VA Osprey taking a fish for a ride. It was soon to be a meal.
Read more On "Flying Fish"!
Friday, April 21, 2017
Tuesday, March 28, 2017
Seeing dozens of American Robins working in the grass and hunting for worms is a welcome sign of spring.
This weekend I was out on the dreary overcast day (Sunday) and found some robins. This was taken by sitting in the grass next to a garbage can to help "blend in" a little, and hand held (probably braced against the can). The birds were a little weary of me, but I waited long enough and the few turned in to a dozen where I was sitting and I managed a handful of images.
The Osprey are back mostly.
Next I'd like to see some Black-Crowned Night Herons...
Read more On "Sings of Spring"!
Saturday, March 25, 2017
When I was a kid, I used to like to draw. I would draw cars, trees, boats, whatever.
Fast forward and now I like to take photos. A ton of photos. I usually take more than 100,000 photos a year. A typical day could be 500-2000 images depending on how many places and cool things and action I encounter.
A month or so ago I bought a couple of sketch books and some pencils, erasers, etc.
Thursday I sat down with a pad and pencil and stared at it for a while. Then I drew a box with a vertical line through it. And I scratched my head so to speak... What is that and why did I draw it? I didn't know. I still don't know, but it was a starting point. I figured out that was NOT what I wanted to draw. Usually my doodles are boxes, three dimensional distractions that are a waste of time but accomplish the goal.
Then from somewhere the idea of drawing a bird came to me. I decided to try to draw an osprey, and drew about 8 that first night, each roughly a quarter of the page I had to work with. Here are 3 from the first night.
Then on the second night I used most of a page and drew this single portrait. It's got some light and shadow...
Tonight (3/25/2017) I drew another osprey portrait but I didn't like the way it came out. It was too dark and there some issues with the proportions being a little bit askew.
So I drew a second image and here's what I came up with, it is from an image I took today of an osprey eating a fish. All these drawings are based on photographs I took at some point. I put the image up on my iPad and then drew...
#osprey with a #fish #drawing #sketch #linedrawing #day3ofdrawing #nikographer #pencil #nikonpencil #art #birdsofinstagram #ig_birdlovers #ig_drawingA post shared by Jon (@the_real_nikographer) on
Tonight's second drawing (above) is the first that has the tail and the repeating patterns in the feathers, and the first with talons. I drew it quickly and probably because I had done another image and given up on it, I was fast to call it done. Looking at it more I could work on the eye more and the left leg might need some adjusting. But part of this exercise is to go quick and make drawings and learn and move on.
I'm still playing with a few modes of doing the drawings. 2 days ago I started with the eyes and then added around that slowly. Today I tried starting with the tree branch and then added the eye and then more of an outline of the bird. In the future I want to try to do more of an outline of the entire bird/subject and then as I go fill in the details. That should help me get the scale and proportions better. But I also know from some past drawings that starting with small details and adding slowly to that can have a surprisingly good result because it is details added to details and the scale is considered for each small area vs. trying to get the scale correct all up front...
Hope you like the drawings, I had fun making them and plan to make more.
-Jon Read more On "Going Old School - Osprey Drawings"!
Tuesday, March 14, 2017
When the osprey leave at the end of the summer I always anticipate their return 6 months later. Usually that means early March, some osprey are back and I look forward to seeing my first ones of the year.
First osprey (1/2 of pair) of the year, from March 2017:
Possibly my 2 favorite osprey photos of 2016, from out at St. Michaels on the Maryland Eastern Shore.
Male delivering a fish to a full nest:
I don't previsualize photos very often, but this is one I planned for and hoped to capture. The only thing I went to shoot on this and one other day were 2 specific osprey nests, which each had 3 chicks.
Female shading her 3 chicks on a near 100 degree day:
-Jon Read more On "2017 Osprey"!
Wednesday, March 8, 2017
This tiny turtle was as small as a quarter. I spotted him along the trail at The Nature Conservancy's Meadows in Cape May NJ.
D4 w/ 24-120mm. 1/1250 f/7.1 ISO 220 (manual exposure w/ auto-ISO)
Seeing such a small version of a turtle that is hoping to grow so large and has a huge struggle in front of them was something I found interesting and something to reflect on and gain perspective from.
