Never Short a Player

As a wildlife photographer, I tend to gravitate to the new or rarer opportunities.  Clearly those experiences come with a greater opportunity to learn something interesting or to simply expand your portfolio.   I try to be conscious of this tendency while out in the field since it can cause tunnel vision – a narrowing/restriction of your photo targets.  The best example of this is on your first trip to Yellowstone compared to subsequent and even the later days of your first trip.  If you have been there, go back and take a look at your first day’s shots.  Guessing there are a lot of Bison in there.  Now check the second, third and any subsequent trips.  If you are like me, there is a logarithmic decline in those types of shots.  Linda is very aware of this when it comes to my birding efforts.  Takes a lot for me to take another picture of a Coot ha!  I bring this all up because today’s post is one of those cases where traditional tunnel vision often occurs – fortunately, there’s a remedy!

Mallards shot at Springfield Lake May 2015

The Mallard is abundantly common in my parts, well for that matter, all of North America.  If you are birding and come upon a decent sized body of water you are most assuredly going to see one or two hanging out near the banks paddling lazily by.  To uphold my golden rule, I’ll quickly snap a pick just to record a species spotting – little effort in making sure the camera settings are ideal.  For Coots I’m tempted to shoot from the hip and not even worry about getting it framed – those things are EVERYWHERE.  There is something that changes my nonchalant attitude to the Mallard, something that transforms a minutia of shooting time into minutes if not hours.

Mallards shot at Springfield Lake May 2015

Hit the jump to see some more pics of this cuties!

Continue reading Never Short a Player

Exhausted by a Tiny Bird

I hope everyone had a happy and safe holiday (for those of you that celebrate Thanksgiving that is – keep forgetting my readership spans the globe).  Linda and I had a very nice T-Day dinner followed up with night and day activities feeding Black Friday frenzy – now even starting as early as Thursdays.  Admittedly, for the most part, a lot of holiday shopping is done online these days.  Hard to pass up a completely hassle free shopping experience for the exact same cost point.  There was a time constraint this year as we’re holding my side’s Christmas in a few days.  We couldn’t wait for the delivery and there were a few in store sales worth braving the cold and hectic morning.  Then there’s today where we do head out to help our local small businessmen and businesswomen.  I mainly mention this because we are home now and basically exhausted which is good news for you since wind down for me generally involves blogging!  Been hitting the Halloween posts this month, so opted for this today.

American Redstart shot in Minnesota on Lake Superior in July 2017

The American Redstart is one of the more colorful birds available to us in the US.  Although they winter in South America, they can be found in the contiguous states with the exception of the far western states either during migration months or summer residence – that according to Cornell.  Other references are a bit more restrictive on their region.  One place I know they are abundant is Northern Minnesota along the Lake Superior coastline.

American Redstart shot in Minnesota on Lake Superior in July 2017

Hit the jump to see a couple more pictures of this colorful bird from our Minnesota trip

Continue reading Exhausted by a Tiny Bird

The Trail of Tears 2017 – The Prep

The decorations are all put away and all of this year’s Halloween prop tutorials have been written and published on the blog.  There is just one more thing to put a bow on this year’s Trail of Tears Haunted Trail – the walk through!  Oops, to be more accurate there are just three more things to do. The trail itself has grown so big that it takes two posts to get through it even covering just the highlights.  In addition, I like to add a behind the scenes post just to give a feel for what goes into this whole ordeal.  This is that very post.  Unlike last year (link here).  We really didn’t get a lot of pictures during the prep phase – mainly due to the fact we were incredibly busy trying to get everything ready to go.  Thankfully, my brother Ron, my friends in Haunt Paul and Brad along with another good friend Sung (not a haunter, but gracious enough to help us out in our time of need) all helped get this pulled off.  My help came the weekend before to get the props put together, batteries tested and inserted, the extension cords laid out on the trail and Ron completed all the heat sensor circuits for the new decorations.  Like last year, the basement was completely full of props by the time we got everything put together.  This included all the new Posey frames that needed to be dressed!  Linda was also insisting our mess (as she referred to it as) was out of the basement.  Didn’t exactly meet her goal, but thanks to everyone’s help, we moved 90% of the trail props to our staging area in the external garage – imagine an entire stall covered from front to back, left to right with Halloween props.  The one shot I did find from the garage on build day was late in the process and most of the items were already hauled out to the trail.

