Saturday, August 24, 2013

 Natural Dynamic Tension in Wildlife Images 

August 24, 2013

As I aimed the camera, the heron on the rock twisted, squawked and launched into flight, in the opposite direction from which it had been facing.
And, as I checked the image in the LCD window, I suspected that I had an example of photographic dynamic tension, at least as I  understood the term.
The big bird's bony right foot remained solidly attached to the rock, ready to break free, as it shoved the bird into flight.
The dangling left foot dripped bright, diamond-like droplets.
Long, scaly legs strained upstream as the right wing, feathers flapping to break loose, stroked the air for elevation.
The sinewy long grey neck, yellow-eyed face and dark bony beak aimed forward over the shimmering stream.
For balance, like the arm of a tight-rope walker, the left wing reached toward me.

So, that seemed dynamic to me.
Perhaps all wildlife photos, if not all photos, exhibit some degree of dynamic tension.
At the moment the click of a finger records an image, for example, tension exists between present and past.

Such tension may not be readily sensed, but it becomes more evident in photo-album images, especially those loaded with sentiment.
An image that creates a flood of feeling may be the most powerfully tense of all images.
Photographic elements, including composition, action, light, color and texture may be consciously employed for creating artistic tension within the image itself.  There may be visual irony, contrast between or juxtaposition of elements.
This may be especially true in landscape and portrait photography.
Pure luck, the click-of-the-release action at precisely the optimal moment of tension, accomplished by being at the right place at the right time, plays a key roll in capturing dynamic tension in wildlife photography.
This also applies to photo-journalism, my career for many years as an outdoor writer/photographer when images served the purpose of illustrating a story for a public that believes a picture replaces 1,000 words.
That is, for a public that doesn't read, doesn't think and may suffer from a paltry imagination.
In any case, to capture the optimal moment of tension, a photographer must be on the spot an prepared with correctly functioning equipment.
For me, since I retired in 2010, that means traveling to areas with observable wildlife, such as the Oregon Coast, the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Southeastern Oregon and the several wildlife refuges and wilderness areas within a few hours drive of my home in Walla Walla, Wa.
And, of course, it means daily outings with Nora the Schnauzer along Mill Creek or the Walla Walla, Snake and Columbia rivers, 15-100 minutes from home, or a drive into the Blue Mountains where I can count of seeing, depending on the season, such subjects as mallards, Canada geese, snow geese, mergansers, teal, night herons, great blue herons, great white egrets, wild turkeys, otter, mink, muskrats, whitetail deer, mule deer, elk, coyotes, black bear as well as voles, lizards, insects and flowers for macro images.
Although I'm armed with two tripods, a gimbal head, and a ball-head on a metal dish that slides along the ground, I do most of my image gathering with hand-held cameras.
For lizards, flowers, and insects I use a Nikon D800 with a Nikon 105mm, f2.8 macro lens (often with a an extension tube and/or a 1.4 extender). The D800's 36 megapixels allow added magnification by cropping flexibility.
For landscape images I generally use a Nikon D3s and a Nikon 24-85mm, f3.5-4.5 lens.
For wildlife, especially birds launching in low-light conditions, I use a Nikon D700 (or a Nikon D300s in brighter conditions) with a Sigma 150-500mm f5-6.3 lens.
I mix and match gear in differing situations, especially with the D800 when I expect major crops.
I use Photoshop Elements 11 to crop, lighten-darken-contrast images.
I've played with Photomatrix Pro 4.2 for exaggerated HDR effects.
So, I often tour the back country with my wife Darlene holding the big lens ready and Nora pressing nose prints on a side window.
The camera with the big lens dangles from my left shoulder when Nora and I walk Mill Creek or hike Blue Mountain area trails.
On recent scorching July/August days, we limited our outings to early evenings when shade cooled the north side of the stream or early mornings when the shade fell on the south side of the stream.
So, recently, I approached and snapped the great blue heron perched on a sun-lit rock in the stream.
Herons along Mill Creek have grown arrogantly tolerant of families, dog walkers, strollers, bikers and joggers. I've often stood, completely ignored with camera aimed, for half-an-hour while one stood like a statue or stalked a minnow or crawdad.
I have snapped 25-photo sequences of a heron stalking, lunging beak-first and neck deep into the water to spear a 12-inch trout, carry it to the stream's edge and  swallow it whole.
Once I stopped at Hood Park on the Snake River for Nora's potty break and lucked upon a heron seconds before it speared a small yellow catfish with a spiny dorsal fin. I snapped images of the stab and the strut with the fish to shallower water where the heron, worked it around so the spines wouldn't catch in its throat ... and down the hatch it went.
Then, recently, I caught two great blue herons sucking down minnows like fresh hors d'oeuvres in that split second before swallowing.

