Wednesday, December 9, 2009

A Photographer's Outtakes

A Photographer's Outtakes
Barefoot Beach, Florida

"You should never think without an image."

This time of year, you'll often see me down at Barefoot Beach, loaded up with camera gear and holiday props. I always intend to create my newest photo for my line of holiday greeting cards in the summer, when my schedule is more relaxed. But my intentions often get stuck to the paper my "must do NOW" list is written on, and there they stay until the last minute. I think I share the middle name of "procrastination" with a number of folks, so at least I'm not alone.

Any photographer has outtakes, and we pro's always hope and pray our outtakes don't outnumber our keepers. Sometimes the outtakes are just shameful, but sometimes they're funny.

Like this one. I spent a good fifteen minutes setting up a shot for this year's holiday card. It's not that easy going from threadbare conception to end product. I cleaned the sand up pretty good (but not too good that it didn't look real), measured the light, tried a few shots with flash and a few without. I basically tinkered away, trying to assemble my scene so that it finally pleased my eye when I looked through the viewfinder. I got one shot off, then SPLASH! A wave took it all way.

I'm sure a few of the tourists walking by wondered what the heck I was doing, wading in the small surf after a santa hat. It's never a real hard life being a photographer, and some days, it's just plain funny.

Be sure to stop by the Side Street Artists holiday art fair on Saturday, December 12. I'll have this year's final holiday shots all gussied up into hand-made cards, as well as a full line from year's past.

Nikon D2x, Nikkor 18-200 VR, a giant bag of holiday props, two SB-800's (not used), a reflector (not used) and a lot of crawling around in the sand and giggling

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Cool Beans

First Harvest
My Garden
November 29, 2009

"Plants cry their gratitude for the sun in green joy."
~Astrid Alauda

There has been so much to give thanks for this season: health, prosperity, loved ones, the sun above my head...and this weekend, the fruits of my garden.

My vegetable garden is perched on the edge of my canal. It knows no chemicals, and is doused often with love, worm castings and Alaska Fish Fertilizer (ACE really is the is the only store that carries my favorite plant food). I returned from my second trip of the autumn to the mountains and found the peas and 3 tomatoes chewed to nubbins by fat, black caterpillar creatures. I dutifully picked them all off and fed them to snook and catfish in the canal. I've replanted with spinach, lettuce and dill. Lots of dill. Apparently hungry pests don't like dill much. Pity them. These guys are equally diligent in devouring every green thing they can crawl to; they even ate the leaves off the marigolds I planted to repel them. Not much of a first line of defense, it seems.

Tending the garden is a good bit of work, as most labors of love are. In 1871, Charles Dudley Warner wrote that gardeners need a cast-iron back with a really good hinge in it. There's always a learning curve for every climate zone. And gardening without harsh chemicals is not for the faint of heart or faith. A garden teaches persistence, patience and unconditional love. Are there more important lessons to learn in life?

I'll enjoy these beans, all dressed up in their pre-holiday red and green. Though just an early handful, I'll savor each bite as I share them with friends coming to a delayed Thanksgving meal tonight. I spent Thanksgiving day helping prepare food for eighty folks at my neighborhood association's annual dinner. Those without families or places to go gathered and devoured nearly all the 35 pounds of potatoes I hand-peeled and mashed, the huge trays of stuffing and enormous pots of gravy I made, and the five turkeys roasted and carved by five generous seniors. I was grateful for the opportunity to lend my hands and help prepare a meal that joined together so many people who live near me. For most, this day is a day of thanks and gratitude, which was shared equally with food. I walked home when everyone was fed and full, smiling and thankful that I'd spent the day practicing the other half of Thanksgiving - giving.

Nikon D2x - Nikkor 18-200 VR, my favorite red plate, a little spot of pretty light that caught my eye in the kitchen

Monday, November 16, 2009

Robes of Azure Blue

Clingman's Dome Sunset
Great Smoky National Park
November 13, 2009

“'Tis distance lends enchantment to the view, and robes the mountain in its azure hue”
--Thomas Campbell

Nikon D2x, Nikkor 18-200VR, GND, a bit of uphill huffin' and a deep chill

After The Leaves Have Fallen

After The Leaves Have Fallen
Somewhere Near Courthouse Valley Overlook

Blue Ridge Parkway, North Carolina
November 13, 2009

"Nature is, above all, profligate. Don't believe them when they tell you how economical and thrifty nature is, whose leaves return to the soil. Wouldn't it be cheaper to leave them on the tree in the first place?"
-- Annie Dillard

