Monthly Archives: October 2011

ACTION PHOTOGRAPHY: SHOOTING FOR THAT DEFINING MOMENT

 

The sun had yet risen over the haze of this south Texas landscape when the handsome whitetail buck decided that the figure of this crouched human was all that he could take. Busting into full flight with head held high I was appalled that he had made my location before the light was adequate for good photo light. Swinging on his running form in the dim light with my Canon 500mm f4.5L lens and Canon F1N camera, I noted that the exposure was a dismal 1/8 of a second and as I was handholding the camera and lens I realized instantly that chances of a sharp photo was out of the question. My only hope was that I could come up with an “artsy” look of fluid motion so continued with my manual focusing job and shot a couple of frames.

Here is a fine example of that art of "panning" and is achieved by carefully swinging the camera and lens at the same speed of the running subjects while using a relatively slow shutter speed to obtain the fluid look of motion. Focal point is on the center of the group. Shallow depth of field is realized by using a medium telephoto lens at a short distance from the subjects. Canon F1N and Canon 80-200mm f4.0 lens. ISO 50 Velvia film and hand held.

 

Since those days of ISO 50 film and manual cameras, good photography results have been made much easier through improved light meter systems and auto focus capabilities. I sometimes gripe about the loss of the “good ole days” but when its time for hard core action photos I smile and turn that beautiful autofocus to the “on” position and start tapping the shutter! LOL!

In this case my intent was to not only show the kayaker in motion but also the water in the foreground. By using a super wide angle lens that offered an extensive area throughout the field of view and shooting at 1/30 of a second while panning, my intent was realized. In these cases one must also maintain some consciousness of the overall composition such as the ratio of sky to foreground. Canon EOS 1N and Canon 17-35mm f2.8 lens. ISO 50 Velvia film.

 

Without doubt auto focus technology has made action work easier to achieve for neophyte shooters but its still hard core photography experience coupled with the electronic capabilities that produce the really dynamite photos that stand the test of time. Like being effective in the game of poker,  possessing the knowledge of knowing when to hold or when to fold is like a photographer understanding the nuances of shutter speed, f stop, lens selection and having the natural talent to “follow through” at the correct instant. It takes practice and at least some skill to be consistently productive in the craft.

A very difficult action shot just as this wild free ranging whitetail breaking for cover. In these cases tripods are totally useless as such moments are the result of a stalk with spontaneity being the order of the day. Visualizing the finished image before the action begins is an added help. Canon 5D Mark II and Canon 400mm f5.6L and handheld. ISO 100.

 

Hope you will enjoy some images here that define some pretty good examples of action photography in the wild world. Perhaps my  captions will help you to understand the technique that was applied in order to realize the results shown herein.

Here a wild coyote lopes past me on a dimly lit winter morning. This was in the days before autofocus so total concentration and at least some good hand to eye coordnation is necessary to realize these types of results. Again, this effective panning at about 125th of a second at f4.5 with a Canon F1N and Canon 500mm f4.5L lens and handheld. ISO 50 film.
Beautiful light and a handsome whitetail buck pairs to make this photo special. Also, the reaction time in capturing the deer in mid jump really sets this image apart from less dynamic action work. Canon 5D Mark II and Canon 400mm f5.6L at ISO 100. Hand held.
Timing is essential in these cases and I was fortunate to have tripped the shutter at just the right moment. Shutter speed was around 500th of a second to stop the action. Canon 5D Mark II and Canon 400mm f5.6L. ISO 100 and handheld.
Dynamic backlight with dust and insects floating in the air really dramatizes the impact of these horses being driven to the chuck wagon. Also an elevated position from which to shoot kept a lens flare from being a distracting element in the photo. Horses were running at me so panning was not necessary and I focused on the middle of the herd for impact. Canon F1N and Canon 300mm f2.8 L lens using Velvia 50 ISO film and hand held.
Here my wolf dog runs gleefully along the lake shore late today near Benjamin. Using the AI Servo mode on my Canon 5D Mark II the predictive focusing system stayed on point with the wolf even when it was running quite fast directly at me. Remember that auto focus cameras rely on contrast for focusing accuracy so pinpointing a spot on the animals face that exhibits contrast is essential in getting a well focused subject. Canon 400mm f5.6 L lens at 100 ISO and handheld.
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Safety First: Photographing Dangerous Subjects

Handling dangerous creatures for any purpose is a practice to be taken seriously. Throughout my six decades of rummaging around on this earth I have observed and been a participant in working with wild or untamed creatures that can hurt you. From breaking horses as a youngster on the ranch where I was raised, trapping predators and ear tagging for research purposes and even handling venomous reptiles and arachnids, some care must be taken to minimize the danger of being a victim to careless behavior in the process.

