Bear Essentials

In this part of Oregon, black bears are plentiful in the woods (estimates are in the 25,000 to 30,000 range), and those of us living on the edge of town know they come down looking for food this time of year. In fact, I have a BearSaver trash can and have tweeted the evidence of bear-sign before. Not to mention I’m regularly cleaning bear, erm, evidence, off the front lawn.

Then a few days before Christmas, we caught a glimpse of a momma and two cubs tearing through the front yard in the late morning. Which is really unusual, as they typically are only around at night.

Then this morning, I spotted them again, down at the creek at the bottom of our property. And they weren’t running away. I had time to grab the long lens and get a few shots through the window!

Black Bear in Ashland, OR — Momma on WatchBlack Bear in Ashland, OR — Momma on Watch @ January 2012 | Canon EOS 5D Mk II & 400mm ƒ/4 @ ISO 640, ƒ/4, 1/80

They were up and down the canyon (it’s a small canyon, my house at the top on one side and a creek at the bottom), but I was shooting through windows and trees. They started to come up our path right to the back patio (!!) but thought better of it and turned around. I caught this shot of them bounding across the creek. The 400mm lens was too long to catch all of them in the frame at once!

Black Bear in Ashland, OR — Cubs on the runBlack Bear in Ashland, OR — Cubs on the run @ January 2012 | Canon EOS 5D Mk II & 400mm ƒ/4 @ ISO 640, ƒ/4, 1/50

Alenka named them “Scrappy” and “Coco”. Some of you will, I’m sure, get the reference ;-) (Scrappy is the black, scruffy looking brunette in the front… Coco being the blonde in back).

They eventually headed up our side of the hill, which gave me a chance to change lenses. I spotted our neighbor in her yard, and dashed out to warn her so she didn’t walk right into them. Turned out she was heading out for a better look too, and by then they had climbed a big tree on the hill. There was a dog barking on the other side of the canyon, and I think seeing us didn’t help. We were able to stand our ground and I got some cool shots for several minutes before they started climbing down. Shooting through thickets of bare branches is never good, but the lighting was gorgeous and I managed to get a few shots I’m pleased with.

Black Bear in Ashland, OR — Three in a TreeBlack Bear in Ashland, OR — Three in a Tree @ January 2012 | Canon EOS 5D Mk II & 24-70mm ƒ/2.8L @ ISO 640, ƒ/3.5, 1/320

I have to admit we were quite close; probably closer than was smart to be. But, you know… had to get the photo :) Plus my neighbor was standing with me, and we discussed it and figured if they actually came our way, both of us yelling would divert them.

After a bit more of this I had a chance to change lenses again, during which time momma and Scrappy climbed down and headed back up the canyon, leaving poor Coco behind for my photographic enjoyment.

Black Bear in Ashland, OR — Solo CocoBlack Bear in Ashland, OR — Solo Coco @ January 2012 | Canon EOS 5D Mk II & 70-200mm ƒ/4L IS @ ISO 640, ƒ/4, 1/160

That’s the best shot of the bunch. I do wish I could have gotten something that clear of all three of them, but you know… bears don’t listen to direction very well.

For more backyard nature, be sure to check out the entry “Oh, Deer!” from back in July. It’s a jungle forest out there.

 

Flowers & Butterflies & Contests & More

Google+ Contests

I’ve gotten contest happy… the first one went really really well, the second one went really really well (it finishes judging today… if you haven’t voted yet, you have until 1700 GMT!), and a third one is already in the queue. I was going to wait a month, but I have a very cool prize from a very anxious vendor, so we’re gonna kick the next one off in less than a week, with the actual contest a week later. Stay tuned!

Congratulations to the winners of the first contest, +Sarrah Kaliski, +Mark Hebblewhite and an honorable mention to +Tarah Gaa. Jump here to see their winning images.

Weekend Fun

All this time spent running photo contests, and I’ve barely been picking up the camera myself! So I got out from behind the desk today and spent an hour hiking around the Oredson Todd Woods right behind my house here in Oregon, armed with a 100mm macro and a ringlight. Lovely stuff… every shot here is handheld, high-speed sync.

Click on this first photo to open up the larger gallery.

Butterfly @ Aug 2011 | Canon EOS 1Ds Mk III & 100mm ƒ/2.8 Macro @ ISO 160, ƒ/6.3, 1/2000

 

Oh, Deer!

If you’ve been following on twitter, you may have seen that my side yard is apparently part of the Great Deer Oregon Highway. A few days ago I captured these elegant shots on the iPhone (#1 [you gotta see 1!] and #2 and #3), and yesterday I grabbed the camera just in time to catch this leaping buck as it crossed the neighbors yard.

