Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Speedlinks: 'The Office' Edition

I'm still an old-school guy when it comes to developing projects. I like to keep my ideas on physical surfaces. And without whiteboards in The Cave, we revert to stickies. Like, everywhere.

Today's speedlinks are office-themed; one an actual shoot-in-a-boring-office solution and another to show what can be done with ? a lot of stickies. Read more �


landscape photography

New Pantanal & Madagascar Photo Tours for 2012

I am excited to announce that I will be leading two incredible photo tours in 2012… in July I will be taking a group to the Pantanal in Brazil and in October-November I will be taking a group around Madagascar (see below for an overview of each trip). To run the tours, I have partnered [...]


photography studios

Peace Corps Turns Graduate into Photojournalist

Photography: Andrew Cullen In January 2009, more than 2,600 students were enrolled in a photography-related program at the campuses of the Art Institute, a chain of private art schools. Of those who were studying for a bachelor?s degree, nine out of ten would be expected to find a job in their field of study within [...]


family photography

Wigeon feeding at Cresswell Pond NWT

The small flock of wigeon were feeding in the water at Cresswell Pond NWT as the Barnacle Geese were also feeding on the grass in the field. There was some sort of interaction going n between the males and the … Continue reading


photography techniques

Nick Fancher: Run-and-Gun with Hard Lights

Columbus, Ohio-based photographer Nick Fancher shoots for JackThreads, which means manic spurts of product, apparel and shoe photos. To that end he shoots guerilla-style, scrounging multiple locations and setups on the quick.

Which is no problem, as he travels light with RadioPoppers and speedlights, preferring to work without modifiers. This means he can light at modest ranges and easily match or overpower the sun as needed.

Check out the vid above, in which we follow Nick through a typical multi-product day of shooting. Neat stuff -- I like the multi hard-light look. He tends to crank the flashes to 105mm for extra punch, which also restricts the beam for a cool fall-off.

And if the name sounds familiar, Nick was featured a little ways back for his Mad Men-themed engagement shoot. If you haven't seen that, it's worth a look.

(Thanks, Mark!)



photographers gallery

The kindness of birders

Thanks to the kindness of birders, I was lucky enough to be able to see a family of nesting Mississippi Kites within easy driving distance of my home in southeast Ohio this weekend. Birders, in case you haven't already heard, tend to have a reputation for being extremely nice, and helpful, and will do just about anything to help you see a bird. There is a very gracious couple of birders who lives in a small gated community nestled near the Hocking Hills area, and their graciousness was extended out through this community when they opened their gates to approximately 100 outsiders this past Sunday. They opened their arms and welcomed us to see this fantastic spectacle of nature.

Juvenile Mississippi Kite from behind. You'll get a better view in a minute.

The thing that makes this bird species special is that this is currently the only known breeding location in the state of Ohio. Luckily, the birders in this community had a hunch at what they were looking at when a pair of Mississippi Kites raised a family there last year, and word got around in the Ohio birding community. Some other kind birders handled the logistics and arranged a special day to view the kite family last year, and then again this year. I am so grateful for this kindness.

From this angle it may look like jr. kite is eating something, but it's actually just preening.

To give you an idea of how spectacular it is to see this bird breeding in Ohio, I checked the first Breeding Bird Atlas done in the state back in 1982-1987, and it was not even on our radar at that time. Now, that's not definitive proof that it wasn't breeding in Ohio at that time, but in blocks where birders were surveying, they were not even observed. What has changed and brought them to Ohio since then? I don't know. Is it by luck that for two years now these kites have decided to nest in a woody area populated by people who would notice it? Maybe.

This is a reminder that conservation starts right in your own yard. These kites took up residence in a community that, from what I observed, seems to believe in disturbing the land as little as possible, so there is a lot of wonderful, suitable habitat for them to use. Great habitat = great biodiversity. And great biodiversity means you never know what might show up! (And with that in mind, it means you've got to keep your eyes open all the time, just in case something unexpected drops in to stay for a while. Well, I feel that's MY duty, anyway...)

Parental unit coming in with a juicy morsel for the youngster. Look how poised and ready that juvenile is to receive its meal!

The Mississippi Kite's diet is mainly comprised of insects like cicadas and dragonflies. They leave the exoskeleton (or outer shell) behind, only picking out the meat from within. I was amazed to watch bits of cicada wing flutter to the ground as the young one picked its way to the meat of its meal.

