Category Archives: The Inner Game of Outdoor Photography

Crocodiles of the Cuero y Salado Honduras

croc-honduras

Floating down the Rio Saluda in a small native boat in Honduras, I found myself searching for crocodiles at high noon. This wasn’t exactly the time of day one expects to do any serious wildlife photography. Underwater is a different story, but above water, well, it was hot, bright, and contrasty as hell.  Yet, here I was.

The last three days had seen a major cold front stall out over Honduras. Thick clouds and dropping temperatures meant that for the crocodiles of the Cuerro y Salado region, their black water home fringed with lowland rainforest would be something of a prison for them as they worked to regulate their body temps during the front. By the fourth day the unusual cold that had settle over the usually hot country had moved on.

I had been on the water since day break in search of these hold overs from the age of dinosaurs but with no luck. Finally, as the sun reach overhead it was as if someone had flipped a switch. Hundreds of crocodiles began to emerge as they hauled themselves out onto downed trees, dense clumps of floating vegetation, and whatever else they could find. This was what I had been waiting for.

Given that crocodiles live in the water, they need to climb out into the sun to rid themselves of parasites – as opposed to bathing themselves in water like we do. At high noon, with the intensity of the sun at its apex, the crocs all began hauling out to burn off three days worth of funk that had begun to build up on their bodies.

Despite the intensity of the harshness of the light, all I had to do was find a bit of dappled lighting to work with. As the river narrowed and the forest began to close in around us, bright shafts of light were contrasted with the deep shadows that the gallery forest cast across the water. All we had to do was to keep paddling until we found a crocodile in one of these shaft of light with an appropriately shadowed background. Given that the dynamic range of the scene was too great for the camera to record detail across its full spectrum of tones, I was able to create this chiaroscuro lighting scenario in the middle of the day.

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Story Trumps Everything

king-of-the-mountain

When is it OK not to see the eyes of your wildlife subject? When is it OK to photograph “butt shots?” When the story that the photograph tells is powerful enough to override just about every so called “rule” that you think you know in photography. Story is everything in our photographs. When it comes to selling photographs, story trumps all else. It trumps technical perfection. It trumps compositional rules. Story is what sells photographs. Technical perfection has never sold a photograph – ever. No buyer of fine art or editor of a magazine has ever stepped up to a photograph and thought to themselves, “wow. look at the technical quality of this image. Look there at the lack of noise. The exquisite perfection in focusing. And the exposure. Good God man, its perfect. I must have this!” No one in the history of buying photographs has ever thought any of that.

Photography is the art of capturing and telling stories.

So here we have a photograph of an elk bugling while facing away from us. Considering nothing more than the elk himself, this is all wrong. You can’t see the eye. The butt is the most prominent feature of the animal. He is looking the wrong way. But when the elk becomes part of the overall composition, all of this changes. From the perspective of the entire photograph, we have an elk perched atop a ridgeline high in the Rocky Mountains. He is bugling. Calling out across the mountains and valleys that roll off into a world impossibly larger than the bull can ever know exists. He is calling in would be challengers. He is luring in would be lovers. He is the king of the mountain. And he is the master of all that he sees.

This photograph is successful because of the story it tells. It is not simply the subject. It has nothing to do with the technical aspects of the image. As photographers, as visual artists, you have to begin to see beyond histograms and hyper focal distances. You have to begin to see in stories.

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Lilliputians in the land of Giants

oophaga-pumilio-4

When it comes to photographing this poison frogs in the Panamanian rainforest, I like to get eye to eye with my subject. This lets me enter into their world. It makes them leap out of the composition and become larger than life. From this perspective however, its easy to forget just how small and delicate these tiny frogs are and how impossibly difficult to photograph them at times in the cathedral like rainforest. Luckily I have a couple guides who are like the poison frog whisperer’s and somehow always come through with new and beautiful color morphs for me on the different islands. Natalia and Romone, if you read this – I couldn’t do this without you!

 

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The Lovely Poison Dart Frog

lovely-poison-frog

The Lovely Poison Frog – yes that is its real name! A.K.A: Phyllobates lugubris

Look closely at its back. That is a tadpole right there. The males of the species stand guard over the eggs that the females lay until they hatch into tadpoles. From here, they scoop up the tadpoles and transport them to deep puddles where they stand guard until the tadpole morphs into a frog. Other species of poison frogs have a similar life cycle and will carry their tadpoles high in the trees to deposit them into water filled bromeliads, then make the same trip each day in order to provide the tadpoles with food.