Nikon D2x, Nikkor 18-200 VR, flying down the Parkway, kayaks on top of the car

Friday, November 6, 2009

The River's Verge

Late Autumn in the Smokies
October 29, 2009

"Here, on the river's verge, I could be busy for months without changing my place, simply leaning a little more to right or left."
--Paul Cezanne

Nikon D2x, Nikkor 18-200 VR, sturdy tripod on a slippery rock

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Obstacle Illusions

Outdoor Living
Sunset, South Carolina
October 27, 2009

"Life is full of obstacle illusions."
--Grant Frazier

I drove from Florida to South Carolina to photograph a new home for a client last month. From the Florida border north, the rain was relentless and I fretted about photo ops and weather for much of the way. I arrived in a late afternoon steady rain, and in what I thought was pretty good time, which, in the end wound up being the perfect time. I took a quick tour around this magnificent home, finding good light, and exploring the best architectural angles, then set up and fired off a few test frames.

Usually, some of the best light for these kinds of shoots is twilight, when that perfect blue balances so sweetly with the ambient interior light. On this night, soft cyan twilight showed up on my camera's chimp LCD a full hour before sunset. It surprised me, really, and made me lace up my skates (wool socks on the hardwood floors) and fly around the house, trying to get a full round of shots in before it disappeared.

Magic hour. Even in the rain. Maybe...even because of the rain.

The best part (aside from just BEING there)?? Getting to start a fire in one of the many fireplaces. I haven't lost my pyro-touch.

Like so much in life, even the most stubborn obstacles eventually play out as the illusions they actually are.

Nikon D2x, Nikkor 12-24

Monday, October 19, 2009

Each time I make a photograph...

Little Green Heron & Dragonfly
Wiggins Pass, Florida
October 2009

"Each time I make a photograph I celebrate the life I love and the beauty I know and the happiness I have experienced."
---Ruth Bernhard

Winter arrived with a bang yesterday morning. Temperatures plummeted from the 70's at dawn to the 50's, and the wind soaked up all the humidity in the air and took it somewhere else. Had the record-breaking cool weather not arrived, I was banking on a trip I'm making next week to photograph a house in Greenville, SC for a client (and try to find some fall foliage in the Smokies!). The sludge-filled air of summer grows old by October. A big change gives us all something new to talk about.

Even the birds seemed to sense it. They've been arriving in little waves, much like their human counterparts from the north. It's good to see them all again, and chase them around on oyster bars and through mangrove islands. It's a good life, living on the sandbar, being part of the seasonal waves of life.

The first Side Street Artists show of the season on November 21 is sold out! Many of last year's artists are returning, and we'll all welcome the new ones joining us. Please come visit us. You won't be disappointed!

Nikon D2x, Nikkor 80-400 VR, floating in the kayak

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Quantum Navigation

Black-bellied Plover
Wiggins Pass, FL

"If you haven't found something strange during the day, it hasn't been much of a day."
--John Archibald Wheeler, theoretical physicist, originator of the terms "black hole" and "wormhole"

I've been (trying to) read a book that dances in and out of quantum theory. I'm not sure I'm grasping all of it - much of it is still unknown, or hypothesized, after all - but the subject, when you pare away most of the language I stumble over, is really quite fascinating, as is the history of one of its founders, Max Planck. Indivisibility, duality, the Uncertainty Principle, misbehaving electrons! Tiny does not always mean simple.

In a strange twist of tonight's research, I stumbled across an article about birds and quantum theory: Wired Magazine's "Reverse-Engineering the Quantum Compass of Birds". First hypothesized in 1978, scientists are getting pretty darned close to understanding the "cellular navigation tools" that birds use with greater accuracy than our own GPS units to fly great migratory distances. According to this article, it's all about "superoxide, an oxygen molecule that may combine with light-sensitive proteins to form an in-eye compass, allowing birds to see Earth’s magnetic field".

Biophysicist Klaus Schulten of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, a pioneer in avian magnetoreception, is a guy who apparently has a fascination for winged friends that far surpasses my own. I mean, really, the guy has been working on this model for 30+ years. That's real patience and love, folks.

From the Wired articles: "According to this model, when a photon hits the compass, entangled electrons are scattered to different parts of the molecule. Variations in Earth’s magnetic field cause them to spin in different ways, each of which leaves the compass in a slightly different chemical state. The state alters the flow of cellular signals through a bird’s visual pathways, ultimately resulting in a perception of magnetism."

Sheesh, who's the evolved species now?

Oh, and if that wasn't strange enough for you, here's a black-bellied plover tidbit: this guy is the only American plover with a hind toe on it's foot.

GPS in its eye and a hind toe. Somedays, I just feel humbled.

