With no big bucket-list travel plans on the horizon, I thought I might spelunk my archives and relive some old adventures. Here's hoping we all get to explore further fields again some day! This story is inspired by this week's Art of Birding photo challenge, which is "one from the archives." It's all about the time we visited the Galápagos Islands - a huge, wonderful and scary adventure we undertook in 2014. I'd not travelled for years and never intrepidly - this was well out of my comfort zone! It took much arm-twisting and encouragement from the lovely Lynn. But I'm so glad I took the plunge, not least of all because it sparked a love of wildlife photography. Because it was a photography trip, that was the impetus to buy my first decent camera (ironically most people on the trip were not photographers). It was a pivotal trip in my first steps towards becoming an artist, although I didn't know it at the time. Thanks Lynn and thanks Tui for a trip of a lifetime!
Lynn also twisted the arms of other Zealandia-associated people, making for a lovely, friendly group of people to travel with, along with a few brave souls from other parts of the world who found themselves surrounded by kiwi bird-nerds. Leaving from Ecuador, we flew to the islands and set sail on a little boat for an 11 day cruise. We each chose a “spirit animal” that we most wanted to see. I chose the Blue-footed Booby – a most ridiculous and improbable bird with bright blue feet and intricate courtship rituals, which involves showing off said feet and offering sticks to their beloved.
We learned so much from the amazing Tui de Roy - the wildlife photographer leading the tour - and a Galápagos native. My biggest take-home was to get on-level with my critter and not take “roadkill” shots looking down on them. That sometimes involves getting down in the sand and dirt, but we were also fortunate to get great angles on albatross that were launching themselves off a cliff face.
Landings on the islands are strictly controlled and timed. Because we were a photography tour, we got the early morning and late afternoon slots, which made for fabulous light (though some very early starts!).
The hardest outing, but the most rewarding, was getting out to the waved albatross colony, which involved walking a couple of km over pebbly rocks - exhausting! The albatross are amazing, and so beautiful with their delicate patterning and big eyes. We got to see their courtship rituals where they mimic each other in a choreographed dance, usually with a competitor looking on. My favourite shot from the entire trip is the one above.
I was blown away to see flamingos up close, peacefully feeding in the shallows. Such stunning birds. They're not endemic to the islands, but it was the first time I'd ever seen one.
Getting up close was a theme of the trip. Most of the birds evolved without seeing humans as a threat. We were able to walk through their breeding colonies and if we kept quietly to ourselves, they simply didn't give a shit that we were there. There was no need for a super long lens or tripod on this trip! Most of these photos were taken with a 35-100mm or 100-300mm zoom (4/3rds camera).
The Galápagos are filled with improbable critters, and the stories of their evolution are fascinating. Possibly the most improbable though is the Galápagos penguin - yes a penguin - found in the tropics at the equator! Curiously, the waters around the islands are cold due to the Humboldt current, which brings cold water up from southern Chile. This photo is a wee bit blurry because the zodiac was pitching up and down.
Another improbable bird was the short-eared owl that lives in cavities out on the volcanic flats - this was Lynn's spirit bird. We only spotted one once it started flapping its wings frantically.
It's always problematic to take long-haul travel to visit rare and endangered birds, but the Galápagos can only afford to look after these precious ecosystems with the money they get from tourism. It's a delicate balance with no easy answers. If you do get the opportunity to go, do go - there's nothing else like it on earth. But do your research first and choose your tour operator carefully to ensure they put the welfare of the critters first (Lynn did just this, and chose brilliantly!)
Next story, I'll show you some amazing birds from the side-trip we took to the Bella Vista Cloud Forest in Ecuador - just as amazing and totally different!
A P.S. about pottying and intrepid travelling...
One thing tour operators are often bad at is telling you how much fitness is needed for a trip and practical things like how long the walks are and how often you'll get a potty break - information I need before committing to a trip. People who have chronic illnesses can manage quite intrepid travelling if fully informed and well prepared. Fortunately the folk at Galapagos Travel were super helpful and allayed all my concerns.
