Bull in the River

This past weekend was a great one in the mountains! I was with my son, James, and we took our daily elk runs in the truck to locate and photograph the Pennsylvania Elk. Friday evening we saw a group of cows and then noticed a 4×5 bull standing in the river!

I grabbed my camera and tripod and made my way to a good vantage point and the fun began. Unbeknownst to me, James was capturing some video footage with his cell phone. The bull put on a quite a display for us.

There is nothing quite like a Friday night when you see and photograph a bull in the river!

Boring but Very Important Work!

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The big snowstorm hit the northeast this Tuesday and I was able to spend some valuable time at my desktop computer. This is something I haven’t done in a while. You see, I use my laptop for much of my work at sporting events. I have the routine down pat. I can quickly go through over a thousand photos, find the best ones to send to my editor, and then get them off to him. I use a color label scheme in Photo Mechanic and it works very well for me.

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The problem is two months later when my editor wants a photo of a specific player. It doesn’t matter which game, just a usable image of this player. Well, there is no time to poke around through all my images to find that small selection of photos of this player to send to my editor. Panic can set in pretty quickly and no one wants to make an editor wait. Thankfully, captions and keywords are the answer!

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Do you faithfully enter keywords and captions into your images? I confess that this is boring but very important work. Down the road it will pay off beautifully. Here is another scenario. I sell wildlife postcards at the Elk Country Visitor Center. So I decide to find some new photos that I haven’t yet used to make new postcards. Thankfully, I created a keyword combination: “Potential Postcard.” Now all I have to do is go to my Smart Collection in Lightroom, which contains all these potential postcards, pick the ones I like, and send them out to be printed. Previously, I did not use these keywords and locating new postcards was a pain. Now I can do it quickly and efficiently.

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Inputting keywords and captions is boring work. I admit it. In fact, I avoided it way too frequently. I remember something my dad used to say when he retired: “Why do today what you can put off ’til tomorrow?” Well, that might work in retirement, but not for keywording and captioning. Do it soon or pay dearly later.

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I recently read John Shaw’s e-Book, “Organizing and Locating Your Images Using Adobe Lightroom” where he describes using a hierarchical keyword scheme. It works like this. Suppose I want to add a keyword word for the location of an image. It was shot in a specific school during a basketball game, which is in a town and a state, too. I could enter the appropriate state, town, school, and gymnasium names individually or I could use a hierarchical scheme like this: LOCATION: State > Town > School > Gymnasium. Then, after setting up the hierarchical system, I could simply add the specific Gymnasium keyword to the image and automatically the School, Town, and State are added as well. Beautiful! It’s simple, once set up, and very quick!

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I am all about speed. I have to be in order to meet deadlines, which sometimes happen even during a game in progress! But boring work done soon after a game can repay itself over and over. I do not like boring or repetitive work, but with my sports and wildlife photography I know the critical importance of this so called boring work. I am learning to be more efficient, but I am also learning the importance of keywording and captioning. Are you? By the way, these images are ones I found when setting up my hierarchical keyword scheme. I forgot I even had some of these photographs so I thought I would give them a little exposure.

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New Pennsylvania Elk Photography Experience Just Listed

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We just announced a new Pennsylvania Elk Photography Experience, which will be held on October 2-5, 2017. This guided photo trip will take you to the amazing Pennsylvania Elk for a photographic experience you will not soon forget!

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Along the way, you will be around some neat and interesting people who, like you, share a passion for wildlife and outdoor photography. We present three different photography seminars, including how to set up your camera and photograph the PA Elk, and an in-depth look at how to use Adobe Lightroom for your photography. The final seminar is about wildlife photography ethics, the PA Elk Herd, and we also have you share your best five shots from the trip so we can learn from each other!

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You will have the opportunity to be out on six photo shoots to photograph the majestic elk during the fall rut when their activity is at an all-time high. The photographic possibilities are only limited by your imagination!

