Project: Tri-Fecta-Pod

So as a precursor to the Yellowstone photo posts, the topic today actually originates from a couple of lessons learned while we were out there.  Linda and I currently shoot with three Nikon bodies, a D70, D90 and a D7000.  This allows us to each have our own bodies with our preferred as keep one additional lens on the third body for convenient switching without having to swap glass in the field.  Well, let’s refine that last statement to “reduce” the amount of times we have to swap glass because we still find ourselves playing musical lenses to take advantages of specific body features.  Now, both our big lenses are configured with collar tripod mounts and we generally keep an Arca Swiss quick release plate on those while out with our carbon fiber travel tripod.  Bodies with the wide glass need the tripod mount directly on the body.  When I purchased our Benro head for the tripod and the same Benro head for the travel tripod I also added an additional release plate giving us a total of three.  You would think this would be enough, but we soon found out in Yellowstone that this is insufficient if you are changing glass across all three bodies.  Inevitably Linda would end up trying to take a wide angle shot on a camera without a mount.  After a few choice words the camera with the mount was located, the plate removed and then added to the desired camera.  This became extremely frustrating and depending on the situation could cause you to completely lose the shot.

The second lesson learned was there are situations where both of us would like to use the tripod at the same time or there were conditions that favor one tripod over another.  Generally we only take one tripod with us, the lighter travel tripod since I’m the one who usually gets to carry it.  Our other one is a SLIK built to withstand a small hurricane.

Now the weight isn’t a big issue since we would just throw the heavy one in the car and only bring it out when we needed it.  The underlying annoyance is they use a different quick release plate system.

Here is a shot of the plates from the top – the part that attaches to the camera:

and now from the side that attaches to the tripod which is the heart of the problem:

We would be spending more time trying to mix and match the plates than capturing the shot.  On the drive back a decision was made to try and solve both of these problems.

First task was to purchase three more Arca Swiss plates.  One was a little longer than the others to provide a better hold for the Beast since the smaller plates only provided for one screw allowing it to shift on the plate if we were not careful.  Problem one SOLVED.

Hit the jump to see how problem two was resolved.

Continue reading Project: Tri-Fecta-Pod

The Whole Cost of a Half

Greetings everyone!  Linda and I recently returned from a day of shopping small.  If you are unaware, there was a movement to shop small local businesses today (11/26).  I caught wind of it due to a local commercial and thought I’d participate in it … it was either that or Occupy Wall Street (hehe besides, I prefer to put my energy into something that has a tangible point).   Anyway, we ran around today (in the rain) and gave some love to some of our favorite local stores – Bushwhacker, Running Central, My Dog’s Bakery, Abe’s, Spotted Cow, Le Peeps and even Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory.  The latter was a slight reach, but it is owned by a local owner and surprisingly they actually had a sign reminding everyone of the day.

In the midst of all this we made a quick trip to our local Goodwill store to drop off some clothes.  While tending that task, it occurred to me that this would be a quick topic to cover for my blog… not so much the trip itself, but for the reasons behind it.  First, let’s start with a quick quiz.  What do the following numbers represent?  (hint, they start in 1985 and in 2011)

  • 124
  • 155
  • 165
  • 175
  • 185
  • 155

Hit the jump to see the answers

Continue reading The Whole Cost of a Half

Book Recollection: Decisive Moments

Ummm … as he hangs his head and kicks pebbles to the side.. I’m going to go with my third Book Recollection in a row.  My year long book reading goal is in peril and the chances for actually completing that goal is bleak at best.  My plan of action at the moment is to try and get as many out of the way as possible in order to give me the best chance of success next year.  To be honest, my reading pile grew over the year which cut a little bit into the progress meter but those were all good additions and absolutely no disappointment there.  Today’s recollection is actually a short book created by Scott Linstead called Decisive Moments: Creating Iconic Imagery.  For starters, if you are interested in wildlife photography and do not know who Scott is, you need to drop whatever you are doing  (errr make that finish reading this fabulous blog) and then make haste to your internet browser or local bookstore.  I’ve been following Scott’s work for awhile now ever since encountering his work in some wildlife photo collections.  His shots have a tendency to make one’s own wildlife efforts small and amateurish.. which if you already consider yourself an amateur (like me) then it basically stands as a high water mark for your own development.  I tend to use the word “favorite” a little too often, but in this specific instance I can, without hesitation, say this is one of my FAVORITE wildlife photography books.  In fact, I tend to use a number of his creative viewpoints when composing my own shots – again.. no where close to his abilities, but without a destination we are just taking trampling grass.

