Tuesday of this week, I had an opportunity to spend the entire day in a one-on-one session with Moose Peterson at his home in  Mammoth Lakes, California.  I wanted to learn why my panning had gone so wrong in Alaska and how to keep the subject in focus while I panned.  I know Moose from several photography trips I have taken with him in the past three years and I have improved my photography significantly in that time.  But I still have so much to learn and so much to improve.  My day with Moose was intimidating to some extent because we spent the time in his office surrounded by huge color prints of his photographs which are spectacular.  I know from experience that he asks questions of photographers under his tutelage about why they are doing something and I couldn’t always answer his questions.  But, he determined that the problem I was having was  caused by me…operator error.  With some instruction about how auto focus works and when and why to use various auto focus options I came home with lots of techniques to practice for my many upcoming photography trips.

The plan was to put everything we had discussed into practice in the afternoon and to give Moose an opportunity to evaluate my shooting technique.   When I arrived, the feeders surrounding Moose’s balconies were crowded with nuthatches and chickadees and flickers and grosbeaks.  There were ravens and doves and woodpeckers.  But at some point in the late morning, a sharp shinned hawk appeared, drawn by the potential bounty, and all the birds disappeared.  When it was time to shoot, there was not a bird in sight.  Enter Sadie, Moose and Sharon Peterson’s 10 year old English Beagle.

With my Nikon Df and Moose’s new 300mm super lightweight prime lens, we went outside to his snow covered front yard and Moose tossed treats for Sadie so I could practice focusing and panning.  What I found is that my stance is not well balanced and my grip, Moose believes, is what has caused most of my focusing problems while panning because I tend to grasp the lens touching the focus ring and pressure on the focus ring can cause auto focus not to focus.  The same holds true for my 600mm lens on the tripod because he observed that I rest my hand on the focus ring (and the neoprene lens cover, which is now gone, also contributed to the problem).  I took more than 500 shots of Sadie.  About 3 were marginally in focus.  A few had Sadie entirely in the frame.  Moose looked at every awful shot, tips and tails, blurs, and bad crops.   We found one shot, this shot, that was decent although Sadie probably needed more space around her, but Moose agreed that it was my best shot…he didn’t say it was a good shot, but it was my best in that session.  And, his critique of my eagle and wildlife shots in Alaska was less than complimentary.  All in all, my session with Moose was brutally eye opening for me.

But I am determined to improve, to learn from my mistakes, and to learn how to focus and pan successfully.

Here’s adorable Sadie:


2015—Em Kay Zee

Meet my brand spanking new 2016 Lincoln MKZ in Bronze Fire.  I fell in love with this car after spending several days in my Texas friend Connie’s MKZ while we roamed the Galveston area in search of birds to photograph last spring.  When Consumer Reports rated the MKZ higher than the Lexus in the luxury sedan group, I made up my mind that I would own this car.  Finally, with a little help from Costco’s car buying service, Ford’s year end incentives, and 0% financing, I struck a deal and picked up the car on Sunday afternoon.   During the negotiation process, Future Ford told me that Bronze Fire MKZs were hard to find and they didn’t have any cars in my color in stock.  When I told them I had to have that color, they found one at another dealership but it didn’t have the retractable panoramic roof I wanted.  When I came to my senses and realized that I would probably never use such a feature in Sacramento’s hot summer weather, I “settled” for the moon roof. But as it turns out, I didn’t “settle” for anything, really.  Just what doesn’t this amazing vehicle do?   It came with bells and whistles I didn’t even know were options so when I found them on my new car, I was astonished.   I have much to learn about my new wheels, including its top of the line sound system and its heating, cooling, AND massaging seats!  When I saw the car Sunday for the first time, I realized the Bronze Fire color is almost the same copper color that I loved in 1969 Pontiacs and back then I had wanted that color in my first ever new car, but sadly for me, the 1969 Firebird didn’t come in that color so I bought a gold one instead.  While I loved my Firebird and drove it for 27 years, I think the Lincoln MKZ has taken its place in my heart!  I love my new car.

