Behind The Lens: Cradle of Life

Behind The Lens: Cradle of Life

Behind The Lens

Behind The Lens: Cradle of Life

Cradle of Life
“Cradle of Life” Lone giraffe on the Serengeti Plains under dramatic evening skies. Serengeti National Park, Tanzania. Canon EOS 1DX Mark II and Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS III USM lens @ 70mm, 1/250 second @ f/13, ISO 100.

Cradle of Life

This captivating image of a giraffe on the Serengeti Plains almost never saw the light of day. Captured in June of 2017, it has languished in my image files (perhaps it was published somewhere on social media at some point) as a rather pedestrian sentimental wildlife image with a contrived, rule-of-thirds composition. There’s the fantastic, early evening light with crepuscular rays that added a dramatic flair, that’s all it had going for it to be honest.

I should say that it wasn’t exactly the same photo as the one you see above but it was the same capture. The original color version just didn’t inspire me very much, but I revisited this image during the coronavirus lockdown and decided to see how it felt in black and white. It was only then that the image came alive: the Serengeti grasses pulsed with the blowing wind; the light flooded the frame as the rays beamed from the sky; and the dark storm clouds loomed ominously over the wide expanse of the plains.

All of that was missing in the color version. My image portfolio is made up of 95 percent color images because color is such a big part of my experiences but every once in a while, a black and white interpretation better expresses how a scene felt to me than color. Cradle of Life is one of those exceptions.

The key to creating powerful and compelling black and white images is contrast. If your original raw file doesn’t contain much contrast, make it. Darken the darks, lighten the lights, create contrast by selectively adjusting tonal values of each corresponding color. And unlike color photos where there’s an implied threshold of believability that shouldn’t be crossed (photography is the only form of art where people expect the image to represent something real) that isn’t the case with black and white. Push the blacks to the limit if you like. The black and white medium doesn’t represent what we see because we don’t see the world that way. You have more creative latitude as a photographer to create mood with monochrome even if there isn’t any.

Cradle of Life was captured with a Canon EOS 1DX Mark II camera body and Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS III USM lens. The image was processed in Adobe Lightroom and Skylum Luminar 4.

Cradle of Life can be licensed or purchased as a print here.

Behind The Lens: Take Me Home

Behind The Lens: Take Me Home

Behind The Lens

Behind The Lens: Take Me Home

“Take Me Home” Sparks Lane in Cades Cove on a foggy spring morning, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee USA. Canon EOS 5D Mark II and Canon EF 24-105mm f/4L IS II USM Lens @ 93mm, 1 second @ f/16, ISO 200.

Take Me Home

Please tell me, Dear Reader. Can anything in the world be more inviting than a lonesome country road?

Folk songs, pastoral poems, inspirational quotes, and pop culture pseudo profundities are awash with both visions and words expressing the quaint charm of the country road. Many of these roads are entirely mythical or just a state of mind. More than one over-worked and frazzled old soul has fantasized about ditching the computer, cell phone, and the lousy desk job to follow one of these rustic byways to a simpler way of life. Going native, they might say.

Others country roads are every bit as real, but are perhaps more perilous and less inviting than the sentimental John Denver song might suggest. The road might indeed lead to an idyllic log cabin by the river with smoke billowing from the chimney, a front yard tire swing in a big oak tree, and a friendly dog to welcome you home after long days of travel. It might also lead to a clutch of wild-eyed hillbillies operating a makeshift meth lab from a single wide. Try fashioning a set of song lyrics around that word picture.

Where an old road like this could ultimately lead probably lies somewhere between those two extremes: a pleasant picnic spot perhaps, the cosmic swimming hole, or a dead end where a trailhead for hikers leads deeper into the wilderness. Or maybe, as the bumper sticker suggests, it’s not about the destination of that country road, but the journey that matters most. I highly doubt it.

The road pictured above goes nowhere in particular but simply connects two opposite sides of the one-way-only Cades Cove Loop Road in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in Tennessee. Sparks Lane, with its twin, Hyatt Lane, are gravel roads that allow visitors to Cades Cove to shortcut the continuous 11-mile paved loop that circles the broad, picturesque valley.

Photographically speaking, the magic of Sparks Lane is not fully revealed and appreciated until you arrive the morning after a cool, still evening when a layer of heavy fog forms in the cove. On the morning this image was captured, these were precisely the conditions. The fog bank settled down along the river and migrated from right to left from the direction I was standing. The fog would slowly intensify and build before suddenly dissipating and starting the cycle all over again. This gave me several different versions of the scene from this vantage point. The fog helps simplify the composition as it hides and obfuscates the trees in the background. As a result, the foreground trees stand out stronger and more prominently because of the clean and simple background when the fog was in place.

The road and fence posts help pull the viewer into the image and through the small tunnel of trees with multiple leading lines and a sense of diminishing scale. The mid-telephoto perspective crops out any bright sky from the very top and minimizes the amount of road and immediate foreground down at the bottom of the frame.

Take Me Home can be licensed or purchased as a print here.

Behind The Lens: Paulet the Penguin

Behind The Lens: Paulet the Penguin

Behind The Lens

Behind The Lens: Paulet the Penguin

“Paulet” An Adélie penguin welcomes visitors to Paulet Island, located on the northeastern tip of the Antarctic Peninsula. Canon EOS 5D Mark IV and Canon EF 24-105mm f/4L IS II USM Lens @ 35mm, 1/2000 second @ f/13, ISO 640.

The Eyes Have It

As a wildlife photographer, the importance of having your subject’s eye or eyes visible cannot be overstated. It’s almost essential. You always want your viewers to connect with your photo’s subject and there is no better way to help make that connection than through the eyes. As I state in my recently-published wildlife book, the eye is the wildlife portrait’s focal point and must be clearly visible and in sharp focus. There are some exceptions to this rule but those are few and far between.

