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Reflections on 2022

My golden doodle contributed to the inspiration of this post with her reflection in my entryway, which was taken with my new RF 50mm 1.2 lens. You may wonder why someone focused on wildlife photography needs a 50mm lens.  Well, I’ve read that it makes a good portrait lens, more on that later.

2022 ended up being a great year from a personal, professional and photography perspective. 

On of the highlights from this year included taking the dive into mirrorless photography in March with getting a Canon R3.  I’m loving the features in mirrorless cameras and haven’t touched my 1DX III since picking up my R3. I’m really glad that I didn’t wait for the R1 to come out.

Took a couple of amazing trips to Yellowstone in January and Alaska in June.  This was my 4th trip to Yellowstone in winter and it likely won’t be my last as it’s such an amazing place.  Got my dream shot on this trip of a black wolf staring at me with his yellow eyes.

Made my second trip to Alaska for coastal brown bear photography, which is my latest obsession.  The bears were amazing, although we didn’t see the cubs like last year.  However, made up for that with my first attempts at taking video with my new camera.  Got some amazing slow-motion video of bears opening clams with their claws.  Video adds another dimension to the storytelling of my wildlife photography, and it has been very exciting to add it to my portfolio.

After returning from Alaska in June, spent some quality time taking photos and videos at Bolivar Flats, on the Texas gulf coast.  Quickly found that it was a little more challenging to take video of fast-moving birds than the slower moving bears.  However, I’m very pleased with the results.  Have been collecting some of my favorite bird videos to enter into the 2023 Audubon photo contest, so be on the lookout for them.

In total, made 50 trips to local areas around Houston for wildlife photography. Can’t wait to see what photo ops 2023 will bring.

The major highlight for 2022, and the reason to get a 50mm lens, is that my daughter is pregnant!!  We are thrilled for Heather and Jack with their baby due in May.  Next year will involve lots of baby photo shoots with some outfits already being purchased for Christmas gifts this year.

Happy New Year everyone!! 2023 is going to be amazing! Hopefully will have time for some wildlife photography. Already have two major trips planned with hopefully a third one as well. More on those later.


Bald Eagle at Anahuac NWR

Couldn’t resist heading out to take photos this morning with sun finally coming out while I’m on vacation.  It was a little chilly in Texas at Anahuac NWR with 18 deg temperature and windchill at 0 deg F.  Geared up with some of my winter Yellowstone clothing and got there about 1 hour before sunrise.

Some of the birds around Shoveler’s Pond were hunkered down but the raptors were out in full force as they still have to eat.  Saw a juvi bald eagle flying at a distance, took a few photos and followed him towards the woodlot.  Rounded a corner and spooked 2 other juvi bald eagles that were sitting on the fence line.  Didn’t see them until they took off.

Captured this one as he was looking up while playing with the other eagle.  They were too close to get a decent shot of both of them in the frame together.

1/8000 sec @ F5.6, ISO 3200, evaluative metering, 700mm (R3 + 500F4 + 1.4X), handheld out my car window


Gray Ghost

Broke one of my golden rules yesterday at Bolivar Flats on the Texas gulf coast:  have your camera ready at all times when driving off the beach.  Saw this male northern harrier sitting on a fence post along the road and my camera was in the trunk.  There was a good reason for that as I couldn’t get the lens off of my fluid head.  Went past the harrier, stopped, took my camera off my 500F4 and put it on my 100-500, and headed back to the gray ghost.

He was very cooperative and let me get several photos before he flew away.  Luckily for me, he landed on the other side of the road, which allowed for more photos and some video in better light.  He was finally spooked when another car came down the road. 

The not so fun part of this encounter was that I was getting eaten alive by mosquitos.  Didn’t have bug spray on as there were no mosquitos on the beach, but they were very intense along the grassy area leaving the beach.  Had taken my jacket off so plenty of exposed skin for the feeding frenzy that took place in my car.  As they say, everything is bigger in Texas, including the mosquitos.  One of those times that you just grin and bear it as it’s always worth a little blood letting for a good photo op.

1/1600 sec @ F7.1, ISO 1000, evaluative metering, +1 exposure compensation, 500mm (R3 + 100-500), minor cropping off left side.


2022 Wings Over Houston Airshow

Late October is always one of my favorite times with the Wings Over Houston airshow. I’ve been going since 2005 and just love it. Was lined up to go to the drive-in show with some friends but it got rained out. Had already bought tickets for the weekend so went on Saturday. It ended up being a cloudy day with limited ceiling so the planes couldn’t fly their normal routines. Didn’t feel like going again on Sunday, which was a mistake as it had some sunshine. There is always next year.