Perhaps the most dangerous and aggressive rattler that I have ever photographed. Safety was essential in handling this big boy and as a result both of us was none the worse for wear. I sold this photo twice to National Geographic Television.

 

One aspect of human behavior that I will never understand is the “macho” syndrome that seems to possess some people when handling or being in the presence of venomous snakes, ie. rattlesnakes, moccasins, copper heads, coral snakes, etc. I once photographed a popular snake roundup and was appalled at the casual behavior of individuals around a creature that can either kill you or at least render a person immobile for some time. The bravado that I have seen through the years sometimes disgusts me.

When I start getting sloppy around these creatures I recall the weaponry that they possess. It is then that I rethink my actions.

 

Another dangerous trait that I cannot understand is the extreme fear that some people possess for some critters, either crawlers, walkers or flyers. It is my opinion that a healthy respect is in order for most questionable species but to have a deathly fear is most unhealthy if not preposterous.

This big diamondback is not happy about being the subject of a photo shoot but the handler is using good judgement in keeping the snake at a safe distance.

 

I was reared in strong snake country and dealt with rattlers all of my life. We kiddos were taught to always watch for snakes and steer clear of them if encountered. Growing up with this attitude was a good thing and has been an asset in my professional field of work.

 

A rule that I have in handling poisonous species is one that I totally adhere to and that is to NEVER handle one of these snakes with my bare hands. Using a set of specially designed tongs will basically remove essentially all of the chances of being bitten in the process of the handling process. These devices are great in moving the snake to good photo locations and then to prepare the reptile for some compositional alterations. Safety is first and foremost and then possessing a healthy respect, but not fear, for your dangerous subjects should be a criterion for all photographers dealing with critters who can fight back…and win in some instances.

Big snakes are strong so total concentration is advised during the handling process.
A big rattler disappears beneath an old barn where the shade will protect it from the mid day heat.
Here a rattler is shown in the skin shedding process. One of my favorite lenses for snake work is the Canon 70-200mm f2.8L. It pulls the snake in for detail shots and then pulled back to a shorter focal length for depth of field and field of view.
A western diamondback tests his options via temperature check with his tongue. Canon F1N and Canon 80-200mm f4.0 lens. Kodachrome 64 film.
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A Gift: Life Blood From The Sky

We can only imagine the overwhelming fear and helplessness that was felt by those ancient peoples who lived on the plains of the Americas some 6,0000 years ago when the rains no longer came and great dust storms enveloped the land for almost 1,000 years. It is known as the great drought of late paleo era and we think that such catastrophes can no longer affect our lives in these modern times.

So often my mother and father related stories of the depression years to me, relating the tales of hunger, of deprivation and hardship faced by so many. They told of the great dust storms of that dust bowl era and how the clap board houses allowed the dust and wind to infiltrate to such a point that wet rags were placed over their faces in order to breathe without inhaling the suffocating dust. They told of those desperate days when the government men came to buy cattle for 6.00 per head and then proceed to kill them all on site before the grim reaper called starvation took its final toll. Those were hard times and, like the millenniums before, it seemed that the rains would never come.

Once again during the 1950’s, when I was only a child, the tentacles of yet another drought held the land in its miserable grip and the old timers had to once more endure the hardships brought on by wind, dust and lack of adequate moisture. I remember bits of those years but not enough to cause apprehension later on when the threat of hard times hung heavy over the land.

In the late 1990’s I got my first taste of a real drought and the full appreciation of just the fragrance of moisture became a cherished gift. Again, like in earlier decades, the wind blew and the dust was ever present and, like a half century and before, the sky refused to share its gift of life.

It is now over a year into our current drought, touted by some to be the worst in over a century, and again I look in ernest to the sky and pray that its bounty will be offered in time to save men and women who have invested literal generations of work in establishing a life and identity for their beloved families. I said several times in the late 90’s that I would never complain again about too much rain and I have held true to that promise. And when the rains finally came on October 7, 2011 and filled the dry stock tanks with a life blood we so often take for granted, I stood at the edge of an old desiccated cattle tank, with the skeletal remains of a dead cow sunken in the cracked mud, and thanked God for his generous offering in this gift of life called rain.

Rain is ignited by the light of a setting sun over the west Texas mountain scape. Canon 5D Mark II and Canon 24-105mm f4.0L lens. ISO 100 and handheld.

 

Enjoy my celebration here of rain and the beautiful phenomenons that signify the coming or passing of this life blood and lets not make the mistake of ever taking it for granted as an entitlement that we deserve, but instead consider it a gift that is so generously offered from our ocean above.

