Embracing Life

An Alert Young Burrowing Owl

An Alert Young Burrowing Owl

“If you have no love in your heart, you have nothing, no story, no dreaming, nothing.”* That’s why you need to follow your passion and be “in spirit”.  Inspiring others, with your love and imagination, and love will come back to you a thousand fold.

I love nature, and wildlife! This young burrowing owl is taking its first steps away from the home and safety that’s been its burrow. It’s alert and cautious about this strange and wider world, yet willing to embrace what life has to offer.

Are you willing to embrace life like this young burrowing owl?

*Quote from the Movie Australia.

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Sometimes You Get Lucky or Maybe Not!

Within The Egret's Beak

Within The Egret’s Beak

Sometimes you get lucky!

Maybe, that’s not the case, when you practice, practice, and hone your skills for years. The most overlooked capability is evaluating a nature situation, and thinking about what would make a great image.  What angle, what viewpoint will capture interesting behavior from the animal or bird,  and ultimately tell an exciting visual story.

I must admit that I am getting better at this; over the years I really have improve in this aspect of my nature photography.

Putting yourself at the right place at the right time, then, executing with the right technical skills already mastered, so you can let your eye and mind create art. Creating art with a Zen like focus: that’s in harmony with your inner divine self, as well as with the outer photographic world—like considering the quality and direction of the light, and the spiritual connection with the living being you are photographing.

Yes, I used a six by seven format and cropped the image to this size. In this case, with the diagonal line of the beak, all the focus goes to this little minnow that you know is in the last moments of life. A beautiful, tragic, and powerful story; yet presented so visual simple that it grips and tugs on strings of your heart and emotions.

What do you think about the creative process; is it luck or experience that gets the great image.  What about this image, was I lucky or not. Maybe a bit of both? Yes or no?

Bruce

Here is another image from that morning, involving more anticipation and preparation than luck.

Young Great Blue Heron Flight

Young Great Blue Heron Flight

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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

3/1/2014

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

ANALYSIS CRITERIA

IMPACT —————COMPOSITION—————-TECHNIQUES

IMPACT — GETTING THE ATTENTION OF YOUR VIEWER

  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

COMPOSITION — HOLDING THE INTEREST OF YOUR VIEWER

  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

TECHNIQUES — APPROPRIATE TECHNIQUE FOR IMAGE

  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
10-25-92

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

 

Male Red-necked Phalarope and His Reflection

Male Red-necked Phalarope and His Reflection

I have been thinking about birding and bird photography a bit. Especially since, I hosted some birders recently on a trip down Elkhorn Slough in Moss Landing, and to Point Lobos to photograph birds and wildlife. They are avid birders, yet learning to become better bird photographers.  

At different times in my life I have been both, a birder first, now a professional bird photographer. After giving up hunting and killing birds during my teenage years, I then cultivate to looking at birds through binoculars, identifying them, determining what species they were, learning all I could by looking and observing. I still do this. I also make species list for my ranch and other places I have visited.

I still get really excited when I see a new species, like most birders. I know a lot of birders take pictures to share and identify birds. For me though, bird photography is about art, creating an image of a bird that speaks emotionally to the viewer, sings with soul and spirit.

I am an artist, who also loves nature, and birds. Through my photography, its style and vision, I hope to convey to others my love of birds. I just don’t what to id them; or document what kind they are, or count how many species are in a given area, even though these are admirable endeavors; I want to go beyond that. I want to show their beauty, and have my images sing a song of a bird spirit, a song of aliveness, a song of life.

Getting close, very close, is necessary to create beautiful bird images, by doing this, you see more, more behavior, more beauty. Ultimately, you learn more about birds, about different species, even the idiosyncrasies of individuals.

At some point, I think if you pick up a camera and buy a big lens, you want more than just to document and record, you want others to see what you see, what you feel when you look at a bird closely. Nature and life has a soul and spirit, and through your images you want that to come through.  A camera with a telephoto does this equally or better than any pair of binoculars. Memories can be fleeting; pictures are more enduring.

Male Red-necked Phalarope Twist Body As He Prepares to Preen

Male Red-necked Phalarope Twist Body As He Prepares to Preen

Secondly, birding is more of an observing activity, recording and documenting what you saw; where as bird photography is about creating. Your photographic style and vision comes from how you visually see, and is different than anyone else’s. This creativity comes from deep inside, from the essence of your being; this is what makes you an artist. Not everyone can be a great artist, but each of us can learn and develop our photography eye and skills, get better, create images that improve over time. Learning about nature and birds is great, nothing can replace that excitement of seeing life enfold and develop before your eyes.  

Yet, sharing that “nature moment” with others, telling this story visually is what the medium of photography is all about. It is an art form. It’s translating that moment of life into a picture—an image that looks into window of a bird’s behavior, its life, and describes a living moment.

It’s worth doing well, like all photography, because a picture is worth a thousand words; it’s an evocative art. Great photography timelessly reaches hauntingly into the soul and connects that momentary experience of life and makes it enduring–communicating what you felt at the moment.  

 On this particular trip I was excited about some phalaropes, because I haven’t had many chances as a bird photographer to photograph them, so I wanted to get close. As a result of trying to get close, I took a dive into the mud of the Moon Glow Diary. (Another adventure tale for another blog post)  Thankfully, I can laugh about it, and it made things interesting, but it didn’t stop us from having a great photographic day.

Speaking of phalaropes, here are a few phalarope images I took at Radio Road…This is what I am trying to achieve in my photography, it’s different than birding, it’s getting close and creating art.

Red-necked Phalarope Ruffles Feathers Along The Shore

Red-necked Phalarope Ruffles Feathers Along The Shore

I am not saying that you should give up birding or that birding is any less of an activity or passion than bird photography, but if you carrying a camera, and you get excited at seeing your hummingbird or bluebird image on the back of the camera or on your computer screen. Then, why not do photography the best you can, learn and grow, and become a better photographer. Recording, viewing, observing, and documenting is fine, but art stirs the soul, and very good and great photography is art.  

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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

Addendum

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…

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