In my last blog, I discussed the importance of getting out there. One cannot make great images unless one is in a place to do so. Shortly after I made that post, my lovely bride and I departed for Christmas in Wyoming with family. We left on a beautiful Monday morning, overnighted in Utah, and arrived at my lovely bride’s brother’s home in Powell WY on Tuesday. The plan was to head to Billings MT the next day, Wednesday, for a Christmas play. We woke to blowing snow and temperatures in the minus 30’s and 40’s! With roads in the area closed, we didn’t get to the Christmas play.
When the storm subsided, my brother-in-law and I headed out to the Greybull River and Meeteetse WY area to check out the wildlife scene. We saw some Eagles and Deer along the Greybull River, Turkeys in Meeteetse, and Deer, Bison and Eagles on the ranches west of Meeteetse. And it was cold! Thankfully, the heated seats in the F-150 made the trip a bit more bearable. Here’s a sample of the critters we saw that day! Enjoy – PHOTOROGR
My lovely bride and I visited Yosemite National Park in August 2017. The schedule was driven by a night photography workshop in which I participated. We decided to spend a week there and had a wonderful time. In one of the gift shops, we found a poster with ‘Orland’s Penultimate Compendium of Photographic Truths’. It hangs in a frame in my Study, just to the left of the Digital Darkroom (aka my computer desk). The Compendium is a list of mostly humorous statements:
“The best scenic turnouts are clearly designated by highway signs reading NO STOPPING ANYTIME.”
“Falling cameras are attracted to rocks.”
“At critical moments your camera will alert you to amazing photographic scenes by flashing the words WARNING: LOW BATTERY”
In the tiniest of fonts near the bottom of the poster is this statement: “The First Rule of Photography: BE THERE!”
Those two words have so much meaning. They describe a concept so simple, yet so true. BE THERE! One cannot make an image of the Grand Canyon, or Old Faithful, or a steam locomotive, or an Eagle flying along a river without being there. For the travel photographer and tourist, landscape scenes are done by simply being there (even though one must be there when the light is best for truly great pictures, but that’s a whole different post).
For the wildlife photographer, life is a bit different. Sadly, critters have their own schedule and their own view of the world. I’ve said it many times, critters don’t take direction! They won’t tip their head or turn their bodies when one asks them to. They arrive and depart on their schedule, with little to no regard for the person standing there with a camera. How rude! And ask them to sign a model release. Forget it!
A couple days ago, I was out looking for Eagles in an area that I know they hunt. The roads go up mountain passes and have closures during the winter for obvious reasons. I had just driven along a stretch of river and reached the closed gates. Preparing to turn around, I saw this Eagle fly up from the direction I had just driven. He landed in a tree and gave me a look that seemed to say, “Well, you didn’t stop for pictures before so here I am now!” I obliged and got some fantastic images, and I gave thanks to that Eagle and the Photo Gods for sending him to me.
I’m not always fortunate to find exactly what I’m looking for, so I take pictures of the wildlife I find and frequently of the gorgeous scenery I’m passing through. This post is about the wildlife I’ve been finding while out looking for Eagles this season.
A couple weeks ago, my scheduled spotter canceled at the last minute so my lovely bride came with me. We were driving to the Eagle area when she suddenly says, “There’s a Bear!” Sure enough, this handsome critter was about 20 yards off the road and allowed me to grab a few shots.
Sometimes, the predator is a bit smaller. Like this character.
I was hiking the road behind the closed gates when I saw this Coyote near the river. I tracked him through the brush, across the road, and up the hill.
Sometimes the subject is small, like this little Junco who was hopping the snowy road while I was hiking. He was not concerned about me until I knelt down to get a better angle, then he took flight. Darn it!
Occasionally, I get a real treat. I had seen their tracks in many places along the road, but I came over a small rise and these three ladies were in the road. They quickly went up the hill, but stopped to let me get several images. This one is my favorite.
