Saturday, December 28, 2013

Dreaming of a White Christmas

Every so often Lena gets tired of spending Christmas in Southern Californa and insists that we spend Christmas in Sweden and enjoy a traditional Christmas in Sweden. Unfortunately the weather in southern Sweden has a somewhat different interpretation of traditional Christmas, and what we generally get is rain, wind and clouds.

As luck would have it we did get some snow a couple of weeks before Christmas and Lena and I took the opportunity to pay another visit to Skäralid National Park. It made for a fantastic winter setting but it only lasted one day before the rains came and washed it all away.

This image was taken with the Canon 6D and my "walk-around lens" the 24-105L, post-processing done in PS Lightroom, with some extra saturation to bring out the red in the buildings.

This image is taken with one of my absolute favorite lenses, the Samyang 14mm f/2.8. Although this is a completely manual lens, you shouldn't be intimidated by the lack of autofocus. Even at f2.8 the depth of field will extend from 2m to infinity, so focussing is rarely a problem. This lens costs a fraction of what Canon's 14mm lens costs, and easily matches the Canon in most aspects, and surpasses the Canon for astro-photography where the Canon has a tendency to make stars look like commas.

And here is the Christmas weather we were dreaming about:

But I had to dig into the archives from 2005 and the Ice Hotel in Northern Sweden for this one.

Best wishes for a happy new year!

Monday, December 2, 2013

Reflections on the Water...

I spent a blustery fall day in the Skäralid National Park in southern Sweden in the beginning of November. My self-appointed theme for the day was reflections, and as I took pictures a song from my childhood played in head.

Season Suite: Fall

Reflections on the water like shadows in my mind
Speak to me of passing days and nights and passing time
The falling leaves are whispering winter's on its way
I close my eyes remembering the warmth of yesterday

It seems a shame to see September swallowed by the wind
And more than that it's oh so sad to see the summer end
And though the changing colors are a lovely thing to see
If it were mine to make the change I think I'd let it be...

But I don't remember hearing anybody asking me...

John Denver (1972)

You can hear it here starting at 2:54.

And as certain as winter is coming, there will be a spring; and in the meantime there are always a few die hard optimists who refuse to let a little wind and rain put a damper on life...

All images taken with Canon 6D and 24-105/4L iso50. A neutral density filter allowed exposures up to 30 seconds.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Time to Head South...

I have mixed feelings about fall; I love the changing colors of the foliage...

Once again the trees are filled with unusual small birds looking for spiders and tasty bugs. The photo-opps are as close as the back yard; just hang a camouflage net in the back door, lie down on the living room floor and wait for the visiting common redstart to patrol the lawn.

Or head to the southwest tip of Sweden together with hundreds of amateur ornithologists and watch the fall migration from Kolabacken at the Falsterbo Golf Club. As countless thousands of songbirds head south, thousands of birds of prey like peregrine falcons, hobbies, and sparrow hawks follow their food supply on a perilous journey over southern European. A greater risk than the peregrine falcon are the hunting grounds where millions of songbirds will end their lives in glues traps before being sold to restaurants and served as tapas. And next spring the number of birds returning will once again drop...

In a few more weeks the trees will be bare and most of the birds will have disappeared, and in 70-some-odd days the day in southern Sweden will be only 7 hours long.But the sunrise and sunset can last an hour...

In the meantime the bull red elk tries to gather a harem and mate with as many females as possible.

Some people complain about this dark time of year, but it's a good time for reviewing and editing the year's photographs and of course spending time with family and friends. I even know a rather clever photographer, Felix Heintzenberg who just published a book all about nature photography in the dark: Nordiska Nätter - Djurliv mellan skymning och gryning (Nordic Nights - Animal Life Between Dusk and Dawn). That bit of imagination and some great photography got him the WWF Panda Book award for 2014. Congratulations Felix!

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Reflections of Dublin

Due to a last minute invitation to an 4 day training session at IBM in Dublin I had the unexpected pleasure of finding myself in the middle of Dublin when the weather and temperature was perfect. Most of my fellow IBM'ers followed the advice to use the hotel near the office to keep costs down, but after a little research I found a hotel in town and public transportation that would keep me in budget and give me a chance for some evening photography in Dublin. We stayed near the Samuel Beckett Bridge which was a 20 minute walk from town along the quay and provided many photo-opps.

