Faces of Sulphur Creek Nature Center

The Faces of Sulphur Creek Nature Center

Intent and Intense

Intent and Intense

For three or four years now, I have been photographing the birds of Sulphur Creek Nature Center in Hayward, CA.  My friend and fellow photographer, Oliver Klink, has been running photography workshops there to photograph these birds in captivity. All of these birds are unable to be return to the wild and live normal lives; some of them are missing an eye, and/or have a broken or missing wing. They only live through the grace of man, yet it was man himself that caused and ended their wild lives.

Into The Eye Of A Falcon

With the backgrounds being very difficult even in somewhat of a control situation, I have used my 600 mm lens to capture mostly their faces, rather than showing the whole bird without clutter and a chaotic background. This way I could look into their eyes, and show you their true hunter spirit. These raptors and owls live by their eyes, and it’s their remarkable vision that stirs our souls.

Here is a collection of some of my best images: haunting, fierce, and incredibly strong sense of life—a hunter gaze. Look into these images, and what do you see? Something mysterious and other worldly that tucks at something in the deep recesses of your soul.

Bruce Finocchio


PS: If you would like to capture images like these, or with your own particular photographic style and vision, please sign up on my friend Oliver Klink’s, mailing list, at http://www.incredibletravelphotos.com so you can receive a preview of the next workshop at the Sulphur Creek Nature Center, something a nature photographer wouldn’t want to miss.

I have also add a poll at the end of this post so you can vote for your favorite “face”!

Screech Owl Looking Over Its Back

Screech Owl Looking Over Its Back

Western Screech Owl With Lady Bug

Western Screech Owl With Lady Bug

Side Profile Of A Great Horned Owl

Side Profile Of A Great Horned Owl

Great Horned Owl Looks Up

Great Horned Owl Look

Face Of A Gray Fox

Face Of A Gray Fox

Barn Owl, Side Portrait Emphasizing Facial Disk

Barn Owl, Side Portrait Emphasizing Facial Disk

Fierce Yet Contemplative

Fierce Yet Contemplative

Peregrine Falcon, One Wing One Feather

Peregrine Falcon, One Wing One Feather

Barn Owl Portrait

Barn Owl Portrait

Red-Shoulder Hawk With Water Droplet On Beak

Red-Shoulder Hawk With Water Droplet On Beak

California King Snake Coiled Around A Branch

California King Snake Coiled Around A Branch

Western Screech Owl In Tree Fork

Red-tailed Hawk Portrait

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Selecting A Winning Photograph

Ghost Boat, A Retrospective On The Past

Ghost Boat, A Retrospective On The Past




  1. COLOR — Appealing Color Palette
  2. SHAPES — Varied Size and Shape
  3. MOOD — Exposure To Match Mood
  4. STORY APPEAL — Clear Storyline
  5. CUTE APPEAL — Watch Out for Cliche
  6. ORIGINALITY — Don’t Copy Style


  1. Strong Leading Lines
  2. No Distracting Bright Areas
  3. Uncluttered Image
  4. One Prominent Subject (Ken, used to use the phrase, “Queen of Spades”, when he judged) I use the phase “Queen of Hearts”
  5. All Elements Directing Inward


  1. Professional Detailing — Touch-up, ETC
  2. Sharp & Diffused Areas Defined
  3. Perfect Exposure for Mood and Lighting
  4. Care in Use of Proper Filters
  5. Care in Use of Photo Manipulation
  6. Good Choice of Lens
  7. Mask (Crop) or Duplicate To Change Format

*By Ken Eugene

Remembering Ken Eugene

*Ken Eugene was a longtime photographer and member of Peninsula Camera Club, and saw service in WWII. The club’s award, the Parks-Eugene Service Award, for outstanding contributions and excellent service to the club is named for him. I won this award in 2000, and I have one of Ken’s sailing images frame for my contribution to PCC, gracing my walls of my apartment. In remembrance of him, I have included two of my images taken during the America’s Cup competition in San Francisco, during August 2013.

