others food..

They were really enjoying the vegetation in the pond so I have a feeling these two might stick around for a while

After a short while the pair drifted off into the middle of the pond and ended our session. I hope to return to see these guys again before they take off. 

With plenty of morning light left Brendan and I decided to head off to Cape Spear about a half hour drive. Our plan was to search the area for newly arrived Purple Sandpipers and a group of Snow Buntings. Brendan took the high ground and I went lower to the cliffs edge. We scanned high and low but only turned up one very uncooperative Bunting. With things looking down for this location I decided to take a walk further down the coastline to where I had photographed a Bunting a few weeks earlier. No luck...but as I was about to turn and walk back a pair of very large wings caught my attention...A Bald Eagle. It happened so fast and he was so close that I couldn't get the camera on him. I watched as he glided along the cliffs looking for food. Then...he landed. A perfect perch over looking the ocean only a 5min walk from me. I couldn't let this opportunity pass me so I headed down the trail..

Belly crawling my way to the cliffs edge once I reached its location..I peered over the edge with my lens and grabbed a few frames as he scanned the ocean waters.

Satisfied with this image I decided to make my way back to the car. Just as I turned around to head back up the ridge I noticed the flash of a Bird of Prey chasing what looked like a Junco. The chase went on for awhile as I made my way closer..in and out of the trees they went...by this time I realized it was a Merlin. Once I reached the trees the Merlin took a wide swoop out around me..I guess he wanted a better look at what I was. Then he pitched not 10 feet from me on a tree top..allowing me my best ever look at a Merlin and my first time photographing one. 

He was actively search for its next victim and didn't mind my presence at all. After a few mins he left and headed off along the barrens.

With the morning coming to an end Brendan and I decided to head home. It was a successful morning and I felt I was returning with some great images and good memories. I made a quick stop to my parents to setup a feeder for some future sessions with Crossbills...hopefully. Once that was done something was telling me to check out a small pond/outflow area near my house. I hadn't checked it for a while...boy was I happy I did.

Upon my arrival I noticed a flash of white and black that for a moment made me think of a Loon as it dove. I waited patiently for it to surface...to my surprise it was no loon but a type of duck..it dove again before I could ID it...wasting no time I jumped out of the CR-V and laid flat at the waters edge waiting for it to surface...I couldn't believe my eyes..A female Long Tailed Duck.

I have dreamed of one day photographing this species but never thought I would get up close looks of them here in Newfoundland. These sea ducks are often seen out in the middle of the ocean around places like Cape Spear where the water is rough and no chance of seeing them up close. This was a once in a lifetime opportunity.

After grabbing a few images I raced home to call Brendan and tell him the news and to drop whatever he was doing to get down to the pond. Half hour later Brendan and I enjoyed this stunning duck for the next two hours. She often came so close the camera couldn't focus her. She seemed to enjoy our presence as the pond is fairly large and she had plenty of space to feed but spent most of her time right next to us.

It was an amazing experience and one I am so grateful to have had. Moments like like this keep me going out time and time again. You just never know what nature will provide you.

As this Gull would say...I'll drink to that


Autumn Gull...

I have to admit I'm not a big fan of gulls. Not in the sense that I don't like them but that I just don't find them overly interesting to photography. That being said there are a few gulls that could and can get my attention at times..one being the Black Headed Gull. We have a descent number of these that show up during the end of fall and into/through the winter. They are much smaller then the more common gulls here on the island and a challenge to get close views. Into the heart of winter you will often find a number of them showing up at Quidi Vidi lake where they will enjoy a nice bath in the remaining open water. That has been the only time I've been able to get close enough to photograph them...well my luck changed over the weekend...

Upon my arrival to Terrenceville this past weekend. I noticed a small gull hanging out along the edge of a pond with a group of ducks. I've seen Black Headed Gulls here before but I've never had any luck approaching them since the area is so open and nothing to conceal my approach. This little guy appeared to be very calm as I slowly rolled up in my vehicle. He was sitting in the warmth of the setting sun along the shoreline as I slowly got out of my CR-V. Using the door as my cover I laid on my belly to grab a few frames before he took off..so I thought

To my surprise it was comfortable with my presence and proceeded to walk down to the water.     

