Thanksgiving Fun!

I fired up the PhotoRanger on a chilly Thanksgiving morning and took a drive to the west side of the Carson Valley.

I found this guy on Foothill Road just south of Centerville Lane. He was in the middle of the road when I first saw him. I waited for him to get out of the road and I pulled off the road for this shot. The 3 cars behind me didn’t see him at first, but they seemed more understanding when they realized why I slowed suddenly.

This Kestrel was on the trail sign on the Carson River Trail, just off Muller Lane. I grabbed this shot and moved for a different angle, but he wasn’t very patient.

There were 2 Great Horned Owls in this pole barn, but only one was accommodating.

I’m not sure what this Hawk was thinking, but it was probably something about an annoying photographer lurking about.

I’m getting back into wildlife mode, as you can see. More to follow!

Enjoy – PHOTOROGR

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Sharpening continued…and other fun stuff!

In my last post, I introduced the sharpening process and described my first footsteps into its intricacies (yes, I had to look this one up to make sure).  The study is going well, but there’s an amazing amount of information to digest.  I am surprised by the number of tools available.  Unsharp Mask, for example, has its roots in film photography, where wet-darkroom magicians would use a duplicate negative to create a mask to increase the apparent sharpness of a photographic print by increasing contrast along edges.  From the descriptions I read, it was quite a process.  Other digital sharpening tools in Photoshop include Smart Sharpen and Shake Reduction.  Of course, the flip side of digital sharpening is the introduction of digital noise.  (Noise is the grainy appearance of a photograph, and is beyond the scope of this blog, so we’ll save it for another day.)  Lightroom and Camera Raw’s sharpening and noise reduction tools work the same way – very easy to use, and the Nik filters have Define (for noise reduction) and Sharpener (for sharpening).  My head is swimming.

In a feeble attempt to keep myself somewhat sane (those who know me will attest that it’s as good as we can expect) while I’m learning sharpening, I’m still out there looking for great subjects and trying new techniques.  Here’s a few pictures from the last couple weeks.

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Okay, this isn’t really a new technique for me, but it’s fun and worthy of continued exploration. For this image, I overlaid a picture of the Ward Charcoal Ovens onto a picture of a wood floor (beautiful texture). I’m looking for a little constructive critique (CC), please!

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This is a Merlin, and it’s the latest capture in my quest for new raptor species. (Recall that I also got a Northern Harrier and a Rough Legged Hawk this year.) Merlins are in the Falcon family, and only get to about 12″ tall with a 25″ wingspan – just a little bigger than a Kestrel. This little one was in a tree in my neighbor’s yard and, uncharacteristically, sat for me for several minutes.

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My lovely bride was with me the other day and she is an excellent spotter. She saw this Great Horned Owl in a tree as we drove by. Some of my friends thought it was a Long Eared Owl, but my resident expert on bird identification confirmed Great Horned (thanks Larry!).

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Because I like to explore with different filters during processing, I used a vintage colors filter in Nik Silver Efex for this interpretation. This filter is one of my favorites

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Okay, this is a new technique called focus stacking. I mounted the camera on a tripod and locked it down. I took 5 images of these crabapples on a tree in our backyard, each image using a different focal plane (focusing at different levels) and blended them in Photoshop to create this image with all the crabapples in focus. I’ll refine my focus stacking workflow and use it on flowers this summer!

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While I was making images for focus stacking, I made this image of an ‘about to drip’ from another crabapple tree in the backyard. When I downloaded these images to the computer, I noticed the inverted tree in pretty good focus. I tried to get closer, but I would have bumped the tree and dislodged the drip. I’ll take it for now, but will look for other drips to shoot.  Aren’t optics fun?

Well, that’s it for this blog.  Stay tuned for more info on sharpening, focus stacking, and macro.  Until next time – enjoy!

