|17th August 2011. Notices from Road:|
|I thought I would write about my recent trip to Australia: story about a hard day out and all that jam. Then I decided otherwise, I'm going to tell why you haven't seen updates for this blog for ages.|
My hobbies has always, for decades at least, been going on cycles, a few years of birding, then some photography and a few occasions a lot of fishing. Now fishing has got it's turn, I'm out fishing perhaps several times a week. No wonder my photography isn't going anywhere!
Novelty of a new (or 'new-old' here) hobby is easy to point out: a whole lot of new experiences and places to go, huge room for improvement for a while. Then eventually, everything will plateau, and you should work much harder to gain anything more out of it. Both in terms of personal motivation and skills. Working your arse out of it year in year out is gaining benefits in terms of skills and experience, and my hat is off for those brave ones with that kind of motivation and burning desire! But I have found myself hobbyist looking for a good day out, rather than big time at absolutely top level, and that's all about it.
In my case frequent traveling and everything circling around one hobby took it's toll, and what once was my big passion, traveling at places I've hardly could even dream of a couple of decades ago, became a tedious and sometimes even boring task to commit. Time to leave camera in back bag and go fishing instead, really. I'm going to do a report of Australian trip into Trip Reports section, but will not update this blog frequently for a while. Thank you all who read about my photography for last couple of years!
|29th April 2011. A Road to Nowhere:|
|Enough said, not about me but about my current photography. For that reason alone I have decided to keep my hands off camera for three weeks or so. I hope I can report something new with pictures attached, at the end of May that is.|
|4th April 2011. Hard Core Birding in Ecuador:|
|If I'm thinking it now, ten days or so after return: the culmination point was one misty morning at remote Cordillera del Condor in Southwest Ecuador. My freshly broken collarbone enabled me to carry binoculars and a bottle of water only, weather was not promising with poor visibility and things were looking quiet. In that particular day we observed 141 bird species, seen or heard from tarmac road to Shaime. And that was it: having a bottle of water and umbrella on right shoulder bag, same time watching birds with right hand binocular operation only.|
Photographywise I was not losing that much, as walks would have been extremely heavy with 500/4 lens and tripod. In addition light was usually miserable and birds were most of times very shy and had to be persuaded in sight by tape and a lot of patience. Capturing documentation bird pictures among crowd of birders is not my primary cup of tea, so most of bird pictures were taken from lodge feeders or during those rare moments when I was walking in forests alone.
|To sum up a few last years, I have kind of reached the limit where going around World is not so appealing any more. I have plans to do some more traveling far away, but by easing off pace and give also a try for many domestic projects I have left aside. Time will tell how well my plan will be holding on.|
|14th February 2011. Photographing Hummingbirds in Colombia:|
|I was dropped off at 'El Jardin Encantado' early Afternoon . House lady guided me to a sheltered veranda facing open yard, with sugar liquid feeders hanging everywhere, all dozens of them. No surprise air was pestered with Hummingbirds, and a few bees to complete the cacophony.|
Without too much small talk I began to work with my 300/4mm lens attached to 1.4x teleconverter. Basicly I haven't had touched camera for two months and felt a bit rusty at the beginning. Perching birds were my first easier goal to shake off my slow technique.
I thought I have captured a few pictures from each of the most common ones visiting feeders, so it was time for the next step: capture common species when they are hovering around. Easier said than done, the smallest Hummers like Woodstars are barely a size of a big insect and are quite a pain to follow with servo focusing. I knocked off teleconverter and set camera custom function for servo speed to minimum: much better now I could do at least something concerning auto focus.
I decided to not use flash and felt my better pictures were taken as Sun appeared through clouds. Certain feathers of Hummingbirds have qualities that are only showing with direct light from correct angle.
|At the end of the session I felt I have done o.k, considering my little practice with photography during last couple of months. I said Adios to lady and as soon as I got out, the rain began.|
I hurried into village and entered a nice little restaurant. Owner introduced himself and we shook hands. What a nice place that was to fill stomach and settle down after nice photography session!
After lunch I wandered around village centre square and found everything so typical for a Colombian small town weekend: people everywhere, a few drinking beer with a collection of empty bottles around as a proof of their activities. People were not giving a rat's ass of my presence. Lack of curiosity meant for me there have been a few westerners here before me. So I sparked up my own curiosity, sat down, followed street life and drank two beers while waiting for my arranged transport. A good day after all.
|5th February 2011. Gone Fishing..|
|..but I'll be back photographing birds soon. February is the beginning of the season this Year. Stay tuned.|
|9th December 2010. Birding trip to Estonia:|
|Estonia has been my favorite country to visit for more than ten years. Small wonder I've yet to blog a line of the country in the past twenty months, but here we go. The idea to participate our birding club winter trip emerged a couple of weeks ago in our summer place, and it was decided between us in few minutes. No Paris, no Rome but wind swept Estonian shores this time.|
The winter trip is a legend itself for Finnish Estonian Birding Society: The going with birding is tough most of times, but social events of evening and talk circling around in bus/ferry while traveling is usually more than compensating the prevalent grey/windy/cold/birdless Winter days.
This time we had mostly windy conditions with some Sun and a lot of snow to the boot. My photography was not going anywhere, sometimes I saw places with light streaks worth stopping, but as usual with birding trip, we were already busy swapping location to a new birding site. Life is full of compromises.
About pictures below: Vaike Vain, my least favorite place in Estonia. Especially wintertime this is a place to drive by fast. It was not disappointing me this time either, no birds:
|I saw some light, foreground was a mess with no story, anyway I couldn't skip the light of the day (seeing things from bus is not counted here):|
|14th November 2010. November Blues of This Year:|
|With freezing cold early October I was expecting a bit snow and early ice fishing this Year. Maybe even a few cool snow crystal macros would do? Wrong. Now we've had several week of cloudy and rainy Southwestern winds: No fun for my activities. Fuzzy abstract, semi-artsy concepts, captured in dull crap light are very seldom useful for anything in my books. I can smell desperation, lack of meaningful story and trying too hard even from other shooters' work occasionally on these dark days, let alone mine.|
Seeing friends, dining and sipping wine is not either going to make it for one whole Week, and one month without proper light for photography or then lack of fishing weather is slowly but surely killing my enthusiasm on anything.
Today I had a bit of luck as Sun was visible for a few Noon hours. I tried a few simple compositions in Forest, plus the obligatory forest floor macros belonging to late Autumn season (there are very little subjects to shoot anyway) like a plague.
|At the beginning of this blog I promised to write about ups and downs of photography. So here we go, November is mostly downs for me every Year, there is very little deny on that.|
|4th October 2010. Photogr.. picking mushrooms:|
|I left to nearby forest with a strong intention to photograph and only photograph mushrooms. Day before I have collected a full set for dryer and decided now to take it easy|
As I climbed up the path Boletes were looking over aged, but eventually I found two specimens good enough for freezer, why not...? From there my photographing session detoriated rapidly: no more than ten meters from Boletes I found a nice clump of Yellow Foot mushrooms, that was it.
My catching instinct had once again overtaken may instinct on photography. Not much mushroom photography this year, but at least I have been rewinding some of the missing weeks abroad now by filling the mushroom dryer couple of times before the cold spell, cold that eventually will stop the season by freezing mushrooms right on the forest floor.
