After attending the Natural Exposures Yellowstone in Winter Photo Tour described in Part 1, I picked up a rental car in Bozeman and continued my winter adventure based in Gardiner, MT. Gardiner is only a few miles from the north entrance to the park and Mammoth Hot Springs. Highway 212 passes through the northern section of the park to Cooke City just outside the northeast park boundary. This road is maintained year round and is the only means to reach Cooke City during the winter.
Yellowstone National Park in Winter — Part 1
I’ve always wanted to visit Yellowstone in winter to photograph the scenery and wildlife. After considerable internet searching, this year I signed on for a February trip with National Geographic contributing photographer Daniel J. Cox (Natural Exposures). The trip schedule included four day-long excursions by snow coach into the park from West Yellowstone and a day on either end to travel from/to Bozeman. Since I was going to travel to Montana, I added on three days of photographing the park from north entrance at Mammoth Hot Springs, the only area of the park that clears the roads for automobile travel during the winter. More about my independent travels in Part 2.
Part 1 is long and includes both my trip report and a review of the Natural Exposures Yellowstone in Winter Photo Tour for those considering this trip or this tour company. [Read more…]
GRAND PRIZE WINNER
My image of a Green-breasted Mango was selected as Grand Prize Winner of the Audubon Magazine Birds In Focus photography contest. It was selected from the 8,000 entries in this year’s competition. The image is one of the thousands of images I captured during my trip to Costa Rica in March 2010. You can find the announcement of the winners at Audubon Magazine.
Another of my entries was selected as one of the Top 100 images of the contest and can be seen here. Rather than tell you which one is mine, I’ll leave it to you to explore all of these wonderful images. After you see these images, you’ll understand how honored I am that my image was selected from among those images.
Click on the thumbnail to view a larger image.
The leaves are changing and there’s no predicting where it will be good color, or when. For the first time ever I ventured into western RI to find locatons for fall color photogrpahy. All of these images used High Dynamic Range techniques to capture the hightlight and shadow detail in the high contrast situations. While I definitely needed this technique for cases where the scene was in a dark location (graveyard, stream) and it was backlit, I tried it on reflected light scenes to see if it made a difference and to get some experience in processing those types of images. The first two images were taken 8 October at Carbuncle Pond, and the others were taken on or near the Scituate Resevoir on 13 October.
Thesea photos were taked at the Jack-o-Lantern Spectacular at Roger Williams Zoo. The featured pumpkins are painted with black ink on teh outside and carved on the inside to allow differing amounts of light to shine through the pumpkin. Hundreds of traditionally carved pumpkins also line the walkway and fill in the spaces around pumpkins decoreated following the theme for the year.
After my trip to Costa Rica I planned to again try my hand at hummingbird photography in my yard. In past years, many hummingbirds, all Rubythroated, would visit my feeders. Usually one would arrive even before the feeder was up, hovering in front of the window location where it is usually mounted. Clearly that bird had been here before. This year was different. This year, we only had one male most of the time, with a second one showing up occasionally, and we had only three females. The male dominated the feeder until I set up a second one out of sight of the other. Now the male guards one feeder, and the three females seem to spend more time chasing each other around the other feeder than eating.
After several weeks of photographing, I haven’t been able to catch the male’s gorget fully lit up. Most captures that are a side view of the male results in dark, almost black gorget feathers. There always seems to be a dark patch of red gorget that never lights up. It’s very difficult to catch the throat lit up, and only seems to happen if the bird is facing the camera, but even then, there’s a patch in the center that doesn’t fully light up. I’ll have to experiment more with light placement to see if I can get better results. Up to now the two front lights have been to either side of the flower. Perhaps I need to place one below and directly in front of the bird. In the past, I’ve used a camera mounted flash with a BetterBeamer to trigger the other flashes. That may provide enough direct light, if lack of direct front light is the cause of the dark feathers.
I’ve been using the Canon 7D with the 500mm f4 Is lens since the birds were very wary of me being nearby. Now they are more comfortable with me there and I’ve been using the 100-400 zoom lens. . I can’t rotate my camera for vertical compositions because the built in flash controller of the 7D will not see all the remote flashes if I do so. So I’ve been taking images with less zoom with the intent of cropping for vertical presentation. The portrait images were taken this way.