Artemis America's Cup Boat Makes An Extreme Turn In Front of Alcatraz

Artemis America’s Cup Boat Makes An Extreme Turn In Front of Alcatraz

Here is more information about Ken and his life from long time PCC member Lois Shouse.

Ken was an avid Sailor and served crew on sailing ships like the ones that competed in the recent S.F. races (the older sailboat version, not the catamaran type). He had many talents. He created parts for camera equipment – attachments to tri-pods, quick releases, etc. He was always willing to share his knowledge freely and help other photographers. He was always ahead of the times in what he was trying in photography. He was doing adjustments to slides before Photoshop came along, but he took to it like a duck to water. Ken taught Photography free at Little House in Menlo Park for years. He was always willing to give of his time to share his love of photography with others. He was truly worthy of having the Peninsula Camera Club honor him by adding his name to our Service Award. He served the club for about 20 years, and was a mainstay of our social and field trip life.


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Birding as Opposed to Bird Photography

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Posted in Bird Photography, Birding, Nature's Wonders, Visual Creativity | Tagged , , , , | 4 Comments

It Has Come To Me; I Must Become a Mother

It Has Come To Me; I Must Become a Mother

It has come to me; I must become a mother to seven or eight young juvenile Merriam’s chipmunks. Their mothers are gone, passed into the fourth world–never again to suckle these seven or eight youngsters.  Was it my fault, yes and no!  Am I to blame? I ask myself?

The answer is that the mothers are gone, and I now must take the responsibility to keep these youngsters alive. Assigning blame isn’t going to keep these little guys and girls alive. Get them to adulthood, and foraging on their own.  So they too, can grow up and raise young ones of their own. That’s now my mission.

Ah, Rolling In The Dirt, Chipmunk Style

My friend Randy knows the situation; the task is a bit daunting. I must get them to be independent, but they are going to be dependent on me for a while. It is going to be a step by step process. Tame them, no! Really lead them, to the direction of being wild and able to live on their own.

I know that I am being a bit cryptic and mysterious.  I have my reasons, and they are good ones. If you want the whole or full story, you’ll have to contact me personally.

Merriam's Chipmunk On One Leg

I leave you with a couple images of Chipmunks being Chipmunks. I never cease to marvel at these little dynamos of energy. Their antics always seem to make me happy, and if I am a bit depressed they always lift my spirits. Yet, now too, I realize that even they have moments of dependency, of fright, and loneliness.

Merriam's Chipmunk Kisses Oak Branch
I am also recognizing individual personalities too. I know that some are going to make it with no problem; others are going to present a great challenge!

A mother must give the type of love that each require. All seven or eight aren’t the same; they are individuals! Not only must I be a loving mother, but a smart one too…

Sticking His Nose Into EverythingMerriam's Chipmunk Perched On A Dead Branch

A story from the Ramrod Ranch, a series of wildlife adventures…

And the Last Chipmunk Word…

Last Word


The first, absolutely the first thing I did when I arrived at the Ramrod Ranch was to go to the bird feed. It’s all in a large garbage can. I have a plastic cup that I use to scoop it out with, so I filled this large plastic cup and headed over to the chipmunk corner, laying out the feed for them. They have been living on the thistle seed, and I put out a large pile for them. I figured that they would be starving… I was right they were!

But this mother was too late for two of them; I found one laying dead close to the area where I left out the seed. I put out a lot of seed before I left, was it not enough? Did I make a mistake? Or was this little chipmunk just too weak to survive. Later in the day, I found another dead chipmunk close by, they were so young. They just did not make it.

Sorrow was in my heart, I had failed two young lives. However, my spirits were buoyed by the flourishing four others who scamper down and came to eat the feed I had left. At least four made it, so far, not sure where the other two are, I know that last time I had counted at least seven. Maybe, the other two were off on their own; I heard at least one down by the barn when I came back from the blind midday and finished photographing.

