The big deal this week was having to watch the progression of the Cameron Peak Wildfire as it moved ever closer to Red Feather Lakes. This morning’s fire map shows the fire about 2 miles away from the village and burning in a north-easterly direction. Kinda straight at the village. We evacuated a couple of weeks ago, along with our neighbors who are now staying with us here in the Denver area. While personally safe, we are fairly stressed out about the what will be there when this is over. All we can do is pray.
Trudy and I did a day trip to Buena Vista, Colorado to get a good look at the Autumn foliage in the mountains. The trees are looking quite sick in the mountains and smoke from the wildfires is so pervasive as to make it even more ugly, so I’ve decided to skip making a trip for foliage photography this year. Just too much ugly and too many logistic problems with the pandemic in full swing to deal with trying to get Autumn foliage photographs. I’ll poke around the foothills near Denver as color develops, perhaps I’ll find something interesting. I’m considering a lost year for that business.
Happy Thought Inventory
Everyone is safe and healthy. For now, that’s about as good as it’s going to be.
It is “Scenic Saturday” so here’s a photo from Buck Gulch, Colorado.
Slacker is as slacker does. The Covid-19 case rate is still going up in Colorado. Why? Because there are too many slackers out there.
My Autumn photography endeavors for 2020 are looking poor. I did a full day scouting run on Sept 24th to gauge the feasibility of a photography trip and to be quite honest, I wasn’t encouraged by the suitability of landscape scenes I was finding this year.
The basic problems are multiple here in Colorado.
First, we’ve been experiencing a severe drought this summer. Warmer than usual temperatures across the state coupled with virtually no rainfall have resulted in much of the mountain foliage (aspen, scrub oak, cottonwood) in a seriously distressed condition.
Second, we had a major snow storm and freeze in early September across much of the state and that too has hastened the normal autumn transition time and destroyed the quality of foliage this year. What I’ve seen in most areas are spotty patches of color with most of the major stands of colorful trees having leaves that have turned brown quickly and prematurely. Most of the remaining trees are seriously stressed and appear to be muted in color and in some areas the trees are already having their leaves stripped by wind. It’s just not a very pretty Autumn here this year.
The third problem, and probably the most devastating issue regarding photography is the prevalence of smoke in the atmosphere from the numerous wildfires in the western part of the country. I made a loop drive from Denver to Buena Vista to observe the Collegiate Peaks and the smoke haze was so bad as to obscure peaks in every direction to the point that it was simply ugly to look at and hard to be in from a respiratory aspect.
Adding to the problem is the fact the the weather continues to be hot and dry, with no forecast for any type of change in weather patterns for the next 10 days, which is when the normal color peaking will be occurring.
Another issue of course is the COVID-19 pandemic. Traveling and sustaining myself on the road for several days presents a unique problem during the pandemic, so the bottom line, what I’m seeing in the mountains isn’t worth going after this year. Yeah, there may be a few areas here and there where shots can be found, but committing to several days in a specific area is just not practical this year so I’ve decided to skip this years Autumn Photography trip. I’m majorly bummed out about this, but none of it is going to change with my wishful thinking.
I would also add, that the past several years have been a slow decline in the conditions of trees during the autumn change here in Colorado. Politicians can posture and pontificate all they like, but the effects of global warming are quite evident in the Colorado high country, with weather patterns that one would normally expect to see over a period of time being replaced by extreme patterns that are no longer the exception but rather the rule.
2020 has indeed turned into the “Lost Year” and I personally will be glad to see better times, if and when they happen.
I ask the question to myself from time-to-time, as I watch someone’s photography come to a screeching halt because of a single point of failure. Experience has taught me to take a close look at my equipment and plans and try to identify and remove single points of failure before I’m in the field.
There are two types of photographer in this world. Those who can take photographs and those who can’t.
A single point of failure is anything you have or do that if it were to break or cease being available, would prevent you from continuing. One little thing can cause catastrophic failure in any plan or shoot.
We often hear talk of the infamous “second body” or “backup body”. Every working pro knows or should know you can’t take pictures without a camera, so the smart boys and girls keep a second camera with them. Like having a spare tire in the car’s trunk. The concept shouldn’t stop at the camera though. As a matter of fact, the second body adds a whole new list of things to consider as single points of failure.