PHOTOROGR

Breaking in a new kind of whet stone…

I can hardly believe that it’s already the first day in February!  Tomorrow, the Groundhog comes out and we’ll see just how much longer we’re going to have winter – at least according to folklore.  I’m betting we’re going to have more winter, partially because a big storm is coming into the Carson Valley tonight!  Speaking of folklore, many of you have spent the last month trying to sustain the new year’s resolutions you made.  I didn’t make any, nor did I set any specific goals for my photography.  As I’ve continued my photographic journey, I’ve found that my best goal is to look for and be ready to pursue knowledge as I find new things.

In my last post, I announced that I was taking a winter photography course.  The snow was deep and our outdoor shooting time was shorter than expected.  The instructor was excellent – we shifted the program indoors to study light and shadow and photo processing techniques, which brings me to the ‘new kind of whet stone.’  Us old Boy Scouts remember that a whet stone is used to sharpen knives and axes.  In the digital photography world, we use software as a ‘whet stone’ to sharpen our images.  During the workshop, we spent quite a bit of time on sharpening.  The most important thing I learned was that I’ve been doing it all wrong, and badly to boot.  I now have a specific goal – become proficient in using software to sharpen my images!

In the book Real World Image Sharpening with Adobe Photoshop, Camera Raw, and Lightroom, authors Bruce Fraser and Jeff Schewe begin the discussion on sharpening with, “…one of the ways our brains try to make sense of the world as seen through our eyes is by breaking down the scene into edges (objects) and non-edges (surfaces). If the edges in an image appear too sharp or not sharp enough, our brains tell us that there’s something wrong, and in the case of a photograph, the image appears unconvincing.”  Bruce and Jeff tell us that, “Sharpening works by increasing the contrast around edges.”  (Contrast is the difference between light and dark tonal values.)  And so begins my journey into the wide world of sharpening!  Since I’m just beginning my venture into sharpening, I don’t have anything to show you.  I will soon – I promise.

What have I been doing besides reading about sharpening?  Let’s look at some pictures!

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From the winter photography workshop – this is the view across the road from Sorensen’s Resort in Hope Valley CA. As I said, the snow was deep. Sorensen’s got a foot of new snow the night before the workshop and several inches while we were there. They were expecting another three feet that night!

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Same picture, just a little bit different editing technique. Could be a nice Christmas card!

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I ventured into Diamond Valley looking for Eagles and found this tree covered in Pogonip (heavy frost). I made this image before the frost melted away.

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A recent storm dropped several inches of snow at my house. This is a Spruce tree in my backyard…

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…one of the Austrian Pines…

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…and one of the clumped Crab Apple trees in my backyard. The apples help feed the little birds all winter long.

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I found this Rough Legged Hawk near Genoa last week. As I was shooting, the Magpie flew into the shot.  How lucky for me!

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A couple days later, I found the Rough Legged Hawk again – this time on a fence post. He launched…

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…soared gracefully, close to the snow-covered ground…

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…and pounced on his noon meal!

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The Kestrels have been out in force. I came on this little fella’ just south of David Walley’s Hot Springs on Foothill Road…

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…and his friend north of Genoa. They always give me a good look before they take off!

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This Cooper’s Hawk was sitting on the snow pile when I first saw him. He launched as I was taking pictures.

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I added a new tool to my toolbox – a 2X teleconverter! My big lens now has a maximum focal length of 1200 mm! While this is wonderful, the longer focal length comes with a new set of challenges. Using a tripod is a must. Autofocus only works in Live View (not a bad thing on tripod anyway). The longer focal length exacerbates any movement or imperfections in focusing, and depth of field is very shallow at any aperture setting. It’s a tool, however, and only a matter of learning how to use it! This is the first image at 1200 mm. Not bad!

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This is my second attempt with the teleconverter. This Eagle was 173 yards away (I bought a rangefinder) and the background looks like heat waves, although it was near freezing when I made the image. A little soft, but he looks good nonetheless.

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The Eagles have been in town. I seemed to find this one hanging out at the Dangberg Home Ranch Historic Park rather frequently.

