Rejection and Redemption

Group of Sandhill Cranes Near Monte Vista, Colorado.

Nobody likes to feel rejected.

If you are in to stock photography, you will be rejected and more than once. It is a fact of life and I don’t normally dwell on the images that are rejected by any particular stock agency.

Sometimes, you’ll find redemption. As in the case of today’s photograph of a flock of Sandhill Cranes I took on my recent trip to Monte Vista.

Shortly after returning from my annual trip, I submitted this image along with a couple dozen other shots to all of the stock agencies I use.

Of all those submitted images, only one of them was rejected by any agency.  This one. My third best agency, which I’ll refrain from mentioning by name, but historically speaking, the same agency that I seem to get the strangest rejection reasons from.

Agency #3 rejected this shot for “technical reasons”, but they didn’t really define what the technical reason was. I reviewed the image on the computer to see if I could make the determination for myself. I normally try to review my rejected image to understand what I need to look for in the future.

Okay, so what’s wrong with this shot?  The composition isn’t the best, the birds could have been a little closer but they weren’t. I’ve submitted numerous other images that were less interesting with no problems.  I don’t think it was a composition problem.  Maybe it was the focus. Flying birds are sometimes difficult to get a good sharp focus on. Well, in the case of this photo there is one bird that is tack sharp, the others are all slightly soft. That’s normal for this type of shot though. Flying birds require a fast shutter speed, in this case 1/2000th of a second and that fast shutter speed requires a more open aperture. In this case the shot was made at f/6.3. Depth of field is a secondary concern normally for shots like this, but I’m guessing they wanted all the birds in focus. Oh well, not really practical if so. One doesn’t get great depth of field with super telephoto lenses at high shutter speeds. Just a photographic fact of life. The ISO was kept as low as possible and for this shot to have all the birds in the focal plane would have required an aperture of f/16 or more.

Oh well. The facts of life in stock photography. The folks reviewing the photos may not understand what is feasible from a photographic standpoint, they just see something they don’t like and kick it back to you as unusable.

I licked my little boo boo and got over it as I always do. But still, I ponder the inconsistency of this. All the other agencies approved the photo, along with some photos I thought less of.  Surely, I’m as good a judge of a photograph as anyone else I thought.

But then something interesting happened.

Two days after having the image approved by my #1 stock agency, the photo sold twice within an hour on the same day. One commission was $25, the other was $2.70.  Different licenses result in different commissions. But I felt immediate redemption on the matter. There’s a reason the #1 agency is #1. There’s also a reason the #3 agency is #3. I’ll probably see more sales of this shot in the future. If I don’t make another penny on it, I’ll be happy with the results.

Stock agency #3; however, will never make a cent on it. That’s too bad for them and for me.

A bird in the hand is worth more than a rejection.

The moral of this story is; don’t allow the fear of rejection keep you from doing something.

For every rejection you experience in life, there is always a path to redemption.

Monte Vista – After Action Report

Photograph of Sandhill Cranes with cattle and with the Sangre de Cristo Mountains as a backdrop.
Sandhill Cranes landing in a field of cattle.

Every photography trip is different. This year’s Monte Vista trip was no exception.

The story starts over a week before my friend Tim and I leave town.  I normally schedule this trip for the week following the annual Monte Vista Sandhill Crane Festival.

Mother Nature had a different idea.

The “Bomb Cyclone.”

Spring snow storms are nothing new to Colorado. I normally assume we will be subjected to them through mid-April and in years past we’ve had them as late as May. It’s a part of life here in the Rocky Mountains.

The weather reports were dire. As a result I postponed my trip for a week, assuming the cranes would still be plentiful and the conditions more suitable for photography.

The bomb cyclone though, was a bit of an anomaly. Colorado experienced a record low pressure and major dump of snow, which effectively paralyzed most of the state for a few days before moving east and hammering the rest of the mid-western United States.

Upon arriving in Monte Vista, it was immediately apparent the crane population was low, very low.  There are a number of areas near the Monte Vista National Wildlife Refuge where the cranes tend to congregate in large number each year. This year… nothing. Not a single bird in what would normally be a bonanza sighting area. A drive through the refuge and there were no birds there either. Spending the better part of our afternoon there the best we could do was find a few birds in very small groups scattered around the area in different remote locations.