Nikon D2x, Nikkor 80-400 VR

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Love What You Do...

Sandwich Tern
Wiggins Pass - Naples, FL

"Do what you love, love what you do, leave the world a better place and don't pick your nose."
--Jeff Mallett

September was a long month. I had eye surgery early in the month to repair a glitched cataract surgery. For anyone, but maybe especially photographers who are right eye dependent with their cameras, any surgery on your "shootin' eye" is scary business. I spent August doing my research, finding the best doctor (he operated on Tom Clancy, for goodness sake, and gave him his sight back) at the best eye hospital (Bascom Palmer, Number 1 in the nation, right across the state from me!). I opened my eyes the day after the surgery and it was magic. I had the best vision I'd ever experienced in my life.

Those who know me well know I'm not especially flush with patience, although I'm getting better as time goes on. So, really, all things considered, I did good. No driving. No computer. Rest the eye. On the 4th day, I was able to drive myself back over for my first post-op check. Passed with flying colors. Drove home. Eye was a little tired, but life was grand.

And then, on the 5th day, I woke up and couldn't see. I'm serious. Things weren't black, but they were gray and muddy and it was like looking through a gallon of vaseline. A friend drove me back over. Some mention of rogue cells and such. A change in meds, come back in a few days. Days pass. Things worsen. I get yet another ride back over (one can never be thankful enough for friends) and they take me immediately into surgery. Silly rogue cells had been doing the guppy procreation dance under the incision and were invading the inner depths of my cornea. My own body was sending cells into areas where they were not wanted, and for the ten minutes it took to warm up the surgical equipment, I sat there, thinking about all my options. I decided that this is a wonderful argument for never having surgery on both eyes simultaneously. There was nothing to do but believe it was going to be fine.

I emerged from surgery grateful for skilled hands, and spent the next ten days doing the long re-recuperation, so unlike the first surgery. Stay away from the computer. Stay away from the camera. Don't even dream of the kayak or salt water. No bright sunlight. And worst of all, do not drive. The cat and I became real good friends.

I'm back to driving now - it's October, after all - and seeing pretty darned well, although it's still healing and not quite back to that perfect vision I so briefly had. I've recently been back in the kayak and best of all, I've picked the camera up once again. The first time I looked through it, I wondered what things would look like. They looked pretty darned good. In fact, I don't know that things have ever looked quite so good through the viewfinder before. I can *see*! It made me smile. It made me say that little silent "thank you" for all things that turn out good and sweet.

Do what you love, and do it with love. Believe. It just makes the world a better place.

Nikon D2x, Nikkor 80-400 VR

Monday, July 27, 2009

The Inbetween Time

Sky Painting
July 27, 2009
Bonita Beach, Florida

“When it looked like the sun wasn't going to shine any more, there was a rainbow in the clouds,”
--Maya Angelou

Tonight, just minutes before sunset, a quick glance up at the sky as I walked to the dock showed some pretty cool, feathery clouds overhead, stretching in tails to the west. I gave in to the impulse, reversed course back to the office door, grabbed the camera, jumped into the car and drove the three minutes to the beach.

Summer is always a quiet, lazy time on the beach at sunset. Locals and a few international tourists typically dot the beaches, a far cry from the crowded hustle during tourist/snowbird season. Tonight, I overhead one man say he was from Serbia. Such far flung visitors. Tonight was even more lazy, another sure sign of this troubled economy. Streets are relatively deserted these days; businesses fail weekly. My street looks like one big blue light special in the foreclosure aisle. These are tough days on the sandbar.

But tonight, that was all but forgotten as the sun dissolved into the Gulf. What hinted at being a wild, unruly sunset ended up being a gentle fusion of day and night. Soft light woven with a vivid thread or two. My intentions for landscape sunset shots became unexpected abstracts.

The inbetween time bled to night. Wealthy in the only meaningful manner, I walked up the sand path and headed home.

Nikon D2x, Nikkor 18-200 VR, Flip flops.

Sunday, July 26, 2009


"Here's Looking At You"
Fledgeling Green Heron
July 26, 2009
Wiggins Bay - Naples, FL

"It is lovely, when I forget all birthdays, including my own, to find that somebody remembers me."
-- Ellen Glasgow

“And in the end, it's not the years in your life that count. It's the life in your years.”
--Abraham Lincoln

Current Designs Kestrel Kayak, Nikon D2x, Nikkor 80-400mm VR

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Egret Fishing

The One That Didn't Get Away
Snowy Egret - Wiggins Pass
Naples, FL

"All men are equal before fish."
--Herbert Hoover

I've been spending lots of time in the kayak so far this summer, working on new photo inventory for next season. Boy, is this a fun job! I get to spend a lot of time with my bird friends, who never fail to crack me up.