So I’ll start with a few small things that bothered me about the book so I can leave you with the numerous positives.  The first annoying thing is the page numbering.  It took me forever to figure out what page I was on when referring back to the photo descriptions.  I was probably 4 pages from then end when I noticed a faint marking near the bottom of one of the pages which basically looked like this #|#.  Not all pages have this due to the size of the images, but wow, that was hard to find.  Secondly, the book is not created that solidly.  I was actually concerned while flipping through the pages that one was going to work its way out.  I blame this on the publisher that chose to bind the book with elongated threading.  This is one of those books that could be thumbed through quite frequently just to appreciate the images, but due to the binding it will probably sit closed a lot more than it should.  And lastly, it was a slight disappointment to learn that a number of the shots in the gallery book were done through baiting.  When it comes to wildlife pictures, I tend to look at it in specific facets – how well the mechanics are (is it in focus, is the depth of field appropriate, graininess), what kind of setting was it captured in (chasing the light, fighting the shadows, movement compensation) and composition (is the subject appealing, do the other elements in the picture deter or strengthen the image) and then degree of luck (being in the right place at the right time).  Scott’s work almost always nails every one of those facets but knowing the shots were slightly contrived, he is giving himself an edge.  To his credit, he openly admits it noting that a contrived setup can be even harder than waiting for something to happen.  By the end of the book I was a convert in the sense I accept the baiting as a component of his art.  He is able to access a situation, plan out an approach and execute…. and besides, this is really just throwing stones in the Lightroom glass house.

In this book Scott takes some of his iconic shots and gives the reader the story behind it.  Thumbing his noses at magicians throughout, he not only tells his motivation for the shot but describes how the magic happened whether it be expertly placed trip sensors or building a fake habitat in order to control the shot.  If I ever get to meet him, my first question will be what effect his flashes have on his subjects.  As he points out, he is setting up the triggers incognito, but there are definitely off camera flashes that drive the lighting in the shot – lighting that could be quite a surprise to an unsuspecting mother returning to her offspring.  It will be awhile before I venture into the tripwire and baiting arena, but until then I’ll feast on the multitude of great shots – especially his birds of prey shots which can make your heart skip a beat as they leap off the page at you.  I do need to thank my wife for acquiring this book for me.  Want to know another reason this is one of my FAVORITE books?   Well, then check this little feature out:

That’s right baby, my wonderful wife managed to get it signed to me by Scott himself!

Hit the jump to read my takeaways!

Continue reading Book Recollection: Decisive Moments

Book Recollection: Decade of the Wolf

I hope everyone had a great Thanksgiving!  We held the festivities at our house for the Barton side of the family and had a great time although I ate waaaay to much (but why endure the hardships of running if you can’t splurge a little eh).  I can hear it now, “When is this dude going to get those Yellowstone pictures done so we can see all the great wildlife they encountered out there”.  Well, the good news is I think I’ve post processed all of them now – at least the ones I like the best out of the thousands and thousands we took that week.  Now I need to export them out, get them to a manageable size, slap the ol’ copyright on them and start the long tedious upload process.  Soooooo… my apologies, but it is going to a little while longer.  In the meantime I wanted to bring you a book recollection about Yellowstone.  In particular, this recollection is from a book I picked up at the Old Faithful Visitor Center called the Decade of the Wolf: Returning the Wild to Yellowstone.  I had just signed up to become a member of the Yellowstone Association and was looking for something to apply my resulting gift discount on.  This book by Douglas W. Smith and Gary Ferguson caught my eye.  I really didn’t know much about the background of the reintroduction and decided this might be a good way to gain some knowledge.