To simplify my travel I only had a carry-on bag on the flight, but fortunately I have a Gitzo tripod that will fit inside the bag if I remove the head and center column. My camera bag with five lenses qualifies as my "personal item". So after catching the bus into town from the airport I dropped my bags at the hotel and armed with tripod and camera I explored the nearby bridges and buildings along the quay.

The Beckett Bridge is a marvel of engineering, looking somewhat like a giant harp. But the style is so modern that it doesn't exactly blend in historical Dublin. Fortunately it is far enough from town in an area being built up with new buildings and offices, so it fits just fine in that neighborhood.

This shot was taken with the Canon 5DmkII + 24-105L at 24mm f/10 30secs at iso200.

Closer to town is the Lifey Bridge or the Ha'penny Bridge as it is popularly called. It got its name from the half-penny charge to cross it. No charge these days and at last count in 2001 it was crossed by about 27,000 people per day. This shot was also taken with the 24-105 f/8 4 secs at iso400

A bit further west along the Liffey river is the Four Courts dome behind the Ross Road Bridge. Again taken with the 24-105L at 35mm f/8 6 secs at iso400

A shot straight over the Liffey at the houses and buildings, using the 24-105L, 24mm f/8 8secs, iso400

and a similar shot giving a bit more overview of the Quay. Also with the 24-105L at 24mm, f/8 6secs iso400.

One block off the Quay right at the Ha'Penny Bridge you'll find the Temple Bar and dozens of other small pubs and restaurants. A bit pricey, but the atmosphere, music and energy is worth a visit and a few photographs.

And finally Friday afternoon after 4 days of intensive education at IBM in Damastown I get a parting shot as my flight heads for Copenhagen...

Friday, August 2, 2013

Sunrise in the Desert

San Diego is fantastic destination for a summer vacation with the family, especially if grandma and grandpa live there. But for the a nature photographer summer is actually the slow time of the year in San Diego. You see San Diego is the winter home to millions of birds that spend their summers in the Arctic, birds like waders and terns, but they are joined (well maybe pursued is more correct) by thousands of birds of prey like eagles, falcons, hawks etc.

So for our second summer in San Diego we were fast running out of unusual subjects for our photography. So Johan and I got up at 4:00AM, loaded the VW camper with all our camera gear and headed for the desert in hopes of finding some burrowing owl families. It was actually late in the season for this, so the odds were against us, but what the heck; we're on vacation. We drove towards El Centro and went looking along the irrigation canals in the area and sure enough we found a few owls and even one small family...

Two juvenile (C & R) and one adult (L) burrowing owls
As we drove slowly along the deserted roads we were surprised to find a rather noisy wader; a black-necked stilt. Normally these birds can be found in shallow waters along the coast, but there must also be a population living at the Salton Sea which is not so far away. Still I had a hard time figuring out what this individual was doing here, there can't be that much food in the irrigation canals. The continued warning cries made it pretty clear that there must be a chick nearby and sure enough looking down into the canal the stilt was standing on we caught a glimpse of a tiny stilt chick running for cover. We decided to leave mom and her chick in peace and continue on our search for owls...

Black-Necked Stilt
As luck would have it we did find a few more; even as the temperatures approached 90 degrees (32 degrees). Unfortunately by 9:00AM the heat distortion made it useless to photograph the owls from as close as ten meters and instead we went looking for a cool place to enjoy our breakfast before heading back to San Diego. 

One of the last individuals we ran into was quite bold and scolded us continuously, more or less telling us to get lost,  I couldn't resist filming him/her. Slowly opening the side door to the VW camper, I was able to lie on the floor and film from about 15 meters.

Friday, July 19, 2013

San Francisco Telephoto Landscapes...

Week two of our vacation in the US and it's time for some travel. San Francisco has always been a favorite destination of mine but our last visit was about 5 years ago; now the kids Johan 19 and Kristina 18 are interested in revisiting the city. But I have a hard time photographing when the family is sitting in the car or standing on the sidewalk waiting for me. So I went awol while they were shopping and headed back to the harbor area to see if I could get any pictures of the sunset.
As beautiful as San Francisco is, it's tough to take pictures that haven't been taken 10,000 times before and now become cliché, so for a slightly different perspective I tried using my 300mm f/2.8 and 100-400L  to take some landscape images. As the sun disappeared behind the mountains the sky took on shades of gold, pink and lavender providing a fantastic background for the various monuments.
The following four images were all taken from the same vantage point, another great thing about telephoto landscapes, the ability to get close to subjects that are miles apart. It saved me a lot of travel time and I wasn't limited to a single subject.

