Thursday, May 13, 2010

July 2009 - Coloradoan Xplore Column

Photography is a process of constant learning through trial, error, breaking rules and experimenting. Early summer presents so many opportunities to make nature photographs I find I have to pick a few to focus my efforts. Selecting a couple of projects allows me to fine tune my approach. I also can begin to anticipate changes as the season progresses. For wildlife, by following a subject, I become familiar with their range, behavior and daily routines. In the case of landscape, I get to monitor what’s happening at what elevation and how rapidly change is occurring. I also get to evaluate what light I prefer. By repeatedly working my subjects I find I can incrementally improve my results and capture peak times.

I consider myself a wildlife photographer first, landscape and flora come second. I have an annual calendar that details what I plan to work on each month of the year. When I look at the month of July there are several notations. On the wildlife side my favorite subjects are the elk herds hanging out in the tundra bowls at timberline. I also like to look for velvet antlered mule deer in the forest edges. Elk are predictably found in bachelor herds(groups of bulls) and nursery herds (cows and calves). For the most part I don’t find portraits of bull elk in velvet this time of year all that interesting. I look for shots that take advantage of the landscape they live within, more animal-scapes. Shots with majestic bulls against open, high altitude terrain with towering peaks in the background really tell a spectacular story. I love to sit with nursery herds looking to capture those tender moments between a mom and her offspring. Making these kinds of photographs usually means a commitment of time. My choices on camera settings are pretty straight forward. I chose a relatively shallow depth of field to make the subject pop. I find a neutral tone to expose my scene. In composing the shot I consciously avoid centering the subject giving room for the direction of travel or the direction it’s facing. Knowing my camera settings are dead on I sit and wait. My favorite wildlife shots are those capturing natural behavior and tell a story. The ones where I’ve been able to borrow a moment in the season.

The other notation in my calendar this month is wildflowers. I’ve been scouting locations for the past month. With our wet spring it looks to be a banner season. The issue I constantly face is the images in my mind eye don’t match the scenes I see through my lens. I have this on-going challenge of initially not being able to break a down a scene. I’m conflicted between seeing the large, grand scenes with fields of color and the more intimate, delicate micro scenes. I naturally want to look at it all. In doing so I quickly find the stalks of dead grass, the brown beetle infected trees and so on. The imperfections stand out and I begin to discard the scene. By returning over and over to a location I begin to see possibilities. When I finally start to break things down they become workable and I begin to see a photograph. There are so many options when shooting flora. Here’s a short list of things I do:
1. Plan to shoot a lot. Digital affords making mistakes.
2. Shoot off a tripod.
3. When composing a shot avoid centering the primary subject.
4. Shoot early and late, avoid harsh mid-day light.
5. Shoot both vertical and horizontal frames.
6. Look for opposite colors with strong contrast. Red, pink against green. Yellow against blue.
7. Hunt your frame. Look for distracting contrast, black holes or unidentified objects.
8. Move your feet. The nice thing with wildflowers is they don’t move. By relocating a couple of inches you can completely recreate the shot.
9. Get low, change your point of view. Shoot flower level or ground level. Shooting up at a flower makes for some really unusual shots.
10. Experiment and have fun.

Coming attractions:
Wildflower opportunities abound.

Elk remain happily grazing in the high country. These dynamics will begin to change in mid August in anticipation for the rut. Look for deer in open meadows adjacent to timbered slopes early and late in the day.

Rivers are dropping to levels I find interesting for photographs. The raging, swollen streams flow with a more relaxed attitude and streambanks are lush with mature growth. Back country waterfalls also begin to show a little personality. Shoot water scenes when sunlight is completely off the water. Shaded or cloudy days are best.

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