Photography is about light. Without it, a picture is just a mirage. While I prefer the sunlight of early and late in the day, or the soft light of overcast, I have always taken what God gives me, and made my pictures anyway.
The three coyotes you see in the pictures below, are all the same animal. They were taken only a brief few minutes apart. The top picture was made in the golden first light of the day. The coyote is lit evenly. He is a pretty critter in pretty light. The third photo was made almost immediately after the top one, but my subject was on the move and the direction of light changed. The light is still warm but at this angle it does leave the coyote in both sun and shade. The middle photo was made a while afterwards. The warmth of the light is fading and my subject is once again “almost” front lit. I actually like all three of these photos but the bottom image with the contrasty light is my favorite. By any normal rules of photography, a contrast filled scene like this, made of an animal, is a no, no. I love the hunting pose here and I think the image works as his body weaves in and out of the sun . I of course love shadows when they fall in the right places. The shaded side still carries detail, and the light is still warm, telling us what time of day it is. Rules are important but sometimes photographic rules need to be broken.
Using flowers in landscape photos is a time-honored tradition. The first picture below would be an okay shot of spring greenery even without the Phlox, but it is the flowers that make it pop. I of course, composed the flowers within the scene as well as I could. My imagination had them arranged a little differently than this, but Ma Nature has her own ideas and she is a better artist than me. The images below slowly cease to be landscapes with flowers, and move on to be flowers in a landscape, and finally mini flowerscapes.
This wonderful alpine lake is beautiful in its own right. Just the same, flowers make it extra special. The first picture has been successful for me for good reasons. It is first and foremost about Summit Lake, yet those wildflowers add another dimension. In the second photo I am shooting from ground level, and that move elevated the flowers into prominence. You can still see the alpine lake, the distant ridge, and the sky, but the flowers are more important. Moving a few feet left to right, and raising and lowering my tripod, gave me many different looks of Summit Lake. I rarely make only one composition of any location, and slight changes of your position do make a difference. Eventually I wound up with a flowerless image of Summit Lake. All lake, no flowers.
I once had somebody comment on the top photo about what a beautiful place this is. His only criticism of my image was to say how much better it would be if there were a tree or two to use in my composition. I love trees but he did not understand what makes this place special. This is alpine tundra at over 13,000 feet. Trees do not grow here. A tree in this picture might look attractive, but it would belie what is so precious about the habitat. As photographers we have a lot of beauty to show the world through our pictures, but we also have a story to tell.
Wildlife presents us with plenty of compositional problems, as well as light. I could have attempted to get in the water with this Leopard Frog for a front view picture. I have done that before. There are some problems with that. First of all my waders were at home and I really didn’t feel like taking a river bath on this day. Secondly, this is the Rock River at Horicon Marsh NWR and there is a drop off near this frog. Most importantly, my subject would have been almost back-lit instead partially side lit. I made the best composition possible under the circumstances. I used the power point/rule of thirds concept and was satisfied that I had done all I could.
I will photograph any critter that is wild and free in nature. Just the same I would often pass an entire flock of these pretty and unique pigeons on my way home from a near-by state park, because….well they were just pigeons. They are in fact wild, free roaming animals. I finally could not stand it anymore and stopped and made a few pictures. This flock is color unique when it comes to this immediate area. Much more white than normal. I had a beautiful blue sky day with the sun left to center. My composition was as obvious as any that I have made. Perspective transforms images. I was shooting up at a steep angle and from the left. That caused the power line to run out of the picture frame at an angle, but kept the bird straight.
This is an old, old shot of a very cool species of bird. The Black Skimmer is actually a gull. Gotta love that red bill with its uneven parts. I made this image on the Texas Gulf on a day of mostly clouds, with intermittent rain. With the cameras of 8 years ago, shutter speed and depth if field (due to ISO) were scarce, so focus and timing were paramount.
A few clouds can turn an ordinary landscape into a good one. This shot of alpine tundra with distant mountain peaks was made at about 12,200 feet. The peaks are about 14,000 feet. My composition here seems a little weak because that tundra is a bit on the boring side. A few clouds rolled in and added some drama to the scene. Every kind of light works under the right circumstances. I love the dappled light here, but similar light in a forest can produce exposure killing contrast levels that seem harsh and unattractive. This is another alpine image that was made above timberline.
