Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Risk & Reward....Or Not! ICF 2010 Pro Tour Scoring

I've just been able to see my actual scoring results from the Images for Conservation Pro Tour of Nature Photography Contest that I competed in this past April. You may know from my earlier blog entry that I placed 2nd.

Deciding what image to place in my final 75 image portfolio from the nearly 17000 photos I took during the month is a daunting task. I had quite a bit of help in deciding but in the end it was my choice. I tried to capture some images that were a different than what other contestants may enter. I decided to take a big risk on a few of my entries and hoped for the best. You really never know how the judges will react to these type of images., With several photos I was burned,but on a few others I was rewarded.

This image was entered in the Plants and Landscapes Catagory. Faced with the ever present winds of South Texas I decided to use the wind rather than fight it. I took a number of exposures at different shutter speeds to find a result I thought pleasing. Some were quite abstract other didn't really show the wind motion enough. This image I thought had a nice balance. Nearly everyone I showed this to really liked it and a few said they would love a print of this on their wall. The 3 judges for the ICF Contest thought different scoring this image very low. In fact it was the lowest scoring photo of my entire portfolio.

This is another image from the plants and landscape catagory. I thought including a little wildlife in the scenic may add some visual interest. Here I was looking for a strong graphic image. Again I was not rewarded for this entry.

I had only one chance to photograph a bobcat during the month. The bobcat made a kill in front of my blind that I had setup on a water drip to photograph birds. The bobcat never came out from the high grass so I never was able to get a real clear look at him. The bobcat has it's prey (barely visible) in it's mouth. I debated long and hard on this one and finally decided to include the image in my final portfolio not expecting much. Much to my suprise the judges liked the photo and it was scored as one the the top 20 in the wildlife catagory earning me an extra $500.

I had about a 2 minute window of opportunity to photograph Javelina during the contest. The animals were on the move and I was able to get ahead of them, find a clearing, and fire away as the herd came through. I was just a bit to close with my 300mm and would have liked more room in front the mother. I wasn't going to enter the image in but everyone I showed it to loved the baby jumping. They really didn't seem to care about the poor placement of the mother in the frame. I went ahead and submitted the photo and again was rewarded with this image being amongst the top 20 images in the Wildlife Catagory.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Bears of Alaska Photo Tour

I just returned from my "Coastal Bears of Alaska" photo tour in Lake Clark N.P. Alaska. We had a wonderful week of photography with lots of bears some great spring cubs and typical Alaska weather with some rain. We were able to photography every day during the week and came away with some really nice images. The highlight of the tour was the very last morning when for the first time we had early morning sunlight coinciding with a low tide. The bears were out on the tidal flats clamming. It was a great way to finish up the tour....

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Results from the 2010 ICF Pro Tour

These are a few images from my 75 image portolio I submitted in the 2010 Images For Conservation Pro Tour of Nature Photography Contest in which I competed this past April. See my earlier blog post about the contest for more information about it. After finishing up my Coastal Brown Bears of Alaska Photo Tour on Friday I flew overnight from Anchorage to Laredo Texas for the Awards Ceremony on Saturday afternoon. I was awarded 2nd place and won $31,000. This is the 3rd time in a row I've finished 2nd in this event. I had the first ever ICF contest image with a perfect score of 30 points.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Images for Conservation Photo Contest

I'm leaving tomorrow for Laredo Texas to compete in the 3rd "Images for Conservation Fund", Pro Tour of Nature Photography Contest. This is the world's richest photo contest with $180,000 in total prize money. The contest places 20 top professional nature & wildlife photographer on 20 participating private land holdings for the entire month of April. I have no idea what ranch I''ll be photographing on until Saturday night when by drawing I will find out. One of the contest rules is that you have never photographed on the ranch before. In essence all the photographers are going in blind. The ranches and private landholdings that are in the contest have to meet certain requirements to be eligible including size, a minimum of 1000 continuous acres, and some wildlife conservation activity taking place on the ranch.

Barn owl with prey from the 2008 ICF Pro Tour

I have competed in all the previous contests. The first in 2006 was held in the "Hill Country" of Texas around San Antonio. I photographed on the beautiful Knibbe Ranch and finished 2nd in the contest. The 2008 contest was held in the "Coastal Bend" region of Texas near Corpus Christi. I drew the Mustang Ranch in Duval County. I again finished in 2nd in a very close contest between 1st and 2nd place. Three very qualified individuals will judge the photographs with absolutely no way of knowing who took the images. Each image can score a maximum of 30 points and total points for the portfolio determines the winner. They also pay an extra $500 prize for the top 20 images in each category. In the 2008 contest I had 18 images in the top 100.

Bobcat at waterhole 2008 Contest

During the month long contest you are required to obtain a portfolio of 75 images filling the 5 required categories. The categories are Birds, Mammals, Reptiles & Amphibians, Insects and arachnids, Scenics and Plants. You can have anywhere from 10-20 images per category but only 2 of any one species. This makes it a very challenging endeavor having to produce more than 2 excellent images per day. None of the wildlife is conditioned to humans as you might find in a National Park making the photographers naturalists skills as important as photography skills. It's a grueling event both mentally and physically. I photograph day and night with little sleep. I've been working out extensively since the last contest to be ready for this one. You really need the physical endurance to keep pushing and working hard the entire month.

Western Coachwhip from the 2008 Contest

During the contest I'll be utilizing a full array of cameras, lenses and accessories. For this years contest I'll be using the full frame Canon Eos 5dmk2, the 1.3 crop Canon 1dmk4, and the 1.6 crop Canon 7d. I've used a similar array of cameras in the previous contests and feel that it works out very well. I'll be carrying lenses from my 16-35mm F2.8L all the way up to a Canon EF800mmF5.6L with little or no gaps in focal length in between. I'll be using multiple flashes, remote triggers and many other accessories to help me capture the images I need. My GMC Yukon XL will be fully loaded for my drive to Texas.

