Sunday, September 7, 2014

Green Praying Mantis - Brazos Bend SP

Several weeks ago I started shooting macro, and got hooked.  This is one of the reasons for it.  My first Praying Mantis; have not seen one in years.  This one was in the short grasses next to the trail at 40 Acre Lake.  I normally walk past these scenes, only looking for larger critters, like birds.

Macro photography requires a similar technique to my normal bird and wildlife shooting, but on a smaller scale.  You physically have to slow it down, stopping every few feet, crouching down and looking closely for any movement in the grasses.  In this case, I actually had spotted several damselflies moving around.  It was purely by accident that I saw the mantis.

1/60 @ F14, 180mm, +1/3 EV, ISO 2500, no flash, AV priority, spot metering, on tripod.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Slim Mexican Mantis (Bacromantis mexicana) female

I've been a little remiss with posting for the last few months.  I have agreed to blog for HNPAT, the Houston Chapter of The National Prairie Association of Texas.  I started on August 28th with my first post.  The blog posts will encompass everything to do with the Lawther-Deer Park Prairie Preserve.  The site management of this prairie was turned over to them by the Bayou Land Conservancy, who were instrumental in the purchase of this pristine prairie.

I have made three trips to the Lawther-Deer Park Prairie Preserve since making contact with NPAT, HNPAT and BLC.  I fell in love with it after my first trip; immediately offering to HNPAT my photography in the form of blog posts for the promotion of the preserve.

My first trip 3 weeks ago netted only the second Mantis I had seen in many years.  I have seen two others at this location in my last two trips out there.

1/5 @ F11, 180mm, 0 EV, ISO 200, flash fired at -3 EV, AV priority, spot metering,on tripod.

Canon 1DX + Canon 180mm F3.5L Macro + Canon MR-14 Macro Ringlight

Monday, July 14, 2014

Backyard plucking a chicken.

I pride myself on seeing things others do not.  I spot many a bird, and some forms of wildlife, in odd places at odd times.  I usually see them before others do.  I will not dwell on the one moment about 2 weeks ago when my buddy Tim said "gator" as we were walking back to the parking lot at Brazos Bend State Park.  I was looking left and right, not paying as much attention to what was in front of me.  It happened to be about a 6-1/2 foot gator maybe 10 feet away.  That's an exception.

Coming home from dinner tonight, I backed the car into the driveway, and spotted feathers floating down and across my neighbor's driveway.  I thought, "that's odd".  I looked into the tree by the drive and saw a hawk on a limb.  It was plucking feathers out of something.

I finished parking the car and quickly got out, heading for the house.  My wife asked me (with that all knowing smile) "where are you going", knowing full well what I was doing, which was chasing down my camera in the house.  She thinks she knows me pretty well after 30 years. She does, but I'm not telling her that.  Of course, she reads my blog too. :)

Anyway, I grab my camera and promptly head across the street.  I'm looking west and want to get what little light is left behind me, and on the bird.  I grab a few quick shots from the side, seeing now that the hawk noticed me shooting.  That 12 FPS on the Canon 1DX just isn't quiet, in any shape or form.  I managed to get a little behind it, and pop a few shots, before it flew off to the south with its prize.

I have identified the bird as an Adult Cooper's Hawk, with help from some individuals on another site.

1/160 @ F5.6, 700mm, 0 EV, no flash, ISO 5000, AV priority and spot metering.


1/125 @ F5.6, 700mm, 0 EV, no flash, ISO 5000, AV priority and spot metering.


Saturday, June 28, 2014

Dante's View - Death Valley NP

My next stop was to be Dante's View, situated at 5475 feet above sea level.  It overlooks Badwater Basin Salt Flats, my final stop, which is 282 feet below sea level.  There is a viewpoint here that was in the movie Star Wars IV: A New Hope.

On the way up to the viewpoint I was looking for a certain location where I had seen Tarantula Hawk Wasps on my July 2013 trip to the valley.  Sure enough, they were in the same location.  It was also on the same type plant they were on last time.  They are the large blue and orange wasps on the right.  I don't know what kind of bees are on the left.

At the top of the viewpoint, I took an iPhone panorama into the sun.  This view encompasses Death Valley (going south to north), and the Panamint Mountain Range to the west, including Telescope Peak at 11,047 feet.  Dante's View is part of the Black Mountains, which is a part of the Amargosa Range (running north/south).

To the east, I took another panorama to include the road coming up to Dante's view.  To the right you can see a young woman and her husband who were from Australia.  I took a photo for the family (young son was there), since they were doing the "I'm in this photo, but not this one because I was taking it" routine, before I offered to shoot them as one whole family.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Zabriskie Point - Death Valley National Park

I recently returned from a trip to Las Vegas with my wife.  We were celebrating our 30th wedding anniversary, so we took a 4 day jaunt to one of our favorite places to visit.  With such a short trip, I planned for a one day trip to Death Valley NP.  My goal was to capture something special at Badwater Basin Salt Flats, the lowest place in North America at 282 feet below sea level.