I suppose that an identical second camera is optimal from an operational standpoint. No fumbling with the memory shift when you pick up the other camera. Just stick a different lens on the other body and shoot with it too. I’ve done that many times at weddings and large events. Two bodies, two lenses, that’s a good backup. A body or lens failure won’t sink the boat.
Where are the other single points of failure?
Lets start with the basic stuff.
Batteries. A digital camera won’t work without electricity. Batteries are a major single point of failure. For each body I have with me, I keep one fully charged battery and at the very least a second fully charged battery as a spare. If both bodies use the same battery, I’ll bring at least two fully charged spares. If I feel I need to bring the battery charger, I bring two as well. Can’t charge a battery with a broke charger. If you know you’re going to want to recharge your batteries, your charger is a single point of failure.
Memory chips. I like the new bodies that will hold two chips, preferably chips that have the same format, but I’ll take what I can get. I normally set my camera to record the image to both chips. That’s an instant image backup on the spot. To me, memory chips are like ammo. Keep plenty of ammo. You can’t take photos if you don’t have the memory to hold the images.
Tripod boot plate. I recommend standardizing your tripod mounts and keeping spare mounts in your kit at all times.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve stumbled around looking for a quick release plate. I finally bought enough to go on every camera and have a couple of spares in the bag. You won’t regret having extras.
Since we are on tripods, keep a spare tripod in your kit too. Yeah, I know, they don’t normally break, but I’d have a spare in the trunk of the car or back at the house. If I travel by vehicle to any overnight location or job, I always have a second tripod with me. Not so much with air travel, unless it’s an absolute necessity, but you get the idea. If you need a tripod and don’t have one, you fail.
Flash. Most amateur photographers I run into don’t think much about their flash. Most consumer grade camera bodies have a pop-up flash which will work well for the very limited things they will encounter.
If you plan to use a hot-shoe external flash in your kit, you should place a second one in there too if your camera doesn’t have an internal pop-up flash. Reasoning; If you know you will need flash, don’t let a single point of failure prevent you from doing so.
Lens caps. On average I’ll lose a couple of lens caps a year. It’s an annoying distraction to know your $2000 lens is rolling around in the bag with no lens cap. No, it won’t stop you dead but it’s a lot more comforting to know you’ve put a spare cap in the bag and that you don’t have to worry about the lens getting damaged. If your finances allow, buy spare generic lens caps for all your lenses.
Rain protection. Rain happens a lot when I’m out on wildlife workshops. If you intend to work in the elements at least keep a plastic bag or two in your kit. I’ve seen people just abandon their photography out of fear of getting their camera wet. I just slap a hefty bag over my camera and bag and quit worrying about it. While you’re at it, throw a hand-towel or two in your kit. You’ll feel better knowing you’ve got something to wipe your gear down with. I particularly like the flour sack bulk cotton towels at Target. Auto stores sell good shop rags in bulk.
Lens cloth. Just about every person I’ve asked says “no” about having a lens cloth on or about their person. Not me. I keep lens cleaning equipment with me at all times. A spare battery and lens cloth is always in my pocket when I’m working. Not cleaning a major blob off your lens can ruin a shot or shots. Pay attention. A single point of failure.
User Manual. I’d bet money most of you would have to root around somewhere to find the manual that came with your camera. Most folks don’t bother to carry them in their kit but I’m here to tell you that you need to put the manual in your bag and take it with you every time you go out with your kit. You can’t look something up in your manual if you don’t have the manual. A single point of failure. While you are goofing off waiting for the sun to set, read the manual. For the more tech savvy, maybe even store a digital copy on your mobile phone. Nikon has a user manual application for iPhone and Android. I’ve downloaded all the manuals to my cameras and can call them up anytime.
In conclusion, we all have decisions to make and some times carrying spares aren’t part of the plan, but even if you don’t have them with you every time you leave the house, you should give serious thought to having them there when you get home, one failure on the road can still end up ruining the next shoot if you don’t have a replacement. We have to stick to our budgets too. Not every person is able to afford all this stuff, but if you are going to hold yourself out as a professional and aren’t taking care of doing your clients justice, you’ll probably soon be out of business.
Single points of failure are reality and if you don’t solve them before they happen, you will eventually fail.
