Getting the shot

Tracks to San JoseTracks, Elkhorn Slough – 2008

Most of my photography is spontaneous. I might have an idea of what I am going to shoot, when I head down the Big Sur coast, I am going to try to shoot condors. But I don’t usually have a shot in mind.

Yesterday was different, I found myself at the right spot at the right time to get a shot that I have wanted for a couple of years.

Elkhorn Slough is a wonderful place for birding that I try to get to a couple time a year. But running through the middle of it is one of the main north south railroads in California. And every day, around noon, the Coast Starlight rumbles over the tracks.

I have taken shots of the tracks and of the train, but always wanted to get one with a train coming down the tracks. And I finally had my opportunity.

Now standing on the tracks before an oncoming train is not something you do lightly. And while I was shooting with my long lens and was well away from the tracks by the time the train arrived, you will notice that I was not perfectly centered on the tracks. I was inching my way off as I shot.

Playing chicken with a train is not my idea of fun.

Coast Starlight
Coast Starlight, Elkhorn Slough – 2011

Bird of the Week

Ok, so this site is in its infancy and I am trying to figure out things I can do to keep it current and give you a reason to come back for a visit. Another way of putting it is to throw “ideas” out and see what sticks.

So the latest idea is a “Bird of the Week” column, which covers the birds that I have shot in the last week along with a crowning of the “Bird of the Week” shot. I have no idea if this will stick.

Anyway, last week I spent sometime pulling weeds at Point Lobos and led a condor expedition down the Big Sur coast. I also refilled the bird feeder and took some shots its visitors. So there were ample opportunities to capture a “Bird of the Week”.

California Thrasher
California Thrasher

First, I went out to Point Lobos to pull invasive plants off Sand Hill. While there, a couple of California Thrashers got me to drop my trowel and pull out the camera. Both of them were timid, staying down in the brush. Finally one popped up and allowed me to get a few shots. Not my best Thrasher shot, but not bad.

On Friday, I went with my sister and nephew down the Big Sur coast to see if we could spot some California Condors. I have had a great deal of luck seeing condors since last November. On this trip, we spotted six condors, but only saw one reasonably close.

California CondorCalifornia Condor

It turns out it was Big Sur Condor #4, who I have seen repeatedly in the last eight months. According to he is a 12 year old male named “Amigo”.

Finally, there has been a lot of activity at the bird feeder recently. The usual assortment of Chestnut-backed Chickadees, House Finches, and Oak Titmouses, have been joined by Western Scrub-Jays and Stellar’s Jays. The jays are messy at the feeder and dump a lot of seeds on the ground. This last week Eurasian Collared-Doves and Band-tailed Pigeons decided that the Morning Doves had a good gig cleaning up seeds on the ground. I don’t usually see Band-taileds this close, so I got a few shots.

The result was the inaugural “Bird of the Week” shot:

Band-tailed Pigeon
Band-tailed Pigeon, Monterey – July 15, 2011

Come back in next week to see if this idea sticks.

Where to crop

Tyler Skaggs (Visalia) Cal League starting pitcher
Tyler Skaggs, Visalia Rawhide – 2011

I will tell you a little secret, I generally crop my images. Often, this is out of necessity, because you can only get so close to some birds. Other times, however, you just capture more so you can make decisions about the final image.

Case in point, this shot of Tyler Skaggs. I really like the final image, but getting to it required some trade offs.

Usually cropping a bird photo is easy. You don’t have extraneous details to work out. Often it depends on aesthetics, cropping relative to background lighting, the angles of branches, where things come into the image, and the like.

But with a sports shot, you often have people in the background. And I don’t like cutting people in half, lopping off arms, legs, heads, etc. You may think that silly, because it is all in the background of the shot. But I don’t like doing it.

Sometimes, however, you have no choice and you just have to pick the crop and where to make the cut.

So I apologize to everyone in this shot who’s head is missing. If I could have gotten you in the shot and retained the image’s strength, I would have.

Off the beaten path

Bixby Creek Bridge
Bixby Creek Bridge – 2011

There was a reason I bought my truck nearly 20 years ago and when I needed to make some end of life decisions last year, sunk my savings into it to keep it running.

It takes me where I want to go. Sometimes, that is just a line on a map.

Today it took me on the old coast road, east of Big Sur. Just a line on a map, but one I have been looking at it for a while. When the time came, the truck made the turn more than I did (I should probably get that looked at).

We spent the next hour driving over rocky passes and down through redwood filled canyons and ended up with a view of Bixby Creek bridge that you won’t see in a coffee table book. It was, time well spent.

A bit of baseball

Zack Wheeler (San Jose)
Zack Wheeler – 2011

I shot my first baseball game of the season the other night. It was the California/Carolina League All Star Game. The best Single A advanced kids from both coasts.

Shooting a night game is always a challenge. Once the sun goes down, you never have enough light to shoot at speeds that capture the action. So you up the ISO and hope that the images don’t get too grainy. Even then you are stuck shooting at 1/100th of a second.

So you try to work with what you can. Capture the pitchers face and let the arm be a blur. Shoot batters as they’re set for a pitch and don’t try to catch the swing.

You can play with the images a bit afterwards. But there is only so much noise that you can remove before the image is blurry. And do you tinker with the white balance because of the lights, or just live with that yellow tinge?

After a while, you realize that it is best just to put the camera down and enjoy the game.