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We only have 1 more opening available for 2017 but we will be doing this again next year. Click here for more information.

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Bird Photography 101 at Pocono Environmental Education Center

Presentation - Bird Photography 101

I led a workshop entitled Bird Photography 101 at the Pocono Environmental Education Center this morning. Eleven participants showed up to learn how to make better bird photos and I had a blast!

I shared some basic equipment needs, camera settings, and tips on how to attract and photograph birds in our backyard. The participants were enthusiastic, had very good questions, and shared some additional tips, which really added to the success of today’s workshop. I enjoyed the time with this group very much!

I am scheduled to lead Bird Photography 101 again on September 20th from 2pm – 4pm. For more information and to register for this event, go to the PEEC website. If you are interested in learning some ways to make better bird photographs in your backyard, this is the workshop for you!

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He was Barking at Me!

Chincoteague 2014-01-21-148I was in Chincoetague, Virginia this week. On Tuesday morning I was photographing a blue heron when I heard this sound. I wasn’t sure what it was at first. Then I looked down the way a little off to my right and there was this red fox barking at me!

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It was great to see a fox so close. Sadly, it saw me before I saw it. I didn’t get many photos of it and no really great ones, but I did get a few. It was my first time seeing a red fox to photograph.

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The blue heron saw this predator well before I did! This served as a great reminder: don’t get stuck in tunnel vision when photographing wildlife. Keep alert and watch in all directions. You never know what might come along!

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Nikon 200-400mm f/4 — My Go-To Lens!

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Out of the last 21 sports photographs I had published, 16 of them were captured with my 200-400mm f/4 zoom lens. This means that 76% of these published photos were taken by this lens.

I knew I wanted this lens over two years ago and even long beforehand. It was my dream lens and I saved for 3 1/2 years to be able to purchase it. The anticipation was almost too much to bear at times! I was sold on this lens by Lennie Rue III and his son, Len Rue, Jr. I read their book, How to Photograph Animals in the Wild. I read and reread this book, but I paid particular attention to all the photographs and with which lens they were captured. Overwhelmingly, a major majority were captured with the 200-400mm lens.

I also knew the 70-200mm f/2.8 was working at the time as my primary wildlife and sports photography lens, but it just didn’t have enough reach. The 1.4x extender helped, but it just hardly seemed to be enough. I convinced myself that I needed the 200-400mm lens. Then I started to save my pennies for it!

Now, after 1 1/2+ years of use, I can honestly and convincingly say that this was definitely a wise purchase for me. I use it on nearly every shoot and it is my go-to lens for both sports and wildlife photography.

I really like the zoom lens because I can compose different shots depending on how far away the subject is from me. This is particularly helpful in baseball. Let’s say that I am on the first-base side of the infield. From this location I can photograph the third baseman, the shortstop, the second baseman, the pitcher, the batter, and the catcher. This is nealry 2/3s of the team! Now these position players are not all at equal distances from my location, but with a simple twist of the zoom barrel, I can compose a pleasing composition on any of these six players.

Similarly, I find the zoom feature a great tool in wildlife photography. Patience is the key in wildlife photography. Staying still in one location is often helpful and the zoom lens gets put into a lot of use in this scenario.

I typically keep the 200-400m lens on my monopod or tripod. It can be handheld, which I do on occasion, but my preferred method is to mount it on a support. This makes using it a joy rather than a burden.

When I am shooting sports, I am almost always on my knees with this lens on a monopod. I rest my left hand on the barrel of the lens and can quickly zoom in or out depending on my need. I always remember: righty tighty to zoom in closer to my subject.

The lens is clear, too. The photographs it produces are excellent when printed or shown on a computer screen. It focuses very well, and it even has a memory position to store a select pre-focused location. With the touch of a button, the lens focuses to that memorized distance. This is great for plays at second base, for example. I can be shooting the batter and then quickly press the memory button and the lens is in focus for a play at second base. Sweet!

