The Bear Truth

Photograph of a black bear Black bear on the move in Yellowstone National Park

With hundreds of thousands of photographs scattered across 6 or 7 hard drives, I often pull up image catalogs to mine them for stock photos.

Today, I opened up my “Bear” catalog to find a measly 100 or so photographs of bears I’ve taken over the past 15 years. None of which are all that good, so it looks like I won’t have a bear presence in the stock portfolios for a while.

I see bears a few times every year. Heck, I’ve had them walk through my yard in Red Feathers. The problem for me is that I don’t really go out looking for them. I just snap shots when I see them and have a camera with me.

Relying on targets of opportunity can generate an occasional stunning shot but as a strategy for accumulating a nice portfolio, it’s not going to achieve much in the way of tangible results. Perhaps one day, I’ll make a concerted effort to find the bears. For now, I’ll just pretend.

Today’s photo is a black bear that I spotted while sitting in a line of traffic in Yellowstone National Park. It was mid-day, the tourists were out in force and so were the park rangers. The bear seemed un-phased by the line of camera toting tourists gawking at him and continued his march across the hillside unabated. I tried to stay with him, at least until a park ranger broke up the party.

Darn Park Rangers

In The Field

Photograph of a Bull Moose in Colorado by Gary Gray Bull Moose On The March

I’ve been enjoying the Holiday with family in Red Feathers and have finally found a few moments for a blog entry.

My first good photography outing in several weeks has been about, what else? Moose. This past Friday morning was my kickoff to actually hitting the dusty trails in search of moose, fult-tilt boogie wise that is.

I laugh at my own habits some times, particularly, the little mind games I play on myself when moving around. I always think I’m going to find very little, and then, BOOM! I land on a great scene with nice, photographable moose.

Early this past Friday, I stumbled upon 7 bull moose and a cow with a calf. All within a 1 mile radius. Many were too far away for any really exceptional photos, but I knew that all I needed to do was position myself and be patient. Moose would eventually come to me and I’m pre-configured to get the shots I want to get.

Well, blaaaaaaaaaaaarrrrrp. The moose do what they want to do and not what I want them to do. I’m watching a scattered group from 100 meters away waiting for them to move closer and two huge mature bulls come walking towards me directly to my right. They were on the move and not at all concerned with me, though they had me in their eyes the whole time. Using my SUV for cover, they actually walked past me from about 10 feet away. I just kept moving around the Explorer to keep it between me and them.

Thus the subject of today’s image. The Bull Moose Woods Profile thing. I have a preconceived image in my head that I constantly look for in the field. This was one of those situations. The moose walking parallel to me with a profile through the woods.

The idea is to track the moose with the camera as it moves across my visual horizon and catch revealing profiles as he’s on the march. When it looks interesting through the view finder, I fire off a burst of shots.

For this composition I made a decision to not get the entire moose in the shot. I wanted the antlers but I sacrificed its hooves, except for the one off the ground. Same with his flanks. I wanted part of him obscured.  I call this cramping the frame. Photography critics will tell you to never amputate a limb, particularly at a joint. That’s good advice if you want your photos to look the same all the time, which I don’t.

The argument is basically “you cut his feet off, it’s too distracting, disturbing, doesn’t follow the rules” or something in that vein. That’s camera club advice.

Many professional portrait photographers use this technique all the time. They’ll chop off a portion of the persons face for the effect. Why? Because it gets the attention of the viewer and creates photographic tension, which is a highly ambiguous but accurate phrase.

The idea is to tell a story and one way to push that along is to create tension in the image.

As for the moose, you know he has hooves, you can see one in the air. It’s doesn’t require a lot of thinking, but I does make you think for a second. “Well, he is moving right along isn’t he?”, which in turn spurs other questions. You end up with a story, all thought out in just a few seconds.

Throwing in a little more self-critique.

The photo is a little busy from a camera club critique point of view, but most people blow past that because the busy background is consistent and in context. The moose stands out even though it fits right in to the environment.

I’m fairly happy with this one.

