Every Picture Has a Story

There are a few things I love about this old picture that I made in Colorado of a female Gadwall.  I like the composition, including the body position and angle of this lovely lady. I love the soft, rolling quality of the baby blue water. I love it.

What don’t I like? The duck was entirely out of focus. I would have settled for the face, bill and chest sharp, but it was all a little off. This is the digital 21st Century so I sharpened it. I could hardly tell the difference as far as sharpness goes. I sharpened it even more trying desperately to save the picture. Just when I thought I got it right, it was of course sharpened too much.

The story reads, make it sharp in the first place.

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I love simple elegant images, but sometimes you just have to give up the ship, so to speak. We all have our gadwall pictures that cannot be saved.

I have shown Earth Images viewers a lot of images on these pages of Horned Grebes from the waters around home, but only occasionally shared pictures of the somewhat similar Eared Grebes from the western U.S.. What’s the reason I’ve not shown more? Ugly waters.

It is true that from a natural history standpoint those cluttered waters are part of a story that should be told. Just the same, from the point of view of a photographer, the entire image matters and clean is better than cluttered.

Now unlike the Gadwall photo, this Grebe image contains a sharp bird. Oh but those soft blue waters and that pose are so much nicer.

The story is, sometimes if you love nature, you have to accept her with some flaws.

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Ultimately we are not painters we are photographers, and we are at the mercy of the truth of what surrounds us.

While we’re on the subject of birds, do loosely formed groups of birds in flight, or tighter more impact filled single bird flight photos please you the most?

It obviously was impossible for me to get a tight group with these pelicans as they seemed to prefer a little space. The, birds are all so similar that they “almost” look like one bird that has been cloned and spread around the picture frame, although you can see the differences under close inspection.

The story is, it is difficult to make flight shots of birds, and getting four sharp birds in one picture is worth being happy about.


This single bird gives us a more of a look at what a White Pelican appears like. It also is more personal. One bird up close.

One sharp bird is more intimate than four sharp birds,

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There is nothing more fun than standing out of doors trying to capture flying birds with your camera. It is especially challenging with manual focus.

With winter coming, the resident population of (here and a lot of places) Ring-necked Pheasants always make for nice and fairly easy images to create. They just seem to belong in the snow.

Even wild birds that have been born in captivity are wild birds. Free to roam and free to fly.Copy of Pheasant2 057

Of course, winter also means ice. Ice that forms, begins to thaw, and then refreezes makes for great photographic studies.

F/20 at ¼ sec., with my trusty Nikon 105 Micro lens, on a tripod of course, did the trick. A dark and fairly distant background helped make the subject pop, so to speak.

My story has always been to look up, look ahead, look to the side, look in back, and by all means look down.Ice 046

Water treatment. No I am not writing about how your city or county handles giving you clean water to drink. I am talking about how we as photographers, present moving water to future audiences of our work.

I am actually a traditionalist when it comes to moving water. A water traditionalist when it comes to photography, does not mean to capture what we see. It means soft, cotton candy appearing water. Moving water plus a slow shutter speed spells soft water. Some would call that a cliché. Still, sometimes you break with your own tradition.

With viscously fast water, or streams or falls that are in open country, I tend to try to stop the water in mid fall, or mid air. The alternative is to attempt to copy the “deep in the forest” style of soft blurry water. When none of that is possible, well, I go with the flow, even if that means in between types of interpretations. Not quite soft, and not quite sharp.

All of the images below are from one particular Rocky Mt. rapids. A downhill stream. The first three were taken from just about the same position. I should add that I managed to leave behind in the car, any neutral density or polarizing filters that could have been used to slow down the stream if desired.

This first image was created with a 18mm wide angle lens. With a lens so short, I only needed an aperture of f11 to gain hyper focal distance and keep everything near to far, sharp. That produced a shutter speed of 1/40th sec. Too slow to render water stopping action, and too fast to really blur the water. Now I could have stopped the lens down farther, and gotten that cotton candy effect, but I did not want that. I could not open the lens to f8 or f5.6, because the entire river would not have been covered with focus. I could have increased my 100 ISO speed in order to gain more shutter speed for crisper water, but that was usually a mistake with the noisy camera I was using.FtCollinsCanyon 032

This time I bumped up the focal length I used to 110mm and carved out a section of the stream. This allowed me to reduce the shutter speed to 1/25th sec.. That blurred the water a little but that left me in the “not so sweet spot” of somewhat blurry water. Less sharp that the first image, but not cotton candy either. Neither sharp nor soft, is in no man’s land.

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I increased the focal length to 300mm and carved out an even smaller section of stream. Despite some minor light loss for the increase of lens size, my exposure remained at f 18 at 1/25th sec. Once again the unpalatable combination where the water is not sharp, and is not soft.

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Now the three images above do not look terrible. They are however, noncommittal. They appear undecided. Do I want A, or do I want C? Shucks I’ll just settle for B.  I settled.

For this last picture, I moved in close to some rocks, decided I needed f 13 (via the depth of field preview lever) to keep the rocks sharp, and used an 82mm (zoom) focal length. The rushing water is now closer to me. In other words, it is crossing the viewing area faster than before. A shutter speed of 1/15th sec. rendered the water softer than in the previous pictures. The contrast between the crisp rocks and the moving water is more evident here because the rocks occupy so much of the image area.

Not a great or special image, but it still shows more premeditated artistic thought than the other three.

That’s a pretty long story for four such shots, but every picture has a story.

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All rivers are not the same.

When you go to famous water locations like the Mississippi River, it isn’t only overviews of the big river that tell the story. Small tributaries at the river’s side are also a part of the story. I was having trouble bringing any beauty or visual interest to one such area, so I decided to wait until sunrise the next morning.Miss 107

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The golden magic of the morning sun can transform every location into a special sort of place. In fact, these little Mississippi offshoots are delicate gems that I use to spend days exploring with a camera for both wildlife and scenic’s.

As I have proved many times on this blog, I love sand dunes. I cannot imagine any photographer who would not.

I have shown many an image from my two trips (1986 film, 2007 digital) to Great Sand Dunes, Colorado. Shockingly, I have never before shared the second image below, with all its drama.GSDunesANWR 067

Sand dune, or sand mountain?

After a night of torrential storms and floods, the next morning brought a mixture of clouds and sun. At times small splashes of sun would peak out from between the clouds. Contrast! Those were powerful moments that will live on in my memory forever. Thankfully, I have an image or two to help me remember, and let others in on the experience. That’s the magic of photography.

Storms, sand, clouds, light, quite a story.

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Make pictures that are about your subjects, and also about you.  Every picture has a story.

Happy Trails,                                                                                                                                 Wayne

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