A Date with Eight

Now this is what I call cutting in close.  The last day of the month and I officially have one post to go.  If you recall from the last post there wasn’t much concern about hitting the monthly quota being it dog show weekend with plenty of down time to crank the required two out.  When Sunday came I figured it would be easier to just post one from home rather than drag the hotspot and computer out again.  In hindsight that was probably not the best decision of the day .. although I can DEFINITELY say that was not the WORST decision of the day.  There was also a long run on the agenda but still left plenty of time for a post … well, there was suppose to be enough time but there was an “incident” after the run that preempted any further activities that night.  The details might come out in a future post, but for now let’s just say that this kid was able to meet a number of under appreciated individuals in the emergency medical arena.

Which brings us to today scrambling to get a post out to end the month.  Based on a quick review of the upcoming blog topics it was clear that you are about to get hit with a crap load of birds from our many birding shoots we’ve been on over the past year or so.  As a relief from that barrage, figured it would be a good time to get a new set of our eight legged friends out.  The pictures have been processed for awhile now, but often creeps me out enough to opt for another topic.  As punishment for what may have been a bad decision yesterday, we bring you these:

A few of my friends are deathly afraid of spiders so a warning was probably in order.  The odd thing is they have no problem with clowns which is clearly something fundamentally wrong with their mental state.  I’ll lay down with tarantulas before letting a clown get within 50 feet of me.  This particular set of arachnids came from a day out with the Macro glass.  If you want to get out and be personal with the miniature wildlife, there is nothing better than heading out in the woods with a camera and tight focus glass.  Warning, you might not be comfortable with what you find!

When out exploring the wild the focus is on capturing unique inhabitants without impacting the subjects day to day life.  That philosophy cost me a front shot of this particular spider since the only way to do that would be to jeopardize the webbing.  It was also feeding and didn’t want it to lose a meal (granted, this might have been frowned upon by the victim).  From a coolness perspective, this spidey is near the tops.  Not only does it have a stunning color palette, but has unique features like the horns and the web funnel.  Based on some quick searches of the web, it was decided that this specimen is a Micrathena Sagittata or more commonly referred to as an Arrowshaped Micrathena.  According to Spiders.US (link here) this is a mature female.  They have eight eyes and each of the legs end with three claws.  If you didn’t already figure it out, Sagittata is Latin for Arrowed which accurately describes the shape of the body (Micrathena is for the Greek small Athena – who wore armor) .  True to where this spider was found it builds the web close to the ground (less than two feet off the ground – clearly effective based on the creature it was chomping on.  They have about a year lifespan and the site indicated they die at the first hard frost.

Hit the jump to read about some other spiders that were captured that day

Continue reading A Date with Eight

Perfect – PeRfect

Good news, it’s dog show weekend which usually means two things – a) I’ll be sitting around on my butt most of the time because that is the true essence of this hobby they call Dog Agility even though the name does imply a lot of motion.. that is generally for like 1 to 2 minutes at a time for the trainer.. and then you go back to sitting.  For the drag along Sherpa (me) .. that translates to basically just sitting – and b) more than enough time to get some posts out to put this month in the books.  Last I looked I was down only two so that should be pretty easy to tackle.  A staple blog entry for June is always the Steamboat Race and this year is no different.  Once again I toed the line for Illinois’ Toughest 15K.  One more medal to add to the growing collection of distance accomplishments

For the record, I cannot stand the logo for this race.  Hard to put my finger on exactly what the issue is but pretty sure it centers around having to wear a naked guy (except for shoes) with crappy running form.  Spent months and months eliminating heel striking and yet the race swag is a walking advertisement for it.  In the past the biggest complaint has always been the medals.  Steamboat still uses the hard chips in the shoe which is now pretty annoying seeing as most of the big races use the bib RF tags.  Pre-2014 the medal was a literally a hunk of metal you slipped the hard chip in for display purposes.  Either they knew nobody liked these chips and were just trying to trick people into keeping them to deplete their supplies or they wanted to keep reminding the participants of how awful that timing method is.  Luckily for 2014 they went to a standard medal – small, but better than in the past.  The back side actually has a remembrance to the race coordinator’s father who passed away this year.