For the next two days I spent a few short session with this little guy(my sessions were cut short because of rain and very dull lighting conditions). 

What made these session special to me were the reflecting colors in the water. The surrounding vegetation created the perfect Autumn colors. On my second session with the Black Headed Gull it became very comfortable with my presence and allowed me some full frame opportunities.

It would often get startled by ATVs that passed by the pond (curious locals wondering what the crazy guy with the odd looking "gun" is doing lol) and take flight providing me some nice inflight ops.

All in all I had a great time with the Black Headed Gull and it reminded me that in the proper setting even gulls can look beautiful and provide wonderful photo opportunities. I look forward to seeing more of them this coming winter and more importantly the last few weeks of March when if I'm lucky I can get another opportunity to photography one in its breeding plumage with full black head before migration.

Here is a shot I took last year in March of one with a black head and the moment only lasted a few seconds.

 


Sunset Bunting...

This past weekend was looking like a complete right off with Gonzalo on the way. It was scheduled to pass by the island Saturday evening and into Sunday. The Hurricane grazed by Newfoundland and was over by noon. With the sky filled with dramatic clouds and looking like a possible stunning sunset I headed out to Cape Spear.

As many of you know I'm not at all a Landscape photographer. I would love to do more of it but to be honest I just can't seem to find locations that interest me on the Avalon. I don't want to let that stop me from trying and practicing this type of photography.  

Upon my arrival I was kind of surprised to see so many tourist. The place was crawling with people and I just knew it would be difficult to capture any image with out someone walking into the frame.

I walked past the first lighthouse and didn't stop since a gathering of school kids at the base of the lighthouse just wasn't going to work. At the second lighthouse I was able to grab a quick shot before the school kids decided to follow me up the hill but at this angle most of the clouds had dissipated 

Since this location wasn't going to work either I headed further down the path along the cliffs edge to photograph the coastline. Finally no people around. I set everything but the lighting was too harsh at this point(It was still early in the evening). I figured since I had brought my telephoto lens I would search the grounds for some Snow Buntings that had been reported a while back. 

Not 5 steps from my current location I flushed one who was feeding along the rocks. He only flew a short distance and landed. I slowly dropped my back pack, landscape setup and crawled over the rocks to get a closer look at him.

I've photographed Snow Buntings at Cape Spear a few times now but to be honest I never really like the results. I'm not sure if its the surrounded rocks/vegetation that creates an unappealing image matched with the colors of the birds feathers. I'm just not sure but I've never been overly happy with the results. So what do you do? Well with the setting sun in the background I decided to try and play with some different angles and the light.

First I tired some side/back lighting. I was happier with the result. Now we're on to something.

The Bunting decided to move more into the light forcing me to shoot directly into the sun. In most cases I would probably slowly move myself to a better angle but I figured I would try some shots.

Now these I like. I was much happier with the results. I loved the dramatic light and it helped to minimize the unappealing look of the rocks or surrounding area.

This little guy was very cooperative and allowed me close looks as he feed.  I continued to enjoy his company until the sun had completely set.

Here are some more shots as the light started to fade


What was suppose to be a Landscape session quickly turned into my best photo ops with a Snow Bunting to date. The sun had now set so my coastline shot was gone but I couldn't have been happier with what I had just captured.

On my way back to the vehicle I grabbed a quick shot of the first lighthouse to cap off my evening session.

Taking The Guess Work Out of inFlight Shooting

Heading into Saturdays duck photography session at Nevilles pond I was really hoping for some inflight opportunities. From experience I know that the moment I step out of my vehicle with food for the ducks they would be coming from all ends of the pond for the free hand out. The question becomes how do I know what settings to set my camera at to freeze the action? I knew I would be there at first light and that the ducks would be going from blue sky, to colorful bg(from the foliage surrounding the pond), then to the water. So obviously the exposure would be changing a lot. I wouldn't have time to play with my settings much or take a test shot before it would be all over. So what could I do...