Getting ready for the hand-off. As soon as the juvenile kite demonstrates that it's able to feed itself, the family will begin their migration south toward their wintering grounds in central South America.

Birding and blogging friends Susan Gets Native (sitting) and KatDoc (with camera snapping) enjoying the view. This was a life bird for all 3 of us!

The adult takes off after dropping off a bite to eat. It's hard to get an idea of size in these photos, but the average wing span of this raptor is 3 feet (smaller than a Red-tailed Hawk, but larger than a Kestrel, for those keeping track). Notice the rufous, or rust-colored, primary feathers (the "finger tips") that are so nicely back lit by the sun here.

Here the juvenile is begging for food, calling to an adult in the vicinity. One theory being tossed around was that the youngster didn't actually start vocalizing until it had one of the parents within visual range. Speaking of begging behavior, when I was there watching the bird, I noticed it wasn't exhibiting the type of begging behavior I'm used to seeing in songbirds. Songbird youngsters, once out of the nest, will sit on a branch or a wire and peep almost continuously, with their wings puffed out and rapidly fluttering. This is an obvious visual cue to the parents, most likely to gain an upper hand over a nearby sibling who is also exhibiting similar behavior.

"I hear ya, kid. Just hold your horses, dinner's comin'!

Once I started looking at my pictures, though, I realized that while the begging is not as prolonged as a juvenile songbird's, the concept is still the same, as seen here: "I must make myself as large as possible so you know that you are supposed to feed ME!!" There was only one mouth to feed this year (last year's brood consisted of two young), but the instinct remains despite that fact.

This was one of the longer feeding sessions that we got to observe, and it made for great photo opportunities, thus giving me a chance to study field marks in-depth after I got home. Here you can really see the differences in appearance between the adult on the left and immature on the right. Notice the clean white breast and underside of the wings on the adult. Compare this to a chest and underwing area that is very dappled on the juvenile. Also, notice that the tail of the adult is completely dark with no banding (again, we've got a little but of rufous coloring peeking through at the tail tip). By contrast, the immature's tail has very distinct banding.

Once again, my sincere thanks goes out to the kind folks who brought this kite family to the attention of the Ohio birding community, and to those who arranged this get-together for us. It was a very special treat that made my day.


lens for wildlife photography

The itsy bitsy spider(s)....

NOTE: If you are squeamish about spiders, approach this post with caution. I encourage folks to face their fears head-on, and I firmly believe that knowledge and exposure can help to assuage fears about things such as spiders and snakes, but I am also sensitive to the fact that some people may run for the door if they see a picture of a spider. So, all I ask is that you try. Let's begin!

While birds have occupied a large portion of my mental resources this spring and summer, other creatures have been catching my attention as well. I've spent time in past years photographing moths, butterflies, robber flies, wasps and other insects, but this year I've been trying to photograph more spiders. Though much maligned, disdained, and feared, spiders are fascinating creatures. But aren't they poisonous and dangerous?

All spider species in Ohio possess venom, a necessary substance for paralyzing their prey. But keep in mind that spiders eat insects (and other spiders), so the tiny amount of venom that they might inject into a human, which is many, MANY times larger than their intended prey, coupled with human physiology (which is obviously much different from that of an insect), will protect us from 99% of spider bites. In Ohio, the only spider species whose bite would warrant a trip to the ER are the recluses (Brown and Mediterranean) and the Black Widow, all 3 of which are relatively rare in the state. Common sense (don't stick your hand into an area where you can't see what's inside) and shaking out of any loose clothing on the floor (including gloves and shoes) should keep you safe from harm.

Now - if that didn't scare you off and you're still with me, let's take a look at some of the spiders that I've found around our property. Let me note that I welcome any corrections to my identifications. I'm still learning when it comes to spiders, and as is the case with my first exposure to new taxonomies (classifications) and field guides, things tend to all look the same until I've spent enough time with the creatures to get a grasp of the things that set them all apart from each other.

Some facts to consider when trying to identify spiders include, type of web (or lack thereof), habitat, body shape, and seasonality (time of year when they are active). With spiders, the females are typically larger than the males, and often times more showy, and it will almost always be females that are on the webs.

