Saturday Evening Post #185: The Magic of Being There

Some interesting comments came up last week from the way I curate my library of photos.
It’s hard on a single page to cover all the ins and outs and to not sound like setting some rules. I guess I was taken by the number of recent blogs and newsletters that have now made a change from ‘save everything’ etc.

There is of course the another side to why we take, and what we share photographically. As Mr. An Onymous is oft to say, “Just being out there in the field is enough. Birds are a bonus”.

Photography is so good at providing a visual memory of a holiday, party, event or field trip. Looking back through my library can provide a feeling of the time we spent in a location, the birds, the weather, the company and the enjoyment.

I found this quote from Sarah Leen who was (is?) Director of Photography at National Geographic.

“It (Photography) has been the way that I have experienced much of the world. In a deeply personal way I feel an image is a poem about time, about “staying the moment.” Photography can defeat time. Images can keep the memory of a loved one alive, hold a moment in history for future generations, be a witness to tragedy or joy. They can also change behavior, stimulate understanding and create a sense of urgency that will move people to action. Photography is the universal language that speaks to the heart.”

To me photography has always been about storytelling. The eye of the photo-journalist at finding both the story and being able to bring it to the page.

Storytelling goes back to the earliest days of photography. One of the very first ‘war photographers’ was an Englishman named Roger Fenton. He was appointed the first official photographer for the British Museum and in 1855 spent time in the Crimea photographing the war. One of his most (in)famous photos shows the also infamous “Valley of the Shadow of Death” (Yet we need to be careful, as this is not the site of the equally infamous charge of the Light Brigage)
It has a most interesting history in that there seems to be two versions. One with cannon balls on the roadway, and one without.
The question arises did he have them placed for dramatic effect or cleared away for pictorial feel?
This is a good review
Either way it is part of his storytelling and adds to the story in a graphic detailed way.

So yes, my library does have lots of shots that will never be acclaimed, but as I review them from time to time, the magic of being in the presence of the bird is a heartwarming experience.

Saturday Evening Post #184: Less is More

More or less. 🙂
Much of the advice regarding storing digital ‘assets’ almost since the beginning of digital photography has been something like, Well its cheap to make digital photos as you don’t have to buy film so take as many as possible.
The corollary to that advice was keep them all, disk space is cheap, and you never know when you might need one of them. Or, like high quality wine, they will improve with age on the disk.

So, I guess we have to admit. We did.

Recent weeks I seem to have been ‘enlightened’ on blogs and newsletters, by those same experts with a new mantra. (Perhaps they forgot their old advice or needed to trot out something new)

It follows roughly similar calls, to “learn to curate you photos- delete the ones you won’t use. Choose the best ones and work with those.”

While the “shoot lots and keep all”, was a good idea when digital files were small—the first ones I made were 750kb each! (Think how many I could get on a 1 megabyte card) today’s high res, high pixel count files in raw can be as much as 65mb or each. It quickly begins to build up terabytes of files, most of which will never see the light of day.

I have to say, (mostly) I tend to edit hard after a shoot. Comes from the old days of filum I guess. Out of a roll of 36 exposures, I didn’t want to sit in the darkroom and print every one to figure which were the keepers. Make a quick Contact Print. Mark with Chinagraph pencil. Print the best. Reject the rest.

I could also argue that most of the social media sites promote poor to average photography as being ‘normal’, but not tonight.

If I do about 250 shots in a day’s outing, by the time I get home I’ll edit them down to about 20 or so useable. Then I need about 8-10 for Flickr, 1 for this blog and several for a book project and perhaps a photo-story here on the blog.
For completeness I usually know in advance which shots I want for a story anyway as I’ll have tried to assemble much of that in the field.
Now if I do 3 field trips a week, that is about 60 or so images.

If I stuck with the old mantra, that would be around 700 images I’d need to store a week. A month, it’s 3000 (boy scout math), by the end of the year—36,000 images. (Not bad for a years work). Ten years? Oh, no wonder I need a new 8tb drive this year.

Ansel Adams is reported to have said, “Twelve good images a year is an excellent crop”.

So the new advice seems to be—edit.

The other hidden advice in all that is of course the ability now to run off, for fun, as many as 20 or more shots in a second. Then spend anguished hours on the computer trying to find the best one. The software doesn’t help either as it allows the shots to be ‘Stacked’ so that you only get to see the best one, and 19 languish in the ether, never to be seen again.
Or, and I put tongue-firmly-in-cheek, just post them all and let the viewer decide!!
One ‘guru’ recently claimed to have returned from a workshop trip with over 30,000 shots. And aren’t I glad I’m not getting an invite around for that slide show!