Back to our normal groove here in Denver. Summer is winding down. I’m scheming my schemes for Autumn photography. Still not totally sure of where I’ll be going as the freak late summer weather has thrown a wrench into the mountain color change. I’m kinda leaning towards SW Colorado and the San Juan Mountains again this year. Realistically speaking, I’ve sold more photos from the San Juans and it’s looking like the trees are behaving almost normally in that part of the state. Still a couple of weeks out, I’ll know more soon.
Our neighbors from Red Feathers have returned home after spending some time with us while Randy got his all clear from his neck surgery. Poor fellow, he’s been in a neck brace for the better part of the last year. I’m glad we could be a port in the storm for them. Hope the fire doesn’t chase them out of their home.
Been avoiding television and Internet news and will continue doing so until after the election. It’s not really news, it’s just yammering about how much the Red and Blue people hate one another. Someday, maybe, all these nit-wits will figure out it’s better to work together than it is to piss on one another. Too much lead in the water?
I’m a day behind on getting my weekly Covid-19 blog update. No big deal. It would have been the same entry if I had done it yesterday.
Happy Thought Inventory
I’m quite chuffed at the fact my daughter and son-in-law are now neighbors in Red Feather Lakes. They purchased a nice lake front cabin last week, just down the road from our place. The fire situation has been nerve wracking but they are now villagers and I expect there will be a lot of new memories to be had and I’ll get to spend more time with them in the place I love. Congratulations Nick and Shawn!
Slacker is as slacker does. The Covid-19 case rate is going up in Colorado. Why? Because there are too many slackers out there.
As I sat and watched moose gathering the other morning, I was thinking about the paths of life that led me to this spot in the mountains and I came to the realization that in many ways I was like my father.
My father was an avid hunter. He spent most of his life living in Kentucky and while I was growing up, one of his favorite pass-times was squirrel hunting. It’s a hillbilly way of life, but for him, getting out into the woods for those morning walks searching for squirrels was a constant thought and motivation.
As his health deteriorated following his cancer diagnosis, one of his wishes was to get back out to the woods just one more time before he died. In a small way, that thought kept him going. He managed to recover from surgery long enough to achieve that wish.
I came to the realization that I had inherited a similar passion. Hunting moose photographs in the mountains. I wish he could have lived longer and that I could have shared my world with him. He would have loved it. Fleeting thoughts, brought on by the joy of being out in the wilderness. Experiencing a connection with nature that many never get to experience while I rationalized my past life experiences and the parallels to my place in the world these days.
My thoughts were interrupted by a moose walking along the road directly towards me. A young bull, on his own path and mission to get to some unknown destination somewhere along the road into the woods behind me, he showed no concern for my presence in his path. As he approached, I followed him with my camera and was able to catch a satisfying sequence of photographs. Once he walked past me, I started the engine and moved on up the trail from which he came.
A bit up that road, about a quarter of a mile, I noticed a pickup truck parked along side the road near a lake where the moose were gathering. A few feet from that truck stood a man, my age, maybe older, and with him was a small dog on a leash. He was simply staring off into the woods at the moose and enjoying the scenery, 10 miles from the nearest paved road.
I pulled to the side of the dirt road near the man and stepped out to exchange a few thoughts about the scene we were both witnessing together alone in the middle of nowhere. I wanted to alert him to the presence of many moose and about being cautious with where he walked his dog, as moose consider dogs to be wolves, their mortal enemy.
As we spoke, he said to me. “This is my favorite place on earth. My father and I used to come to this place all the time.” His memories of past times were strong and had never left him. Within a few moments of us striking a conversation, he began tearing up and became emotional. “I wish he could be here with me to see this today.” he said. I told him that I understood the feeling and shared the same reverence for this spot in the mountains. He tried to continue the conversation, but I could tell that I caught him at a moment of silent contemplation and that his emotions had taken hold of him. I was intruding.
He was slightly embarrassed and apologized for crying about his memories. I shook his hand and gave him a big smile. “Brother, I fully understand. I love this place too and it’s those fond memories of the past that help keep things in perspective.” I said.
I wished him well and apologized for intruding into his private thoughts along that isolated mountain road.
I smiled with understanding when he said “It’s okay, I just get emotional when I come out here. I miss sharing this with my dad. Pay no mind to me.”