The Watering Hole

Moose calf at a watering hole near Red Feather Lakes, CO
Shiras Moose Calf – Red Feather Lakes

I’ve been photographing a moose cow and calf most of this Spring and early Summer in the area around the village. There’s a particular water-hole near the village where all manner of wild creatures come to slurp and it’s a good place to watch for activity.

It’s difficult for the moose to find good habitat east of the village, as the area begins transforming from mountain forest to open brush and range land. Moose will move through but they are seldom found in numbers. This makes the forest surrounding the village a good congregation point. The moose come in to the area, browse around. The cows and calves have a good range of feeding in a non hostile environment. The bulls are a different story. They seem to have more of a wandering spirit. They move into the area but seem to eventually move back to the higher country to the west where there is a lot more forest to explore.

Goals and Milestones

Photograph of a Great Blue Heron
Great Blue Heron Hunting in the Shallows.

I’m in a contemplative mood this morning so this post is going to be a little more from the heart. Hope you don’t mind the ramblings of a man who is trying to grow old gracefully.

I’ve rationalized just about every aspect of my life over the years, justifying to myself and to others, my reason for existing, my motivations, my mistakes and my successes. Most of those rationalizations bring me back to who I really am as a person and the self realizations that spring from these ever changing thoughts. I reckon that I’m not unique in this regard.

One thing I’ve rationalized as an important aspect of my life is always finding something to look forward to. My most depressing moments have been in times when I felt there was nothing to accomplish and my motivations in life have generally been based on this simple self observance.

As I’ve grown older, my motivations have seen an obvious shift and an overall simplification of what I believe to be the things I want to do to stay happy and stay engaged with life in a positive way. Simplify, simplify, simplify. I find that word to be the main pivot point of my thinking.

Of course, everything isn’t going to be simple. I don’t shrink from complicated things, my mind won’t allow that, but I always find a way to trim away the fat of what I consider meaningless attachments to anything I do. As time grows shorter for me, not wasting that time on life’s baggage seems to be goal.

Long gone are my aspirations of fame and fortune. I served my country, I did my corporate ladder climb to middle management, I’ve married and divorced and remarried and friends and family have changed over and over again. No regrets, but there is still a candle burning in my soul and that candle is used to light my next path in life as it always has in the past, with a low, flickering flame that can’t be extinguished by the actions of someone else.

Find something to look forward to. That is the simplified thought that drives me from day to day, and I have indeed found a way of having something to look forward to doing. Simple things usually.

After a lifetime of ambition and service to my employment masters, I started a small photography business and I’ve successfully kept it alive for over 12 years. I’ll continue to keep it alive as long as I’m physically able to do it.

My secret of keeping motivated is that I always find something in photography to look forward to doing.

Well, today I’ve reached another small goal, a small milestone and set a new goal and milestone to replace it.

The goal I set for myself in 2018 was to have at least 2,000 images on sale at the stock agencies before the end of the year. Nothing monumental in the grand scheme of things, but to me, it’s an accomplishment. This morning I had my 2,000th stock image approved and it’s now online with the others. It won’t make much money over time, maybe five or ten dollars a year if I’m lucky. But, when  I look at what it cost me to take that 2,000th photograph, it adds up to about 3 dollars in gasoline and one hour of my time. I’m certain that I’ll profit for having taken the time to look forward to that next photograph. The next photograph has value beyond the few pennies it will make me. It keeps me motivated, it keeps me engaged and it pays for itself in the long run. What could be more simple than that?

Today’s photograph is of a great blue heron. It’s my 2,000th accepted stock photo and I’m quite proud of it.

Today, I’m sharing it with you too.

Variety Is The Spice Of Life

Photograph of two bighorn rams in Colorado.
The mutual admiration of two bighorn rams.

Life’s adventures continue here in Colorado.

I spent the earlier part of this past week in Red Feathers finishing up the cabin work and there is more to do. I came to a screeching halt when I acquired a nasty head cold, from which I’m still recovering.