If I hadn’t been there – even though I was there for a different purpose – I wouldn’t have gotten these images! These two words have become my new photographic mantra – BE THERE! But watch for rocks under your feet and keep your batteries charged! I love what I do, and hope that you do, too.
Well, the Eagles and the Photography Gods have been very good to me in this young Eagle Season! I started heading to my regular area in early November and was not disappointed. I have not come up empty for Eagles this year (knock on wood!). I don’t always get pictures, but I see them. This Season has also provided some bonus pictures. Read on!
I have been most fortunate with my action shots this Season. I’ve had my camera up and ready when they take off!
I amazed myself with this one! I haven’t had luck in the past ‘getting glass on’ a flying subject, much less getting a usable image.
One of the greatest challenges with Eagles is getting proper exposure, especially in full sun. Their bodies are dark brown and their heads are white (I know, that’s obvious!), so how does one get an exposure that works? Well, I generally underexpose the keep the head from being ‘blown out’ (meaning totally white with no detail and no recoverable data) because software is much better at recovering detail in the shadows (darker areas of an image). The key is to watch the histogram while shooting to ensure that there will be usable data.
This guy was out on a blustery day. Note the feathers being moved around by the wind. He doesn’t look happy, but Eagles always look like that. They’re just serious.
I can’t help but think about vampires when I look at this picture. But I know he doesn’t want to drink my blood!
Another thing that amazes me about Eagles is the position of their wings in flight. A fully mature Eagle’s wingspan extends over 6 feet – wider than most people are tall! And yet, they are so graceful in flight.
While this Eagle appears to be out of control, he was just taking flight.
Here’s the bonus content!
Kingfishers are small and fast, and very camera shy! I saw this guy across the river and was able to capture him in pixels before he took flight!
When I’m in the ‘hot zone’ in the area I look for Eagles, I usually drive at about 10-20 mph (but I keep an eye on my mirrors to ensure I’m not blocking traffic). I call this ‘slow rolling.’ While slow rolling one day, this shy guy was on the road and quickly jumped into the brush. I was able to get this image before he disappeared.
And the ultimate bonus prize this year was this youngster. I was slow rolling around a corner and there he was in the middle of the road. He looked up and saw me, and bounded up the hill! I quickly parked and got out of the F-150 to see if he would be visible, and there he was up the hill. My RF 800 lens used every millimeter of focal length to get this image.
And so, I’m off to a good start this year. I have a bunch of pictures of Eagles sitting in the trees, but I wanted to share the action shots. Stay tuned – there will be more in the coming weeks!
This winter’s Eagle season did not disappoint (for me anyway)! I had a wonderful couple months looking for and finding Eagles in our area. I can tell that things are winding down when I bring home more image files of other critters than Eagles. So, I’m done actively looking for Eagles this season, but I’ll still be watching for them.
Well, nothing against other wildlife, but Eagle Season is about the Eagles and the other stuff is just not the same. And so, it’s shifting to targets of opportunity while filling the days until I head to Ely NV and the Nevada Northern Railway’s Winter Photo Workshop in a few weeks. Enjoy – and stay tuned – PHOTOROGR
Trains magazine has been in publication for 81 years. The Nevada Northern Railway is completing the restoration of Locomotive 81, a 2-8-0 built by the Baldwin Locomotive Works in 1917. This locomotive was retired almost 60 years ago, but was resurrected by the dedicated crew at the NNRY. (If you’ve ever thought about being the Engineer on a steam locomotive, go the http://www.nnry.com and click on the visit/ride tab to see how you can do it!) Could there be a better reason to have a big weekend-long celebration?
Actually, Trains magazine had plans to celebrate 80 years of publication in 2020. We all know what happened then so they delayed their party and partnered with NNRY to have a much bigger impact. And what a weekend it was!