Well I started thinking about an article I recently read from one of my readers Monte Comeau. Monte wrote an article about the settings he uses while out in his kayak. One setting that stood out to me was Auto-ISO. I've heard about it before but never really spent any time testing it out. I figured this might be just what I need for a situation like this. 

With many of the new Nikon cameras you have the option to set Auto-ISO. This means the camera will decide what is the best ISO setting for the given scene to capture the proper exposure. You have the option to fine tune this feature by setting a Min and Max ISO. This means you can tell the camera not to go above ISO 800 or 1600 whatever you prefer or feel is the limit in which you want to get a clean image. What is also great is that when using this feature the camera will use smaller increments meaning you might see that the image was captured at ISO720 and not ISO800 which should give you a little less noise.

Continuing with this thought process of taking the guess work out of inflights I decided maybe it was time to use the U1 & U2 modes on my camera. U1 & U2 are User defined settings. What this means is that you can set your camera up the way you want for a specific scene or action and then save those settings under U1 or U2. This way when the specific scene or action happens you can switch over to U1 or U2 and all your settings are ready to go.

So I dialed in my settings for what I felt would work for duck inflights. I put my camera in Manual mode, shutter speed at 1/1600s(which should be enough to freeze the action), F 7.1 because I want enough depth of field to have the whole bird in focus. I then set my ISO to Auto-ISO with a max of ISO800. Anything over ISO800 on my D7100 is just too much noise for my liking. I saved those settings as both my U1 and U2. Why both you might ask? Well this way if in a moments notice a duck was flying my way and I went to switch over to U1 but by mistake I went to U2 I want to make sure their both the same.

So off I went with camera set to U1. As expected the moment I grabbed the bag of food out of my vehicle I could see the ducks take off from the far end of the pond to come get their free hand out. The sun was just peaking over the horizon and barely lighting up the pond...

First attempts were a fail as there was just not enough light for the settings I picked. So I quickly switched my Aperture to F4 instead of F7.1. I didn't want to change my shutter speed as I felt I needed 1/1600 to freeze the action.

With new settings an approaching Wigeon...

Nikon D7100, ISO720, 1/1600s, F4, 500mmF4

Nikon D7100, ISO720, 1/1600s, F4, 500mmF4

Nailed it...Now we're getting somewhere.

Then a Mallard

Nikon D7100, ISO640, 1/1600s, F4, 500mmF4

Nikon D7100, ISO640, 1/1600s, F4, 500mmF4

As you can see in this image since the subject was so close F4 created a very shallow depth of field and only the head of the duck is in focus. I really like the result but felt with the stronger light it was time to go back to F7.1

Another Mallard approached

by now basically all the ducks had flown over from the far end of the pond and my inflight sessions were done. I was happy with the result and learned a lot. I hadn't realized that the sun didn't reach the pond until a little later in the morning so my choose of F7.1 one was too high but you live and learn. For a first trial of Auto-ISO and User Defined Settings U1/U2 I was happy. I think it will come in handy when I'm out searching for subjects and an unexpected situation happens or I'm heading into a situation where I know their might be a very short window to grab an inflight shot. 

 



The Perfect Duck Day...

Saturday morning was looking like a perfect duck day. There are certain elements that I look for to determine if a day will be great for duck photography. The key element is little to no wind. Having no wind creates perfect calm water allowing for great reflections. The next element is sun. Like most photography I prefer no harsh sun but you also don't want a dull day because it creates more of a flat grey color in the water. You always want to look for a pond or lake that is surrounded by nice vegetation that will help create beautiful colors in the water. Fall is always a great time for duck photography as the surrounded fall colors create a beautiful setting. Oh and of course Ducks..lol

Nevilles Pond in October is my go to spot for duck photography until the winter months. Nevilles pond is one of the only places I know where you can get great up close looks at Wigeon. Normally a small group of about 20-30 wigeon show up at the pond for roughly 2 - 3 months. Once Nevilles pond freezes over the wigeon head to a local golf course were it appears they are able to get enough food to last the winter. 