If you're thinking of touring the Galápagos, know there are no loos on most of the islands, so you need to hold on for a couple of hours (most outings were for no longer than that). Most of the islands are covered in scrubby bush, so there's no ducking behind a tree, and even if you don't mind hanging it all out, it's discouraged. I managed by giving up coffee (a diuretic) before the trip, and only having a proper drink once we returned from the morning's outing. I only took judicious sips of water while out walking, just enough to avoid dehydration. I also had an emergency pee/poo/puke bag filled with absorbant crystals that could be used for emergencies, but thankfully never had to use it (pick them up online or from a travel/outdoors store for the peace-of-mind if nothing else).
Typically there were three things to do each day: a morning excursion, an afternoon snorkel, and a late afternoon/evening excursion. Some of the excursions were just cruising in the zodiacs and some involved getting out and walking. I usually chose just two of the three events a day to manage my energy levels and stayed on the boat otherwise. I didn't miss out on any show-stopper outings, and cleverly avoided climbing the volcano in the mist to not get a view and not get covered in mud 😂. I was converted to small boat cruises as a way to travel - you only unpack the once, and it's easier to skip an outing because you know you're not going to be left behind!
Happy to answer any questions you may have about travelling in the Galápagos in the comments below...
It's all about dreamy backgrounds...
This week on the Art of Birding Wildlife & Nature Photography Challenge, we're tackling bokeh and blur. When I was first starting out as a photographer, I adored photos with a dreamy, buttery smooth background and a subject in sharp focus. But I struggled to replicate the look.
I eventually discovered there is more than one way to achieve it. Two techniques are free and the other costs lots of money. Let's chat about the free ones first!
Regardless of your camera, its settings, and your abilities, its possible to get out-of-focus backgrounds by being smart. No you don't need to get into the physics of why (but it is interesting if that's your thing). The secret is to get your subject close to the camera and ensure the background is waaaay in the distance, like in this photo of a tūī. This was taken at Zealandia (if you're familiar with the sanctuary) on the path leading from the Takahē lawn up to the Weka fence. To the right, the bank falls away to the wetlands There are scrubby trees at eye-height on the edge of the path and below and beyond them are the low-lying wetlands. In the distance are the green hills of the steep West Scarp. I love shooting here! If a bird lands on top of the nearby trees, the background is far, far away and creates a beautiful green blur pretty much regardless of the settings.
You can increase your chances of success by paying attention to your aperture, rather than shooting on Auto. Learning a bit more about how your current gear works may save you an expensive purchase. You want the aperture to be as wide as possible. This decreases the range that will be in focus. To get a wide aperture, you'll need to switch to Aperture priority mode (A or Av) or Manual mode, and set the aperture to the smallest number that the lens allows.
<pedant mode on>For the pedants out there, yes I know that it's actually 1 over the number, and so its the biggest number, but the reality is that people refer to just the denominator.</pedant mode off>
[Update Oct 16, 2020] At the above-mentioned location at Zealandia recently, I took a series of photos in Aperture-priority mode with my 100-400mm lens (set at 400mm) as if there was an interesting bird sitting on the foreground branches. (In this mode, as I changed aperture, the camera automatically changed shutter speed and ISO to ensure the same exposure for all photos in the series). For each photo I narrowed the aperture by a couple of clicks. The largest aperture on this lens is f/5.6, which is not that great but given how far away the background is, it still gives a nice blur. Even at f/18 the background is still nicely defocused (although its unlikely you'd want to use f/18 for wildlife).
You'll start having more reliable success if your lens is capable of apertures like f/1.4 and f/2.8. If you're using a 4/3rds or APSC camera, rather than a full-frame camera, the effective aperture will be narrower (ie the amount of blur will be lessened) even with wide-aperture lenses (this was a sad realization with my 4/3rds camera when I got an f/1.4 lens and I still wasn't getting that blur).
