Shooting Wildlife With a Camera

Bird and animal photography, especially in the wild, can be quite challenging.

Notice how the Rule of Thirds is used in placing of the green heron with space for the bird to move into the frame.© Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Notice the smooth bokeh and how the Rule of Thirds is used in placing of the green heron with space for the bird to move into the frame.© Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The name of the game in wildlife photography—whether you’re trying to capture an exotic bird in a national wildlife refuge or a giraffe in a city zoo or wildlife park—is patience.

Wild birds and animals will do what they’re going to do and no amount of coaxing will make them turn their head, look your way, open their mouth, do something cute, or move to better light.

You have to be there—and ready—when the photo op occurs. Be prepared to wait, and wait, and wait some more—it takes a long time to get good wildlife photos, even longer for great ones.

The best time for travel photography is either during the early morning or late afternoons and the same applies for birds and animals. Early morning is typically the best for wildlife photography because birds and animals are actively searching for food.

Maintaining fast shutter speeds, especially for birds in flight and small birds that move very quickly is essential—you cannot fix motion blur in post production. You need to completely freeze the action of the bird. To achieve this, set your shutter speed in a range from 1/800 to 1/1600 or even faster for birds in flight.

Sandhill cranes in early morning light at Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, New Mexico. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Sandhill cranes in early morning light at Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, New Mexico. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A tripod or a monopod is highly recommended for early morning and late afternoon photography when slower shutter speeds are required due to less available light.

Always focus on the nearest (to the viewer) eye of the bird. It is acceptable to have a blurred tail or other parts of the bird, but at least one eye always needs to be in focus and sharp. For birds in flight, focus on the bird’s head or chest—whichever provides better contrast for the camera autofocus system.

Choose your background carefully to achieve a smooth bokeh (or boke, a Japanese word meaning blur). Photos with objects behind the bird are not as visually appealing as images with an out-of-focus or blurry background. This is achieved by a shallow depth of field when relatively close to the subject while using a large aperture.

Get up close. Use a photo blind whenever possible. One of the best blinds is your RV or car; you’re able to get relatively close to a bird or animal without departing your vehicle. Birds are generally not scared of cars and you can drive up fairly closely and take some amazing shots.

Rocky Mountain Goats in the Canadian Rockies. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
You have to shoot a lot of photos to manage one or two keepers. Pictured above Rocky Mountain Goats in the Canadian Rockies. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

You need a good telephoto lens to get close enough to make the image interesting. Zoom in and focus on the head of the bird or animal.

In general, good photos result from careful attention to some basic elements of composition—the placement of the objects in the photo. Frame your subject carefully, try to put the main point of attraction at 1/3 or 2/3 of the image (remember the rule of thirds).

Shoot from the birds eye level, images from the same level with your subject will look more natural and attractive.

When visiting a bird sanctuary or zoo, you may get the chance for some stunning photographs of birds and animals at close range. With patience and practice, you can really do this nearly anywhere.

When you’re in the wild, and happen across birds or animals, you need to be ready to capture the image—even if it’s at a distance. Have your telephoto lens ready. Nothing shouts louder “boring photo” more than a tiny subject in the frame, so move in closer. With wild animals such as bear or moose be sure to maintain a safe distance.

This image of a green jay was taken from a bird blind in Bentsen-Rio Grande State Park in South Texas.  © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
This image of a green jay was taken from a bird blind in Bentsen-Rio Grande State Park in South Texas. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Photographing wildlife requires patience and skill. If you are a beginner, try easier subjects like robins or finches in your backyard or the park and birds in the zoo before heading out into the wild. Experiment with the shutter speed until you know what will give you the effect you want.

Be patient and let the birds come to you. You won’t get the perfect shot every time but with practice your photos will improve.

Worth Pondering…

A camera alone does not make a picture. To make a picture you need a camera, a photographer, and above all a subject. It is the subject that determines the interest of the photograph.

—Man Ray

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RV Travel Photography Tips

RV travel photography seems so simple.

Compose your photo simply. Remove all nonessential elements. Zoom in or move in. Photo above Fort Edmonton Historic Park, Edmonton, Alberta. Each part offers a unique look and feel. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Compose your photo simply. Remove all nonessential elements. Zoom in or move in. Photo above Fort Edmonton Historic Park, Edmonton, Alberta. Each part offers a unique look and feel. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

What could be easier than traveling to a natural oasis full of majestic and spectacular beauty with a camera and a handful of memory cards and a spare battery and taking some amazing landscape photos?

But, when you arrive at your location, you find that it’s a lot harder to take a decent travel photo than it looks.

You take the RV trip of a lifetime with dreams of capturing those magical experiences. You anticipate a memory card full of captivating images to share with family and friends. But instead, you end up with mostly uninspiring photos that fail to do your adventure justice.

Digital is not difficult to shoot and good results are achievable, but one needs to know the basics of photography. Travel photography is easy once you master some basic techniques and secrets.

The combination of good lighting, the right exposure, and a suitable composition either make an photo outstanding or destroy it altogether.

By standing relatively close to the large rocks in the foreground I was able to accentuate them and lead the viewer’s eye into the middleground and mountains in the background. Also notice how the road in the middleground leads the viewer’s eyes through the image. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve
By standing relatively close to the large rocks in the foreground I was able to accentuate them and lead the viewer’s eye into the middleground and mountains in the background. Also notice how the road in the middleground leads the viewer’s eyes through the image. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

The quality of light can make or break even the most carefully composed photo. The best light for landscapes occurs twice a day and is commonly referred to as the Golden Hour or Magic Hour. The Golden Hour is generally about an hour or so after sunrise and an hour or so before sunset.