In day to day life we think we may have it hard and things aren't going our way, and it is such a struggle. But when compared to this little guy we have it easy! He has it so hard I could have easily not spotted him and stepped on him and that's it. Some giant shoe ends his entire life. Over.
And yet we worry and complain and feel like it is so hard our lives. Read more On "Tell me about Your struggle"!
Sunday, January 22, 2017
The day after the inauguration of Trump, there was a rally in Washington DC - the Women's March on Washington.
Normally I take photos of nature, animals, and occasionally friends and family. But I have lived near Washington DC for almost 20 years, and I have never photographed any significant or historic events in the area.
A photo posted by Jon (@the_real_nikographer) on
Recently I have been open to trying new things, as I did with my trip a couple weeks ago to Jackson Wyoming. Attending a crowded rally in DC, planning for the logistics of shooting there and the uncontrolled/unknowable aspects of being on foot during such a busy time has in the past made me decide to do other things. But not this time.
So I got up at around 5am, and made to a parking area off Ohio drive behind the Jefferson Memorial around 6:15am and then waited. I was unsure what to expect even with this small aspect of the day, where and when to park. But when I got there the lot was nearly empty, heck it was an hour before sunrise - nothing new with regards to planning and traveling for wildlife and sunrise - but the lot could have been closed, the road access could have been closed or diverted, a ton of things could have made this first step a problem But luckily it worked out.
A photo posted by Jon (@the_real_nikographer) on
I got to the lot and then rested a bit, and was reassured by this first step working out. Then I walked to the Jefferson, and was the only one there - an odd and eerie thing. The capital would be over run with people in the hours to come but this was the calm before the so called storm. I tried to use the facilities there but they were accessible but closed for repairs.
As dawn approached I walked over towards the Washington Monument, it was foggy and damp out. And there were a few others also getting a jump on the long day ahead (not pictured in this shot).
A photo posted by Jon (@the_real_nikographer) on
On Friday I called the park service to see about the march, routes, access and restrictions. What I learned was that there would be restrictions and security for those inside the protected area (whatever that actually meant). But that throughout the rest of Washington D.C. it would be just like any other day and there would not be blockades, or checkpoints, or heightened security. So I took a backpack that was too large for the restricted areas never intending to go inside a restricted area.
As I got closer and the morning progressed, I realized that there would people everywhere and I would be able to see "the event" from all over the place. I walked down the Mall and then south on 4th street (I think).
During the entire day I took about 2,700 photos, and walked 10 miles.
A photo posted by Jon (@the_real_nikographer) on
For the most part I managed to remain on the edges of the crowds and assembling marchers. However a few times I had to "retreat" to get to less crowded areas. One time a couple of guys took the baracades along 7th street and made an opening so that the people in the street could easily move to the sidewalks and grassy areas. Most people continued to move towards the Rally area, but within a short time the area was nearly packed with those that didn't want to move closer and wanted a spot to rest.
Another time at roughly 7th and Independence I stopped to shoot the crowd from in front of a jumbo-tron type display. There was space in front of the display because the angle from right in front of it was too oblique to be able to see the screen. However even that spot filled in as more people moved in to the area and gathered. I managed to shoot a handful of images facing the crowd from this spot and it worked well. I also got up a couple feet by standing on something to get a better angle on the crowd - though it was an awkward spot and eventually after I had move off a person asked those nearby not to stand there (on it) anymore.
And later when the intersection of Independence and 15th street was in the preparing stages of the actual march proper, I managed to I guess look like a press photographer and stayed IN the intersection along with organizers, police and actual press photographers. I took the time to shoot photos and talked to everyone there. It felt like one of those act like you belong moments and it worked out. Everyone was friendly and I even chatted it up a bit with a particular press photographer from New York city. He seemed like a seasoned veteran of the trade and was nice and had some interesting quips about the day that I appreciated - such as some background on the "American flag hijab" thing, which he said started in NYC.