I love unique places. Spots that are just a little different from anywhere I have ever been. This was the case with Sitting Bull Falls in southern New Mexico. I have told the story before. I made a decision to take my rental car with its almost empty gas tank, down the dead-end road to what is actually a desert oasis. Upon leaving the area, I made the decision to take what I hoped was a short cut to the nearest town. The “road” and I use that term loosely, was merely a path through the desert. It was indeed a short cut and my vehicle and I both made it to the entrance of a gas station, only to run out while still on the highway. I was able to push it to a pump by hand.
This was a very difficult place to photograph. It is very confusing to the eye here. I eventually settled for a composition that showed the color and texture gradations in a pleasing manner.
Pictures tell more than just natural history stories. They take us back to times we might otherwise forget. They hold the stories of people (us), just as much as the subject in the image. Pictures are important.
For many years now I have hosted photography groups on Flickr Photos. First North American Nature Photography and now for several years, Earth Images Nature Photography. Like most groups I have a few rules. My basic rule is pretty simple. At Earth Images Nature Photography we publish “nature photography” Some might find that to be self-explanatory. The majority of all of the submitters to EIs, are very good about this. Because some people don’t read or obey those rules, I have further refined and called attention to those rules on a couple of occasions. No people in photos unless it is a vet or wildlife rehabber working to save wild animals. I make an exception for people who are very tiny in the frame of a landscape. No pets, domestic animals or captive animals. No paved roads or busy streets. Remote dirt roads and nature paths are okay. No cars, boats, planes etc., or houses and other buildings unless it is a very small part of what the picture is about. In other words a landscape with a barn in the corner of your comp is fine, a picture of a barn that includes some grass or flowers, is not. It is amazing, but every single day somebody will flagrantly break these rules.
Yesterday I found a picture of a boat full of people waving at the camera. I removed it and was asked why. They proclaimed that the boat was in the water, is water not nature? I explained that there is water in my toilet but that does not mean that a photo of my toilet belongs on Earth Images. Photos of people’s new car, because it was in a parking lot of a national park is common. Family picnics showing nothing but people are often shown, because they are out-of-doors, which is where nature resides. I have asked if you might like to temporarily move that beautiful new super size television out on the back deck and photograph it for Earth Images? I mean….it’s outside…..that’s where nature resides. There are of course often the images of someone’s pet cat, or a tiger in the zoo.
Flickr Photos is of course an international site. I do understand that language can be an issue. Ultimately using web-based translators to read the rules is your responsibility. There are also many who simply use language as an excuse to break the rules. Sounds a little like life in America.
I should add, that I myself have some images on Flickr that do not fit the Earth Images requirement. I do not publish them in my own group.
I believe in the passion of sharing images. It can however, become an addiction where you and your pictures are all that matter. It is in fact rude to ignore rules. When you are a guest in somebody else’s house, they create the rules.
Thank you for letting me vent. I guess if rule breakers in Earth Images was the worse thing that happened to me, I would be leading a charmed life. I should also add that 99% (literally) that submit to Earth Images are very good about following the rules.
Landing On Your Feet
Back in my horse days, I often had more than one horse. I of course had my Saddlebred mare named Chicago, and sometimes a more cowboy (western) oriented horse as well. If I sold my second horse ( I would never sell Chicago), eventually I would be looking for another horse. My ritual for looking for a horse was similar to looking for a used car. I would search the classified ads, or just roam around visiting large stables (used horse lots?) which always had horses for sale. In fact sometimes I would hook up the horse trailer to my pickup, have a few addresses in my pocket, and just take off. Occasionally I would take my Dad or someone else along, frequently I would go it alone. One day I was in the market for a new cowboy horse so I took a couple of addresses, and my truck and trailer with me to work. The plan was to head out after work and try out a couple of “used horses”.