My lovely bride accompanied me on the adventure. She patiently sat on the trains while we rode to various locations, disembarked the photographers, and then the locomotives pulled back and forth numerous times at each location to the delight of all the cameras. She also served as my assistant around the East Ely Yard, but managed to get in a few frames of her own with her cell phone. I appreciate her support of my photography hobby. Je t’ami, Mon ChouChou!
I won’t bore you with all the images from every location we visited, but I will try to share the feeling of being there. Enjoy!
As I said, I didn’t share all the images from the weekend. I hope that I have provided a nice cross section of images so you have a feel for how much fun it was, despite having to fight (figuratively, not literally) for a spot on a crowded photo line.
The NNRY received several grants in the last year to improve equipment, preserve and archive the rich history that makes this railway a National Historic Landmark, and restore the track that connects the East Ely Yard to the Magill Depot. I look forward to making more images of this wonderful piece of history.
A couple months ago, I had lunch with an old friend who had moved away and returned for a visit. In the course of catching up, he chastised me for not blogging – especially my steam locomotive images. As you can see, it still took me a while to decide to share any images. My apologies!
The 2021-2022 Eagle Season has been wonderful for me. I’m getting more and better shots than I have at any time. I credit the Eagles for being accessible and patient, but I also credit the upgrades to my camera kit. A little over a year ago, I went mirrorless and purchased a Canon EOS R5. I worked it out at the Nevada Northern Railway Photo Workshop in February (and I did share those images!), through the summer in our travels to Glacier and North Cascades National Parks, and again in Ely at the big 81 weekend (celebrating Trains magazine’s 81 years of publication and Locomotive 81’s triumphant return to the track) in October.
For my return to blogging, I’ve chosen to start with Eagle images. In early December, my youngest son and I had planned a ride in our side by side. The weather didn’t cooperate (it would have been a very chilly ride) so we changed the plan, loaded cameras into the F-150, and headed out in search of Eagles. As we drove into the ‘Hot Zone,’ the area where I’ve had great success finding Eagles, I stopped and reminded him to keep an eye on the trees on his side of the truck. He immediately responded, ‘…like that one right there!’ Sure enough, in a tree no more than 20 yards away sat a gorgeous Bald Eagle. I pulled off the road and ran back to start shooting.
As part of my new kit, I also purchased a Canon RF 800 f/11 lens. This lens, with its 800 mm focal length, allows me to bring my subjects close and fill the frame. This lens has a fixed aperture (f/11), allowing me to use a shutter priority mode and be ready for movement. The eye tracking focus feature in the R5 camera body keeps the focus point on the eye as the subject moves. The picture above illustrates how well those features work together to make a great picture.
Not all the subjects are that close, and the 800 mm focal length is constantly challenged. My camera is up to that challenge, however, as the following images show.
There’s more to follow as I continue to venture out, so stay tuned. Enjoy – PHOTOROGR
After two days of class room and shooting around the East Ely Yard, on Day 3 we climbed aboard the train and headed out for Grand Landscape Day. It was chilly, but it wasn’t snowing so that was a big plus. We boarded the train and headed out to the Hy-Line. This section of track leaves the East Ely Yard and heads toward McGill, where the smelter was located.
For the workshop, I carried two camera bodies with different focal length zoom lenses. On the tripod, I had my Canon EOS R5 with a Canon RF 24-240mm lens. My Canon EOS 6D Mk II hung from my body with a Tamron 28-300 lens. When making images of trains, I love having my camera on a tripod. I set the tripod to a low height for the vantage point I want, and I have a stable platform for exposure bracketing and focus stacking. Sometimes the action is fast and a tripod-mounted camera is not ideal, so I carried my 6D II for those quick handheld shots. In addition, the second camera body provided redundancy in case I had a problem with my primary camera.
Workshop Instructor Mike Massee captured me a couple times during the workshop. Big thanks to Mike for letting me include these images.
And so, on to my images from the day.
After several runs on the Hy-Line, we headed up to the Tunnel.
We returned to the East Ely Yard for lunch and prepared for the afternoon shoot at the Tunnel and Robinson Canyon. The crew reconfigured the train for a different look.
