5@50 February 25, 2015

It’s been a while since I did this. It shows. I’m out of practice.

In fact, I haven’t gone out on a 5@50 hunt since before we had any serious snow. It was way back at the beginning of January that I last roamed the streets of Portland (my hometown) looking to make five pictures with my trusty 50mm lens.

I admit, these photos are not my best work. But I’m committed to posting whatever I come up with — no crazy cropping, Photoshop tricks or pictures taken over several different days — just five pictures at 50mm.

That’s a challenge, but challenging myself is the point.

Tips for finding and photographing Maine wildlife

“Here it is,” said Sharon as a small bridge came into view. She slowed the car and rolled down her window. Below, mounds of snow lined the stream, which was surprisingly free of ice in the depth of winter. And in the rushing water were more than 100 ducks. Mallards, mostly — the males with their iridescent green heads, and the females dressed in light brown. But there were also goldeneyes, small dark ducks named for their bright gold stare. And in the distance, common mergansers, which I always think look like punks, with their spiked up crowns and razor-sharp bills.

But we were looking for northern pintails, a duck I’d never seen in person. And they were nowhere in sight.

Though a bit disappointed, we weren’t at all surprised. You can never pinpoint exactly where a wild animal will be. One day a bird loafing under a bridge, and the next day it can be miles away. But we didn’t give up right away.

We explored the neighborhood and found another bridge up river. And there they were, pintails, fishing in a pool at the mouth of the stream. Their long, thin tails waved in the air and their grey legs flailed as they dipped their heads underwater in search of food. They were a bit too far away to photograph from the car, so I convinced Sharon to follow me over a large snowbank and through the deep snow along the edge of the water, where we stood behind a tree and snapped photos around the trunk with our 100-400mm lenses.

They were big ducks, larger than mallards. The males were handsome, with solid chocolate brown heads that shined with a touch red in the sun. They had long white necks, grey bodies and a black tail that tapered to a thin black point. The females, as usual with birds, were less flashy, their plumage a delicate pattern of light browns and white.

Our fingers froze quickly in the frigid wind, and after about 15 minutes, we retreated to the car, both of us smiling and cursing the weather. Before I write any more, I think I need to make clear that I’m new to the world of wildlife photography. I’m a novice. But I also think I have gathered some knowledge about the activity worth sharing.

When I started photographing animals, it was while hiking. I’d stumble upon an animal by chance, do my best to capture an image of it, and continue on the trail. Over time, I noticed that I was a lot more likely to see animals if I hiked alone. After all, one person makes a lot less noise in the woods than two. So I came to view wildlife photography as a solo activity. However, in the past year or so, my approach has entirely changed. I’ve come to realize that photographing wildlife doesn’t need to be a lonely venture.In fact, I’ve been more successful at finding wildlife and improving my wildlife photos from networking with other photographers and nature lovers. After all, the only reason I got a photo of pintail ducks is because a fellow wildlife photographer named Gail told Sharon about them, and Sharon offered to show them to me. Otherwise, I’d never have known.

In that vein, it was Sharon who suggested I check out MAINE birds, a Facebook group with the purpose to educate the public about birds. The group, which is currently 1,874 members strong, is extremely active. Members post bird photos constantly throughout the day, and people comment, stirring discussions about everything from animal behavior to birding ethics. I’ve learned a great deal about birds and photography just from reading the group’s many posts.

Another popular place for people to network is the Google group “Maine Birds,” where birders post sightings on a regular basis. And then there’s eBird, a website that compiles public bird sightings from all over the world. These networks help wildlife photographers answer the big question: Where do I find wildlife? But there’s more to it than that. I’ve discovered I’m more successful at finding a particular species if I know a little something about it — chiefly, the habitat where it typically hunts or forages for food.

For example, the more I’ve learned about osprey, the easier they’ve been to find. I know what their nests look like and where I might find them — on old dock pilings or atop telephone poles. In the Bangor area, I’ve come to know several osprey nest locations. And when the alewives are running, I know to look to the rivers, especially near dams, where osprey swoop down with deadly accuracy to pluck the eels from the rushing water. Some of that knowledge comes from reading, but mostly, I’ve learned from talking with other wildlife enthusiasts and going out to photograph wildlife with others who are more experienced than I.