I’ll post some of the Blue Angels photos later. All of these shots were taken with my Canon R3 and 100-500 lens, handheld.

F-16 demo team put on a great show. The female pilot rocked it.

F-15 from Louisiana lit up the sky with a short routine

Aero L-39 Albatros


Close-up Bear

You never know what you may encounter in Alaska, like this coastal brown bear walking through the grass.  Immediately got down on one knee to get eye level with the bear for these two uncropped photos.  This is a 3rd year cub taken on the second day of another amazing adventure in Alaska

1/1600 @ F11, ISO 3200, evaluative metering, -2/3 exposure compensation, 451mm (R3 + 100-500), full frame


Breaking the Rules

It pays to break the rules sometimes, and in this case, a butt shot paid off.  This bear was walking away but I kept shooting as my autofocus stayed on her head.  You never know what you may get, and in this case, it’s a very unique perspective showing off the bottom of her foot and claws.

Lying in the wet mud while photographing bears at ground level in Lake Clark Alaska is an incredible experience that continues to fill my soul with pure joy.

1/640 @ F8, ISO 2000, evaluative metering, +1 1/3 exposure compensation, 500mm (R3 + 500F4) mounted on Skimmer ground pod with Wimberley gimbal, cropped


Audubon Top 100 X 2

Honored again this year to make the Top 100 in Audubon’s photo contest with these two photos.  Must have been slacking off since I had 4 in the top 100 last year. Congratulations to everyone that won and made the top 100.

First photo is a black skimmer coming in for a landing at Bolivar Flats. I love the unique wing position on this photo as it was one that I’ve never seen before.

This photo is an American avocet riding the surf at Bolivar Flats. Love the water swirling around her neck, which looks like she is getting ready to turn into a Disney princess.


Steaming Bear

The large boar is showing how hot and bothered that he is while chasing his potential mate.  That isn’t dust around him. It is steam coming off his hot body in the cool Alaska morning air.  Used negative exposure compensation to darken the scene to emphasize the highlights.

It was towards the end of mating season for the coastal brown bears from Lake Clark National Park. Love was in the air with lots of mating action going on.

1/2000 @ F7.1, ISO 6400, evaluative metering, -2/3 exposure compensation, 500mm, R3 + 100-500, uncropped


Brown Bear in Lupines

We caught this coastal brown bear walking through the lupines along a bear trail at Silver Salmon Creek Lodge in Alaska. Our guide and trip leader lead us to the end of that trail when they saw her enter that area. Was great timing as she slowly walked towards us, and we got out of her way.

The RF 100-500 worked very well on this trip with using it everywhere except the mudflats, where my 500F4 was the workhorse.  It was much easier to lug around.

1/2000 @ F8, ISO 5000, evaluative metering, 451mm, R3 + 100-500


Back to Alaska

Made it back to Lake Clark in Alaska for some more bear photography this year with Marc and bear guide extraordinaire, David Rasmus. Had a great time to say the least.

Last year was spent following Crimp and her cub around. This year, we saw Crimp on our first day and she was mating as she had kicked her cub out a few weeks ago. We did see her 3rd year cub and he pretty much looks the same, just larger. He was hanging out with Old Sow’s 3 year old cub on one of the days.

On this trip, we spent more quality time with the bears digging up clams on the mudflats, which I loved. Being able to get full framed shots like this still blows my mind. This bear is displaying an interesting behavior using the top of her paw for a table to eat the clam, which I don’t recall seeing last year. They have amazing dexterity with their claws and use them like fingers to pry apart the clams.

1/1600 @ F11, ISO 6400, evaluative metering, R3+500F4 on Skimmer ground pod, uncropped


Riding the Wave @ Galveston’s FeatherFest

Took this photo during my first Galveston FeatherFest field trip to Bolivar Flats Audubon Shorebird Sanctuary on the Texas gulf coast. I led four trips to Bolivar Flats again this year in April with this one being challenging with the weather that morning. The wind was blowing at 25 – 30 mph with heavy surf for this area. If it wasn’t for FeatherFest, I typically would have stayed home in those conditions, which makes me wonder how many great photo ops that I’ve missed over the years by not going in adverse conditions. This outing was unique as only one participant, Peggy, showed up for this trip.

In this photo, a group of dunlins and one ruddy turnstone were hanging out on a batch of seaweed that was bobbing up and down with the waves. A small wave came in that made the first dunlin launch up into the air. This group would then feed off of the material that washed up on the mound of seaweed.

I finally made the dive into mirrorless cameras with a Canon R3, which I’ll provide some more information on in a future post.

