2019—Taking Up the Challenge

After listening to Moose Peterson’s Podcast #135 I took up the Self-Assignment challenge he describes in that podcast, one he had years ago in photography school:

Each day for a week, take a new photo of a salt and pepper shaker, with no two photos alike except that each photo must include the same salt and pepper shaker.

I thought this was a great way to challenge myself to improve my photography, and, as he put it in his podcast, to compete against myself, not others. I used three different lenses (105mm f/1.4; 105mm f/2.8 Micro, and 70-200 f/4); manual mode so I could completely control all aspects of exposure; a tripod because the shutter speeds were slow, ranging from 1/30 second to 4 seconds; and except for the first and last shots, one or more flashes. I had a great time planning and executing each shot but the challenge forced me to stretch well outside my comfort zone. The challenge helped me better understand placement of external light sources to achieve the effect I sought. It forced me to figure out what it takes to create certain optical illusions. It illustrated the need to think “outside the box” so that the photographs would be unique and perhaps provocative. For all but one of the photographs, I had to create a “studio” setup instead of using a natural setting and natural lighting as I normally do.

Here, then, is my take on “A week in the life of Salt ‘n’ Pepa:”

Day 1 (Nikon D850, Nikkor 105mm f/1.4 )

Day 2 (Nikon D850, Nikkor 105mm f/1.4, SB 5000×2 )

Day 3 (Nikon D850, Nikkor 105mm f/2.8 Micro, SB 5000)

Day 4 (Nikon D850, Nikkor 105mm f/2.8 Micro, SB 5000×2 )

Day 5 (Nikon D850, Nikkor 105mm f/1.4, SB 5000×3 )

Day 6 (Nikon D850, Nikkor 70-200mm f/4, SB 5000×2 )

Day 7 (Nikon D850, Nikkor 70-200mm f/4)

2019—Bullock’s Oriole

South Texas is home to lots of beautiful and colorful birds. This is a young male Bullock’s Oriole. Mature adult males are orange. Females are also yellow but they lack the black patch under the beak. Its colors make a striking contrast to the whitish leaves of the plant it perches on. I am not sure what this plant is. My searchs of native shrubs and trees in South Texas came up empty.

Nikon D5, Nikkor 500mm PF

2019—Menacing, But Drab

This juvenile Crested Caracara extends its talons to grasp onto a dead branch as it comes in for a landing in South Texas a couple of weeks ago. Juveniles lack the bright orange coloring on their faces and legs that adults have, so this bird looks rather drab by comparison. Menacing, but drab.

Nikon D5, Nikkor 500mm PF lens.

2019—Spot of Yellow

At Magee Marsh, the bright and colorful Yellow Warblers were easiest to spot in the busy brush surrounding the boardwalk and I was most successful photographing these tiny birds. This is a male Yellow Warbler that I photographed on our last morning at Magee Marsh. It was one of the last photographs I took before we packed up and left for the airport on Saturday.

Nikon D5, Nikon 1.4 Teleconverter, 500mm PF lens.

2019—Black Vulture

Black Vultures are very similar to the Turkey Vultures that I’m used to seeing where I live but without the red skin on their faces. The gray skin makes them somehow less repulsive than Turkey Vultures. This Black Vulture just landed near our blind in South Texas. The vultures compete with Crested Caracaras for carrion and road kill.

Nikon D5, Nikon 1.4 Teleconverter, 500mm PF

2019—Water Draws

One of the distinguising features at the blinds at the Santa Clara Ranch in South Texas is that each blind has a watering hole. The area is so dry and parched that water is a prime draw for all of the wildlife in the area. Mammals like Eastern Cottontails, Thirteen-lined Squirrels, Coyotes, and Javelinas come to bathe and drink and of course, local birds are drawn to the water feature as well. This male Golden-fronted Woodpecker, a bird that lives in Texas and south of the border, spent quite a bit of time slaking his thirst at the water hole. Every other time I saw this bird, he was in a tree, usually hammering on a tree trunk, so watching him drink was quite interesting. A storm was coming in so the wind was ruffling his feathers.

Nikon D500, 500mm PF Lens.

2019—Whirling Dervish of the Skies

One of the most amazing and entertaining spectacles that we witnessed from the blinds in South Texas was the mating flight of the Bronzed Cowbird. One of the less charming characteristics of cowbirds is a behavior in which cowbirds lay their eggs in the nests of other species and leave the other birds to incubate and rear their young. I was surprised to find their elaborate mating displays with its ritual movements are almost charming enough to overlook their distasteful breeding behavior. I was lucky to photograph this event twice while in Texas. Seeing the male Bronzed Cowbird start to puff his head and shoulder feathers in the presence of a nearby female signaled me to get my camera ready. The male bird rises up a foot or two off the ground and whirls like a Dervish all the while keeping his eye on the female. The ritual lasts about 8 to ten seconds and then he drops out of the air. I was impressed. But, in both instances I photographed, the female just walked away. His efforts were for naught.

Here’s a sample of the ritual flight. Nikon D5, 500mm PF

2019—Green Jay

Among the main bird attractions at the Santa Clara Ranch in South Texas are the Green Jays. In fact, the stylized logo of Santa Clara Ranch features a Green Jay. I have always loved jays for their gregarious nature, their intelligence, their devilish behavior, and their beauty. Green Jays are stunning to look at, the most colorful of jays. And, they are jays, through and through. At least one pair was building a nest nearby but they were secretive about it. Although I saw them with nesting material, I never saw where they took it to work on their nest.

Nikon D5, Nikkor 500mm PF

2019—Narrow Depth of Focus

My newest lens is the AF-S Nikkor 105 f/1.4E ED. Right now, Nikon has some super deals on cameras and lenses. Since I’ve been thinking about getting this lens for a while now, I decided now was the time to spring for it. The 105 f/1.4 is a beautiful lens and wide open, at f/1.4, the depth of focus is so narrow that only about an inch or so of the subject is in focus. My Red-lored Amazon Parrot, Bobo, was my first test subject and in most of the shots I took, when her beak faced me, while her eye was in focus, the beak was was out of focus. In this shot, she turned slightly so that her eye and her beak are in the same plane so both are in focus. The light is window light from the left side of her cage and I wanted the cage to disappear as much as possible so I set a minus exposure compensation to get this effect.

Nikon D850, Nikkor 105 f/1.4