There are not many more days to photograph hummingbirds; the males will leave soon and the females a couple of weeks later.
One of the challenges I set myself was to capture hummingbirds landing. It’s not a matter of just setting the camera to the highest frame rate and hope for the best, but an anticipation that the landing was going to occur. With the lens focused on the flower, and framed wide enough to capture the bird as it came in, I’d take my eye away from the viewfinder and look at the larger scene to spot a hummer coming in for a landing.
Since the birds are attracted to the photographic setup using a feeder, the images are predominantly side views of the hummingbird coming in to the feeding tube. I tried to be aware of the flight of the hummer and attempt to get some images with the birds in different attitudes.
Another technique that Greg Basco suggested is to use a longer flash duration to get a little blur in the fastest moving parts of the hummingbird, the tips of the wings. In one setup we set the flashes to 1/8 power which froze the image of most of the bird. These two images were taken at f25 and using multiple flashes as the main light. In another setup where full sunlight was lighting the bird and background, the camera was set for a longer exposure to let the moving parts blur quite a bit, and the light from the flashes freezing a portion of the bird that did not move much. This had a lower success rate. The last three images were take at 1/25 second and f8. You can see the amount of wing motion in that short amount of time.
The planned itinerary offered the opportunity to photograph the Arenal Volcano at night, but this did not happen due to the log hanging clouds that persisted during out two night stay there. We did get to see some red streaks of red hot rock and lava on the lower slope of the volcano for about two minutes during dinner, and were treated to the grumbling and burping of the volcano throughout the night. No doubt it would have been spectacular.
Also on the itinerary was a visit to the Snake Zoo in nearby El Castillo. Greg Basco’s friend Victor Quesada runs the zoo and his collection of snakes, frogs and lizards are well cared for as evidenced by the condition of the animals and the cleanliness of their enclosures. Greg and Joe put together a studio set-up with flash, and softboxes for the small critters, and mostly used the distant landscape as a background, although some images used photographed backgrounds.. The branches and flowers used as props were collected on the side of the road before we arrived at Victor’s. As Joe has a great deal of experience handling venomous snakes, he set up a forest floor scene outside the front entrance, and Victor supplied him with the larger snakes to photograph. It was a great opportunity to photograph all these animals in a short period of time, and in a safe environment.
The images are of Red-eyed Tree Frog (2), Masked Tree Frog (2), Rainforest Frog, Eyelash Viper, Fer-de-lance, Neotropical Rattlesnake, and Souther Copperhead.
One of the main purposes of the trip was to photograph hummingbirds using high speed flash set ups. Joe McDonald has made his photographic career as a specialist in high speed flash photography. In addition to the two stations that Joe and MaryAnn set up, the local tour provider, photographer Greg Basco, set up another station. Greg has a very thoughtful approach to photography and is willing to try creative lighting effects in his photography and was willing to share his thoughts, and set ups. I’ll have more on this topic in a later post.
The hummingbirds shown here are: Green-breasted Mango (male), Long-tailed Hermit, Green-crowned Brilliant (male), White-necked Jacobin, Red-footed Plumeleteer, Crowned Woodnymph, Green-breasted Mango (females). I’m not certain which species is in the last image; it was interesting that the bees were forcing the hummingbirds back on occasion.
At the beginning of March, I travelled to Costa Rica with McDonald Wildlife Photogrpahy to photograph volcanoes, hummingbirds and other rain forest creatures. We had no luck with the volcano as El Ninio was making its impression on the Costa Rican dry season. The rainy weather did madi it possible to photograph birds most of the day, when they would typically avoid the heat of mid-day. One of our first stops was at a small nature preserve known for its boat-billed herons, large birds with very large bills. Other birds visited a feeding station. Shown here are Boat-billed Herons, a Collared Aracari, White-collared Manakin displaying, and Tent-making Bats. The tent making bats chewa small section in the middle of the large leaf causing it to fold over, making a tent for them to sleep in. Also shown are Pasarini’s Tanager, Summer Tanager and a Blue-grey tanager.