Here is an orchard spider (Leucauge venusta). Not sure why, exactly, they are called orchard spiders, since they prefer to dwell in forests, but the clincher for the ID on this one was its web. My field guide* says that the web is "typically at an oblique angle, nearly horizontal." I don't have a diagnostic picture of the web, unfortunately, but I'll ask you to take me at my word when I say it was nearly horizontal. They build an orb type web, which is the kind you might typically think of when you think "spider web" - a basically round shape with parallel lines within, � la Charlotte's Web.

The coloration is fascinating and beautiful. Pretty colors are one thing that some of these spiders have going for them, and help me to have a better appreciation for them.

This view from the back shows an amazing silver color, with some nice black markings to boot. It's quite a piece of art, if you ask me!

Next up we have another forest dweller, although it can also be found in fields. It builds a funnel type web, the shape of which is pretty self-explanatory. This is a photo of its web. I love how it incorporated the fallen beech leaf into the web, using it as a kind of template, if you will, for the funnel itself.

This spider was hard to photograph because it was very wary of any movement near the web. This is a blown-up shot of the spider down within the funnel. The more I look at this, the more it seems like there are actually two spiders in this funnel. Needless to say, there's no real way to ID the spider from this vantage point.

Due to its skittish nature, I had to walk away from this web and come back a little later to try again. Unfortunately I was never able to get a face shot, but we can see an interesting detail at the back end of this spider. You may notice something pointy at the very back of the abdomen. Those are spinnerets (the finger-like silk spinning organs), and their placement is very telling for this type of spider, which is grass spider of some sort. There are apparently 5 different species of grass spiders in Ohio, but I do not know which one this is.

Grass spider, Agelenopsis sp., with closer view of spinnerets at rear of abdomen.

Speaking of spinnerets, here's a photo of said piece of anatomy in action. I have no ID for the spider, but I was pretty lucky to get some shots of it wrapping up this morsel of food in silk to be kept for a future meal. All spiders possess the ability to spin silk, but not all spiders make webs. Most wolf spider species, for example, do not make webs. Silk can be used for storing eggs (cocoon or egg sac), and some species of spiders will use silk for a process called "ballooning" or "kiting," which allows them to carried through the air by wind currents (I recall watching spiders ballooning in the field last fall - it was quite an amazing sight.) So silk production is definitely another cool thing spiders have going for them (in case I'm losing you to the "ick" factor!).

I mentioned that body shape can be helpful in identification, and that couldn't be more true in the case of this spider. Even from the silhouette shown on this leaf, one might be able to guess the spider. The shape of the abdomen is reminiscent of the shape of an arrow, so it is aptly named arrowshaped micrathena (Micrathena sagittata).

Here is the arrowshaped micrathena on its web (we can see it's an orb weaver by the shape of the web), hanging with its back to the ground, giving us a ventral view.

Her web happened to be hanging horizontally, and was very close to the leaves of this False Solomon's Seal, so it was difficult for me to get underneath to get a photo of her diagnostic yellow abdomen. But hopefully you get the idea. These are spiders that build webs in the understory, and are fond of moist woods.

Here's another spider in the Micrathena genus, and this is one you'd likely come eye-to-eye with when walking along a trail. The spined micrathena (Micrathena gracilis) is notorious for building its web across trails. While the spikes are certainly menacing in appearance, they would be of no harm to you.

I would have to think that that huge, spiny abdomen would be heavy and cause for some balance issues, but it's obviously evolved to be this shape for a reason.

Looking up from below, we can see all 5 sets of "spines" that are on the abdomen. Interestingly, as I write this and and compare my photos to other photos of this species of spider, I am drawn to how very round her abdomen is, which is not the typical shape for this spider. This leads me to conclude that this spider is gravid (swollen with eggs).

I spent a long time photographing this spider from many different angles, and I'm glad I was able to do so. I'm not sure I could have fully appreciated all of these interesting markings without the ability to enlarge the photos. And yeah, this lady is definitely pregnant.

One last look at this orb weaver on its web. The field guide says that the small (narrow) spaces between the threads indicate that this spider's typical prey is pretty small.

Finally, we come to the pi�ce de r�sistance, the last spider for this show-and-tell series. I'm taking a moment to prepare you because it might freak some of you out. There is no need to be alarmed. But it is a black widow.

This is not the first, nor will it be the last, black widow we have found on this property. Dave found this spider at the door to our garage, so she had to be moved in order to avoid an encounter where she might feel threatened.