But photographing the subject would require more discipline to put collecting aside. I have been sometimes feeling guilty to not put enough effort, for example to update this blog. Late Afternoon I picked an idea to do a couple of photographs, and hurried into another forest road with some possibilities for scene and mushroom shooting. With slice of luck light showed the best part for Sunday and I could recapture my old favorite road scene and that devil delicous Yellow Foot mushroom that destroyed my morning photography. This time I could resist my catching insist and left the yellow-legged beauties as shown below:
|29th September 2010. King of Saxony Bird-of-Paradise:|
|We were quietly moving on forest path covered with slippery wet wooden sticks here and there. Not a sight of bird for most of walking, rain was expected to hit us soon, yet my glasses were already fogged with moisture.|
Early morning session ended with 600+ euros damages for my camera gear, thank's by falling on equally slippery wooden 'ladders' crossing a ditch on another Bird-of-paradise lek. Carrying big gun tele with tripod felt now silly: my chances to actually get pictures were close to zero, even seeing them birds was an order tall enough.
We stopped to play tape for Forbes's Forest Rail, I left camera intentionally aside because the sight would be less than second on crap light if we would be lucky. Yep, I saw a shadow of a Rail for maybe less than half second. Papua New Guinea is tough, we already have learned the lesson.
Rain started, I felt pissed under my umbrella. Crap sights of birds, rain, uphill- downhill, sounds here and there, the morning falling with heavy camera gear on, still fresh in memory. Shit birding if there ever would be such a thing. Then local guide told us to start climbing, my motivation was not on right tracks at all.
At end of the steeper climb we heard rattling song of King of Saxony and that paced our steps a bit faster rate. Then guide pointed to right: the bird is there and we should position ourselves along path soon!
Rain ceased, sky opened a bit and King of Saxony was on full swing singing and moving the crazy flag plumes. Some consolation for struggles of the day, to say at least. Light wasn't still good and bird was somehow distant, but all the photographers were busy shooting already. Then situation peaks as Brown Sicklebill decides to move lower on to the same tree for calling. Two birds, among the weirdest looking species currently on earth, are on the same view, calling one by one. A memory of lifetime for everyone of us, and still five minutes ago I was almost giving it up. Now that is some birding.
|The pictures are distant and not too shattering with compositions, but still very much priceless as personal memories of those more adventurous days of birding far away from home ground.|
|17th August 2010. Bread and Butter Bird Photography:|
|Ten minutes drive from my home I have a haven for a little relaxation, shooting practice or maybe escape from house duties. The place is called Viikki, Helsinki and is known as a primary site for photographing and observing birds in this city. Naturally I have been visiting there hundreds of times, and know the place very well indeed.|
The area is a mix of agricultural, forest and wetland biotopes. Only a few kilometers away from major city centre I would call it quite unique place even internationally. On the negative side of coin it has been 'photographed through' during years by hundreds of keen birders, so most of species and environments in pictures are quite familiar for us Finnish photographers.
This evening I did my usual thing and went there with my binoculars and birding camera. Just after a few minutes walk I found quite tame young Red-backed Shrike with some co-operation for traditional bird-on-a-stick-with-plastic-green-background mug shot. Harsh fully straight frontlight brings up the feather detail, but same time drastically flattens the subject dimensions. I love that old cliche and taking it occasionally into extremes is not bothering me a bit;)
|The Sun is setting quite fast in August, on the last straw on light for background I captured a photo of this tame European Goldfinch working on flowers. Usually Goldfinch is relatively shy bird, at least the adult ones are. But the key for many close up birds is just to find the tame individuals. By my experience of birding same areas over and over again, the difference between individual birds can be quite huge inside same specie. And that kind of extra knowledge of local conditions is usually important to plan your photography a little beforehand.|
|11th August 2010. Too hot, too dry and other excuses:|
|I had taken a little holiday to collect and photograph mushrooms. A slight problem with the plan was that there were none of them anywhere! Heat wave has been going on for at least four weeks and the rain showers have been carefully avoiding our area.|
My usual 'hit and miss' bird photography tactic is to drive tarmac roads around countryside, so off I went at very early morning on my first vacation day.
As expected, the 'miss' part of the tactic was heavily prevalent excluding a small lucky bit I'm going to tell now. I saw two small birds flushing away front of my car, another one of birds having oddly strong brick red coloring. The surprise was big as I identified first Crossbills and then specified them as Parrot Crossbills, as they are not usually hanging around on ground by my experience.
I immediately step off car with bird camera and yes the colorful couple returned back to road to pick small stones again! I must admit I haven't yet have a picture of Crossbill of any kind so far, so I felt okay to at least document Parrot CB (Common is a bit easier to see) as my first species picture of this odd family. Yes the pictures were so so, but even this little incident raised my trip hit and miss -ratio above average with this kind of photography.
|In afternoon the extraordinary did happen: a little rain shower! As soon as rain has settled I packed my macro gear and went out for looking water droplets and was thinking to do flower photography. No such luck, there were not much happening light and subject wise. On top of that I have forgot my 'droplet lens' 100mm macro at home. Then I noticed a little green bug on Fireweed. As a last effort I put 25mm extender on my 50/2.5 macro and tried to capture it with more environmental composition, with as much magnification as my set up let me do:|
|19th July 2010. New Tricks for Old Hand:|
|It all started nine days ago: My brother asked me to bring him to photograph/video butterflies close to our summer place. I know some of the more common species but so far haven't been too interested to photograph them.|
Anyhow, brother sorted out that this particular place was especially good for Papilionoidea with several species, like Swallowtails, Poplar Admirals, Black-veined Whites and several species of Fritillaries including Silver-washed. To sum it up this was one the top places he has seen so far in Finland!
Recently I had bought EF 70-200/4L IS for landscapes and details, or something like that.. I'm more fond of wide angle and especially 50mm lenses, but last weekend I get bored with constantly high temperatures, too bright skies and had not too much ideas what to shoot (uncommon situation for me). As a lazy action I set up 70-200 on 25mm extension tube and 1DMKIV then went to the site.
Most probably I have no clue how to shoot butterflies, but as usually I tried hard. For what is worth it seemed that the best effect was achieved by shooting from very low position and preferably with sun a little back of butterfly to shine through wings. For me that equals my style for flower photography. In the pictures below the left one is what I'm looking for while the right one is sometimes maybe better for species documentation:
|As a nice bonus I photographed this little Lizard as I noticed him monitoring me while I was messing up with my angled viewfinder:|
|It may be that I will never become a butterfly photographer, but at least I was having some fun on otherwise quite unproductive photography day. Also I do have plans to buy a butterfly book and learn the species better. Perhaps there is still room for another little sidekick project?|
|5th July 2010. Going for it, Kathmandu Valley, Nepal:|
|Having only few days or mornings away from office and available for birding shaped up my plan for action: as soon as I was shown green light I confirmed my booking for quide, driver and 4WD to do the hilltops near Kathmandu. Namely and especially in that order: Pulchowki and Shivapuri. Time is money sometimes, and this time my money wasn't on public taxi and my own instincts to do birding on fully strange locations!|
Early Saturday morning I met Shankar Tiwari my guide and we proceeded towards Pulchowki Hill South East of City. Shankar showed up to be 'the man' to find difficult babblers and other little passerines that typically for Oriental forests are sometimes hard to spot. My lifer list climbed steadily together with us as we drove up to top. From there we decided to walk back and let the driver rest a while at upper military camp. Action was only getting better, and as a greedy collector of vital new lifer birds, I was busy to continuously update my check list.
