Subject Matter

Stunt Plane Performing at an Airshow in Cheyenne, Wyoming

I’m cruising through December as though it were a calm bay at sunset. Euphemisms for life and living and loving. Trudy has been cleared by her surgeon and is officially recovered so we can resume our regularly scheduled programming.

What would be my regularly scheduled program right now anyway?

Most years, this is the season for heading over to Rocky Mountain Arsenal NWR for deer and bison photographs, perhaps a landscape image or two. A coyote or hawk thrown in for good measure. Or, I might be in the mountains photographing bighorn sheep, but lets face it. I have 10,000 photos of all that, so my enthusiasm to rack up more of the same has waned to some degree. The fact is, I haven’t picked up a camera for serious photography since the first week of October. All in all, I’m enjoying the photography down time.

Not that I’m bored with photography, I’m just bored with the same old subjects and I need to find a new groove. Part of that new groove is going to involve shooting more video, and I’ve been writing somewhat about that in my recent blog posts.

But video of what? That’s the question I’m still contemplating.

I’d like to start selling video as stock, but I have a little more learning and understanding to do. I don’t want to just throw noodles at the wall and hope they stick. Winter is the time to learn it and I’m getting a fairly good grip on what type of equipment I’ll be needing. For the most part, I already have the gear. Just need to break on through the holidays and find the open water of the new year. No rush, no sense of urgency, just a sense that I’m tired of repetitive photographic pursuits.

Looking over my stock photo sales from 2019, I’ve had a good year. About equal to 2018, but there is the rub. I don’t want to stay equal, I want to sell more stock and what was hot last year isn’t hot this year.

I guess a good starting point would be to analyze the current sales and see what photos are selling better, so that’s what I’ll spend a few weeks doing. Going over the sales, taking stock of the stock so to speak. I already have a few clues, as certain photographs seem to be generating more interest than others, and they aren’t the same shots as this time last year. What’s hot this year won’t be hot next year.

I can’t afford to stay complacent with my subject matter.

Sandhill Cranes in Monte Vista

Sandhill Cranes in Monte Vista, Colorado
Mass Liftoff of a Flock of Sandhill Cranes Near Monte Vista, Colorado.

There are three major areas within shouting distance of Denver for photographing Sandhill Cranes.

Kearney, Nebraska, Bosque del Apache, New Mexico and Monte Vista, Colorado.

I’ve been to each of these locations over the years and I’ve found my personal preference to be Monte Vista, Colorado.

Kearney, Nebraska is a major convergence point for the Lesser Sandhill Cranes, with upwards of 500,000 birds traveling through in late March every year. While the bird count is high, it’s a bit more difficult to get close to the birds along the Platte River near Kearney. The birds have a knack for avoiding humans and pretty much keep themselves at a distance from human activity. There are areas where one can get close, such as the Rowe Sanctuary, but for the most part, close up action requires you photograph the birds from a blind at a cost. Pay to play is the best way to get shots in Kearney.

Bosque del Apache in New Mexico is another splendid location for photographing the Cranes, with peak season being the first week of December each year. The problem with Bosque is that it’s so popular, the photographers show up in the thousands. All one has to do is spend a morning on the “flight deck” in Bosque and the full effect of having a large number of photographers gathered in a small spot is immediately apparent. It’s just too busy for my tastes.

My favorite location for photographing Sandhill Cranes is Monte Vista, Colorado.

Monte Vista hosts an annual Sandhill Crane Festival and I normally go there the week following the festival to avoid the crowds. Ground Zero for the festival is actually the Monte Vista National Wildlife Refuge, which is about 7 miles south of the town of Monte Vista, on highway 15.  Monte Vista has a population of about 4,500 and is about 250 miles from Denver.  It is in the San Luis Valley in Rio Grande County, South Western Colorado.

What I find particularly attractive about Monte Vista is the surrounding landscape. The Great Sand Dunes are not far away and also offer another scenic location for photography. With the Sangre de Cristo Mountains to the east as a photographic backdrop, the location is far more scenic than Nebraska or New Mexico in my opinion.

Lodging is available in the Town of Monte Vista and in nearby Alamosa. The remaining area is fairly sparsely populated so traffic is seldom a problem.