If you find you're frustrated by your gear, even when being smart about how you're shooting, this is when you start considering getting a lens that has a wide aperture. And usually when you start gulping when you look at the price and the weight. They're expensive and they're heavy. Don't consider getting one until you've exhausted all other techniques, such as the ones above, and that you understand what aperture and focus depth mean (otherwise you might not get the best out of your expensive purchase). But if you're serious about getting that look and having the ability to get it when you want it and not just when the conditions allow, it's well worth it. I must admit, I've drunk the KoolAid and don't regret it for a second.
One more affordable option that's worth considering is a Lensbaby lens, like one of the Velvet or Sweet lenses. Not only do they have wide apertures, but they also allow for special effects and can be a lot of fun to play with. You need to manually focus them though. They really are a lot of fun and you can even get them for your iPhone.
And finally, a fun thing to try is making patterned bokeh. You can buy Lensbaby templates to do this, or you can go old-school and cut up some cardboard to fit over the end of your lens. Simply cut a pattern like a heart or a star, ensure the edges are taped so no light sneaks around the edges, and set up a scene with your subject close to the camera and the background far away. Set the aperture to wide if you can. The key is to have something sparkly in the background like the Christmas tree lights in the photo above. You'll need to experiment a bit and you might have to manually focus, but if you succeed, your Christmas cards will be sorted this year!
If you try out any of these techniques, do leave a comment and let us know how you got on.
This fella cracks me up! I can just imagine him out for a moonlit stroll chortling away to himself. I don't know what the joke is, but it's a good one. Listen out, if you're in kiwi territory, for their distinctive snuffling and snorting as they go about their business.
It's not easy to get good kiwi pukupuku (little-spotted kiwi) photos - they are nocturnal after all. But I was fortunate to get the opportunity to photograph this chap during the day as he foraged for grass grubs. Conservation staff thought he was likely in a territory dispute, so rather than take on his foe, he decided to take the peaceful option and forage in the daytime instead. It was such a rare opportunity that I shot a couple of thousand photos! And I couldn't resist reimagining him in a more familiar night-time scene.
More typically, photo opportunities are at night and lit by red torchlight (converting to black and white is the only option). Shutter-speeds are slow and ISO is high, making for a grainy photo with motion blur. Despite these limitations, I do love the above photo with the oversized shadow in the iconic kiwi shape.
I've been fortunate to be involved with some of the kiwi research at Zealandia EcoSanctuary, helping out Andrew Digby (before he became a kākāpō and takahē guru) and Helen Taylor. I never did get to see a kiwi chick, but I did get to see many adults. A highlight was watching a fight late one night, with the two kiwi "beak-fighting" like they rapiers.
We (literally!) dug kiwi out of their burrows during the day for health checks. This provided some unique opportunities to get close-up photos of their tiny wings and their huge eggs.
Helen's research suggests that all is not well for kiwi pukupuku. Despite their breeding success at Zealandia, Kāpiti, and other places around New Zealand, they are descended from only a handful of birds. This genetic bottlenecking decreases the fertility of each generation and lowers their genetic diversity. Helen's research has been instrumental in helping conservation organizations get a handle on how many individuals are needed to successfully translocate a species to a new home.
If you found this page because you're after kiwi photos, I've donated a number to Wikimedia Commons with a CC-BY-4.0 licence which means they're free to use with attribution. Links to my fine-art prints featuring the kiwi are below, with sales supporting conservation at Zealandia.
Fine art prints featuring kiwi pukupuku
A real kiwi joker (kiwi pukupuku)
Out for an early evening stroll under a rising moon, our kiwi friend is chuckling to himself - I wonder what the joke is?
10% of the artist's proceeds goes to Zealandia EcoSanctuary to support their conservation efforts.
Price includes 15% GST for New Zealand sales.
Also available as an 80cm print, on enquiry.
kiwi pukupuku, little-spotted kiwi, Apteryx owenii
After midnight (kiwi pukupuku)
A snuffle, a rustle, then a ghostly image appears, silvery light dappling over his fluffy feathers - this is the rare and endangered kiwi pukupuku (little-spotted kiwi) out for a moonlit stroll. Long cat-like whiskers and a heightened sense of smell ensures this kiwi will find a tasty dinner.