Sounds too good, ain't it? Yes, my photograhy wasn't going anywhere: too little focal length (300/4 with 1.4x), quite shy and __very__ fast Babblers, Warblers, Thrushes whatever were not doing my task any easier. Further, the distance to birds were for many species useless for pictures, they were at times hard to identify even with binoculars. In other words, classical broadleaf forest birding where one or two keeper bird shot for morning is often best you can realistically excpect. Here are two of mine:
|Next morning we did Shivapuri hill North of Kathmandu. Very different forest to Pulchowki: much drier and with less dense undergrowth. Fortunately the birding was almost as excellent and we nailed another ten new lifer birds for me! But with photography the going was getting even tougher, not a one keeper for whole morning. Shankar said I should come back in March, then additional birds wintering or passing over on their way up to breeding grounds at Himalaya would fill the forests.|
|9th June 2010. Varanger, Norway:|
|This was fourth time up in Varanger, and I'm going to be back there many times in future if you are asking now. I read my earlier blog notes and found very, (overly?) positive tones in almost every article written this year. Sorry, Northern Norway is not the place to change that sweet tone. I loved every minute there, weather was better than usually, birding fabulous and my not so seriously birding travel partner was having a good time as well.|
To find out negative sides, getting there is taking some time and Norway is even more expensive country than Finland. I support the idea of 'more bird crowds than people' so much anyway the trip is worth of trouble. In many other countries I'm visiting it is the other way around: abudance of people everywhere, maybe excluding isolated small patch of park forests here and there. Natural habitats in our Globe are altered or totally spoiled to a big degree with very few exceptions. And that exception is the very reason I like Estonia, Lithuania and Norway so much.
|Birding along Varanger coast road is really quite simple: step up from car and start to look birds! If you want to see even more, then you should book a boat trip to Hornoya island near Vardö. Birding wise Auk species are the dominant drawing factor in Hornoya. We spent there only a couple of hours, but you can even hire a room from lighthouse nowadays, if you want to have your memory cards seriously filled up.|
Seeing again a huge flock of stunning looking Knots on their way up North was another highlight of this trip. I saw same kind of flock last time in year 2003, and this time maybe felt a bit shake in my hands as I photographed the flock :)
Getting up and down to Varanger is a good opportunity to visit Finnish Lapland, Kuusamo and other areas of interest while resting between long driving sessions. Among other birds I specie-photographed Bluethroat, Grouse and breeding moult male Brambling during those stays. In Kuusamo we saw two Red-flanked Bluetail males and heard two more singing, that beautiful bird would reserve a blog article of it's own. Maybe next time.
|25th May 2010. Lithuania Birding:|
|The idea for this trip popped out when I heard Green Woodpecker calling in Vilnius park early April. I got to get back to Lithuania with my binoculars and bird camera! Also the elusive and threatened Aquatic Warbler was back in mind when we chose to visit Nemunas Delta in Western Lithuania.|
Birding wise the trip paid off tremendously apart from failing to see Aquatic, water level on our site was too high for them to start nesting. We observed 150 bird species including Firecrest from Curonian Spit, a lifer and 500th specie in Western Palearctic for me. Gorgeous White-winged Terns in their hundreds were another highlight, having mega invasion into Baltics this year.
|Weather stayed fine all the time during our stay and that means early morning or late evening photography to maximize the results. Photography from car was easy with many quiet tarmac roads crossing the open areas, but also walking produced with abudance of birds around.|
I have been around a few places but if I had to choose my favorite destination on Earth, I would perhaps choose Estonia, Lithuania and Norway in summer. There still so much more unspoilt nature (compared to Southern Finland), generally few people around and more than enough photography projects only waiting to get started. I'm going to visit rainforests, mountains and deserts for a while. And if I'll survive it, you will see me back in our neighbour countries more than any other destination. That is a promise.
|20th April 2010. April Birding Thoughts:|
|It's the same thing every Year: April is starting my photography season in proper. Sunny and frosty mornings, more or less noisy bird leks here and there. Life and colors are back in nature after long Winter hiatus. And things are improving after each Southern wind period with loads of new birds coming into our Northern shores.|
Most of my subjects have been photographed over and over again during years. Yet it feels joyful to hear and see those migrant species again at their familiar locations. I take a few pictures now and then but do not worry if one morning session is not producing any pictures. I'm after results but if there is one occasion when the pictures are not the most important thing, it is an early morning photography session in April.
|5th April 2010. Cityhopping in Vilnius, Lithuania:|
|Eastern plans for Summer house maintenance were swept away with half meter snow on the ground. Blan B: Buy cheap tickets and fly 600 kilometers South for quick 48 hours. This is not our usual way of traveling. But I have to admit: flying into destination in one hour and being at hotel 25 minutes after touchdown is a blast after a few recent long haul trips.|
I had to take camera with me, first time in a new country what the hell... And I can recognize the picture hunting, desperate looking tourist souls with camera rucksacks wandering in cityscape in no time. But if I'm looking it honestly in detail, there's not much sense in half hearted snap shooting compared to just having fun and exploring the city without camera. Capturing 'creative' street details, out of focus background behind beer glass, junk version of that church post card, irritating locals with ad hoc people street photography etc.
The talented local photog population with time available, hand picked peak light and location knowledge will kick your arse in picture content quality every and each occasion.
Anyway I got my photographic juices flowing on the last day of trip when light improved from miserable to tolerable. I had pearly white of that big cathedral bell tower captured somehow and then found a nice mellow light, uncrowded s-curve of street in the old town. Then I took a handful of other pictures (like that beer glass with oof bg) I'm not going to show here:)
|29th March 2010. Starting Up a New Season:|
|I have had my hands almost totally off camera since January when I returned from Ethiopia.
It was a good time to do other activities and load my physical and mental batteries for very active season between April and October.
All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy, and that is what
I do NOT want from my photography hobby. I rather skipped some 'more challenging' light conditions and the fact that we had quiet
birding Winter overall, (apart from a few starving Owls).|
I upgraded my birding camera from 1DMKIII to 1DMKIV last Week, and so far it has been fine. I had a couple of quick morning bird sessions and found both autofocus and image quality are meeting my expectations. I'm hoping to have soon more bird pictures with some comments to share in this blog.
|23rd January 2010. A Beautiful Evening at Lake Langano, Ethiopia:|
|I went walking my own way to get some extra bird pictures. Shoreline was filled with Waders and there were also
some Doves drinking there. As I went away from shore I found two Hoopoes which probably were going to overnight on a small grass patch
between savanna and sandy bank. Earlier in some other trips I have had a few misfortunes with not so good pictures of
Hoopoes. This time I think I got it thereabouts, light and composition were giving some extra for picture, at least
compared to my earlier long list of species shots that are invevitable in bird filled Eastern Africa.|
|Sun went down all too fast, so it was time to take the obligatory sunset + acacia shot, one of the many for this trip. Reluctantly I packed up my tripod and cameras to join other group. Tranquil sunsets like this are the magical moments of any trip and will remain in one's memory for unforseen future.|
|27th December 2009. A Little Snowy Day Outing:|
|I woke up to prepare myself for ice fishing session. Against weather forecast it was still snowing like crazy, I
immediately decided to skip fishing as I presumed tough weather will not improve things below ice. What to do then? Go out to take pictures
of course, light was crap but maybe I could freeze a few dropping snow flake 'streaks' at 1/60s?|
Road conditions were abysmal to say at least as I drove into my chosen spot. Fortunately the passing ship traffic has kept the water uncovered to offer steel grey compliment color against the prevailing snow everywhere.