Here is a quick snap I took of Nevilles pond later that day just so you can see the area I was shooting in.

I personally always bring feed for the ducks to entice them to come into the area I would like to photograph them in. The wigeon normally will not approach unless you have food. They are content staying out in the middle of the pond. Once they know you have food they will gladly take the free handout.

Upon my arrival I was happily surprised to see a lone male Tufted duck. Our divers are slowly starting to show up but the large numbers of divers will not appear until later in the fall/winter. I was unsure if the Tufted would approach as he appeared skittish but once I threw out some food he made a short flight in.

It was nice to see the Tufted in a more pleasing setting then the usual winter scenes I've had to photograph them.

It didn't take long for him to get comfortable with my presence and he often came so close I was unable to focus on him with my 500mmF4.

I should mention that for these images I was waist high in the water with my chest waders on. This allows me to get very low to the water and it also seems to make the ducks even more comfortable with me. 

After getting some nice images of this Tufted it was time to move on my main subjects. The Wigeon. We have two types of Wigeon here on the island. Both the American and Eurasian. The Eurasian is much harder to find and there are only usually a handful reported on the Avalon.

After throwing out some food 6 or so American Wigeon came in for a nice morning breakfast.

The females were the first to appear

Then the stunning males began to arrive


After a full belly a few of the wigeon decided to rest along the rocks only feet away from me. Having them so close I figured it was a nice opportunity to grab some head shots. 

Here is one of the female

and the Male doing his beautiful Whistle type call

About mid morning when the lighting was starting to get too harsh and I was contemplating leaving a few of the wigeon seemed to get excited and began to call. Before I could stand up from the tall grass to see what might be happening a large flock of wigeon arrived. Among the flock was a beautiful immature male Eurasian Wigeon. I made sure to remain as still as possible because I know who skittish they can be around humans. The male spent a short time feeding then decided to clean his feathers...I was anticipating a wing flap and sure enough...

I nailed it.

If you have done any duck photography you will know that 90% of the time the duck is facing backwards when it does a wing flap, or you clip the wings or another duck gets in the frame but this one turned out perfect. I couldn't have been happier as this was my first time photography this species. 

The lighting was now too harsh and it was time to call it a day. 

During this session I played around with a few new settings..U1 & U2 and Auto-ISO. Later this week I will do a short write up on my experience with these settings and my thoughts.

 

 

 

 

 

Flight Path...

This is a post I've wanted to do for a while now and with the recent request of one of my readers I decided it was time to put this together. In this post I will list my settings and techniques for bird inflight shots. I would like to state I'm in no way a pro in this category and I personally still have lots to learn and years of practice a head of me. I've captured many inflight images and these are the settings I've used. I will list the most important settings/techniques and then talk more about each one:

1. Manual Mode

2. Getting the right shutter speed for your subject

3.Tripod?

4. ISO

5. Focusing Mode/Points of focus

6. Prefocus

7. Limiting your Focus search distance

8. Focus Bumping

9. Focus Tracking with Lock On

Well lets jump right into it......

1. Manual Mode - For a number of years I only used Aperture Priority mode but found in certain situations like backlit subjects I just wasn't able to achieve the images I wanted or it was to much playing around with my settings to get the image right. So finally I jumped to Manual Mode. I love being able to control ever part of the camera. From ISO, Aperture, to Shutter speed. Using this mode comes with patients and knowing how light affects your settings. I'm slowing getting to the point where I can pretty much determine my settings in a scene before I take a shot and pretty much nail the exposure. Again this comes with practice. Once you understand what shutter speed you need for your given subject you can lock that in, then determine what Aperture(F stop) you want and the ISO to get enough light into the camera.

2. Getting the right shutter speed for your subject - Getting the right shutter speed is all about knowing the subject. A large bird that has a slow wing beat can be frozen at 1/500s if you have steady hand holding techniques. I prefer to have my shutter speed at 1/1000s as a min and prefer 1/1250 if possible. Smaller birds you need even higher shutter speeds up to 1/2000s and higher like hummingbirds. Again this all depends on available light and how high you want your ISO to go.