It was time to wrap up the morning adventure so I kept driving along the road towards the highway. Within a short distance, my thoughts drifted back to my father and the kinship the stranger and I shared in that moment. Profound thoughts concerning the encounter overwhelmed me. My eyes moistened up and I had to pull off the road long enough to clear the slow forming tears from my eyes. Sharing that moment with the man in the wilderness had overwhelmed him and me both.
The beauty and serenity of being alone in the wilderness in what has to be one of the most magnificent places in the world has a way of taking hold of your thoughts. For a few brief moments that morning my long deceased father sat with me in that truck. The awesomeness of the experience can’t be measured, it’s too profound.
I’ve been hosting wildlife photography workshops in Colorado for over 13 years. I’ll share some of the things I’ve learned over the years. Pointers on how to have a better wildlife photography experience while shooting from a vehicle.
Your personal behavior is going to have a direct effect on your results. Someone else being stupid isn’t a license to be stupid. Always show respect to other photographers and tourists who may be in the same location you are working.
Respect the animals you are going to photograph. Don’t harass or chum or try to personally interact with them. Most animals are going to be aware of your presence. If the animals you are photographing change their behavior to compensate for your actions, you’ve gone to far. Animals have body language that is fairly easy to read. The most immediate clue large animals will give you is they turn their butts towards you. If you see a herd of deer or a small group of elk and all their butts are pointed at you, guess what their next action is? They are going to move away from you. Animal butts are a good sign you need to move on. Never approach a wild animal, even if they are friendly and habituated to human activity.
Working from a vehicle
Be quiet. Don’t have conversations with those around you. Don’t stomp around through the woods or along paths, snapping sticks and twigs or crunching gravel. Take nothing but photos and leave nothing but footprints. If you are working from a vehicle, turn the stereo/radio off. Turn the ringer off on your mobile phone.
Be still. Once you’ve positioned yourself, don’t move around. Don’t pick up your gear and head out into a field to get closer. No sudden movements. Try to avoid direct or prolonged eye contact with the animals. If you are innocuous, there’s a good possibility that the wildlife will lose interest in you and meander closer.
Never try to chum wildlife with food. Wild animals don’t eat potato chips or ham sandwiches. Moldy bread can be fatal to ducks. Be smart and let them feed themselves. Your food is only going to create a greater risk to their survival. Don’t use artificial sounds to lure wildlife to you.
Every photographer I know has iBird on their smart phone. Don’t play bird sounds in hopes of attracting birds. Leave the elk calls at home.
Remember that you are not in charge of what others do. It’s not your responsibility to make sure everyone you see around wildlife is behaving properly. I’ve seen many obnoxious tourists and photographers ignoring everything and everyone in a quest to get a photo. They have the right to be there. Keep your temper in check and don’t let things escalate into a conflict with others. I normally just move somewhere else so I don’t have to interact with obnoxious people.
Most of my wildlife photography is done from a vehicle. There’s a lot of wilderness and many forest roads to explore in Colorado and the vehicle offers me the best opportunity to get closer to animals because moose, elk, deer, bighorn, and mountain goats don’t consider automobiles to be a threat. At least not until they see a person.
When exploring an area, always make a second pass. I have routes I travel all the time and I always do a couple of laps at least. Animals move frequently and you may not have seen anything on one trip through, but that doesn’t mean there wasn’t something there.
Always check your six. I can’t count the number of times I’ve driven through an area only to look in the rear view mirror and see something crossing the road 50 yards behind me. It’s like they were waiting for me to pass before crossing.
Have your camera ready and with you before you see the animals. When entering a wildlife search area, having that camera ready to go can make the difference between getting a shot and watching a critter disappear into the woods. Often times you’ll only have a couple of seconds to get a quick shot out the window. Speaking of windows, keep the window down when on patrol. Even if it’s cold. Otherwise you could easily be too late as the animal is gone before the window is down. Don’t smoke in the vehicle. That smoke can waif through the windows directly in front of your lens.
When you are on patrol and spot animals, don’t slam on your brakes and jump out of the car. That’s a sure fire way to scare an animal off. If you can’t shoot from the window and must exit the vehicle. Creep to a halt before the animal is reacting to you. When you exit, get out of the vehicle on the blind side using the car as a visual obstacle. Don’t walk out from behind the car into the open. Peek around the car and try to get shots from a covered position. If you are on the side of the vehicle that faces the animals, stay in the vehicle and shoot from the window.