|I was already going back to car when I noticed a bit of new tone in Western sky: the Sun was creeping into sight after a few
days snow storming. Yess, color and light are the essence of photography for me. I took advantage of back and side light to pump out red and blue tones that
were so absent only a few minutes ago.|
Afterall I think my move away from fishing was right one: this was better day for photography than I anticipated. I'm regularly packing up too early on sunset sessions, another lesson to be learnt for future.
|16th December 2009. What a Decade:|
|In year 2000 I couldn't have a faintest dream of what there was to come with next ten years. I was not photographing much, but was birding quite a bit in my neighbourhoods. Then came the Estonia trips. I found a few fellows who were traveling around. My first real hardcore birding trip was 2001 when I was asked to join with a group to bird Southern and Northern Israel. That was about three weeks before trip phone rang at hotel room in Toronto 5AM, I said 'Yes I will join the trip' after thinking about it one second.|
|Km20, Eilat Israel. 2001:|
|It was somewhere in Saaremaa Estonia when Jände first time talked about Morocco. We had a bird club winter trip and discussed the possibilities while traveling by bus. I thought immediately: 'of course I will go!' This was the first time I had digital camera with me, Nikon Coolpix 995. I took some bird pictures by digiscoping too, but wasn't too succesfull with the process. When we came back, yes a few weeks after the trip, I had one of the biggest discovery in my life. I found photography for real.|
|One superb birding morning at Atlas Mountains South of Marrakech, Morocco. 2002|
|I went on with digiscoping a little over one year but it felt like two or three. I photographed awful lot and made very
little compromises with efforts. In 2003 I sold my digiscoping gear and moved into Canon Dslr -system and has been using Canon since that.
Now I have lost the count of trips I have made, but fortunately I have 10,000's of memories in form of pictures, stored in several hard disks which
are geographically distributed ;=)|
If the next decade starting January 1st 2010 would be half as good as this one has been, I would be very happy indeed and could cease a few projects during end of the next decade. Projects are coming and going, and in my opinion that is the way it should be in one and the only life we have got.
|Erjos Forest Pigeon Project. Tenerife Canary Islands, Spain. 2003.|
|15th November 2009. November Blues:|
|November light Finnish style: Please note this is noon light!|
|I returned from Colombia one week ago. Now recovering from flu, I went out for photography and met Finnish nature at it's harshest:
all dead, colorless, grim and dark. November would be the best month for 'dark side' or 'shapes before color' -photographer here, but definitely not for me. I'm
just the opposite and want to feel the color and light in positive moods. This all has perhaps nothing to do with personal happiness but approach for photography
I wandered to local lake in almost total silence: I could hear a distant Black Woodpecker and maybe a Goldcrest while walking through slightly snow covered forest. Lake had just got ice cover and I studied for something, anything: shapes, directions, disorder, parallel lines... colors were somewhere near dark, with some blue tones smattered in with a little snowy frost. My compositions were as fragile as fresh ice cover of the lake. But I had decided to bring something home for computer light table, so here we go.
|5th November 2009. Birding on Colombian Hills:|
|Juan picked me from Calle 79 at 5AM. Then we picked driver Pedro at Calle 80
and continued from Bogota westwards into foggy plains. The plan was to bird a few proven sites at altitudes between 1000 and 1600 meters. We arrived to Tabacal Lagoon park where I found that Pedro is quite well informed 'driver' with roof prism binoculars and English language skills. Obviously Juan has slipped in his friend as a second guide! To make sure I had enough guides we met female park guide who followed us through day.|
Our dynamic quartet entered into park proper with high hopes. I was using 300/4 + 1.4 extender hand held and had decided to use my new Canon Speedlite 430EX II flash as a fill light to get live for details in forest shadows. The photography was tough enough with group and relatively short focal length lens for birding. A bunch of crappy documentation shots were best I could get while we were walking along lagoon path. I used manual mode with flash set 2+ stops below.
At the end of walk we noticed White-vented Plumeteer defending its territory. I noticed my chance and grabbed a few shots with servo focusing of hovering hummer. I thought I just got it right, but then looked at camera lcd: holy shit, blinking highlights all over! I had not controlled manual fast enough and back light pushed it too close to be comfortable. Good thing with raw files is that you can almost get details back from death occasionally:
|In Colombia there is no shortage of guides:|
|I decided to shape up my action, switched to aperture priority and
set flash three stops below to avoid too 'flashed' look of subject. We had lunch and then continued downward along Medellin highway. The trend of poor doc shots continued and there seemed to be no end of 'bad spell'.|
As we were driving back I noticed a gorgeous Blue-necked Tanager feeding close just right side of road. I asked stop and shot from my heart contents from backside of car. Then a look into lcd: No, oh no, not, what the f..!? All pictures were blurred like hell. I still wasn't smelling the coffee: I suspected the car engine was the problem with movement. Car was stopped and I was shooting Tanager, it was in feeding frenzy and without worries. Another look into lcd: still blurry, wait a moment, f29 on aperture mode, camera has rolled on car floor... I switched into f8 on in no time but Tanager has got tired of posing. Two mega f..k ups, not a single half decent picture for a day in the most bird specie rich country on Earth. I was devastated.
I thought this was perhaps my worst bird photography day abroad ever. Then Juan suggests that we could still have one site to check. I collected my broken ego, set up camera carefully and off we went alongside path near smelly river. Our female guide spotted something at riverside scrubs. A quick look of gorgeous Antshrike moving quite close! For non-birder half of readers, Antbirds are just small and dull ordinary birds, but for Neotropic bird aficionados like me they are the birds of South America to be looked for. Elusive, skulking, hard to see, sometimes rare and hard to identify. Can you imagine a better family of birds? ;)
I stalked around bushes, spotted a potential shooting position from left of bird and noticed it perching on bamboo stick maybe for 2-3 seconds. That was enough this time, another valuable species picture of a real gem has been taken. It is easy to go with the flow when everything is going right. To hang on with bad spells is totally another level of challenge.
|Next day we were working a bit higher altitude. I got close up picture of one of my favorite Neotropic bird: Cinnamon flycatcher, and a few landscape documentations to boot. Colombian birding is full of possibilites, with around ten days out so far I have only scraped the surface.|
|12th October 2009. Great Day for Photography (but not for me).|
|By forecasts it should have been cloudy and rainy day. I woke up as Sun streak showed
through door keyhole onto my night table. Oh no, not again! Today I was probably the last nature
photograher in Southern Finland to get his arse out of home at very civilized time 10:30AM. Frost everywhere,
beautiful bright skies, and all the Autumn leaves in full color, one of the peak days of whole year perhaps.|
I desperately tried to look good compositions at my proven location nearby. I thought I just had it o.k, but later at computer it was obvious that I have done quite miserably at my first outing at noon. Static, not interesting compositions all over. This picture of frosted flowers was heavily cropped, and things as they were, all I could muster out:
|As I returned to house and unloaded car I happened to notice nice back light scattered in abudance of just fallen leaves and tangles next to yard. I happen to like this picture, in many ways it sums up the conditions of the day in my point of view:|
|Late afternoon, after some house maintenance duties I was off again. This time I had intentions to capture one of my favorite landscapes at remote forest lake. The colors of day with given light made a fair justice to my chosen spot, what do you think?|
|4th October 2009. Deep Thinking at Fireplace.|
I was sipping my usual Friday red wine, sat comfortably on rocking chair and fireplace was giving it's sense of warmth
The first crack of Fall has really hit down, and we were excpecting freezing conditions for the next night and morning. In
nature that means better Fall colors and hopefully clear skies for a cold and beautiful Saturday.|
I decided to concentrate 100% for color details and mushrooms, shoot all the day and begin with 50mm lens, but possibly, depending on conditions deviate to wide angle zoom or 100mm. Keeping it simple and taking advantage of the conditions, right? Some more wine and no whine, life can be so good sometimes.
