Musings From A Fellow Adventurer

My name is Steve Seligman, and I am honored that Laurie asked me to write a posting for her blog. At this point, I need to confess that I was infected with the photography virus 7 years ago, and I doubt there is a cure! Since meeting Laurie 5 years ago, I have participated in her workshops several times to photograph Coastal Brown Bear in Alaska, large shore birds in Florida, the Grand Canyon, and most recently, the Albuquerque Balloon Festival. I was fortunate enough to spend a few days with her last weekend in Bosque del Apache. This wildlife refuge is less than 90 miles south of Albuquerque. On first appearance, it looks like hundreds of acres of fields and ponds. But in actuality, it is the winter retreat for Canadian Snow Geese and Sandhill Crane. I found it the most challenging photography I have done to date, most likely because of the rapidly changing light conditions and the speed at which the birds travel.

The picture below is the classic blast-off. I find interesting the sharpness of the picture as well as the ability for the geese to fly very close together and avoid collision.

D3S 600 mmF4 lens F 8 1/1500 sec ISO 450

I discovered quickly that the secret to good pictures was observing the behavior of the birds, monitoring wind directions, watching the light changing, and trying to control the background as much as possible.
Below are two classic Bosque photographs: The Sandhill Crane early in the morning and the Snow Goose in the evening. Note the pleasing backgrounds and the beauty of the late afternoon light on the goose.

One of my goals for this trip was to try Nikon 51 3D Dynamic Focus. I found it worked well with the birds in flight, but it seemed to fail in the last seconds, as the birds landed in a group. In a similar fashion, 51 3D dynamic does not work well in the first few seconds as the birds take off. The exception would be if the bird was alone and not in a grouping of other birds. Once in the sky, it works great at tracking the birds.

D3S 600 mm F4 lens f6.7 at 1/1000 sec ISO 800

D3S 600 mm F4 lens f8 1/640 sec ISO 200

Many times, we were able to observe the Sandhill Cranes landing in the brisk wind like a helicopter. They would just extend their wings and drop almost straight down. The typical landing for the Crane is much like a glider. The wings, which are usually 6 feet from side to side, are extended, the feet are directly under the head, and the Crane floats down at a 45 degree angle. It looks to be almost effortless.

D3S 600 mmF4 lens at 1/1000 sec ISO 250

Since Laurie started working with me during our photo outings, she has always tried to stimulate some creativity from me. My natural tendency is to be very black and white. After sunset, there was ample time to experiment with different settings of white balance and ISO. We tried to produce some blur pans. My blur pans, it seems to me, appeared to be just out of focus! Seems like a good reason for a return trip!! Another challenging photograph is that of the birds at sunset. By switching the white balance to 10,000 Kelvin, I was able to capture images that more accurately depicted as what I was actually observing.

D3s 600 mm f 4 lens at f6.7 1/160 sec at ISO 3200

In conclusion, I suspect photography is much like golf: Outcomes are not from competing against others; instead, they are more user-dependent. The more you practice, the better you get. But as you improve, you realize how much more there is to learn.

Happy Holidays!