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

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