I used the down-time to consolidate my backups. After last month’s hard drive crash, I came to the realization that I have a boat load of image files on the computer and that my backup strategy was a little too haphazard to be effective. I’ve since picked up an external SATA hard disk drive docking station, which allows me to simply use 3.5 inch SATA drives connected to the computer via a USB 3.0 connection as backup devices. I have 10 of them now filled with everything I have on the computer. 10 Terabytes of image files requires a bit of storage space. I even created a complete clone of my boot drive along with the operating system and personal files, so if I have a drive failure, I can just swap a hard drive and I’m back up and running in minutes.

Job done.

On my Facebook photography group, North American Nature, Wildlife and Landscape Photographers Association, it is “Sheep Sunday” so I elected to use this photo for the group and blog entry today.

I think it’s a nice head shot of two mature bighorn sheep rams, and is a different take from the tons of photos I normally get.

As the old saying goes. Variety is the spice of life.

Scenic Saturday

Photograph of Red Mountain Creek
Red Mountain Creek – Colorado

Looking forward to a relaxing weekend here in the Rocky Mountains.

Trudy is at the cabin on one of her home improvement missions. I tend to step aside and watch the wood chips fly when she takes on a project. The photos from her adventure are looking promising. I just love having a gal who loves tools.

On Top of the World

Wildlife photography by Gary Gray
Bighorn Sheep on Mt. Evans

From Mt. Evans on this past Monday morning.

This bighorn ewe has a fine sunrise view of the South Park Valley. One of many who visited the summit. At this time of year, the mature rams aren’t found hanging out with the females. The late Spring coat is about as ugly as it gets. As Autumn approaches, the fur on these critters will become a chocolate brown and look much more appealing. Part of the cycles of life in the Rocky Mountains.

Notice the haze in the distant atmosphere. There is a wildfire burning near Durango and I heard there was another burning in Eagle County directly west of where this photo was taken. It’s going to be a long, hot, fire prone season I’m afraid.

It’s A Beautiful Day

Photograph of mountain goats
Mother and Child Watch The Colorado Sunrise at 14,000 Feet

I think the term “New Old Stock” applies here. This is a never before edited or shown photograph from 2017.

Mountain goats can be found on a number of Colorado’s mountain peaks and the most notable is Mt. Evans, about 50 miles west of Denver. It’s a prominent peak seen along the front range near Denver.

I normally try to get up the mountain in mid June through July when the opportunities present themselves. Sometimes alone, sometimes with friends and sometime with clients. I don’t remember if I was alone or with someone for this particular shot. It doesn’t matter.

Mountain goats are found primarily in the North American Rocky Mountains. They are very playful when young and very good parents to their children. Their main problem in life is humans. They stay at high altitude for the most part and are fearless when moving through the rocks.

This photo was taken a dawn, just below the summit of Mount Evans at about 14,000 feet.

If you’re heading to Colorado this summer and need a knowledgeable photographer to show you the good stuff, keep me in mind.

Reality Bytes

Recently back from a week long jaunt in Northern Colorado, I was anxious to begin editing new photos and updating stock agencies. Little did I know that my photography world would take a 90 degree turn.

First, let me say, if you are using a computer and don’t have a backup strategy for your image files, you are going to pay the price sooner or later. I have a backup strategy. A series of 1-3 terabyte external USB drives. I’m religious about backing up my business files at least weekly. I thought I was being religious about backing up my image files too.

For the majority of today’s photographers relying on computers is a must. I’ve gone through 4 different computers in my studio over the past 15 years or so. My current configuration in the studio is a PC that I built from scratch. I have roughly 19 Terabytes of hard drive storage attached to an i7 based motherboard with 64 gigs of ram and a dual monitor setup.

With all of those hard drives, a failure is inevitable and those failures will occur when you are not paying attention more often than not. The real question is how well you’ve backed up your images.

My images are kept in directories by subject matter and sub-directories by year. Most of my cataloging is done via Adobe Lightroom so along with my image files are xmp sidecar files that define all the editing I’ve done to each file. All told, I have about 50 different active Lightroom catalogs scattered among multiple hard drives in my computer.

The day after I returned home from Northern Colorado I was anxious to begin editing my latest batch of moose photos. I downloaded the new images to a directory on one of my 3 terabyte hard drives and imported them into Lightroom and started mining the best shots for editing and uploading to my services. On the sixth image, things went south. I could no longer access the hard drive I was working from and that hard drive contained a lot of my wildlife photos. Close to 70,000 images in total.

