Playing Favorites

The only way I could properly illustrate an article about my favorite things to photograph, was to use my own pictures.  I have shown a lot of images today but I could have posted a few thousand.  This post is one of those that I occasionally publish that is meant for posterity’s sake. On my next post I will show only images from other photographers.

I have always made a lot about how much I love all kinds of subjects, all of the seasons and every sort of light, when it comes to photography.  I have lived by that creed but it is only normal to have favorites….if only by a slight margin.

My main criteria for favorite subjects is, how much photographic success I have had with that subject, and how much fun I have had with that subject.

Favorite Light:  As much as I love the direct red sun of sunrise/sunset, when it comes to landscapes those magic moments right after the rising (or setting) sun skims the surface of the earth with those golden rays, is one of my two best lights.  The other?  I love the soft overcast light of those dreamy, gentle days.  They are perfect to reduce the hash contrasts created by the sun.  That is the light that makes waterfalls special.  I actually loved rainy days for rivers and waterfalls. Soft light is perfect to saturate fields of summer prairie flowers and to show every detail of autumn colors.  That overcast light can also help saturate the land itself. Remember to take the sky out of your composition, unless there are some interesting clouds for future viewers to rest their eyes on.

The golden light of sunrise/sunset.

Rocky Mt. N.P., Colorado1RMNPMarmMtEvans 140

Valley of The Gods, UtahDSC_2614

Arches N.P UtahDSC_6753bb

The Badlands South Dakota1lsaSlidesButterfly 078

Skimming the surface at Monument Valley Utah/ArizonaSlides8 01613Slides8 011

Soft light with rivers and waterfalls.1G4DSC_0031b

MFallsBE 035

WFalls 059

Overcast and flowerscapes. 

Phantom Lake at Crex MeadowsCMedShillsBeav_145


Saturating storms and the land.  Badlands of South DakotaBLands10

When it comes to birds, my favorite light comes with blue sky days, smack dab in the middle of winter. The low angle light bathes your subjects in rich warm tones while keeping the skies deep and blue.  The color contrasts are amazing on days like those. The birds remain beautiful even at “high noon” because at these latitudes (longitudes?) the sun’s angle is very low in the sky.

Winter light and birds.

American KestrelDSC_9537

Bald EagleDSC_4193bbb

For dragonflies and butterflies, if they are in open areas I preferred sunlight, with clean and simple backgrounds. Don’t overlook backlight for “wings up” type poses with butterflies. In woodlands I once again preferred soft, even overcast.  I have used the unnatural light of electronic flash many times in my film days.  It allowed me to handhold my camera.  I used up to three flashes at a time to “simulate” daylight.  I enjoyed this lighting challenge in the beginning but I would much rather work in natural light.

Dragonflies: Clean and simple in the sun.Insects WH 034DSC_6231

Backlight with butterflies:  Great-spangled Fritillary45DSC_0035

Favorite Birds: 

This is almost impossible for me.  I generally love all birds the same, and have pretty much photographed everything i could find, small and large, colorful and drab. My favorites are the birds I have either had the best time making pictures of, or birds whose personalities show through the best in my pictures.  If I narrow birds of prey down to owls, I think you might be surprised that Short-eared Owls are my favorite type of owl.  Yes I have without question had the best and most special times of my life with Snowy Owls and with a family of Great-horned Owls.  My favorite single owl was a Snowy Owl at Horicon Marsh NWR several years ago. Just the same as a photographer, Short-eared Owls have a personality that can be seen in their face.  Who they are comes across wonderfully in images. When you know SEOs are in an area, and dusk nears, they jump into the scene and take over the world. They mean business too.  The Snowies, Harriers, Red-tails and other birds of prey might just as well go to sleep.  The Great-horned, Screech and Barred Owls can just wait until after dark.

Short-eared Owls

DSC_4570DSC_456015ddCopy of DSC_4870-01

My rules about my favorite  birds being either those that make the best pictures or have the best personality continue throughout the entire bird world, and waterfowl are my champions.  This is especially true with ducks, grebes, loons and mergansers.  Some of that has to do with the action they provide, and some has to do with the changing patterns and colors of the water that they inhabit.

I admit that my absolute favorite duck is the Common Goldeneye followed by the Northern Shoveler.  They never disappoint me or my camera.

