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
We've been avidly watching Marc Levoy's introductory course on digital photography, recently provided online for free by Google. For people like Linton and me who are entering the creative world of photography with scientific backgrounds, finding out more about the physics of optics and the maths behind Photoshop, makes it more approachable. I'm guessing we're in a minority! Last night's episode was especially in our wheelhouse as Mark touched on the psychophysics of vision, or how the human sensory systems gathers and interprets information in its environment, and how this impacts on things like minimum resolution for displays. Like all things involving the human factor, the physics is the easy part! And even if your eyes glaze over at some of the tricky bits, there's more than enough things of interest to keep most photographers going with the course.
We're also enjoying the assignments. The first one is to deliberate take some "bad" photos, where "bad" involves breaking the rules and circumventing your camera's default behaviour (e.g., blurred, poorly exposed, poorly composed, out of focus, or wrong white balance). The aim is to, of course, get an artistic shot by breaking the rules - a most satisfying start to what I assumed was going to be a "thou shalt" approach to photography.
My go-to site for bird information is no longer the definitive field guide by Heather & Robertson, but instead NZ Birds Online. Essentially a wikipedia for New Zealand's Birds, it gives authoritative information curated by Te Papa's ornithologist, Colin Miskelly, supported by a wealth of crowd-sourced photographs from keen birders and wildlife photographers (like myself!). One of its strengths is the ability to quickly add and modify entries as new information comes to hand, such as the recent sightings of new vagrant birds to NZ like the red-footed booby.
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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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