Alcatraz at sunset 300mm f/2.8
Coit Tower at sunset 200mm 100-400L
Coast Guard patrolling at sunset 300mm f/2.8
SF Harbor 11 shot panorama at sunset 300mm f/2.8

This shot was taken on a different day of course but with the same idea, using telephoto to capture a slightly different perspective. Taken from the viewing area on the north side of the Bay.
Golden Gate from the North 135mm 100-400L

Thursday, July 4, 2013

July 4th - The San Diego Big Bay Boom

Three weeks and thousands of pictures during vacation in California, but no time to do any blogging. But now I feel compelled to do a post since these shots are from the 4th of July, and are probably of limited interest the rest of the year. One of my objectives with our summer visit to San Diego was to photograph the San Diego skyline with fireworks in the foreground, and after scouting the various vantage points we finally found a decent location and set up a couple of hours before the show.

Firework photography is relatively simple:
  1. Find a good location with fireworks in the foreground and an interesting background.
  2.  Put your camera on a sturdy tripod
  3. Turn off autofocus and image-stabilization
  4. Use a remoter shutter release.
  5. Choose a lens that allows you to fill a lot of the frame with fireworks.
  6. Use the lowest ISO (100-200) to avoid the fireworks over-exposing.
  7. Use f/8 and 30 sec exposure or B
 And now you need to experiment, if you simply leave the shutter open for thirty seconds the firework will become a runny mess, as it grows and then falls again. Some photographers expose for only a couple of seconds, but this leaves you with a properly exposed firework, but a very dark background. So one trick is to shoot in B mode and then have something to cover the lens with during the exposure, so that you can limit the firework exposure to a couple of seconds. So you might begin your exposure before a firework is even shot up, and then when the firework explodes you cover the lens after about 1-2 seconds. Keep the lens covered until the firework disappears and then uncover the lens allowing you to expose for the background or multiple fireworks. 30 seconds total uncovered exposure time works well for dark backgrounds.

Here are a few examples of my shots for the San Diego Big Bay Boom, and 18 minute computer driven pyrotechnics show that was shot up simultaneously on 4 floating barges in San Diego Harbor. The producers Garden State Fireworks more than made up for last years mishap where all the fireworks intended for a 16 minute show went off in 15 seconds

20 sec f/8 iso100
23 sec f/8 iso 100
51 sec f/8 iso 100

26 sec f/8 iso 100
And here comes a shot before the fireworks. If you compare with the last firework photo you might notice that most of the city is obscured by smoke. So your best chance for good shots will be at the beginning of the fireworks.

In these shots I used the 100-400 during the initial shots, before the smoke covered the city, then I used the 24-105 IS/L and used the entire range, to avoid having 20 firework shots with the same background.

And below we have an even earlier shot of the aircraft carrier the US Midway, a museum ship in San Diego harbor, which offered another great vantage point to view the fireworks, but without the city skyline as a background.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Kite on a Stick and Mud Worth Fighting For...

After a long cold winter and a long cold spring, the Swedish summer is finally upon us in full strength, and the plants and animals are doing their best to make up for lost time. Ask the pollen sufferers about that; getting several sorts of pollen during a couple of weeks, instead of over a month or more. The blue tits in our backyard had 10 eggs last time we checked and now there is non-stop shuttle traffic between the nesting box and the garden trees as the frazzled parents try to find enough insects to keep all the mouths filled.

Meanwhile out on the meadow road a red kite has parked on the "M" sign  (where the road is a bit wider and meeting traffic can safely get by) and is basking in the morning sun. He must have a nest around, but he has probably delivered a few rodents at sunrise which should hold the young for a few hours. The normally shy kite seems insistent on keeping his spot in the sun, and I inch my '98 diesel Passat a few feet nearer a before turning off the motor; the kite ignores me. I give him a few minutes to get accustomed to me before restarting the motor. He doesn't even mind the noise of the diesel (maybe he's deaf) and I am finally within 10 meters. Just to let me know that he sees me and he would prefer to be alone the kite screeches at me several times, which actually made for a much more interesting shot than a docile kite on a road sign. Taken at 800mm 1/2000sec iso400

But there was not much else happening on the meadows so I decided to head into Malmö, (Sweden's third largest city with a population of 300,000) to check the harbor area where until a few years ago there was a large population of nesting terns and waders. During my search I came upon some house martins gathering mud to build their nests. With the nice weather recently there isn't much mud to be had, and when commodities are in short supply there will be fights over ownership. It must be some really good mud...
I originally shot from the car window, but the angle was to high, and the background too distracting, so I folded down the back seat, opened the back door and photographed while laying on the back seat, giving a better angle and background. Also taken at 800mm f/5.6 1/4000th sec iso400