That ends three days of fun but challenging photography. I learned more about using flash, but also learned how to take pictures in driving snow and cold. A trip to the Nevada Northern Railway is always great, but also wonderful when one’s photographic skills are pushed to the limit.
On the drive home, I stopped by Eastgate Canyon. This canyon is located 5 miles from U.S. 50 on State Highway 722., and is the home to a band of Desert Bighorn Sheep. My lovely bride and I found them last October when we drove by, so I checked to see if I could find them. Sure enough, they were grazing on a hillside within range of my camera.
Thanks for reading. I hope you enjoyed this series from the Nevada Northern Railway. Enjoy – PHOTOROGR
Due to the extreme weather conditions all morning (described in my previous post), our workshop facilitators did a wonderful job of getting the shots but also caring about the comfort of the participants. We split the outside shooting into a couple of sessions, allowing us to get inside more frequently and stay warm.
One of the great elements of this particular workshop is the lighting. Steve Crise has been a photographer for many years (no, I won’t tell you how many so you don’t guess how old he is!), and is a master of setting up a lighting system. His classroom sessions on lighting are wonderful, but then we got to put that information into practice. Because of the weather, he devised some lighting schemes inside the Machine Shop and Engine House to teach us more. For these sessions, he has each participant put the light controller on their hot shoe and control the shot.
Of course, once I got my turn at the strobe lights, my attention turned to other areas.
When the light begins to fade, we settle in for the evening session. Our facilitators got very creative for this year’s evening session. I call it, “Fun With Fire!”
We’re all in the Machine Shop, in total darkness. We hear Steve say, “3…2…1…open shutters!” We open our shutters and several strobes fire, lighting up NNRY worker Ben who is standing on the front of Locomotive 81 making lots of sparks. After a few seconds, the shutters close and we repeat the process.
And so, a day of challenging conditions and much learning for me. Shooting in a driving snow storm, followed by strobes and fun with fire – new experiences all day.
A quick note about post processing. I always shoot in RAW format, which requires that all image files are processed on a computer before being able to share them. For the snow images, I still had to tone down highlights and bring out the shadows. The interiors just needed some tone adjustments and filters. The FWF images were lots of fun. Due to the strobe lighting in some (but not all) combined with the bright sparks, each image file had to be processed independently to bring out the strengths of every image. I also use filters from the DxO Nik Collection or Topaz Studio, and I used both – sometimes together – to make the image really pop.
One more cold day in Ely, but it wasn’t snowing! Until next time – enjoy! PHOTOROGR
I knew it was going to be an interesting day of photography when I looked out the hotel room window at the driving snow storm outside. There are numerous books on taking pictures in extreme weather, and I felt prepared. The camera batteries were fully charged. I had the weather covers all ready. (I did ask the nice folks at the front desk for a couple of the hotel shower caps – they came in very handy for covering the second camera body I was carrying. It’s a great tip for those times you don’t have a rain cover in your kit!) I put on my long underwear, insulated boots, photo gloves (so I can use fingertips without freezing my entire hand), and numerous layers, and headed out.
Our first shoot is always the locomotives exiting the Engine House. On sunny days, this side of the building is in full early morning sun and the light is fantastic. This year, not so much. Still good light, but not the great direct sunlight.
I had just read Jason Bradley’s article, Winter Exposures, in the December 2020 issue of Outdoor Photographer magazine. In the article, author Bradley discusses the challenges of winter exposures: extreme contrast and highlights “off the charts.” He discusses the challenges of film versus digital regarding winter exposures. Basically, with film one must “get it right the first time.” With digital, “…our goal is to maximize the amount of collectible RAW data without blowing out highlights in critical areas of our composition.”
Then he gets into a lengthy discussion about ETTR, or Expose to the Right. Using this technique, the photographer will push the histogram as far to the right as possible without clipping. To explain, I defer to National Geographic’s Complete Photography.
