Study Group 2

Bruce Finocchio

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Title:  Prairie Dogs Show Affection
Goal:   I have photographed at the San Francisco Zoo a few times in the last ten years or so. In general, I don’t like zoos or nature reserves where they keep animals in small cages. In fact, I wouldn’t go to these places unless the animals are cared for with dignity and respect. Recently, I think they are getting the message, and taking better care of their animals and improving their enclosures. The SF zoo still has some issues, and funding is significant issue. Yet, I used to like to go see the raptors in the kids section, where they took them out in the afternoon and tethered the birds to perches in a central lawn area during afternoon feeding time. You could get some good close-ups of these magnificent birds. Someone complained about this practice. Alas, that’s not the case anymore.

While I was there in the children’s section I photographed these prairie dogs. This image was buried on an old hard drive from 2006. Recently I have been reviewing my old raw files, and I was pleased to find this one. The emotion from the affection of these two prairie dogs is what makes this image. Also, it is very clean, and I don’t mind not showing the entire bodies of these two mammals. By definition it’s not a wildlife image, however, it is still a nature image according to the PSA nature definition. By getting in close with my shot, I took the hand of man out. I think I will enter this one in the 2017 NANPA showcase competition.

Rick, congratulations on your article and images in the September issue of the PSA Journal magazine. Well done!

Equipment / Source:   EOS-1D Mark II, 600mm f4.0 IS lens, at 1/200 sec, f7.1, at ISO 200 exposure, Aperture priority, Pattern Metering

Technique:   EOS-1D Mark II, 600mm f4.0 IS lens, at 1/200 sec, f7.1, at ISO 200 exposure, Aperture priority, Pattern Metering

Processing:    Darken the background on the top and between the prairie dogs. Normal selective sharpening with the Nik raw sharpening technique and tool, not much else. 

Comments/Scores (N,T,P,E, Total)

Critique Image (only members of Study Group Two may critique this image)

Review by Les L.
Bruce, adorable shutoff praise dogs. Just got back from Utah and Instructor kept us watching for praise dogs but never saw one. I don't mind that a portion of the dogs are out of focus; their faces are tack sharp. I like the holding of paws and touching lips. Good catch.
N-3, T-3, P-2, E-0, Total-8

Review by Butch S.
This is a nice image with its story and technical accomplishment. The resolution is so fine that one almost feels that you could reach out and feel the fur. i don't mind the crop as the center of focus is the two heads and the "kiss." The background is very creamy smooth. Keep looking at your old drives there may be some more jewels in hiding. As I understand it this image may not be "wildlife" but still qualify as "Nature."
N-3, T-3, P-3, E-0, Total-9

Review by Alan L.
very lovely story-telling. Sharp, well composed, good color and tone… and as cute as any wildlife image can be.
N-3, T-3, P-3, E-0, Total-9

Review by Andy H.
Lovely image. I'm often surprised what a rake through the hard drive reveals. Images that we passed by initially seem to have improved with age. processing has improved and I find myself re processing old images and being quite surprised at the result. The image has bags of story, technical quality is perfect, for me, especially the DOF. Removing the HoM has been well handled and is not obvious. Composition I assume has been dictated by HoM but there is still plenty of impact for me. Square format an option?
N-3, T-3, P-3, E-0, total-9

Review by Dennis H.
Like the interaction between the prairie dogs. Eyes nice and clear with good colour and detail on heads.
Nice background, well captured.
N-3, T-3, P-3, E-0, Total-9

Review by Maria K-L
What a wonderful image. you caught great moment with technical perfection.
N-3, T-3, P-3, E-1, Total-10

Review by Commentator Dan C.

You continue to capture strong nature stories with your images.  The interaction between the two prairie dogs provides that story in this image.  You successfully isolated your subjects from their zoo habitat. I have no objection to your tight cropping here.  The cropping is obviously intended here, not an oversight and nothing you cropped would have added to either the nature story or the pictorial value of this image.  Your selective darkening of the background is an allowable technique by the definition and helped separate the animals from their background.

