Watch The Birdie….Part 2

I never discriminate when I am out photographing birds. I photograph the birds that people love, and the birds that people hate. I initially took that approach because as a stock photographer, editors need pictures of those birds just as much as they do the popular ones. I am glad I took that path because I never run out of subjects.

The European Starling is not America’s most popular bird. They are in fact introduced, and they take up habitat and food sources of native birds. That of course is not a premeditated act by the bird, therefore I blame those that introduced the bird, not the bird. They are after all .….only birds.

Starlings are very definitely a flock bird and making pictures with two or more birds is easy. Below we have that scenario.

A lot of people do not like grackles as well.  The Common Grackle is a bird that belongs here but they are sometimes noisy and rude. Those last two facts make them unpopular to some but interesting to me.  The bird below was thankfully very noisy.

The remaining birds are all quite popular.

Common Sparrows.  White-throated, White-crowned and Savanna.

A bird that’s common during summer months in the marshes of the Upper Midwest, is the Sora.  This bird is in the rail family and most  wildlife photographers that work in marshes quickly get images of this species.  It took me 25 years to get good pictures of a Sora. Below was one of the first images I managed to make.

I think every  bird photographer likes to make pictures of birds of prey.  I know some male bird photographers who almost specialize in this.  Below we have a male Northern Harrier and a mature Bald Eagle. The eagle was photographed soaring above  the Wisconsin River and the Harrier was photographed at Kill Snake Wildlife Area here in Wisconsin.  I have great memories of both of the days that these pictures were made.

The Common Goldeneye duck is a popular bird among photographers.  They are always doing something.  This first winter male is making his way across a frozen river here in Wisconsin.

What photographer doesn’t love a Hummingbird?  This is a rare perched image of a hummer. It is a male Rufous Hummer and I photographed him in Colorado.

Old Tyme Photography

Being an old time photographer has been both a blessing and a curse to me throughout my digital age (2002-2012). The curse meant that working with software programs did not come easy, and initially almost ruined the photographic experience for me. This despite the fact that I have spent many hundreds of hours working (with chemicals…yuck) in a darkroom.  I eventually got over my resistance (sort of) to working with software. The upside is a full understanding of exposure, depth of field and much more.

In 1974 I roamed the mountains of Colorado with a Horseman 4×5 view camera.  In between the mountains I used it for architectural photography.  Those were commercial jobs for realtors, architects, etc.  Those jobs were few and far between so eventually I sold my view camera.  Body, lens board, film holders and three lenses.  One Rodenstock, one Snyder and one Nikon.  The experience in using a bellows, with its tilts and swings was invaluable in learning how to control perspective, and how to “see” depth of field.  Looking through a viewing glass at a subject that was upside down and backwards, taught me how to see graphically. My second medium format camera (a cheap Yashica was my first) was a Mamiya Press Super 23.  It was a body, some lenses, a viewing glass, and a roll film back. Attached to the back of that body was another bellows.  All of the lenses for those two cameras had something in common.  They were leaf shutter lenses.  The shutter was in the lens, not in the camera.  You tripped the shutter by either using a cable release connected to the lens, or by attaching to your camera a handle with a button, that is then attached to the lens. Everybody (I’m pretty sure) who will read this blog, uses a camera with a focal plane shutter. A shutter that is built into your camera and that opens in two stages at fast shutter speeds. One side begins your exposure, and the other side finishes.  In lenses with leaf shutters, those shutters open in a fanning movement, and do so all at once. They are usually only good up to 1/500th of a second.  Understanding both leaf and focal plane shutters helps to relate shutters to exposure, and to stopping motion.

The single most important aspect of gaining a photographic education from film, is you cannot see your picture until the film is developed.  I shot more slides than negative film, which meant there was no printing (except for my fine art shots) where you could make small exposure “repairs” and do some limited cropping. With transparency film the exposure you used at the time of making the image, and the composition you selected, were final decisions.  No cropping or fixing exposure.  No cloning out that gum wrapper or that out of focus branch that slipped into the picture frame. You did not know if you were correct, until your film came back. Slide film is still in use and if I taught a classroom photography course we would shoot slides before moving on to digital. Of course I might not have any students.

It’s funny, but it seems like people who have done anything for a long time, be it manufacturing widgets, working on cars, or making pictures, always want to tell you how hard they had it in their day. In actuality, it is just the opposite.  The more rudimentary the tools you have, the more you think about the reason you get the results you get.  The easier it is to see why things happen. We were the lucky ones.  We had it easy “way back when”.

Right until the end of my workshop days, I taught hyper-focal distance with an old lens that had an aperture ring.  You could change from f 5.6 to f 8 by moving the ring to f 8. They had hyper-focal distance scales right on the lens. Just focus, find the foot distance on the lens, and follow the numbers to which f stop you needed to gain full focus throughout the scene.  Hyper-focal distance.  I can usually do that with most modern lenses even though the f stop scale and hyper-focal distance scale does not exist. Learning things manually actually teaches you what things mean.

I have never taken a photography course or a workshop. I did however follow around a commercial photographer and assist him.  I did this for free, and it lasted about two weeks before the need to make money overcame me. This occurred in Colorado.  It was a family studio owned and operated by a wonderful, warm family of Utah Mormons.  Jim did the commercial photography and his father was an award winning portrait photographer.  Jim and his sister did any darkroom work that was necessary.  His mother was essentially the boss.  She did all the bookkeeping and promotion.  Everybody spent a portion of their week as the receptionist. I learned a lot from Jim.  We did real estate photography, studio product photography, model photography, celebrity and public relations photography.  I never forgot the photography or business lessons learned, and I certainly never forgot what it meant to spend that brief time inside of their family.

A  million things come and go in our lives.  We are the sum total of all of those things. A special thanks to the Mitchell family for being a part of that journey.

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