It was a warm spring day, temperature in the low eighties, tomorrow promise to be another slightly warmer day at the Ramrod Ranch! Even with the sad deaths of the two little chipmunks, and a slight bout with heat stroke, I still had an incredible day observing all the bird life at the ramrod ranch… I just couldn’t stay sad, for all the other life up lifted my spirits!!! Nature and life just fortify the soul and sooth the heart every time. I feel like I am in heaven every moment I spend in nature…

PS: You can guarantee I am going to drink more water tomorrow, and I’ll definitely wear my baseball cap. I really need to find a type of hat that I can photograph with and that will protect me from the hot rays of the sun…


The Final Chapter

A week later I was relaxing in the yard one late afternoon, when a chipmunk came hopping down the yard to the base of the big oak tree by the cabin.  It started feeding on some of the grasses around this oak tree. Yet, its movements were kind of slow and not chipmunk like at all. When, it turned toward me, I could see a strange glow in its eye.  At first, I thought it might be just the light. I got up and I took several pictures of it, and then I checked the back of my camera and the images still showed this strange glow.  I didn’t use flash so that could not be it.

I gathered some food (bird seed), and gently walked over to it. I placed the food right in front of it, stepped back and watched it for a while. Eventually, the young chipmunk began eating the bird seed in front of it. The movements still were slow. I went back to my chair and watched it for a while. It seemed to get disinterested in the food. Then, it tried to climb up the trunk of the big oak tree next to the cabin, but it didn’t make it too high, and almost felled back to the ground, like it didn’t have enough energy to make it up the tree trunk. On the ground not long after, it squeezed between the cabin boards and went underneath the cabin. This is the last time I saw it.

After reviewing the images and thinking about its slow mechanical actions, I realized that the chipmunk was blind. That’s what was accounting for that unusual glow in its eyes. It never did see me as I placed the bird seed inches from its body.

I talked to my doctor about a week later and she said that one of the affects of starvation could be blindness, not enough nutrients for proper eye function.

I am sure this little chipmunk did not make it…very sad!

The good news is that the four remaining juvenile chipmunks hanging around the corner by the bathroom door and on top of the old jerky cage seem to be doing well. Each week I left some bird seed for them. Then, as the weeks passed by, they seem to be foraging on their own, and venturing out from this little corner. I began to see and hear them down by the barn.

As the photography workshops began, the chipmunks disbursed and headed out for a life of their own. I was a little sad, because I didn’t have to feed them any longer, and they weren’t hanging around in their little corner any more where I could see them regularly. Yet, I felt happy too; for now four chipmunks were living on their own now, with the chance to grow up and have babies of their own…

So go life, and the saga of my little chipmunks!

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Selective Focus

Selective Focus

A camera’s vision is not quite like ours. As a photographer you need to see the world as a camera see it. One of the differences is that the eye focuses constantly, and we see everything in focus from near too far. With a small aperture selection like f22 and a wide-angle lens, you can almost get the focus of the human eye, where everything is sharp and in focus. This focusing is good for landscape photography, where you usually want to see all elements of an image sharp from foreground to background.

Another way is to use selective focus: emphasizing a particular part of an image, making the subject of the image stand out; singing its visual song. This is a powerful technique to draw the viewer’s eye to the subject, where the photographer wants the viewer’s eye to go. The eye is drawn to the sharp focused subject surrounded by the blur area containing the rest of the image. This seeing is as the camera sees not as the human eye sees. Controlling the aperture size is the key to controlling the depth of field and selecting the focus area–what’s sharp and not sharp within the image.

Here is an example of selective focus; I entered this image in my camera club recently. This cheetah image was taken at the San Diego Wild Animal Park.

I did not use a small aperture like f22 to render the whole portrait of the cheetah sharp. I used instead an aperture of f5.6, so my depth of field with my 600 mm lens and with 1.4 tele converter was shallow, leaving the neck and parts of the shoulder slightly soft. This makes the alert cheetah’s face and eyes seem very sharp, more so because the rest of the body is slightly soft. The story and impact of the image is the face, the alert expression, and those penetrating eyes. Penetrating eyes that look into the soul of the animal! With selective focus, these features are emphasized to the viewer. Subtle in its effect, but nonetheless greatly contributes to the overall success of the image.