Behind the Scenes on the Haunted Trail of Tears 2017

One of the tasks that was delayed way too long was finishing up the Zombies.  Brad and I had talked a long time about what to do about properly lighting theses new props.  The lights were attached to the back, but without something for those beams to bounce off of, the glowing silhouette effect wouldn’t materialize.  One Idea was to put black sheeting behind them – attached to a PVC frame so they would free stand.  Our initial tests of this concept didn’t pan out as well as expected.   Brad came up with the idea to put silver (furnace) tape behind it and fold it out so it would extend past the cutouts and reflect the light that way.  He also taped up most of the first one until we ran out – had to drop by Home Depot to pick up a few more rolls that Ron and I put on less than two hours before the guests were scheduled to arrive (cutting it way to close).

Behind the Scenes on the Haunted Trail of Tears 2017

Hit the jump to read more about how our annual haunted trail comes to be!

Continue reading The Trail of Tears 2017 – The Prep

Happy Gobble Gobble Day

“As God as my witness, I thought Turkeys could fly.” If you are in the 50-60 year old range, you probably recognize that quote instantly and remember with admiration for one of the truly funny sitcoms of the era – WKRP in Cincinnati. A time when I could sit down, enjoy a bit of TV and laugh a little for 30 minutes – now, not so much – in fact very little is worth my valuable time these days. Sure it was filled with political and social commentary (ad boycotting, proton/electron gangs, freedom of lyrical speech come to mind), but regardless of your position, the intelligent writing, wit and delivery could still be enjoyed by different perspectives. I guess I should be grateful on this Thanksgiving Day for the extra time I have to focus on my photography and blogging. Have a wonderful holiday wherever you might be, stay safe in your travels and enjoy today’s timely feature of Turkeys that CAN fly (a bit at least ha).

Tom Turkey Shot at Rocky Mountain National Park May 2014

This particular Tom Turkey was an unexpected surprise.  Linda and I had stopped to take pictures of a Great Horned Owl in Rocky Mountain National Park back in May 2014.  You might recall, we were able to get some shots of both the mother and her Owlets (link here).  I had moved to a location up on a hill allowing me to shoot almost directly into the pine tree they were nesting in and yet still far enough away that there were no unwarranted concerns by any of the subjects – somewhat aided by the fact I was shooting from behind a large boulder on top of the hill.  So caught up in shooting the owls, I didn’t even notice this dude come walking up behind me.

Tom Turkey Shot at Rocky Mountain National Park May 2014

In honor of today, hit the jump to see a few more pictures and read a bit more about the Wild Turkey.

Continue reading Happy Gobble Gobble Day

Project: Gonna Need Therapy

If nothing else, you have to agree this blog hasn’t been home to cobwebs as of late.  I can now officially say this is the last of the Halloween Haunt 2017 tutorial posts.  It has been fun going back through the build process that has pretty much spanned and entire year starting soon after last year’s Haunted Trail was picked up and put away.  Today happens to be the day all the Halloween decorations are officially packed and stored away for this year.  If things go as planned I’ll start on a new set of props starting … wait for it … next week.  That cheer you just heard was from me, that equally loud groan came from Linda.

Before I get to the new ideas, better close out my signature piece from this year.  I first must give credit to Graves of the Groves for giving me the inspiration for this project.  I watched a video of his for a $20 Haunt project – a yearly competition where you submit your best decoration for under $20 dollars.  The link to his video for Hacked in the Box is here.  Now, I will say the $20 contest is a bit of exaggeration.  Things you already have or ability to re-purpose often do not get included in the cost.  If you do not have those same pieces laying around or do not have the skills to complete a specific element in the prop build you quickly find you are beyond the $20.  Now in this particular instance, I was so far beyond $20 bucks it isn’t funny – some of that due to design choices, some due to not having the patience/skill he has and well, quite frankly, a whole bunch of screw ups.  Let’s start with my concept.
Project Clown in Box - 2017 Haunted Trail Signature Addition

That is my drawing on my whiteboard after an idea session with my friend in haunt Brad (over lunch of course).  Pretty simple, box with a pole sticking out of it, some coil to look like a spring, a clown head on the top and a base that would allow a wiper motor to rotate the shaft in a circular manner.  Brad had the idea to put teeth on the lid.  You might also note the handle on the side – just kind of sitting there not doing a whole lot.  By the way, that wiper motor alone cost more than $20 on Monster Guts.  Now a shot of the final product out on the trail – yes, I have already enlisted the aid of a therapist.

