Thursday, September 26, 2013

Biscayne Bay is my best backyard

I was putting together some photographs to submit to Nature's Best Photography "Best Backyards" photo contest. Images can be created in public or private gardens or nearby parks or preserves. I had several from my own backyard, but I also included a couple images from Biscayne Bay. One of the places I launch from on the bay is Matheson Hammock Park, a county park. I typically paddle about 1/3 mile or more to photograph wading birds, but one day last summer I found several birds in a small area next to the launch site. The lighting was beautiful. Normally, the area around the launch site is unappealing for various reasons, most of which it is kind of muddy and messy.

But that morning with the lighting, I noticed that the birds were surrounded by black mangrove roots, which I find to be intriguing. They are finger-shaped roots that stick straight up from the mud; very different from the red mangrove roots (as in the photo right above). What made it more appealing is that the trees were on a mud bank and the roots were relatively high above the water. When I composed a shot, I found that the entire frame was filled with the mangrove roots and their reflections. Nearby, I found a background of red mangrove roots exposed at low tide that also filled the frame and surrounded the bird.  From the small amount of time I had to photograph birds in this one area, I created what turned out to be some of my favorite images of wading birds. The best part was I did not have to paddle far, like being in my own backyard.

Here are a few of those images. For the white ibis above, I darkened its surroundings to highlight it and its cool looking reflection. Enjoy these images of birds from "my backyard".

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Bully birds

It's been a long time since I sat in my canoe on Chokoloskee Bay and paddled no further than the pilings that line parts of the island. On both Saturday and Sunday, I paddled less than 2 miles, despite the near perfect conditions. I did not expect much to photograph with an incoming tide that basically covers all the oyster flats where wading birds might be found. I figured I would paddle around and not much else. Instead, I was pleasantly surprised to get the opportunity to spend both mornings with the sandwich terns that provide one of my favorite scenes. How could a common seabird be so interesting to photograph? See for yourself with several images I post here. This time of year, the sandwich terns are found in great number around Chokoloskee Bay. With an incoming tide, they roost near the marina, so all I have to do is paddle about 30 feet or so. With dozens of them, it is a fun spectacle to watch as birds fight for a 6-in circumference piling space. To add interest, they are among other larger birds, the laughing gull and royal tern. And of course, there are the brown pelican.

So for about 3 hours or so both mornings, I staked out near the pilings as the water rose. Some small amount of wind and current moved my boat around on occasion, but mostly it was calm. It is a challenge to photograph this scene. First, the birds are mostly at least 12 feet above me. This is not ideal as the sun rises and the under-wings become more and more shadowed. Second, while the winds may be calm, it is still difficult to keep the boat absolutely still because I need at least a few feet of water below my boat to minimize the vertical distance between me and the birds. With wading birds, I am often in shallow enough waters that I can anchor the boat with the ground or my feet. Third, because there are so many pilings, capturing the birds without distracting foregrounds and backgrounds is a challenge. Fourth, because the best way to photograph these birds is when they are landing onto a piling, the wind direction must be suited for the bird. In other words, you need the wind to your back so the bird can fly toward the camera. And fifth, the pilings are often very unattractive.


With all those challenges, I was able to capture several bird interactions with good light and ideal water conditions. On Sunday, I used my monopod to give my hands a break and that created an additional challenge, but eventually I got use to it. I also put the flash on the camera with the constant cloud cover, so this added more weight to the camera. At the end of the morning, I was satisfied knowing that I captured a handful of images with nice compositions, good light and ideal sharpness. Not an easy task given all the challenges presented. With these images, I always attempt to capture full wing spreads, some eye contact (particularly between birds), want to see the beaks on all the birds in the image, enough separation between birds to see each one, clean background and foreground, and ideally, a piling that is not distracting. Enjoy these images of the feisty sandwich terns.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Birds and Rules

Bird photographers know well the rules of bird photography that address such things as head angle (HA),catch light, lighting on the underside of the wings, cutting off the wings, background, foreground, etc, etc. Some take offense to these rules. Maybe it is the thought of "rules" being imposed on individual creativity that disturbs people. I would like to suggest a different perspective on the idea of rules in bird photography. Instead of seeing them as rules, let's consider them as nothing more than suggestions. Let's remove the stigma of "rules" and the basic drive to break them, and forget about photography and its techniques. Instead, let's dwell on the subject, birds.