This weather was severe enough to force thousands of Sandhill Cranes to abandon their normal migration stop over weeks early. It also caught many bird watchers and photographers off guard as well. The locals we spoke with were reporting that the bomb cyclone was so severe that some folks were stranded for a couple of days. The snow and wind was devastating to the bird population. Most of the birds just flew away to some place unknown. The birds that remained were staying farther from the refuge than normal. A bird population that would normally be between 35 – 50 thousand birds had dwindled to a few thousand.

By the time Tim and I arrived, the weather had improved and the snow had melted, but the birds were gone.

We spent the evening of our first day waiting for the cranes to return to roost as they do every evening. What we experienced was nothing. Most of the remaining birds appeared to be flying to the north for their evening roost, so we jumped into the SUV and explored the surrounding San Luis Valley for where they may be hiding.  We found a few hundred birds and that was it.

We made a decision to try more exploration of the surrounding area in the morning, hoping to find enough birds in suitable locations before it was time to check out of our hotel. If we could find them, we’d stay the second night. If we couldn’t find them, we’d check out and call it a trip. Fortunately, we found enough birds to remain and continue the photography. The up side being that most of the locations were new to me and I was able to get photographs in locations that were different from my previous trips. It also helped improve my knowledge of where the birds could be found beyond the refuge.

The end result, it was a good trip for both of us. While we didn’t get to see the massive number of birds normally available, I did manage to get enough good photographs to make the trip worthwhile.


I’m probably not alone but I have the same repeating process I go through for every photography road trip I take.

A mental checklist, barely deviated from, hardly ever discussed and seldom thought about.

Trudy’s mother announces that she’ll be making egg salad in honor of my leaving.

I don’t eat egg salad, the girls only have it when I’m going on a trip.

Having egg salad while I’m gone is the girl’s ritual.

Check the weather report.

While the wife runs to the grocery, I’ll rearrange the vehicles in the garage so I can get to the truckster.

Stare out the window of the office, look for positive indications that all will go well.

Check the weather report.

Pack the camera gear in the travel pack.

Charge the camera batteries.

Repack the camera gear in the pack.

Gather the tripods.

Check the weather report.

Pack the clothing bag. (Don’t forget the tooth brush)

Update the Garmin GPS.

28% complete.

Charge the laptop.

Charge the iPhone, put charger in the laptop case.

Check the weather report.

Damn it, the forecast has changed.

Garmin GPS update complete.

lump everything I’ve packed in the office into one easy to get to pile.

Stare out the window of the office, look for positive indications that all will go well.

Put a little cash in my wallet.

Gas up the truckster.

Have dinner and watch a movie with the wife before going to bed.

Stop by my office on my way to bed.

Check the weather report one more time before bed.




Winter Runs Long in Colorado

Flight of Canada Geese

The Bomb Cyclone moved through the state this past week. As a result of yet another snow storm, I postponed my trip to Monte Vista for 7 days. I’ll be heading out on this upcoming Monday with the hope that the weather reports are accurate and the Sandhill Cranes are still alive and well, and in great numbers.

I did manage to get out on Friday along with my travel partner to practice our techniques for photographing large birds in cold weather.  Geese and Great Blue Heron, plus a few more ducks on a still frozen lake. My friend is an amateur photographer with great enthusiasm, but his skills get a little rusty so I’ve been working with him to dial in his mental game. It’s been paying off. I think he’ll do fine.

It isn’t like Colorado doesn’t get snow in mid-March. In fact, March is the most snowy month of the year here. The weather can’t be reasoned with, only understood and endured.

Endure we shall because Winter runs long in Colorado.

Out and About, Just Duck’n Around

The Arctic freeze has begun to break here in the Denver area.

A bit colder and more frozen than a typical year in the Central Rockies has contributed a great deal to my laziness.  Sooner or later the laws of physics will take hold and it will warm up.

Yesterday was a warm day and a friend of mine and I decided to go investigate the local lakes to see what waterfowl had migrated into the metropolitan area.  While we found plenty of frozen lakes, there was an obvious change of season in progress and with that change of season comes the normal migratory species of ducks.

Here is a quick look at a few of the ducks we found.

It was good practice too, as I’ve been lazy with the photography and this change of weather has allowed me to get my photographic eye back in tune with bird photography in preparation for my upcoming trip to Monte Vista.

These will all be uploaded to the stock photography catalogs, as duck photos do sell from time to time.

The day of exploration was also a good opportunity to grab lunch with a friend.

Mostly, we spent the day “Duck’n Around”

Common Goldeneye
Lesser Scaup Male
Lesser Scaup Female
Mallard Drake
Mallard Hen and Mallard Drake
Gadwall Male

Springtime in the Rockies

Greater sandhill cranes during their migration in Colorado.