This young adult was polishing his fishing skills in a strong outgoing tide with lots of bait on the surface along the south side of Wiggins Pass. Now, if you don't know snowy egret personality very well, let me tell you that these are persistent birds who can be very territorial and really cranky when other birds come to fish nearby. He'd already chased off two other snowy egrets, a pelican and even a great white egret with great flaps of wings and a lot of irritated vocals. Cranky persistence all the way.

He caught quite a few small "shiners" - little bait fish - as I photographed him. I call those fish "one gulpers" because they go from the water to the bird gullet in one fast gulp. But this fish - well, this one really tested his skills. Much, much larger than the one gulpers, he just couldn't quite figure out how to swallow it whole. He tossed it into the air (and caught it again), he came up onto shore, dropped it, and pecked at it a few times, and he even nearly lost it when it managed to wiggle out of that scary sharp beak once over the water.

This shot caught the last flip in the air before it aligned perfectly and he managed to swallow it down. In the millisecond of a shutter release, fish and bird looked at each other in midair in that tiny space in his beak. And then...poof...gone.

One minute, you're swimming with the gang and the next minute you're lunch. It's can be a dangerous world out there.

Current Designs Kestrel Kayak, Nikon D2x, Nikkor 80-400mm VR

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Everywhere and Nowhere

Center of the Universe
Barefoot Beach, Florida
August 2008

"Nature is an infinite sphere of which the center is everywhere and the circumference nowhere."

It's summer, and I'm working on projects that have been sleeping for a time; dormant in the flurry of work's busy season. Sorting the past 10 month's photos is both exciting and tedious.

I tend to worry about all sorts of things with these projects: my eye sees differently from day to day, and yesterday's deleted trash may well be today's treasure; storage space nips at the heels of my shutter actuations and it tends to drive me to delete with wild abandon; I get distracted easily, making the cull and edit process sporadic at best; surely, Discipline is not my middle name. It sometimes seems easy to get into a project's trenches and start hauling out the "shoulda, coulda, woulda" arsenal.

I've been spending time with a young photographer this summer, helping him develop new photo products and create his own web site. I'm pretty much in awe of this kid. He has more gumption, drive and accomplishment at 14 than I have at...well...this age.

Matt was born with cerebral palsy. That he walks and writes and runs is testament to his own tenacity and his parent's loving patience. Yesterday, he told me about recently catching his first football while running. It sounds like nothing, really; just a kid catching a football his dad threw. And then you think about how many attempts it took, how much difficult groundwork it took to even be able walk let alone run, and it just humbles you.

A few years ago, Matt found a passion in photography, and decided he wanted to become a National Geographic photographer. In the short time I've known him, he's taken off running with precise focus toward that goal. The local papers picked up his story and displayed his photographs, and soon, started giving him assignments. He's sold his photographs at more outdoor venues already that many of us "seasoned" pros. And that's just the business end.

The act of taking a photo is not a small deal for Matt. Cerebal palsy makes him tremble, and it's been difficult for him to get crisp, sharp hand-held telephoto photos. But he does. I know it takes him many, many shots, but he never seems to get frustrated. Blurry photos don't seem to dampen his drive; they make him try harder. I've watched him work a subject (burrowing owls, for instance) and he reminds me that patience is essential to photographers. We tend to forget that, and in this day of instant, digital everything, you can often end up with nothing if you don't practice it and learn to see. And for all Matt's challenges, that young man can see. He reminds us all that the tool in your hands is never a replacement for the vision in your heart and eye.

As I edit and cull and work through photos I've long forgotten these past months, I'm reminded of the joyous shine in Matt's eyes when we talk about photography. I'm reminded that what could seem tedious - going through folder after folder of unedited photos - is really a process of discovery. I can clearly remember taking each photograph; how the air was charged with light particles (or not); the palette of outdoor sounds; the thrill of "seeing" something and wondering if you managed to capture what you saw. I'm reminded that this art, with all it's ups and downs and supposed tedium, can be a lot like double-dipping in the creative gift bowl.

Recycled joy.

There is no limit, or circumference, to what is possible. Matt reminds me of that. We are each, and all, creative beings; beauty and possibility are both everywhere, and nowhere. The choice is ours.