Today though, I was a bit more ready. We didn’t see the buck again, but we did get two younglings—a boy and a girl from the looks of things. They were a lot more skittish than the adults, but they stuck around long enough for me to get this shot.

Oh, Deer!Oh, Deer! @ July 2011 | Canon EOS 5D Mk II & 400mm ƒ/4 @ ISO 320, ƒ/4, 1/400

Wild Animal Country; Colorado

Denver, Boulder, Estes, Rockies

(each link is to an Instagram photo from @travel_junkie or @alenkadesign)

We started late and our first destination was Boulder, only a short 40 minute or so drive from Denver. The prettiness started from the first moment, as we were driving straight towards the mountains that we’d soon be climbing. But first, a stop in Boulder was in order for a little lunch and to check out the street performers on Pearl Street (yes, there’s a person in there!).

One of the sites to see in Boulder is the Flatiron formation, which we drove up to the National Center for Environmental Research to get a better view of (which wasn’t really the best view, apparently, but still a nice drive and we saw the first of many large furry critters while up there).

Flatirons in Boulder, Colorado, from the NCARFlatirons in Boulder, Colorado, from the NCAR @ June 2011 | Panasonic Lumix GF-1 & Lumix G 20mm ƒ/1.7 @ ISO 100, ƒ/3.5, 1/1000

Eventually we started the journey towards the Rocky Mountain National Park, and with only one quick stop to tweet a reality check that we weren’t in the flatlands anymore, our first proper stop was when we encountered some serious wildlife. Alenka spotted them and I swerved off the road to react, and after a few quick shots from the car, I pulled out the big guns and fired off a handful of frames of a small elk herd moving their way across people’s front lawns.

Wild Elk in the Rocky MountainsWild Elk in the Rocky Mountains @ June 2011 | Canon EOS 1Ds Mk III & 70-200mm ƒ/4L IS @ ISO 160, ƒ/4, 1/640

Not the kind of thing you see in Los Angeles, for sure.

We recovered from this amazing sighting at the local Colorado Cherry Company, where a slice of cherry pie à la mode and two coffees were sorely needed. That made us smile.

The drive west and up continued, with more pretty prettiness that had to be shared, and another stop at the entrance to the Estes Park area. We were quickly accosted by a mob of hungry chipmunks who, in pretty clear English, demanded food for passage. Alenka was happy to oblige.

Alenka feeds the chipmunks. They demanded it.Alenka feeds the chipmunks. They demanded it. @ June 2011 | Panasonic Lumix GF-1 & Lumix G 20mm ƒ/1.7 @ ISO 100, ƒ/2, 1/500

She named him Cheery-oki. You’ll have to ask her.

Rocky Mountain National Park

We decided not to stop in Estes Park, the town itself. Adorable, for sure, but crammed with tourists and we had far more interesting natural beauty ahead in the Rocky Mountains National Park. Alenka had to prove to the world why were stopping so much, but when you have shocking beauty like this, you just have to stop again and again and again! And even though it’s June, and a refreshing high 60’s through most of the park, the snow was piled high. The drive itself was certainly different than what we had the day before in Kansas and eastern Colorado.

There’s no describing the stunning vistas up there; you simply have to go see it for yourself. Just don’t forget that you’re at some pretty serious elevation — over 12,000 feet in fact — so don’t do too much running around with a heavy camera if you’re not used to it (*pant*… *pant*).

The route down was equally gorgeous, but also in the shadow side of things, so we stopped a lot less on the way out of the park. Shadow Mountain Lake was worth stopping for however, where we saw an empty lot and dreamed ever-so-briefly about a life on the lake in a log cabin, before picking up a Realtor’s advertisement for a lovely cottage on the water priced a paltry $1.8M. Adorable.

Needless to say, I have a lot of photos to share over the coming months from this drive.

Rocky Mountain National ParkRocky Mountain National Park @ June 2011 | Canon EOS 1Ds Mk III & 24-70mm ƒ/2.8L @ ISO 160, ƒ/7.1, 1/500

Today we head towards Salt Lake City, Utah. Never been, and we’ll be connecting with fellow photography Nicole Young. Can’t wait!

One more thing… Trey Ratcliff’s New Photography, HDR, and Post-processing Course

Many of you are already familiar with Trey’s fantastic HDR work over at Stuck In Customs, but in case you missed it he’s just released a new HDR tutorial series that includes 11½ hours of content in nine different classes, and at just $97 for the “best value” package, if you’re into learning HDR, it’s unquestionably a great value. Check it out here!

FaceTime with Jackie Turtle

Yesterday morning, while fulfilling my minimum daily requirement of caffeine, my father spotted a minuscule turtle scurrying past the door. We went out for a closer look, and of course she (I’m calling her a she, because I don’t like calling animals “it”, and I didn’t look up her shell to check, so I choose “she”) pulled herself into her shell and played possum. Or whatever it’s called when turtles play dead.