3. Tripod? - I personally rarely use a tripod for any of my images. I love being able to belly crawl up to my subjects and stay low to the ground and in many cases using the foreground to create a nice blurr in front of my subject. A tripod limits a lot of that and for BIF(Bird Inflight) shots the tripod will limit your movements when trying to track the bird. Can it be done?Of course and some people do it very well but for the handful of times I've tried it I don't like it at all nor did I even get a shot.

4. ISO - As technology advances ISO in many cameras even the low end ones are getting good. An ISO of 800 in many cameras is still fairly clean and usable. For me personally I set my ISO from 400 to 800 depending on light. Again with practice I have a general idea of what my ISO should be to expose a proper image at the shutter speed I've chosen. In saying all this some cameras now have Auto-ISO were by you set the MIN and MAX ISO, lets say 100 to 1600 ISO. Then lock in your shutter speed and let the camera pick the ISO as the lighting changes to achieve a properly exposed image..I personally haven't played with this setting much but it's something I will in the near future.

5. Focusing Mode/Points of focus - I personally use a single center point of focus in which I can move around if needed. With 9-point dynamic focus set. Meaning you will only see one focus point on your screen in which you can move around but their are 9 points around that one focus point that are active so if you slip the one focus point off your subject slightly one of the surrounding points should retain its focus for you. Many cameras have a number of Dynamic points you can select from, 8, 21, 36, 59, or even 3D tracking. I personally find 9 points is plenty and doesnt slow the autofocusing system down or create confusing for the camera when having too many points to pick from.

6. Prefocus - This is something I do very often. What I mean by Prefocusing is when the opportunity arises and you have time I like to prefocus on and area in which I think my subject is going to fly by or land. I prefocus an area so that I can aid the autofocusing system to lock on to the subject faster and more accurate. If I try and allow the autofocusing system to do all the tracking on its own you will find your camera will often just search back and forth and the moment will be gone before you get locked onto your subject.

Here is an example below of what I mean. In this image I prefocused on the fish in the water(this was a fish we caught and threw out for the eagle) Once the eagle left its perch to come and get the fish I pointed my lens at it and once it got close to the fish I pressed the trigger button and the camera locked on the bird without any issue. If I didn't prefocus the fish first there is a good chance the camera would have had difficulties finding/locking onto the bird with such a detailed background and the moment would have passed.

7. Limiting your Focus search distance - On many pro level lens there is a setting for which you can limit the focal search distance of the lens. You have two settings..Full or Infinity - 8m or 6m depending on the camera. What this does is it tells the camera to either search the full distance for the subject from front to back or to only search from 8m out to Infinity. Anything within the 8m mark your camera will not focus on it. So in theory Infinity - 8m is best because it is unlikely you would have an eagle fly in front of you closer then 8m. This helps the camera focus much faster on your subject since it has less distance to search.

8. Focus Bumping - Focus bumping is something new I have been trying as well. I personally am not a burst shutter. Meaning I don't lock on to my subject and just let rip hoping I come away with one focused image. I personally choose when I think the best moment will be and then shoot a small number of shots. Focus bumping means as the subject approaches you half press your shutter button occasionally until you feel the moment is right and then you fulling press the button which should in theory lock onto the bird and you get the shot. Many of us lock onto the subject as it approaches and attempted to track it(while holding half way down on the shutter button) as it approaches. In many cases through out this movement we slip the focus off the bird and the camera loses focus to the background or surrounded objects. So in theory if you lock focus as it approaches let go of the shutter button, keep tracking the bird even though by now its slighting out of focus then once the moment is right press the shutter button again and the camera should grab focus and you can shoot away. Again this takes practice and its something very new for myself.

9. Focus Tracking with Lock On - Focus tracking with lock on is another feature which I'm testing and you can read more about this on my last blog post so no need for me to repeat this here.

Sorry for the lack of images to go along with this post as its more of technical article then a visual one.

If you have any suggestions, comments or other tips on inflight shots I would love to hear them so please leave a comment below. Also if you have any ideas for a blog post or topics you would like me to cover please let me know.

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