A photo posted by Jon (@the_real_nikographer) on
This type of photography is new to me, and I have been trying to find a way to show meaningful moments from the day. I realize that I could post photos from throughout the day and that various messages marchers had would be seen via their signs and actions, and the images would invoke various responses. I don't usually try to express my own political leanings through my photography, and I am mindful of which images I choose to share.
With that, here are a couple of images that are a start to my selecting and sharing meaningful images:
With that, I will add images to this post as I process and share more images.
update 1 - 2 new images
I took a lot of portraits of those at the rally, there were some really interesting looking people. I used to setups while at the rally, D500 w/ 70-200mm f/2.8 and D810 w/ 17-35mm f/2.8 (I swapped lenses between those 2 bodies a couple times).
update 2 - A couple more photos...
Two more images from the march, there was a genuine positive attitude at the march. People were excited to express themselves and to get their message out there. Everyone wanted to be seen and to have their voices heard.
Read more On "Women's March on Washington"!
Saturday, January 14, 2017
I went to Shenandoah National Park 3 times in 2016, and was struck by this wall and the things growing in it.
Today I was reminded of this image.
There is hope and determination in these plants.
What is now almost a couple weeks ago, I had an experience that has stuck with me, and has had a strong impact on the way I see things, and the way I reflect on the choices I have made.
Life is not a sure thing. Tomorrow is not a given. But we live like both are guarenteed to happen every morning when we wake up.
I got a glimpse in to something truer, briefly. Part of me is afraid that this new insight will fade away, and I will go blissfully on expecting to get a chance to do more, to live another day, when really today is the day to live in.
What do you think? Do you take tomorrow for granted?
Read more On "Even from a Stone - Something can Grow"!
Friday, December 30, 2016
Black Skimmers in NY and NJ 2016.
I enjoy watching and shooting the Black Skimmers. They are usually a mix of adults and immature birds - when I see them both in New York and New Jersey.
They will let me get pretty close, but often will also seemingly fly off for no reason. But usually it is a jogger, a person with a dog, or a predator flying by (like a peregrine, which I have seen buzz them at Cape May).
Some times when they take off they will fly around and fly off and land a half mile or more down the beach. Other times they will land right near where they took off from. For this reason I usually give it a few minutes and stay where I was shooting from without moving or getting up. This has occasionally worked, and they have landed right back in front of me.
I find that cool. And even cooler is when the birds approach me. Sometimes this has been due to other people approaching them from another side/area, and it has also been when they have the water/surf on one side of them and me on the other. When they run away from the surf and towards me, to a safer location, I find that to be a sign that I am there and not bothering them and they are comfortable with me shooting them.
It is also interesting to see them as they move this way and that way, and how often there will be an immature bird that must be tired and it is either sleeping and not moving or it is just slower to respond and follow the movements of the flock.
The really do behave like one bird, all in sync, when it comes to responding to perceived danger. If they think there's something bad about to happen they will all fly off together in a moment. Only once or twice have I seen them leave a bird behind, and that bird has always been injured or weak. To survive they've got to be able to go with the flock when danger approaches...
D500 w/ 600mm f/11 1/1600th
Nickerson Beach, NY
D810 600mm f/5.6 1/500th
Cape May, NJ
D500 w/ 600mm f/5.6 1/800th
Cape May, NJ
Happy New Year.
Read more On "Black Skimmers in NY and NJ - 2016"!
Sunday, December 25, 2016
My long time approach to making images has been to shoot, review, pick the best shots, and then try to do better the next time.
The next time I might have the past images in mind and I might try to reproduce the best images, with something new or with some element that was missing added this time. Or maybe the next time I remove something that took away from the past images.
To me this is the standard approach. And it is the kind of process that is needed to learn how to take or make better images in a large variety of circumstances and for a variety of subjects.
There are so many things to learn about gear and settings. For example just coming up with when and if you want to shoot in manual mode or one of the auto-exposure modes takes time. I shoot in a few different modes but mostly manual exposure with auto-ISO. But there are still some times when manual ISO and manual exposure are better. I like using auto-ISO when the light and conditions change a lot and dialing in some exposure compensation to adjust the exposure is easy to do. Other times when the light is consistent, and the subjects are consistent going full manual can be better. This allows for tighter control of the exposure and less variation, and I can try for more specific/artistic images.