It takes time, but all of a sudden, you realize that you’re seeing more wildlife simply because you know where to look. If you’re heading outside today in search for some wildlife, here are a few tips:

  • Find water. The ocean, lakes, ponds, wetlands — these bodies of water all attract a variety of wildlife. If it’s winter time, try to find water that isn’t iced over. And if you find waterfowl there, look up at the trees, you’ll likely find an eagle getting ready to take one for a meal.
  • Crabapple trees and berry bushes are popular spots places in the winter to find a variety of birds, including the colorful cedar waxwings and Bohemian waxwings. And bushes provide shelter to a variety of birds in the cold months.
  • Put up a bird feeder, especially in the winter, to attract a variety of birds (and squirrels). You can also put out suet cakes, which may attract some additional species, such as woodpeckers. And don’t forget to toss some seed on the ground for the ground feeders such as pigeons, crows, mourning doves, etc. If you don’t have room for an avian circus in your backyard, visit a Maine Audubon center or other nature center that puts out feeders.
  • Scan the edges of fields for birds of prey such as owls and hawks. While you typically won’t see most owls until dusk, the snowy owl, which migrates down from the Arctic in the winter, is often active during the daytime. This majestic bird has recently been a big hit among birders in Maine.

Of course, there’s a lot more to wildlife photography than finding animals. Once you have the critter in your sight, you need to make sure not to scare it away.

Respect wildlife and keep your distance. This will require you to have a zoom lens, at least 300mm, if not 400mm. In fact, plenty of wildlife photographers I’ve met have 500mm and 600mm lenses, which cost a pretty penny. Often you can avoid disturbing wildlife if you photograph from within a shelter, such as an observation blind. If you’re photographing from inside your car, you’ll want to turn your car off so the engine doesn’t make your camera vibrate, which will mess up the clarity of your photos.

Many people insist on using tripods, while others shoot by hand or steadying their lens against a stable object. Then you have to judge what settings you need to get a crisp, detailed, well-lighted photo. If you expect the animal to move quickly or fly, you’ll need to use a faster shutter speed to capture the movement without blur.

If the sun comes out from behind a cloud, you need to adjust accordingly. All of these little details are important. And even the seasoned photographer makes mistakes in the excitement of the moment. And then there’s the cold hard truth that wild animals cannot be counted upon to actually show up.

If you decide to pursue wildlife photography, there will be plenty of times when you go out and don’t find a thing. It’s disappointing, but I think it makes finding an animal that much more exciting and rewarding. Lastly, once you start to network with other wildlife photographers, you’ll learn it’s a big community with a lot of talented people. You will see amazing photos, stuff that will make you think in dismay, “I could never produce something like that!” And maybe you won’t.

My best advice for someone looking to get into photographing wildlife is this: Do it because you enjoy it. Don’t do it for money or recognition or success. Do it because you truly enjoy the process, from the hours spent outdoors to sharing your images and experiences with others. Do it because you treasure wildlife and want to learn more about it. That way, I promise you, you can’t go wrong.

Kenduskeag ice scapes

“Are you ready?” asked Phil Gibson, my neighbor and Tennessee native.

“Yup,” I replied.

“Ok, 1, 2, 3″ he counted.

On three, the shutter of my Canon 5d Mark lll clicked off and echoed through the hundreds of pounds of sharp, pointed ice that was hanging over my head.

Immediately, I started firing off a round of flashes trying to evenly back light the massive icicles from where I stood in the cavern that they created.

The camera shutter was set to 30 seconds, so about half way through I carefully crept to the other side of the ice cave, slipping across the ice with every step. There I began firing of flash bursts trying to light the other side.

When it was all done, we had our shot.

The photo was the start of a long-term project about the Kenduskeag Stream that I started working on. The goal is to show a collection of images from the stream over several months. The final product will hang in my gallery, the Feulner Gallery and Studio. My other goal is to raise awareness about the stream, its beauty and its potential as a recreational spot.