Linda went with a more artsy pre-race picture.  Guessing so she had something nice to display on her desk if I didn’t make it! (took her like 20 minutes to get it right hehehe)

Prep time was over, it was time to make this Toughest 15K my bi… umm teach this Toughest 15K who was boss.  They changed the starting point this year – moving it a block over and to be honest taking out a small hill that was at the original starting point (does that still make this the toughest?).  As a result, Linda wasn’t exactly sure where to set up her photography perch.  It also meant I did not know where she was forcing me to scan the sidelines for her.  Not a big issue since I tend to goof around at the start anyway – it’s 9.3 miles people, no need to get all worked up at the start unless you happen to be in the rare air with the elites.  Soon I spotted her (before she saw me) and started my traditional wave.  Saw she was wedged in by other people and noticed she almost hit a lady in front of her when she swung the big glass around to snap some shots.  Only later did I learn that lady moved over and jumped in front of her as soon as the race started causing Linda to add some choice comments on Facebook afterwards.

Hit the jump to see how the race went!

Continue reading Perfect – PeRfect

Goodbye Old Friend

Howdy Owl.. I mean All. This was one of those Saturdays where I get up before the crack of dawn, down a lot of carbs and ions hoping to make it through another race. The fact I am around to type this means I passed the challenge. There will be more on that in an upcoming post, but it did leave me exhausted enough to plop myself down in front of the old computer and bang out another post. This post comes with a heavy heart (and not just due to the run) and one I’ve been repeatedly delaying for a long time now. Figured it was time to free myself from the burden of guilt.

This is my friend Hootie. It is a wonderful specimen of the Barred Owl.  This one decided to grace us by taking up residence in our local woods.

This is not the first time the Barred Owl has appeared on the pages of LifeIntrigued (link here and here). In fact, I am pretty sure the one featured in the second link is the exact same one you are looking at today.. just a little older (Not so sure about the first one – looks and mannerisms were pretty different). Truth be told, I actually thought this was a “Bard” Owl – named because of the wise old tales they used to say … wrong!

At first this one would only show up every once in awhile and usually hanging out on a farm fence pole or sitting off the road near the treeline. Just sitting there minding its own business surveying the kill zone. Birds of prey know they are cool and don’t need to go about flapping their wings and chirping like crazy to get attention. Nope, just an occasional hoot. Let me clarify that a bit based on some reading at AllAboutBirds and Wikipedia. Both those sites claim the Barred Owl’s hoot is a “Who cooks for you, who cooks for you all” (note, Wikipedia added the ‘all’ part of that line). Not sure I have ever made that association when experiencing the nightly calls (and we’ve heard them plenty of times). Will have to take note of that the next time we are out after dusk. Can’t say I have ever heard them that much during the day – normally early morning, sunset and later.

Hit the jump to see some more pictures of Hootie

Continue reading Goodbye Old Friend

Book Recollection: Nature Photography

Seems surprising I’ve actually had time to get through an item on my “to-read” list.  Been a little hectic around here as of late with the National Dog show last month in Denver and the upcoming Steamboat race, I’ve either been on the road traveling or on the road running.  Note sure where I picked up this latest Book Recollection but think it was a Christmas gift from Linda or one of my brothers.  If there is one topic that has garnered a lot of my research time it is definitely photography references.  This specific book (Nature Photography) by Chris Weston promised to provide Insider Secrets from the World’s top Digital Photography Professionals.  Maybe it is due to the amount of reading and personal investigation into this subject, but let’s assume the referenced professionals were holding their good stuff back – cuts down on the competition.  There were a number of tips described in the book, but most of those were pretty basic – know your camera, know your subject, exposure and creating depth.  If these are all new concepts to you, definitely grab this book.  Chris does a good job of simplifying the topic and writes in a clear easy to read manner.  In fact, so easy to ready I blasted through this book in about 2 days while Linda was driving.  If you have a pretty good grasp of those topics you still might get some enjoyment of the picture collection used throughout the book.  All in all pretty nice shots with the exception of two things.  First off, let’s collectively as photography enthusiasts stop trying to justify $#@%@$%@$% fully blurred pictures as intentional art.  NOBODY is going to hang a blurred image on their wall no matter how much you try to convince them you did it intentionally to give the viewer a sense of motion – BS – admit it, you f’d up (that was a clever photography pun by the way) and go and try it again.  The other issue is the paper choice in the book.  This is one of those tradeoffs between the cost of the book and the quality of the images.  I can understand making the conscious decision to go with the former, but keep in mind this has a definite impact when you are trying to compare the differences in two images – the cheaper paper will dilute the ink causing both images to look about the same regardless of how crisp or vibrant one looked over the other in the digital darkroom – take for example the antelope butts on page 65.  Say what you want, but both shots look similar printed on paper.  Oh, for the record, pg 207 mentions a zebra example but there are NO zebras in it.. a bear… but NO zebras.