Regarding exposure, picking shutter speeds for shooting can have a huge impact on the images and what is recorded, not just if the subjects are sharp enough or frozen given their speed and the size of the lens. For this setting, there is the basic approach of calculating all the component parts of the setup and then trying to freeze the action. Fast moving subjects - faster shutter speed. Longer lens - faster shutter speeds. Hand holding the lens - faster shutter speeds. That's the basic math to be taken in to account.
But the more advanced thinking would be to not just respond to those and only try to freeze the action, to make simply a sharp image with a frozen subject. Years ago I remember seeing this panda photo shot my Nick Nichols and thinking that I was unaware of so much that goes in to a good image. It was taken with a long lens, in what I would now consider challenging light and shot with a slow shutter speed. This informs me now about how those early simple rules for photography are a good starting point but to make better images I need to keep pushing.
Here are some examples of images that use blur/slow shutter speed for positive effect:
Realizing that the rules for sharp images are not rules to blindly live by has helped me grow. Of the above images all are off a tripod with the intention of making the resulting image except for the last one of the eagle which was a 'happy accident'.
Capturing animals with some motion helps to bring them to life in an image that otherwise might be frozen and lack that feel. Going back to that panda image - seeing some motion can really help bring more to a photo.
Capturing images that work with blur can be pretty difficult though. Things that contribute to a motion blur image not working well are: too much blur, nothing being sharp, having to stop down the lens too much and seeing tons of sensor dust, the blur not going in the right direction due to imperfect panning technique, etc.
So what's the next technique, the next default thought process to get rid of or to question? I have done a short project I called "going vertical" where I shot vertical composition for a while and that helped to break out of the way I was almost always shooting with the camera held in landscape/horizontal mode... I even shot a vertical video...
IDK what's next. Not shooting from eye-level is another approach to take. It is easy to stand and shoot from that position. Or to setup a tripod at eye-level and shoot from there. But shooting from lower, or as low as possible really makes for a better/different perspective.
Another norm or standard that I've noticed was worth reconsidering is that of hoping for 'good weather'. I now consider good photography weather usually anything other than clear blue skies or overcast and rainy. As a result I like some overcast, or some clouds, or some rain and storms, or cold weather and things freezing or hot weather and animals that might be reacting to the weather... This summer I specifically went to shoot osprey on 2 of the hottest days in order to see the birds hot. It is harder to shoot on these types of days, be it hot or cold. It takes preparation, and the right approach to pull it off successfully. One of my go to things to help in all kinds of weather or times of year is to keep a case of bottled water in my trunk. Being thirsty or dehydrated is easy to let happen. But it is one of the simplest things to control when shooting and so many things aren't controllable. It's just like always trying to be well fed, and to have ample snacks that are high in protein and good for me. I often will do a day trip on a Saturday and drive 200-500 miles round-trip, where I get up a couple of hours before sunrise and get somewhere good, and then shoot all day and then drive home. And then doing the same or similar the next day, on a weekend when most people might be resting, sleeping in and recovering from a hard week of work - to do it my way takes planning and execution.And being more prepared allows for something to not go my way, and not really be that bad or wreck a day of shooting.
So what's the next thing to mix it up and bring my photography to a new place?
I'm going to start 2017 by going West to a place I've never been, to shoot animals and landscapes I've never seen or shot. I'm trying new things.
With the change in the year, I want to... think like I did at Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens when I went a half dozen times this summer. I went, and went, and got the images I had defaulted to, and then I started to explore more and try for different images and I think I captured my best images of the Lotus Flowers. I've posted a few myself, and shared many more with Tara Brach to use with her talks and meditation posts.
A photo posted by Jon (@the_real_nikographer) on
I wonder what it would take to quickly see the default program running, the program that tries to get me to make the same images again, to see the way I have seen before and repeat things. I wonder if there are ways to do less pattern matching and finding less comfort in the old, and seeing new and fresh, quickly or quicker...
I'm going to try new experiences, new locations, new approaches when I can, and I'm going to try to advance my photography and not just make 'sharper images' but make new and different images.
Happy New Year.
-Jon Read more On "EOY Thoughts on Seeing Differently Not Just Shooting Incrementally Better"!