Only minutes from Bangor, the stream runs directly through the city. Trails connect the stream from downtown and meander past stunning cliff edges and stream access points. As someone who has walked those trails several times, they’re not maintained as well as they could be and are frequented by people who decide to either sleep along the streams banks or leave their trash in various heaps.

The stream is a treasure and hopefully our work, as dangerous as it might be sometimes, will help to keep it protected.

Covering the 2015 Eastern Maine basketball tournament

To say I shot a lot of basketball last week would be an understatement. In a week and a half span, I shot around 17 games and averaged about 600 images a game.

That’s a lot of basketball. That’s a lot of repetition.

In situations like this it becomes very important to keep pushing yourself to find interesting moments and to keep trying to cover the event in a different way.

Like I said in the The Frame post on the Hermon basketball coach, sometimes the best images don’t come from game action but rather what’s happening off the court.

While game action is important, I don’t necessarily think it is the most important thing at a game. Crowds, coaches, players on the benches usually tell the story better than the person going up for the layup.

High school sports, especially tournament play, are full of emotions. This could be someone’s last game that they ever play. Dejection is just as important as jubilation.

Watching for and knowing where those especially emotional people are is helpful when something big happens.

When I cover basketball I shoot with three bodies, one with a 24-70mm, one with a 70-200mm and the third with a 300mm.  This allows me to see the game in a multitude of ways and allows me to almost be in two places at once.

Though I do move around a good deal while shooting too. From court side, to to top of the arena and everywhere in between. I’m always searching for an interesting angle. It not only keeps me interested but it keeps the photos interesting too.

For the finals on Saturday I mounted a remote camera over one of the nets, similar to the one I did for state cheerleading,  to give a different perspective to viewers after a week of seeing similar images. They turned out better than expected and gave a totally different view on the typical shooting shot that I had seen thousands of times that week.

Large tournaments like this are not only physically but mentally daunting, as is doing anything over and over again in a short period of time. I’m glad the bulk of the tournament is over. I walked away with some interesting photos that I’m pretty proud of.

The Frame: Off-beat sports moments

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BAGNOR, MAINE — 02/13/2015 – Hermon assistant coach Megan McCrum (right) yells instructions to her team during their Eastern Maine Basketball tournament quarterfinal basketball game against Medomak Friday at the Cross Insurance Center in Bangor. Ashley L. Conti | BDN

Part of my job is scouting a room and finding the most expressive person in it. This doesn’t just apply to feature assignments, or spot new, but also sports.

Sometimes you can’t just rely on the action of the game to tell the story. Looking to the benches and the stands gives a different perspective of the game, and helps tell the story even better than the action.

Hermon was up during this point in the game (they ended up winning), but the coaches were still adamant on making sure they won.

I had seen the Hermon assistant coach, Megan McCrum, become very expressive before during that game and knew I wanted to capture her being so.

So, I pointed my camera at her and waited.

Sure enough something happened (I think Hermon fouled Medomak) and she started giving instructions to her team. I started shooting. I fired off 10 or so frames but didn’t really know I had what I had until I started editing.

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Her expression was perfect.

This job is part preparation and part luck. Knowing your surroundings and putting yourself into a position where things are going to happen is key. It doesn’t always work out as planned, but it’s worth it when you are able to walk away with photos like this.

The Frame: Hurdling the competition

Lauren Stoops of Orono High School clears the last hurdle in the 55 meter finals at the Class B indoor track state meet in Lewiston on Monday. Stoops placed second. Troy R. Bennett | BDN
Lauren Stoops of Orono High School clears the last hurdle in the 55 meter finals at the Class B indoor track state meet in Lewiston on Monday. Stoops placed second. Troy R. Bennett | BDN

Indoor track is not an easy assignment for me. The lighting is usually awful and not abundant. All the events overlap each other. I come with a list of students to shoot from the sports desk but they always seem to be competing at once, in different events at opposite ends of the building.

And wow, do they move fast.