I woke up quarter to eight, a quick glance out of window: holy shit, there is classical magical sunrise going on with clouds, mist and everything over the lake! And I'm half an hour late for the peak action, what a jerk... Anyway I hurried into lakeside, only to find that I have no clue on composition + peak light is over and done. I set up some kind of composition with boats on front and so on, bracket a few different exposures for the final picture and that's it. As you can see I could develop my passion and therefore commitment to landscape photography quite a bit! Yes I could set alarm clock and I also could check the composition beforehand.
|I recovered from the chilly morning with a cup of coffee and decided to give a try for my regular mushroom spot. Weather is perfect and there are many options to use backlight for plants like this Fern:|
|Mushroom season is coming to an end, most examples I found were frozen all over but still beautiful and photographywise fine.|
|I shot tens of pictures of different species, and there were several new ones for me. For a species picture freak like me this day was, despite morning, one more excellent day out in the fields. In the evening I sat once again on rocking chair, held a glass of Southern Comfort and stared into fireplace. My final conclusion: There is really something special in these cold Fall days!|
|24th September 2009. New York City Snapshots:|
My original idea for trip was to concentrate photography only with morning birding at Central Park. Birding was o.k
with a little help from local guys, but bird photography certainly wasn't. I had 300/4 with me for traveling logistic which,
against my predictions, was too short for anything useful. The 'easier' local birds were not showing well at good
light and migrating Warblers were way much too fast and distant for my gear, time and skills.|
Easing off the gear for comfort, very limited time and zero local experience are a good bunch of reasons to *not* perform with bird photography. Or in matter of fact with any photography. I always have to struggle with all of those limitations during my traveling but never ever has pushed it so hard, and consequently been hit so badly resultwise as I had now in NYC.
Plan B or how to save my face to put something.. well anything together: Against my usual approach I decided to do some
photography at iconic, really worn out and also well photographed subjects like Central Park, Times Square etc.
To make matters worse my time at those locations photographywise was next to nothing reasong being I wasn't traveling alone
among other things. 5 minutes a pop is really not challenging the framed masterpieces you can shop at street
corners in Manhattan. So why to bother?|
During this trip I wanted to limit my time with camera and decided to try what I can get with only very limited set of subjects: so no street photography or spontaneous detail picking, no no no. I had my birding 1DMKIII attached with 17-40/4 zoom which I carried around in a tiny back bag sometimes.
Tripod for perfect composition rather than shutter time would be necessary for this kind of shooting. Foreground people, cars etc. are constantly moving random factor which should be considered in for a perfect near - far relationship in the picture. Add to that light and you can see why local photogs have 10,000 times better pictures of iconic subjects than ordinary tourist as me has. Knowing your subject, spending your time and commiting to the task, those elements are the deciding factors equally in both sides of pond.
For each of these sites pictured below I spent 5 to 15 minutes and for composition I spent maybe 0 to 2 minutes. They are my personal memories and reminds me of the locations in context 'before and after' as I have seen them hundreds of times in pictures before even visiting the city.
|9th September 2009. Rainy Day Shooting:|
Major rain has been passing over Southern Finland since early morning. I waited impatiently for some break for showers, no luck.
Don't get me wrong, I love shooting in rain, it's rather my photography gear and logistic that will take the worst hit: my
camera for still life shooting is not exactly water proof and same goes for lenses. Swapping lenses in rain is a pain, not to
talk about water filled viewfinder, the list could go on.|
Despite of all the the soakening threats I eventually decided to let myself go. As I drove towards my site there were not too many breaks between showers. But luckily as I stepped out from car at site I felt rain easing off a bit. To follow the war plan I went into forest with my back pack and tripod. My chosen spot had Hericium coralloides, a cool looking white coral-like fungi. As I studied the celebrated subject my heart sank: the whole beaty was covered with hard to be removed litter and the low position was very challenging for any better pictures.
I took some formal shots but felt there weren't really anything to mention about. Anyway water has saturated all the colors and I should only persist with mushrooms nearby. Well, in fact very close: the very same trunk supported a couple of nice ones with some background to work with my 50mm:
|I have landed a few pictures right off and immediately felt much braver. Gear seemed to be o.k, anyway
I covered the camera set up with 'Speedo' swimmer's towel which both absorbs water and protects camera against raindrops.
Well to get big headed too soon is usually like asking for troubles, isn't it? I got my share with two blown up red subjects
and one nice subject totally destroyed by temporary condensation on rear end of lens. I'm talking now about coming home big
headed with a handful of presumably good keepers and get your ego immediately deflated at digital light table!
At this stage I shouldn't f..k up saturated reds any more, done that too many hundreds of times already.|
Fortunately I ended my rainy day with a real stunner, found a a few bunches of perfect Armillarias attached to birch. I'm talking about sense of drama again: a photographer should understand in nanoseconds the momentum, the most important subject of day or month. I was at it and took no risks: bracketed it all the way, close-up pictures, more environmental shots far away and what else. I took enough pictures to be sure to not get disappointed later at computer. Or at least that was my intention..
|10th August 2009. Fungi (Mushroom) Project:|
|In 2005 I got involved in mushroom picking again after a few years. As with so many of my
current and previous hobbies I got nuts straight away and tried to obtain every possible information of my new passion. Which
mushrooms are edible, delicous or even poisonous? Where can I find the really cool looking ones for photography? What are
the best techniques to photograph them? Gathering all the answers would take a few lifetimes. I had found a tall challenge but
I hope I also understood my limitations.|
IMO the basic setup will consist a tripod with ball head or similar, dslr and a macro between 50 and 100mm focal lengths. Mushroom handbook, angled viewfinder, white cardboard reflector and a simple foldable 'seat mat' as a knee support are also bordering necessary items. For extra small fungi you would also like to have an extension tube or two. A long macro plate and L-bracket attached into dslr tripod mount are helping quite a bit, but I would not recommend them for beginners because of their steep price.
My normal shooting is going pretty much like flower shooting (described below), excluding the fact mushrooms are not moving a lot, so you can cope with ISO100 or 200 and very long shutter time if needed. Oh and let's not forget the depth of field: 'artsy' looking partially sharp fungi is looking only amateurish, you can go as down as f16 and still have heck a lot of subject out of focus. I go nowadays down to f22 (with full frame dslr) to get most of subject sharp. You should not be afraid of diffraction as mushrooms are looking really detailed even if a good quality picture is shown at full resolution. Try it yourself if you don't believe me.
About reflectors: Underside of fungi needs compensation to open up shadows more often than not. Under cap of mushroom there is really dark compared to upper parts, so to make things more equal we have to do something for it. By experience a simple reflector is looking more balanced and natural than a flash for a variety of conditions I have met during years. I prefer the more subtle white cardboard reflectors rather than mirrors or other silvery materials. I think straight bouncing light of silver is too easily making the picture that 'overdone' look. My piece of cardboard is quite dirty and weared out, but I even like the effect more as it is now ;) Otoh if I occasionally need stronger reflection, my seat mat couples as a medium white/silver reflector.