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I think he’s in his final year of being a juvenile, based on the coloring in his head feathers.

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His ‘pensive’ pose…

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This is a different Bald Eagle (note the lack of dark feathers in his head), using his ‘regal’ pose!

One of the fun things for me was having one subject in the same spot on different days and different lighting conditions, then playing with the processing for a different interpretation of each image.  I hope you’ve enjoyed my images, and I promise to be sharper in the future!

Enjoy – PHOTOROGR

“Don’t start breaking the rules…

…until you know and understand them.”  This is the final tip in an article called ’50 Tips from 50 Years Behind the Camera’ by Allen Weitz (https://www.bhphotovideo.com/explora/photography/tips-and-solutions/50-tips-50-years-behind-camera?BI=4906).

My lovely bride found the article and sent it to me (it’s so nice to have a partner who supports your habits).  The other 49 tips are also good but this one resonated with me for some reason, especially as we begin a new year.  I began my journey in creative photography a few years ago with the stated intent to learn how to take better pictures.  Every now and then I catch myself challenging those few rules that I know, mostly as I investigate more creative techniques and photographs.  These tips help me be a little grounded, though, because I don’t know all the rules – YET!  I’ll just have to continue working on it!  Stay tuned to watch me challenge the rules…as I learn them.

The winter months can be challenging for photographers.  Here in the Carson Valley, when the weather gets cold we break out the really big lenses and go looking for the Raptors and other predatory animals that migrate into the area during this time.  We’ve seen a few Bald and Golden Eagles in the area, but the Hawks and Coyotes are the most evident, at least for me.  Here’s a few for your enjoyment!

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I saw this three-legged Coyote near the California line a few days ago. He wasn’t interested in me taking his picture!

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I found this female Northern Harrier on Mottsville Lane last week.

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Several friends like the previous picture, but I’m kind of partial to this one. She appears to be thinking about something, but she’s actually cleaning herself. This is my favorite composition for a Raptor picture – eye level, wide aperture giving great detail on the subject with a pleasing out of focus background.

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I found the Red Tailed Hawk south of Genoa. I think he was checking his position relative to the camera to ensure I got his good side.

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American Kestrels are the smallest and most common of the Falcons, but they are extremely camera shy. I snuck up on this guy while he was enjoying lunch!

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But I obviously over stayed my welcome.

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I first saw this Kestrel on a utility wire, but he quickly flew to the backslope across the road. I was very excited to get a Kestrel with a background other than a blown out sky.

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Of course, he took exception to me taking pictures of him and flew off to another utility line.

Enjoy – PHOTOROGR

…I’m at a creative crossroads…

When people embark on a journey, they plan their itinerary in great detail.  Hotels, fuel stops, meals, sightseeing and other tourist stops are set with a timetable and destination in  mind.  If one is on a journey of discovery, however, there is minimal planning – because it’s all about the journey.  A couple years (and lots of posts, don’t forget!!) ago, I started a journey in creative photography.  My only plan was to learn how to make better images.  This blog has been my vehicle to document and share my journey.

In the last few weeks, I realized that I was approaching a creative crossroads.  There are two roads for me; the first continues on the path to making purely photographic images, while the other heads toward more artistic images.  I never thought about the differences until I visited one of my photo mentors to learn about his workflow to process landscape images.  He opened my eyes to editing techniques that I never imagined, so I’ve been experimenting with new and old images.  When an artist takes a new direction or pushes the creative envelope, there is always a period when the work may be considered ‘overdone’ as the artist tries to find a balance – it’s just part of the journey.

I won’t get into detail about the editing for the following images.  I think I’ll let them speak for themselves.  Let’s start with a few landscapes.

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I made this image at the Eden Vale Inn near Placerville CA (a wonderful ‘b n b’ – we highly recommend it!).  I’m not satisfied with the sky, but I love the rest of the image.

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These fall colors can be found along SR 207, Kingsbury Grade, between the Carson Valley and the Lake Tahoe Basin.