When shooting the 55 meter hurdles I’ve developed a routine. I find the student I’m looking for, note their lane, pick a hurdle and prefocus. Then I wait, one eye open, one squinted, saying a silent prayer to the spirit of Barton Silverman.

On Monday, the light was as bad as ever at the Class B Finals in Lewiston. I had the ISO on my camera cranked up to 6400 so I could squeeze something like f2.8 at a 500th of a second out of it. That gave me a razor thin depth of field and just enough stopping power freeze the runner. My camera doesn’t shoot fast, either. I would get one chance at one frame where Lauren Stoops would be in the focus range.

Bang went the starter’s pistol. I heard the tramp of sneakers running at my right ear and the clank of knees on hurdles. I tried not to blink.

Snap.

I got it. It felt good. I didn’t notice the other runner on the ground until later. It added a bit of drama to the frame. I wish her left hand was in the shot, but I’ll take what I can get with indoor track.

Portland Harbor iced over

PORTLAND, Maine — The Fore River and the inner part of Portland Harbor looked positively Arctic on Tuesday morning as sheets and chunks of ice carpeted the normally open water.

Sea birds rested on bobbing, miniature icebergs. A few lobster boats picked their way through the floating mess while others sat, locked-up at their moorings.

“This is more ice than we’ve seen in recent years,” said U.S. Coast Guard Lt. Scott McCann in South Portland. “We’ve had great ice-making conditions.”

The U.S. Coast Guard ice-breaking vessel Shackle prowled up and down the harbor , tearing channels through the frozen water. Its sister ships — Tackle and Bridle — were busy breaking ice elsewhere on the coast.

McCann said records in his office indicate Portland Harbor hasn’t needed ice-breaking since 2004.

All Casco Bay ferries were running on time as of Tuesday afternoon. Passengers gathered at the bow of the Machigonne II on the noon run from Peaks Island for a better view of the ice. One woman said she hadn’t seen as much ice in the ocean since she was in Helsinki, Finland. The ferry showed no signs of trouble getting through the frozen obstacle course.

That’s just the way the Coast Guard wants it, said McCann.

“The Coast Guard wants to make sure it’s not a problem,” said McCann. “We know people want to go out and fish, and make a living.”

Ice cold dredgers

Robert F. Bukaty made photos of a dredging operation on the Royal River in Yarmouth, where they were deeming the anchorage basin and river channel. Bukaty photographed the crew (from Burnham Associates in Salem, Mass.) from shore on a morning when the temperature was minus 8 degrees, and from aboard the barge during a snow storm.

The images show rising sea smoke basking in the orange glow of morning light and a view into of the hard way of working a dredging crew during Maine’s harsh winter.

20% of World Press Photo contest finalists disqualified

World Press Photo is one of the pinnacles of photojournalism contests.

” The 2015 Contest drew entries from around the world: 97,912 images were submitted by 5,692 press photographers, photojournalists, and documentary photographers from 131 countries. The jury gave prizes in 8 themed categories to 42 photographers of 17 nationalities from: Australia, Bangladesh, Belgium, China, Denmark, Eritrea, France, Germany, Iran, Ireland, Italy, Poland, Russia, Sweden, Turkey, UK and USA.” reads the World Press Photo website.

The unfortunate news, however, 20% of the images that made it through the final stages of judging were disqualified due to manipulation.

Time.com ran a piece by Oliver Laurent and Ye Ming, examining the disqualifications.

The World Press Photo website makes their rules on digital manipulation of photos very clear. It states in rule number 12, “The content of an image must not be altered. Only retouching that conforms to currently accepted standards in the industry is allowed. The jury is the ultimate arbiter of these standards.”

11 rules above and at the very top is rule number 1, which states, “The World Press Photo contest is only open to professional photographers and photojournalists.* The photographer’s professional status must be established by providing a document of verification (press card, union membership card, letter of reference or other official document).”

In my opinion, having worked in news industry for decades, there is no need for rule #12 if you have rule #1.

Bottom line, if you are a professional photojournalist telling stories that are presented in the realm of news and documentary coverage you should never be altering your work to change the content of the image.

