Show Your Work: Volume 5

FAILURE

Failure 1

“I have not failed.
I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”
[Thomas A. Edison]

I am incapable of capturing tack-sharp pictures of birds in flight. This, for an aspiring wildlife photographer, is unacceptable and enormously limiting. Just like Mr. Edison, my failure is not for lack of effort. Not being able to get these shots right is humiliating, frustrating, discouraging, and upsetting.

Failure 2

Endeavouring to resolve this issue, I have read countless articles, book chapters, podcasts, and listened to the advice of many esteemed photographers. I have, however, not been able to successfully employ those tactics in the field; I simply haven’t made any progress whatsoever.

Failure 3

Regarding equipment, I’ve used both cameras (full frame and crop sensor) and both fixed and telephoto lenses. I’ve shot manual and mode (both aperture and shutter). I’ve used my tripod (both ball and gimbal heads) and shot hand-held. All with equally disastrous results.

Failure 4

This, then, is an area I need to develop – quickly – and, obviously, with the help of an expert. S.O.S… Calling Richard Seck!

Failure 5

Luckily for me, this is not (yet, anyway) a course assignment, merely a skill I both want and need to have in my arsenal.

The pictures in this post were taken of a variety of birds, in a variety of weather conditions and with a variety of equipment.

Failure 6

The focus, of this week’s Show Your Work assignment is, obviously, areas of work in which we are not proficient. By sharing and receiving comments and advice, we are meant to learn. To improve. I hope (very desperately, in fact) that in the not too distant future, I shall be able to post some quality shots of flying birds. Until then, thank you so much for taking the time to read this edition, and for any comments you may care to share.

Failure 7

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Show Your Work: Volume 4

Wonder

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This week we were given individualized Show Your Work assignments, based upon our responses to last week’s questions.  For me, my professor targeted this quote, I believe that for a photographer, inspiration is the perfect balance between curiosity and wonder, striking with very little input or control on our behalf.  My assignment is to discuss, and illustrate with any of my images, how wonder impacts my photography.  Again, I’d like to share a portion of my paper with you:

It seems to me that wonder is an ambiguous virtue because it is experienced, and thus defined, differently by each of us, differently again in each season of our lives.  I hope and believe that our wisdom burgeons — not through traditional learning, but as a byproduct of our wonder.

For a wildlife photographer, I am a bit of an anomaly, never having travelled to the Arctic to photograph Polar Bears, nor to the Antarctic to shoot Emperor Penguins.  I’ve never been to the Amazon Rain Forest to capture Anacondas, nor to the Serengeti to photograph big cats.  I cannot share tales and pictures of my travels to exotic locations where I was overwhelmed by curiosity and wonder.

Instead, let me tell you a little about how I live. Nature is very much my church making my life a holy simple existence, composed of a few simple repetitions; I observe and shoot many of the same creatures over and over again in many of the same locations.  My life has become the sacredly prosaic compilation of visiting, studying, learning and shooting at marshes, woods, and waterfronts.  On those rambles, I see wonder everywhere.  Some examples of those experiences are:

The Energy Of Trees

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My increased interest in trees, their brains (really!) and the power they generate began with the reading of Peter Wohlleben’s The Hidden Life Of Trees.  I have since read studies published by respected universities (including MIT), documenting that trees generate electrical power. Up to 200 millivolts using one electrode.  Very small amounts, true, but astonishing to me.  The halos surrounding these trees form, in large part, due to the energy flowing from the trees.  Wonder!

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Fishing Skills

That many birds and animals rely upon fish as their main source of nutrition was not a surprise to me, of course.  The surprise was at the amazing efficiency of two creatures that allowed me to watch, photograph and record notes about in super-close proximity.

