Have the itch to get out and take some pictures but the Polar Vortex and knee deep snow has chased you inside? Why not try your hand at some naturally lit still life’s in the warmth and comfort of your home. They are a great way to learn about lighting and can challenge your creative and compositional abilities.
Your first creative challenge begins with prop selection and “styling” of your shot. In this set-up I visualized a high key (white on white) approach with the pears being the dominant visual element. I selected a fluted white bowl with a subtle crackling in the glazing. The fluting and crackle adds subtle visual interest and sophistication without taking attention away from the pears. I then explored various arrangements of the pears within the bowl. Arrange and then evaluate from the cameras position. Experiment with and give careful thought to how everything in the shot is arranged. Don’t settle for the first thing that comes to mind. This will develop your eye for composition and encourage the habit of looking critically at and thinking about what you are photographing. Here’s the lighting set-up (description of how I made the shot below).
(A) is a table or flat surface moved in close proximity to a window. The red arrows show natural light illuminating the set. (B) is a white “sweep” large enough to cover the foreground and background of the image. In this case it was a flat sheet of white foam core. It could have been a white mat board or white fabric. The bowl of pears was then positioned on the set and the camera was positioned based on my “pre-visualization” of the shot (looking down at a 3/4 angle). Here is a test shot made at this point without any further modification of the lighting.
It’s not quite the white on white high key effect I wanted. The shadows are fairly strong on the left hand side and the front of the bowl is in shadow. I would also like to see a little less contrast in the pears themselves. To me, this shot is about subtlety and a soft modeling of the pears, not drama. Rather than trying to achieve this in post processing, we can make these changes in camera by MODIFYING the lighting on the set. This will be accomplished by adding reflectors to fill in or soften the shadows.
Looking back to the setup above, (C) is a folded piece of white foam core placed to bounce the window light (pink arrows) back into the shot to fill in the shadows. The slight fold (score the surface with a knife and then bend) allows the reflector to be free-standing. (D) is a smaller piece of foam core (held in place with a small clamp–these clamps are really useful in studio photography) and it fills in the shadow on the front of the bowl. The size of this reflector is critical. It has to be high enough to brighten the front shadows but not so high that it shows in the shot. The closer the reflector is to your subject the more they will lighten the shadows. Experiment with different positions but ALWAYS check in the camera viewfinder to make sure they do not show in the finished shot. Here is the finished shot with a minimum of post processing.
This simple, one light source exercise can teach you a lot about the nature of light and how to modify it to suit your artistic vision. Consider these points.
*Soft, diffuse window light (cloudy days) favors less contrast with softer shadows and more shadow detail.
*Direct sunlight streaming through the window will be much more dramatic, very contrasty and will emphasize textures.
*Direct sunlight can be modified with sheer curtains or a “POPS” folding circular diffuser.
*Shadows can by brightened by careful use of reflectors
*Natural, diffuse window light is also great for indoor portraits.
There’s a lot you can learn in the comfort of your own home that will serve you well in the field when things warm up. Have fun!!!!
Somehow the kings of weather allowed our trip to go and not only were the roads great for getting out to the Mississippi River, we had a diverse set of lighting conditions every day of shooting. We arrived Friday afternoon to sunny skies which paid off nicely allowing us to shoot in beautiful golden light near the end of the day.
Saturday brought on cloudy conditions but a nice falling snow most the day. These conditions made it tough for seeing the birds and tracking them in flight but on the flip side, when we got it right the images were very unique.
Sunday morning brought the coldest temperatures and with them the steam was rising off the river. This brought out the creativity in the group where some worked hard for silhouette shots to add to their repertoire.
All in all, another great Glances At Nature trip is in the books. Next up will be a trip in warmer conditions after Kirtland’s Warblers, Evening grosbeaks, Black Terns, Osprey and more in Northern Michigan. There is still room, sign up today!!!
I spent some time in the picturesque falling snow on New Years Day hoping for some nice new perching bird shots. I found some fantastic branches with berries in great shape to add interest to my perch. Brrrr it was cold but the time ended up being worthwhile. After getting everything situated, I returned to my hide, the birds quickly returned to the feeder area and with a little patience, I captured this nice American Tree Sparrow image. If this photograph intrigues you and you’re curious to hear more of the “how-to” details, think about signing up for my Perching Songbird Workshop in June!!!