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2015—Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas!  I got an early Christmas present because my Nikon D800 was fixed sooner than I expected it to be.  I picked it up late Wednesday afternoon, fighting Sacramento rush hour traffic to bring it home.  On Christmas Eve I had to try out the repaired camera and its new Mirror Box with the 600mm lens.  It worked perfectly and the male Anna’s hummingbird cooperated by posing for me at the feeder with his gem-like gorget radiating its glorious colors.

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This little ruby crowned kinglet has been enjoying the nectar at the hummingbird feeders, much to the chagrin of the hummingbirds who stage unsuccessful attacks against the kinglet and its mate who aren’t much bigger than the hummers.  This has been going on for a few weeks and I thought these little birds were the lesser goldfinches until I realized when I looked closely at the bird in this shot that the little interlopers are kinglets.  What this close up shot tells me, though, is that I need to clean my feeders and that I need to adjust the perches so they align better with the feeding stations.

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2015—Small Birds

Most of my bird photos the past couple of weeks have been of eagles so Tuesday afternoon, I went outside with Big Bertha and my new Nikon Df to photograph some of the tiny birds that frequent my yard:  hummers and bushtits.  My D800 is in the shop and needs a new mirror box so I decided to buy the Nikon Df, a camera that I’ve been thinking about getting for almost a year now… it is essentially a Nikon D4 without video.   So far, so good.  I like it!


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2015—Carrières de Lumières

The Carrières de Lumières, a former limestone  quarry in Les Baux de Provence, France, produces art-based multimedia shows that project images of famous paintings set to music.  When I was in France in late 2014, we visited the Carrières de Lumières to see Klimt en Vienne, a show that included Gustav Klimt masterpieces as well as some of his Viennese contemporaries.   Seeing these magnificent works of art projected onto the walls and floors of this enormous quarry, and being completely surrounded by them, is an unforgettable experience that is almost impossible to describe.  Over the weekend, I watched Woman in Gold starring Helen Mirren, one of my favorite actresses, and was reminded that Klimt’s Woman in Gold, which is actually titled Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer,  was one of the masterpieces featured in the Carrières de Lumières show we saw.  I have never featured any of the photos I took there in this blog, so I created a slide show set to Ave Maria by Franz Schubert.  The slide show can only hint at the incredible awe-inspiring experience of a show at the  Carrières de Lumières.   I had to use a high ISO and slow shutter speed to capture these photos and some aren’t in sharp focus.  Many of the people seen in these shots are blurred silhouettes as they moved past my shutter but my traveling companions Joe, Donna, and Charleen appear in a few of the shots and there are even a couple of silhouettes of me as I snapped photos. 


One of the many challenges I faced at the Alaska Chilkat Bald Eagle Preserve was capturing the entire eagle in the frame as it landed.  The eagles tended to congregate far across the river behind a snowbank and, as they landed, part or all of their bodies disappeared.

The first shot is one of the better focused shots that I got of an eagle landing, talons extended, before its legs disappeared behind the snowbank.    I love the look of this eagle, but  I don’t like its position in the frame.  Because the eagle is at the extreme left of the shot, it seems to be jumping out of the frame so I cropped it to an 8 X 10 format to eliminate a little of the excess negative space.  On the other hand, it does become a little mysterious—just what is the eagle leaping at?

The second shot is framed better so I didn’t crop it at all.  And, the eagle was at a place that I could see its entire body as it landed.  I just wish a bit more of its head showed but at least, the part of the eye that is visible is in focus.


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ON Wednesday we visited Kroschel Wildlife Center outside of Haines, AK and Steve Kroschel put his magnificent menagerie of Alaskan wildlife on display for us.  I posted some photos of the lynx here.

The wolverine was almost impossible to photograph.  It didn’t stay still for one second.  To make things more difficult,  we were sprawled awkwardly in the snow with our lenses poked through low holes in the fence, ever vigilant so we could withdraw the lenses quickly should the wolverine suddenly grab one of the lenses or worse yet, poke its snout or paw through the opening.  The wolverine seemed to enjoy playing with Steve in the snow but it also was quite aggressive with him.  I’m not sure if all of his grimaces were for show or if he really did suffer from bites to unmentionable parts of his anatomy.

