Untamed Images Blog

    Adventures in Nature Photography

    Pigeon Point Sunset

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    A colorful winter sunset at the Pigeon Point Lighthouse on the San Mateo County coast of California.

    Canon EOS-1Ds Mark II, 100.0-400.0 mm at 180 mm, 20 sec at f/11, ISO 200

    Today I installed Lightroom 4 on my desktop computer while taking a break from culling safari pictures. I wanted to make sure the the old image catalog converted without errors so I selected a bunch of image folders, one after another, and spot-checked the images to make sure they were where they belonged. That is when I stumbled upon the image shown above.

    Taken in February of 2011, this photograph of the Pigeon Point Lighthouse was one of my first attempts to employ a 10-stop neutral-density filter. A filter of this type, which looks like a piece of opaque black glass, allows only 0.001% of the available light to pass through the lens. This allows the photographer to employ very slow shutter speeds even when the ambient light is relatively bright. Here I set the shutter speed to 20 seconds which allowed a surreal softening blur of the water, and to a lesser extent, to the clouds.

    The Royal Couple

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    A lion and lioness relax at dawn among the grasses of the Olare Orok Conservancy in Southwestern Kenya.

    Canon EOS-1D Mark IV, EF70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM +1.4x at 280 mm, 1/200 sec at f/4, ISO 400

    I am currently working my way through a ridiculous number of images that I took on a recent trip to Africa, but because I am confident that the image of the lion couple shown above will make the final cut, I wanted to share it right away. I have to give a large measure of credit to our expert guide from Kicheche Bush Camp for making this photograph a reality. This particular guide, whose name is Nampaso, understands the needs of the wildlife photographer perhaps better than any guide I have ever worked with in Africa.

    We set out one morning a few minutes before dawn and Nampaso immediately began urgently scouting the area near camp for an interesting subject, knowing that I would want to take advantage of the sweet light occurring in the first minutes after sunrise. Within fifteen minutes he had located a pair of lions that we assumed were involved in courtship since they had separated themselves from the rest of their pride. As the sun crept above the horizon, Nampaso positioned the vehicle such that the lions were dramatically backlit. I captured this image of the lions in a quiet moment, but before long they returned to the business of mating, which lions are known to do up to forty times a day!

    I photographed this Butterfly Orchid (Psychopsis papilio) in a makeshift indoor studio set up in my living room.

    Several months ago Alison and I were browsing in a shop specializing in orchids when we noticed one particular plant featuring a spectacular single flower. Unfortunately, the flower was past its prime and was showing some minor flaws that would be unacceptable in a photograph. The florist promised that the plant would generate additional flowers, so we bought the plant and since then I have been waiting anxiously for another flower to materialize, knowing a fresh flower would make a beautiful macro photograph.

    This type of orchid has a great deal of front-to-back depth which presented a challenge. I wanted to capture all the flower’s detail, but even using a very small aperture (such as f/22) would not provide sufficient depth-of-field to contain the entire flower. The solution to the problem was to take a series of images, varying the focus of the lens on each image, and then to combine the images in post-processing to preserve as much detail as possible. The photograph above is a composite of seven individual images, focused in regular increments from the “lip” in the front to the stalk in the back.

    An American Bittern (Botaurus lentiginosus) does its best to ignore the falling snowflakes while prowling for rodents.

    Canon EOS-1D Mark IV, EF500mm f/4L IS USM at 500 mm, 1/250 sec at f/5.6, ISO 200

    During a trip to the Sierra Nevada Mountains last month, Alison and I were blessed with a late spring snowstorm. I say blessed because unusual or severe weather often leads to dramatic photographs. Case in point is the American Bittern pictured above. This normally secretive bird species usually spends its time hunting deep within dense, reedy wetlands where one is fortunate to even get a glimpse of it. Perhaps it was because of the inclement weather that we were lucky enough to observe and photograph this bird for over an hour at close range. It was busily hunting for unwary rodents and mostly kept in full view in an area with only sparse reeds.

    You can see this photo and more from the trip by clicking on this link and then by clicking on the “Sierra Birds” thumbnail. The gallery includes photographs of Yellow-Headed Blackbirds, Sandhill Cranes, and Marsh Wrens which were all busy with spring courtship behavior. One particular Marsh Wren tugged at our heartstrings, as we watched him sing virtually without stopping for four days, even while constructing a nest many times his own body weight, but sadly without attracting a willing female. Perhaps he found Mrs. Right after we left the Valley.

    A Short-eared Owl (Asio flammeus) searches for prey during a faint midday snow shower in California's Sierra Valley.

    Canon EOS-1D Mark IV, EF500mm f/4L IS USM +1.4x at 700 mm, 1/2000 sec at f/6.3, ISO 800

    Let me give a “shout out” to the Lahontan Audubon Society (LAS) and their Sierra Valley and Yuba Pass online bird guide entry. Alison and I were on the third day of an early-season trip to the Sierra Valley and Yuba Pass. This visit was several weeks earlier in the season than in prior years, and in hindsight, we might have been too early to see much of the abundant birdlife that nests and raises its young in these locations. So, having had my fill of photographing Yellow-headed Blackbirds and Marsh Wrens, I consulted the LAS bird guide which referenced a certain nearby road, stating that “the seasonally flooded sagebrush habitat along this road may produce Short-eared Owl[s].” I wondered to myself when the LAS had created this writeup, and whether it was even relevant in 2012. Since I am so enamored with photographing owls, I figured that it would certainly be worth trying; I just wouldn’t get my hopes up too high.