Paulet the Penguin

For larger creatures, getting a clear and open look at its eyes is relatively easy. For smaller species, however, you need to get low to their level. In the case of Paulet the Penguin, I needed to lay down flat in the snow, rocks, and penguin poop with my wide-angle lens to get this eye-to-eye perspective. Paulet appears to be welcoming me with a warm hug – or an invitation to fight, I suppose. Everyone sees something a little different with Paulet’s body language here.

Paulet was captured with a Canon EOS 5D Mark IV camera and Canon EF 24-105mm f/4L IS II USM lens.

Paulet can be licensed or purchased as a print here.

Behind The Lens: Yellowstone in Winter

Behind The Lens: Yellowstone in Winter

Behind The Lens

Behind The Lens: Yellowstone in Winter

“Unforgiving” Two bison in less than ideal winter weather conditions, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming USA. Canon EOS 5D Mark III and Canon EF 200-400mm f/4L IS USM Extender 1.4x Lens @ 280mm, 1/800 second @ f/9, ISO 250.

Yellowstone in Winter

Yellowstone in winter can see some brutally cold, brutally bad weather. But bad weather conditions often result in the best photos. Let me repeat that for the sake of emphasis: Bad weather often results in the best photos. And so it is with Yellowstone in winter. Oh sure, heavy snow-laden trees and a cobalt blue sky make for some pretty impressive imagery too, but when I wake to find stormy skies with wind and snow blowing across the landscape, I become extra excited. Bad weather creates drama and helps tell a story.

The biggest obstacle is overcoming is your self reluctance. And inertia. That is, a body at rest and in bed will tend to remain at rest and in bed unless there’s some additional force applied to it, such as the possibility of the most dramatic photos you will ever create in your life. And if you happen to be in a popular national park such as Yellowstone in winter, you’ll enjoy the added benefit of most likely being the only other photographer with the guts to be out there.

I particularly liked this symmetry created by the two inward-facing bison and the jagged edge between the geyser basin steam and the distant snow hills. This image, titled Unforgiving, has been sold as a print hundreds of times and published dozens. Thank the heavens for bad, stormy weather.

Unforgiving can be licensed or purchased as a print here.

Introducing the Canon EOS R5

Introducing the Canon EOS R5


Introducing the Canon EOS R5

The Latest

July 10, 2020: I placed my order for two Canon EOS R5 cameras yesterday and I expect delivery early next month. You can expect a full hands-on review in early to mid-August.

July 9, 2020: The Canon EOS R5 and R6 are now available for preorder.

Canon made their official announcement today on both the R5 and R6. The first shipments of the R5 will begin on July 30, 2020 with a retail price of $3899.

June 5, 2020: Expected official announcement from Canon on July 2, 2020 where final spec details, price, and availability date will hopefully be announced. Stay tuned.

May 26, 2020: According to a report from Canon Rumors, the price of the Canon EOS R5 will be less than $4000 USD. Great news for those of us who are waiting for the release of this amazing camera.

April 20, 2020:Second EOS R5 development announcement from Canon. It’s been conformed that the sensor size is to be 8192 x 5461 pixels or 44.7 megapixels, validating the 45 MP rumors that had been floating around for some time. The camera will include 5-axis In-Body Image Stabilization, working with existing IS on RF and EF lenses. There are lots of impressive video features that I am not too concerned about but many others might be. Adding some of these to the Specification List below.

There is still no word on the EOS R5 price or a release date but it was originally believed it would be available before the 2020 Summer Olympics. With the Olympics now postponed until 2021, who knows.

March 13, 2020: Canon has confirmed that the EOS R5 will support animal Auto Focus (AF) Animal AF can recognize animals and birds so the camera can not only precisely focus on the animal’s eye but the whole body in situations where the eye is not conspicuous. This is a huge boon for wildlife photographers.

Canon also announced that 8K video can be captured up to 30p in all 8K modes and will use Canon’s Dual Pixel CMOS autofocus.

February 20, 2020: According to several well-placed sources, the new Canon EOS R5 will be available for purchase by late June – early July of 2020 before the Summer Olympics.

February 12, 2020: The Canon EOS R5 full-frame mirrorless camera is currently under development, Canon has officially announced. This is the latest addition to Canon’s highly acclaimed and popular EOS R System.

Canon EOS R5

According to today’s announcement, the new Canon EOS R5 aims to expand the range of image expression by utilizing the features of the “EOS R System” to achieve even higher-speed continuous shooting and 8K video shooting. In addition, communication functions, operability, and reliability can be further improved, and workflow can be streamlined. With these functions, the basic concept of the EOS series, “rapid speed, comfort, and high image quality” is realized at a high level.

Specification List

  • 45 Megapixels, Full Frame
  • Newly-Developed Full-Frame CMOS Sensor
  • 8K Video up to 30p in Canon RAW
  • Up to 12 fps with Mechanical Shutter, 20 fps with electronic shutter
  • The first Canon camera with 5-axis In-Body Image Stabilization (IBIS)
  • Dual media card slots: 1x CFexpress and 1x SD UHS-II
  • Dual Pixel CMOS AF available in both 8K and 4K recording modes.
  • Animal, eye and face detection

This was only an announcement that the Canon EOS R5 was now in production while many details about the new camera were not specified. We’ll all stay tuned for more over the coming months.

Canon also announced that it would be releasing seven new RF lenses and two RF lens extenders in 2020, including the RF 100-500mm f/4.5-7.1 L IS USM, Extender RF 1.4x and Extender RF 2x.