An extremely minor nit-pick that should not cost a problem with most judges; because of the normal habitat of these critters, the shapes in the eye highlights could be taken as people.  Not a high probability but who knows.  They did not bother me.

N3, T3, P3, E0, Total 9

Review by Bogdan B.
Really a pretty image. Sharp with blurred background, properly exposed. Anyway I miss the backs of the animals.
N-3, T-3, P-2, E-0, Total-8

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Title:   Male Impala Spar and Lock Horns

Goal:   During our first day at Tarangire National Park, we came upon a large herd of Impala. We were only into Day 3 of our trip, so any animal even the common Impala was something we took time with. Here I was looking for some behavior. When these two male impalas started testing each other, I concentrated on getting a fighting image. I tried many verticals but it was hard to keep their ears and horns of both male impala in the frame. Here when they were both low I was able to use a horizontal frame which captured the action and the eyes of the two combatants.

Equipment / Source:   Canon 7D Mark II body, 600 mm f4.0 IS lens with a Canon 1.4 teleconverter, version 3. Thus at 840 mm focal length, add the camera cropped factor of 1.6, the final focal length is 1,344 mm. ISO 1000, Shutter speed 1/2000 of a sec, at aperture f8.

Technique:   Handheld from the top of the Land Rover, resting on a bean bag.

Processing:  Mid-tone curve adjustment to add contrast, selective sharpening with Nik pre-raw sharpener on the Impala and not on the background.

Comments/Scores (N,T,P,E,Total)

     Critique Image (only members of Study Group Two may critique this image)

Review by Alan L.
Good capture and action. The crop and composition need some more attention since the focal point should concentrate on the locked antlers more effectively.
N-3, T-2, P-3, E-0, Total-8

Review by Mike P.
Great capture! Strong story-telling feature. Excellent technique -- sharp focus, perfect exposure, nice composition. You've got a winner here.
N-3, T-3, P-3, E-1, Total-10

Review by Jerry S.
A good shot that captures the sparring activity and captures both eyes. Focus and DOF were adequate for the shot and the colors are good. I see no significant technical flaws. I think a slight adjustment to the crop might enhance the image. Cropping the bottom closer to the feet would eliminate the out of focus grass in the foreground which is a little distracting. Look at bringing in the crop slightly on the right side to eliminate the partial hind leg that is showing. Expanding the image on the left to show the entire front leg would be more appealing. Both the left and right crops leave partial limbs in the image.
N-3, T-3, P-2, E-0, Total-8

Review by Gregory L.
Nice photo of these two Impalas playing. From the photo it looks like they were playing around. I think capturing the bodies of both the Impalas would give a more stronger story, as the shot here looks more like a portrait to me. The out of focus foreground pulls my eyes away from the subject a little bit, some vignetting would make the subjects more focal.
N-2, T-2, P-3, E-0, Total-7

Review by Louise H.
very nice action shot! Sharp focus on the impala's faces and the blurring of the background makes this image more appealing.
N-3, T-3, P-3, E-0, Total-9

Review by Azim K-R
Amazing sharpness with 1,344 mm & ISO 1000, Great shot and moment.
N-3, T-3, P-3, E-0, Total-9

Review by John G.
Bruce you have shown us something most of us will never see. The event you captured holds my attention which a good photograph will do. Your exposure and focus is good too. A part of me wants to see a little more of the Impala's bodies but I don't know if that might hurt seeing the most important part of the photo and that is the sparring. But well done.
N-3, T-3, P-2, E-0, Total-8

Review by Manu R.
They say is better too have the uncommon shot of common subject than the common shot of an un common subject. Beautifulimage. Great compo, excellent details and nive action.Even the fore ground blurr make us focus our attention where the real action is. Even at ISO 1000 with 7d MarII the quality/noice level is good.
N-3, T-3, P-3, E-0, Total-9