Project Clown in Box - 2017 Haunted Trail Signature Addition

Hit the jump and I will take you through the build process.  Unless you are normal and hate clowns, in which case, you should probably cut and run about now.

Continue reading Project: Gonna Need Therapy

Project Give Myself a Hand

And then there were two.  That’s right, only two more Haunt tutorials left from our Trail of Tears Haunted Trail.

Project Hand Molding Halloween 2017

Today’s featured tutorial is how the above prop consumed my life for almost an entire year.  It was a well known joke last year that many of my Posey frames were sans hands.  Some of that was just running out of time before the big event and needing to get the Halloween props out on the trail as quick as possible.  To my credit, I did put empty gloves on a few but they admittedly looked pretty hokey.  Where I wanted to be this year was full on hands that not only looked like proper appendages, but were poseable.  As you can tell from the above picture, I was able to accomplish this of sorts.  Problem was it took me about a year to get through the process and ended up costing a lot more than I ever expected it to.  When all was done, I probably could have bought hands off the Internet and been money ahead (ummm no probably there).  The fun is in the journey and I can definitely say I learned a hell of a lot about the molding process.  It all started with this large box of Alja-Safe.  Definitely expensive (this 20lb box cost me ~$140), yet a lot of fun.

Project Hand Molding Halloween 2017

Hit the jump to see how this product comes into play and the rest of the process to make Posey hands.

Continue reading Project Give Myself a Hand

Project Witch Replicate

I am beginning to realize where all my time went this year.  I had forgotten just how many new projects went towards this year’s Haunted Trail until I put all the images together in order to make these tutorial posts.  Another thing is perfectly clear, I need to take more pictures during the build phase.  I tend to get wrapped up in the project and forget to snap pictures at key progress points.  This is one of those times.  I’ll have to talk you through some of the interesting design choices – will make it a point to do better for next year’s efforts.  Living in the now, welcome to another Halloween 2017 project.  This one was more of a challenge than a new concept.  I saw a decoration for sale in one of the high end boutique Halloween catalogs.  You know, the ones that have a few unique items if you are willing to mortgage your house.  In this year’s catalog, there was a ring of 6 witches, with light up globe heads.  The cost for that decoration – ~$190.  Of course this was deviously disguised since they showed the ring of 6, but sold them in a set of 3 so it looked half the price. Oddly enough, Oriental Trading Company came out with a similar idea in the $160 range (now on sale for ~$120) again, implying more but sold in 3s.

Witch decoration from Oriental Trading Company

It was a pretty cool decoration, but paying that much for cheaply made props just seems like a complete waste.  The other aspect of this was being fairly tame on the scare side so it could go on the early part of the Haunted Trail.  That side hasn’t been getting much love the last couple of years and wanted to give the younger guests something new.

First task, design a pattern that would limit the amount of wood I needed to buy.  Assuming a 4×8 sheet of underlayment (same wood used for the Zombie Silhouette project link here).  With those dimensions, I could get three patterns out of each side as long as I kept the bases in the 2 foot range with a foot for the head width (2 + 1 + 2 + 1 + 2 on other side).  With those constraints, came up with this pattern.

Project Witch Ring Halloween 2017

Hit the jump to see how this witch project turned out!

Continue reading Project Witch Replicate

Project Posey Plunging Neck Line: Rise of Demons

I think I might be getting some tendinitis in my elbows from all of this typing as of late.  I will be relieved once all these Halloween tutorials are out the way and I can get back to my wildlife posts.  Suspect some of you are getting a bit upset with all the build projects.  Bear with me, just a few more and we’ll be set to close it out with the actual trail itself.  Let’s not get out in front of our headlights.  Today I would like to introduce the latest Posey line – the Plunging Neck Line.  Pretty clever there eh, I’ll explain the pun in a bit (and I meant it to be two words).

Went with two versions on the trail this year.   High Priest Demon.

Project Posey Be Bulking 2017

And Druid Demon.