My personal aim is to get natural looking subject without typical hand book picture where there is a collection of tumbled down mushrooms mixed in with standing ones, shot above to show them from a perspective of a standing person. No I want to step down and photograph them on ground level and ideally show some surroundings as well. But if I'm thinking it now: lately I have gone overboard with my quite new 100mm macro, I should have done more 50mm and wide. Tele is easy and trouble free but very quickly you have much too static, tight compositions with very little connection to environment. Bigger groups of fungi, interesting backgrounds: that is the way to go!
In the following are a few picture examples of small groups of tiny mushrooms from recent outings. The ideal is to get more than a one mushroom into composition, fungi has lively colors after rainfall and the cloudy overcast light is extracting more detail and color than with 'normal' conditions:
|Of course there are a lot of strange looking stuff popping out from ground. These oddities are the muse, beard and butter of a fungi photographer and make good variation for subject theme:|
|To build up story and connection with surroundings, sometimes a picture taken with wide angle lens is what doctor ordered:|
|26th June 2009. Photographing Wild Flowers and Other Plants:|
|I have been widening my photography genre outside of birds quite a lot during last years.
If you have been photographing birds as much as I have, you eventually want extend your comfort zone and
try something new, don't you?|
Good start for me for flower photography was a serious tabletop shooting project couple of years ago. I have to really concentrate on light and composition with still life. Very different problem domain compared to traditional bird shooting. Yes I have more time, but any slack on process will be punish me in quite different way than with active wildlife photography.
I have been investing heavily on gear with several extension tubes, L-bracket, tripod head rail etc. Working mostly on the ground level and close to miniscule subject, any little gadget can help more than one could possibly imagine. To keep your camera stable at difficult low position and same time examining all the details from viewfinder requires more patience and effort than lugging around 10kg bird gear, in my opinion. Your concentration has to be 100% on what you see at angled viewfinder attached to camera or lcd -screen.
Another gadget I always carry with me is inexpensive and foldable 'seat-mat' with reflective silver and white sides. It serves dual purposes for comfortable low level work knee support and as a spare reflector for flowers. Another thing I may need is a simple piece of white cardboard to reflect extra light onto subject.
Sometimes I take a few documentative pictures by handhelding camera. It is very easy to cheat yourself by determining it is not necessary to use tripod as you need 1/125s or faster shutter to combat movement. Nonsense. The truth is that I first and foremost need tripod to determine the composition of flower, not to freeze camera movement. Careless framing and composing is only a road to more time at post processing, with 'non-manipulated' tag for competitions and publications going down the drain along with it.
Another factor between good keeper pictures and throwaways is the clean composition: flowerbed is usually full of distracting elements. First you have to see a good composition, then fine tune it even further by eliminating all the stuff you don't want to include into picture. That means cutting some weed stems, removing debris and maybe forcing a twig away from sight before releasing the shutter.
I have found that 50mm focal length is quite ideal for my basic flower work: close enough to not include too much from foreground and far enough to eliminate too much from background. 100mm macro is brilliant for ultimate close-ups with a few out of focus elements nicely blurred on background. Sometimes I also use wide angle to include more environment into picture:
|One good thing about flower photography is that it is not too requiring for location. At
least in Finland we have abudance of suitable habitats during Spring and Summer. The really tough part is light,
while wind comes as a close second. I prefer cloudy overcast light to present the minute colors and
details of plants, but sometimes also low Sun is working well, especially for back light. The real kicker for
mood and colors are water droplets or mist on plants, no matter if I'm shooting on cloudy or low Sun conditions.
That is not too different from productive mushroom photography overall.|
Wind is a pain most of times nowadays, fortunately with current cameras you can reduce shutter time with ridiculous high ISOs compared to film times. I'm using ISO800 constantly, and cannot see too much color or detail degration with my 5DMKII.
Camera operations are 100% manual: auto focus, shutter and everything. It's much more easier to determine proper exposure from test shot rgb -histogram than trying to wrestle with exposure compensations. Same applies for focusing: currently there is nothing to beat the combination of 10x live view and angled viewfinder focusing for different situations. Unless you want to carry your laptop to forest and shoot tethered;)
|9th June 2009. Boquer Valley Morning, Mallorca, Spain:|
|I entered through gate at sunrise. Not a soul anywhere. Weather was mild overcast and birds
were vocal everywhere. I had been waiting this moment for a few years. In fact since 2001 when I visited first time
this beautiful valley. I could hear Sardinian Warblers everywhere but surprisingly few birds were visible.|
I entered through well-known stones into valley proper. That sight with morning scents and all prospects for birding were making the peaceful half of my soul very happy indeed. But there were more than calmness that I came to search from here! Yes bird pictures, the more the better was my tall request. I set up usual EF 500/4L IS with 1.4TC, 1DMKIII and Gitzo carbon fiber tripod with Sidekick gimbal head. As I put up my rig I noticed a middle-sized bird flying past me. I immediately thought Blue Rock Thrush and saw it landing 20 meters away!
A dream start if there ever will be one, I approached a little and then launched a few short bursts to get the normal perching picture and quite unusual for BRT: bird just keep sitting. I took this as an omen and went towards sea end of path with full confidence of good spell coming around. I can smell a bad spell (nothing but crap pictures) kilometer away too, been there done that and suffered it only too many times..
Not too surprisingly I kept in high moods with good keeper shots of many of the Mediterranean species that have been avoiding my lens so far: Cirl Bunting, Stonechat and Sardinian Warbler were joining into my slideshow at regular intervals. Light was improving for species style of pictures, birds were confident and I could experiment a bit with different settings and perspectives. Dry bushes were warming up with sun and birds took their peak action for a day.
|But there is always the darker side of the story, isn't it? In my case I really wanted to see
(couldn't dream of photographing it really) Balearic Warbler. Sardinians were there in their dozens but not a sight of
the endemic and elusive Balearic diamond. I was very close to pack up, tourist groups were slowly
appearing onto path. Light was getting harsher and I didn't want to extend a good morning into a long and boring
midday session. |
Then I heard a vague Sylvia -call in close by bushes. The sense of drama required now to set up my camera for fast and bold action: ISO1600, servo focus, full aperture at f5.6 were changed on in no time. No prisoners, no bullshit. I entered uphill left to observe bushes. Soon I spotted the little blue-gray feather ball low on bushes, moving all the time. I shot from tripod as fast as I could, a lot of misses since bird was visible for very short bursts. I followed him mainly by listening calls and tried to estimate the next point of appearance with them.
Eventually I got a burst of five shots of which you can see the best one below. The non-birder half of the audience may wonder what is all the fuss with these 'little brown jobs'? I have been watching birds for decades and been photographing them quite seriously since 2002. You may prefer snorkling, shopping or whatever in your holiday but for me this morning was a special one to be remembered for lifetime.
|13th May 2009. Birding in Baltic Castle Parks:|
|We spent a few days in Estonia and Latvia with organized bus trip. The plan was clever enough so we stayed most nights at little castle accommodations. I was fine with good breakfasts, clean rooms and facilities but the most important benefit is around castles. Aging parks are quite a heaven for a lot of birdlife and literally a stone throw from bed they are ideal for some early morning bird photography. I have good memories from Taagepera and Sangaste castles in Southern Estonia, but would like to tell here about two other castles in Latvia:|
At Birini Castle, Latvia (picture below left) I woke up with no knowledge of surroundings since we have arrived there after sunset. I was positively surprised to find a lot of forest around, conifer, mixed and old broadleaf park trees of course.