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My first such experience was with this young mink in the marsh at Presqu’ile Provincial Park.  He was only about eight feet away from me; I was stood on the Camp Office deck and he was immediately below me.  I know he heard me walk out onto the deck, I know he heard the camera’s clicking and whirring, but he continued unphased by my presence, activity and noise.  The pictures are not stellar by any means; the debris field is messy and distracting.  However, the intimate experience was my takeaway; this wee lad would dive into the water and, not more than ten seconds later, emerge with another small fish (Sunfish?) in his mouth.  A couple of times, I swear, he deliberately paused so I could see (admire?) his catch.  As soon as he finished eating one fish, he’d be off to find another.  Quick. Efficient.  No waste.  Wonder!

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This summer I enjoyed another such experience, this time with a Great Blue.  She was stood atop a small waterfall in the Ouse River.  Quiet, still, patient and oh-so-efficient.  Every thirty seconds or so she would quickly bend and snatch a small fish from the water flowing over the rock.  She was brave, too; she allowed me to (very slowly and quietly) walk up to a rock not more than ten feet away from her.  I was able to sit there, make notes, take pictures and admire her terrific skill with no apparent fear on her part. No matter how closely I watched (even when she stooped to grab a fish) I could never see one until it was clamped in her beak.  The water was flowing from behind her, so her timing needed to be impeccable, and it was.  Beautiful efficiency.  Wonder!

Ecosystems

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One of the most amazing characteristics of Ecosystems is their ability to self-heal; they are efficient, powerful and valuable.  On 3rd July 2017 (when the water levels were their highest) I took the image above, wondering how on earth something so pretty could thrive in such horrible conditions. With the flood waters came bacteria, pollution, algae and all manner of floating detritus. The water smelled awful and you couldn’t see to the bottom of the marsh, could barely see below the water’s surface.

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Two shots, both taken at the same location, three weeks apart.  Amazing, yes?  The marsh ecosystem took care of business in a spectacular manner with an all-natural cleanse. True that it cannot combat garbage chucked into the water by humans, there were still water bottles, and other trash floating in the marsh, but clearly the bacteria, algae and pollution have all been eliminated.  Three weeks.  No chemicals.  Wonder!

Winter Survival Skills

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Every winter I find myself concerned about the birds, who not only endure, but thrive in the harshest winter weather.  The enormity and rigour of their survival skills leave me feeling incredulous.

All through the park, Sparrows and Chickadees flutter about, seemingly undaunted by weather that, even dressed in parka and snow pants, leaves me shivering.  I smile every time I see fresh seeds laid for them (despite the stern warning signs cautioning visitors not to feed the wildlife).  Just look at those tiny feet… However do they not freeze?  How do those tiny hearts keep beating when the temperatures drop so far below zero?  Wonder!

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The Swans are another matter altogether.  They sleep on the ice, they swim and forage in water that is barely unfrozen.  They are frisky, active, busy and – I imagine – happy exactly as they are.  Why do they not succumb to the cold.  Why do they not, like humans, experience Hypothermia from spending so much time in the frigid lake water?  Wonder!

Having spent so much time outdoors the past eight years, I have come to realize that nature, Mother Earth, our world — vocabulary is irrelevant — is not merely where I am, it is what I am. Nature is my great teacher and the source of my wonder.

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Thank you so much for taking the time to read this post and for any comments you may wish to make about Wonder.

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Show Your Work: Volume 3

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“Charlotte”

For this week’s “Show Your Work” assignment, our professor has tasked us with responding to two questions:

  1. What are your long-term photography goals; and
  2. Where do you get your inspiration?

The first question actually made me giggle; there are twenty of us in the class this year and the other nineteen are all under twenty-five years of age.  For me, comparatively, long-term is relative.  The second question made me cringe; every day I leave the house to go shooting with no plan and no expectations.  Uninspired, one might (rightly) say.  Bemused, and entirely unconvinced I would be able to do justice to this task, I began my writing assignment.  It is certainly unlike the other nineteen submissions, but it is reflective of my hopes and dreams.  I would like to share some of it with you. 

