No One Bites Back as Hard

No one knows what it’s like
To be hated
To be fated
To telling only lies

I saved the best for last which is quite fitting since this is the last post of the month and the last in the three part Wolf series. Continuing on with the shoot at Wildlife Prairie Park, this particular entry brings closure on the after treatment study.  If you recall, the first post in this series was the traditional color version with some amped up contrast (link here). The resulting benefit of that is the conversion to Black and White was pretty impressive (link here). In fact at the time it was a definite candidate for this season’s contests. There was still one more effect to experiment with….

I have hours, only lonely
My love is vengeance
That’s never free
No one knows what it’s like
To feel these feelings
Like I do
And I blame you

What do you think? Admittedly, I was very very pleased and ranking these series as my best yet. Granted the purists are going to have some hardship with the degree of post processing, but at this point I could care less. Whenever this particular argument comes up (purist vs processing) I always fall back to one simple question – “What is your impression of Ansel Adams’ work?”. I do not think there are many photographers out there that have a bad opinion of his work and some out there (as in Linda) consider the pinnacle of the business. Guess what folks, he did major manipulation in the darkroom – granted before the age of digital, but the concept of dodging and burning was in full use in his workflow. I am no where near the caliber of Ansel and the other greats in the photography world likely post processing their work (perhaps Mr. Lik falls into this category), but what is good enough for them is good enough for me. I tell no lies, I do use Lightroom and Photoshop… and why do I do that… because these are the results.

Hit the jump to read more about the treatment done on this set of pictures.

Continue reading No One Bites Back as Hard

Aftertreatment Sweetness

Here I sit at another dog show trying to figure out how to pass the abundance of downtime that comes with these agility events.  Working in my favor, for a change, is I still need to get some posts in to close out the month.  Knowing the show was coming up gave some security that as long as the post processing was done on the images and the upload to the Smugmug gallery went without a hitch only thing left to do was find time to spew out some words – maybe even in readable sentences!  Processing done – check, upload successful – check – some free time … crap loads.

Keeping with the theme of all the barking dogs crated around me, today’s post returns us to the ancestry of the domestic dog.  Not sure if it was mentioned in the previous Wolf post (link here), but that post was really a three parter. A trifecta if you will since that specific shot resulted in three very distinct post processing opportunities.  The previous shot was the standard color treatment, but likely unnoticed by you, there were some subtle differences in the final processing of those.  Specifically the contrast was amped a little more than usual to darken the background.  This provided better separation between the wolf and the foliage in the background.  Although it does make a slightly better image in terms of color, where it really makes an impact is when you convert it to …

Welcome to my new favorite set of photographs.  Although there were a few sample tests during the color processing I wasn’t entirely sure how it was going to turn out.  Admittedly a very biased opinion, but I really really like them.  My favorite shots are the one above and below (and one a little further down) – can’t decide between these two which I like more for sure, but leaning to the first one due to the more symmetrical ears.. at the cost of the wolf staring directly at the viewer in the one below.  Hit the comments section and give me your thoughts.. which as always are valuable input into the upcoming competition season – Linda’s already beginning to worry but the Yellowstone trip is coming up and that is a rich environment for her preferred subjects.  Some photobombing may be in order hehehehe.

Hit the link to see more of these B&W wolf shots!

Continue reading Aftertreatment Sweetness

What Big Eyes You Have

Based on the recent feedback from the Wildlife Prairie Park shoot, it appears that Badgers are not that appealing to my readers.  In addition, what I thought was simply a collection of cute and cuddly goslings conjure up images of horror that have been unsuccessfully suppressed.  Well, there is only one thing left to do and that is to bring out the big boys.  I am actually torn between deciding what was more exciting that day at the park.  The rare sighting of the Badger was definitely a highlight, but the time we spent at the Wolf exhibit is tough to beat.  Compared to all the times we have been to WPP and all the times we have experienced other captive Wolves, nothing stacks up against the awesome setting one of the Wolves chose to pass away the day.