 Not far away in a construction zone, a pair of northern wheatears have taken up their summer residence in a pile of cobblestones and obviously have several hungry mouths to feed. Both parents return every couple of minutes with a mouthful of juicy bugs. Yumm. I move my car to get the right light and the right background and spend a couple of hours photographing birds carrying bugs. Just imagine if we didn't have birds, we would be up to our ears in bugs... The light was really tough, this was taken around noon, and it was only when a few clouds covered the sun that the light became diffused enough to avoid the extreme midday contrasts.This was shot at 300mm f/4 1/2000 iso100.

 On my way out to the meadows this morning I ran into this doe and her two fawns, (only one in frame). Who gave me a few seconds to get a few pictures while the fawn nursed, then they bounded into the bush. Taken at 800mm f/5.6 1/800 iso800.

Nature is reaching its crescendo, in a few weeks the young birds will have left the nest and the parents will be heading south.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Bad Light is the Best...

My plan to get up at 4:30 was vetoed by my tired body. A 137km bicycle ride over the hills of Southern Sweden on Saturday and there was no overruling the veto. Had to settle for getting up at 5:30. Normally at this time at the end of May the sun is already quite high above the horizon, but since rain was forecast the skies were gray with low clouds. Nothing you usually get excited about, but for some kinds of photography this is not a bad thing. On the contrary the clouds diffuse the light and avoid those difficult highlights and shadows.

After a fruitless search for my insulated stainless steel coffee mug which my wife seems to have on permanent loan, I settled for a thermos full of coffee and making a couple of couple of sandwiches to be enjoyed on the way to the  nearby meadows. Normally there are numerous birdwatchers and photographers here at 6AM but today I had the place to myself, and using my car as a hide I was able to get close to a number of the normal spring species.

The redshanks was on his lookout post on the edge of the meadow and although I am certain that they must have young on the meadow I never saw them. But the watchful redshanks posed nicely against the meadow backdrop as I moved my insanely noisy diesel Passat a little closer...

An couple of unusual visitors on the meadow was this pair of Northern Shovelers, the male's yellow eyes always makes him look like he is completely surprised, while the female looks a bit more relaxed

And as the rain starts to the lapwings three chicks run to mom and take cover under her wings, I try to move forward and back to get a better shot without the grass in the foreground, but it's no use, this is all I got...

An unusual find for me is the female hare cleaning her baby, I try to get a little closer but looked away for a few seconds, in the meantime the hare has moved away from her baby and is grazing on the grass again, and it's impossible to find the baby

As the rains comes down harder I have to cut my trip short. It's mother's day in Sweden, so I need to buy some roses and pastries for my wife and see if I can cut a deal for the safe return of my coffee mug.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Just Another Morning on the Meadow

Despite getting up at 5:30 the sun was already high over the horizon by the time I made it out to meadows.  I was obviously late, since there was so much going on everywhere I looked. Lapwings, skylarks and wagtails chasing intruders out of their territories; crows harassing a marsh harrier as it flew over with a newly caught rat or something with a long black tail. I always tell myself I'm going to get up earlier, but at 3:30 when I checked the sunrise seemed so far away...

A yellow wagtail doing her morning stretch

A harrier lifts off with her partially eaten breakfast, maybe a rat, it had a long black tail. Yumm!

A skylark is taking his morning bath in the sand

And a greater spotted woodpecker eats larvae and aphids off the tender new leaves of an oak. Hanging upside-down is no problem at all with this powerful claws.

Next Satruday I'm going to get up earlier...

Friday, May 10, 2013

The Early Bird Gets the Worm

Spring is now at it's best, trees and meadows have that lime-green shade that makes a perfect background for any shot.

The local pheasant cock is high on testosterone and fears no one, he has that look in his eye, "This is my turf, and I'm ready to fight anyone to prove it"

Meanwhile out on the meadows the curlews take turns sitting on their eggs and foraging. Their long bill is the perfect tool for finding earthworms...

Nearby the skylark is gathering material for its nest

And in the forest the woodpecker is staking his claim to a territory by drumming on the tree trunk.

The red kites are out in force, I counted ten sitting in one tree; a few at a time they fly low over the nearby meadows looking for their next meal.

It doesn't get much better than this...