On Goals…

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“Lunchtime”

Simply, but not flippantly, my goal is to develop.  Perhaps a bit of a play on words, but an appropriate term for a photographer who began with a film camera – another distinction from my classmates. They all seem to aspire to careers in photojournalism; not me. Developing is very important because, as with most artistic pursuits, there is no finish line, no perfection, merely the process of developing skills and improving the product with every outing.  There are no no shortcuts – neither to becoming nor staying an accomplished photographer – only effort and repetition; work adjust, work again, adjust again… There is only development.  Improvement, then, is my ultimate objective.

If, whilst developing, I am able to earn a modest income with my images, I’d be thrilled to bits.

On Inspiration…

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“Gosh, you’re beautiful!”

Where do you get your inspiration?  My initial response, I’m ashamed to admit, is that I don’t.  A typical photo shoot begins with no strategy.  A plan is probably a good start, but with wildlife photography, plans always change, seldom come to fruition, and that’s okay.  I’ve even learned to embrace those changes because I firmly believe that’s what creative hearts need to do when working with animals.

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“Please. Make yourselves at home.”

The more fulsome truth is that I am constantly motivated whilst out shooting; inspiration arrives via my senses; a sound in the woods, a glimpse of movement in the marsh or perhaps a smell.  Sometimes ideas are sparked by memories of other sightings, or by what is, typically, a fleeting thought but, always by the creatures themselves.  There is seldom a grandiose idea, formulated at home, of an impressive image I just might capture.   Aimless wandering always seems more productive than attempting to carry out a plan formulated in front of a computer screen.

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“What are you, exactly?”

For me, inspiration is more about the power of the ordinary.  The best shots I have captured are the result of mindfulness in everyday situations.  I believe that for a photographer, inspiration is the perfect balance between curiosity and wonder, striking with very little input or control on our behalf.  Most days I just try to stay focussed on shooting subjects that give me, and the people I love, joy and then hope that I arrive home with some credible shots.

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“Follow The Leader”

Thank you all so very much for reading “Show Your Work” Volume 3. 

Show Your Work: Volume 2

A Short Survey

Thank you all so much for the wonderful response to my last post. I was overwhelmed and am grateful for all the suggestions and comments.

Today I am presenting six pairs of photographs; one colour, one black and white. If you have time, I’d love to hear which version you prefer.

1 – A frog on Crossen Road:

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2 – A single cornstalk:

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3 – A funky tree trunk:

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4 – Hilltop view of a valley:

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5 – Fancy farm gates:

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6 – Squirrel Creek:

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As you can see, I am still struggling with my B&W portfolio.  Struggling, but persevering.  

Have a lovely weekend, and thank you for reading Show Your Work:  Volume 2.

Show Your Work: Volume 1

Black & White

Hey everybody.  I am taking an intense photography course and my current assignment is curating a collection of B&W images.  This is not my forté.  Although I’m dreaming about Mr. Ansel Adams and his stunningly beautiful work, my own efforts fall far short so please, please comment away.  Any suggestions for improvement will be happily and gratefully received.  Thanks!

My first attempt at B&W photography was a series of bridges, thinking that the geometric shapes would be appealing in monochrome.   Only moderate success at best, right? 

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Then I tried a series of wildflowers, thinking their texture would be appealing but sadly, for the most part, these are even less successful than the bridge images.

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I’ve also tried some trees, thinking that the interesting textures and patterns of the bark would be highlighted in B&W yet somehow, these are still not hitting the mark!

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One of my favourite subjects is farms – I love all things agriculture – so I have tried some farm structures (and a few cows) but perhaps these are the worst of all:

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A few more random images:

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Something is not right.  Exposure?  Images that I like whilst in colour, become something so much less-than once converted to B&W.

Right!  That’s the lot for now.  If you have any ideas, thoughts, suggestions, criticisms, please, please post them all.  As you can see, I clearly need help and I have only five more weeks to amass 75 worthy images.  I’m not getting a good feeling about this assignment just yet so any and all advice is welcome.

Thank you for reading “Show Your Work” volume 1.