Also, it should be noted that this image was taken after sunset late in the evening, so I needed to use a large aperture and a high ISO of 800, just to obtain the proper exposure… My camera was on a tripod and with the animal not moving; I had a choice of using a sharper aperture, and slower shutter speed. My goal for the image was to focus on the face and the great intense stare. Choosing an aperture with a small and shallower depth of field gave me the critical focus on the face, very slightly blurring the neck and shoulders, making the face really stand out and sing.

Why not make the neck blurrier? That would make the face stand out more. I think if you did that; it would make a face on a blurry body (a post it or cut out look), and the blurriness would attract the eye and away from the face you want the viewer to see. A completely burly neck doesn’t work well for this type of animal portrait.

Why not make the image completely sharp? Well, yes, for a nature interpretation, you might want a completely sharp image. I believe this makes the image more a record shot, rather than an artistic presentation.

This selective focus technique is used a lot in macro photography, flower photography, and many other types of image making as well. The uses are endless, so make sure you apply this technique to your photography.

PS: This image won best of show at my camera club’s week night competition…

Posted in Digital Darkroom, Mammal Photography, Nature's Wonders, Photographic Tools, Visual Creativity | Tagged , , , , | 4 Comments

What type of images sell? What do customers want?

What type of images sell? What do customers want?
& Other Thoughts

In a recent reply to my blog post “Dare To Be Different” (http://wp.me/p1iYnC-5y) a photographer asked the following questions:

“BRUCE, I love the shots, but when I show my “dare to be different” shots to my audience of friends, they seem to prefer the tried and true “basic” images. For example, I have this wonderful red hawk photo that I cropped to show off its head. When I showed it to a group of friends, they all wanted to see the body too. Another example: A flower with the stamen off-center (aligned with the rule of thirds), my friends wanted to see the flower smack dab in the middle of the frame. “
“I found it fascinating that photographers like images with that more artsy quality, but people who might buy the photo want to see basic crops, full subjects, and middle alignment. Anyone else experience this disconnect?”*

My longer reply for this blog post:

I would have to see your images to make a more informed personal comment. However, I think intuitively people respond to a great image, because on an emotional level it speaks to them and connects to them personally. They might not be able to explain why in a way the so-called “art critics” would, but they know when they like an image.

I believe record shots, images without strong subjects, busy images with clutter, images that show too much, images that don’t have artistry and superior composition, and just plain poorly technically executed images, in the long run will not consistently sell.

Generally, when you cropped an animal, bird, or person, you need to avoid cropping just a little so to avoid a subject that looks funny or strange without the rest of the body part. If you crop bold, then, the viewer assumes that the photographer wanted to show the subject in this way. Then, it wasn’t a mistake, or sloppy technique by the photographer.

Also, there is a glut in wildlife portraits on the market nowadays; the new marketable trend is to shoot wildlife with wide-angle lenses, and show the animal in its habitat and with a grand scenic background. Wildlife portraits need to be stunning. Wildlife images need to show note worthy behavior, a rare species or less documented one helps too. Specializing, becoming a provider of certain imagery that few have is also more marketable. Story telling is a premium, a must, essential for high level commercial success.

In regards to composition, center placed subjects can work; a round flower with the petals flowing outward like spokes of a wheel as an example. Although, generally off placed subjects, with rule of third principal, often are stronger and more dynamic. But there are no hard or fast rules regarding composition, photography isn’t an exact science; there is lots of subjectivity. What one person may like another won’t. This aspect of photography is what makes it so interesting. Everyone sees the world a little bit differently; visually it would be very tiring if this weren’t so.

Content matters. Content and its visual arrangement is style. I believe that establishing a style is important. The goal should be mastering the craft and art of photography so your vision is discernible; your images recognizable. Yet, an artist is never satisfied: always growing and learning—improving.

From the visual impact of image, the viewer can recognize the artist, the best photographers work is recognizable; Ansel Adams, David Muench, Elliot Porter come to mind—there are many, many more of course. From recognition comes success, although, I always thought that anyone who bought one of my images, no matter how big or small, took a little of me, my soul, and my heart with them along with my image.