I pulled into the long ranch/farm driveway an immediately noticed an Appaloosa mare standing in a paddock alone. The ad read….Six year old App mare. Well broke and gentle, but still needs more riding…..15 hands…..Asking $800.…..Call xxx-xxxx. I had called and got the address from the 15-year-old girl who owned the horse, and warned her that I would be coming. She met me at the entrance of the paddock. Her mare was a nice looking animal. She was dark bay in color, with a white blanket and spots on her rear. She had typical App eyes with lots of white showing. She also had the usual striped hoofs of this breed. The girl brought her horse out with a halter and lead rope. I looked her over. I checked each leg and foot. I opened her mouth to check her teeth for age.
The very first horse I ever bought was sold to me as a five-year old. A vet check (after purchase), proved him to be 12. I never minded but I thought I’d better learn about aging a horse, although I could still only accomplish a ballpark guess.
Everything seemed great about this horse except her eyes. I mean she looked healthy, but there was something about the attitude that she displayed through those eyes.
I told the girl to saddle and bridle her. The look of quiet horror came over the girls face. I said, “ really let’s get her going, I’m short on time”. She (while shaking) got her saddle and bridle, and with some help from me, got her ready. There was no real problem but that look of terror remained on the face of that girl. I asked, “is there something you’d like to tell me”. I mean you look like you’re about to collapse. She said, no, not at all. The girl walked to the far end of the fence. What is it she was expecting to happen? I gently but purposely climbed into the saddle. I did so with a firm hand on the reins . I first walked her gently. and then coaxed her into a trot. I had no problems. I trotted her in circles and then prepared to urge her into a slow cantor ( a lope or a slow gallop) and the girl moved farther away. The horse would not take that next step into a gallop. I could feel here body tense up. I was never one to take no for an answer (with horses) so I squeezed my heels into her side. She stopped abruptly, dropped her head, and kicked her hind legs higher than any bucking horse I had ever seen in a rodeo. I immediately felt myself flying over her head. The only thing I remember about the journey is my usual feeling toward self-preservation. I had accomplished (with a little help) and complete 360 degree flip, straight over the horse’s head, and landed on my feet, with the reins still in my hands. Pain was felt from the bottom of my feet, to the top of my head. I hung on to the mare and once again asked her owner was there anything you’d like to tell me about your horse. She admitted that she had been bucked off twice, trying to get her to run.
Now I’m definitely no veterinarian and I couldn’t be sure that she did not have a leg or foot issue, but I felt it essential for both the horse and myself, that I rode her again, and rode her now. I quickly got up on the horse and repeated the earlier steps of the first portion of previous ride. This time I coaxed her into a cantor while executing a tight figure eight. No room to stretch out and then drop her head and buck. I hoped. Her first reaction was to begin to drop her head, but this time I was ahead of her and I pulled it up. She can’t buck if she can’t drop her head. To make this long story short I cantered her all over that farm.
I got off the horse, handed her over to the girl, thanked them both for the nice ride, and suggested she find an experienced rider to do a little work with her, before she sells the horse.
I bought a beautiful (and sane) Quarter Horse named Poco, sometime shortly after this.
There’s not only something to be said for the old adage of “getting back up on the horse”, but even more for knowing how to “land on your feet”. It has always amazed me how many things that relate to horses, relate to every other aspect of life. Life’s lessons are learned with every step (or fall) we take.
A recent trip to Bong State Park was both rare and delightful. I was pleased but not shocked to learn that nature really can get along without me.
In addition to a long and up close view of a mated pair of Sandhill Cranes, a shorter but more spectacular look at a mated pair of Northern Harriers was gratefully accepted. The two birds were hunting together but were quickly driven away by about 2 million…well maybe 15, male Red-winged Blackbirds. It was nice to see nature in action again. I enjoyed the sound of many Chorus Frogs as the amphibian world’s earliest spring movers sang a deafening chorus.
I noticed that Wolfe Lake was about half dry. This must be a purposeful act by the park management as the roadside vernal ponds were all full.
Yes I was there early enough for my traditional sunrise pictures but on this day I never left the car. In fact I purposely only brought my 500mm lens and my trusty old Wal-Mart throw pillow for a window pod with me just so I would not be tempted to venture on to other subjects.
Where ever your favorite photography spot is, spring has sprung so get outside with those cameras. Wayne