When Steve suggested he return the wolverine to its enclosure and that we move on to photograph another of his creatures, he told me he’d put on a display with the wolverine and my 600mm lens standing nearby, promising that he would not let the wolverine cause any damage.  I wasn’t really thinking when I agreed to it and fortunately all went as planned, since there was about $20,000 in equipment at risk.  It was only afterward that I got concerned, when Steve told Richard he would hold his camera so he could get something from his camera bag.  Steve suddenly  seemed to be juggling the camera and almost dropped it, taking a half dozen shots in the process.  Richard immediately regained possession of his equipment and none of us let Steve touch our gear after that.  I had planned to Photoshop out the wolverine’s leash and collar, but decided the photograph really spoke for itself.  No damage was done to the fabric collar of my 600mm lens.  Steve held the leash taut and kept the animal from inflicting damage although it seemed to really want to take a bite out of it.

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2015—Not Just Eagles

Haines, Alaska isn’t just eagles.  The exquisite beauty of this mostly pristine and vast landscape is difficult to describe.   I took all of these shots at the Eagle Preserve north of Haines at the edge of the Chilkat River.  There was one small area by the water that we chose every day because it gave us the best view of the eagles and coincidentally was lovely to look at.


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2015—Disaster Strikes

All I wanted for Christmas this year was to capture clear, in focus shots of eagles in flight. After a few false starts, I finally got my camera, lens, gimbal head, and tripod synchronized perfectly to achieve this, assuming the operator was error-free. And, I will admit I have managed to get a few good, error-free shots. I posted some in my blog a couple of days ago. Thursday, though, we almost gave up trying to get anything because the fog was dense and the eagle viewing area was socked in. We hung around a couple of hours hoping for the fog to lift but we finally drove a little further north to see what we could find. While we drove through a Tlingit village and explored snow-covered roads with what appeared to be bear and large cat tracks, the fog started to lift so we returned to our original spot and set up our gear. I easily locked onto an eagle flying directly toward me and fired away keeping the bird in my viewfinder and in focus the entire time as the majestic winged creature came closer and began to fill the frame. When he got too close for the lens to focus, I stepped back and looked at the LCD screen, confident that most of the shots were in focus…and they were. But, disaster seems to have struck my Nikon D800 camera. About half the shots in the series were ruined by what appears to be the shutter curtain obscuring most of the photograph. An out-of-sync shutter curtain became part of the photograph. I looked back and realized this problem started first thing Thursday morning, only less frequently and to a lesser degree. At least I have my D7100 with me as a backup camera.

Here’s what the shots looked like.

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We woke up Wednesday morning to what the Weather App called “winter mix,” a combination of snow and rain. It was a little warmer in Haines than the previous few days have been but outside of Haines, as we drove slowly toward the Chilkat Bald Eagle Preserve at a higher elevation, the rain changed to snow and the road became a snow covered ice rink. After we surveyed the pristine snowfall at the Eagle Preserve, we headed further up the highway to Mosquito Lake Road to meet up with Steve Kroschel of the Kroschel Wildlife Center. More than 30 years ago, Steve worked for Jim White, a friend from my camera club when Jim was a guide in Alaska. Steve now has a wildlife center where he raises native species, including wolverines, silver foxes, pine martens, grey wolves, and lynx. A grizzly is also in residence but Steve told us the grizzly was sleeping. Steve welcomed us at the snow covered entrance with a beautiful silver fox in tow. After a few grab shots of the silver fox, we trudged  up through the deep snow, hefting tripods and long lenses on our shoulders, to photograph the lynx. We were actually too close to use our 600mm lenses and the tripods were impractical.  We lay on the snow outside the enclosure with our shorter camera lenses set into openings in the wire.  What a gorgeous creature the lynx is. And just look at  the size of those feet! Steve loves his animals and they love him but he kept reminding us that they are wild and we must be cautious even when we were outside the enclosures because a paw or a jaw could easily reach through the opening. And, that’s Steve, holding his beloved lynx.

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