Monday, April 27, 2009

Small in the Frame

In recent months, I have become really intrigued by images which feature wildlife that has been positioned 'small in the frame.' Coupled with a shallow depth of field, I find that this approach often makes for interesting imagery with a very zen-like vibe. While I am certainly a fan of extreme macro close-ups (check-out some of the cool stuff that Alex Wild is posting over at Photo-Synthesis right now), I also enjoy stepping back and just letting the subject breathe from time-to-time. When all of the pieces meld together, the final result can often be at once, bold, subtle and poetic.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Froggy Went'a Courtin'

I've really been having a lot of fun experimenting with wide-angle macro photography this spring. Although I'm still striving to get more depth-of-field in my backgrounds, I like the direction that this series is going in. These two photos are of one of the many spring peepers (Hyla crucifer) that have been singing for weeks around the pond behind our place. These very diminutive tree frogs are a perfect subject for my current set-up because they are so very small (max. 1.5" snout to vent) and therefore are able to fall completely within the sharp area of the image.

One of my friends recently commented that these images look fake, or almost like they were made on a set or with post-processing. I must admit that I know what he is alluding to. However to me, this strange juxtaposition of the foreground and background is what makes this technique appealing. I should say that I am, in fact, doing all of this in-camera just in case any of you were wondering as well. The addition of off-camera fill-flash on the subject certainly adds to the surreal quality or 'museum display' feel of the photograph.
I like this approach to macro-photography because it allows the viewer to see some of the subject's environment, which is an important element for natural history photography and certainly something that is quite often lacking in macro imagery.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Chasing the Blue Ghost: Act One

Sorry Gamers: the title of this post does not refer to a Pac-Man villian, but rather a very special species of firefly, Phausis reticulata –aka, 'The Blue Ghost.' This diminutive beetle is primarily only found in relatively untouched woodlands in the Appalachians although this is just the general rule. What is a constant is that they are dreadfully hard to photograph and I've somehow gotten it in my head that I can make it happen. I spent the better part of last winter daydreaming about this undertaking and now it is time to put my theories to the test.

Tonight was my first attempt in the field, and due to heavy rains, no photos were made. However, I can happily report that I saw three individuals trying to their best to look photogenic. I spent the better part of the day exploring a property owned by renowned potter Don Lewis, which also happens to be a safe-haven for the P. reticulata and several other species of fireflies. Mr. Lewis, who is arguably the world's expert on the Blue Ghost, pointed out several possible locations where the may appear over the next few weeks. All of these sites look very promising from a photographic standpoint.

During the next several weeks, I'll be reporting on my progress. It should be a very exciting couple of months.


Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Jocassee Gorges: Beauty in Infrared

The Jocassee Gorges area of Upstate South Carolina and Western North Carolina is known to be one of the richest botanical sites in the United States. It is also one of the world's epi-centers of salamander diversity. There are 13 species of salamanders that have been identified in the area with an additional 8-9 species claims that have (to the best of my knowledge) not been verified to date.

On a recent shoot for a magazine that shall remain nameless until the story actually runs, I decided to explore the Horsepasture River Road that leads to the often photographed, Jumping Off Rock View of Lake Jocasse. I have always been one to avoid the classic vistas but thought that I would give it shot in hopes that I might come home with something unique.

At about 2/3rds of the way up to the pinnacle of my trip, I stopped at a clearing that offered a really beautiful view towards the North Carolina portion of the Southern Blue Ridge. Beautiful sidelight washed over the fresh green leaves of the hardwoods leading towards the horizon. Everything was working out great except for this one gnarled tree that refused to keeps its tendrils out of my frame. Finally, I came to my senses and realized that the tree really made a nice addition and added character to the composition. Sometimes you just have to go with what the moment presents and stop fighting for the vision that you've perceived in your mind. After shooting a few more frames, I jumped back in the car and quickly made my way up to the summit and enjoyed a beautiful view, a lackluster sunset and not much inspiration to draw from.

Looking back through my images the next day, I found the shot above of the old gnarled tree. There was the old brute that I had fought to keep out in my frame, shining like a beacon of light in a series of mediocre shots. Using Photoshop's black and white conversion, set to infrared and including toning, I was able to create a most unexpected image that I believe captures the majesty of the Gorges in a way that I haven't seen before. It pays to be open to the possibilities.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Wide-Angled Salamanders

Over the past few years I have been photographing a small population of rare, IUCN Red Listed Green Salamanders in the Southern Blue Ridge Escarpment of South Carolina. As I mentioned in an earlier post, green salamanders are known for inhabiting small crevices in fairly dry granitic outcrops. Although I made my first photos of the elusive species a couple of years ago (See Outdoor Photographer article, November 2008), I was disappointed that the images didn't show more of the amphibian's unique habitat.
A few days ago, I visited my site for the first time in months and my friend Alex Garcia and I were amazed to find two large specimens literally sitting out on the rock before us. Ultimately, we would find three individuals. After making a few standard images, I decided to try out my wide-angle macro technique. I was really excited with what I was seeing through my lens but knew that the image needed some fill-flash. Alex was kind of enough to be my assistant for the shoot. He diffused the flash through a sheet of tracing paper which was held fairly close to the subject and set the strobe on wide-angle. Although I would've like to have had more depth-of-field, I was still really pleased with the results and am looking forward to making more salamander and small animal portraits like this in the near future.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Niall's Great New Dia-Blog

Scottish natural history and conservation photographer Niall Benvie recently launched his new blog entitled "Images from the Edge." Those of you who are already familiar with Niall will certainly be able to attest to his brilliant imagery and as well as his keen insight into the business of photographing nature and the many ethical issues that surround the discipline. Perhaps my favorite part of about Mr. Benvie's essays is that they are often laced with a great sense of humor and a biting wit, which I always enjoy. I would highly recommend this blog for anyone who is involved or interested in the nature photography field.

Please take the time visit "Images from the Edge" if you have a chance.