Study Group 2

Larry Treadwell (C)

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Title:    Come to Papa
Goal:   To portray the protective nature of a Black Neck Stilt towards its young 

Equipment/Source:   Nikon D800 with 200-400mm f4 lens with tc1.4. ISO 500, F8, Shutter 1/250, focal length 550mm using manual mode on tripod. Image from Nikon RAW file.   
Technique:  I shot this from the lowest angle possible, in this case while laying on the wet mud to get as close to eye level as possible. I used the TC1.4 to obtain extra reach so as not to disturb the chicks and their parent. The ISO was chosen to be as low as possible so as to reduce noise, while the choice of shutter speed at 1/250 I felt was fast enough so as to freeze the limited action. The chicks are on their first trip out of the nest and are still moving slowly and wobble as they walk. I shot in manual mode to control the highlights on the adult male through trial and error. There are no burned (over exposed) areas on any of the feathers. If they appear to be burned in this image is it due the resizing. The shot was taken early in the morning as when the heat of the day rises, the parents will not let the chicks out in the sun. The original shot has a slightly orange cast due to the color of the actual light at sunrise. Since I have been told repeatedly that my images have old color casts which come from the time of day that I am shooting I used Lightroom to remove the color cast and thus rendered all the whites as true white. I personally prefer the slightly warmer original version but I yield to the wishes of the folks here.

In this image the chicks are 6-7 days old. One chick hatched 3 days later than the others and it is one of the hidden chicks. The adult bird is a male Black Necked Stilt. Mom is sitting on the nest and sending the chicks, one at a time on the 20 foot journey over to dad. When the chicks arrive dad collects each one and hides it under his breast feathers. If you look closely you can see the legs of two of the chicks showing under his body. In this image the third of 5 chicks has just arrived and is leaning against his father to rest before crawling under his breast. Each arriving chick followed this exact behavior. Dad kept the chick under his body for 5 hours while mom cleaned out the nest and then he sent them back. I could not get a shot with all green foliage in the foreground because dad sat in this exact same spot every day for a week.

For the record I have photos of this pair from the mating process, the laying of the eggs, hatching (mom’s body in in the way for most shots). I also have them eating, taking their first steps and even from the day the alligator arrived attempting to eat the young. I spent every day for 5 weeks filming this family.

 This is nearly a full frame image on the Nikon D800. I lightened the dark areas of the adult’s wings and body, and brought down the highlights so there are no burned areas. The slight browns and greys on the adult’s body are the natural colors that were on the white feathers of the bird. I added some clarity and sharpness to the feathers the camera did not render all of them perfectly sharp due to their jet black color. I edited out the slight orange cast created by the morning light as I have been told to do in the past.    

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

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

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Title:   Training Session
Goal:   To capture Elk preparing for the Fall Rut

Equipment/Source: Nikon D7000 with Nikkor 200-400mm f4 lens, handheld. Taken on a rainy evening F5.6, shutter 1/800 at 500ISO. Image from Nikon RAW file. Since the action was not furious and the light low I selected the 1/800 shutter as enough to freeze action. I pushed the fstop to 5.6 to maintain some depth of field. This allowed me to keep the ISO down to 500 and thus help to eliminate noise in the darker background where I felt noise would most likely hide. The overcast day eliminate harsh shadows which was the reason I chose to attempt to capture this event on this day.

Technique:    By late August the herds of bull elk that spend the summer grazing on the tundra are beginning to test themselves in preparation for the fall rut that takes place in September. My goal was to capture this activity. To this end I had hiked out to a tundra meadow where I have found fresh elk droppings the previous day. Knowing that the elk would gather on the meadow in the evening I had arrived early and secluded myself and was prone in some rock outcroppings which I felt would provide some protection and cover for the event.

By 6:40 nearly a hundred bulls of varying ages began to gather on the meadow and started sizing each other up. Closest to were these two approximate 3 year olds who certainly had their hormones in action. The bull in the center was the more aggressive and continued to rear and shadow box with his hooves at the bull on the left who seemed intimidated and cowered more than attack.

During the third round of the fight an older bull approached from the lower meadow and hovered just behind the most aggressive young male. To my mind he seemed to be almost coaching the young bull as he bellowed several times during the engagement as if urging on the other bull. I took over a hundred images of the engagement as these young bulls mock fought in a circular motion.

I chose this image because of the rearing, pawing action of the center bull and the cowering action of the bull on the left who seems to be overwhelmed by his opponent and backing off. Additionally, the older bull seems to be really watching the engagement and I can see him as either sizing up his competition for September or acting as mentor and instructing the youngster. (In some ways he reminds me of a manager in a gym instructing a young boxer—anyone know Angleo Dundee?) I also selected this image because there is at least one visible eye for all three of the elk. These three were shot at 300mm focal length, so I really had a ringside seat. 

Processing:   The image was processed in Lightroom where I opened some shadows, added some contrast, clarity, sharpening and brought down the exposure slightly. For composition purposes I chose this vantage point in the rocks because I knew it would provide a clear background as the meadow drops off sharply behind where these bulls were fighting. While I am certain that the elk knew I was there, I felt and their behavior confirmed, that I was not close enough to influence their behavior. In fact, they never even looked at me.

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

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

Review by commentator Rick C.

I feel you largely achieved your goal in making this capture. The behavioral aspect is strong yielding a solid nature story. The angle of view provides reasonable separation of all three of the elk with minimal distractions. The small rock outcropping projecting up past the far bull’s back is about the only one. Your timing is on the money. The exposure is reasonable for the conditions at the time of capture. I do feel you could boost the mid tones to provide some additional impact. I feel the framing is largely effective with the exception of the lower left. I would add more room at the bottom to allow for the “virtual feet” even though the grass there obscures them. At the size you have submitted (520 pixels long side) there is not enough to properly evaluate sharpness. I do feel your primary focus looks to be good.

