Naturally Speaking

I cannot remember the last time that nature was the primary focus of this blog. I have continued to write about photography, and a long list of other subjects, but very little about the natural world. There is no place I would rather be, than out in nature with my friends the animals, the plants, the trees, the sky, and on and on. Hopefully we will never forget, that nature means natural.

For me photography was the perfect way to share with the world, what I saw with my eyes, and felt with my heart. I have written much in recent years about the art of photography, and what I think it means to both the photographer and those who view images. It becomes all to easy to forget, that photography is a way to show or put on display subjects that we love, especially nature. There is nothing wrong with using photos, to illustrate nature. Even our abstract images often have a literal story to tell.

Bank Swallows like most Swallows are communal nesters. Nesting sites for a colony, can be a pile of dirt right next to an abandoned car parking lot, a situation I was fortunate enjoy for a few years, or the cliff side of a sand bank that faced out into Lake Michigan like one where the pictures below were made. As long as the tide was low and the waves were not high, you had about 4 feet of beach to use as a point with which to make pictures. Like many group nesters, if you are quiet and respectful, they will soon accept you.

I have noticed with Barn Swallows and Bank Swallows, practice communal feeding of their young. In other words any flying adult will catch food and feed it to any begging bird.fox3 081



While Tree Swallows nest independently in trees and Bluebird boxes, they do so in close proximity to other Tree Swallows. It seems as though the parents take care of only their own young, but once they have fledged, the group mentality once again takes over.DSC_1272

Birds of all sizes exhibit interesting behavior and certainly the rather large American White Pelican has stories to share with us. .

I was fortunate to spend a couple of days with both White and Brown Pelicans several years ago on the Texas Gulf, and was given an education through my observations. I soon realized I knew almost nothing about pelicans.

My first and most obvious finding was that the American White Pelican makes the Brown Pelican look diminutive. My second observation was while they both eat fish, their methods of catching those fish are very different. The Brown Pelican is a solitary fisherman who drops into a nose (bill) first dive in an effort to grab one fish it spotted while in the air. White Pelicans are group fisherman who initially begin a “fish roundup” as they heard schools of fish into an ever tightening circle. Once the fish are in the preferred position, they swim in a line “scooping” the fish up in their bills. It is every bird for themselves at this point and a bird could catch one fish at a time, or several this way. I was able to observe and photograph these techniques in Texas, but had even better opportunities to do the same with the fishing in a line procedure, with Whites in Wisconsin.DSC_7272bbb


Art and journalism are always in close proximity to each other and there are times when the best we can, or even should do, is accept what the natural world provides for us, and be happy with either inspiration or education whichever comes first.

I think everyone can agree that a great reason for photographing common wildlife in any given area is well…..there are a lot of them. They are easy to find. They are used to People. That’s actually three reasons and I am sure there are more.

Common animals have stories to tell too, and very often, because the opportunity to spend time with them is in abundance, they will grace you with a little art.

Both Red-winged Blackbirds, and Canada Geese are extremely common in the area in southeastern Wisconsin where I live. That makes understanding them more important not less. Both types of birds present the photographer with some great artistic moments and that means, that art and photojournalism are weaved together.BongMay2014 008

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Petrified Forest N. P. in Arizona is usually ignored by landscape photographers. Just across the highway is The Painted Desert which gets a “little more” visitation but it seems this entire area is avoided by most photographers. I realize that just because we photograph nature, that doesn’t actually mean we have to be interested in her. I think those that only see nature as a vehicle to getting great pictures, miss “at least” half the purpose to call her our subject. She gives more than she gets. We should try to do the same.

The images below are old, old film shots, and while I didn’t make a lot of pictures there, I was glad I stopped.