10% of the artist's proceeds goes to Zealandia EcoSanctuary to support their conservation efforts.
Price includes 15% GST for New Zealand sales.
kiwi pukupuku, little-spotted kiwi, Apteryx owenii
Some people dislike the holey nature of kawakawa (Piper excelsum), but I think it gives this under-rated native shrub some personality. Each leaf is uniquely carved out by the every-hungry kawakawa looper moth caterpillar. The birds adore the fruit and I adore a nice cup of peppery Kawakawa Fire tea.
It's week 2 in the 2020 Art of Birding challenge, and it was a simple one - to get inspired by leafy greens. Though my apologies to our snowed-in Northern Hemisphere participants who had much more of a challenge on their hands. I'm so glad so many of you were able to uncover some evergreen leaves.
400mm, f2.8, 160s, ISO 400, 0EV
I love taking photos of leaves, and often use them in my art by overlaying them with textures and collaging them to make leaf arrangements. Some examples are:
Do you have a favourite leaf?
For more years than I can count, I've felt compelled to tell the stories of our precious wildlife, through photography, art, and writing. In late 2017, after completing the 52-week 2017 Dogwood photography challenge, I was in the market for a new challenge, but one focused more specifically on wildlife. I also wanted to encourage my Zealandia "Storyteller" volunteer team to push themselves further too. But I couldn't find anything suitable. Rather than giving up, I realized that I could just make up my own challenges and that perhaps others might be interested in joining me. So just before New Years, I came up with the Art of Birding 2018 Wildlife & Nature Photography Challenge and put it out there for the world to join
And not only do we have a calendar, but through October and November, selected and additional photographs and longer stories from the calendar will be on exhibition in the Zealandia Stairwell Gallery. Come and find out why we love Zealandia so much!
With stories by Louise Slocombe, Vanya Bootham, Chris Gee, and Lynn Freeman, and photographs by Janice McKenna, Hayley May, Andrew Hawke, Linton Miller, Chris Gee, Lynn Freeman, Brendon Doran, and myself, there is something of interest for everyone.
And now the 2019 calendar is sorted, I'm already thinking about 2020 - what would you like to see featured?
The volunteer Storytellers' support Zealandia's fundraising efforts with the calendar and postcards, amongst many other activities. Individual artists and photographers also have high-quality prints and photographs available in the store. Proceeds from sales go directly to support Zealandia's not-for-profit conservation and restoration efforts.
I'm going to take you behind the scenes of what has been one of my most popular posts on social media recently and let you in on how it came about... I know it has been puzzling some folks...
It was a typical Sunday morning, mid-winter at Zealandia, on our regular photowalk and we had just reached the pontoon to spend some time with the kāruhiruhi families as they went through their morning rituals. The low sun was just starting to break around the corner, back-lighting the birds and sparkling the dew still hanging on the leaves. Then the rays hit the chilly lake and ethereal mist began rising. For once I was delighted to have lost the battle as to who had the 24-70mm and who had the 100-400mm lens!
The magical misty light hung around for only a few minutes; just enough time to take a bunch of photos with the wrong settings and then to figure out something that might work better and to hopefully get a nice shot. And the photos were indeed "nice," but not much more and I put them aside. On returning to them some months later, I realized that there was no one shot that had everything, but with some judicious compositing I could create a scene with a story.
I know some people have assumed that this image is a single photograph and have puzzled over how I got the shot, so I'd like to set the record straight, so to speak. And in one sense it is "just a photograph," far less messed about with than some of my images. But I believe that adding artistic licence and liberating oneself from pure photography, it's possible to more accurately capture a moment experienced and to share that emotion.
