Category Archives: Blog

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The Unnamed Equipment Guide For A Tufted Titmouse

It’s spring in Florida and the gators are mating, Cardinals are nesting, and the Tufted Titmouse is flittering though the trees.   It’s true that these birds are found year round in the forests of the Eastern U.S. However, in the spring they notoriously seem more prevalent.

These little songbirds are small. They easily fit in the palm of your hand, and in fact are members of the chickadee family.   They are also extremely quick and curious. The little bird will not stay in one spot for very long. So how do you get a decent picture of this little bundle of feathers?

Remember that good artistic pictures depend on three major components; equipment, photographer, and finally luck or opportunity. Let’s deal with the equipment side of the equation.

Equipment

I know there are many photography purists out there who insist that film cameras the only way to capture a true picture. Let me hereby declare that it is possible to take a picture of a Tufted Titmouse with a film camera.

However, I’m going to go digital here. Why?   The reason is money. My picture of this Titmouse is the result of a lot of failed attempts. Attempts that include blurred streaks with slightly focused wing parts and a tail feather or two, or three, or four. Those failed attempts mean wasted film and that means wasted money. It’s not easier to use the digital camera but it is a lot less vexing on the wallet.

It’s important to mention that this is a wildlife photograph taken in imperfect conditions. You are at the mercy of the elements such as wind and, in this case, the bright tropical sun. You are also requesting a small animal with a brain about the size of a seed to sit still and pose for you.

Tufted Titmouse
Tufted Titmouse

There is another point of necessity that requires mention. By using a digital camera, I am in no way referring to phone cameras.

Yes, I‘ve seen the awesome pictures in those commercials that phone cameras make but I’ve also read the fine print of how those images were actually made.

The mobile phone cameras produce incredible pictures but they have a fixed lens. This means that you will need incredible luck to get a focused close up shot of the titmouse. Impossible? No it’s not impossible, but if you have that sort of luck take my advice and go play the Powerball lottery instead.

So my camera of choice is a DSLR camera. One setting on a DSLR that definably gives the amateur an advantage is the use of a sport shot feature. I’m hard pressed to remember a DSLR camera that does not have this feature. The camera uses automatic internal settings to take action shots with a quick shutter release and multiple pictures taken every time you push the shutter release. If you combine this with the usual autofocus the camera does most of the guess-work.

Lens

Another advantage of the DSLR is the lens choice. Unlike the fixed lens of camera phones and most point and click tourists cameras, the DSLR allows you to choose an appropriate zoom or telescoping lens. Fixed lens can’t be changed out so you only have set focal length. This translates into you having to get unrealistically close to a wild animal to get a good focused shot.

Of course, this doesn’t mean that you need a bazooka looking 800 mm $8,000 super telescope. The subject is a small bird in a tree not Phobos orbiting Mars. Again, think of the environment.

Your outside, on uneven ground, in a forest, chasing wild animals and probably quite some distance from you vehicle.   Do you really want to lug around a heavy lens? I created this work with a readily available 55-250mm lens attached to my camera strapped around my neck.  Seriously nothing special.

So, in the case of equipment it is a wise thing to consider function over form. Especially in the case of wildlife photography, I go for what works, what I can afford, and more importantly what gives me the greatest chance of success with the least investment of time, money and my physical well-being. As true in any work, always strive to work smarter not harder.

The Untold Story of Sumo Squirrel

One of the greatest joys placing animals in your art, especially photography, is the fact that you never quite know what to expect. Such is the case of my latest creation titled Sumo Squirrel.

Anyone who continuously works with animals knows that they are living creatures with their own personalities and personable quirks.   Sumo Squirrel proves this to be true. Most squirrels are to skittish to spend anytime near the ground while you casually approach them.   Unless of course, they learn that humans are an excellent way to obtain a free meal.

To acquire an easy tasty treat, most animals will overcome their cautious natures and approach humans eagerly. This behavior leads to problems with wild animals associating a human with food.

The danger of harm to both the human involved and the animal in question only gets more so.   People tend to think that animals eat the same food we do, a dangerous notion that can not only make an animal sick but could lead to death. On the hand, the animal can also become quite frightened by a sudden movement of a person and result in literally biting the hand trying to feed it.

Now, when a squirrel, a little rodent equally full of curiosity and the understanding that everything will naturally try to eat it, learns of free food then having a treat versus being the treat is momentarily tipped to one side.

Such is the case with this little guy. Obviously, this squirrel has seen and enjoyed many easy free meals.  This guy watched me approach his tree and quickly jumped down on the ground in front of me.   I was not expecting to face a squirrel. In fact I wasn’t even looking for a squirrel. So, I stopped in my tracks to gauge what the commotion in front of me was all about.

Sumo Squirrel
“None Shall Pass”

That’s when this little guy suddenly struck a pose. I’m not sure if he was trying to intimidate me or putting on a little show for his meal, but there he stood squatting on his hind legs with his little arms out in front like a sumo wrestler at the beginning of a match.

Unfortunately for him, I don’t feed the animals so I didn’t have any food. So we stared at each other, again like a sumo wrestler waiting for the opponent to make the first move.


 

4 Simple Facts About Bird Photography Explained

A white ibis runs for the shoreline in a crashing wave.  He appears to have received the business end of a large wave and in his panic forgot he can fly. No doubt from a birds point of view the act of trying to find lunch in the crashing surf is a frustrating experience. I’m positive it’s almost as frustrating as actually getting that perfect bird picture.

