2013 Favorite Images Critique ____ 2014/01

I wasn’t thinking I had many favorites when I created a 2013_best_images Collection in Lightroom from the filtered three-star-or-better images of 2013. But I found many I was quite fond of, and in a couple short sessions whittled those to ten. Often it’s the field experience as much as the composition that yields a favorite, at least temporarily. Every one of these images was captured in joy while out in nature (well, maybe not at the dog park), with a profound feeling of privilege. With time, though, stronger images succeed, and the emotion of acquisition recedes to unimportance. Some images don’t survive the test of time.

The photos here are local (Washington and Oregon). Familiarity is a key to success. With no big backpacks or kayak trips, most shoots were from targeted research, planning and scouting. April to June was once again all about bird photography; July to October, mountain scenics.

Adobe Photoshop Lightroom (5) and Elements (10) continue to be my simple post tools of choice, but I discovered Microsoft ICE (Image Composite Editor) for panoramas, a huge improvement over Adobe Elements Photomerge (and CS6, as well, I’m told). Post shoot manipulation was again significant in producing my favorites, obvious for pans, but I also changed the background for the Pileated shot, flipped the Spray Park image and removed a log in Twister. Digital manipulation, still in its infancy, is here to stay. Disclosure should be mandatory if it isn’t obvious.

American Avocets, mating ritual. Canon 5D III, 500 f/4L, 1.4x. 1/1000s, f/8, ISO400.
American Avocets, mating ritual. Canon 5D III, 500 f/4L, 1.4x. 1/1000s, f/8, ISO400.
Love Cross
About a dozen American Avocets were feeding along the shore of this Eastern Washington lake. In April, I assumed they were in migration. I was in a kayak, in flat calm, in early morning light ideal for photography of any sort. One Avocet pair began flirting, and I concentrated on them as they went through the whole mating ritual, finishing with the crossing of the bills.

Chestnut-backed Chickadee at nest hole. Canon 5D III, 500 f/4L, 1.4x, 25mm tube. 1/1600s, f/8, ISO3200.
Chestnut-backed Chickadee at nest hole. Canon 5D III, 500 f/4L, 1.4x, 25mm tube. 1/1600s, f/8, ISO3200.
In spring we had Nuthatches, Robins, Wrens, Juncos, Towhees and Chickadees nest in our yard. This year Chestnut-backed Chickadees took up residence in a homemade nest hole that I erected. This particular hole, 8 ft. up in a buried alder limb, is in its third season, looking nicely aged. The chickadees tolerated my presence standing nearby, to the point where I needed extension tubes for close focus using my 500mm f/4 and 1.4x tele-extender. I positioned the camera for a bokeh background. It was marred by bright sunlight compared to the shade on the bird, but dropping the yellow-green luminance in Lightroom solved that issue. A perfect portrait of a hard-working Chickadee.

Clark's Grebe Dance. Canon 5D III, 500 f/4L, 1.4x. 1/2500s, f/8, ISO800.
Clark’s Grebe Dance. Canon 5D III, 500 f/4L, 1.4x. 1/2500s, f/8, ISO800.
Since 1995 I’ve gone to Potholes Reservoir near Moses Lake almost every year to photograph the Western Grebes mating dance by kayak. Every year I’ve been frustrated, sometimes not even seeing the dance, most often a witness at distances too far for a successful photograph. To be fair, on many Potholes trips I led kayak birding groups where the paddling was more social then photographic. This year I chose to kayak solo, and I hit the mother lode. On three of four mornings I got close opportunities in good light.

The Grebe (both Western and Clark’s) mating dance ritual begins with parallel nodding and preening. If this intensifies, it may culminate in a faceoff — a face-each-other, bent-neck stare down. The birds then erupt from the water, legs churning, water parting, both birds racing like Jesus for the ten or so seconds that they can keep it up. On three separate mornings I got good sequences, all better than anything from prior years. Each day’s shoot was a satisfying highlight of the year.

Male Pileated Woodpecker and young at Nest. Canon 5D III, 500 f/4L, 1.4x. 1/30s, f/8, ISO3200.
Male Pileated Woodpecker and Young at Nest. Canon 5D III, 500 f/4L, 1.4x. 1/30s, f/8, ISO3200.
Light in the Forest
This spring I found a good Pileated Woodpecker nest site in our local woods and traded locations for an even better one. Both sites were pretty dark, shot from a walking trail, and with parent birds that tolerated of my presence. At times I waited as much as an hour for a parent to return to the nest, with the arrival preceded by a forest-shattering, primeval call. The chicks always sensed the return before I did.

I love the way the mushrooms at this site accent the nest hole, and more important, I’m almost eye level to the birds, not shooting up. On the day of this exposure it was even darker than usual, and I had a lot of blurred images. With shutter speeds as low as 1/13s, completely freezing the action of not just one but three birds didn’t really happen, but I liked the result better than when I used flash (see big-lens-low-light). This image was strongly backlit, so I did a substitution of the background to remove the numerous hot spots, and then did some dogging and burning to give the scene a “light-in-the-forest” look.

Red-necked Grebe Egg Roll. Canon 5D III, 500 f/4L, 1.4x. 1/500s, f/8, ISO1250.
Red-necked Grebe Egg Roll. Canon 5D III, 500 f/4L, 1.4x. 1/500s, f/8, ISO1250.
Egg roll
I’ve photographed loons and grebes rotating their eggs before, but not until now the Red-necked Grebe, and it came as such a pleasant surprise. I was in a kayak, and I had just “bumped” the bird off the nest by getting to close. I backed off, and, much to my surprise, he (or she) got right back up on the nest, and before settling down turned the eggs.