So what did I do? Four very similar photos went into this image - each was selected for what the birds were doing over the course of just 5 minutes. One was swimming making a spiral of ripples, two youngsters were looking excitedly into the water, another was "hanging out the washing to dry", and others were looking with anticipation into the new day. No one photo showed all that happening and there was no time to wait until they simultaneously did something - the mist was fading too fast. Choosing one photo as the main image, I did a first pass through camera raw to make basic adjustments to the exposure and lighting. I then carefully masked, adjusted with camera raw, and composited in the alternative birds to create a more interesting version of the scene. Then came a little bit of secret sauce; using Topaz Impression to add in a silky, painterly feel at a lowered opacity over the image, and then layering painted textures using soft-light blend modes to subtly change the lighting. When viewed at full size, the more painterly feel is much more apparent. A couple of passes through adjusting highlights and shadows and spot-healing distractions completed the image.
Do you like this image more or less now that you know how it came to be? Do you feel cheated and that it somehow isn't real? Does it take away the magic knowing what was added and how it was made? Or do you feel like you've seen through my eyes and into my soul? Have we shared a moment?
What an incredible week for wildlife lovers in Wellington! Our first blessing was a kiwi pukpuku (little-spotted kiwi) out foraging during the day at Zealandia. Finally a chance for some photos under good conditions! Although quite unusual behaviour for a nocturnal bird, he seems healthy and is feeding well. There looks to be plenty of grass grubs on offer. Speculation is that he may have lost his territory to a competitor so is feeding during the day to minimize conflict. I wonder too if his vision has deteriorated further (he has a known eye issue) and he might not be able to tell day from night anymore - kiwi don't have strong vision, relying far more on smell and hearing, so it's not necessarily a problem for him. A visitor asked me if perhaps he should be taken somewhere where he can be looked after and have his day-night regulated, but really what better place than at Zealandia where he is safe to roam free where ever and when ever he chooses?
Our second blessing was the sudden appearance of a southern right whale in Wellington Harbour. It is a beautiful sight to see a whale frolicking in our picturesque harbour, especially on Thursday night as a calm sunny day descended into a pink sunset. The mood on the waterfront was joyous as Wellingtonians came together to experience this special moment. A moment of poignancy too as we reflected on the killing field that Wellington Harbour once was when whaling was in its heyday, and how we humans nearly hunted whales to extinction. It's thought that at one stage there was only one breeding female southern right left, and all today descend from her. Let's hope our visitor stays and brings friends!
Wellington can be a difficult and challenging city - this weekend is shaping up to be a good example - but moments like these make living here all worthwhile.
#WhyWellington #CantBeatWellingtonOnAGoodDay #NaturalCapital #Wellington #FreeWelly #kiwisforkiwi #zealandia
The hashtag #WhyWellington started as a marketing exercise but took on a life of its own as hundreds of Wellingtonians wanted to share with the world what makes our city so special. This week, Wellington gave us a reminder of why we choose to live here with a spectacular dusk and sunset. We started at Zealandia and then headed up Wrights Hill in Karori, where we were treated with fire and glory looking over Makara and ethereal pastel shades over Wellington City. The clouds looked painted on! I've put together this slideshow so you can enjoy too.
#WhyWellington #CantBeatWellingtonOnAGoodDay #sunset #NaturalCapital #Wellington
Aside from a good dose of curiousity and willingness to explore and try things out, I can recommend the following courses, software, and hardware to anyone keen on getting into photo-artistry.
Anything and everything by Adobe Evangelist Julienne Kost (check whether your local library provides free access to her Lynda courses - Wellington Library does.)
Photoshop Artistry: Fine-art Grunge Composition with Sebastian Michaels
Teaching the fundamentals of photo-artistry with Photoshop and PS Elements
AWAKE - Living the (Photo)-Artistic Life with Sebastian Michaels
A year-long training program for photo artists - life-changing!
Enrollments open twice a year for students of his Fine-art Grunge Composition class.
Fine Art Photography with Brooke Shaden
Everything you need to know about creating fine art photos from the shoot, compositing, making prints, to running a fine-art business.
SOFTWARE & HARDWARE
Ask in the comments below if you have any questions about any of the above...
In anticipation of World Wetlands Day today (2 Feb), earlier in the week we added a visit to a wetland in and among our stops at various wineries around Martinborough. The wetland of choice was Carter Scenic Reserve, located in the back-blocks of Carterton. The nominal 30 minute walk stretched to an hour and a half, despite the blistering 30C heat, because it was a truly lovely and interesting spot. I hope you enjoy these photos and that they inspire you to visit one of your local wetlands.