Fighting Bronzed Cowbird & Red-winged Blackbird from the 2008 contest

I will most likely be far to busy to blog for the next month and I have no idea whether I'll even have Internet access on the ranch I'll be on. In 2006 I did in 2008 I didn't but I will give a report as soon as possible upon my return. Go here To see more information on the Images for Conservation Fund and the Pro Tour.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Sage Grouse and my new Canon 1Dmk4

Sage Grouse, Canon Eos1dmk4, EF600mmF4IS, ISO 400, 1/2000 @ F4

I just received my Canon 1Dmk4, Canon's newest flagship professional model camera. I took it out this morning for my first serious test drive. Over the weekend I tested the camera with my various lenses to make sure the focus was in calibration. Everything was very good. I feel as though the Mk 4 is is a real, down to business, professional camera that is very well refined. The camera handled everything I threw at it this morning with no trouble. It's a very fast responsive camera with impressive image quality.

Sage Grouse in Flight, Canon Eos1dmk4, EF600mmF4IS, ISO 800, 1/3200 @ F4
I visited a sage grouse lek (or dancing ground) not far from my home in Cody. It's a bit early in the breeding season but about 25 males were gathered for this mornings show. No females (hens) showed up but I would expect to start seeing some soon. The peak of the breeding season is still a month away but the males put on a pretty energetic performance along with some dominance fighting. A golden eagle flushed the birds off the lek about an hour after sunrise which put an end to my photography. Sage grouse are being considered for the endangered species list but our population in NW Wyoming is doing very well.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Coastal Brown Bears of Alaska Photo Tour

Coastal brown bear running along beach in Lake Clark National Park
Canon 50D, EF100-400mm, 1/320 @ F6.3

I'll once again be leading an exciting photo tour to Lake Clark National Park this summer to photograph the magnificent Alaskan Brown Bear. Tour dates are July 3-9th. Our base of operations will be the wonderful Silver Salmon Creek Lodge on the shore of Cook inlet about a hundred miles southwest of Anchorage. The rugged Aleutian Range rises up from sea level to over 10,000' making for some spectacular scenery. The volcanoes Mt Redoubt, Mt Illiamna and Mt. St. Augustine can be seen from the lodge. A large number of brown bears gather at the mouth of Silver Salmon Creek during the summer to breed, and feed on the lush grass, clams, and abundant salmon.

Brown bear sow and cub

The lodge has great accommodations and wonderful food. Our hosts Joanne and David go out of their way to make sure everything is just perfect during our stay. Our bear guides Drew and Jenny are very knowledgeable and provide us with outstanding photo opportunities. We fly into the Lodge from Anchorage in a small plane landing on the beach. It's an exciting way to start the trip. During last summers tour, for the entire 6 days, we literally had bears in front of us to photograph for all but an hour or two. With few or no other people around it makes for the ultimate wilderness bear viewing/photography experience. To see more information about the tour or to sign up go here

Curious brown bear cub

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Canon 7D and Birds in Flight

Canon 7D, EF600mmF4 IS, 1/800 @ F4
I'm just back from a photography expedition to Utah to photograph wintering bald eagles. The eagles were quite scarce this year but I did manage to get a few good images. The weather was, for the most part poor and challenging for the Autofocus. We had snow, fog, and gloomy light most of the time when eagles were present. In the photo above I had no problem locking on the landing eagle. Having shoot nearly 2000 frames of action I think I now have a good feel of how the camera works on birds in flight. Overall I'm very impressed with the AF on the 7D. Initial acquisition is very fast. I would say it's faster than my 1Dmk2 but not quite as fast as the 1Dmk3 was although very close. The AI Servo seems to track very well and doesn't lose focus lock easily. I have custom function group III-1 set to slow. This doesn't slow the focusing of the camera down at all but prevents it from jumping quickly to another subject of object when tracking.
Canon Eos 7D, EF600mmF4IS, ISO 400, 1/2500 @ F4

This image of the bald eagle flying in heavy snow is a nightmare for most AF systems. I was able to lock on and track well most of the time with about 70% of the images in perfect focus. I was using single point AF without expansion to minimize my chances of focusing on snowflakes. I found if I didn't lock on the eagle right away bumping my AF button would quickly get my focus back on the eagle.
Canon Eos 7D, EF600mmF4IS, ISO 400, 1/500 @ F4

This image of the gull in the fog is also a very difficult target for the AF system. The lack of contrast challenges the ability of the AF to lock on and hold the subject. Here I used single AF point with expansion. The results were very good. The camera locked on and tracked the gulls with little trouble. I had trouble with previous Eos cameras in this situation.

Canon Eos 7D, EF600mmF4IS, ISO 400, 1/3200 @ F4

Again this close flyby of a male harrier in snowy conditions is very challenging. Photographing in the snow I manually choose a single focus point without expansion for the best results. Choosing the focus point manually with the multi controller (joy stick) is quick and easy and with practice will become second nature.

Canon Eos 7D, EF500mmF4IS, ISO 400, 1/1250 @ F4

I captured this image of a female harrier in the warm late afternoon light. Here I had the camera set in 19 point AF auto selection. The camera can utilize all 19 focus points to track and keep your subject in focus as it moves through your frame. I was amazed at how well this worked on the 7D. Much better than the 1d2 or 40d/50d. With relatively smooth or even somewhat busy backgrounds it was superb. The 7d displays in the viewfinder what focus points are currently focusing as you track your subject. You must first acquire focus with the center focus point for this to work properly. I'm now very confident that this fine camera can deliver professional results I require at all times....