Anhinga and the Bottle Brush

Just like every good movie has a great actor and strong supporting actor, every great Nature photo reads the same way. This female anhinga is a regal and fascinating bird with striking feathers and an unusual ability (for a bird) to swim underwater. But this contrasting and colorful setting, the bottlebrush tree makes this image sing.

Female anhinga perches in the Bottle Brush tree, lakeside, in Naples, Florida.

As I adjusted my ISO to 1250 and focused on the bird, my friend Cecil said quietly to me, “That’s the money shot.” Thank you, Cecil.

Brown Pelican in Action

I have often tried to photograph the Brown Pelican in action: taking off, landing, flying, fishing but they are so fast moving that it is difficult to track, focus and release the shutter in time to capture a crisp image. But you know what they say: stick with it, and “luck comes to the well prepared” photographer.

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With my Nikon D800 (with 600mm of glass) mounted on a tripod and focus fixed on this Brown Pelican, I captured this image of his outstretched wings.

I have always loved the Brown Pelican, because their grace belies their large stocky body, and they are quiet birds who frequent the beach. It is fascinating to watch them dive-bomb fish by careening straight down into the ocean to stun the fish and later scoop them up in their large beak, letting the whole fish glide into their ample pouch.

After a brief stop on the sandbar, off the Brown Pelican goes again, revealing another view of those huge wings.

This bird photography adventure took place at the J. N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge on Sanibel Island, Florida.

Sweet Pelican Landing

“Mind if I join you?” is the quote that comes to mind. There is something about this clumsy looking, yet actually graceful pelican landing that I find endearing. Brown pelicans are huddling in close quarters on this rookery island to spend the night.

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In the golden light of sunset, pelicans, ibis, cormorants and herons make room for one another on this popular rookery island.

It is a privilege to watch all of these graceful birds flock to the island in Rookery Bay (near Naples, Florida) at sunset. This close up is a cropped image, captured with a 200mm Nikon lens. We are not as close as we appear, and we stay silent to avoid disturbing this natural daily migration.

The sunset Eco-cruise is provided by the Southwest Conservancy. Buy your own ticket online at conservancy.org.

Looking for Color

Today I’m returning to snowy Pittsburgh where the sky may be overcast, and ice coats the sidewalks. As I board the plane in Florida, I remember my afternoon at the Naples Botanical Garden when my friend Marjorie walked around the lake on the lookout for alligators. I told Marjorie that I was admiring the textures of the grasses and pines. Marjorie replied, “I’m looking for color.” A few minutes later, I spotted this brilliant red orchid growing in the limbs of a tree. I liked the way the smooth white bark of the three tree limbs framed the plant.

This blooming orchid gave us a brilliant splash of primary colors, a wish come true.

Georgia O’Keeffe Inspired

When you think of Florida, you probably think of beaches, baseball and golf. Or maybe Disney, tennis and retirees. Right now it’s snowing and cold in much of the United States, but in Florida the landscape is green and warm and teeming with life. In a typical day here, I observe numerous birds, lizards, turtles, alligators, and fish. In any case, when you think of Florida, you don’t think of dead trees…unless perhaps you think of hurricanes.

Lover’s Key State Park has a white sandy beach, lots of shells and birds and people with beach towels and coolers, but it also has a number of dead trees. They stand boldly on the beach where they have tried to survive hurricanes and all manner of wind and weather. While their leaves and branches are long gone, several trunks still stand tall, reminding us of our mortality and the circle of life.

These dry, white tree trunks stand tall in the Florida sky, framing the first quarter moon.

Looking through my viewfinder to see the moon in the composition, I liked the simplicity of the blue and white image. The stark tree trunks reminded me of the skulls that Georgia O’Keeffe painted in New Mexico. I think that O’Keeffe liked the simple sculptural shape of the white, dessicated skulls, and she also probably thought about that unpopular subject, the short term nature of our lives.

Along the Teton Fault

Did you ever wonder why the Grand Tetons rise straight up out of a flat valley? The Teton Fault separates two tectonic plates at the foot of the mountains. For the past 10 million years, the mountains have inched up to 13,700 feet, while the flat valley floor has sunk to its current level at 6,800 feet above sea level, according to the National Park Service.

During the Ice Age glaciers moved south from Yellowstone region, filling the valley and then eroding the mountains into jagged peaks and melting into lakes. All of this geology history tells a fascinating story too gradual for us to observe, but we can observe the changing seasons and fall color.

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The valley floor appears golden in late September along the Teton Fault in Jackson Hole, Grand Teton National Park.

Do the colors in this scene leave you feeling uplifted?

(The facts in this blog were provided by the National Park Service.)

A Meadow Full

A meadow full of lupines stretch far into the dark edge of the woods. Here are a few compositional tips.  When you frame a photograph, it is a good idea to consider the foreground, middle ground and background, letting the foreground elements lead your eye through the frame.

Shallow depth of field makes the three well lit lupines in the foreground stand out. The countless lupines in the middle ground tells the story that the meadow stretches out a long way, and the dark background at the upper left allows the eye to exit.

Did you notice the star shaped leaves in the lower center? This helps to balance the composition. Did you notice the lack of distracting elements — Nothing that distracts or detracts from the main subject?

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Where does your eye go first in this composition?

As you consider these factors of light, fore/middle/background, S curves, shapes, lack of distractions and depth of field, you are well on your way to learning how to create a dynamic (rather than a static) image.