Until I’m Gone

Photograph of a misty fog over a lake in Colorado
Dawn in the Rocky Mountains

A much needed dose of peace and tranquility.

Some mornings you wake up and the world’s conflicts are thrust upon you.

I’m cognizant of the fact that I’m far more fortunate than many to be able to experience peace and beauty in my life.

This photograph is a reminder that not everything in this world revolves around politics and war.

May you enjoy peace and tranquility in your life.

I hope I can keep it this way until I’m gone.

Daydreaming of The San Juan Mountains

Panoramic photo of the San Juan Mountains in Colorado
San Juan Mountains – Colorado

After three weeks of website work, I’m taking Friday off. My mind is burnt and I’m daydreaming about getting into the mountains.

Today’s photo was taken near Ridgway, Colorado a few years back.

I’ve visited this location many times over the years. It’s a grand view and the variation in weather, sky and autumn color from year to year always makes for a new and interesting scene.

I’ll be working in the San Juans this Autumn and taking bookings for private photo tours. Check out my main website for more information.

My 2018 Colorado Landscape Photo Tours Are Now Open For Booking

Colorado Landscape Photographer Gary Gray
The San Juan Mountains

 

I have taken a couple of weeks off from getting photos and have been working in the office on some long overdue web site updates and such.

Google never liked my main business web site due to it not being “mobile friendly.” I don’t really care what Google wants me to do, but I have to be realistic. If my web site doesn’t show up on a mobile phone web search, that’s people who aren’t finding me.

I design and maintain my own and others web sites and as I grow older, it’s become a challenge learning the ins-and-outs of SEO optimization and site functionality.

Basic redesigns are done and online now. I’m still doing fine tweaking on some of the pages here and there.

I’ve just added the “Colorado Landscape Photo Tour” page to the main web page. That should get me in the search results. My goal is to have everything I’m doing turn up on page one google search results. Should be there by the end of this month.

 

I Have My Camera With Me

Colorado Landscape Photographer Gary Gray
Priest Lake Cabin

Browsing through my landscape photos this morning looking for a lazy day Sunday image, I came up with this photograph from the San Juan Mountains at a place called Priest Lake.

This photo was taken shortly after a robust snow storm hit the area near Telluride. It made for difficult driving but offered up some great photography.

I love it when seasons collide and I have my camera with me.

The Interloper

Great Blue Heron by Gary Gray
Great Blue Heron – Colorado (NIkon D810/200-500mm VR)

Spring is in full swing here in Colorado.

This morning’s weather was exceptional so I made my way to the tree in the lake shortly after sunrise this morning. It’s good to know and understand the light in the location you’ll be working. Though these birds are roosting in an open area, the sunrise light is actually obscured by trees and buildings for a wee bit on sunny mornings. No reason to rush.

Today, a new great blue heron showed up. When he arrived, he was quite surprised to see that all of the available nests in the trees on the island had been claimed. There are two nests with great blue heron in occupancy, with one mating pair in the most visible nest. The remaining nests are occupied by mating pairs of cormorants. This guy shows up thinking he’s found a spot, but the nesting cormorants would have nothing of it.

When the mating male heron left the nest to go stick hunting, this guy decided to make a pass at the now unattended female. He didn’t even bring her an offering of a stick. If you read my post yesterday, you’ll know her heart is not for the taking. She immediately gave this stick-less schmoozer the cold shoulder and a threatened him with a face or belly full of angry beak.

She’ll have none of the interloper.

Doobie Digs It

Doobie
Doobie’s First Road Trip

Doobie made his first road trip today.

We made the run from Littleton to Red Feather Lakes to check on the cabin and we decided to give the Doob his first extended outing to see how he would handle a long drive.  It’s a 2.5 hour drive one way, so 5+ hours in the back seat of a Ford pickup truck should put him to the test.

Red Feather Lakes by Gary Gray
Our Cabin in Northern Colorado

The Doob did well. No car sickness, no barking, no problems.  He seemed to enjoy the ride, though he was a little nervous at first. He’s never been anywhere but the neighborhood and Vets office before.

As you can see, there is still plenty of Winter left in Spring in Northern Colorado.
Doobie the Dog by Gary Gray

Doobie Plays in the Mountain Snow. His first visit to Red Feathers.

Doobie digs it.

Interesting Backgrounds

Sandhill Cranes by Gary Gray
Sandhill Cranes at Monte Vista

I prefer the scenery of Monte Vista over that of Bosque del Apache or Kearney Nebraska for photographing the cranes.

