Taking the Time for Photography

Being a dad to three, it’s not always easy to find time for photography adventures. Sometimes we have to take the times we get and make the most out of them. Today was one such day.

It snowed recently. An abnormal 24+ inches. The snow laid like a smooth blanket, concealing the land underneath. The oranges and reds of the sunset reflected off its surface, bouncing off the trees and brush. It all seamed to make the forest glow. ‘There’s a landscape somewhere that is begging to be photographed,’ I thought. But that wasn’t an option.

I just finished sliding the mittens onto my 3 yr old. Or did I? “My thumb isn’t in Daddy!” She had a little wine in her voice. It’s obvious to all but her that she’s tired.

“There you go baby.” Quick fix. “Now lets go outside and play before it gets dark.” We slid open the back door and joined her older sister who already had a long, green, plastic sled ready to pull each other around.

I had other plans. In my hand was my camera. And on my back, my large camera backpack packed with enough lenses like I was leaving for the day. Who knows what I would find in my backyard?!

Heaving through the snow like it was deep mud, I had the macro lens on first. I figured that would be my best bet. Some snow still rested on small dead shrubs and I was confident that I would at least find some sort of composition there.

Then, in between the background noise of children’s laughter, an echoing came from the trees. TAP TAP TAP. The distinct sound of a woodpecker looking for dinner. This is why I brought my whole pack. It was time to change lenses.

I sunk my tripod as far as I could into the snow and gazed into the woods. I could see her pecking away. A beautiful Downy Woodpecker. But I think she saw me too and she was not having her picture taken today. She bounced from tree to tree, higher and higher. So I just looked. And looked. And forgot.

Soon I was joined by my girls. The little one with tears in her eyes. It was that mitten. It fell off and only Daddy could help.


Unusual Winter Photography

Winter is usually the time I hermit in my house. Emerging only at the first sight of spring like a bear. Often at the size of a bear (January has a lot of birthdays in my house which means lot of cake!). But this year I’ve found bird photography that has got me motivated to break out the camera. I didn’t realize there were so many species still hanging around or have migrated to the area! But this story isn’t about that. It’s about luck.

A photographer friend of mine and I have been making it a point to plan some sort of photography trip at least once a month. CHECK THEM OUT HERE. This trip had me a little less than excited. Not that I didn’t want to take photos. It’s just winter. Everything is dead. Brown. Tan. Ugh. I didn’t really think I’d be getting much use out of the 400mm with 1.4x attachment. I was thinking black and white was going to be the go to. Boy was I wrong!

Right out of our car doors was a field littered with small birds. We b-lined it through the tall dead grass to get a closer look. Honestly, I could have sat there for hours. But I was the only one with 530mm of focal length so we pressed on for more. Surprisingly, there was plenty of green if you just took the time to look for it. Vegetation hung from stream banks like green flags on a purplish background. While Dan was up the water bed looking for (I suspect) beautiful scenes with rapids over rocks, I was face first into the macro lens. Trying to get the pattern just right.

Here is where the photography Gods shined down us with blissful glory. Keep in mind it’s 32 degree F. I am squatted over the stream of water that is running past my tripod legs. Still taking photos of green things. When something catches my attention out of the corner of my eye.

Right there, not even a meter away, sat a little foot snake just hanging out in the water. I must have stepped over it at least three times! By this time, Dan was back and we set up our cameras for a snake photoshoot. It was too lethargic to go anywhere fast. So we took our time.

We agreed. That made the entire trip worth it. Even if we didn’t get anything else. We were happy.

Dan on the camera

Turkeys in Trees

This weekend was planned to be a time for trial and error. I’ve had my eye on the Canon 1.4x III extender but at the price, I wasn’t ready to just pull the trigger and add it to my kit. So I did something I’ve been thinking about for many years. Renting gear from BorrowLens.com. The extender came in on Thursday and I planned on testing on Sunday on a small trip with Dan from Megan/Dan Photography Who would have thought I would have been rewarded with two rare photo opportunities?!

Saturday wasn’t even supposed to be a thing. We had a wedding to go to in the afternoon (as guests) and since our girls were in the wedding, my lovely lady took them early and left me home alone. With the trip planned for Sunday, I was just going to stay home and either be lazy or workout by some means. On a whim, I decided to take a drive to our local lake. Just to see if maybe I could find some small birds or wood ducks hanging around.

Maybe it’s the Marine in me, but I am always super aware of my surroundings. I do this thing I call, “Looking for turkeys in trees.” Because one day when I was younger, kayaking with my mom, I thought I saw a turkey sitting in a tree above us. All I knew initially was it’s a ridiculously large bird sitting on a branch. I’m sure you already guessed. It was bald eagle. And it was feet above us!