This particular species of poison frog contains a toxin that affects the ability of muscles to contract. Your heart is a muscle. It must contract in order to pump blood. Stop muscles from contracting, and you stop the heart from beating. In other words, don’t lick this frog!

I chose to photograph this guy on a light table made out of pvc pipes, opaque white plexiglass, and with two flashes (one above and one below the plexiglass). The idea behind this was to showcase not only the frog in all of its beautiful colors, but to also reveal the tadpole on its back. And no, it was not fun lugging this thing around the tropics!

Isla Popa, Panama.

Also posted in Projects, Technical Skills, Travel, Wildlife Photography Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , |

Poison Dart Frog – Bastimentos Red

redfrog2

Based out of the Boca del Toro region of Panama, I spent the last week finding and photographing poison dart frogs, sloths, tropical birds, and tropicbirds (this last one is an actual species). The islands associated with the Bocas del Toro archipelago are some of the most diverse tropical islands in the Western Hemisphere. The Smithsonian calls this place the Galapagos of the Caribbean. And for damn good reason. Basically you had a landscape once firmly connected with itself. Then the seas rose. Valleys became flooded. Tall hills and mountain tops became islands. Animals become disconnected from the rest of their tribes. One big gene pool became many little gene ponds. Genetic mutations become dominant traits. The founder affect reigns supreme. New species are created. Competition for resources becomes intense. New niches are filled. Adaptive radiation occurs. New species are created again.

This tiny little poison frog that science so awkwardly calls Oophaga pumilio is a perfect example of all this. The frog has a couple common names that you may have heard: Strawberry frog and blue jeans frog. The name blue jeans is pretty apt given that just about everywhere this little guy lives they come in red with a pair of blue legs. From Nicaragua to Costa Rica and most of Panama – so the entirety of this guys range – this what you get. But when you enter Bocas del Toro however, everything changes. Suddenly you have frogs that are all red, all orange, all yellow, and all blue. You have orange frogs with big black dots and white bellies, and red frogs with little black dots and orange bellies. You have purple frogs. Frogs that are green on their back and yellow in the legs. You have 1980s leopard print colored frogs, and 1960s acid trip tie died frogs. Some frogs I don’t really know what color they are – as if Bob Ross paused for a moment from creating happy little trees and swirled together all the colors on his pallet and then flicked his brush at the dark canvas of the tropical rainforest splattering specs of a seemingly unlimited array of different colors across this landscape. Crayola doesn’t have shit on the colors of the Oophaga pumilio in Bocas del Toro. And this is the diversity of one little species of frog on these islands. Almost every year entirely new species of poison frogs are found here.

The image is dark and foreboding for a reason. THIS IS THE RAINFOREST! Ever been? Its not bright, open, and airy where these frogs live. They like it dark and wet. So when photographing this little guy in the tea cup mushroom, I had a choice to make. Do I set up multiple flashes, pop on the softboxes, and light up the world? Or, do I try to work with the scant amount of natural light available here, and judiciously work magic with a single off camera flash to give certain elements just a kiss of light – creating a photograph that resembles the forest floor of a multistoried rainforest that swirls around in my mind and imagination?

Imagination wins everytime.

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The Devil is in the Details

muledeer-fence-jump

With binoculars plastered to my face, I counted over 100 mule deer from the seat of my Land Cruiser. This is a huge population of deer that eke out a living between the cottonwood lined Gallatin River and the bench that rises up to the west. Whether it’s because much of the land in between in happens to be Ted Turner’s ranch and the deer receive little to no hunting pressure here, or the food and habitat really is THAT good, I don’t know. Honestly, its probably a combination of both. But the fact remains, with a hundred plus deer all doing their thing in freshly fallen snow, this was bound to be a good morning.

November is the peak of the deer rut. Which deer? Any deer here in the US. From whitetails to mule deer, the second week of November is the peak of the action. And this isn’t just in Montana. This holds true from Cades Cove in the Great Smoky Mountains, to the snow covered dirt road that I was now competing with the deer for first tracks.

I was able to identify 12 buck. None of them had a lot of size to them, at least not compared to some of the monster muleys I have seen elsewhere. But beggars can’t be choosers and this was a whopping 2 minute drive from my house – and in the snow.

The deer here are quite habituated to vehicles, but as I would quickly learn – not so much to pedestrians carrying a big lens and tripod. So this meant that all of my photography would primarily take place from the seat of my vehicle today. This of course is not that bad of thing given that it was 20 degrees out and dumping heavy wet snow still. What was a problem with this is that it meant I had to write off about half the deer. One side of the road dropped down to a field. The other side rose up to a steep hillside with junipers scattered about. If I’m confined to my vehicle, this means that I would be shooting down at many of the deer and this is just not acceptable. I want to be, at a minimum, eye level – and the lower the better.