Petrified wood is in fact a fossil just like old bones are. It is, fossilized wood. Petrified wood is actually not rare and is a process where the organic remains of the wood, are slowly replaced by stone.  It can be formed in much less time than one would think. That is especially true when it is under pressure such as when volcanic activity is present.MoreSlides 039

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Making images that teach and edify viewers about the natural world, is a good thing. If and when a photographer manages to cross the boundary into art at the same time, that is even better.

Most of you know my personal philosophy when it comes to my own wildlife images. My subjects are the perpetrators (in the positive sense) of their own art, whether they know it or not. I’m here to capture that photographically, and share it. There is no reason why wildlife images that contain information, cannot also display the natural art supplied by the subject.

To me all wading birds are artists, and certainly the Sandhill Crane is one of the best. In the images below only the male Sandhill feels like dancing but I am glad he did.

I would never want to see the end of wildlife photography that is meant to inform, especially when a little art accidentally happens along the way.20Horicon09c 052

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Photography has been used from its very beginnings to share a special place with others. What it looks like, what it feels like. That has never been more true than today when we all walk around with cameras on our cell phones. I especially enjoy sharing the less known locations like Amnicon Falls State Park in Wisconsin. This natural area is a series of rapids and small waterfalls not far from Lake Superior. I have taught workshops at Amnicon and there is no single shot that will sum up in a definitive statement “what is Amnicon Falls”? Images like the one below give people a good idea of the combination of both the big picture story, and the intimacy of this place.DSC_0241b

Photography can be a lot of things, but there can be no doubt, that imparting information to future viewers on what a subject looks like, and what it does, is one of its most important jobs. There’s a time to create pictures for yourself and display your creative spirit, and a time to use your camera to educate. We can all do both, and every so often we manage to do that in the same picture.


I share a lot of pictures on this blog that were created by other photographers. I am proud to present them to the readers of Earth Images, as there is a lot of talent and art for us to absorb.

I’ve also written a lot about the technical advances in camera equipment in the past few years. Those advances will always continue, and keeping up with them, and using them to your advantage is a part of being a photographer. There is one thing I have seen a lot of recently that has amazed me even more than the resolution, ISO and cropping power with the latest cameras. I have seen an amazing amount of beautiful skies in current landscape images. Originally I thought they were due to HDR imaging, which if not overused, can actually bring the contrast levels of sunrise/sunset imagery together in a fairly natural way. Slowly I was beginning to realize, that every photographer just can’t be out with those perfect skies every time. I mean, I made thousands of image with nice skies, but those skies were not available every time I went out. I am even seeing more spectacular blue sky days. On a two-week photography trip I might have that happen three times.

I now I realize (I guess I am getting slow), that many or most of these image makers are plugging in skies, and other things from software programs after they get home. I am forever grateful that the ability to do that did not exist during most of my photography, in both the film and digital eras. Anybody can do whatever they want with their own pictures, but these people are missing the whole reason for being out there and doing this. It’s about actually experiencing those special moments, and then allowing future viewers of your images to “honestly” experience the same thing. To see what you saw, and to feel what you felt. It’s also about developing the vision to create inspiring images when the light isn’t perfect. You are not letting us see what you really see and how you feel. You are sharing the visions of some software developer in Silicon Valley. You will never see your personal goals reach fruition, or be able to truly call yourself an artist (my opinion), when all you do is share someone else’s thoughts on what a great sky or foreground (yes that too) might look like. That’s the same as if I took credit for the images that I share on these pages that were created by others. When I put my name on a picture I want it to be a compilation of my technical prowess, my artistic visions, and my effort, whether the image is appreciated or not.

In the future I will attempt to sort through this issue as I share landscape/cityscape images from others. You may be seeing more and more wildlife pictures on these pages.

When you think about it, the subject above does fit with the intended theme of today’s post. When I look at nature photographs, in addition to seeing the picture through the eyes of the photographer, I want to experience the subject in and of itself. When I feel I am being robbed of the truth about the vision you are sharing, I lose interest in the image altogether, and eventually, the photographer.

Have an inspired day,                                                                                                                         Wayne


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