Monsoon rains bring the gift of life to this desert mountain stream in the Del Carmen mountains in Northern Coahuila, Mexico. Hasselblad 501CM with Zeiss 50mm Distagon f4.0 lens. Velvia 50 ISO film. Manfrotto tripod with Manfrotto 486 ball head.
A vibrant rainbow reflects the last light of day over Lake Tanglewood near Amarillo, Texas after an evening rain shower. Canon EOS 1N and Canon 16-35mm f2.8L lens. Velvia 50 ISO film and handheld.
A great storm offers its bounty of rainfall upon the expansive rangeland in Cottle County, Texas. Canon 5D Mark II and Canon 24-105mm f4.0 lens. ISO 100 and handheld.
A fantastic display of light upon a great storm promises rainfall over a portion of the rolling plains. Canon 5D Mark II and Canon 24-105mm f4.0L lens. ISO 100 and handheld.
A war in the sky at sunset signifies the end of another thunderstorm that has expended it allotment of rain on the land below. Canon F1N and Canon 14mm f2.8L lens. Velvia 50 ISO film and handheld.
Isolated thunderstorms miles away gives a sliver of life blood to this dry river bed in Knox County, Texas. Within minutes this "head rise" will increase to a depth of several feet, once more giving life to a previously dry and desolate stream bed. Canon 1D Mark IIN and Canon 16-35mm f2.8L lens. ISO 100 and handheld.
Rainfall has tamed the fire hazard of this lightning bolt in the Davis Mountains. Canon 5D Mark II and Canon 24-105mm f4.0L lens. ISO 100 and using a Manfrotto tripod and Manfrotto 486 ball head.
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Photographing Wyoming from the Perspective of a Texan

Having heralded the beauty and mystic of the Lone Star State for over thirty years it is safe to say that I have a pretty good idea of the personality and aura that describes Texas and how to convey it to the readership. Or at least I hope I do!!  With so much diversity throughout the state as well as private land offering countless “one of a kind” subjects for consideration, I never tire of the photographic endeavor to describe the land, sky, people, weather and wildlife in this huge state, a land mass that was once a country in its own right.

 

Some years ago I traveled extensively to various regions of our America and into Mexico with the intent of covering one aspect or another in the targeted areas. Some of these excursions were for magazine assignments while others were for file images to secure potential future editorial sales. I always enjoyed my time spent in other places but yearned to return to my native Texas and its plethora of subjects available. About 20 years ago I realized what a treasure trove of subjects that I had at hand in the Lone Star State so decided to “pull in my horns” and concentrate all efforts on what my native land offered, a decision that I never regretted.

 

In about 2004 I was commissioned to do some extensive photographic coverage on a private ranch in the great state of Wyoming. Like Texas, it is a land of big ranches, oceanic skies, and great vistas so I thrilled at the opportunity to once more travel to a new place where I could ply my creative skills to a good end. For weeks this work continued and many useful and attractive images were attained throughout this time frame. When that work was done I once again focused the cameras on the land and life in my home state.

 

Only a few months ago I was again contacted by the ranch owner in Wyoming and a request was made for me to create a hard cover book on the same ranch I had covered some years before. I was elated at the prospects and looked forward to another golden opportunity to see and photograph such a splendid example of the Cowboy State.

Autumn foliage along a creek bottom. Canon 5D Mark II and Canon 70-200mm f2.8 and ISO 100.

 

Throughout the three decades of working with a camera I have found that when traveling to a new region my expectations become peaked and I look forward to seeing and offering the new subjects in a way that defines my personal style. Such is the way of artists throughout the world. Instead of horizontal plains and prairie rivers my intent in Wyoming are the rugged northern mountains, cold winters, big skies and the indigenous wild creatures quite foreign to my Texas.

 

Although this project is in its infant stages, I offer here a small sample of what has already been created. Welcome to the great state of Wyoming and its many faces from the perspective of a Texan.

Herd of antelope graze on a hillside above the ranch headquarters. Canon 5D Mark II and Canon 70-200mm f2.8L at 100 ISO.

 

Elk hunter glasses the canyons below. Canon 5D Mark II and Canon 24-105mm f4.0L and ISO 100.

 

Hunting guide bringing a trophy off of the mountain. Canon 5D Mark II and Canon 70-200mm f2.8L at ISO 100.

 

High country in the Laramie mountain region. Canon 5D Mark II and Canon 24-105mm f4.0L and ISO 100.

 

Ranch lake and Wyoming landscape. Canon 5D Mark II and Canon 70-200mm f2.8L at ISO 100.

 

Cutting horse barn. Canon 5D Mark II and Canon 45mmTilt Shift f3.5L lens at ISO 200 using Manfrotto tripod and panoramic tripod head. Three images stitched.

 

 

 

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