Common Goldeneyes.  The first two images below show courtship behavior.KenDucks 127


Copy of DSC_5445b


Northern ShovelerHorN1 039

Female BuffleheadDSC_7241

Pied-billed GrebeHorD_125b

Horned GrebeHGrebe1 095c

Red-breasted Merganser2C2

Mammals:  I have had a passion since I was a small child for wild canines.  I imagine that is because we had a dog, but it has never left me.  I only have one picture of a Gray Wolf that is showable, one of a Desert Kit Fox, and only non-photographic sightings and zoo shots of Gray Foxes.  That means my one day with three different Coyotes, and many days and thousands of pictures of Red Foxes comprise my canine files.  Needless to say that makes the Red Fox my favorite canine followed by the Coyote.

Red FoxFox2010 014

FoxFri2 075



While I am always excited about any member of the deer family, whether it be White-tailed, Mule or Fallow Deer, as well as elk and moose, my favorite larger herd mammal is the Pronghorn.  They are extremely photogenic and very interesting and active.  They say in capital letters AMERICAN WEST.  These versatile animals can be found in prairies, deserts and mountain valleys. Most of all they have no living relatives anywhere in the Americas.

PronghornANatWRef 050


31ArNatWR 174

My favorite mammals to photograph are small ones.  I and my Pal Ron had one terrific fifteen minutes or so with an American Badger, and I have spent time with Beavers, Raccoons, Opossums, Javelina, Armadillo and more of those “larger small critters”, but ultimately it is the little small critters I like the best.   My favorite day with little mammals was spent at 12,000 feet elevation in Colorado photographing several Yellow-bellied Marmots, and one little Pika.  Great times were had on that same trip with both White and Black-tailed Prairie Dogs, White-tailed Jackrabbits and Golden-mantled Ground Squirrels.   With all that being said, my favorite little mammal is the Thirteen-lined Ground Squirrel.  They are abundant in the area where I live, and I have spent countess hours in the company of these guys.  Like so many wild animals, they seem impossible to photograph.  That is until they sort of all at once start cooperating with you, and then the pictures will come in bundles.  You begin to think like a ground squirrel.

North American Badger3H

Yellow-bellied MarmotsPicasMarmotsBirds 060

PikaPicasMarmotsBirds 086

PicasMarmotsBirds 079b

Golden-mantled Ground Squirrel. Peanut supplied by nearby tourists.StellarClarke 159

White-tailed Prairie DogDinoANWR 176

White-tailed JackrabbitANWRUtah 159

Thirteen-lined Ground Squirrel13SBs 116

Favorite Flowers:  Keep in mind my criteria. Do they make good pictures?  Shooting Stars, wild Geraniums,  Spiderwort, Purple Coneflowers, Indian Paintbrush, Virginia Bluebells and Lupines are at the top of my list.

Wild Geraniums7B



Virginia BluebellsPurpMart1 004

Shooting StarsDSC_3881

Favorite States:  This is extremely difficult for me, but here are four.  Utah, Arizona, Colorado and my home state of Wisconsin.   Several other western states and Michigan are not far behind.

One example from Colorado’s Great Sand Dunes N. P.3GSDunesANWR 060

Favorite Season: This is easy for me.  Autumn hands down.  That is followed by winter.  Spring is exciting non-stop photography and summer brings you an abundance of subjects, so they are a tie for me.  While my favorites come from photographic success, I should also include atmosphere.  I cannot describe how important that is to me.

AutumnWhitFall 029autpets


WinterCopy of DSC_0025

FilmArch2012 078


What are your favorites?

To be a good photographer the first thing we must do is recognize potential images when they are in front of us.  It takes a vision beyond eyesight to appreciate the moment that light, color, tone and subject come together.  If your choice of photographic genre happens to be nature, then knowledge of and kinship to nature, should accompany your recognition of the visual acuity that exists before your eyes.

To each of you I wish a Happy Thanksgiving holiday.  May your time with family and friends be special and may your blessings be many.  I try every day to take a moment to give thanks for the countless blessings that I am graced with.   It can be easy to forget that Thanksgiving means……Giving Thanks.

God Bless,                                                                                                                                              Wayne

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