IT’S A PROCESS, NOT A TENET


Ruby-throated Hummingbird -------   

My photography friend Kevin stopped in this evening and we had a good time aiming our lenses at hummingbirds and the House Wrens. But most importantly we exchanged thoughts and stories about recent trips and what we learned in the process. Kevin had some questions about my workflow in post process and I showed him how I process my wildlife photography images. I used a photo from last evening, the one of a Ruby-throated Hummingbird shown above, to walk him through the process how things are done in my tiny world of photography.

And here is the thing, for me a published result is not necessarily the end of the story. When I showed Kevin my processing steps I did not crop the original image. There was a little more background on each side of the picture and because of the way the subject is laid out, I played the card of negative space over detail in the subject. Later this evening, back at the computer screen, I zoomed in slightly closer (sounds better than “I cropped the picture”…😉) and actually liked it better this way.

The truth is, this photo is actually about gesture, the way the hummingbirds opens its bill and makes noise in order to make its presence known to friends and foes. At the end I felt the story telling gesture comes better to life in the photo as shown above. As always, its a process, not a tenet.

CARING HOUSE WRENS


The young House Wrens in our nest box start peeking out of the hole in expectation to be fed by their parents. I have seen at least two young birds but it sounds like there might be three or even four in the nest. You never know for sure but they make a lot of noise. The parents bring insects, grasshoppers, caterpillars, and spiders a lot more frequently than a week ago, a sure sign that the little guys will leave the nest shortly, possibly during the next two or three days. This is the second successful brood this summer for the wrens. We had more than just this one couple around here. The males are fierce competitors for nest holes and don’t like other birds near their chosen nest site. We found a destroyed and abandoned nest of the Northern Cardinals in a shrub between our two nest boxes earlier this summer, most likely the work of a House Wren.

This male with the spider in its bill gave me a few seconds before it flew to the nest. The sun was hidden most of the time but the clouds opened up suddenly for a brief moment and changed the light pattern. Adjusting the exposure compensation quickly for the ambient light was key for this photo. Because of the overcast I had the flash above the lens in order to bring out the colors. It also helped when the sun came out to lower the contrast by filling in the shadows, like on the chest of the bird. Flash compensation was set to -4 (-2 in camera, -2 at the flash light). This low amount delivers just the extra hint of light without creating a second shadow.

Nikon D750, Sigma 150-600mm / f5-6.3 DG OS HSM S, Induro GIT 404XL tripod, Induro GHB2 gimbal head, Nikon SB 800 speed light, MAGMOD MagBeam flash extender

BUNNY VS. COOPER


Eastern Cottontail ------    

An Eastern Cottontail is a good critter to practice wildlife photography and to study how different light effects the fur of an animal. Even if they sit relatively still, it remains a challenge to get a sharp image of the face because they chew grass and other plants and their muscles are constantly in motion. I approached the bunny step by step, moving forward with the tripod very slowly, stop, shoot, move, stop, shoot… This was fun to do last weekend on the farm and ended only abruptly when the terrier instincts in our little dog Cooper made the cottontail run for the bushes. Cooper is a fast dog but against the bunny he had not a chance at all…

TOAD WITH HITCHHIKER


American Toad, garden pond on farm near Remsen, Iowa --------  

Nothing seems to be exciting or spectacular if a full grown American Toad climbs out off the small garden pond on a farm, unless you really try to appreciate its colors and texture against the dull background, and as a bonus recognize that an insect is hitchhiking on its back.

STORY OF TRANSITION


There are not very many farms left here in the Midwest where the old buildings and farm structures are preserved. Unfortunately beautifully crafted wooden barns, stables, and farm houses have been or will be replaced by simple metal structures, concrete, and plastic siding. This is somehow understandable because the economy of farming dictates many of these changes, but the historic charm will be gone forever.

The farm in this picture has a mixture of old and new buildings and the photographer can still tell the story of transition with his image. Including the bright clouds gives the photo some visual depth. The eye will most likely go to the brightest part of the picture first, but from there it will move through the frame.