“A histogram displays all of the brightness levels of the image, from dark to light, left to right. If high peaks slam up against the left or right sides of the graph, the image is “clipped” – it may contain areas of pure black or pure white, meaning no detail was recorded. A well exposed image will have detail throughout the entire range of darks, midtones, and bright areas.”
(Note: histograms are also used to show levels of RGB (red, green, and blue) color in an image file. Camera sensors record color as differing levels of RGB in individual pixels, but that’s another big topic altogether.)
Many cameras can be programmed to show clipped highlights using “blinkies.” Author Bradley says this, “The blinkies are terribly useful. While histograms can tell us if our highlights are going off the charts, the blinkies show us where in our composition that’s occurring.” Go to your camera’s playback menu to turn on or turn off blinkies.
Lots of things to think about while setting up for our shoot. But wait, there’s more! (…to quote a commercial…) For static subjects (like landscapes), a photographer can account for bright highlights and dark shadows using exposure bracketing (shooting the same composition using different exposures) and blend those exposures using HDR (high dynamic range) techniques. (I’ve discussed HDR in other blogs, so I won’t get into them here.) What about white balance? The built in meter will be going wild because of the snow.
So, the stage is set, except for the most important thing – I’m shooting a MOVING, BLACK locomotive in BLOWING SNOW. Exposure bracketing is not an option because the locomotive is moving. If I want a nice middle of the histogram exposure, I lose detail in the locomotive. Well, I decided the locomotive was the most important so I exposed for it and didn’t worry about the snow. By overexposing one stop, I could account for some of the white balance and keep some detail in the black locomotive. Now, did I do it for every shot? No! But these were the things on my mind as I approached shooting during the day.
That’s my discussion on shooting in the snow. Lots of challenges, but the results speak for themselves. In my next blog, we’ll get out of the snow for some indoor shooting. Enjoy – PHOTOROGR
Friday morning dawned cool but otherwise nice. The workshop participants gathered in the East Ely Depot to begin the day. We all brought some pictures of our work so we could get to know one another and the instructors could assess our photography skills, then we headed into the East Ely Yard for some pictures.
One of my favorite images from the weekend. I was able to process the image file in Adobe Camera Raw and cleanup some clutter in Photoshop. No need to use other software for a filter.
This is the NNRY’s 1956 Pontiac Hy-Rail car, used by the NNRY for track inspection. Look close and you can see the wheels that keep the car on the tracks just behind the bumper in front of the tire.
I took advantage of the open door at the RIP Building. Just inside, I found this line of wheels and axles, so I did a little focus stacking. There are four different focal planes and five exposures of each focal plane to create the image. I blended the RAW image files in Helicon Focus 7, then applied a black and white filter in Nik Silver Efex.
This is the interior of the Outfit Car, used by the crews to travel to work locations. This was our base of operations for our shoot on Sunday. For this image, I used three image files with different exposures blended in Adobe Camera Raw, some clean up in Photoshop, then a filter from Topaz Studio.
This is the interior of a Caboose, taken from the door.
This is the scene when you walk through the cupola and into the back of the Caboose from the previous image. I paused before taking the picture…thinking about the men who spent their working lives in this space. Do you think they had to sneak a little coal from the Tender to keep the Caboose warm?
After the morning in the Yard, we returned to the Depot for some lunch and the lighting class. Then we headed back into the Yard to finish the day.
This is the Photo Line. And this one was easy because of the low number of photographers.
We’re all going for shots like this…
Keep your eyes open and camera ready. Every now and then you turn and see something like this.
As the light began to fade, we set up in the Freight Depot and the 93 made several runs by us. Shutter speed is key here, depending on what you want your image to show. I used a fast shutter speed to freeze the action in this shot. I also made some shots with the 93 ‘blurring’ by.
That’s not everything from the day, but it’s a nice representation. Lots to see and lots of images to make. But wait ’til the next post – cuz the weather went bonkers on us!