At the BDN we take ethics very seriously. Using a clone tool or healing brush to erase out an ugly water bottle from a table or moving an airborne football closer to a receiver are just a couple examples of behavior that is strictly prohibited.

Image enhancement also has its limits. While some dodging, burning and sharpening is used to get the image closer to what the photographer saw in the moment, changing it too much inherently changes the content of the image and is also  prohibited.

As a photo editor, it’s sad to see that so many photographers think it’s OK to do this type of manipulation. The worst part is that it can be performed so well now that even the most sensitive eyes can’t see the manipulation without examining the original. And with hundreds of images coming across the screen every week, that task is nearly impossible.

In an already distrustful world of web users, the last thing we as photographers need to do is propel that distrust.

If I have any plea for modern photojournalism, it’s this. Please do not extensively alter your images. It will catch up with you and damage your career. Millions of people in the world wish they could have this job and would give almost anything become great at it. Honor our tradition of ethical visual journalism to keep it a sustainable career. You are not just hurting yourself, you’re hurting me, my colleagues and people who’ve dedicated their lives to sharing the truth.

Here is a link to a gallery of winning work from the competition. 

 

Pownal man faces blizzard while living in his tent during winter

by Robert F. Bukaty

POWNAL, Maine — The fierce winds, 2 feet of snow and frigid temperatures that came with last week’s blizzard paralyzed much of the northeast – but it barely fazed one Mainer who is spending the winter living in a tent.

If anything, the brutal storm did little more than cause Ed Warden to lose some sleep.

“I was up like every hour at night getting the snow off my tent, keeping it off the awnings,” said Warden, 67. “But other than that it was fine.”

Warden is the volunteer camp host at Bradbury Mountain State Park. He doesn’t get paid to live in a tent.  He does it because the camping lifestyle is something he’s been in love with for 45 years.

“When I got out of the military in 1970 I got the bug to just go camping and traveling. I had a Volkswagen minivan and drove up to Alaska. I’ve camped in Hawaii…”

“I just like the outdoor life. I think communing with nature is the key to health and serenity, so that’s what I do. I hang out with nature a lot,” he said.

Warden lives in a heavy-duty 12 x 20-foot outfitter’s tent with 8-foot vestibules attached at either end. At the peak the ceiling is 9-feet high. A small wood stove keeps it comfortably warm inside, consuming about one cord of wood per month.

His site is the only one at the campground that has electricity. He uses it to power a small refrigerator and an old TV someone recently brought him. Warden  hasn’t been able to find a digital converter so only uses the television to watch DVDs.

“I try to keep a balance between the old and the new,” said Warden. “I like modern conveniences but I also like my wood stove.”

The camping lifestyle has taught him to simplify things and learn to make do with what he has and get by with what he doesn’t have – like running water.

“I try not to dirty a whole bunch of pots because it’s harder to clean that up,” said Warden, who gets his water across the street at the ranger’s house.

A hiking trail just a few feet from Warden’s tent sees plenty of day-users who come in the wintertime to snowshoe or walk dogs dog – but few people come to camp this time of year. The last camper at the park departed a few weeks ago. He told Warden that he decided to buy a small trailer and was heading for Arizona.

Warden’s duties as camp host are minimal during the winter.  His primary job is to keep the paths the park’s outhouses shoveled out.

Warden once worked for 10 years as a certified nursing assistant. The experience helped convince him to get back to nature.

“I saw the elderly when they start to go downhill.  It was just too depressing.  I just thought [camping] is what I really wanted to do.”

This is his second winter in a tent at Bradbury.

“My whole goal in life is to be self-reliant on my own piece of land. I’d love to have a greenhouse, my own little garden, and [live in] this tent,” he said.

“I survived 17 degrees below zero before and now I’ve survived 26, 27 inches of snow.  [Last week’s blizzard] was the worst storm I’ve been through.  Then we got more snow on Friday. ”

But winter weather is no big deal to Warden.

“Even if I had to pay I would do it just to camp here,” he said while looking around at the high snow banks.

“I call it my ‘Poor Man’s Paradise’.”