This is one of those shots I could stare at all day.  Truth be told, I’ll get that chance since almost all of the shots in this set were sent out for prints based on the results out of the digital darkroom.  It was pretty sunny out that day and the Wolves were pretty lethargic having had their big meal for the week.  For those new to the Park, they tend to feed them on Sundays – guessing that consists of deer roadkill and other raw meat based on the bones the Wolves  keep a very protective watch over.  The Wolf above decided to help us out a bit and walked over to the tree line out of the harsh light.

Pure gold from a photographer’s perspective.  The observation platform sits above the enclosure giving us a means to shoot through the foliage.   The specific spot it picked to take a rest filtered out the harsh light but left enough ambient light to easily pull out the fur details.  Further benefiting the shoot, it remained alert providing a variety of facial expressions and head position.  After awhile, I became to question exactly who was watching who.

Be sure and hit the jump to see even more shots of the WPP Wolves

Continue reading What Big Eyes You Have

My What Sharp Teeth You Have… I Think

In honor of tonight’s MEGA MILLIONS Lottery drawing I bring you your very own jackpot if you will.  That jackpot being a bonus post for the month!  I know, I know, a cheap replacement for the millions you could have won with the real drawing, but hey, the likelihood of getting this post was a whole lot better than your odds of actually winning that thing anyway.  Truth be told, one of the reasons for the extra post is due to the quality of this particular set of pictures.  One of the professional photographers Linda and I enjoying listening to has a podcast we play on our longer road travels.  In this podcast, Rick Sammon is always fond of saying “One blurry picture is a mistake, a hundred blurry pictures is a style”.  Generally I laugh this off, but in this particular case I’m going with wholehearted truth.  In a slight variation, these images are in the STYLE of high grain hand painted mural.  Here is a perfect example of this.

What do you think, captivating brush strokes, complimentary colors and that “stand back 20 feet” appeal common in many classic paintings in art history.  Any chance you are buying that?  thought so.  Now a little background.  The first time Linda and I visited Yellowstone, we did not get the opportunity to see a single wolf while we were out there.  Part of that is due to not making it out to Lamar Valley which is where these wonderful animals tend to hang out (or rather where they are most often viewed).  This trip out we had a bold goal to leave with at least one sighting and if a miracle occurred, some photos.  On the very first morning we headed out to Lamar Valley with our friends David and Dr. Giselle.  There we were met with lots of people with spotting scopes trained on a far distance cluster of trees on the banks of the river – just below the confluence.  Thanks to a friendly lady from the UK we learned that the Druid Pack had been in a 2 day standoff with an cow elk who had sought safety in the middle of the river.  I cannot give you a good estimate of the distance that was from where we were at on the side of the road, but it was way too far for the Beast to pull in any detail at all.  Some other visitors around us were more than happy to give us a look through their more powerful scopes (quite friendly people out there by the way).  Sure enough, we could see the cow elk’s head and top of it’s back along with a couple of wolves taking random passes along the banks.  I can’t imagine how stressful this was for the participants in the standoff not having eaten in two days in a struggle of life and death.  I do not usually take sides in the natural wildlife food chains but it turns out that a group of ignorant tourists decided they have the right to.  Later in the day, these idiots decided they would walk out near the standoff and have a bite to eat while watching the event.  Well, guess what, both the elk and the wolves freaked out at this intrusion causing the end of the skirmish – the wolves abandoned the hunt and the elk made off.  Now one would say that those people saved an elk, but those of us who understand that predators have to kill to feed themselves and their cubs consider this as even more days without nourishing the pack.  While were making our final scans, a park ranger came by and informed us that this had happened and he was looking for the morons that walked out there… so we’re not the only ones upset about this (the UK lady wanted them banned from the park immediately).

So one of our goals had been met, we actually saw wolves – Yeah!   But the story does not end there.

Hit the jump to read the rest of the goodness and the explanation for the shot above !