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After I made the above image, I turned and saw this view into the Carson Valley. It was a beautiful stormy day, as you can see.

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I made this image yesterday morning. The Carson River as it approaches SR 88, just south of Minden. The sun was just coming up behind the clouds.

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This is the south shore of Lake Tahoe. I visited the lake last week, on a stormy day. I’ve never seen the weather cover the mountains so completely. I stitched together 10 images to make this panorama.

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The recent storms gave us wonderful skies and light. This a Jobs Peak (the snow covered peak partially hidden by clouds on the left) on a wonderfully stormy day!

Here’s some new Raptor images.

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I just love this Great Horned Owl!

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I used the same filter on this Hawk image.

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It was raining when I made this image. This Hawk was focused on a potential meal.  This image was selected as the ‘image of the week’ by one of the photography froups on Facebook.

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I got a little aggressive with this image. The dark streak in the background is actually a branch.

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Same picture, but with an added twist in editing. A little more detail in the chest feathers.  I love this, but it doesn’t look like a photograph to me.

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This Hawk was hunting along an irrigation ditch.

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A little extra during processing, and the image has a completely different feel.

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I made this image last February. I struggled with the background.

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New editing knowledge – new look for the image.

I hope you understand better my dilemma at the creative crossroads.  I think my best direction is to assess each image independently and make the edits that bring out the best in every one.  The journey continues – as does the fun for me!  Using the digital medium, sometimes I will be a photographer and sometimes I will be a ‘cutting edge’ artist.

There’s much more on the way for this exploration.  Enjoy – PHOTOROGR

Just a few more days!

Time is running out!  In just a few days, I’ll be in Winnemucca for Shooting the West (shootingthewest.org) and will be making my presentation Saturday afternoon.  I’ve been working on the presentation for a couple months, going through my pictures from the last couple years to select the best ones to showcase.  Last week, I was feeling good about my selections and was starting to make the cuts necessary to meet my 15 minute time slot.  I asked my lovely bride to go through the slide show with me, as the cuts were becoming more difficult to make.  At the end of the first run through, she says that I haven’t included my best shots!  Holy cow!!

We opened up the hard drives and looked for the shots that she thought I should include.  After adding in another dozen or so, I started the ‘deselection’ process all over again.  I have the presentation down to 78 slides now, which is on the high side of my original target of 70+/-.  I think it will work.  There’s time for more fine tuning.

I made a big addition to my editing toolbox this week – software to calibrate the color on my computer monitor.  ColorMunki from X-Rite is my choice – simple to install and use.  The ‘before and after’ showed small adjustments in the colors, but I move forward with more confidence in my editing.

I managed to get out a bit – I didn’t lock myself in the study, after all!  Here’s a few images from the last couple weeks.

I have a new photographer friend in Carson City who showed me a different group of wild horses.  We were standing in a saddle with multiple bands, probably 100 or more horses.  There was a group of 16-18 bachelor studs showing us their physical prowess.  It was very exciting to see!

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These two started a fight in the middle of the group of horses – a common occurrence during our time there!

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This is my favorite shot from the day. These two had moved away from the group and were serious for several minutes.

I also got a couple shots that were less ‘exciting.’  The scenery shot was featured on a local morning show during the weather report this week.

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This is the view looking south towards the Carson Valley, and was the featured image on the Channel 2 Weather Report last Wednesday!

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This foal is proudly leading the band up a hill. The rocks made a wonderful background!

I had a little fun this week, too.  I went to a local ranch to see if the ‘kids’ were out and about, and they were!  I also spent a little time in the back yard.

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Remember Pickup? Here he is again – climbing a tree and getting into mischief.  You don’t see that every day!

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My exploration into macro photography and creative filters continued with these Lilac flowers from our back yard.

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Some flowers from one of our Crab Apple trees.

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This Quail and its partner were making their way through the plants in the back yard yesterday. By the time I grabbed my camera and headed outside, they had gone up the hillside and were in the rocks.