Photo: Nikon D750, Nikkor 24-120mm / f4, @46 mm, 1/640 s, f/8, ISO100

 

BEAUTY AND DRAMA


Painted Lady in Alfalfa field, near Remsen, Iowa -------

We spent most of the weekend on the family farm in northwest Iowa. Although the variety of wildlife and vegetation is not the same as here in the Upper Mississippi Valley, there are still plenty of opportunities for a nature photographer.

All images: Nikon D750, Sigma 150mm / f2.8 APO EX DG HSM

My brother-in-law Don gave me the hint about a patch of alfalfa next to his pig nursery, where hundreds of butterflies were feeding nectar from the blossoms. Most of them were Painted Lady (Vanessa cardui), one of the most widespread butterflies in North America. Adults may not survive in freezing temperatures and so most of them overwinter in the south and Mexico. Their flight and wing beats are erratic and fast and it was difficult to pre-visualize how the photos would turn out.

Spider paralyzing Painted Lady butterfly

One butterfly got my particular attention while I tried to follow it with the camera. The insect suddenly stopped moving and remained still with its wings spread out. Having a closer look revealed that the Painted Lady was ambushed by a spider. While the butterfly was in a feeding frenzy, the spider used its chance and paralyzed its victim. Well, they all have to live…

ESSENCE OF THE SEASON


Giant Swallowtail -------

Summer seems to be in its zenith and I try to catch the essence of this season in light and colors. The good old Sigma 150, f/2.8 macro lens is still a perfect tool for this kind of shooting. To get the best out of it I shoot wide open most of the time, rendering the background with a nice bokeh. Focus has to be on the spot (eye and body) due to the shallow depth of field at f/2.8 or f/3.2. The butterflies have never a quiet moment and continuous-servo autofocus is the only way to get a sharp image.

NATURE CLICKS #382 - HUMMINGBIRD MOTH


It is not difficult to find out why the Hummingbird Moth got its name. It’s easy to to mistake this moth with its fast beating wings for a small hummingbird. The first photo also reveals why its other name, Clearwing Moth, has been used for this insect. They are a member of the sphinx moth family (Sphingidae). Most sphinx moths fly at night but the Hummingbird Moth is active during the day.

When I made the click for this photo a couple days ago I was actually setting up the camera for shooting real humming birds (see my post from yesterday for the outcome). While the Ruby-throated Hummingbird is a permanent resident here between early May and the end of September, the Hummingbird Moth is a rare visitor in the flower beds around here.

WAYS TO TELL THE STORY


Ruby-throated Hummingbird -------

The number of hummingbirds has suddenly increased and this is a sure sign that another generation has left the nest and tries to make a living between hundreds of flowers and our hummingbird feeders around the house. Some photographers aim to freeze every feather and shoot with extremely short exposure times. I’m in the other camp, I prefer to tell the story of constant, very fast movement and I let the blur of the wings just doing that. Both ways are valid and just the result of different story telling efforts. This image was made with an exposure time of 1/1000 s. Not really slow, although still not fast enough to freeze the wings, but just the way I wanted it.

ATTENTION NEEDED


Monarch on a Blazing Star --------

My German photography friend Maren Arndt knows how to make good macro shots of butterflies and insects https://marensfotoblog.wordpress.com/2017/08/04/alle-lieben-rainfarn/. She is a true artist and environmental conscious photographer. Her latest blog post has inspired me to put the Sigma 150mm / f2.8 and 1.4x Teleconverter on the camera today and try to hunt for butterflies between Joan’s flower beds in the yard. My best shot was the one above of a Monarch butterfly, an insect that is in big trouble, mainly due to the loss of habitat.

Milkweed is the only plant where the Monarch butterflies will lay their eggs. It is not the prettiest plant on the planet but we let the milkweed grow wherever it comes up in our property. Iowa has a strategy designed to help keep the threatened Monarch off the national endangered species list. To make it short, recreating habitats (instead of steril grass patches) can make a difference. Below are a few links to sources that explain why this should be a big deal for all of us here in the Midwest. If we can’t fix it, our grandchildren may not be able to enjoy this butterfly when they are grown up anymore.

https://www.learner.org/jnorth/images/graphics/monarch/annual_cycle_wheel.gif

http://www.desmoinesregister.com/story/money/agriculture/2017/02/27/iowa-launches-plan-save-threatened-monarch-butterflies/98492138/

http://monarchsineasterniowa.blogspot.com

https://www.nrcs.usda.gov/wps/portal/nrcs/detail/ia/programs/financial/eqip/?cid=nrcseprd889463