Think what might attract us most to birds, could it be the feathers and their ability to fly? Why not attempt to photograph birds in a way that will display those beautiful feathers in the best way? Why wait until midday to photograph a bird in flight (I guess you can use fill flash to compensate for the lack of a beautiful morning light)? Why not get down to the eye level of a shorebird? Eye level perspective gives the photograph an intimacy that is lacking in those photographs where the photographer is standing and pointing the lens downward toward the bird. Put yourself at the birds level, capture its essence.

Why not learn as much as you can about birds or a particular bird that you wish to photograph? Why not attempt to capture the bird in its most beautiful light?

Learn its behaviors, learn to anticipate those moments when the bird will display its beautiful instinct of survival; catching a fish, displaying courtship, feeding its chicks, being territorial. Want to photograph birds? Spend some quality time with them and adapt to their schedules. Bird photography takes time, it takes patience and it requires respect for the birds. Rules have nothing to do with these things.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Preparing for a gallery exhibit, part 4: promoting your work online

I know next to nothing about marketing. But the reality is, I need to market my photography work if I want to sell it. Not only that, I have 35 prints ready to show in gallery exhibits (one in November, the other in March). What am I going to do with all those prints? Hopefully sell them! I do not mean any disrespect to the professionals nature photographers trying to make a living. So who am I to step into this world, especially being relatively new to it (I began less than 10 years ago) and think that people will buy or display my work? But here is what is driving my madness; I believe I have found a niche and have been validated with three upcoming gallery exhibits that are specific to The Everglades and Biscayne Bay. So maybe, just maybe I could take my madness to the next level. And maybe, someone reading this will find themselves in the same boat and this little blog might be of help to him or her.

The gallery exhibits will be a direct way of finding buyers, but I also need to set up an online site for ongoing sales as my work progresses, perhaps broadens and hopefully improves. Parallel to all the work put into the exhibits, I also had to work on marketing possibilities. With that, I have been completely disoriented with the business of online webhosting for photographers. It is mind blowing the amount of webhosting businesses that are out there. What are others using? That's the first step in figuring this out, no need to re-invent the wheel as there are as many websites as there are photographers selling their work. So I cruised around and checked out several artists' websites, and researched several webhosting businesses tailored to photographers. The first jolt of reality came when I looked at the cost.

I drew the conclusion that at this point, I cannot justify the cost of a professional-level website which can run into the thousands upfront and hundreds per year to maintain. However, I do want a website that will showcase my work and hopefully allow me to sell my prints. There appears to be several webhosts with reasonable costs, such as SmugMug. Right now, I am considering SmugMug which has a cost of only $60 per year for the power level (it allows sales). Comparatively speaking, this is quite cheap!

In the meantime, I already have a website that I created back in 2007 through Yahoo small business. I pay $13 per month for it. It is not designed for photographers and when I originally put it together it was not with the intention of showcasing my photography. Within the limitations of the site, I recently restructured it to advertise my gallery exhibits and provide links to my pbase galleries, which at this time are the only galleries I have online. Now, I need to move away from all that and create a site that is devoted to my photography, put my best foot forward and showcase those images I want to sell and/or help me gain some recognition.

I believe that the gallery exhibits, though small in scale, will be the first step toward recognition, but I need to prepare for the opportunities that may come from them. Therefore, it is so important that once I commit to a webhost site, I set it up the right way. I have spent a lot of money and time lately on my photography, so there is no room for wasting money or time. I hope that I may add another blog in the future that describes some successes in selling my work, and perhaps will share some of the pitfalls to avoid. The true test will be that by the end of next year, the prints that are currently being stored at home will all be gone and displayed in other public or private spaces.