#worldwetlandsday #artofbirding2018 #artofbirdingweek5
The reserve is a mix of wetland, grass and shrubland, and lowland forest. The trees of note are kāhikatea and tōtara, with many towering trunks, many dead, as water flow has changed in recent years killing off these stately trees, presumably due to surrounding land use. I can only speculate that there is a correlation between this change and the intensive irrigation seen in surrounding dairy farms. DOC, however, look like they're doing a fantastic job regenerating the area and propagating and planting many natives.
I'd like to offer up my method for managing my stash of textures, elements, overlays, and masks that I've acquired through courses like AWAKE, Kaizen, and from content I've purchased. It's a bit different to what Sebastian Michaels' suggests, but each to their own. It's a big decision to make, so considering various strategies allows you to make an informed decision before taking the plunge to get organized. This overview assumes you already know a bit about navigating your way round Lightroom Classic and how to import images.
Just considering textures alone - I have over 4000 textures after the AWAKE and KAIZEN courses, along with creating my own. Too many to search through if they were all in one folder. One option is to create folders for each type of texture: grunge, paint, black and white, cracks, urban, concrete… but that quickly makes for some hard decisions. How would you file this texture on the right? You certainly don't want to duplicate the image and put it into multiple folders!
Rather than fuss about which folder an image should be filed in, forget about filing entirely. Let Lightroom work for you instead, with keywords, searches, and smart collections. When you get a new content bundle, unzip each content package into a main folder for all your goodies. I usually let the folder be autonamed by the package name, which also makes it easier to trace back to the source (e.g., "2LO Artist 11", "FS_Cloudy_Day_background_"). Within my main folder, I also have separate folders for AWAKE, Kaizen, and my own content, but that doesn't really matter. Once the content is unzipped, import it into your Lightroom catalog. Then (and this is the only painful bit), keyword every image.
How to keyword
Ctrl-K or Cmd-K gets you to the Keywording panel quickly. Simply type in your keywords, separated by commas. As your collection of keywords builds up, Lightroom will autosuggest and autocomplete for you. For the above texture, I've tagged it as "fabric, cracked, watercolor, texture". I can then easily find it (and others) by simply searching for "texture fabric" or "texture watercolor", or whatever. It's up to you as to how detailed you get, but once keyworded, you will more likely be able to find your goodies in the future. Keyword all your photos too, not just your stash. Even if you have a big collection already, start like you mean to go on with new images and knock the rest off in 15 minute chunks each day till they're all done. It will save you more time in the long run as your images will be so much easier to find. I have over 45000 images in my collection, and they are finally all keyworded.
Week 1 of the Art of Birding Challenge (#artofbirdingweek1) and the first assignment was to go somewhere off the beaten track where we hadn't been before and take a photo that might inspire someone else to also visit. I chose Birdwood Reserve because I wasn't sure my legs were up to taking on the Faultline Track at Zealandia, which was Plan A.
From teeny-tiny fungi to crazy kākā, the 2018 Zealandia calendar is a cracker! The creating of the calendar is one of the biggest projects my volunteer Sanctuary Storytellers group at Zealandia undertakes. Every year it gets better and better, with gorgeous wildlife photography and compelling stories. And at $19.90, it makes the perfect stocking stuffer or secret Santa gift. You can get it from the Visitors Centre shop or order online.
Not only are there 13 months, but NZ holidays are marked along with significant wildlife and conservation days. And every cent made goes back into conservation.
A true team effort with photos, writing, research, and editing from: myself, Vanya Bootham, Rosemary Cole, Brendon Doran, Lynn Freeman, Chris Gee, Chris Helliwell, Eeva-Katri Kumpula, Hayley May, Janice McKenna, Linton Miller, Ali McDonald, and Louise Slocombe.
It's taken me this long to complete the second quarter of the Dogwood 2017 weekly photography challenge because I struggled to get Week 14 Panning completed. Panning is hard! So without further ado, here are the results....