Luckily, an old barbed wire fence stood about 20 feet up on the hillside. The addition of this one very simple element offered the situation a world of options. And given the ease at which deer bound over such fences, I knew that it would just be a matter of time before I spotted an opportunity like this.

By the time I pulled back up to my house, I had watched and photographed several nice looking bucks leap over the barbed wire fence. However, it was here, in this one particular section, where all of the compositional elements came together. This little section had a lot of character with its drooping wire and leaning wooden posts. Add to this the diagonal lines that the fence creates through the composition and I had myself something worth noting.

It’s the little details like this fence that have the potential to make or break your photograph. Had a juniper been in the scene, the composition would not have been as strong. Had there been two posts here instead of three, the visual flow would have been changed. Had the fence have rolled off out of the frame differently, I may have simply thrown this image away. The devil is in all the little tiny details.

In landscape photography, you often times have a considerable amount of time to work out your compositions – especially if you are scouting for a sunrise or sunset. With wildlife photography you typically have but seconds to get it all figured out before everything changes. With this scenario I had to identify a buck, albeit a small one, that was working his way to the fence. Then I had maybe 5 seconds to get into position and compose this fence across my viewfinder – all the while hoping the deer doesn’t turn around or decide to walk down the road first.

It is for this reason that we have to constantly work to train our eyes to pick out and see pleasing compositions and patterns in the landscape. Because when opportunity knocks, sometimes you have but just a blink of the eye to make everything come together and all of the details must be ordered and in place before the action happens.

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Storybook Bear

storybookbear

This was Amy’s first encounter with a grizzly bear. It was April, the snow was falling so hard you could barely see and we were risking the late season blizzard in hopes to find this sow grizzly, #610, and her cubs. I love photographing grizzlies in the snow. But then again, I love photographing all wildlife in the snow!

We found the family of bears in a small clearing in the woods up on the north side of Grand Tetons National Park. These bears were not long out of hibernation and I had been watching them nearly every day for the past week at this point. So finding them was not too difficult, given I knew their location at sunset the evening before.

My experience with grizzlies over the years did not prepare me for what I was going to witness this day. . .

Amy and I worked I way up a hillside and through the forest where we knelt down at the edge of a clearing to observe. The sow and the 3 cubs were chasing each other around in a giant circle in the snow. The sow would slow a bit, and allow her cubs to tackle her to the ground. Then, she would turn the tables and start chasing them until she knocked them down. She belly flopped into the snow and slid several feet, only for all three of her cubs to dive on top of her. They leaped into the air. They stood on hind legs and fell backwards into the snow. They played together. They had fun together. They secured their bonds as a family. And all of this while Amy and I watched from about 100 feet away in the edge of the forest.

I have never seen such social behavior in the wild except for with wolves. You cannot walk away from this moment thinking animals do not “feel.” You cannot convince yourself of the lie that animals do not have emotions. You cannot experience this, without understanding that these bears experience the world exactly like you do. They have hopes. Dreams. Intentions. and Fears. To say otherwise is to live a self centered delusional life with blinders put in place for the sole purpose of making you feel better about telling yourself you have some sort of dominion over these animals. That you are better than they are. Different they are. And therefore you have some sort of right to control them and their world.

Its moments like this that I live for. Those moments, where the connectivity between me and the natural world, the real world, is reaffirmed. Moments where distinctiveness is broken down and the only thing that is left is simply life, in all its raw beauty.

I did not know it at the time, but this would be the last time anyone would see 610 and these three cubs together. The following morning, she was gone and her cubs were alone for the first time in their lives.

This is all normal stuff. Bears raise their cubs till the age of two or three and then release them into the world on their own – having taught them everything they could about where to find food, how to avoid danger, how to survive.

For me, its an extraordinary thought to know that this mother had planned when she would kick her kids out, and had chosen to spend the day before simply playing and having fun with them.

As for the photography, it sucked. The light was so low that even at ISO 6400, the only usable photographs I was able to create were when 610 slowed things down to a walk. Don’t get me wrong. I love this photograph. It tells a story and it has a wonderful ethereal feel to it – hence the name: storybook bear. The rest of the shoot though, eh – not so hot. But I don’t really care so much. For me, the memory is there. And this is a memory that I will cherish until the day I die.