I'm not quite sure what she was doing out and about with her egg sac. This door gets opened most days of the week, so it's not like she had had a lot of time to establish a web there. Regardless, Dave used a very long stick to remove her (and her egg sac) from the door. She chose to stay on the stick after it was laid down.

Some of you may be wondering where the characteristic hourglass marking is. The hourglass is only on the underside of the abdomen. I surely did not want to move her just to see that marking.

At no point did she show any signs of aggression. She stayed with the egg sac for a while, but I'm pretty sure that the sac had been abandoned by the time I checked it the next day, which I thought was odd. I'm not sure if the eggs ever matured. The sac is still on the stick, although it seems to be a bit flaccid at this point. These photos were taken about a month ago, but widow spiderlings typically hatch within 8-10 days of being laid. I have never observed spiders hatching from their egg sac, so I don't know what kind of state it would be in if they survived and hatched out.

This is just a small survey of countless thousands of spiders that surely live near my home, and yours, too. Spiders are important predators that help control pests in our landscape. If they were not around, we would surely notice other insect populations spiraling out of control. If you find one in your house and can't deal with it being there, at least attempt to escort it outside, rather than just killing it.

* The field guide that I consulted for the majority of the information presented here is the Common Spiders of Ohio Field Guide, published by the Ohio Division of Wildlife, Department of Natural Resources. It is Publication 140. Visit for more information and to request your own (free!) copy. Funding for this field guide and others (covering a wide variety of Ohio wildlife such as common birds, owls, butterflies, amphibians, mammals, reptiles, sportfish and more) comes from donations to the state income tax checkoff program, sales of the Ohio wildlife legacy stamp, and sales of the wildlife conservation license plate (the Cardinal license plate).


learn photography

Flickr Still Beats Facebook for Photographers

When stock photography company Getty Images announced its agreement with Flickr to broker photo sales on behalf of the site?s members, one of the attractions of the Yahoo property was its size. According to the press release issued at the time, Flickr was then attracting 54 million visitors every month and its 27 million members [...]


flower photography

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Subscribe to my New Newsletter

I have recently released my very first newsletter from my website. The newsletter will have tips and topics and information on wildlife photography and upcoming workshops. I hope to release one every few weeks or so. At present I have … Continue reading


photography classes

Yuri Arcurs: Professional Microstock Requires Three Years of Study

Yuri Arcurs, probably the world?s most successful microstock photographer, is preparing to launch a training program in stock photography. Arcurs is looking for between ten and fifteen ?interns? who want to learn how to shoot professional stock images. The interns, or ?students,? will receive free accommodation, food, and access to equipment, including Canons, Nikons,�Hasselblad SLR [...]


photography courses london

BrakhaX2: Sketchy Mondays X 52

So, remember the Sketchy Mondays project, by father/son team Moshe and Eddie Brakha?

A refresher: Totally self-generated, no-boundary work done every Monday by an A-List commercial studio. Just for the creative spark; just for the hell of it. All of this done with a DSLR and few complementary-gelled hot lights. (Yeah, I know it's not strobe. Just go with it.)

Check out what happens when you say, "What the hell, let's just shoot something cool on our own, every single week," by scrolling through a few pages on the Sketchy Mondays website. Awesome stuff.



photography qualifications

Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ150 Review

Having extensively used 10x and 35x compact digizoom cameras over the last year or so, I would say the former is a little short ? and the latter a little too long for comfortable and successful leisure shooting. So this model – the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ150 – with a 24x zoom comes in, as with [...]

Post originally from: Digital Photography Tips.

Check out our more Photography Tips at Photography Tips for Beginners, Portrait Photography Tips and Wedding Photography Tips.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ150 Review


best camera for wildlife photography

Boot Camp III Assignment #4: Results

Results from Boot Camp III, Assignment #4, in which you were asked to create a "36 Hours In?" style travel package about a place near you.

This was a more demanding assignment than the first three (which is why it was saved for last) and that really showed in the number of entrants. To those who completed the shoot, congrats. And I hope that you learned more about your own turf by looking at it through the eyes of a potential visitor? Read more �


wedding photography ideas

Etsy is Artistic, Seasonal and Saturated

Photography: Nancy Falso If you?re wondering what to do with the artistic shots of landmarks you shot on your last foreign vacation, then you might want to think about selling them on Etsy. The craft site might be best known for its handmade items and vintage products but buyers on the site are also willing [...]


landscape photography

Camino de Santiago: Camino Frances: Part Two

In October 2011 I completed a pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostella in Spain, following the ancient path called the Camino Frances. �My journey took approximately 36 days with rest days along the way. �I will attempt, through a few humorous blogs and photographs to convey the spirit and beauty of this incredible route, without dwelling [...]


photography competitions uk

A Flash of Inspiration: The Accidental Backlight

Strobist reader Philip Rasmusson, from G�teborg, Sweden sent me the above photo, along with a tweet asking:

"This totally happened by accident, with someone else's flash going off in the back. What do you think?"