Week 14 - Panning (Technical)
This challenge has been "dogging" me for weeks, so what better subject to choose than a doggo. Must be the slowest pan ever done, but it's done!
With more rain forecast, we headed out this morning to Zealandia to get a quick walk in and see if anything interesting was happening.
...go to Zealandia of course! Of course? Yes it might be a bit chilly, and a bit showery, and a bit gloomy, but rug up well and you'll see lots and have fun!
Today four of us headed out, picking up a couple of strays along the way. For once we were all shooting with micro four-thirds cameras (a Panasonic GX7, two GX8's, and an Olympus OM-D), which given the low light was going to be challenging, but we were up for it. Well most of us were - Janice was certainly missing her Canon 1DX. It wasn't a day for birds in flight, so I decided early on to just pop on my 20mm/f1.7 prime and see how far I could push it.
After a hearty breakfast for some at Rata Cafe, we headed in just in time for the first shower. A quick change of plans and we grabbed the boat instead and took the sheltered scenic route into the valley. This week's Dogwood photo challenge is an f/8 portrait, so what better subject than Skipper Chris. I like how the narrower aperture means the valve tower comes into focus in the background.
In between working on complex photoartistic composite images, I do like to do straight photography too. This year, Linton and I have been doing the 2017 Dogwood weekly photography challenge, which alternates through technical, story-telling, and artistic challenges, and forces us out of our comfort zone to learn new things. All good stuff! We're a quarter of the way through so I thought I'd pop up a gallery with progress to date.
Week 1 - the rule of thirds (Story)
Off we went to the Botanic Gardens, cameras ready! I'm not sure if the pot of tea was exactly rule of thirds, but it got "explored" on Flickr, so is now one of my most popular images. Prints are available on request.
Week 2 - straight out of camera (Technical)
Nothing gives me more joy than heading out with my camera and friends to Zealandia EcoSanctuary for a day of wildlife photography, bad puns, and good coffee, so I thought I'd share with you some of my favourite photos from our recent outings. Just hover over the images for the story behind each.
I've just had a search through Lightroom and I have over 7000 photos tagged Zealandia with 295 different dates over 13 years - and those are just the ones I've kept! And I can't wait for the next outing - there is always something new to see or a different angle on a familiar scene. I firmly believe that Zealandia is just as much a sanctuary for us humans as it is for the wildlife.
Monitoring bird nestboxes often involves lots of waiting around for mum to leave the nest, often to find there was no one in the nestbox to begin with. One way to expedite this process with some species is to use a small car mechanic's inspection mirror (which has an adjustable-angle mirror and a telescoping handle) and a flashlight to get a glimpse of the box contents. This can take a lot of futzing around to get the angles right, and some of us just don't seem to have the coordination required.
After a particularly frustrating kākā-monitoring outing with various failed attempts at using a mirror, I wondered if it might simply be easier to stick my Nexus 5X into the nestbox "porthole" and take a quick HDR+ photo without any additional light or flash. (The entrance porthole is for birds to get in and out of the nestbox - for kākā it's about 10cm wide and about 50cm above the floor of the nestbox which makes it a convenient size for a mobile phone.)
Et voila! It worked. Not only was I able to ascertain whether the nestboxes were active or not, but the pictures were clear enough in some cases to count the eggs and age the chicks, such that I didn't need to open the box. The whole process (for me at least!) was much faster than mirroring, meaning less disturbance to the nest occupants, as well as providing a permanent record of the nest check.
After a week of weathering everything mother nature could throw at us (earthquakes, tsunamis, floods, gales, and storms), and which are likely not all over yet, I felt the need to work on this series of images from our recent trip to the Marlborough Sounds. These ethereal, languid landscapes belie the awesome forces that created them.
Most of the photos worked into these images were taken on Simon Woolf's Natural Environment Photography Retreat at the Bay of Many Coves Resort. A long weekend filled with fun, photography, and quite a bit of rain! The images themselves were inspired, in part, by Julieanne Kost's course "The Art of Photoshop Compositing", which LinkedIn kindly offered for free recently (probably the only time LinkedIn has ever been useful). If you're interested in photoartistry, Photoshop or Lightroom, she has many tutorials and courses, many of them free, and all highly worthwhile.