I figured I’d wait and watch her poke her head out, and Instagram something cute while I finished my morning coffee. Being the naturalist that I am, I moved her to a more organic location. I mean, she didn’t really want to be on the cement patio, right? That’s no place to hide from predators. And besides, it made for a bad photo. Like I said… animal lover. So I put her on a little moss-flanked flat rock by the bench, and sat to wait her out.

I did share this Instagram photo in the early part of the wait.

After maybe 30 or 45 minutes of waiting, I figured if I was going to put this much time into it, I’d better get something more than an iPhone photo. So I grabbed some camera gear, and moved her again. Yeah yeah, I know, PETA’s gonna be on my ass for this one. I was gentle, I assure you.

This was an early shot, with lighting in place. Click it to open the larger view, and you can see her little nose in the shadows. Awww!!

Peek-a-boo, I see you!Peek-a-boo, I see you! @ June 2011 | Canon EOS 5D Mk II & 100mm ƒ/2.8 Macro @ ISO 160, ƒ/7.1, 1/200

Here’s the lighting I set up. Just one light, using a Honl grid and a Justin clamp. The Rogue FlashBender made for a good bounce card, and I did end up using that in later shots instead of the grid. 

Anyway I waited and waited and waited. Then I waited some more. I grabbed my laptop, and got some work done on that. And tweeted my impatience. 

I ran out of stuff to do on my laptop, and really needed to sit down at my desk. I thought if I could find a way to keep an eye on the turtle from inside, that’d be ideal. So I thought about it a bit, and finally realized the simplest solution was in my hand—I could place a FaceTime call from my iPhone to the laptop, leave the phone outside and monitor him from my desk! How cool would that be! Plus, I have a wireless trigger, so I could rig that up and just shoot from far away! Cool!

So I placed the call, positioned the iPhone, and went inside to get the trigger. And not a minute after I left, she started to move!

I saw her moving in the FaceTime window on the laptop screen and ran out to catch her. She pulled back in when she saw me, but quickly came back out again. I guess she got used to all the gear piled up around her.

You know the story of the tortoise and the hare? And how that silly rabbit lost the race because he took a nap under the tree? I got news for you. That’s not why he lost. He lost because turtles are damn faster than you think they are. This guys was a rock on speed. I immediately had to grab my light (love, love, LOVE the Justin clamp… just squeeze and go. Awesome.) and reposition.

Then the darnedest thing happened. She started crawling towards the light! By then I had switched to the FlashBender to get some more coverage, and it was laying on it’s side in the grass. My little turtle friend went straight for it! I didn’t want to grab the light and scare her back into her shell, so I turned off the wireless trigger, flipped out of manual mode and into aperture priority, and kept on shooting.

I was on stomach, belly-crawling through the grass, trying to keep in front of her to get shots from the front. At one point she paused in the long grass, and started periscoping her head up looking around. Looking for… me.

She spotted me. And, I swear I’m not making this up, she dropped into second gear and bolted STRAIGHT TOWARDS ME! Right into the lens! I’m there on my belly, shimmying backwards now, trying to keep enough distance so I can focus with the 100mm macro! That last shot above? She was just a hair too close to focus, and that is NOT a cropped photo. She’s coming in for the kill.

It was only later when looking at the photos that I realized she was missing her left eye. Poor thing.

I had to reposition after she tried to ram my front element, and so grabbed the light again and went back to strobe shooting. These last few shots are very soft lighting, with the FlashBender on the speedlite hovering over her like an alien spacecraft ready for abduction and a little turtle probing. She kept ducking under the tall grass, popping her head up high, back down and up and down again.

She pauses on the runway, holds her head high, turns and exitsShe pauses on the runway, holds her head high, turns and exits @ June 2011 | Canon EOS 5D Mk II & 100mm ƒ/2.8 Macro @ ISO 400, ƒ/11, 1/60

Finally, we’d both had enough. She looked at me with her one good eye, with a look that said “we’re done here”, and I agreed. I’d blown three hours that I didn’t have to spare, but that’s what photography is all about sometimes, isn’t it. We do this because we love it, and this was a hell of a lot more fun than sitting at my desk.

So there you have it. The story of how I FaceTimed with one-eyed Jackie the Turtle, and lived to tell the tale. You can click on the two large photos above to see them bigger. The rest are just small, sorry. Too much HTML to deal do all of ‘em.

All the gear mentioned above is listed over in my photojoseph.com/gear page, with personal notes on each piece, if you’re interested. A couple of light modifiers and an TTL cable (check the ones from Syl Arena) are the cheapest way to improve your flash photography exponentially. I’ve used a lot of gear, and the Honl Grid and the Rogue FlashBender are the two I can’t live without.