Nikon D2x, Nikkor 24-120mm VR

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Flight Lessons

First Take-off
Adult and Fledgling Least Terns
June 2009
Wiggins Pass, Florida

Checking for wheels up...
Least Terns
June 2009

Wiggins Pass, Florida

"I pick the prettiest part of the sky and I melt into the wing and then into the air, till I'm just soul on a sunbeam."
--Richard Bach

Current Designs Kestrel Kayak, Nikon D2x, Nikkor 80-400mm VR

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Smooth Approach

Smooth Approach
Least Tern
June 2008
Wiggins Pass, FL

“You must not know too much or be too precise or scientific about birds and trees and flowers and watercraft; a certain free-margin, and even vagueness - ignorance, credulity - helps your enjoyment of these things.”
--Henry David Thoreau

I will readily admit that I have fallen in love these past several weeks. I'm quite unabashed about it, in fact.

For a few months now, a large flock of least terns have been mating, nesting, fledging and teaching their young how to fly at one of my favorite local just-after-dawn-and-low-tide birding spots.

It's been quite a spectacle this year. For the first time, Delnor-Wiggins State Park has taken an avid interest in attracting them, roping off a big hunk of the upper reaches of the beach where I typically pull the kayak out of the water for a break. Even more interesting, they invested in some least tern decoys, these totally wacked and weird painted wooden things that, strangely enough, seem to do the trick. Just the other day, I watched an adult and a fledgling actually rub up against some of the decoys. Who says love isn't blind?

So it's been quite grand, all this activity. Clouds of terns swarming above me as I float on top of roiling bait is mesmerizing. I've watched adults pair bond, mate and sit on nests. I've seen their young do a toddler's walk down to the water line for the first time, then, the next day, take wing. As a good friend from Alaska would say, "It's all good."

I float for hours along the back side of one of the adult's favorite oyster bars, captivated by landings and takeoffs, tiny fish speared by pointed beaks. Power boaters pass by me and stare. Ha! Crazy woman in the yellow kayak with the camera again, photographing what?? These birds are tiny and from a distance, the oyster bar looks empty. Hours later, they pass by again and I'm still there.

I float and watch and feel enchanted. I think about their near extinction in the early 1900's because ladies liked to wear them (whole) in their hats. I watch their skill and confidence in flight; wings moving so fast, they're simply a blur.

Yes, it seems I've fallen in love. Dozens of hours and hundreds of shutter actuations later, I'm pretty sure they love me back.

Nikon D2x, Nikkor 80-400mm VR

Monday, June 15, 2009

Summer Storms in the Everglades

Eye in the Storm
May 2009
Turner River Road, FL

"Tones sound, and roar and storm about me until I have set them down in notes."
--Ludwig van Beethoven

Nikon D2x, Nikkor 18-200VR

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Wait and Hope

Least Tern
Wiggins Pass, Naples, Florida
May 2009

"All human wisdom is summed up in two words - wait and hope."
~Alexandre Dumas Pere

Nikon D100, Nikkor 80-400 VR

Pecking Orders

Bald Eagle
Wiggins Pass, Naples, Florida

May 2009

"“But of course, what the eagle does not realize is that it is participating in a very crude form of natural selection. One day a tortoise will learn how to fly.”"
~Terry Pratchett

It's been a winter season full of hard work, wonderful fruits of my art venue labors and now, a late spring of delicious rewards. The longer days have afforded me kayak luxuries once again and the sweet gods of travel have blessed me with a few trips here and there, visiting birds and some of my old haunts to the north and in the Keys.

The camera, much too long in the architectural photography "saddle", has been nearly as joyful as I have been to be back in the kayak. Summer approaches and it sure feels good.

I found this eagle at Wiggins Pass early one morning about a week ago. It was sitting atop a mangrove tree, looking for food in the falling tide. I floated in the kayak just off the mangroves, photographing it with pure joy until I noticed it flinch. Through the viewfinder of the camera, I couldn't see that an osprey had tried to dive-bomb it!

As the osprey made a second pass, the eagle flew off with the osprey hot on it's trail. I was just about to photograph their chase, but a power boat came by and I had to stow the camera gear. These two carried on in the air, swooping and flying, engaged in a mid-air battle. It was quite a mesmerizing sight! They locked talons in mid-air - and the osprey seemed to have the upper hand. Annoyed and undoubtedly humiliated, the eagle shook himself free and flew off . The osprey took over the roost atop the mangroves and gloated.

I guess there is a territorial pecking order to every place.

Nikon D100, Nikkor 80-400 VR

Sunday, February 15, 2009

A Light Lunch

A Light Lunch For Two
Stopper Creek, Florida

“Light makes photography. Embrace light. Admire it. Love it. But above all, know light. Know it for all you are worth, and you will know the key to photography.”
~George Eastman

Nikon D2x, Nikkor 80-400 VR, sweet afternoon light