Continue reading My What Sharp Teeth You Have… I Think

Book Recollection: The Wolf – Ghost Hunter

Well, last night ended up being one for the “Nearly Bit It” record book – which already has an eerie number of pages in it.  Remember that highly engineered bird feeder I made last year.. the one made out of PVC… ugh, here’s a refresher (link here).   Turns out there is a demon side to this contraption that didn’t occur to me until… well, LAST NIGHT when I almost lost an eye and somehow avoided a broken nose.   I’ll leave off the ghastly details, but I didn’t take into account how slippery the rain had made the crank system and didn’t bring the feeders (I was trying to fill) all the way down.  When I let go, the crank continued freely unwinding.  The interesting part of this was attached to the crank was a 1.5′ coated wire with a large metal latch hook on the end.  This mace like object was whipped directly into the bridge of my nose.  Now there are hits to the head and then there are WHITE LIGHT events.  This was of the latter and my third major one in my lifetime (martial arts, snowboarding and now -embarrassingly- a bird feeder).  Quite frankly I can’t believe it didn’t hit directly into my eye socket.  Half a centimeter and I’m celebrating Talk Like a Pirate day every day.

Speaking of eyes, how about those haunting eyes on the covers of today’s main topic?  Those are windows into a truly majestic animal.  I think this may be a record for me, three book recollections in the same month.  This recollection is about The Wolf: Ghost Hunter by Daniel Leboeuf with photography by Thomas Kitchin and Victoria Hurst.  To my surprise, this book was originally a French publication from 1995 that had an English translation published in 1996.  It is probably unfortunate that I had read Wolves (link here) earlier in the month.  As a result, the impression of this offering suffered some.  For starters, the front cover shot on this book is fantastic and the rest of Thomas and Victoria’s work was very good, but it was eclipsed by the photography of Monty Sloan in the other book.  I make that statement only in the comparative light seeing how all of them far exceed anything I have been able to produce on the wolf front.  The text seems to suffer some too and this is likely due to the translation process.  It just seemed to lack any depth and unlike Shaun’s work it really didn’t have a lot of new insights.  It did have some interesting European dates for wolf extinction and a tidbit on Jewish views on the wolf (so harsh, so very harsh).  If you are looking pick up a fairly quick read on wolves and enjoy some outstanding wildlife photography I’d have to recommend Shaun Ellis Wolves book over this one.  There were a few takeaways/confirmations from the book so feel free to hit the jump to see those.

Continue reading Book Recollection: The Wolf – Ghost Hunter

Book Recollection: Wolves

Time to get back at this blog thingy. I’ve been spending most of my open nights on Operation Aunnauld and I must say, it is coming along quite nicely. Check back around June and I will hopefully be about done with that endeavor. For now, back to task at hand and that task is getting those keys pressed. Today’s offering is a Book Recollection. For starters, I have a read a book or two on wolves… ummm okay, maybe more than one… well, actually I have read a LOT of books on wolves. I am pretty much to the point where I’m working on the reinforcement principle since there usually is not a lot of new material but I figure a nice base of wolf knowledge will eventually make it into long term memory. Besides, I enjoy looking at the perty pictures. Then along comes this book by Shaun Ellis called Wolves: Capturing the Natural Spirit of these Incredible Animals. Apologetically, I have to admit that I can’t remember where this came from but definitely a gift from someone (guessing my brother, Linda or maybe one of my nephews/nieces – in all cases thank you thank you). This book was originally published back in 2006, however this particular edition came out in 2011. Now every once in awhile I’ll read a new nugget of information that may be an interesting nuance to a common fact or a possibly even an advancement of a previous theory. Shaun on the other hand managed to provide a wealth of new knowledge. So much so, that I even began to wonder if he might be taking some liberties. His bio indicates a significant amount of time observing wild wolves and even tried to join a pack (the book really did not elaborate on how successful that was). He also partnered with the Nez Perce tribe to learn from them and gain their perspective of their revered spirit. Probably the biggest takeaway from the book is the concept of the Beta wolves in the social hierarchy. This is a first awareness of this level and quite intriguing. They are actually the largest wolves in the pack (even larger than the Alphas) and are the enforcers. They are even allowed choice cuts of the kill to keep their strength. Seems like this would pose a significant risk to the Alphas since that means they would be less intimidated. It may be the special treatment they receive that keeps them in line, but some further investigation is required. Shaun also made the connection to how you can tell the Alphas and why. I have always known that their muzzle coloring seem to be bolder than the rest of the pack but nothing really explained how that results since it would seem it is a birth trait and not something that happens because they take control of the pack – there is not a concept of per-ordained Alphas so that reasoning for the color difference doesn’t come into play. Turns out the Alphas actually have a much darker and continuous defined line on the center of their backs from their neck to the tip of their tail (Betas also have a dark like but is not continuous). Shaun makes an astute observation that this is a byproduct of the choice cuts they get from the kill… and since Betas also get some of the choice cuts they also have bolder lines. I can actually buy that and I find myself looking for that line in every wolf picture I come across these days. The discussion on Alphas instructing their pack on what to hunt through reference body parts and holding training runs to point out the dangers and set the approach was also fascinating. If you want a pretty fast but informative read, I recommend getting your hands on this book as soon as possible.