Spray Park Tarn. Canon 5DIII, 17-40mm f/4L @17mm. 1s, f/11, ISO100.
Spray Park Tarn. Canon 5DIII, 17-40mm f/4L @17mm. 1s, f/11, ISO100.
Image Tarn
I’ve gone to this Spray Park tarn numerous times for sunset, and this year was finally rewarded with a pink sky. I call the location Image Tarn (after Image Lake that reflects Glacier Peak). In my opinion it’s the best Mt. Rainier reflecting tarn not just in Spray Park — which has many — but in the whole of Mt. Rainier NP that has hundreds. Anyway, I finally hit a decent sky after many misses.

Milky Way from Mt. Fremont, Mt. Rainier NP, Washington State. Pan from 4 (2x2) horizontal images. Canon 5DIII, Rokinon 24mm f/1.4 @f/2, 15s, 30s, ISO1600.
Milky Way from Mt. Fremont, Mt. Rainier NP. Canon 5DIII, Rokinon 24mm f/1.4, ISO1600.
Milky Way
I returned again to Mt. Fremont, also at Mt. Rainier NP, in August to photograph the Milky Way. We arrived on a clear still night, and unlike the year before there were no wildfires to un-naturally light up the southern sky behind the Mountain. This particular image is a composite of four, two for the sky and two one-stop brighter for the land. I photographed with a Rokinon 24mm f/1.4 lens that I bought for night sky shooting. The lens is sharp, though wide open there’s significant vignetting so I’ve generally been shooting night scenes at f/2, and even then if I’m going for pans, I’ll be sure to include an ample overlap.

Mazama Ridge, Mt. Rainier NP, Washington State. Pan from 10 vertical images. Canon 5DIII, 17-40mm f/4L @40mm. .25s, f/11, ISO100.
Mazama Ridge, Mt. Rainier NP. Pan from 10 verticals. Canon 5DIII, 17-40mm f/4L. .25s, f/11.
I thought I was in the wrong place for the best sunset I witnessed at Mt. Rainier this year. Up on Mazama Ridge, the Mountain, NNW from my position, was in shadow. The color was to the southwest. I paced back and forth, finally deciding to go with a panorama that emphasized some middle-ground trees. After assemblage in Microsoft ICE, I imported the result into Photoshop and squished together the middle of the image to shorten the gap between the two strong elements, the dark tree group and the Mountain. I suppose I succeeded compositionally, but I still wish I would have been at Tipsoo Lake for this one.

12th St. Seattle Skyline, Washington State. Pan from 5 pairs of vertical images. Canon 5DIII, 24-105mm f/4L @58mm. 3.25s and 8s, f/11, ISO100.
12th St. Seattle Skyline, Washington State. Pan from 5 verticals. Canon 5DIII, 24-105mm f/4L, f/11, ISO100.
Dog Park
I’ve been saying for years I need to go to the Jose Rizal (12th St) overpass to photograph the Seattle skyline at dusk, and in October I finally did that. I scouted the spot in the afternoon when I happened to be driving by, and in the evening showed up with a step ladder at the dog park next to the bridge, which I thought would provide the biggest impact shot. The dog park has a fence with a couple of holes, probably cut by photographer vandals. The holes were big enough for a camera lens, but they lock you into that particular point-of-view. The step ladder got me above the fence, gave me more flexibility for set-up, and by rising higher than I would have been on just a tripod, made for a slightly better composition, especially for a pan. I shot five verticals, bracketing at 3.2 and 8 seconds, and combined the images in Microsoft ICE with some finishing in Photoshop. I was very pleased with the result, despite the cloudless sky. The photo experience here isn’t the greatest, by the way, with noise, air pollution, barking dogs and poop degrading the scene.

Twister Falls, Oregon. Pan from 5 images. Canon 5DIII, 17-40mm f/4L @17mm. .6s, f/11, ISO100.
Twister Falls, Oregon. Pan from 5 images. Canon 5DIII, 17-40mm f/4L @17mm. .6s, f/11, ISO100.
I decided to include this image of Twister Falls because it was such a surprise, pretty much making me swoon when I saw it. I’ve been to Eagle Creek backpacking, hiking as far as Tunnel Falls on three prior occasions. I never hiked the ¼ mile farther up the trail to Twister, but in October I did, and I was stunned by the setting. Twister is fantastic, a photogenic equal to Metlako, Punchbowl or Tunnel. I chose to show the canyon along with the falls by creating a panorama, shooting five 17mm images and combining them in Microsoft ICE.

I’ve uploaded a number of these images, plus others, at my 500px photo site in a larger size that displays very well. Please do have a look — comments and likes appreciated.


17 thoughts on “2013 Favorite Images Critique ____ 2014/01

  1. Gary, all of your photos are stunning and my favorite is the woodpecker shot. I find these birds to be so elusive that I doubt I’ll ever get a shot as impressive as yours, but your work is truly an inspiration. – thanks for sharing!

  2. Gorgeous photos, Gary. The sunset photos were particularly beautiful.


    1. Thanks, Hugh. Most appreciated! I used to do mostly sunrises, and then I realized there are sunsets too! Double the fun!

  3. All of your waiting is my reward.I read all of your notes and it might as well be in Aztecia but,still I find it fascinating that you can manipulate these images so deftly.There is a piece of Stolen at your mom`s place for both Kate and you. MikeBaer

  4. Gary, 2013 was a great year! These are wonderful images and reflect your talent, skill and passion for photography and nature. I like these and the ones on 500px.

  5. Gary, your talent never ceases to amaze me. I gauge the quality of my photos to your standards. keep up the good work. Jay

  6. All of them are so nice Gary!
    But I am partial to the birds. In that area I am torn between the grebes and woodpeckers. Both show a lot of life and movement.

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