Well, it’s hard to believe it but my 365 day BIGBY journey is over. It’s been a fun evening thinking back to the many exciting moments, painful rides up never-ending hills, disappointing bird misses, and overwhelmingly fun times in the field going after many the exciting bird species. What began as a solo journey quickly turned into a group of guys giving me support every step of the way. Whether it was finding birds, texting and leading me to where birds might be, providing food, temporary shelter and water, my crew was there.
Looking back at 2013, there were many amazing days of riding and birding. In total, I tallied 201 bird species by bike, hike or run beginning and ending at home. I also had one species by car that I never found by bike. That brings my total to 202. This is a Barry County big year record (regardless of means of travel) and was such a stellar year in Barry County, the record will likely stay for quite some time. Amazingly rare birds such as Red Crossbills, Dickcissels, and Bohemian Waxwings created unforgettable journeys. The excitement of getting a Common Nighthawk in street clothes with only three miles total made for a quick BIGBY ride and I will never forget the experience of hearing migrating Thrushes in the black of night as Eldon and I became giddy with excitement.
We’re all a bit sad to see 2013 and this project come to a close but we’re already talking about what challenges 2014 has in store for us. For me, I can tell you that I won’t be doing a BIGBY in 2014. I am, however, toying with the idea of doing a Big Green Big Day in May where I bike all over Barry County in the period of 24 hours to see/hear as many bird species as possible. While this will be a challenge in and of itself, it won’t bring the persistent need for riding at a moment’s notice all year long. 2014 will surely bring fun new challenges and great birding but for now, this chapter is closed.
I hope our readers look forward to the many speaking engagements already lining up for me where I’ll talk about this journey with photos, video, and entertaining stories from the year. For now, happy new year and here’s to another great year of birding!
December has proven to be one of the toughest months for riding in a really long time. Snow during most of the earlier part of the month created icy conditions that seemed never-ending. Following much of the snow was an epic ice storm that has displaced us since Sunday with no idea of when our power will be back on. Tuesday evening I was able to take a break and get a couple nice ice shots at sunset but today finally brought warmer temps to melt the roads enough for riding.
Don’t get me wrong, all of the falling ice made for a challenging ride over to Gull Lake but I made it safely and found the lake open on the north end. Not much to speak of for birds but there were hundreds of Gulls on the Kalamazoo side, well south of the Barry County line. I plan to return again tomorrow afternoon and spend some more time waiting for the possibility of them moving towards the Barry County side.
The good news of the day, however, was a Northern Shrike on my property this afternoon while I was suiting up for the ride. I would still like to get this bird by bike but after the past month, I’ll take anything I can get this late in the game. I am now officially at 201 total species for the 2013 BIGBY.
We’re without power right now because of the ice storm and I’ve been waiting for the sun to come out and light up the ice-covered trees. While the freezer and fridge were being powered by the generator this evening, the sun popped out beneath the clouds, I ran out with my gear and found anything I could that looked appealing. It’s not much but it was a nice break from the woes of a cold dark house. We hope everyone has a great Christmas!!!
As 2013 winds down to a close, I’ve already begun work on a killer program to tell the story of my amazing BIGBY adventure. Thursday, I gave a brief presentation at a Michigan Audubon social showcasing what this BIGBY was all about and shared a couple of my more memorable stories so far. The intro video below is something I’ll be using to build hype for speaking engagements in 2014. Enjoy!!!
307 days ago, I decided to take on the birds of Barry County by bike. Today, I reached my goal of 200 individual species. For those that think I’m done, let’s not forget there are 58 days left! I won’t lie, it feels a bit more comfortable knowing I’ve hit my goal but now I turn to smoking past 200 any way I can.
Today started unexpectedly to say the least. I was driving towards Nashville and saw a flooded field with a half dozen Killdeer that caught my eye. You never know so I turned around and gave the group a closer look. Good thing, a single Dunlin was mixed in with them and that was a bird I’ve been looking all over the county for. Our original plan for today was to all meet at Hidden Pond to do some hawk-watching. We all hoped for a fly-by Golden Eagle but after finding this Dunlin, plans would change.