Additionally, if you like looking at wildlife pictures and especially wolves do not hesitate to pick this up – trust me, just buy it and you will not be disappointed. The photographer for this book is actually Monty Sloan who spend a lot of time photographing at Wolf Park near Battle Ground, Indiana. I doubt all of these images came from there based on the diversity of landscapes and number of different wolves photographed. My hats are off to Monty, one bang up job behind the shutter. Having had the opportunity to get my own shots out in Yellowstone (and clearly lacking in execution) quickly demonstrated just how hard it is to get decent shots of these majestic creatures. I was not familiar with Sloan’s work before reading this book, but without hesitation, he is now up there with Joel Sartore (link here), Scott Linstead (link here) and Moose Peterson in my favorite wildlife photographers category. His work is so good that I am actually tracking down one of the pictures in this book to purchase (pg 72 if you are curious).

Unfortunately, there is one downside to this particular book and probably no fault of the authors. Blame probably belongs to the publisher who chose to be a crap binding on the book. At first I was liking the softer (semi-stiff) binding since it gave it a field reference journal feel. That is until the binding rip off the back after a mere ten pages in. This is very disappointing since it is one of the few books I’d likely just grab off the coffee table to peruse during TV commercials. With the fragile state of the binding I am too scared to do that.

Hit the link to see a picture of the torn binding and view my takeaways.

Continue reading Book Recollection: Wolves

Book Recollection: Rare

I decided to pinch the Yellow stream for a quick post on a book recollection.  This is mainly due to something that arrived in the mail just a few days ago, but more on that later.  Today’s post is on a book called Rare: Portraits of America’s Endangered Species by Photographer Joel Sartore.  Like the previous book recollection post on Decisive Moments (link here), this photographer’s work is one of my favorites (to be honest, he is probably tops in my list).  As you can guess, he is a photographer for National Geographic and has a focus on bringing awareness to endangered species.  There are wildlife photographers that can capture a shot by getting all the technical details right such as lighting, focus, aperture and shutter speed.  There are also photographers who are able to illicit emotion from the viewer by capturing the mood and feel of a situation.  Without a doubt, Joel is one of the few people who is able to produce a shot with both of those qualities.  As an example, just take a look at the Red Wolf in the cover shot.  The 2 subjects reside at the Great Plains Zoo in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.  This proud species is fighting for their survival with only 330 of them left (at time of publication).  As Joel states in his book, their relationship at the top of the predator food chains makes them susceptible to lead poisoning thanks to intolerance.  To be honest, this is not a book you put down feeling good about your place on earth.  Sure, there are some bright spots like the success stories on American Alligator recovery and the banning of DDT in 192 which was responsible for devastating the populations of our proud American symbol, the Bald Eagle as well as the Peregrine Falcon.  Having just come back from Yellowstone, let’s not forget the progress of the Gray Wolf recovery.  But for all those triumphs, there is the losing side of the battle.  This includes the last Dusky Seaside Sparrow whose final resting place is in a jar at the Florida Museum of Natural History in Gainesville Florida or the fragile Mississippi Sandhill Crane population of 155 birds residing in Mississippi Sandhill Crane National Wildlife Refugee that was put at great risk by Katrina.