Yep, the 200-400mm f/4 Nikon lens is now my go-to lens for sports and wildlife photography. I am very glad to have it in my lens arsenal!

Before & After

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Lightroom is my go-to choice for both keeping track of and editing my photographs. I do use Photo Mechanic, as well, but that is a topic for another blog post. I also have and use Photoshop, but easily 95%+ of my photo edits are accomplished in Lightroom. So I thought for today’s blog post, I would share this before and after photograph to just share a few edits I do routinely in Lightroom.

First, I have to thank Dick McCreight, my colleague and professional photographer who is an absolute guru with Lightroom’s Develop module. He makes it look so easy and is somehow uniquely able to teach what he knows. He is awesome! Thanks, Dick! Also, John Kliest, another colleague and photographer, recently helped me to better understand Lightroom’s Develop module. One tip in particular comes to mind that I learned from John, which involves the Highlights slider. I know my way around Lightroom’s Library module well. I can edit a new shoot in no time, flagging the best photos and using color labels to identify photos I want to use for my blog or some other purpose. The Develop module, however, was a place I somewhat feared to tread. It just seemed kinda overwhelming to me to be honest. Well, Dick and John relieved my fears and taught me some really valuable and helpful stuff so I can now edit my photos efficiently. Thanks guys!

Let’s start by looking at the first photo above. You can see the exposure is a little dark and there is a floating arm from a person located in the lower-right corner of the photo. The cropping tool was used first and I just slightly cropped out that floating arm. LIghtroom makes this quick and easy.

Then I adjusted the exposure, bringing up the light a little shy of half a stop. This was a good start to editing the photo but I knew I couldn’t stop here.

So, I then adjusted the highlights, white clipping, and black clipping sliders. The goal in wildlife photography is to always keep the focus on the subject. Working with the white and black portions of the photograph can sometimes provide drastic changes. Sure enough, once I made these adjustments, I had to scale back the exposure about 2-tenths of a stop. I guess I should have started with these adjustments before correcting the exposure.

Then I worked on adjusting the shadows and contrast. Typically, I find the shadows slider to be a very helpful tool in bringing details out of the dark, literally!

Finally, I added a little smidgen of clarity and vibrance, which I do to most of my photographs.

Within just a few short minutes I edited the photo to a very usable and better quality photograph by using the Develop module in Lightroom. I know I still have a lot to learn about properly editing photographs, but equipped with even the little knowledge I do posses, I can see big changes in my photographs after editing them.

Lightroom is a great tool on a number of levels. I will post more blog entries in the future to share in detail how I use this amazing software. Lightroom rocks!

Be Patient… Let Them Come to You

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Much of the time spent in wildlife photography is pursuing the animals we want to photograph. I often tease that, “Yeah, I was out on the mountain chasing the elk around with my camera.” I do not mean this literally, of course. Chasing an animal is just not a very good idea if you intend to photograph it!

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So how can you actually get closer to the wild animals? Be patient and let them come to you. That’s right, be patient. In our fast-paced society today, this is not an easy thing for many people to do. Being patient means taking the time to stay in one place for an extended period of time.

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Last week, while shooting the Pennsylvania Elk, we were on a hill with a small harem of cows and a couple of bulls within about 100 yards of us. We had our cameras on our tripods and were capturing some photographs at that distance. We patiently remained in that one location for well over an hour. Amazingly, the elk ever so slowly began to feed in our direction. They didn’t close the distance by leaps and bounds; rather, they slowly mossyed in our direction. This took time and we remained patient.

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Eventually, the bull moved to within a few yards of our location. You can see in these photos that I now had too much lens with my 200-400mm. It was an amazing experience!

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The key was staying still and patient, while letting the animals slowly feed in our direction instead of chasing them by trying to get closer. I firmly believe that most photographers will get better photographs if they practiced more patience with their subjects. The next time you are shooting wildlife, practice more patience. Remain in one location and let them work toward you. It is an amazing experience when this happens and you will get some incredible photos, too!

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