Spring weather in Colorado can vary dramatically from year to year, month to month and even week to week. I’ve been planning to travel to Monte Vista for a few days following the annual Sandhill Crane Festival, as I normally do.

The reports I’ve been hearing from other photographers indicate the bird count this year is high.

The weather reports, however, have been less encouraging. The week of the 11th appears to be shifting to a pattern of cold and snow, which doesn’t make for good bird photography. Birds don’t like flying in bad weather. Mountains don’t look pretty under cloudy, dreary conditions.

End result, I’m pushing my trip off for a week. Instead of the 11th – 13th this year, I’ll be heading there around the 18th – 20th. Hopefully, the weather will have improved by then.

The bright side of all this is that traditionally the week starting March 15th seems to be the historical peak for the bird counts.

For those of you interested, there is a web site called eBird that keeps historical migration counts for all major bird species in North America. Here’s the table for Sandhill Cranes in Monte Vista.

Monte Vista Spring Migration Stats for Sandhill Cranes

Mark that website. There is a lot of information there concerning all bird species and if you are into birding or bird photography, you’ll find it quite useful.

Me, I just want to get a good few days of photography in without a bunch of problems. The up side to the delay is I can get out to the local spots for a little mind/camera tuning.


I Have To Ask Myself These Questions

Photograph of a Elk Cow in Northern Colordo
Wild Elk in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado

I’ve been in such a production mode on my photographs since January, I haven’t really taken the time to sit and analyze my portfolio of images.  I have a few basic guidelines I try to stick to when considering an image that I’ll use as a stock photograph. I try not to over-think things, but the real danger lies in under-thinking things.

I am a Colorado photographer. Yeah, I’ve done a lot of traveling, but I don’t see me venturing out of the region much in the upcoming years. Getting old ya know, things that were never an issue when I was younger are taking on a more prominent role in my thinking.

A large part of my thinking is flying. I’m to the point that I don’t really want to drive to the airport and get on an airplane to fly somewhere. There are probably a few reasons for that, one being that I don’t want to spend the last moments of my life screaming in pure terror, another is that I don’t want to lug a bunch of weight around airports and all things associated to that. I usually check my luggage but the camera gear stays in my possession all the way.  This makes for a more basic kit of camera equipment and it still ends up being a lot of weight to have to deal with for a long periods of time. God forbid that I tear both rotator cuffs moving luggage around only to die in misery on a flight that crashes into an ice covered Minnesota corn field. I know, I’m over dramatic, but don’t tell me you don’t think about the same thing when you walk down the causeway to get in an airplane.

As a result of my changing mental state as I’ve grown older, I prefer the road trip. I have vehicles that will do just about anything I’d want to do at any time of year. Colorado is a big friggn’ place too. Think about the room I have to explore, If you took the entire Commonwealth of Great Britain as a land mass, you could place it comfortably inside of Colorado and still have a fairly large piece of land left over. When you think about the population, Great Britain has some 66 million people  crammed into a space less than the size of Colorado, and inversely a population in Colorado of 5.6 million people occupying an area 1/3 again larger than Great Britain. Well, you can get the picture.

Literally, you can get the picture in Colorado without having to deal with everything that flying a long distance has to offer in the way of inconvenience, harassment and unknown events. When one does a road trip, one can keep everything they’ll need in the boot and get there at a comfortable pace without having to worry about much more than not wrecking your vehicle. I’ve a pretty good driving record, wrecking cars isn’t something I’ve ever done a lot of.

As to the point of today’s blog entry… Well, that’s the grind it out part of blogging. One has to conjure up blog entries, otherwise one isn’t blogging correctly. I come up with things to write about all the time, but by the time I go to write them, they no longer interest me. I need more immediate gratification when it comes to writing something. Blogging is more of a literary quickie. Writing short stories is more of a sustained act of passion.

I much prefer to write about today’s things than I do writing about something I came up with 2 days ago. So with that in mind.

Today’s things are Elk.

I have a few really nice elk photos, good enough to maintain a portfolio of 45 or so images in my stock catalog.

So, here I am yammering on about being a Colorado photographer and I have such a puny catalog of a very nice and abundant species of wild animal. The elk. Yeah, there are lots of elk scattered around the entire country and there are probably even 10 times more elk in Colorado than there are moose.

So why haven’t I focused more attention on elk?

It’s a good question. I have to ask myself these questions. And I probably should answer them as well.

The answer is simple. If you need elk, you go get elk.

I need another 450 elk photos.