I arrived at the park about mid afternoon.  The card swipe to buy a pass at the entry to the park was not working with any of my credit cards.  That meant having to go to Furnace Creek Visitor Center to get a pass, before I could do anything else.  No biggie, the light was harsh, though a cool front was coming in and bringing cloud cover with it.

I spent some time at the center, hydrated some, watched a video and headed out towards Dante's View.  Zabriskie Point is along the way, so I stopped to look a round.  I talked to a few other visitors to the park, mostly from Germany or European countries.  They love the extreme heat in Death Valley NP.

I took a few photos for them, since most people don't have arms that are long enough for a decent selfie with a DSLR.  In turn they offered to shoot me.  I'm posting one of those and my shot at the point.  They had a fence up where some erosion and damage had occurred at the top.  It was scheduled for repair.  That limited access to a lower spot to shoot from that I was counting on.

Even in harsh light, there are some things you can try to do to make the photo look better.  Here, I made sure to set the white and black points in Lightroom 5.5, set the WB to cloudy to warm it up some more, added contrast and sharpened.  I cropped it down pretty far, to eliminate the mostly hazy and uninteresting sky.

iPhone 4S settings:
1/3200 @ F2.4, focal length 4.28mm, focal length in 35mm - 35mm,  brightness value 10.8, ISO 50, exposure program normal, pattern metering mode.

1/160 @ F13, 16mm, +2 EV, ISO 200, AV priority, spot metering.

Canon 1DX + Canon 16-35mm F2.8L

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Double-crested Cormorant

Another shot of a bird that hangs around the neighborhood pretty much on a daily basis.  This is a Double-crested Cormorant perched over a ditch between Pasadena and Deer Park, off Jana Lane.  The birds grab onto the power line over the water looking for fish down below.

1/320 @ F5.6, 700mm, +2 EV, ISO 800, no flash, AV priority and spot metering.

Processed in Lightroom 5.4

Canon 1DX + Canon 500mm F4L IS + Canon 1.4x extender III - Handheld

1/200 @ F5.6, 700mm, +2 EV, ISO 800, no flash, AV priority and spot metering.

Processed in Lightroom 5.4

Canon 1DX + Canon 500mm F4L IS + Canon 1.4x extender III - Handheld

And this is what all the birds are  This one was about 15-18 inches long.  It is a Mozambique Tilapia.  This is the male; the smaller female is just under his tail.

1/160 @ F5.6, 700mm, +2 EV, ISO 800, no flash, AV priority and spot metering.

Processed in Lightroom 5.4

Canon 1DX + Canon 500mm F4L IS + Canon 1.4x extender III - Handheld

Monday, June 9, 2014

Backyard Birds

I've posted different birds I've seen in my backyard from time to time.  It is amazing how many types of birds reside in my neighborhood.  For the last several years I have seen the number of Monk Parakeets that sit in my oak tree increase tremendously.  It is pretty typical to see 4 or 5 birds in my tree on a daily basis, but I have seen as many as 20 land there.

There are several colonies in the area.  That includes Kemah, Pearland and of course Deer Park.  Deer Park is considered a bird sanctuary.  There used to be a colony under the legs of a water tower in Pasadena, by the old Mamacita's Mexican Restaurant.  That colony was removed when they painted the tower several years ago.

This parakeet was sitting in the topmost branch of my large oak tree.  The wind was blowing enough to make the limb look like the washer wiper on my truck windshield during a rain.  I tried to time it when the limb reached the end of the sweep.  These birds are typically around 9 to 11 inches long.

1/1000 @ F6.3, ISO 1250, 700mm, +2EV, AV priority, spot metering.

Canon 1DX + Canon 500mm + Canon 1.4x extender III handheld

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Great Horned Owls...My Favorite Photo

It's been some time since posting anything new.  I thought I would pick back up with my favorite capture of the Great Horned Owl female and fledgling owl.  I photographed these two over the course of 5 weeks, making the trip to Brazos B?end SP every weekend, but one.

The light early on was extremely challenging.  It was always completely overcast with winds and sometimes drizzle.  It was also cold for several trips; enough for thermals and coat.  I kept going back, always hoping to get that one morning of sunshine at sunrise.  My last post and this one made it all worthwhile for me.

I love the pose and color of the two owls in this photo.  I think it tells a story too.

1/13 @ F5.6, 700mm, +1 EV, ISO 10000, no flash, AV priority, spot metering.

Processed in Lightroom 5.4 and cropped to 4:5 format.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Great Horned Owls

I've been photographing these two Great Horned Owls since I first saw them on March 8th, this year.  I've been there almost every Friday or Saturday since that date, trying to chronicle the growth of the owlet to fledgling, and hopefully to full grown in flight.

The light has been horrible the whole time, to put it mildly.  Constant full overcast, sometimes with drizzle mixed in, and cold.  I kept going back, hoping to catch a break in the weather.  My time came on Saturday morning, March 29th.  Sun was forecast for the morning and I wasn't about to miss it.

I got to the park before sunrise and set up on the nest at 40 Acre Lake picnic area.  I took several shots prior to actual sunrise, all the while hoping I would finally get something decent to work with in the way of pretty light.  I wasn't disappointed.