Well, I can tell what you think, Philip. I think you like it, 'cause you were happy to claim it and stick a logo up on it. (Smart man.)

And any time a happy accident like this happens, bells should go off in your head. In particular, I can think of at least 5 bells going off right now? Read more �


photography shop

Monday, 28 November 2011

Wigeon feeding at Cresswell Pond NWT

The small flock of wigeon were feeding in the water at Cresswell Pond NWT as the Barnacle Geese were also feeding on the grass in the field. There was some sort of interaction going n between the males and the … Continue reading


photography for beginners

Serious birding business

Coming into this year, I already knew that 2011 would be a big birding year for me. It started off with a bang when I participated in my first-ever Christmas Bird Count up in the Hocking Hills on January 2nd. Then I had a number of speaking engagements where I talked about birds and birding. Then, of course, there was the New River Birding and Nature Festival in West Virginia during the first week of May. That event, in and of itself, served to catapult my birding knowledge and confidence into a dimension previously unknown to me.

The confidence I gained led me to finally offer my time and effort to a cause that is in need of my help (and yours, too, if you're an Ohio birder!). A little over a week ago I signed up to take part in Ohio's 2nd Breeding Bird Atlas. The first atlas was completed 20+ years ago, and it is strictly a volunteer effort. It's citizen science at its finest, in my opinion, and every bit of input helps. Here is a brief synopsis of the atlas, as stated on the OBBA II website:
The second breeding bird atlas for Ohio is generating extensive information that will be essential for the effective conservation and management of birds. By engaging Ohio's citizens in this cooperative effort OBBA II will foster interaction among bird enthusiasts of all experience levels and will heighten public awareness of birds in Ohio.
The atlas works somewhat like a Christmas Bird Count in that volunteers are counting birds within a pre-defined area (a "block" that is approximately 10 miles square), but information is tallied from the entire state over a period of 5-6 years. Also, it's not simply a matter of counting birds, but looking for specific cues that breeding is occurring or has occurred. With a little over 4,400 blocks to be surveyed across the entire state, even just a few hours of surveying can help out with this monumental undertaking. Unfortunately (and understandably), there are still a number of blocks throughout the state that have not been surveyed, and have no data. The two blocks that I recently claimed ownership of had some small numbers up until now, but I am working to quickly change that.

By claiming ownership of a block, I have committed myself to spending 25 hours (per block) of time out in the field looking for breeding evidence, as well as documenting 75% of the expected total species for each block (and confirming breeding for as many of those species as possible). Sounds like a lot of work, and I will admit that it's a bit daunting, but I've been very encouraged by each trip afield so far. I feel like I still have a good bit of ground to cover, but each time I've gone out I've either added a handful (or two!) of new species to the block, or upgraded previous observations from a "possible" or "probable" status to "confirmed." Granted, the more time I spend out there, the less new data I will have to report, but for now I'm riding high on all the wonderful new things I'm seeing.

Even if you've never done any surveying for breeding birds like this before, there's still time if you're interested. June and July is prime time, and there's lots of activity out there right now. Any of my Ohio readers, if you're not already involved but would like to be, please go to the OBBA II website by clicking HERE. You'll find all the information you need to get started. Not an Ohio resident? Other neighboring states are doing breeding bird atlases as well, and West Virginia is in the middle of their 2nd atlas project. Click HERE for links to BBA projects in other states (and Canada).

In my next post I'll detail some of the wonderful things I have had the opportunity to observe just within the last 10 days as a result of being part of this effort.


photographers gallery

Scaredy Squirrels

Don't you just love squirrels? Watching them scurry along, doing their funny businesses is an absolute delight. Several 3-striped squirrels came close to us while we were at the Mysore zoo, and since I never really got to take any good shots of wild mammals, I decided to photograph some of these cheeky creatures.

Unlike the squirrels in my area, these were much more used to human interference and didn't mind if we came too close.


professional photographers