Tuesday, December 20, 2016
July is a great time for photographing Osprey in Maryland. The chicks are getting big, and still in the nests, not yet fledged. They are also eating a ton of fish so the adults need to be active to keep up with the demand for food.
In years past I have let other things grab my time and attention and I have missed out on shooting the osprey chicks.
But this year I took a day off of work, and I also took a weekend day and went to 2 specific nests near St. Michaels Maryland to shoot the birds. There are so many nests in Maryland, but I liked these two because they are near but not too near to land, and they each had 3 chicks this year.
At the first nest I watched as one particular bird worked out, flapping away, gaining wing strength.
What really caught my eye was how the adult was perched slightly higher than the chicks, and was surveying the area but also keeping a close eye on the chicks too.
The other nest I shot at had the 3 chicks, and they spent more time being fed. The male osprey was nearby and delivered 3 fish within about an hour while I was there for about 3 hours. It was super hot, above 90/95 degrees.
While shooting from a nearby marina I drank 4 bottles of water to just keep up with the heat and sweat.
The above photos are new posts to flickr. The below images I have shared already, here's the male at the second nest checking me out while carrying a fish, and then coming in for a landing at the nest.
I really like how crowded the nest seemed and how they were all huddled together so closely. They were also very eager to eat, and the female (adult) went right for the fish and then repositioned herself to feed the chicks. The male was more tentative.
It is not that often that I have seen and photographed chicks and both adults in a nest. Usually the male will stay away or fly away quickly. This male was similarly edgy but delivered 3 fish, and stayed in the nest longer than I expected.
Part of the reason could be the distance of the nest from the shore. It was not that close - I used a 600mm and crop body (D500) to shoot them, and with a 1.4 teleconverter for some images. In addition, when the male came by and seemed to do a couple fly-bys checking out the nest and me, but not landing, I backed up slightly, until he landed on the nest. At one point I also used a cheap wireless camera trigger - where I set up the camera on the nest, turned off auto-focus, and then walked away to see if the birds' behavior would change.
During this time the male caught the fish and then would land on a nearby channel marker and eat some of the fish and wait. The male, and female actually while the male was hunting, took to the air to ward off other osprey that intruded on their territory.
Each day was about a 4 hour drive round trip, and probably around 4-6 hours shooting.
The osprey should be coming back in two and a half to three months. It will be fun to see them again.
Read more On "July Osprey - 2016"!
Saturday, December 17, 2016
I was posting regularly and then well I wasn't. I did it for a bit, but then fell back in to my old ways and got busy doing other things (but still shooting mostly).
As 2016 is winding down, I was thinking about using December to catch up and post a new photo a day, but that didn't happen.
So today I just posted 3 images, each from a different day and locations.
(In chronological order)
The first images is of some oystercatchers, an adult and chick, feeding in New York, in late August. I grew up just down the beach, literally, from this spot where a bunch of different birds nest (common terns, black skimmers, oystercatchers, plovers, etc).
The oystercatchers can be a little hard to shoot if they get weary and react to being watched. This day I tried to notice when they were watching me and then looked away and didn't eyeball them. It mostly worked and I shot them from a fairly close distance as they went around hunting and feeding their chicks. There were a handful of adults and chicks.
Next I shared an image of a Green Heron from Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens in Washington DC.
This year I went as many times as I had been in all previous years combined. Earlier in the year I photographed the lotus flowers a bunch, experimenting and doing some macro stuff in the last few visits. By September when I got the heron the flowers were past, except for a few lotus, and for some water lilies in the back ponds. Most of the busy summer traffic is over and I saw just a few other people there this morning. Everyone comes for the lotus - so by September it is much more peaceful and low key. And even if your thing is flowers there were enough water lilies to make it good.
Finally from later in September, I shot some stars at Cape May along the beach.
I've only experimented with star photography a little bit, I think all this year. It can be a challenge. Getting good focus is hard because it is night out and the stars are small and far away - I used manual focus on nearby lights and tried to chimp and adjust but I need to work on the night focus techniques... With the cold nights, it can be hard to keep the lens from fogging up (but I plan to use hand-warmers to keep the lens warmer than the ambient air temp and some special lens coating/spray to prevent fogging next time). I also wonder if shooting from sand (ie not solid ground) contributed to softer images.