Taken with Canon R3 with 500mm F4 IS II lens, 1.4X teleconverter mounted on Skimmer ground pod with Wimberley II gimbal head

1/1000 @ F11, ISO 4000, evaluative metering, +1 exposure compensation


Black Wolf in Yellowstone

One of my goals after seeing a black wolf in 2018 was to get a better shot showing their yellow eyes.  Mission accomplished from my recent Yellowstone trip.

After he came out of the woods with his mate, he stopped and looked in my direction. Great pose for a full frame uncropped photo.

1/1000 sec @ F7.1, ISO 400, manual mode, 700mm, handheld while sitting in a snowbank

He walked to our left and then made his way closer. In this photo, he had just turned his body slightly towards us and looked at me again with his right leg in motion for just the photo op that I was hoping for. He only looked at me for 2 seconds but was able to get a few shots off. The eyes have it!


Yellowstone Wolves

It’s always a thrill to see a wolf in Yellowstone.  Got lucky on 2 of my 4 trips to see them up close.

We saw a male black wolf and a female walking down the road on one of our trips in the snow coach.  They left the road and went into the woods.  We drove past the crowd of people trying to see them and stopped at a field next to the woods.  They came out of the woods and walked parallel to the road at a distance and then came closer.  Looked like they were going to give us a show by mating, but it didn’t happen.

1/1000 sec @ F7.1, ISO 400, manual mode, 700mm, handheld

Here is the beautiful female.


Frosty Bison

Got home yesterday from a trip to Yellowstone with 7 days of shooting in the park.  Spend 3 days in a snow coach from West Yellowstone and 4 days driving on the northern range from Gardiner.  It’s always a great time to be in Yellowstone in the winter.  The animal activity was slower than normal this year likely due to the lower snow pack in the park but still had some great photo ops with wolves, moose, bison, coyotes, bald eagles and a large herd of big horned sheep. 

Used manual mode while shooting in the snow. Only used my tripod once since it is much easier to use a Black Rapid strap for my 500mm lens when bailing out of the vehicle for some fast-moving action shots.

Found this frosty bison close to the road as he was using his head to push away the snow to get to the grass in -16 deg F temperatures.  Was hoping for colder weather for more frost.

1/640 sec @ F7.1, ISO 2500, manual mode, 700mm, handheld


Avocet Gliding

American avocet gliding along after sunrise on Texas gulf coast this morning. Sunrise was amazing with the cloud formations and red light. The sun eventually popped out of the clouds providing some good light. Ended up leaving when the sun went behind the clouds as I’m not a fan of flat light.

1/2000 sec @ F9, ISO 3200, evaluative metering, -2/3 exposure compensation, 700mm from Skimmer ground pod, minor cropping

Taken with Canon 1DX III, Canon 500mm F4 IS II with 1.4X III teleconverter mounted on Skimmer ground pod with Wimberley II gimbal head


Water Explosion Frozen in Time

Reddish egret diving for fish in a tidal pond at Bolivar Flats Audubon Shorebird Sanctuary.  While heading back to my car after a successful early morning taking shorebird photos, found this reddish egret that was catching some small fish in a separate small tidal pool.  Got some very cool splash shots but didn’t like the background so converted this one to B&W and cropped in on the splash.

1/1250 @ F10, ISO 1600, evaluative metering, +2/3 exposure compensation, 700mm from ground pod


Ninja Cub

Coastal brown bear cub about to go full ninja on his mom at Lake Clark Alaska.  Mom was doing her best to keep him calm.  It was a blast to watch these two play.

1/800 @ F11, ISO 3200, evaluative metering, +1 2/3 exposure compensation, 500mm from Skimmer ground pod, uncropped


Published Again in PetaPixel.com

PetaPixel.com published my airshow photo along with my words about why I liked this photo. It’s toward the end of this article. Thanks again PetaPixel!

https://petapixel.com/2021/08/22/great-reads-in-photography-august-22-2021/


Clam Tasting Close-up

Here is a very close-up shot of an adult female coastal brown bear (grizzly) eating a clam at Lake Clark Alaska. The bears make their way out to the mudflats at low tide when they smell the clams. The tides are intense as they rise/fall 17 ft so when it starts coming in you had better get to higher ground.

1/800 sec @ F11, ISO 1600, evaluative metering, +1 exposure compensation, uncropped @ 500mm from Skimmer ground pod.


Published in PetaPixel.com

Got published yesterday on the photography & camera news website PetaPixel after my ground pod photo was published in Audubon. Was contacted by one of their columnists recently requesting usage of my photo and looking for one of me in action with my ground pod.