So there I was, driving around, looking for turkeys in trees. Though I didn’t think it was a turkey, I thought it was slightly larger than your average hawk. I quickly parked the truck at the next parking lot 1/4 mile down the road. I took out my camera, heaved my pack on my back, and B-lined it for the edge of the water. All the goose droppings in the field couldn’t stop me. A large red tail would have been perfect to test the 400mm with 1.4 ext (making it a 530mm).

I didn’t even break through the trees yet when I saw the white feathered head peaking through the branches. My heart started to race like a little girl meeting Justin Beber. Wood ducks near by ran across the water to take off away from the large man in a bright blue coat slopping through the mud toward them. I couldn’t have cared less about them. Just don’t scare that turkey!!!

Now, it’s been my experience that birds of prey are extremely camera shy. It’s like they can look down the lens and see a large human eye looking back at them. But this magnificent hunter gave me plenty of time to take in its beauty. It sat there on the end of a broken branch, its head held high, like it knew more than anybody that it’s a badass.

And then with one leap and a flap of its wings, it was gone.

I was ready to go home. What else could I photograph that would have put that joy in my heart like I just experienced? Nothing. That’s what. But for some reason I decided to go for a little walk anyway. There were still a few hours to kill.

The damn was near by and I’ve seen a king fisher around there before. I stood on top but didn’t see much. But just after a few more minutes of taking some photographs of a heron on a noisy background, guess who decided to come back around to flaunt his majestic beauty? That cocky bald eagle. He was flying right toward me! He stayed and circled to my left as I shot away. Then he circled above me, filling my camera frame entirely. Then he circled to my right. Making fake passes at the water as if he were going to swoop down and catch a fish. I had all time time in the world to jack up my ISO and shutter speed to get ready for the grand finale. An action shot of a bald eagle grabbing breakfast!

But it never came. He eventually gained some more altitude and drifted off across the water. Away from me. Into the abyss.

What probably amounted to not even five minutes of shooting made my photography year. I was ready to go home. Oh, and that other photography opportunity. That’s a story for another day.


Growing Photography

It’s that time of year again here in the lower northeast. It’s the winter but instead of a blanket of white snow, we are blessed with a copious amount of rain and it just being cold enough to keep you inside but not cold enough to freeze anything. Even if you would go venture outside, all of the colors are blah and forests are oceans of bare trees. So what is a hobbyist photographer to do during these times? Adapt and overcome!

This is the time to really work on sharpening skills and working on things with what you struggle. If you’re like me you might have dozens of YouTube tutorial videos saved in your Watch Later folder. Or maybe there’s a genre you always wanted to try. Give it a shot! This is my mentality going into the next few months.

This weekend I wanted to focus on dramatic/moody shots of simple objects. Such as food.

“Helping” Daddy setup!

I consider myself mainly a lifestyle or documentary photographer. I enjoy taking photos of what is happening around me as it happens and preserving those memories. Even in landscape/wildlife photography, you just capture the beauty around you. So when it comes to staging a photography shoot, I have next to no clue as to what it is I’m doing. Directing available light. Manipulating that light. Artificial light. (Holy smokes does artificial light frustrate and scare me)!

So by the time the winter months are over and I actually have daylight when I get back from work, I want to be more proficient with lighting. And trust me when I say this, given my current level of lighting expertise, “improvement” is all but guaranteed. But I want to take it as far as I can go!

Today, I thought I’d keep it simple. I was inspired by something I saw on Instagram recently and I thought it would be great to try. Dark dramatic photos of food. It looked like I would only need one source of soft light and I knew my office had the perfect window.

Carly was running around with the Rebel!

It was a lot of fun just getting the shot. I finally setup a backdrop that was given to me by a friend that has been sitting in my garage for over a year. I completely forgot he told me the actual backdrop material wasn’t included. So I made due with an old black comforter cover. Then I just setup a small table, my tripod, and grabbed an aging apple from the back of the refrigerator drawer.

Just to spice things up a bit further, I located one of the girls’ spray bottles and sent a mist of water over the fruit. Perfect? Subjective. But I think it gave that one more thing that made this more than just a picture of an apple.

I took way more photos of this apple than anyone ever should. Then there were bananas. …And then yams. It was all fun! But that’s the joy of digital photography. You can take 1000 photos and keep just 1 and it doesn’t hurt the wallet!

Fun was most important thing that came out of this shoot. I’m OK with the final image but there’s room to improve. I got to do what I enjoy (photography) while trying something new and playing with the kids. Next on the list is learning the Canon Speedlite 580EX that I’ve had for years and never learned.

What are you doing during these times to keep the creative juices flowing? I am all for sharing ideas! Comment or contact me!