2016 has been an amazing year, I've seen and done a lot. I've changed a lot of things I needed to change (in 2015 and 2016). I've been meditating for a little more than a year, and chalk up a lot of the movement in my life to that slowing down practice.
Read more On "Catching up in late 2016 - 3 photos from 3 locations"!
Monday, November 28, 2016
So much of our reality is self-invented, self-limited.
We see what we want to see.
We see what we have seen before.
We see what we expect.
We see what we allow our selves to see.
We are blind to what we do not expect.
We are blind to what we do not see with our eyes closed.
Reality is a fungible thing. We don't think it is, but it is. We bring so much to the table when it comes to enabling a reality to be experienced. We bring so much that it doesn't seem right. It should be an objective thing, something that just is.
I recently heard the saying "I'd rather be the person that bought the Bridge, than the person that sold the Bridge". And I would rather have bought the bridge, than been the person that knowingly tricked and took advantage of another...
So what about photography?
As a photographer I see what I see and then make a choice to capture it. But how can I capture what I don't see?
One way to overcome this might be to play. Playing allows me to try things, to experiment, and to not have an expectation or result in mind. An easy example of this is to play with slow shutter speeds and see what happens. The pleasing results can be few and far between, but then there's that one that works. (Kind of like most of my experiences on the golf course - the rare well struck ball that makes the day fun.)
Another way to overcome the expectations of experience and past sight is to put the camera up to my eye and see what I actually see. This is different than looking without the camera, because the camera restricts vision, frames it in a little box and focusing the mind on just what is there.
And another way is to slow down, and sit, observe and stop looking for a pattern match. This can be when I start to see past everything I've brought to the day.
I was in Florida this year (2016), my 5th year there to drive around and see nature, photograph birds and landscapes, etc.
While there I made it to Fort De Soto and looked for the GHO nest from the year before but I didn't see it and was disappointed. So I did what I have learned to do when this happens and I found a local (park guy) and asked him some questions. I learned that the nest I was looking for failed, as did another nest in the park - but there was a nest by the fort just up the road.
I have learned to value locals and their knowledge, and to not be afraid to get some advice. When I go to a new National Wildlife Refuge for example, I will stop by the visitor's center and talk to them and try to learn from them. By contrast I also do not do a ton of prep/research when going somewhere new and try to have an open/fresh and unplanned approach. It doesn't always work for the best results (images), but it removes stress and expectations and in that regard I am good with it.
Once I knew where there were owls I headed over there and quickly found the tree with the nest and 2 chicks. It was in a grassy area just off of the parking lot and the tree itself was in a small area protect by some orange tape to instruct visitors to keep their distance.
I saw the chicks and took a few photographs. Then I saw another photographer and we started talking a bit. He said he had been there for a while and didn't see an adult around but he had looked this way and that way and was keeping his eyes opened.
By now I had just been here for maybe 5 minutes and he said he had been there for a couple hours.
What happened next is the reason for this post.
I could have taken his longer observation as fact, and shot the chicks and nest some more and then moved on. But instead I used my own history with nests and birds and I had a hunch that the female/adult was nearby and within eye sight of the nest, watching over it.
A few years ago I watched another Great Horned Owl nest a few times, and learned that the female would hide in almost plain sight, but high up and blending in to the canopy. This makes good sense to me - laying eggs and raising chicks is a huge investment in time and effort, and the adult is not likely to be off hunting or sleeping or whatever away from that investment if they have a choice.
With my own perspective, and not the other guy's perspective, I found the female perched in a tree, a tree INSIDE the taped off area, within just a few minutes. From the perspective below, you can actually see the bird in this wide angle shot pretty clearly outlined.
She was there, clearly resting and watching the nest, from a very close vantage point. She was hidden, but not that hidden. One thing I remember the other guy saying after I spotted her was he didn't think she'd perch in a palm tree so he didn't really look there much.
Reality is more than just what you see. Look harder.
Read more On "The world we see is what we think it is, not what it actually is..."!