He then contacted me later about using another one of my photos including some writing from me on why I like that photo. Stay tuned for that in Sept.

Thanks again Phil for the opportunity.

https://petapixel.com/2021/08/15/great-reads-in-photography-august-15-2021/


Bear Rug

Coastal brown bear take a break and rests on mom

Lake Clark Alaska

1/2500 sec @ F13, ISO 2500, evaluative metering, +1 1/3 exposure compensation, 500,, handheld, full frame with pano crop


Close Encounters of the Bear Kind

This photo sequence was a major adrenalin rush to say the least.  One of my favorite bear encounters of my most awesome Alaskan adventure in Lake Clark Alaska with coastal brown bears.

Started out with mom and her cub playing near the shoreline. 

Following his typical behavior, the cub took off running and he ran right past us.  Tracked him while lying in the mud with my ground pod and got off a few shots while he gave me the side-eye.

Thought that was very cool experience but it got really interesting when mom decided to chase him.  Glanced back to my right and saw mom coming my way.  Didn’t have time to get worried or think but just react.

My years of experience with shooting from a ground pod came in very handy and quickly pivoted around on my stomach and focused on her as she “beared“ down on us.  Mom was doing her “happy run” with swinging her head from side to side, which is a behavior that we witnessed several times that week.

Just follow your nose….

Very little time to react as this entire sequence with mom lasted only 4 seconds.  Was challenging to try to keep her in the frame.  Major rush…

She kept getting closer…

and closer…

and closer!

Then, direct eye contact with a full size grizzly bear as she runs past me. Doesn’t get much better than that. Didn’t know that I got this shot until getting home and downloading my photos to the computer. Couldn’t take my laptop with me due to the bush plane weight restrictions.

She kept going and I kept shooting…

She kept running past us with this being the last frame that I captured in this series. Just wow!

Another one of those once in a lifetime encounters on this trip that I kept having and must repeat.


Grand Slam in 2021 Audubon Top 100

Four of my photos made the top 100 this year in Audubon’s 2021 photo contest. Although 2020 was a very challenging year from a pandemic perspective, it challenged me to get out an shoot more with over 60 local field trips, which paid off in the Audubon contest.

Great egret in silhouette through her breeding plumage from High Island TX rookery

White moph reddish egret spreading its wings just after landing at Bolivar Flats Audubon Shorebird Sanctuary last summer.

Two lesser yellowlegs running in unison at Bolivar Flats Audubon Shorebird Sanctuary.

American avocets at Bolivar Flats Audubon Shorebird Sanctuary.


Up Close & Personal with Grizzly Bears

By day 4 of my trip to Lake Clark Alaska, we were all getting worn out so when we came upon mom and her cub feeding on grass in an open meadow, we decided to lay up against a log on the outside edge of the field and just watch them. Was very relaxing and we loved the opportunity to not shoot but just to chill out and take it all in. We were sitting in a field watching grizzly bears with snowcapped mountains in the background. We weren’t in Kansas (or Houston) anymore Dorthey. Couldn’t get much better than that…until it did!

A male boar entered the field behind mom and she quickly spotted him. She then turned to look at us, foreshadowing her next steps. Mom and her cub quickly got up to check him out. Here is where it got really interesting. As a complete surprise to me, mom started running with her cub directly towards us. That definitely got me to sit up a little straighter against that log and get into the zone while hand holding my 500mm lens.

So, what do you do when a full-size grizzly bear and her cub come running straight at you? Well, #1 you listen to your guide, #2 you don’t run (which could be very detrimental to your health), #3 you keep your cool and photograph the incoming bears or #4 be prepared to change your shorts. Luckily, I followed steps #1 -3.

When they started getting close, couldn’t keep both of them in the frame with my 500mm lens so I automatically switched to focus on the cub.

It happened so quickly that there was no time to think or check/change any camera settings. Was all muscle memory at that point with trying to get part of them in the frame. Would have been nice to have F16 being that close but was happy that I had at least F11 for some depth of field.

Mom got so close at one point that I couldn’t get her whole head in the frame.

The cub walked past us to our left and then looked back towards the boar, giving me a great opportunity for a full frame head shot.

They kept moving off to our left and out into the field. Eventually they made their way towards the mudflats while the male made a slow walk to their previous location to check out her scent. Our guide said that they got about 12 ft from us and were using us for protection as the male would not typically come close to us. One of my favorite unforgettable bear encounters in Alaska.

Taken with Canon 1DX III, Canon 500mm F4 IS II, handheld, uncropped