For those of us who do lots of inflight shots, and I have to admit to leaning more and more that way in my own work, the chance of a multi-burst gives us a range of wing, head, body, lighting and expression to chose from.
And just sayin’ for my own work, if its not ‘That’ shot. Then the remainder get deleted.
I’m looking for “… an excellent crop”

Knowing how the bird is going to react is also a huge part of the inflight learning process. This young Kite was ready to go and join its siblings hunting over the grasses in the late afternoon light.

It turned on the branch, I held my breath, and then it simply launched into space. It was heading straight down the barrel of the lens. 🙂

I paused, and as its face came into the light, pressed the shutter.
Less- is more.

From the FieldNotes Book: A Morning’s Practice

How quickly time moves on for these young kites. A few weeks ago they were peeking out of the nest, then launched into flight on some of the most windy days we’ve had this year.
And when we arrived on this particular morning they were now fully-fledged (pun intended) hunters.

Bronson, the male was no longer providing handouts. It was literally every bird for itself. They had chosen to sit together for what was probably the very last time in the early morning sun and scan the surrounding paddock for a likely meal. Most of their hunting as we watched was for skinks and small prey, but no doubt in the next day or two they would have skilled up enough for the real thing. Mice

Bronson flew past at one stage, perhaps checking they were still in the area, but they knew not to pester him for food and it was a silent flyover. They went back to the job in hand.

A couple of days later on our next visit, they were nowhere to be seen, all the usual roosting spots were empty. We caught a glimpse far across the freeway of one sitting, then hunting and flying off with its prize.

Their time had come to explore the world as fully developed young birds.

It is both a sad and also an exciting time to share their graduation and to farewell them.

Saturday Evening Post #183: …Worth a Thousand Words

A motif we all have a nodding agreement with.

Perhaps first used by an adversting man in the United States as early as 1911. Arthur Brisbane is reported to have said, “Use a picture it’s worth a thouand words.” However even that might not be the orgin, earlier Leonardo Da Vinci has expressed the thought that an artist could depict in an instant—what a writer would wrestle with overnight.

I don’t have a lot of wall space to hang photos, so any image I make that deserves to be printed and considered for a space on the wall comes from a file that is titled “The Signature Series.”

My first Signature print goes back nearly half a century. So this one is in good company


Little Visits: Searching for the holy grail or Grebe

We had gone to Ballarat with high hopes of being able to find the resident Great Crested Grebes and be able to photograph them up close.

Such was the the plan

Day One:  Not a feather of a grebe to be seen.

Day Two: Helpful local pointed out that since they had raised the young they were now residing further out in the outer most reeds.
So we patiently looked, from a distance, at the various reed beds.  Not much happening really.

Day Three. An early morning search did in fact reveal a grebe or two, way, way out there, in those reeds well beyond reach of the best long lenses.

Day Three: Evening stroll.  Now this was more like it, they had moved to perhaps the second set of reed beds, closer in.  But, clever birds they are, were all tucked up asleep and had no intention of coming closer.

Day Four: Departure day.  Early morning.   Well, they were still out on the second reed beds and a single adult and two juveniles were in the open, adult was hunting ,young were still hoping for handouts.   Didn’t look like we were going to get the shots.
Then EE said, “Oh, look one of the young is coming in this way.”  Sure enough.

And then a few minutes later the adult swam in the same direction but further around the lake so we quickly walked, as it swung in quite near the edge and then with some deft strokes to get away from the complaining young one by its side, it was back out among the furtherest reeds.

Still, we had bagged some shots, and while not memorable, we had at least been able to check off the grebes from the list for the weekend.

Saturday Evening Post #182 : Continuation

Life is an infinite continuation
Deng Ming-Tao

Sounds like stating the obvious really. The sky is blue, the sun has set. Grass grows.
He goes on to say, that as you come to the end of one cycle, a new one will begin. Fulfilling a cycle means completion. Yet new horizons are always there, with each turn of the wheel you go further. With each turn of the wheel comes continuation.
Celebrate every turning, And perservere with joy.

As an aside there is a Qigong sequence called, “Turning the Big Wheel”, first to the left then to the right.
Some things can be instructive beyond their normal course.

Just as the three young Black-shouldered Kites have reached the end of their training and are moving on to make their own lives, we watched them go, a bit like parents whose children have left home for the first time. And with a feeling of completion of that chapter. My photo library says that over the past three months we’ve made some 26 trips to work with them.

We had spent the morning searching the tree-line and the open paddocks for a glimpe, but they are now independant of the male feeding them, and he has not been around with handouts for nearly a week. He might still flyover but they knew that he was no longer on Uber service.

Finally we spotted one far away across the highway and perched. Then watched as it hunted and successfully carried its prize back to a tree.
It was time for us to move on too.