This year, I’ll be in Monte Vista photographing the Sandhill Cranes on March 11, 12 & 13.

Maybe I’ll bump in to you. I always meet up with someone I know.

Below are a few sample photos from my previous trips to Monte Vista.

Enjoy.

Sandhill Crane Migration Near Monte Vista, Colorado.

 

Sandhill Crane Doing the Stick Dance.
Greater Sandhill Crane Browsing for Breakfast
Sandhill Cranes doing their dance during the Spring migration in Monte Vista, Colorado.
Sandhill Crane spreads its wings to fly at dawn near Monte Vista, Colorado.
The Sandhill Crane mating dance, near Monte Vista, Colorado.

Goodbye 2018 – Hello 2019

American Bison In Snow Covered Prairie Grass in Colorado

The end of the year is always a slow time for photography and even slower time for Internet traffic.

Normally Colorado has seen a bit of snow by the end of December but this year has been fairly dry and cold.

Interestingly, as I write this article on New Year’s Eve, we are actually getting a little snow. The day is still early, so maybe there will be a little accumulation for the last day of the year. We can really use it.

I wish I had some wonderful new stuff to show you, but for now I’ll just reflect on 2018 a bit and think of the adventures I should be having in 2019.

I put a lot of effort into updating my stock portfolio in 2018. It has paid off too. My sales have picked up nicely compared to the year before. My goal was to have 2,000 images in the portfolio by year’s end. I’ve exceeded that number and now have over 2,500 photos in the catalog. The target for 2019 will be to increase that number to 3,000 images. I see no problem reaching that goal. I look at stock as a retirement pension.

Since I retired from doing workshops in 2018, I’ll be focusing more on getting out with friends and members of my Facebook photography group, North American Nature, Wildlife & Landscape Photographers Association in 2019. With over 1,100 members, many of whom are located in Colorado, I foresee a greater effort on my part to grow this group.

I have added a new dimension to my photography kit. Wide field astro-photography. I’ve been spending the last week of the year getting to know and understand my new motorized equatorial drive and I hope to have enough practice in to get a nice sequence of the upcoming total lunar eclipse that is occurring on the evening of January 20th. I have an experienced friend, Carl,  who is planning to join me, so maybe I will actually learn something. That should be a fun evening with an old pal. I do like to socialize with other photographers from time to time, usually for a mutual trip or event or local outing. Hope to experience more of that in 2019, now that I won’t be heaping on a normal workload of workshops and such. I like the slower pace to life 2018 brought me.

Writing is a passion so I’ll have lots more to say here on this blog and on my other online venues. I have a half dozen articles that I’ve started but the holiday period slows things down as I’m more lazy and tend to stick to enjoying the family life as Winter settles in.

Health wise, 2018 was pretty good for me. Like most other folks, I’ve been dealing with the typical health issues that start cropping up with getting older. Everything is under control that needs to be under control. I have a few things that continually make their presence felt, the worst of which is having to deal with Psoriatic Arthritis.  It’s not a severe situation, yet, but modifications to my lifestyle have resulted. One must accept that I’m on the decline side of life and with that comes the inevitable health problems. I won’t let it stop me from what I want to do though. Enough whining about that.

Next up on my travel schedule should be Sandhill Cranes in Monte Vista, Colorado around mid-March. I made the trip in March of 2018 but it was cut short due to a problem with my vehicle. I managed a few hours of shooting though, but this year I hope to make up for the lost opportunities of 2018.

I may be able to salvage some of the local opportunities, if we do see some snow here locally. The deer and bison at Rocky Mountain Arsenal are there, but I tend to ignore the location if there is no snow on the ground. The deer will be active through February, after which the bucks will begin losing their antlers. C’mon Mother Nature, bring on some snow.

I’ve been giving some thought to heading over to Sandwash Basin to photograph the wild horses in April. I’ll stew on that thought a while longer.

Summer will be active, as I have two group sessions of moose photography scheduled with my Facebook group in late July/early August. I will of course spend the better part of June through September in Northern Colorado as usual. I only get about 4 months out of the year to work up there so I tend to get in chin deep during those months, the remaining 8 months is spent waiting.