Could I have made this photo better in any way?  Yes, but not in how or where I shot it.  I couldn't do anything to get the branches out of the way or away from momma's head.  I was torn about removing the branch in Photoshop, knowing that every one of my shots that day included the branch.  If I ever wanted to submit the photo to any entity for publication, I would know that branch was removed from the scene.  Most any competition or publication would not allow for it, so I left it in.

Though this photo looks like there was a lot of light in the scene, there was just a touch of it hitting the nest.  The 10000 ISO is what lightened it up.  Even at that speed I only got 1/100 sec out of it on a tripod.  Note how each of the owls eyes facing away from the sun (their left) have larger irises than the ones facing into it.

Great Horned Owl female and fledgling

1/100 @ F5.6, 700mm, +1/3 EV, ISO 10000 (not a typo), no flash, AV priority and spot metering.

Processed in Lightroom 5.3 and cropped.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Northern Cardinal Female

I made another run to Brazos Bend State Park on Saturday morning.  My main goals were to shoot the Great Horned Owls and find the baby gators again.  No babies and barely got any decent shots of the owls.  The lighting was horrible for the most part, and the wind was just brutal trying to shoot into the trees to capture the owls.

I did make it part way down Spillway Trail.  I always see tons of cardinals, but they tend to stay back in the tree limbs or behind leaves for the most part.  If they aren't doing that, they are always flying off just as you get set to shoot.  This one co-operated for a few seconds longer than most.

1/500 @ F7.1, 700mm, 0 EV, ISO 3200, AV priority, center-weighted average metering with fill flash using Canon 580 EX with Better Beamer

Canon 1DX + 500mm F4L IS + 1.4x extender III

Monday, March 31, 2014

Crested Caracara at Sunset

I needed to go to the store to pick up a few items, so I used that as an excuse to drop by the location where the two Crested Caracara have been hunting lately.  Sure enough, one of them was on a power pole just off the main road.

It's been a struggle finding good light to photograph them, so I had some color this evening for a change.  I pulled well off the road, at a crossover where there is little traffic, and walked over to the bird.  I knew at some point it would take off if I got too close, so I tried to set up far enough away where it would not do that.  I was located to the west of the road, keeping the sun over my back.  If it took off I would have some good light on it.

Eventually it did take off, and I missed it, but I got some decent light on it while it was perched.  For a change, I also didn't have to shoot at some ridiculously high ISO, though I was at 3200.  I was using exposure compensation and needed to keep my shutter speed around 1/500 sec to stop any movement.

1/500 @ F5.6, 700mm, +2-2/3 EV, ISO 3200, AV priority, center-weighted average metering and handheld.

Canon 1DX + Canon 500mm F4L IS + Canon 1.4x extender III.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Captured Moments in Time

I continue to make my own luck in finding birds close to where I live.  These shots are no exception.  The difficult part of capturing the shot always falls to two things: Having some idea of base camera settings before you shoot and keeping man-made structures out of the photo.

Due to the limited amount of time you have to get the shot (these birds are more nervous than those used to people approaching them) you have to have some starting point on ISO required to keep shutter speed high enough.  Ambient lighting conditions force you to rely on past experiences while shooting in aperture priority on what those settings should be.

Man-made structures are even tougher to mitigate.  Sometimes you just have to include them, knowing that those shots will not be award winning and will not be judged highly.  I use these type shots for more journalistic stories or teaching opportunities, like this blog.

I found the Osprey as a result of shooting this red-shouldered hawk just off Red Bluff Road, across the street from a McCoy's Building Center.  I happened to have my camera gear with me when I went to this store looking for some material for my back yard gliding swing.  As I came out of the store I spotted the hawk on this cable.  It was scanning the ground below and out in front, so I was able to get fairly close before it took off.

I followed the hawk as it flew off.  It landed in a pine tree some distance away, then took off behind the store.  I saw a road going behind the store that dead-ended back there somewhere.  I decided to see if I could find the hawk and also see what was back there.  As I drove back there I could see the hawk flying across a field, back towards some stores on Spencer Hwy.

As I hit the dead end, I looked south and noticed an Osprey sitting on a pole overlooking a pond.  I stopped and got out, grabbing my camera gear as I did so.  I tried to move in closer and see if I could shoot between some power lines, when the Osprey took off away from me.  I watched it circle higher and higher; then I saw some Cormorants in the pond, but I couldn't get an angle on them due to a tall chain link fence around the property.

I turned back towards the north, spotting the hawk from earlier coming back, landing in a tree just to the south of the pond.  About that time the Osprey returned, circling around to the north.  I managed to capture a few frames as it went by.

Almost immediately after that, I saw a Crested Caracara coming in my direction (from the east), over the store .  Really, I can't make this stuff up.  It stayed to the north as it came by.  I popped off a few shots as it headed into the sun, landing in a tree at the end of the street.  I was looking directly into the sun, so I didn't take that shot, as it was surrounded by tree limbs too.  I'm pretty sure this is one of the same Caracara I've been shooting off Fairmont Parkway, which was not far away.