Also posted in Wildlife Photography

Egret in Black II

egret-breakdown

Since I first released this photograph, I have fielded quite a few requests for information on how I created this image. Is it heavily photoshoped? Did I add the background? How on Earth did you set your exposure to make your photograph to look like this?

To create an image like this you have to understand light. That isSince I first released this photograph, I have fielded quite a few requests for information on how I created this image. Is it heavily photoshoped? Did I add the background? How on Earth did you set your exposure to make your photograph to look like this?

To create an image like this you have to understand light. That is what makes this image. Sure, I brought this in to Photoshop to sharpen and hit the saturation levels. I also put a vignette on it in Lightroom so as to help with the visual flow – specifically at the bottom of the photograph. But what makes this image unique, posture and the like aside, is the white bird against the black background. And this part was done 100% in the field by exploiting the type of light that I had to work with.

If you note the direction of the light, you will see that it is coming in from a strong angle. This angled or side lighting, illuminated the bird but dropped the background into light shadows.

Now, given the fact that this is a great egret with brilliantly white plumage, I knew that those feathers were reflecting significantly more light than the rest of the elements that my eye could see in the composition. Color is a function light. White objects are reflecting all waves of light back at you and absorbing none (as opposed to red feathers for instance which are absorbing all waves of light and only reflecting red). So this means that white feathers are going to be significantly brighter than any other object in a composition. And, the more incident light (ambient), the more reflective light ( what your camera meters) you have to contend with in your exposure.

This photograph was made at about 10am. This is Florida. So this means there was a lot of bright light to contend with.

When we switch over to spot metering from matrix / evaluative, we tell our cameras that we only want one small spot, about the size of a focus point in the viewfinder, to be read instead of the entire composition. So where ever you place your focus point (the little rectangle that lights up in your viewfinder) will be the only thing your camera meters for. Move the camera around and you will watch as the meter in your viewfinder jumps all over the place. This is because that “spot” is different in its tonality of light.

Make since?

So by spot metering off of the brightest area of the bird, I was saying that this spot is the most important part of the exposure equation.

Your cameras meter is still based upon the concept of 18% gray. This means that when spot metering, if you zero adjust your exposure so as to zero out the meter reading in your viewfinder, that tone of light that you spot metered off of will be rendered 18% gray. In other words, it will be made a perfect midtone.

So if I had metered off this bird and shot with an exposure reading that I was given by the camera, this white bird would have been an 18% gray bird. If I had done the same off of a black bear, the results would have been an 18% gray bear.

You see, the meter reading that you get from your camera is not a suggestion. Its literally a statement that at this exposure setting you will render the dominant tone being metered as 18% gray. That’s it. Nothing fancy. Nothing else. Its a fact. Its a declaration.

So, if the dominant tone is going to be rendered 18% gray at that exposure setting, and since I’m spot metering off the bird, this means the brightest light on the bird will be rendered 18% gray. And if i do not want a gray bird, then I know that I must ADD LIGHT to make this bird white.

With this knowledge in mind, I increased my exposure by 1.3 stops of light. This was enough to render white feathers white with ought over exposing those whites. This,is situation dependent of course.

Now, because there was so much light reflecting off of those white feathers to begin with, even though I increased my exposure to render the whites properly, the contrast between those whites and the shadowed background was so great, the background rendered completely black. And the result was beautiful.

To sum this up, the light created extreme contrast between my subject and the background. All I did was properly expose for the brightest part of the composition. This recorded whites as white, and the background faded to black.

Exposing for the highlights or brightest part of a composition is what we are always doing regardless of the situation. So really there is nothing unique here. Sure I used spot metering, but that was because there was so much contrast between the bright areas and the far more dominant shadowed areas. I simply needed my camera to ignore all the shadows.

What ultimately made this photograph was the light in which I was photographing this bird in. Understanding how my camera meters and how to exploit the contrast that was being created was what allowed for this photograph.

Understanding light, and all of its nuances here is what allowed me to “see” the possibility of this photograph. This is everything in photography. This actual scene did not exist in the wild. My eye is looking across something like 24 stops of light. This means details existed in both shadows and highlights for me here. But, I know my camera records somewhere between 5 and 8 stops of light. So I instantly recognized the possibility with this situation. Once realized, it was then just a matter of working the composition out and waiting for this egret to do his thing.

what makes this image. Sure, I brought this in to Photoshop to sharpen and hit the saturation levels. I also put a vignette on it in Lightroom so as to help with the visual flow – specifically at the bottom of the photograph. But what makes this image unique, posture and the like aside, is the white bird against the black background. And this part was done 100% in the field by exploiting the type of light that I had to work with.