I blogged about this time last year of the arrival of the Flame Robins at Point Cook Park, and we decided to continue on down there and as we hadn’t been in the area for many weeks, wondering what might have changed.

It was very quiet.
Last season was a disaster, just like the one before, as covid restrictions for most of the time kept us house-bound for the season(s)

We waked down to see Cassia, of Cinnamon, but she wasn’t too keen on visitors and took off across the paddock avoiding a squadron of agile magpies.

Then, a Red Flash. And Another!

They were indeed back. A quite large family of Flame Robins. Eventually we spotted three males and several females and at least two juvenile males. So they have had a good season. The year before they arrived looking a bit exhausted after their summer season. But this time each of them seemed resplendant in their winter dress and highly active.
It is interesting to see them working in the forest, but out in the open fields like Point Cook, they behave a little differently. Having flown over 100km to get here, 500m down the paddock is nothing really, and they are constantly on the move. However like in the forest settings they seem to follow a set pattern, and while it takes a few sessions to learn the cycle, getting ahead of them and waiting is still our preferred method. It is a case of, if we sit they should come.

So as our season with the Kites ends, it looks like a rich season with the Robins might be opening up.

In the end, the wheel turns—indeed continuation.

From the Fieldnotes Book: Ministry of Silly… Or The Greatest Show on Earth.

John Cleese and the Monty Python’s Flying Circus, has a wonderful skit titled: “The Ministry of Silly Walks”, and like most things Python, the humour is in the close representation of real life activities.
As an aside, in our house as I grew up, Monty Python’s Flying Circus, was baned from viewing. My Dad took a dislike to the little fillers between skits by Terry Gilliam’s animations. Perhaps it was the use of things Royal, or the Flag, or just the suggestive innuendos. A surprise really as things relating to British aristocracy were never given much creedeance. A year or so later I moved out anyway, such is life.

We were walking the Lake at Ballarat in the rich glow of the evening light and the Little Corellas were putting on their usual evening entertainment show. The antics of the birds upside down, side-ways and all bent out of shape in the trees reminded me of The Ministry of Silly Walks.

I saw reference to an article the other day that some research has been done, and was continuing into the “Emotion” of creatures. A controversial subject it seems. At one stage it was postulated that human babies did not experience pain in the same way as adults and some surgery was performed without aesthetics. (Here is a link to an ABC artricle

My only understanding is based on purely anecdotal evidence, (good enough for Darwin apparently), but between various dogs, cats and birds that we’ve shared lives with over the years, I would be on the side of the postitives. Sometimes I feel it would be good for the professional resercher to get out of the pristine tiled-wall laboratory and mingle in the dust with the real world.

So as I watched these reckless birds at work or play, or ?? I did draw the distinct conclusion, that not only were they enjoying themselves in their frentic activities, but there was a genuine feeling of delight in the antics. “Ha, think that is good. Here look at this! ”

Either way it was like having a ticket to the circus. Barnum would have been proud.

Saturday Evening Post #181 : Exposure

We all did it.
Every budding beginner photographer gets excited about a subject, then, struggles with the technicalites of making the image.

In dayhs of yore, we’d take the camera out of the box, and pour over the instruction book, looking for that gem that would help make a correct exposure. These days the first thing to do is Google for a vid by an outspoken ‘expert’ opinion (OEO) on the right way to set the camera up, how to rotate all the dials and what settings are best. And don’t we all want to use Manual Exposure and have beautiful bokeh.
The thing I find with the outspokenexpert is that rarely do we get to see any of their work, not the stuff they shoot for some test or other, but real work—but that is an aside.

Then we ponder what is the best way to determine the exposure. Spot? Centre-weight? Overall? Matrix? Does it make a difference? Now it’s my outspoken-expert-opinion (OEO) that the camera manufacturer wants you to be able to get good exposures. Not too dark, not too light, the Goldilocks effect. After all it’s to their advantage for you to tell everybody, “Oh my LTZ7132ii is getting great exposures every time”, in the hope others too will rush out to buy the LTZ7133iii update.

Then, we wrestle with light. At first we just thought, oh, well, there is light. Enough, or not enough. But tricky stuff that it is, and so essential to our craft, it comes from in front, above, behind, to the left or right, below or even subdued and filtered through, and sometimes it hides behind grey porridge clouds. Tai Chi it is said has 13 movements. Lighting near matches that.

Then there is the lens and all that silly aperture stuff: f/2.8, 4, 5.6 Why not 1, 2 3, or small medium and large?

So what is the right exposure? And so we resort to more vids and OEO, all the time wondering why our photos, are not…just so.

Like all training: football, tennis, piano or Tai Chi, the magic slowly begins to show through.
Exposure: Not correct, not under or over.


From the Heart.