Blanca Peak at the southern end of the Sangre de Cristo mountains is a prominent landmark and the long sprawling flatlands that engulf the area are a perfect setting for photographing these large, beautiful birds.

These birds group together and begin moving around the area during the day in flights. This particular field is looking towards the east and in the afternoon is a very well lit scene.

I normally try to get a few shots of these large groups as they feed in the fields.  Birds gathered in mass in fields will sometimes trickle out of the setting in small groups. The trickle flow of birds in and out always provides good opportunity for photographing the cranes in flight.

If you situate yourself properly, taking sun location into account, you can find numerous opportunities for close fly-by shots of the birds exiting the field.

Sandhill Crane photography by Gary Gray
Sandhill Cranes Take Off

Alternately, you’ll find small flights of birds frequently joining the group. These small formations of arriving birds often in groups of 6-12, provide interesting formations to photograph as well.

Sandhill Cranes by Gary Gray
A Flight of Sandhill Cranes About to Land

I keep a constant eye on the background areas surrounding the birds and their approach to the group. Once I know the backgrounds I want to see, I watch for birds flying in or out of that scene and then take my shots accordingly.

Remember, closer is better. Don’t fill up your camera buffer too soon on these scenes. It’s easy to start firing shots and lose ability to get shots as the bird gets closer to you. Patience on these glide in shots is a must. If you’ve positioned yourself correctly, you’ll get well lit birds with interesting backgrounds.

The Dance

Sandhill Crane photography by Gary Gray
Dancing Sandhill Cranes

From a technical standpoint, Sandhill Cranes do not pose a significant challenge.

You’ll have three major considerations for insuring the optimal quality of your photographs.

  1. Light
  2. Location
  3. Optics

Regarding the light, it is no different from any other subject matter lighting. You’ll want the sun in behind you for most shots, giving you direct sunlight on the animals. For Monte Vista, there are a number of standard shooting locations that are optimal at different times of the day as the sun moves across the horizon.

When I’m reviewing and selecting locations, I always take the sun location in consideration and I look for birds with the type of light I want to see. Even on cloudy days. Don’t pick available birds over properly lit birds. Poorly lit subjects are a waste of time. There is also no substitute for proximity. Well lit, close birds are what you are after.

Another consideration is your background.  Monte Vista is fairly simple. The Sangre De Cristo Mountains are going to be a primary backdrop. What you want is the fewest distractions and most appealing background. Let the birds appear in your preselected setting. Take your time and set your possible shots up in advance.

I would concern yourself more with your choice of lenses than your choice of camera body. To achieve the best results, I recommend you have lenses with focal lengths between 400-600mm.  Zooms or primes, it doesn’t matter. I prefer zooms as they are more versatile and generally lighter than the big primes lenses. If you are using a crop sensor body such as a Nikon D500 or Canon 7DII, that extra reach may be of benefit.  I’d keep a wider angle lens handy too, as those landscape and blastoff shots can sure look sweet with mountain backdrops.

Of course, not everyone will have a second camera body with them, but if you do have a second body, that’s where you use the wider angle lens and remember to keep it handy. Blastoffs occur without warning. If you have to look for a camera to photograph it, you’ve missed it.

My kit is a 200-500mm zoom on a Nikon D810 and a 70-200mm zoom on a Nikon D750. The D750 hangs around my neck or is within arms reach at all times. The 200-500mm is typically mounted on a gimble head to a tripod.

I keep a spare battery in my pocket close to my body so it will stay warm and ready to swap.

As for camera settings, I normally use manual aperture and shutter speeds with Auto-ISO. On the longer lens, I normally keep the shutter speed between 1/1600th  – 1/2000th a second. This freezes motion fairly well and helps to keep those birds tack sharp.

For aperture, I normally set for f/7.1 which gives me adequate depth of field for one or two birds close to one another. For group shots, you’ll want to stop down to f/9 or f/11 to keep those birds sharp. For single birds, you can go as low as you like but remember, it’s about getting the eyes sharp. Keep those eyes sharp.

If I’m using the long lens on a tripod, I turn off the vibration reduction. Sometimes the VR will actually make things worse.  I almost always use the VR when hand holding shots of the cranes.

The goal, well lit, close, sharp images.

In future posts I’ll explain the types of shots you’ll be looking for and the techniques I use to get them.