    Read the entire post…

    A burrowing owl (Athene cunicularia) perches in a tree to better survey the area surrounding its burrow.

    Canon EOS-1D Mark IV, EF500mm f/4L IS USM at 500 mm, 1/250 sec at f/5, ISO 400

    I don’t know precisely what it is, but I sure do have a soft spot for owls. This beautiful burrowing owl was photographed on a recent trip to Florida where I spent eight days in the field with my pal Judylynn Malloch. Judylynn was kind enough to take me to one of her favorite locations in Broward County where burrowing owls have nested in prior years. We spent a very productive afternoon photographing multiple owls, but as daylight began to run short, Judylynn suggested we concentrate on a burrow near a small tree with relatively sparse foliage. She predicted that as sunset approached we might see the owl fly up and perch in the tree.
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    An 'I'iwi pauses briefy while feeding on the nectar-rich blossom of the 'ohi'a lehua tree.

    Canon EOS-1D Mark IV, EF500mm f/4L IS USM +1.4x at 700 mm, 1/800 sec at f/5.6, ISO 800

    A critically endangered Palila feeds on seed pods of the Mamane tree.

    Canon EOS-1D Mark IV, EF500mm f/4L IS USM +2.0x at 1000 mm, 1/400 sec at f/11, ISO 800

    On several recent visits to Hawaii’s Big Island, Alison and I have made efforts to see as many of the endemic forest bird species as possible. With significant amounts of driving and hiking we have managed a fair degree of success. So, perhaps with an inflated sense of confidence, on a recent trip to the Big Island I brought my big lens and other assorted camera gear with the goal of capturing some of these tropical gems in photographs. While none of the target birds were particularly cooperative — most of the time either they remained hidden, stayed way up high in the trees, or moved constantly behind a tangle of vegetation — I was fortunate to create a few images that I consider “keepers.”
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    A male Pacific Golden-Plover (Pluvialis fulva) pauses briefly while hunting insects in Hawaii.

    Canon EOS-1D Mark IV, EF500mm f/4L IS USM at 500 mm, 1/640 sec at f/4, ISO 400

    Pacific Golden-Plovers are an abundant winter visitor to the Hawaiian Island. I photographed this male bird, still in its breeding plumage (note the black breast feathers), in the resort area of Mauna Lani on Hawaii’s Big Island. I felt rather silly lying on my belly on one of the manicured roadside lawns as countless tourists sped by looking at me quizzically, but having hauled my 500mm lens all the way to Hawaii I put my pride aside and went after this handsome plover. It took a few minutes for my subject to become accustomed to my presence, but once he did, he posed cooperatively between short sprints as he searched for tasty insects.

    The Gemini Observatory and the Canada–France–Hawaii Telescope glow in the fading light on Mauna Kea's summit.

    Canon EOS-1D Mark IV, EF16-35mm f/2.8L USM at 27 mm, 1/5 sec at f/11, ISO 200

    On our recent trip to the Big Island of Hawaii, Alison and I spent our second-to-last evening on the summit of Mauna Kea to watch and photograph the sunset. At nearly 14,000 feet, we were thousands of feet above a blanket of clouds that covered the lower elevations of the island and extended out to sea and across the channel to Maui.

    At this high elevation whatever plant life exists is well-hidden to elude the harsh conditions, and with the loose volcanic soil all around, it’s easy to imagine yourself transported to another planet. The other-worldly architecture of the observatory buildings only adds to the feeling of being in the middle of some extra-terrestrial landscape.

    Pictured above are the Gemini Observatory (foreground) and the Canada–France–Hawaii Telescope (background), two of the dozen or so telescopes constructed in this desolate locale to take advantage of the thin atmosphere and typically cloudless skies on Mauna Kea’s summit. Very soon after the sun descended below the horizon, the Gemini’s silver dome began to rotate slowly and the observing slot door retracted, offering us a glimpse of the dome’s interior as shown in posted photograph.


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    Common goldeneye (Bucephala clangula) drake engages in courtship display.

    Canon EOS-1D Mark IV, EF500mm f/4L IS USM +1.4x at 700 mm, 1/2000 sec at f/8, ISO 400

    Yesterday I spent the morning at Shoreline Lake in Mountain View, California with the goal of photographing the Goldeneyes exhibiting their courtship display behaviors. While the level of courtship activity (other than feeding activity) was surprisingly low, I did manage to capture this image of a Common Goldeneye drake pulling off a head toss. Rather than trying to impress a female as one might expect, the pictured male duck struck this pose in response to another male’s encroachment into its feeding area. A male/female pair of Barrow’s Goldeneyes have been reported on the lake within the past week, but if they were still present yesterday they both escaped my notice.