Don’t shoot from a moving vehicle, your shots will be blurry. Don’t shoot through the window glass, your shots will be blurry. When stopped, turn the engine off in your vehicle. Exhaust can waif in front of your lens and create convection distortion and you’ll also eliminate the vibration caused by the engine running. Never rest your lens on the top of the window with the engine running. Be still. don’t wiggle around in the vehicle. Ask others in the vehicle to be still as well.
You’ll often be alerted to the presence of animals by a group of cars pulled off the road ahead of you. Don’t drive directly into the group, and jump out. Try to get shots through the window only after you’ve made a silent and unobtrusive approach to the scene. You don’t need to aggravate those who got there first by scaring off their subjects. Never slam the door. Slowly close it without making noise. Also, don’t leave your car door hanging wide open when you walk away from the vehicle. Push it closed gently. If the driver needs to move the vehicle that closed door is going to help them move quickly and silently. Take the keys out of the ignition before you exit the vehicle. There’s nothing more annoying than your car beeping away like a garbage truck in reverse while you’re trying to get a photograph without being noticed.
If you are traveling with three people in a vehicle, pick the back seat. You can shoot from both windows. The driver and other front seat passenger are going to be stuck with only one direction to shoot.
Never put your camera on the dashboard. If you forget it’s there and move the vehicle, it will roll off onto the floorboard and, well, that could be disastrous for a lens or the camera.
Your safety and the safety of the wildlife should always be a prime consideration. Don’t put your passengers or yourself at risk by trying to shoot from the side of a busy highway. Don’t put your vehicle in a situation that it can’t handle. Muddy roads with deep puddles can often be much more hazardous than they appear to be. When I know I’m going to be on some rough terrain, I always take my 4×4 pickup truck with off road tires. The last thing you want is to break down in the middle of nowhere with ten thousand dollars worth of camera gear left in your car while you hike 10 miles to get help.
Drive slowly when on the back roads. You’ll see more action that way and it keeps the dust down. If traffic begins stacking up behind you, be polite, pull over and let them pass. If you’re behind someone driving slow, keep some distance until you can pass without being obnoxious about it. It’s not rush hour in the city. Don’t be a road hazard and always assume somebody behind you is going to be impatient with your slow driving. Driving slowly also reduces the risk to wildlife which can run in front of you without notice. You don’t want to run into a moose going 40 miles per hour. It will kill the moose, it could kill you or your passengers and it would definitely do damage to your vehicle.
Never follow behind animals moving along the road. If you get behind them and move with them, they’ll panic and could hurt themselves trying to flee. Just pull over and wait a couple of minutes. They’ll probably be off the road by the time you see them again and if not, pull over and wait some more.
Today’s bird photo of a Common Myna was taken on the Big Island of Hawaii during a trip we made in 2012. The beach front hotel where we were staying had a very large, manicured lawn with water inlets and lots of habitat for the local birds. I could walk to the lava rock shore each morning and photograph a wide variety of wildlife. The Mynas were living there in numbers and I managed to get pretty close to them by laying on the ground with my camera at the ready as they fed in the manicured grass just feet away from me.
I’ve always enjoyed my travels to the Hawaiian Islands, due in large part to the diverse wildlife species that one will never see in the mainland US. Nice weather and beautiful scenery is the icing on the cake there. We’ve traveled to most of the islands in the chain, multiple times. When things mellow out with the pandemic, I’m certain we’ll be returning to the most remote place on earth. Hawaii.
Most likely, I’ve explored the San Juan Mountains of Colorado more than any other part of the state.
Today’s photo was taken during a two week long trip to the San Juan Mountains in October of 2011. I was traveling with friend Andy Long and we were stuck on the highway south of Telluride during a blizzard after a tractor-trailer truck flipped over on the highway. We pulled the car over and explored the woods near the road as the snow was blanketing the mountains. We found this pond and spent about 30-40 minutes composing images.
We would have never found this scene if it wasn’t for the traffic jam, which goes to show you that great scenes are sometimes just a few yards away from you, all you have to do is look for them.