As nature photographer, I take pictures that please me, satisfying myself. If someone else likes the image great, if they want to buy it, all the better. The point is I don’t take pictures to please an audience. If I become a better photographer, improve my skill, clearly establish my style, have a pure vision, then I’ll be successful! First and most importantly to myself, secondly, and in a humble grateful way, others will recognize the merit of my work. Maybe, this is overly idealistic, but it’s what I believe…

All the best following your passion, hopefully this message helps and inspires you.

Here is a shot I have been trying to get for years, California quail chicks lined up at the edge of my ranch pond in soft diffused lighting I like so much. Very pictorial, with the help of some post-processing, showing some implied behavior and that cute factor that always endears us humans to babies.

This image exemplifies my photographic style of getting in close, and a vision of showing nature and wildlife in an extraordinary manner–letting nature’s beauty shine, and its spirit show.

*Question Quoted from Ilene Hoffman, LinkedIn Adobe Lightroom group member,  her blog is at http://ilenesmachine.net

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Nature Shows A Bit of Wonder

Nature Shows A Bit of Wonder

My two photography friends and I were in South Central Oregon photographing birds from bird blinds. We had portable blinds for each of us strategically placed around some water ponds in a Ponderosa Pine forest at the edge of the high sage brush desert. We had a nice set-up of pictorial perches, limbs and logs, and lichen covered branches for the birds to land on while heading down to the ponds for water and bathing.

We were very dedicated bunch of bird photographers and spent hours in the blinds…mornings and evenings…arriving just before sun rise, and coming back around four in the afternoon and staying until it was too dark to photograph. Each morning we would move the blinds and perches around so that the sun was behind us and would have good frontal lighting. Then, move them back again around the other side of the pond for the evening photo shoot.

We had been at this for days, capturing a lot of beautiful images. We were doing a lot of bird watching too; soon we came to know the common species that came into water every day. New species would get us very excited, and send our camera shutters clicking away. It was special place, a bird photographer’s dream. It was just a joy to watch birds in their natural environment, each species different in their own unique way. Watching the individual bird behavior was almost as exciting as taking their pictures.

One day, it was almost sundown, just a little light left from setting sun, when a young female yellow-rumped warbler landed on our log perch… Funny thing, it just stayed there, it did not go to the water pond below. The minutes ticked by, yet the bird stayed right there. It looked a little odd, kind of seemed sick or something. It was shaking bit too; then, its tail started pumping up and down, slow like. This strange behavior had been going on for at least ten minutes…we all wonder what was going to happen next.

The tail pumping increased, and the bird’s eye squinted a bit, her body hunched up more, and all of sudden an oblong pink translucent egg appeared under her tail, laying right underneath her body, right on the horizontal branch…our log perch! She appeared to have a strange expression, a body language that said, “Wow, what happen? What had I just experience?” Still she sat there with the egg just below her, once she hunched down on it and slightly spread her feathers out, but this was only momentarily. The instinct to mother was there…but she was too young, and did know what to do…

After a few more minutes, and after looking around bit, she finally took flight, leaving the translucent pink egg lying on the branch all alone. I think all of us were a bit astonished with amazement; we couldn’t believe that she laid an egg on the branch, right before our eyes!

We took some shots of the egg all alone to complete the story, but the sun had gone and the light was fading away as we got out of the blinds. We went up close and looked at the egg; you could distinguish the yolk sack inside through the translucent outer pink layers. My friends when back to their cars and got their macro lenses, and came back for some close up shots of the egg. But the light was fading fast, and maybe, not fine enough for quality images, at least I believed at the moment. Also, I was still a little bit in awe of what I saw and just wanted to leave the egg alone and not somehow transgress or diminish what I saw from that young inexperienced female yellow-rumped warbler.

I knew that I would never see something like that again in the wild—a wondrous nature moment that touched my heart. Yes, a bit sad, yet part of nature. I am sure that the next egg she would lay would have a much more successful chance at survival.

This incident was one of many “wildlife experiences” that reminded me why I love nature: no moment is the same; every moment is different and uniquely alive

To see more Bird images Of Southern Oregon, follow this link: http://www.flickr.com/photos/brucefinocchio/sets/72157627418420594/with/6036035283/

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