I wandered to lake shore to start with a few landscape pictures for a new day. Soon after returning I found a couple of agitated Grey-headed Woodpeckers. Usually they are very shy so I could be quite sure of nest location. I quickly went away but with my usual trick soon came back with ready set up camera. Yes, female was peeking from nesting hole while male was a little behind. I shot a few quick ones of female and as soon went away again to minimize the disturbance at nest. This was my first shootout of (at least for me) difficult Grey-headed and I couldn't be happier.
Later we enjoyed the forests by walking through with binoculars only. We saw and heard many interesting bird species, and other members of group had seen Three-toed Woodpecker among other good birds. For those who are interested in flowers, landscape photography or whatever wildlife, these castle accommodations are joyful places to stay.
|At Dikli Castle, Latvia (picture above right) I woke up five o'clock, you will not get surprised here, to photograph some birds. I started from lakeside which has the best first light in area. First I tried Goldeneyes: no luck. Then I basically waited for something to happen. Following light, even before birds, is my usual way to go.|
After fifteen minutes I could hear Middle-spotted Woodpeckers and soon they were around. Nice light helped me to get some close-up species pictures as well as more environmental ones. Middle-spotted is a good one where ever you go and I was elated to say at least. I thought that was it and headed back towards castle. But wait a second, what is the excitement with those Starlings and Thrushes up in the trees?
I glanced up and immediately saw a figure of Tawny Owl. Holy moly, in owl terms good light and pose too. Not everyday stuff up here in North anyway. I shot a few pictures with different head positions and packed up. Other folks were just beginning birding and I told them about Owl.
Baltic Castle Birding in future again? For me? Definitely yes!
|28th April 2009. Black Grouse Lek Photography in Economy Class:|
|In Finland organized photography from hide is an emerging business branch. You can choose between various guided packages for Bear, Eagle, Crane, Grouse, Wolf or what else photography.|
Shooting from a commercial hide hasn't never been a big thing for me: I rather go my way, in my time and work for my own project. I hate the very idea where someone is telling me when to go out, pointing me out a hole for a camera and another slot to peek through what is happening around. Some guy used his brain cells and vision, sweated his back for that project, then he photographed it to death and now he is juicing out the rest of it moneywise. All kudos for him/her, but after all a few hundred other guys have been shooting the same scene before me. I have to say: thank you but no thank you!
I do not like to have a good copy of someone else idea and work but rather work out my own vision of whatever comes through, no matter if I have to settle for a poorer one occasionally. In wildlife photography here that is cutting out some projects straight off: Bear and Wolf photography comes first to mind. Hide photography enables getting closer to a subject in general: arguably the basic goal for a lot of wildlife photography.
During last couple of years I have been doing some early morning birding by driving around small countryside roads and using car as a hide. Most animals tolerate car much better than approaching them, well for example by creeping. To maximize reach from car I have been using my longest possible focal length: EF 500/4L IS with 1.4X teleconverter (now on 1DMKIII). I shoot from my car window and ideally turn off engine and rest camera lens on window frame.
Black Grouse lek at my surroundings is at it's peak in clear early April mornings. Dominating males have a huge flock of females but the less attractive guys have leks of their own (no females at all, of course) in some distant tiny field. Life in wild is not about fair game and equal opportunities. First lek I found had this super stud with 10 to 12 females around. He was at full steam and made no notice of me, I could shoot as much I wanted from my car:
|..while this poor fellow had a show of his own, miles away from the better lek grounds. Yet he was as upset as the more lucky guys and while doing his own thing ignored me totally. We all wish him: Better luck next year!|
|22nd April 2009. Waterfowl Photography in Spring:|
|For me April is the beginning of the season proper in Finland.
April bird photography along shores was the initial kick that got me into bird photography many years back. Nature is now coming back into life after long silent period, sunny days are dominating again, life is good.|
Clear sky before sunrise is the telltale to go for it: I had 1DMKIII attached to EF 500/4L IS with 1.4x teleconverter ready in my back bag. I drove to my chosen place and attached camera on sturdy carbon fiber tripod with gimbal head. As I approach the place I usually set angle finder to camera. This enables lower perspective closer to subjects: Waterfowl, Shorebirds, Gulls, Terns or like.
Today I chose a little pond with lots of birds and usually they are here at closer distances too. My starting point has Sun behind and a little side, as normally with my shoreline bird photography. I love the palette of blue and pink in surroundings, same as how frontlight enhances out feather details of birds. I sat down and set up tripod as low as I can comfortably manage it with angled viewfinder.
Long focal length (700mm) arranges perspective easier than any shorter one, as it is not necessary to lower camera so much for equal framing _and_ equal vertical perspective on water level. Many beginners are shooting from very high position and same time using shorter focal lengths. Result is that in picture perspective is looking down to subject from a viewpoint of a walker. Getting more into level of birds is the key for my approach.
Initially my chosen spot was void of birds but I knew they are moving a lot this time of year. And not surprisingly, several mating and each other chasing groups of waterfowl were passing my location during one hour of shooting. Actual photography is very much about changing settings: manual, aperture priority, back to manual, focusing point to right, middle, forth and back, tilt camera back to horizontal, one shot to servo auto focus, back, check highlights for that new specie, follow subject.... a good birding morning is taking your everyday problems out of your mind in no time.
One Coot has been feeding further away, but now a couple of more joined in and they began to chase each other. One of them was sliding closer and at same time doing some strange looking maneuver. The bill of Coot clips highlights from digital picture very easily, but fortunately close by trees feathered light enough for my shutter time. I moved autofocus point lower and grabbed a short serie of Coot. Only later at computer I saw parallel horizontal ripples, which in my humble opinion makes this picture for me. Together with delicate tones of Coot feathers, bill and eye color of course.
Many photographers let us know they are creating masterpieces in nature by seeing things better than masses. Maybe true but when photographing wildlife one has for most part settle for what nature has to offer. To be prepared and staying peak light at location is the cornerstone of the process, no matter if you are doing artsy fartsy stuff or strictly documenting species.
It would be very easy for me or anyone else to explain that he/she anticipated everything in some particular bird picture. The trick is, at least in my case, opportunism: I determined beforehand the camera setup, peak light for my style and the position where some cool things may happen. And when cool things are happening with wild animals, thinking time is over in seconds anyway.
|13th April 2009. Ultra Wide Landscapes:|
|I was late and missed the sunrise again. Anyway there wasn't too much drama with clouds, Sun was staring from bright blue sky. I examined the location, set up camera and decided to shoot shoreline boulders in sidelight. Some test shots with moderate focal lengths were looking too ordinary, how is that possible? Am I too ordinary? What to do?|
Earlier I used only prime lenses, 28mm and 35mm were the usual workhorses for landscaping. But not any more! I chose delicate looking boulder in front, stepped closer and twisted zoom ring strongly to right, yes 17mm. Still no luck, let's try then tilting lens downwards.. a little better. Foreground subject is now more in conjunction with massively bigger background stones. In the second picture you can see the location photographed with more 'normal' 30mm focal length:
|Alarm went on at six o'clock. I looked into lake: perfect mist, a look up to sky: no clouds around. Could this be my morning at last? I hurried to lakeside, just as I set up tripod I could see the first streaks of Sun behind mist. Perfect.|
I began to work with wide angle zoom, having some reedbeds as a foreground subject. Light is nice, but compositions are bland, not really much anything to write home about. I moved towards little headland on left, now I can shoot against Sun and use lakeshore as a leading line in my picture. I tried several framings, but once again I felt 17mm and tilting down were doing the trick for me. Am I going overboard with this ultra wide thing? Is this only about following the rule 'if your composition is boring, get closer and use wider lens'? My photography is usually going through phases, maybe I'm only into something different again. I have to get things out of my system, test them and sometimes discharge them.