I’ll take another Autumn Photography trip in late September or early October, but I’ve made no plans regarding that yet. My friend Jonathan Steele has been joining me for the past few years, and I’m guessing we’ll try to get together again this year.

Life here at home has been good though. Trudy and I have found our retirement groove. We’ve got the house and property in pretty good repair, so I hope to keep the major expenses under control in 2019. Something will come up, that’s what always happens. I just hope it isn’t something that requires tens of thousands of dollars to deal with.

That about sums up where I stand on New Years Eve, 2018.

I’d like to thank all my readers and all of my friends for their support over the past year. I’m hoping to make new friends in 2019.

Keep on keeping on and have a very happy and healthy 2019.

 

Mastering Photography – Those Pesky Power Lines

Bison in Field Near Denver, Colorado Bison At Rocky Mountain Arsenal

I’ve noticed over the years, the tendency of landscape photographers, including myself, to lament the presence of power lines in their composition.

Power lines are just about everywhere one goes. They are a byproduct of human civilization.

As a photographer, sooner or later, you’ll have to make a decision on what to do with them in your scene.

The first choice I see many photographers make is to simply edit them out in post processing.  Don’t want no stink’n power lines in my photo. It ruins the essence of nature I’m trying to capture. I’ll change reality and make it look more natural with a little help from Photoshop.

The second choice I often see is changing position to obtain a different field of view, one that doesn’t include the power lines in the scene. This works too, most particularly when a different position provides a better photographic viewpoint.

A more amateurish approach would be to be completely oblivious to the power lines and just take the photo. This is a rather hit and miss approach and often results in a strange combination of composition elements that don’t really capture the true essence of the scene in a pleasing manner. I call these “snapshots”

One of my early photography teachers enlightened me on how to handle them, photographically speaking.

I’ll share the knowledge.

Don’t look at power lines as being a negative.  Always start with the assumption that the power lines are part of the scene and try to find the composition that uses them rather than take the approach that they should be removed or avoided. Removing the power lines in post processing or compromising the composition by moving to a less desirable position should always be plan B or C.

The first decision you must make is rather or not the presence of power lines maintains the continuity of the scene.  By continuity, I’m talking about the reality of the situation. Why the power lines are there, where they appear, where they go. Are they really creating a distraction or is it some mental hangup you are experiencing that causes you to think they are really a problem.

Make the power lines work for you. Find the continuity of the power lines and the environment that complement the reality of what you are trying to capture.  The first choice should be to use them, not lose them.

The Bison photo explains this concept perfectly.

This shot was taken at the Rocky Mountain Arsenal near Denver and the backdrop of the Denver skylines defines how to approach this scene. Anybody who has been to RMA National Wildlife Refuge knows about these massive structures and it can sometimes be quite distracting to find a nice buffalo or deer standing under a great steal structure. It just doesn’t feel natural, so it’s a common practice to ignore the shots that include the power lines.

In the case of this photo though, the power lines aren’t out of place. The photograph conveys the juxtaposition of the natural world with the hand of man. The presence of a majestic bison in a field of tall grass with the Denver skyline in the background. Of course this isn’t what this scene would have looked like 200 years ago. Denver didn’t exist. But this photograph wasn’t taken 200 years ago. The power lines explain the environment and the composition uses them to frame the scene.  The power lines also amplify that juxtaposition of man vs nature. The bison is oblivious to the power lines, it’s only the human eye that knows what they are and why they are there.

Use good composition skills and learn to use the environmental elements to your advantage.

Tell the story.

Photography doesn’t have to be a deception. We don’t have to pretend that the human presence in nature is obscene or distracting. The truth is often more interesting than fiction. Reality trumps thought. Embrace the realities of the scene and use it to your advantage.

It’s possible that someday, these power lines will be gone or that civilization creeps into the environment to a greater degree. This photo documents reality as it existed when the photo was taken. Somebody viewing this image fifty years from now may have a different take on what it looked like “then” and what it looks like “now.”  It’s a historical representation of the truth. Those real life historical contexts can make this photo far more interesting for a much longer period of time.

We often try to separate humans from nature in photography, but the simple undeniable fact of life on earth is that humans are part of nature and so are the things we build. Give some thought to explaining nature as it exists now.

Learn to love your power lines and you’ll find their presence less bothersome.