The 2017 ZEALANDIA calendar is now available and it's filled to the brim with gorgeous nature photography, including my enthusiastic mating kākā photo! This year, the images came from the 2016 "Spirit of ZEALANDIA" photo competition, judged by National Geographic and Photo Ark photographer Joel Sartore. There is a wide mix of bird photos, other critters, plants, and landscapes, all taken within the Sanctuary valley. The accompanying stories were lovingly crafted by volunteer Sanctuary Storyteller and Radio NZ journalist, Lynn Freeman. The calendar itself was researched, designed and edited by the Sanctuary Storyteller team. It's a pleasure to convene this team of talented and dedicated people. The calendar is a true labour of love and we are all glad to be able to use our talents to support ZEALANDIA in a tangible way.
The calendar makes a perfect Christmas present and all proceeds go directly to supporting ZEALANDIA's vision.
You can buy it online here or pop into the Visitors Centre.
For parrot-lovers, visiting Australia is always a treat! We recently visited Sydney for the first time and were delighted to see wild sulphur-crested cockatoos (Cacatua galerita) and rainbow lorikeets (Trichoglossus moluccanus) filling the skies with chatter and colour. It was quite something to see these beautiful birds outside of captivity.
My Aunty Helen was somewhat perplexed by our interest in what are commonly-seen birds to Sydneysiders, but she was very obliging in taking us to likely bird-watching sites around Mosman. I was particularly keen to see cockatoos.
Having been involved in tracking the distribution of kākā around Wellington, I've followed the "Cockatoo Wingtag" program with interest (also see their Facebook page) - a joint venture between the University of Sydney and the Australian Museum. They too are interested in the distribution and behaviour of parrots in an urban setting and also rely on public reports to help track the birds. Unlike kākā, who just have coloured leg-bands, cockatoo have cattle-tags attached to their wings with large numbers written on them. This makes it much easier for the public to identify them as individuals without having to decipher leg-band colour combinations.
There are only around 100 birds in the Wingtag study, so we were not expecting to come across any, but to our delight, we spied not just one, but two Wingtag birds: #035 "Shakespeare" and #011 "Watermelon", both in Clifton Gardens in Mosman. (And yes, I had to just about leap out of a moving car to get the first sighting!)
As an aside, I do wonder if the yellow tags make the cockatoo more or less sexy to one another? Presumably the yellow tags were chosen to match their colouring?
Some cockatoo like Shakespeare are now also sporting solar-powered GPS units. Cockatoo are about twice the size of kākā so can carry the units more easily. When this was tried with kākā, the researchers were at the limit of what a bird could be expected to carry, plus the duller Wellington skies were not as conducive to solar-powered devices (battery-packs were more successful). Not to mention, it was incredibly difficult to build the units strong enough to withstand a kākā's powerful chomping beak. I hope they have more success than we did.
Back home, I've been working on some compositions, including this one of Helen enjoying the Sunday papers, with some additional "embellishments" that for me capture what was a lovely long weekend "across the ditch".
Linton also sneaked this shot of this "bird watching bird" scene - don't be surprised to see this charming kookaburra in a future composition!
Working from home, I often go for days without leaving the house. Surrounded by the familiar can sometimes seem like a block to creativity but if you can get past that, the familiar can lead to creative and more deeply meaningful compositions. The image above was composited with photos all taken within a few feet of my front door. The ones in the gallery below, all from a short wander around the garden.
Prints are available on request.
"Pushing up daisies" was accepted in the Open division at the 2016 PSNZ Central Regional Salon, hosted by the Kapiti Camera Club.
All images by Judi Lapsley Miller
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Judi Lapsley Miller
Fine art inspired by the stories of birds and the natural world. Starting with photographs, I let my imagination take me on flights of fancy. What is real and what is imagined is blurred. What is physical and what is virtual is disrupted. Bursting with colour and life.
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