While gearing up, however, I received a call from Jack and Eldon they’d found four Dunlin on Otis Lake which is only one mile from Hidden Pond. I decided to change plans yet again and head their way. Ideally, I would get the Dunlin at Otis and then we’d all move down to Hidden Pond so as to not lose out on some hawk-watching but it didn’t happen. The birds took flight 10 minutes before my arrival. After all of us looked and looked for an hour, no Dunlin were re-found.
We decided to part ways and start over knowing I still had a shot for a Dunlin, IF my bird from the morning hadn’t left. Arriving home I put some dry socks on, had a light lunch, changed over to my time trial bike (a.k.a. the rocket) and hit the road again. The miles ticked by and before I knew it I was on the site again, almost five hours after first finding the bird.
Today was a special day that required my crew to be there. Plans were made and changed a couple times but knowing what “could” be possible today, my crew was there regardless. I could NOT have reached this goal without them. It was exciting that I found this particular bird and many others as well but the birds that Jack and Eldon have found for me have added up significantly all year. And let’s not forget the many misses I had requiring several re-attempts in some cases. Jack and Eldon bird every day and the days they could have been birding in different areas, they just didn’t because they were so committed to making sure I got the birds I needed.
The sag support and filming my dad has provided has kept me going day in and day out and his hard work is the key to remembering and telling this story. I started by myself in January. I very quickly found a team behind me all with one goal in mind. 200 species. More than 1500 miles later, with 44 miles ridden today WE hit that goal. What a day it was…
On the way home, I passed two different horse-and-buggies. It just seemed fitting to get a fun picture. I’m sure there is an unbelievable amount of research and technology in the bike I was riding, not to mention the clothing on my back. It was kind of cool cruising alongside something so simple that hadn’t changed in centuries.
For now, my goal of 200 species is in the bag. For those wondering, that includes 197 by bike plus three incidental species seen at home. I leave you tonight with one last sweet shot of me cruising on my TT bike. Tomorrow may just bring number 201. Stay tuned to see…
In the past week, I’ve only been able to ride two times but oddly enough both journeys were successful. That sounds simple but both birds required several attempts and the little guy I added this evening took so many attempts, they date back to January!
Last week I was able to snag American Pipits while riding up to Pierce to meet Kara and Lillian for a nice walk. This was not the bird I was after that day but a very welcome sight. I’ve been stopping at countless cut farm fields over the past few weeks looking for these guys. I think we’ll get more as Fall continues and the harvests press on. This is yet another drab bird but when looking at them in nice lighting, they can be beautiful.
The bird I’ve ridden countless time after, including rides all the way back to January is a Winter Wren. Jack seems to be the master of Winter Wrens and almost every individual he’s found, I’ve gone after and always have been unsuccessful. Even knowing that, he continues the hunts and speedy texts any time he finds one. Today brought a break in the rainy weather and a gracious wife willing to pick up Lillian allowing me to ride. I hit the road despite having a cold and knowing the strong West winds with temps in the 40s would be painful.
As always, Jack insisted on meeting me and helping out the cause so I told him I’d see him at 5:20. As I arrived, I saw a familiar sight; Jack checking his watch to see how close I was to my time prediction. It seems to be our game. He smiled and yet again couldn’t believe how accurate I was arriving at 5:20 and 10 seconds. haha. One of these days he’ll realize I’ve done this once or twice before. =) Not to continue laboring on, we had a lovely short walk and this time my good luck charm was most definitely Jack. The bird popped into view very close to where he had it this morning and I had my bird. FINALLY!
I made it home and there was just enough Penzey’s hot chocolate mix for one more cup. I inhaled it and boy did it feel good on my throat. I quickly turned to making a fire in our brand new family room. This is one more time I’m thankful for the long days and evenings working on this project. For those continuing to keep track, the three incidental house birds along with my massive list by bike brings me to………….199 BIGBY birds. Wow…Seriously…Wow. I now have just over two months to get one more bird and obtain my goal set over 10 months ago. It’s going to be a tough single bird but it’s most definitely possible.
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