Project Posey Be Bulking 2017

Last year I brought you the Westworld Line (link here).  This line doesn’t have the animation element (well, at least not yet), but it did fix an ongoing issue I’ve struggled with since the early Posey lines.  What to do about the neck.  It always seem like they stuck out too far and it just didn’t look the way I wanted it to (link here).  Finally got a solution to that problem in my updated line.  Might as well take you through the whole process for my two new Demons.  It all started with two masks I fond on Amazon.  Full over the head masks and fairly decent price point.  All I needed to add was a pipe to use as a neck bone and some tubing.

Project Posey Be Bulking 2017

Hit the jump to see how these two Demons progressed on their trek to make it onto the Haunted Trail!

Continue reading Project Posey Plunging Neck Line: Rise of Demons

Project Zombie Dancing

I am beginning to think it takes the same amount of time to prep and complete these Halloween tutorial posts as it does to actually make the prop.  Feels like I have been typing for days and still have a number of props to get through from this year’s Haunted Trail of Tears event. If I can’t take the time to give thanks to those who gave me inspiration and give back to the haunt community, then I should just pack up my motors and find something else to spend all my free time on.  So, today’s featured decoration that made its debut on our Halloween trail this year is my dancing zombie.

Zombie Animatronics for Halloween 2017

Typical for first year props, there were some difficulties with this on the trail.  Due to an unforeseen design error, we had to turn this prop off about midway through the night.  I’ll explain more on that towards the end where I’ll give some recommendations on improving it for next year.  First off, I need to give a shout out to two haunters that helped inspire this project.  The first is SoulsOfTheForsaken.  He put up a tutorial on YouTube showing how they put their animated zombie together (link here).  This was the base for my idea.  Then thanks to another tutorial also put on YouTube, I was able to leverage a slightly different linkage system and still get the motion I wanted.  Again, thanks to Hawthorne Manor Haunted House for their rotating skeleton video (link here).

First task was to get the Hawthorn linkage working.  Rather than go through the huge amount of design and build hours it took to get to this point, here is the starting structure.  Note the use of the cross connectors  at the top.  I leveraged the bushings approach used in my other PVC animations to get a nice smooth circular motion on the cross bar.  The 3D printed bushings allow the smaller 3/4″ pipe to stay centered and move fluidly through the 1″ cross connectors.  Now just needed to connect a 1/2″ pipe at the center of the crossbar.  This provides a pivot point to move about while the vertical bar is rotated from the bottom in a circular direction thanks to the wiper motor at the base.  I did put a connector on the down pipe so I could easily get it on and off the wiper motor arm – you do not want a lot of play in that or it will slip off – a straight coupler would have been fine, but had the T connector laying around, so just used that.  Lastly, I put a 1″ pipe U structure above it with the intent of that keeping the cloths out the mechanism and kind of mimic shoulder structure.

Zombie Animatronics for Halloween 2017

Hit the jump to read about how this new Haunted Trail prop came to be!

Continue reading Project Zombie Dancing

Project Free Hugs

Somewhere in the dark recesses of my mind lives a Halloween idea generator that quite frankly scares the crap out of me.  Not exactly sure how that haunted niche in the brain came to be, but it’s there.  For most the year I keep it suppressed, held in check by the willpower of goodness and strength of ever embracing decency.  I say “most of the year” because there is a time when shadows stand guard as unearthly creatures join in allegiance to break the chains of civility and let evil thoughts deliver punishing waves to my sanity.  This sinister rip in the fabric of time has a name and it is called October for it is here when the mind fills with devil spawn ideas such as this.

Project Free Hugs Clown Halloween 2017

It is something about October training runs that bring up the most god awful concepts.  It may be the exhaustion brought on by the long race season or the long nights fretting about not having enough time to prepare for that year’s Haunted Trail of Tears.  I’ll be lost in my run, entranced by the sound of my shoes pounding the pavement and then it hits like a twitch right before you fall back on your chair.  An image will appear, clear, detailed and mortifying.  My reaction equally immediate, decisive and well, a bit disturbing.  “I have to reproduce that for next year’s haunted trail!!!”  And that sets forth a year’s worth of planning, material gathering and building.  You happen to be looking at the product from last year’s evil concept – and yes, it did make its debut last month on the Haunted Trail of Tears.  The following is a quick summary of how this all came to be.

Hit the jump to see how it all come together if you dare!

Continue reading Project Free Hugs