I am not in a position to preach to anyone and I certainly have my biases, but if you get the opportunity, just take a look at this book.  Even if the message doesn’t hit a personal chord, simply enjoy the stunning photographs.  Joel does a nice job of capturing the subject in a black or white setting (intentionally done to illicit more emotion).  The book is organized by population sizes with a description of the plight of that particular animal, insect or plant and in some cases he includes a little background on where and how the shot was taken.  If nothing else, it will push the bar up a little higher on your own photography output.  The book was also published on high quality paper giving it almost a gallery feel that you can put on your coffee table.  If you like his photographs, keep an eye out for his other works.  For starters, his image in the Simply Beautiful Photographs (see recollection here) was quite stunning.

So, back to that mail delivery mentioned at the start.  As a wolf enthusiast, I feel obligated to help in their recovery.  As a member of the National Wolf Foundation based on Ely, Minn), a member of the local Wildlife Prairie Park (who have a very nice wolf pack) and a new member of the Yellowstone National Park Association I like to think in some small way I am helping make a difference.  A few months ago I was made aware of another effort to help my four legged friends.  Will Burrard-Lucas and Rebecca Jackrel (whose photography blog Lind and I actively follow) started a project to document the struggle for survival of Africa’s wolves – you can find more about the project at their website (link here).  They were asking for financial assistance to get the project off the ground and I jumped at the chance.  Since that time, I had slowly forgotten about it as the stress of the holidays began to set in.  Low and behold we received this postcard in the mail.  A handwritten postcard from Rebecca and Will from Ethiopia.  How cool is that!  Needless to say, I am excited to be a part of this and cannot wait to see the shots upon their return.

Hit the jump to see my takeaways from Rare

Continue reading Book Recollection: Rare

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

Hollow Words and Gutless Actions

Look into the eyes of another political victim.

I’ve mentioned numerous times on this blog that we have a true treasure near our house.  That treasure is the The Wildlife Prairie Park which is located in Edwards, IL.  Linda and I have been to many parks and zoos around the country and when it comes to the smaller budget outfits WPP stands heads and shoulders above the others.  Their environment is well maintained, their animals are placed in natural habitats and when it comes to wolves in particular, there is not a more lively and accessible pack.  They have plenty of area filled with trees and prairie and tend to stay visible most of the time, always providing great opportunities to snap a few pictures for your pleasure or portfolio.

It is actually very enjoyable to sit and watch the pack interaction from an overlook built off the side of their habitat.  Give it enough time and you will be able to distinguish the alpha from the subordinates and although it is difficult at first to tell all the wolves apart, you can actually start ordering them by their rank in the pack by who bothers who, who has first dibs at the food and which ones are willing to intrude on another’s kill.  Eventually Linda will drag me away from their area to go check out the other occupants of the park, but I always try and stop by before I leave to say goodbye.  Up to now, that has been acknowledgment of a temporary parting with an expectation that I’ll be back soon to check on their progress and take some pictures for the walls.

But now things have changed thanks to our wonderful Illinois politics which has managed to not only become a disgrace compared to the rest of the states but put us on the brink of financial ruin.  I will not go into the history of illegal activity by our past governors and you have probably seen stories on the recent one that was impeached and now awaiting a jury decision on ethics violations.  Instead, I would like to highlight the recent actions of the individual who took over for the impeached governor with promises to right the titanic.  Before the impeached governor decided to make a public mockery of himself on wiretaps, he cut funding to a large number of parks which included our very own Wildlife Prairie Park as well as Jubilee Park that I do most of my training runs in.  It was downstate so what the hell did he care and besides his wife thought all the roads to the hick cities were ugly and wanted wildflowers planted to keep her eyes from having to look at the filth (note to politicians and their spouses, I never forget).  However, when our temporary governor was sworn in, he promised to restore the funding gaining the trust and appreciation for all of downstate hicks.  Finally, a governor with more in the skull than a hair mop.  As of this week , this promise has become as hollow as the rest of the governors’ statements.

Continue reading Hollow Words and Gutless Actions