I did appreciate the discussion on hyperfocal length presented in a manner I could finally understand although I did read it like 10 times before it started to sink in.  Chris confirmed that the worst thing you can do is underexpose, accurately reflects photography as the art of omission and of course chose to reference Joel Sartore (my favorite photographer) in his book.  Note, next time recommend using more of his pictures – think there was only like one or two paragraphs about Joel’s preparation for a shoot (he also gave me Joel’s website – the clever http://www.joelsartore.com/).   Not much else to say other than I liked the practice assignments compiled at the end book and the author’s favorite glass is the Nikon 200-400 f4 VR – great minds think alike.

Hit the jump to see some of the takeaways (or in this case more in the classification of reminders)

Continue reading Book Recollection: Nature Photography

Whoop Whoop Whoop

So how’s everyone doing out there today?  Will it make you feel better if I tell you this is the last post in the first International Crane Foundation series?  Although if you are a birder you might be saddened thinking this might be the last of the bird posts for awhile.  If you are in the latter, no worries.  The Denver trip produced at least 6 new checks on the bird list and thinking at this moment of jumping to the back of the queue and processing them so I can claim the full check.  I feel a little embarrassed when I tell people there are only 70 some birds on my life list – keep in mind that means photographed and blogged on so far.  Hoping to be over a hundred by the end of the year.  A few more trips like Denver’s and I’ll be in good shape.

Truth be told this post is somewhat bittersweet.  I do like Cranes (as noted by my brother Ron) so knowing this is the last of the First Series is a little sad.  On the sweet side, I purposely saved the best for last – this bird is in the top echelon of my favorite birds.

The title should have given it away, but this is indeed a Whooping Crane.  One of two Linda and I spent a healthy amount of time photographing on our first trip to the International Crane Foundation.  Unlike the previous post that talked about the issues with fences, these Whoopers live in the nicest habitat they have complete with natural enclosures and a pond that comes up right alongside the viewing area.  There is also elevated bench seating for visitors to sit back, relax in the shade and listen to the ranger educate them on this wonderful bird.

We are generally there early in the season giving us the entire area to ourselves.  No problem setting up the tripod wherever we want, right up to the waters’ edge.  A fantastic experience for any bird photographer – even ones that claim they are not bird photographers ….like my wife  who on the contrary has been upping the competition as of late.  Every time we have been there, we’ve been able to witness two of the resident Whooping Cranes.  I can’t say for sure it has been the same couple all those years, but they are pretty oblivious to our presence and mirror slaps.  Calm birds and nice settings – what more can you ask for (well, if you insist, could have used some overcast that day to help cut down on the harshness of the sun).

Hit the jump to see and read more about the Whooping Crane!

Continue reading Whoop Whoop Whoop

Round Shapes in Square Holes

It’s a new month which means the blog counter gets reset.  All is good though due to our recent trip out to Denver – came back with enough blog material to pretty much take me through the end of this year.  That, of course, is under the assumption I can plow through the current backlog.  Just need to get past a few more planned races and time should free up again.  As of now I’ve managed to tweak a back rib which really luckily only hurts when I breathe or move.   Making the best of a bad situation figured it would be a good time to sit in a chair and get started on the quota – holding my breath so if a long stream of letters shows up here get help for I’ve passed out.

Speaking of making the most out of a bad situation, that is just about what this particular post was titled.  Why?  because this is all about trying to cope with a wildlife photographer’s nemesis – the dreaded chain link fence.  The International Crane Foundation has some very nice habitats for photography, but there a number of pens in the central area that rely on standard fencing.  No need to fear…

There are plenty of opportunities to still come away with some nice shots and if nothing else, you can use it as practice when conditions are not ideal out in the field.  In a previous post it was mentioned that the Beast (my 200 to 400 glass) is capable of limiting the impact fences have on a shot as long as the subject you are shooting is a considerable distance away from the fence.  You might get some linear shading but that can be worked out in the digital dark room if really needed – most of the time people will not notice unless your composition tells them there was a fence there in the first place.  When the subject is close to the fence, there is no way the glass is going to let that go.  Instead you have to be a little more creative.  The easiest approach is to simply go for dramatic detail.

These first two shots were simply a matter of cropping out those pesky fence lines and focusing on the core component of all wildlife photography – the eye!  If you recall, this topic has come up before (link here).  I really like those shots and planning to make them into a mini wall collage at some point in honor of Peter Lik who does a similar thing with textures.  Thanks to the ICF trip there are now two more shots for the collection.

Hit the jump to see more examples of how to cope with fences in your composition!

Continue reading Round Shapes in Square Holes