A quick scan indicated that the computer still recognized the presence of the drive but the drive was corrupted somehow. The utilities built into Windows 10 are not very robust. I couldn’t solve the problem without some type of advanced intervention. The first thing I did was go to Best Buy and purchase a new 4 terabyte hard drive. It installed easily and after a few minutes partitioning and formatting the drive, I was ready to restore my backups.

When I accessed my backup drives what I discovered was deflating. Yes, I had backups but many of them were not very current with most ending in early 2018. Any images stored on the failed drive that were newer than February were not backed up, except to two catalogs that I had recently backed up. Catalogs that I had been working on. Out of sight, out of mind. I had failed to keep all the backups current and in one instance I could not find an entire catalog of Bighorn Sheep in the backups. My heart sank. Over 10,000 photographs gone forever, or so I thought. I restored what I could and began coming to grips with my oversight.

Once I had restored my backup files to the new drive, I began the process of trying to recover the defective hard drive. I was lucky. I found a utility called TestDisk.

TestDisk is a freeware utility written by Christophe Grenier at www.cgsecurity.org. It runs in a DOS window and is a very basic non GUI interface. TestDisk found my hard drive and I was able to scan the contents of the inaccessible disk. I was also able to get a clue as to what happened. It appeared that a recent update to Windows 10 may have spurred this problem on. I found numerous Windows swap files on the hard drive and I had specifically told Windows not to use that hard drive for a paging file. Somehow, Windows began barfing swap files on to the drive and it corrupted the boot sector. The drive light was staying on all the time and disk activity was reporting at 100% on the idle drive.

Using TestDisk, I was able to locate all of my photographs stored on the defective drive and able to copy them to the new drive. Time consuming to say the least, I was able to recover everything I needed from the bad drive, along with the xmp files that contained my Lightroom edits.

What I learned is what I already knew. Keep your backups current. If you aren’t backing up your photos you will eventually lose them. Digital storage is temporary. My slack attitude about staying current with my backup routine almost wiped out years of work. All because I lulled myself into forgetting to do the necessary computer work to insure there were second copies of everything I had.

So, guess what I’m doing today? I’m backing up all of my files, one catalog at a time. It will take several days to accomplish, or should I say nights. I’ll begin a backup in the evening when I’m done working for the day and let the computer groan away copying everything to external hard drives while I sleep.

My advice to you. Back your images up now. You could wake up in the morning with a good backup or you could wake up to a crashed hard drive and lots of missing photos. Windows won’t alert you until it’s too late.

More Fresh Moose

Photograph of a mooseOne year old Shiras Bull Moose – Red Feather Lakes, CO

Memorial Day weekend and I am enjoying the excellent Spring weather here in Northern Colorado. The typical pattern is clear blue skies in the morning and scattered clouds in the afternoon. If it isn’t raining non-stop. Fortunately, here in Red Feathers we are not suffering from the mild to moderate drought the rest of the state is experiencing. And that means the forest fire situation up here shouldn’t be a major issue, but all it takes is one dumb camper to change that.

A moose calf is technically a baby moose who is still under the supervision of its mother. The Cow moose will keep the calve(s) with them until they birth a new calf. Sometimes yearly, sometimes not. Once a cow births a new calf, the older one is chased off to fend for his/her self.

This calf has just been cut loose by its mother. As moose go, this little guy isn’t very large. Another clue of its youth is the presence of buttons for antlers. More mature bulls will have more growth this time of year.

Still, he’s doing pretty good. He looks healthy and knows where to browse for food. With other bulls in the area, he’ll get his moose training on the job, just like all the others. If he can survive on his own for a year or two, he’ll be fine.

The weekend crowd is out in force today. Campers, hikers, weekenders are all gathered in and around the village to kick off summer in the high country. I tend to not try working on these holiday weekends or any weekend for that matter. I’ll be back out amongst the green trees and mountain lakes once the hub-bub has subsided.

Enjoy your weekend and please, be safe and happy.