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.

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.




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.