Admittedly, I had a little buyer’s remorse when I took a closer look and found out the book was actually written 6 years ago.  I was hoping for something a little more recent which would provide some more updated information on the current packs.  I eventually convinced myself that the reintroduction was a point in time so the historic viewpoint would still be a worthwhile read.  Let’s just say those early doubts were quickly put aside as I became thoroughly engrossed in this book.  The author was involved with the reintroduction from the start and provided a captivating narrative from the initial wolf captures in Canada, through the acclamation process and then proceeded to immerse the reader in the surprisingly rough life of the early Yellowstone wolves.  Having just experienced wolf sightings in the park, it made me feel that much closer to them – seeing them through the camera glass was one thrill, but now understanding what they have been through and the struggles they endure as a species just makes it that more special.  I was actually surprised at the number of wolf on wolf skirmished that occur with a few of the packs doing significant damage to their perceived rivals.  The packs were rocked by disease (parvo and distemper), struggled through territory battles, attack prey at great risk to survival and live with the constant threat of man’s aggression outside the park – and yet thrive in their reintroduced surroundings.  They are truly a majestic animal that clearly represent an Apex Carnivore.  They are still no match for a grizzly, but on the range they reign supreme.

I highly recommend this read for anyone with an interest in wolves, desire some information on successful and disappointing events in the reintroduction process as well as any skeptics to why this was the right thing to do.  I am sick and tired of reading about people’s ignorance and bias against this animal and hopefully more people can get their facts straight before demonizing the reintroduction process.  It was disappointing to find out my Church is to blame for the early “evil” opinions formed about the wolf but hopefully we can all come together and cast that wrongly applied stigma aside.  It is a fairly quick read with many pictures and specific wolf accounts.  It is doubtful you will be able to remember all the wolf numbers (each wolf is given a number) especially when the packs start intermingling.  But don’t let this get in the way of your reading – just try to put yourself in the wolf’s particular situation and admire its ability to handle hardships, adapt to their surroundings, lead their families and more importantly … survive.  It shouldn’t be a surprise that I have an affinity to the wolf, but aren’t those traits also at the core of humanity?  My thanks to Doug and Gary for their fine effort.

Hit the jump to see the takeaways .. and our Yellowstone Association gift!

Continue reading Book Recollection: Decade of the Wolf

Book Recollection: Drive

PHEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEeeeeeeeeeeeeeewwwwwwwwwwwww!  That, my friends, is a huge sigh of relaxing relief.  It has been a fairly hectic 4 weeks or so for us starting with the TDAA Nationals (link here), then the annual Halloween party, followed by our vacation to the West and yesterday was my oldest Nephew’s wedding.  All these events kept us moving pretty fast getting all the required tasks done in time.  Surprisingly, I think everything turned out great, but we’ll enjoy the couple of weeks downtime until prepping for Thanksgiving.  Before I forget:

Congratulations to Jeff and Ally!  Best wishes for a wonderful life together.  Thanks for letting us share in your special day and experience the happiness evident throughout the day.

With that said it’s post time.  I did start working on the vacation pictures, but there are still gigs and gigs of images to postprocess (and one or two of them don’t look that bad – ha).  Rather than wait until that effort is completed, I’m going with a recollection from a book completed just before heading out on vacation.  This book is Drive by Daniel H. Pink.  Drive was gaining some interest among my company’s upper management and it is always advantageous to understand what might be “driving” (golf clap) their decision process.  As an added bonus, the topic of this book personally interested me.  Along the lines of other human behavior books in my reading history (links here),  Drive focused on what motivates people to accomplish something.  What are the current day ingredients that gets a worker out of bed and excited to make a difference in the work day?  Is it money?.. is it our undying devotion to the corporate mantra?.. or something in between?   According to Daniel, the times have changed and the old philosophies to a productive team have changed, making way for Motivation 3.0.

Drive was actually a quick read and clearly hit home in some areas based on the extent of my takeaways.  Do I think it is a universal explanation of what motivates all people in the corporate world.. nah, but I think it does explain how to encourage and manage people who truly enjoy what they do, are self motivated and deliverable oriented.   I think to dismiss carrot and stick motivation techniques is a dangerous game especially if the last workforce management consultant already got that concept entrenched.  However, there is nothing more fulfilling than successfully deliver on a service/product where you are given the responsibility  along with the decision rights to make that happen.  Flow is a definite reality as mentioned in the takeaways below.  The more challenging and less prescriptive the task the greater chance in entering the flow – which by my definition is simply losing track of time due to complete engagement on a problem – a pinnacle of performance in any company.