If you note the direction of the light, you will see that it is coming in from a strong angle. This angled or side lighting, illuminated the bird but dropped the background into light shadows.

Now, given the fact that this is a great egret with brilliantly white plumage, I knew that those feathers were reflecting significantly more light than the rest of the elements that my eye could see in the composition. Color is a function light. White objects are reflecting all waves of light back at you and absorbing none (as opposed to red feathers for instance which are absorbing all waves of light and only reflecting red). So this means that white feathers are going to be significantly brighter than any other object in a composition. And, the more incident light (ambient), the more reflective light ( what your camera meters) you have to contend with in your exposure.

This photograph was made at about 10am. This is Florida. So this means there was a lot of bright light to contend with.

When we switch over to spot metering from matrix / evaluative, we tell our cameras that we only want one small spot, about the size of a focus point in the viewfinder, to be read instead of the entire composition. So where ever you place your focus point (the little rectangle that lights up in your viewfinder) will be the only thing your camera meters for. Move the camera around and you will watch as the meter in your viewfinder jumps all over the place. This is because that “spot” is different in its tonality of light.

Make since?

So by spot metering off of the brightest area of the bird, I was saying that this spot is the most important part of the exposure equation.

Your cameras meter is still based upon the concept of 18% gray. This means that when spot metering, if you zero adjust your exposure so as to zero out the meter reading in your viewfinder, that tone of light that you spot metered off of will be rendered 18% gray. In other words, it will be made a perfect midtone.

So if I had metered off this bird and shot with an exposure reading that I was given by the camera, this white bird would have been an 18% gray bird. If I had done the same off of a black bear, the results would have been an 18% gray bear.

You see, the meter reading that you get from your camera is not a suggestion. Its literally a statement that at this exposure setting you will render the dominant tone being metered as 18% gray. That’s it. Nothing fancy. Nothing else. Its a fact. Its a declaration.

So, if the dominant tone is going to be rendered 18% gray at that exposure setting, and since I’m spot metering off the bird, this means the brightest light on the bird will be rendered 18% gray. And if i do not want a gray bird, then I know that I must ADD LIGHT to make this bird white.

With this knowledge in mind, I increased my exposure by 1.3 stops of light. This was enough to render white feathers white with ought over exposing those whites. This,is situation dependent of course.

Now, because there was so much light reflecting off of those white feathers to begin with, even though I increased my exposure to render the whites properly, the contrast between those whites and the shadowed background was so great, the background rendered completely black. And the result was beautiful.

To sum this up, the light created extreme contrast between my subject and the background. All I did was properly expose for the brightest part of the composition. This recorded whites as white, and the background faded to black.

Exposing for the highlights or brightest part of a composition is what we are always doing regardless of the situation. So really there is nothing unique here. Sure I used spot metering, but that was because there was so much contrast between the bright areas and the far more dominant shadowed areas. I simply needed my camera to ignore all the shadows.

What ultimately made this photograph was the light in which I was photographing this bird in. Understanding how my camera meters and how to exploit the contrast that was being created was what allowed for this photograph.

Understanding light, and all of its nuances here is what allowed me to “see” the possibility of this photograph. This is everything in photography. This actual scene did not exist in the wild. My eye is looking across something like 24 stops of light. This means details existed in both shadows and highlights for me here. But, I know my camera records somewhere between 5 and 8 stops of light. So I instantly recognized the possibility with this situation. Once realized, it was then just a matter of working the composition out and waiting for this egret to do his thing.

Also posted in photography in the Springtime, Technical Skills, Uncategorized, Wildlife Photography Tagged , , , , , |

Egret in Black

Egret-in-Black

Last month I stopped by the egret rookery in St. Augustine Florida for a morning while on my way down to Sarasota for my Florida Bird Photography Workshop. As is typically the case this time of year, there were probably close to a hundred photographers there shooting madly at the chaos that was unfolding all around.  Snowy egrets, little blue herons, tricolored herons, cattle egrets, roseate spoonbills, and wood storks were everywhere. And the great egrets is were in basically every stage of the breeding process from courtship displays to the rearing of chicks.

If you have never been to an egret rookery, these places are basically swirling vortexes of entropy. Nests, chicks, flying, perching, mating, feeding, pooping, squawking, etc. . . The activity levels are overwhelming. So many birds. So many possibilities.