If you are still with me after looking at all the links (thank you, if you do!), here are some thoughts about the photo. First, it’s just a photo, and it doesn’t tell the full story. Sometimes I have to acknowledge that the picture alone is not enough to create the awareness a particular environmental case needs. The text, or like today pointing out to other sources, may make our brains working. The photo becomes second nature, it just supports the message. Still not a bad thing…

 

THE LEARNING CURVE


The buildings and structures I photographed a week ago at the Motor Mill Historic Site are a great subject for experiments with the new software plug-in, Macphun’s Luminar. One of the best parts of the old NIK collection was Silver Efex Pro 2, the software I have used for all black and white conversions since many years. Knowing that SEP 2 will not work in the future, because Google has decided not to support and update it anymore, I needed to find a new solution for my B&W work. I like the results other photographers get with Luminar so far and I try to find a workflow with this software that works for my style of photography. The key for a fast post process is creating presets that can be used as a starting point for other pictures. It is a little time consuming in the beginning, but it is part of the learning curve and with every image and stored preset the process becomes faster and is more fun. I rather spend time behind the camera than in front of the computer screen…😊

STABLE AND SMOKEHOUSE


Stable, Motor Mill Historic Site, Iowa --------

I was running out of time last night, hence my blog post with photos only. So here is a little more information that I found in the brochure of Motor Mill Historic Site.

The Inn at the town of Motor I showed you yesterday provided rooms and offered meals to farmers waiting overnight for their grain. The mill was finished in 1869 but was actually in operation for only 13 years. A farmer, Louis Klink, purchased the land in 1903 and farmed it for nearly 80 years. During that time the Inn served as a home for the Klink family.

My first image today shows the stable that is next to the Inn. It housed the animals of the patrons of the Inn. Native limestone from a nearby quarry was used to construct it. The hip-type roof was added in the early 1900’s when the building was changed to a dairy barn. We can still see the original straight roofline below.

Smokehouse and bridge

This building was long thought to be the icehouse. It was recently discovered that it was actually a smokehouse where meat was cured during the mid-late 1800’s.

The bridge in the back across the Turkey River is a 2012 replica of the 1899 pin-and-truss iron bridge, which had been destroyed by floods in 1991 and 2008. As mentioned in an earlier post, we have been at Motor Mill a couple years before and I had already seen the potential for some good photos at this location. Finally I got what I was hoping for. It is the light before and around sunset that really reveals the charm of these old structures.

So, what about the little bunny sitting in front of the smokehouse? Well, it was just sitting there, not the subject of the photo, but making the smile in my face even bigger that evening…

TURKEY RIVER, NORTHEAST IOWA


Turkey River, Motor Mill and bridge ---

As mentioned in a previous blog post I usually don’t take the camera with me while paddling a river with a good chance of whitewater passages. The Turkey River, and as well the Volga River in northeast Iowa, had a good water level last weekend. We didn’t feel like it would exceed our paddling skills and we went down with our kayaks safely and without any incidents (except our little dog Cooper jumped out of the boat a couple times when he wasn’t supposed to do it… 😆).

Today’s photos were taken at the Turkey River, at the old mill of Motor, a rural Iowa community that is now a historic site on the National Register of Historic Places. I always like to provide the sources of information that I use, so please click the following link if this is of interest for you: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Motor,_Iowa

We have been at Motor Mill a couple times before and I always make a mental note if I want to come back to a particular site and shoot with the right light in place. Camping at the primitive campsite nearby allowed just doing this and working around sunset with the old buildings of Motor, and of course the Turkey River, led to some new photos that met the expectations . More to come…

SUNSET AT THE BOAT RAMP


Joan and I checked out the canoe access near Motor Mill, Iowa around sunset last Friday. We had pitched our tent at the campsite and looked forward to paddle the Turkey River on Saturday and the Volga River on Sunday with our kayaks again. Despite heavy damage on trees and parts of the river bed in both rivers from the flooding about a week ago, both paddle tours were very delightful and we had no problems.

Some people had left their rental kayaks and canoes at the boat ramp and these made for a great story telling element in this photo.