If your one of those people who wish to hone their skill of photographing live birds, then this list may just help you.

1.  Equipment Matters-

 Equipment is at least 50% of your chance in getting a great action shot with birds. The Iphone will fail you as bad as most of the point and clicks on the market. Why?   The lens. A wide-angle lens is great for portraits, landscapes, and the weekend BBQ. But birds are small, and small means that you need some form of telescoping lens to get the bird nice and close. Unless your subject is a large Canadian goose looking for a handout, you’re going to scare your quarry before you get the shot. Your best bet is a DSLR and a nice telescoping lens that will close the distance between your subject and you.

Ibis in the Surf - Bird
Ibis in the Surf

2.  Fast Shutter Speed-  

One of the advantages of a DSLR is the ability to adjust the shutter speed of your camera. This changes the length of time your camera has its shutter open, thus allowing light into the camera. The quicker the speed, the better chance of capturing non-blurry action shots. Birds tend to be very quick. As a person who’s experienced being chased by a full size turkey, I can personally attest to how quick they are.   Notice in the ibis picture that the water from the surf seems to freeze mid-air. That’s what a quick shutter speed will give you.  How fast? The real answer is “as fast as your light conditions allow you to without underexposing the picture.”

3.  Aim for the Eye-

Remember that telescoping lens?   You don’t just pick up your camera, aim it at the poor creature and start shooting. Well you CAN, but your just wasting your time. No, a good picture takes a good deal of forethought. Once I have my camera set at an acceptable shutter speed. The very next thing I do is aim for the eye.   A focused eye is almost always a good start to an excellent picture. But, an out of focused eye is always a bad picture. Humans are rather finicky about faces. We have to see the eyes. Even animal faces are susceptible to this psychological need of ours. If you don’t get the eyes, you don’t get the picture.

 

4.  Prepare for Failure-

Yeah, patience is definitely needed. Remember that for every great photograph of a beautiful bird, especially an action shot, there are at least 200 pictures of out of focused blurs, wing flaps, moved heads, blurry feet, and tail feathers. You’re taking the picture of a living-breathing animal. This animal does not care that you are taking a picture. They do not listen to your directions to stay still. They are quick, they are small and they are almost always in movement. If you get one good picture out of an afternoon of bird watching then you’ve had a great day!

Remember that the most important thing about photographing any animals in the wild is to respect nature. Respect your subject and while you may not get that epic shot on the first try, there will be always a chance for a second, third, or even 100th try.

 

 

Luck Loves a Lady Cardinal

Once again the winter months arrive and bring with them the opportunity to see a greater selection of animals. In Florida, in the dry season the weather is nicer and the mosquitos are no longer swarming making life miserable. It’s a great chance to capture birds and other fauna. This beautiful  bird is a female cardinal.

The female uses a brown plumage with red highlights and not the bright red plumage the male does and therefore is not as easily identified. At first glance this might seem rather unfair to the female of the species. I mean everyone knows and loves the little bright red males. Myth and lore surround them as bringer of good luck and there is even sports teams named after them. But in reality, it’s actually the female that may have the luckiest plumage.

Lady Cardinal
Lady Cardinal

Cardinals tend to live in the underbrush and low trees due to the fact that they eat off the ground and the occasional backyard feeder. They also use those bushes for nesting and incubating their eggs.   So, which plumage would you rather have if you’re sitting in a low-lying nest reachable by snakes, and Fluffy the killer house cat? I think I’d prefer to blend in with the drab browns.

As for our particular model, it’s true that cardinals do not migrate which means that our lovely little lady Cardinal probably lives near this spot with a male nearby. This bird was obviously curious to see if I had any saffron or sunflower seeds with me. She paused on the wooden rail and eyed me for any chance of a free meal.   Unfortunately, for her, I don’t bait wildlife to get a shot, so no easy pickings for her.

 

The Meaning of Fuzzy Dice ala Thunderbird

Folklore says the fuzzy dice you find in antique cars owe their start to the fighter pilots of WWII. Pilots would drape a pair of dice over their mirror or instruments in the cockpit for luck before flying on combat missions.

The dishevel of American society caused by war resulted in celebrating rebellious nature against the status quo. This social rebellion not only resulted in the modern-day biker stereotype, but also  hot rods and fast cars finding a place in American culture.

Thus, it was only a matter of time before the little symbol of luck changed and came along for the ride.   During the 50’s and 60’s fuzzy dice appeared as a symbol of rebellion and dangerous racing.

The fad, like most, did not last.   By the late 80’s the dice began to take on a new meaning to the aging population of original hot rodders.   It wasn’t a symbol of rebellion as much as a reminder of the past.

As the decades passed, the feeling of nostalgia only became stronger.  A reminder of past times when fast cars driving with the windows down on winding roads on the way to the local drive thru was born.

Artist Comments:

Fuzzy Dice ala Thunderbird
Fuzzy Dice ala Thunderbird

I endeavored to tap into this feeling of nostalgia while creating this piece. The long black and white panel and steering column of this Ford Thunderbird embodies the past stretching in the distance. The bright red of the dice hanging on the mirrors dramatically rivals memories of past exploits and summer travels.

The bright red dice, shown in full sunlight, is slightly off-center.  I used the color  as a natural draw denoting the struggle we feel coping with the present and future. They become a vivid reminder that the future is bright, colorful, and inviting yet now quite here yet.   It gives hope.