The Whole Story

There are a lot of different ways to capture wildlife subjects with your camera. There are artsy shots and beauty shots.  There are journalistic images and even photos of horror.  There is a wide variety of lighting conditions in which to alter the mood of wildlife pictures.  As usual my favorite form of wildlife photography has been whatever I was doing at the moment.

Soft light is never easy to work with when you are photographing wildlife like Red Foxes.  Just the same this gentle saturating light imparts a different mood and atmosphere to these pretty creatures then the sun would. In the first three pictures below we see just how deep those reds can be with the mother fox.  The difference between her and her still brown babies is obvious in a photo that saturates and deepens her color. The mood of the light (not the content of the photo) is gentle and peaceful.Fox3 147bbFox4 127Fox4 183

Sunlight brings us a set of new visual wonders.  The contrast  is higher here but that makes these older kits pop from their surroundings. The sun (from the side) also adds details to the fur and the landscape. The mood of the light here is more vibrant despite the fact that the subjects themselves are displaying a gentler less active visual than the first three pictures.FoxWHarbor 039FoxWHarbor 080WHfox 085

In some respects each set of images above is a dichotomy. The top three show some action and behavior, in gentle low contrast light. The second group of images shows little behavior and no action in light that is both contrasty and vibrant.

Every kind of  light has value.

American White Pelicans can be a beautiful photogenic species.  In late summer near their breeding grounds…..well sometimes they look a little ratty.  Between molting adults and immature birds their spring beauty is gone.  To add insult to injury, quite often this is the worse time of year for an esthetically pleasing marsh.  I actually love these times.  The photo journalist/natural history photographer in me comes out.  As always, I believe we can wear many hats in our photography.Hor8001 046Hor8001 047

The American Bittern is not one of our prettiest wading birds but they are great natural history subjects. They are almost always found in the context of their environment.Hor8001 097

The stock photographer in me was always looking for shots with multiple species.  Major wetlands with their diverse habitat and lake harbor inlets in winter are good places to find that scenario.  I preferred species interacting but an American Coot and a Male Canvasback Duck in the act of preening will do. Notice that the tail feathers are absent on the duck.  That would rule out any beauty shot but it might tell a story. I sold my share of beauty shots as stock images, but I lost a sale or two along the way by only having beauty shots of a species.Hor31 056Hor31 061

I not only photograph predators with their prey, but I have been known to make pictures of dead animals. Beautiful animals in which their death was a mystery, or maybe even the ugliness of a road kill.  The stock photographer/photo journalist needs to be prepared to tell stories with pictures, whether it is fun or it feels horrible to tell it.

The opposite of literal story telling, is subjective abstraction. This is also valid and a part of the whole story.

I doubt anyone who has viewed my work would call me an abstract artist. I have made my share of abstracts but I’ve never set out intentionally to create one.  I just sort of go with the flow.  When I make an abstract it is just the same as when I make a literal image. It is right there for me to see……so I create it.  I think the biggest two obstacles that stand in the way of some photographers in shooting abstracts are…….#1 When something jumps out at you as a shape, or a movement, or a wash of colors, don’t always attempt to make it literal.  Don’t say to yourself, what is that, if I do this it will be recognizable.  Take it the way you see it, and then if you want, move on to literal translations…….#2 Have the courage to share it.  I think (especially guys) when many people “see” an abstract, and if they would actually decide to create it, they would never share it. Is every thought you have ever shared with others literal?   Everybody I have ever known has at some point shared abstract thoughts. It is okay to share abstract visions as well.

A few posts back I mentioned that I have been honored on three occasions with the responsibility of judging photography contests.  Trust me in the fact that I did not take that responsibility lightly.

I was the sole juror in the first two competitions, which consisted of a slide show of 25 images that were created in a camera club.  The second was an online nature related contest from a German website. The joy and the sorrow of the participants rested totally on my shoulders. Going it alone left me with some difficult decisions, but I was proud to have completed those tasks with integrity and a fair sense of good photography.

My final opportunity was given to me by a photography/art group in Wisconsin. The winners, grand champ, runner-up and so on, were to be prominently displayed in a Milwaukee area art gallery for a good amount of time.  This time I had a partner.  At least it was not entirely on my shoulders.  She was a very fine painter and a very nice lady.

The premise of the show was that the subject was to be defined very loosely as nature. The images were allowed some but not too much digital alterations. My partner and I had issues almost immediately.

We each picked a top twenty out of the hundreds of entries.  We were in agreement on three in our top twenties.  We were of two different worlds…and it showed.

Her choices were all abstracts, many of which I believed went way, way beyond the some digital alterations but not too much criteria.  A few of her picks were so bad technically that I was embarrassed to look at them.  Just a couple.  She had no concept of the technology of photography, only her artist’s conception. As a photographer I felt it my responsibility to show her in detail why I believed that you cannot separate tech from art in judging photography.

Slowly her selections changed.  And so did mine.  As she began to examine photos for their use of photography and things like noise (non-intentional) crispness when necessary, I suddenly became more forgiving of intentional, artistic choices that might make an image not perfect…..technically.  We learned from each other. The more we opened our minds the more we learned.

In the end most of our choices were the same.  We came to agreement on the rest and I think we were happy with the winners.

While there were a few tense moments during our judging, in the end I had a favor to ask of her.  We were both supposed to appear at the opening of the show and speak. I had some health concerns and could not appear. I wrote a small speech and she was amazingly gracious in her willingness to read it in my absence.  She was a kind and understanding person.

In keeping with my attempt to bring to you photographers you may not know, we have landscape artist  Kevin McNeal

God Bless,                                                                                                                                               Wayne

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