Review by Butch S.
A good nature story. I think you accomplished your goal of focusing on the fighting impalas. Why such a high ISO? From what I can imagine the locking of horns is not at a speed requiring 1/2000 sec. Just curious, not a criticism.
N-3, T-3, P-3, E-0, Total-9

Review by Commentator Rick C.
I find this to be a very effective capture. All of the technical aspects look goo to my eye. The interaction definitely enhances the nature story. Having an eye from both combatants showing is a plus. The crop is defined enough to know it was intentional. That said, this is one of the instances where a centered image may have actually been a little stronger. That way we would have the shoulder of the left Impala. The one thing I will be curious about is how the group reacts to the hind (third) leg of the right Impala being present. I feel you get caught up in a curiosity factor of why three legs show and trying to figure out which leg it is. I've recropped to eliminate it and move back to a centered format which I feel keeps the viewer locked on the primary story. If you have more in the original, try adding back that shoulder on the left and eliminating the hind leg on the right and see how it looks. Also, as Dan noted last month, be careful when using the ProPhoto color space. Monitors and projectors may not reproduce it properly if the driver is not color space aware. Converting to sRGB is the better way to go when sharing images.

N-3, T-3, P-2 = 8 (top marks on technical quality. P-2 for distraction factor of third leg on right Impala.)

Response to critique by Bruce F. (to Butch)
To answer your question about ISO 1000 on my impala fighting image. I usually have my setting at 800 or 1000 ISO. I find that with the 7DII that noise is not much of an issue at these ISO. This way I can have more depth of field or shutter speed when I want it. Also, we were shooting birds at the same time, so I had my setting set for them too. Thus, I didn’t feel it necessary to constantly change the ISO, especially back and forth and not remembering having it at a slower ISO when I faster one was required.
Also, this image was taken fairly early in the morning with some cloud cover with the sun peeking out temporally, again not having to change and forgetting I changed it.
However, your question has prompted me to remember ISO changes more in the future because I have been rather lazy with this setting.
Another thought is that these impalas were moving back in forth with their fighting; you would be surprised how much less sharp the image would be let say with a 1/400 sec speed. Especially, since I was handing holding on a bean bag from the top of the Land Rover, with other photographers moving around, always it seemed at the wrong time.
I remember shooting Cheetah at Animal Ark outside of Reno, Nevada where the animal handler recommended a 1/1000 of second speed for the cheetah running on the cheetah exercise run. I remember setting my shutter speed much higher at 1/3000 of a second, and I am glad I did after seeing a couple 1/1000 images that were viewed on the computer.
I guess I would rather error on the side of a faster shutter speed, because you don’t know when the action is going to happen and deal with the little extra noise than can quickly be reduced or eliminated in post-production.
Hope this helps…

I am a wildlife, nature, and scenic photographer. I now live in San Mateo, after spending most of my adult life in Millbrae. I previously worked full-time for Applied Biosystems and Life Technologies as a senior business analyst. I left this position a few years ago to concentrate on my true passion of nature photography. My Dad was a deer hunter and bought some property in Monterey County, so he could have a place of his own to go deer hunting. We have owned this property since 1946. I grew up spending my summers down there, following in my father's footsteps, hunting quail, dove, and black tailed deer--using a b-b gun, graduating up to a powerful hunting rifle. When I was eighteen I had to kill a black-tailed buck up close shooting him in the neck, since my first shot from afar had only wounded him. I saw death up close and personal, deciding from that moment on I didn't not want to be part of death, but to cherish life instead.

My friends and I do a lot of bird photography at my ranch in rural Monterey County, using photo blinds extensively; and recently we have built a few permanent ponds to attract wildlife.

I was a Minolta user, but switched to Canon in 2001. I used to shoot extensively with slide film; now I strictly use digital camera bodies, specifically the Canon 7D and 40D bodies, previously the Canon D1 Mark II and as backup the Canon 20D. I primarily use RAW capture, and process the images in Photoshop. I recently upgraded to CS5, and also have many external hard drives to store my raw files.

Check out Bruce's nature blog at and his website at