I guess at the core of the book is to demonstrate why risk/reward .. carrot and stick, if you will .. fails in today’s corporate world.  He sums this up in 7 flaws; extinguish intrinsic motivation, diminish performance, crush creativity, crowd out good behavior, encourage shortcuts/cheating/unethical behavior, becomes addictive and fosters short term thinking.  If you are a manager, you might become quite concerned after reading that.  What I can’t decide for myself is if it is really carrot and stick that is at the root of these negatives are rather how it is applied.  Other than my dogs (or that hilarious Big Bang Theory episode with Penny and chocolate), I don’t know many people who want someone dispensing a piece of candy every time they hit send on their Microsoft project updates.  However, given a well crafted SMART goal (as something to strive for, difficult to create though) the reward side of that could have a card in the game.

So give it a read and try to internalize it… if nothing else, you will gain some insights if changes start happening in your reward system. Oh, and kudos to the author for giving a “Recap” section at the end of the book that highlighted the key concepts from his perspective complete with tweet and elevator stories.  This helped sink some of my main takeaways.

Hit the jump for my takeaways:

Continue reading Book Recollection: Drive

Another Check on the Bird List – The Great Egret

I bet you were all ready to read a post about our recent vacation.  Unfortunately, I am generally behind on my vacation pictures and if I recall correctly I have not even posted any shots from our Zion trip other than the Phoadtography set (link here).  It would be cruel to make you wait until I get completely caught up, but at least allow me the liberty of getting a few of the posts out before deluging you with a gadzillion pictures from our latest trek to the West.  Although, I could just be buying some time to get through tagging and filtering all those images, but I’ll never tell… to the post!

If you recall, we took a ride up North so our poodles could compete in the TDAA Nationals (link here).  The “Linda” part of that sentence was changed to “we” due to all out bribery.  Linda knows I enjoy visiting the Chain O’ Lakes State Park mostly due to the opportunity to see Sandhill Cranes again (link here) and was quick to remind me that the park was on the way.  Couple that with a promised stop at the Anderson’s Candy store and there was no hope for resistance.  Alas, there were no Sandhill Cranes to be seen anywhere in the park (this is where you shed a tear for my heartbreak… I’ll wait).  Come on, pull yourself together, the trip turned out very fruitful.  On our way out of the park, I was keeping my eyes focused on the field where the cranes were hanging out the last time.  Disappointed at the lack of birds I started to turn back in my seat.  That is when a a white spot caught my eye way off in the trees.  I yelled out our secret code word for “Stop the car, there is some kind of animal out there that Brian must have a picture of”.  The code word is short and sweet to help cut down on the ear to brake response – no, I will not reveal the code word but for effect it isn’t one you would not use in other company.

Linda put the car in reverse and rolled back a little to the observation spot.  It was definitely white and definitely sitting in a tree, but exactly what it was remained a mystery.  Time to bring out the Beast!  The viewfinder revealed that it was a White Egret.  Well, that is what I have always called it, apparently it is now just referred to as the Great Egret.  Here is my initial shot giving an impression of how far off it was even with the help of the glass – remember, the Beast goes out 400.

The sight line went through a series of trees causing the leaf splotches.  Once again, this park had come through.  This was the first White errr Great Egret I have been able to photograph and therefore another check on my Bird List.  This distance just wasn’t going to do for this opportunity.  Time to go cross country.  You cannot tell from these shots, but there was a large field in front of his perch that appeared to be thick prairie grass browned from the coming Fall.  Two steps later it was revealed that it was not really prairie grass, but more like cattail stalks growing up in the middle of a swamp.  My wet shoe and sock was a proof enough.  Crap!  Out came the cell, a quick call back to Linda (she had driven off to find a pull off) and on came the hiking shoes.  Once again I was off to get the shot.  Without a doubt, this was great entertainment for the egret.  15 minutes later I was standing in the middle of the swamp trying to find an adequately firm spot to put the tripod.  Still not as close as I wanted to be, but navigating much further was going to require some serious rubber boots and the nerves were a little frayed at the though of water snakes closing in for the kill.

Hit the jump to see the rest of the Great Egret pictures!

Continue reading Another Check on the Bird List – The Great Egret