I needed a break from the computer one day last week, so I made an impromptu visit to a location where I’d heard about an Aerie.  I wasn’t disappointed.  After making several images of this Bald Eagle sitting in the nest, it took flight and gave me quite a show!  Here’s a couple from the day!

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Coming in for a landing. This image was made microseconds after touchdown.

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The in flight image. What a magnificent Raptor!

Sorry that the blog is short, but I have to finish my presentation, pack my bags, and try to fit in a ride with my ATV group before I head for Winnemucca.  I’ll give a report on Shooting the West in my next blog!  I look forward to seeing old friends, making new ones, and meeting face to face with people I’ve ‘friended’ on Facebook.  Until next time – enjoy!

PHOTOROGR

Process improvement – another important ingredient!

Many years ago, I retired from military service.  My last assignment was on the Plans and Programs staff at State Headquarters.  While my efforts focused on emergency preparedness and response planning, I assisted others on our small staff with strategic planning and process improvement.  I’m comfortable with goal setting and brainstorming new ideas (imagine rooms full of important people with a facilitator guiding the participants through a long and sometimes interesting discussion on making the organization better).  These days, my process improvement thoughts and actions are a lot more personal – mostly making higher quality images and developing my creative side.

Well, not all my improvement processes are about making images.  For the last couple months, I’ve noticed that available space on my computer’s internal hard drive is continually decreasing, and some software seems to be running more and more slowly.  I didn’t break out the marker boards and markers to evaluate the problem and formulate plans to mitigate the problem, though I was tempted.  Instead, I decided to install more memory in my computer and move all the pictures to a dedicated internal drive.

I ordered the drive and had one of my smart neighbors do the install and setup (it’s not true that all engineers can remove the covers from their computers and not do harm).  Then I sat down to move the pictures and the light bulb came on – I could fix all the frustrating and wasteful file organization issues I had been thinking about since I started this Journey in Creative Photography!  I spent much of a day re-organizing my folders and moving the images around on my computer.  I’m pretty sure that my image storage system is more efficient now, and will probably feel that way until I do my monthly backup to external hard drives in a few weeks.  If you’re having a hard time with your image storage system, make time to make it better.  You’ll be much happier.

And remember, the bad part of process improvement is that it’s continuous, but that’s also a good thing.  We’ll revisit my reorganization at the end of the month.

It’s been a great shooting week.  I found Eagles, Quail, a Cooper’s Hawk and, just today, I finally got that elusive Bobcat shot.  Eagles & Agriculture is only a couple weeks away, and I’ll be spending a lot of time prepping for the show.  I have several new images to print, mat, and frame.  Of course, the weather is supposed to be really good, which means that I’ll be out shooting, too.  It could be a problem, but it could be a fun challenge, too.  Here’s the fun stuff from this week!

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This Cooper’s Hawk was out in the snow, hunting from this gnarly tree stump just outside Genoa, Nevada’s oldest town (but don’t ask Dayton).

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This Red-Shouldered Hawk was also south of Genoa, a little closer to David Walley’s Hot Springs. He posed, but wouldn’t make eye contact.

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I was on a local ranch looking for Owls and a covey of Quail came by. This one posed on an old ranch wagon.

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These Quail were marching in a parade, except for the guy on the lower fence rail. We’re not sure what he’s up to.

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We are blessed with a nesting pair of Bald Eagles in the Carson Valley, and I made this very long range image earlier this week.

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I was watching a Bald Eagle in a field a couple days ago, and this Bald Eagle flew in to crash the party. He was only 100′ or so away, and looking very regal!  This image will be on sale at Eagles & Agriculture, with other images from my collection.

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This is my prize capture this week. I’ve been looking for this cat for a couple months. He was in this tree laying down, and would have stayed hidden if he hadn’t sat up and revealed himself.

That’s it for this week!  Enjoy – PHOTOROGR