So, as I peruse my images, I see examples of photographic dynamic tension.
I especially like the one snapped when a lagging Nora found the coyote-discarded head  of a barn owl and came galloping across Bennington Lake Dam, clutching it before her face like a ghoulish mask.

I clicked the release button three times. Luckily, one image came out OK.

(More photos may be seen at

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Columbia River Gorge Historic Highway Water Falls

August 16, 2013
(More photos at

Darlene, Nora the Schnauzer and I spent two nights this week (Tuesday and Wednesday) at The Dalles, Ore., in order to tour the Columbia Gorge Historic Highway and photograph some of the more accessible waterfalls.
I specifically wanted to stop at the Women's Forum Overlook at the western end of the scenic route for a view of Crown Point and Vista House. I've seen many impressive photos of that view and wanted to record my own image of the scene.
The last time we made this tour,in 2010, I drove the Subaru into a curb at Latourelle Falls and put a threatening bulge in the right rear tire.
Fearing a flat at any minute, we held our breath for 25 miles or so, passing the view of Vista Point, into a Les Swaubs at Troutdale for, as it turned out, a new set of tires.
We dined there and drove back to The Dalles.
And a few weeks ago, we stayed two nights at The Dalles and spent a day at the Columbia Gorge Discovery Center and Wasco County Historical Museum. On that trip, we dined at Spooky's Pizza. An Oriental salad with draft Black Butte Porter in a frosted glass made my day.
Actually, the prospect of masticating this succulent chow added spice to seeing the water falls.
As it turned out, we drove fewer than 250 miles, including stops of photograph large spiders on the sage bushes along the river (Pine Creek), and reached Spooky's for a late lunch.

Luck prevailed.
A vehicle left a slot beneath a shade tree, which allowed us to leave Nora in the car (with the windows down and plenty of water).
I had the beer and salad.
Darlene gnawed chicken wings and smacked her sweet lips.
Then we ventured six miles to the stunning Rowena Crest views of the horseshoe curved road and the Columbia River.

I drove another the 10 miles of the historic highway, which parallels the freeway, to Mosier with its tall Totem Poll.

We returned to The Dalles on the freeway, napped until I walked three minutes to Freddies and fetched chocolate brownies, chocolate-covered strawberries and Pike Place coffee for a snack.
We left the Super 8 before 8 a.m. on Wednesday. We stopped again at Rowena Crest and continued to Mosier. We saw one whitetail doe with a fawn, one bushy-tailed grey squirrel and an osprey with a foot-long fish gripped nose-first in its claws.   

The osprey sailed over the crest. It landed on an power pole a few hundred yards away. I rolled the truck slowly toward it, but it flew when I tried to aim the camera across the hood from the open door.
Incredibly, the hawk returned to another pole more than a mile from the previous stop. It flew again before I could get a shot.
From Mosier, I drove to the Ainsworth Park exit from I-84 and picked up the second historic highway section. Within a few minutes we reached a rest stop and then Horsetail Falls.
Nora and I strolled beneath the trees, and I framed images of the falls from several angles, usually with a very slow shutter speed.

As Nora and I walked from the truck to Multnomah Falls, we met a couple from Walla Walla. I followed Nora, who weaved among clutches of people, from the parking area for the .2-mile path to the scenic bridge below the top falls.

I drove half-a-mile to Wahkeena Falls to take another short trek with Nora to the plummeting water.

I drove 3.5 miles from Wahkeena to Bridal Veil Falls, one of my favorites. Nora and I hiked 500 feet down a winding ankle-straining rocky trail to the falls, a three-quarters of a mile round trip.

Then we strolled a half-mile loop on the plateau to an overlook of the Columbia River, passing vivid-red flowers on the way.

We paused briefly at Shepperd's Dell, and down to a miniature (comparatively?) falls.

We continued to LaTourell Falls, another favorite. Nora and I visited both viewpoints of the very tall falls. The bulging basalt cliff formations may be as interesting as the plunging water that dwarfed human figures near the pool.
Nora and I walked to the shade of the bulging cliff-side where the mist cooled my face and hands. And where I shielded the camera with my shirttail.

Finally, after negotiating a one-lane, road-work mess at Crown Point, we parked at the Women's Forum Overlook. Alas, a heavy haze, probably from wildfires, lay on the river. It nearly obscured Beacon Rock and left a gritty odor of smoke in the air.
Nevertheless, I snapped photos of Crown Point and Vista House.

On the way home from The Dalles the next day, with somewhat clearer air, I watched spiders again at Pine Creek. Then sneaked up on a painted turtle and a great white egret at the ponds below McNary Dam.

We didn't see all of the falls in the Gorge. We missed the impressive Oneonta Falls. Seeing it requires a 1.1-mile, one-hour hike, at least. And we didn't explore water falls on the Washington side of the Gorge, west of  The Dalles.
So, we may spend a couple of nights in The Dalles.
And don't forget Spooky's frosty draft Black Butte Porter with an Oriental Salad.