N-3, T-3*, P-2 = 8 (T-3* Too small to properly evaluate sharpness but appears reasonable. P-2 crop on bottom a little too tight. Leave room for the feet even though they are partially obscured.)

Response to critique by Larry T.
This is directed to Rick C.
You suggest that I leave more ground at the bottom for the feet of the fighting elk. I purposely crop as I did because due to the rolling nature of the land and the movement of the elk the bottom of the image would have been completely blurred. If you look carefully you will begin to see a blur developing at the feel of the bull on the far left. That blur is caused by a small rise in the ground that is much closer to my position. If I have included more room for the feet, that blur would have extended entirely across the bottom of the image and become even more pronounced than it is now. Thus my question is, should I still have included more of that blur in the image? I look forward to your reply and thanks.

Response from Rick C to the above:
A good point to raise and one where it comes down to the inevitable trade off. Ideally we would allow for the “virtual” (aka unseen) feet. However, as you noted, there are secondary considerations, in this case the fact that the near ground would be out of focus. Judges often cite out of focus elements in the foreground as negatives, so the reason for your crop is much clearer. Without having a chance to study the full image and engage in an internal debate over which is the “bigger” weakness (the lack of space for the unseen feet or having an out of focus band at the bottom of the frame) my gut take is to allow the space for the feet and try to mitigate the visual impact of the out of focus band by slightly desaturating and darkening it. That is just my off the cuff take as it were. If I studied the image I might come to a different conclusion and I can pretty much guarantee that other viewers might well do the same. So the end point for this is more to the effect that as long as you have that discussion with yourself and opt to do it one way or the other for a reason rather than because a judge says one way is better, then you have made the right choice for the way you want to convey that image even if the next judge or judging panel disagrees. 

Review by Ken W.
Nice nature story, Good Action, good sharpness, exposure, and composition, Good planning 
N-3, T-3, P-3, E-0, Total-9

Review by Martin P.
I am enjoying the exposure of this image, the darker well separated background works well to provide a canvas for the action. The image is a little on the small size for us to judge critical sharpness, but it looks ok I think. Compositionally the two animals middle and left work very well together and the interaction has great power. For me, the 3rd animal gets in the way of the action and I would have preferred more separation between the creatures. Still a lovely image.
N-3, T-3, P-2, E-0, Total-8

Review by William S.
This is a great nature photograph with interesting action. You seem to have a good strategy for capturing the elk without intruding on their activities.

The images of the elk are reasonably sharp but maybe the light made the colors look unsaturated. I can also see noise in the elk and more in the background.

The image is good enough to grab the viewers attention but the image quality is not as good on close view. Converting it to black and white may add more viewer impact.
N-3, T-2, P-2, E-0, total-7

Review by MJ Springett
N=I like the story that is apparent even without the text.
T= Your viewpoint was carefully considered and gave a very pleasing background. The stopped action captured the moment.
P=This image would hang on my wall as a beautiful nature moment.
N-3, T-3, P-3, E-1, Total-10

Review by Charlie Y.
thank you for sharing such image, and lengthy write up of situation and effort of taking the pictures. +1 for nature story, +1 for effort. One question, what size and resolution of the image uploaded? 
N-3, T-2, P-2, E-1, Total-8

Review by Sylvia W.
I like your composition and the depth of field is spot on - no distracting backgrounds. Shooting on an overcast day has helped to maintain a level exposure across the image. Those rocks in the background help to add dimension to the overall setting. You chose well on the vantage point for shooting giving you a direct line of sight to the animals. I wont comment as to sharpness as this image appears to be incorrectly sized. Remember when taking photos to look at the edges as you seem to have cut off the feet off the front Elk. 
N-3, T-2, P-3, E-0, Total-8

Review by Janice R.
Really nice capture. You chose the right point of view so that the elk weren't merged and the darker background provided a background that didn't compete with them. You DOF choice seemed good in that the elk are sharp and the foreground and background are appropriately out of focus. I'm not able to enlarge this image much but both subjects appear sharp.

N=3, T=3, P=3, E=1 Total= 10

Review by Prasad D.
Very Nice shot and moment captured telling a story of the bulls. The communication between the 3 seems clear. Nice exposure aided by the weather the soft light and the background gives the Bulls a nice pop. Technique seems correct. Could have avoided the white stone boulders in the background or could have processed to subdue the color. Just try increasing the Gray from Color correction in PS CC and then reduce the saturation going to Hues and Saturation.
N-3, T-3, P-2, E-0, Total: 8

I am retired and living the good life in south Florida.  I have always had a love affair with the wilderness and the natural world.  This naturally lead to an interest in photography to bring home memories from my adventures in the wilderness.  I have thus been involved in photography for more than 40 years and have worked as a semi-professional including work for the PGA and LPGA as well as shooting sports for various local colleges. 

My favorite photographic locations are Everglades National Park (the hardest place I’ve ever found to photograph), the Great Smoky Mountains and Rocky Mountain National Park.  That said, I will go anywhere to get a good image.  I enjoy shooting the Milky Way and the night sky, a real challenge, and I enjoy using long exposures.  

I have taught photography on the college level, belong to several local camera groups and have served as a photo judge at local clubs and for other local competitions.  Since retiring I have had several photographic exhibits in south Florida.

I am member of the online group called The Nikonians and shoot Nikon cameras currently using a D800 and D810.  While I have a collection of Nikon only lenses my favorites are my 24-70 and my baby, a 200-400 f4 beast that weighs 7.3 pounds.   My hiking buddy is my tripod that goes everywhere I do.