|6th April 2009. Something out of Nothing:|
| As we drove to Summer cottage it wasn't looking very promising for photography overall. Gray sky, thick clouds and constant drizzle of icy water kept moods down. I looked around and noticed flurry Willow flower buds here and there and couldn't ignore the abundance of water droplets in trees. Maybe there would be something to search further with them?|
Our aging summerplace is asking a lot of maintenance, chopping wood etc. But as you can guess I have developed a string of excuses to slip out for a few hours photography. I knew my explanations were a bit thin on the ground: now I couldn't really explain light is too good to be missed. So I had to be honest and tell: I have to ventilate my lungs, let the ghosts out and go photographing in rain!
I chose 300/4 tele attached with 25mm extension tube to 5DMKII. That would isolate the subject from background and hopefully give some closeup drama too. There wasn't much sense to swap lenses in rain, so I had to just keep on and do my best. I also carried a small swimmer's towel to protect and dry my camera in rain.
Keeping stability with longer lens and macro shutter times proved to be a problem. Wind movement in branches is another reason to reduce shutter time. I put ISO up, bracketed with several shots to get out one without movement, and still came with a lot of blurry pictures. But conditions given I think it is only the name of the game. Taking 25 pictures of flower bud is sometimes needed to secure one keeper.
I returned back with soaked clothes and several dozens of branch pictures. I recovered from shootout by brushing wood conditioner on sauna walls.
|2nd April 2009. Landscape Photography Revisited:|
|During my birding activities I have been thinking I'm also doing occasional landscape photography as a side project. Bollocks. Documenting or snap shooting would be the right term. As with everything else, commitment or then lack of it shows through in your secondary activities. It is possible to mess around, get a lucky shot now and then, but generally speaking: garbage in, garbage out.|
I decided to act up, show some stamina and went out for a couple of sessions. I wanted a typical cliche with something almost interesting at foreground, maybe some leading lines and ideally partially clouded sun providing back light and fill background without too much negative space. If you think I should go straight into 'my inner self' and skip the cliche part of it, then think again:
At least for me there is enough challenge and personal satisfaction to meet the 'cliche level' of craft, for the first couple of months anyway.. To meet and beat even the mediocre work of some old hands will take a few weeks of hard labor, and probably much more. As with my earlier project I try to be humble, learn the basics and work hard to better my previous pictures.
What I've learned, chasing light is the key of landscape photography, to a degree in more subtle ways than with other outdoor shooting. The light I'm looking for is the typical dodgy one for morning birding sessions: sun is partially covered with clouds while light constantly changes as sun rises and clouds are moving forward. The real kickass light is obvious, but then I should also have some subject raw material to take advantage of phenomenal sky drama. And that is one of the tough parts for a landscape beginner like me. I'm not prepared enough, I'm usually coming too late into location to get a proper grip of the composition. Ideally I should study the location day before, or at least be there at dawn.
Today I thought to have an early birding session, but had backup plan for landscapes. As I drove to the location the rising Sun behind thin clouds told me I should hurry up to get something out of landscape and forget birds. I came to location and was desperately looking for a foreground subject. I found some ice blocks and quickly set my tripod, EF 17-40/4L wide angle lens and attached angle viewfinder on camera. As with my current state is, it was a bit hit an miss affair: busily trying a few combinations and then moving on for next subject. I do not exactly know where my killer shot is: a sure sign of inexperience I have earlier experienced with other disciplines of nature photography.
Camera technique is very similar to macro shooting: always on tripod, ISO100, manual settings and small apertures between f11 and f18. Not rocket science, but sorting out the location and composition in right time is the rough and tough part. So far I have been bracketing the shots with two frames to slap 'virtual gradient filter' on upper part of the picture by underexposing second picture about one stop from foreground.
I do not like.., or rather hate overblown 16 stop HDR -style where picture is looking like it was taken at planet O2z. Here we have one Sun, not many. And for sure we don't have assistants strong enough to carry kilometer high reflectors around. I select upper portion of underexposed picture with lasso tool, feather the selection with 250 and paste layer into picture that is exposed for foreground, with something like 50% opacity. But many times it is enough to only set the curves, white balance etc. without any layers at all. With the second picture below I saved hard disk space and skipped the layer thing altogether.
|31st March 2009. Photographing Natural Ice:|
|I cannot remember when I first got the idea for this project.
But many great impressions can be achieved with plain old tricks like back light and different water states. That's what I've learned with flower and mushroom photography, so here we go.|
First and foremost I was looking direct light to get spice to otherwise (for me) grayish and pretty lifeless ice substance. I know guys who can constantly get marvellous pictures of ice formations with soft overcast light, unfortunately I'm not one of them: I need some extra mojo for lighting, simple as that.
Light sorted out, next problem is where to find the location with enough subjects for serious ice shooting? The place wants to be near, has abundance of cool looking icicles and also light directions have to be favorable. I determined the location based on my earlier outdoor activities. First I thought the place is wrong, but soon hit the gold vein enough for multiple shooting sessions. Local guys: sorry I cannot share the location info. I do not want to queue into my favorite spot at peak light! Do find your own venue.
About timing: most photogenic icicles tend to form on cliffs and places like that. The practical problem with light is that I want back/side back light shining through ice. Sun behind cliff or right onto cliff will not do, sideways parallel to cliff is the optimal choice of mine. The time window for optimal light _without moving icicle from it's position_ is thus not too long. Exclude cloudy days, early mornings, noon etc. -> there isn't too much time left to capture the keeper picture.
|I tackled with 5DMKII and EF 50/2.5 Macro on tripod. More intense studies of beautiful ice structures could ask 100m macro, but this time I had to cope with bare 50mm and extension tubes. About settings: for me this kind of shooting is f16-f18 territory, diffraction purists may disagree but I prefer to have my chosen area in focus rather than worry some missing detail which I cannot sort out even if I'm examining the huge picture at 100% on computer screen.|
Despite 'still' quality of shooting, I had to to be alert with subtle changes in light and gymnast with tripod settings all the time on sometimes not very comfortable terrain. When light is at its best it would be a good idea to have your composition ready, but on the other hand you will see a few new compositions at peak light: life is full of compromises.
My other observation was that ice is getting more photogenic as weeks go by: The most weird shapes and reflections are peaking at time when icicles have started to melt properly and are developing a new form out of themselves. As I'm writing this we have had another late Spring cold spell, hmmm maybe I.... .
|25th March 2009. Blog kickoff:|
|I have been keeping 'blog' for some years now. Content has been mostly pictures with a few trip reports mixed in. Now I'm going to write through my photography year in more disciplined manner: ups and downs without political correctness; no preaching or teaching (Ed: cannot be avoided) but how I photographed it my way, sometimes with a few subjective opinions sprinkled in.|
If you wish you can email me to jussi vakkala at luukku com, I may even answer you if you are not too abusive. Unfortunately I cannot keep reply forum. Anyway it would be too heavily moderated to be useful for anything ;)