For me, visiting a rookery is not so much about all of this action, or the incredible number of birds, so much as it is that the presence of these birds is guaranteed. Numbers mean little except for the fact that my chances of finding a photograph increase with opportunity. Out of all of this chaos though, I would contend that there may only be 3 or 4 really great photographs to be created.

This is how I break it down in my head. . .

When I approach the St. Augustine rookery, I know that there will be a thousand or more birds to work with. But not all of these birds are shootable. So the first thing I do when I arrive is scout out the place to see what is going on. By this, I mean I simply walk around and observe. Be a tourist for a moment. Enjoy the place. Let yourself get past the insanity of the rookery. Let’s face it, rookeries are the definition of stimulus overload. Once I have spent time kind of soaking it all in, I go to work mentally. I begin asking myself questions. I size the place up that morning and take note. Which species are at what stage in breeding? Who is displaying and who is sitting? Where are the possible opportunities?

Say you have 1,000 birds here. A quick walk around the place may reveal that the vast majority of these birds are stuffed in the trees in such a way that you cannot photograph them. Maybe there is too much contrast given the light and shadows fall across faces. Maybe sticks and twigs obscure views. Maybe the backgrounds are too cluttered. There are a seemingly infinite number of reasons that a particular bird or nest wont make the first cut. So we go from 1,000 birds down to maybe 50 birds just like that.

Of these 100 birds some may be sitting on eggs (boring), some maybe guarding chicks (boring after you have shot this before), and some maybe in courtship display (awesome). Courtship displays are not the only thing I’m looking for of course, but another bird sitting on a nest, or just another bird feeding chicks doesn’t cut it for me. These are documentary photographs. If you haven’t done this before, shoot it. But once you have, you will find that these situations very quickly lose appeal after the first time. So from 50 birds we now have maybe 10.

Now that we have boiled things down to just 10 birds, I start getting picky. What is the light like? What is the background like? What is the nest or perch like? Most of the time just a quick glance will tell me if it works or doesn’t. Sometimes you just “know.” You know? And with this next cut, very quickly my 10 birds become 1 or 2 that I really like.

From 1,000+ birds down to just two. Two is manageable. Two allows me to create a plan of action. Two birds let’s me focus and begin to visualize the possibilities (one of the most extraordinarily important skills you MUST develop if you are going to be a visual artist).

The other 8 birds may still have merit. Maybe they will make good fodder for the stock files. But for me, I want to create art. I want something that says something. I don’t need just another photograph of a white bird in a tree.

With this particular trip to the rookery, I chose one single bird to concentrate on. Ironically, it was right where the bulk of the photographers were, only I was facing the polar opposite direction from everyone else. Forty five big telephoto lenses all aimed one way, and mine was the exact opposite direction. Let’s just say that I received more than a few strange looks from folks. This is typical for me though. More often than not in my life, I find myself going against the grain.

To be continued. . .

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Telling Stories with Pine Warblers

pine-warbler-longleaf

As of late, I have been spending a significant amount of time deep inside of Croatan National Forest. This is an extraordinary place – quite unlike any other national forest I have ever had the pleasure to work in or explore. I am here to capture the story of the longleaf pine savannas through photographs. From the fire that shapes and sculpts these woods and grasslands, to the impenetrable swamps knowns as pocosins, and the denizens of this forest that have evolved to eke out a living here in this strange landscape.

Pine warblers like this one are unique in the world of warblers in that they eat seeds – and lots of them. Sure they will gorge themselves on caterpillars like any self-respecting warbler will, but their preference for pine seeds allows them to stand apart. Because of the ability to consume this super abundant food source across the southeastern part of the United States, they are one of the few species of warblers that do not leave the country. Many northern individuals move south for the winter, but all that means is that they pop up in places such as Croatan National Forest with its dense stands of longleaf pine.

Pine warblers are extremely common in these pine forests, go figure, but they are a species that is not often seen except for in the spring when they can be found foraging around on the ground. Otherwise, they tend to prefer the lofty perches at the top of the canopy where they go about their business far above the rest of us.

It was for this reason that I wanted to capture one of these pine warblers perched in pine needles. Such a composition as this one helps to tell the story of this bird in two ways. . . first, its preference for the canopy. Secondly, this photograph shows this little warbler interacting with longleaf pine – something I would have been hard pressed to create if he was perched on the ground, trunk, or branch.

So despite a long list of species that I am working on here, the pine warblers, though common, are an important part of visually story telling in the longleaf pines of Croatan.

Also posted in Technical Skills, Wildlife Photography