In general, good photos result from careful attention to some basic elements of composition—the placement of the objects in the photo. It relies heavily on the photographer’s choice.

Photography is about seeing—how we COMPOSE what we see. In the process of making any photo, there are two important decisions to be made:

  • What to include in the frame
  • What to exclude from the frame
When you take a photo and choose where things are placed within the frame, know why you’re doing it. Photo above The Old Wine Truck at Red Rooster Winery in BC (British Columbia) Wine Country (Okanagan Valley). © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
When you take a photo and choose where things are placed within the frame, know why you’re doing it. Photo above The Old Wine Truck at Red Rooster Winery in BC (British Columbia) Wine Country (Okanagan Valley). © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Remember that less is more. Compose simply. Remove all nonessential elements.

Move closer. One of the most common mistakes of beginning photographers is to include too much in the photo. Help to draw attention to the most interesting part of a scene by subtracting anything that’s not interesting. Move in closer by getting closer, by getting lower, by whatever means it takes.

The Rule of Thirds is a powerful compositional technique for making photos more interesting and dynamic. The Rule of Thirds is based on the natural tendency of the human eye to be naturally drawn to a point about two-thirds up a page and towards sets of three. The Rule of Thirds states than a photo is most pleasing when its subjects are composed along imaginary lines which divide the image into thirds — both vertically and horizontally—so that you have nine parts.

We need to choose our composition carefully to convey the sense of depth that was present in the actual scene. Depth can be created in a photo by including objects in the foreground, middle ground, and background. The foreground should provide a clear and interesting pathway into the scene and lead the viewer’s eyes into the background.

Rather than only shooting from eye level, also consider photographing from high above, down at ground level, from the side, from the back, from a distance, from close up, and so on.

Notice how the Rule of Thirds is used in placing of the green heron with space for the bird to move into the frame.© Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Notice how the Rule of Thirds is used in placing of the green heron with space for the bird to move into the frame.© Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Try changing your point of view—get lower, get higher—and see how it affects your scene.

You drive up to the scenic lookout, get out of the vehicle, grab your camera, turn it on, walk up to the barrier, raise the camera to your eye, rotate left and right a little, zoom a little and take your shot before rushing off to the next scenic lookout.

However this process rarely leads to the WOW shot that we’re looking for.

Remember, taking digital photos costs nothing; so go out and experiment, shoot a lot, and see what you come up with.

Let’s not forget the most basic rule for shooting great photos: Take your camera with you everywhere you go…and take lots of photos.

You can’t “capture the moment” if you don’t have your camera.

Worth Pondering…

No matter how advanced your camera you still need to be responsible for getting it to the right place at the right time and pointing it in the right direction to get the photo you want.

—Ken Rockwell

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Enchanted Rock: Sitting on Top of the World

The Texas Hill Country begins a little way west of I-35 between San Antonio and Austin, and from here extends a large area of rolling hills and valleys with limestone canyons, clear-water rivers, and a few scattered small towns.

Enchanted Rock is an impressive geological feature with an estimated age of one billion years, making it among the oldest exposed rock in North America
Enchanted Rock is an impressive geological feature with an estimated age of one billion years, making it among the oldest exposed rock in North America. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Most of the area is quite densely wooded and can look rather featureless from a distance, with every hill covered with trees. One exception is Enchanted Rock, an enormous, pink granite dome located between Llano and Fredericksburg, about 90 miles north of San Antonio and 18 miles from Fredericksburg along ranch road 965.

Enchanted Rock rises 425 feet above ground, 1825 feet above sea level, and covers 640 acres.

It’s part of the Llano Uplift, a large region of granite bedrock that rises out of the surrounding limestone. Over the last several million years, erosion has exposed this billion-year-old dome and its smaller sister domes. It’s some of the oldest exposed rock in the world and is a prime destination for hikers, photographers, and rock climbers.

Boasting the best view in Texas, Enchanted Rock has long been a useful landmark for cross-country travelers. The rock is one of the largest batholiths (underground rock formation uncovered by erosion) formed from molten magma deep below the earth’s crust and part of an underground mass of 62 square miles, one of the largest such features in the US.

Although Enchanted Rock appears to be solid and durable, it continues to change and erode.

Visitors to Enchanted Rock enjoy numerous activities, including hiking, backpacking, technical and rock climbing, primitive camping, picnicking, birding, geological study, stargazing and nature study.
Visitors to Enchanted Rock enjoy numerous activities, including hiking, backpacking, technical and rock climbing, primitive camping, picnicking, birding, geological study, stargazing and nature study. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Enchanted Rock was designated a National Natural Landmark in 1970 and was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1984.

Enchanted Rock is part of the state park system, one of the most popular sites in Texas for several reasons—the scenery is unusual, the summit is easily reached and has fine views over the countryside, different habitats harbor varied wildflowers, cacti and other plants, and there are good hiking trails and rock climbing routes. Occasionally visitors are turned away if the carpark reaches maximum capacity. There are actually several different summits, and a few days could be spent exploring the area.

The park offers 7 miles of hiking trails, including the popular 6/10 mile Summit Trail which involves a 425-foot elevation gain hike to the top of Enchanted Rock.
The park offers 7 miles of hiking trails, including the popular 6/10 mile Summit Trail which involves a 425-foot elevation gain hike to the top of Enchanted Rock. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

There are two main trails. The steep and heavily traveled Summit Trail leads directly to the summit of the main rock, while the Loop Trail makes a four-mile trek around the entire complex of domes.

A more relaxed and more scenic—but longer—hike, the Loop Trail presents a completely different aspect of the park. Along the way you’ll pass through a couple of different ecosystems—through woods and brush, by a pond, over exposed rock—and you’ll see several unusual eroded and lichen-encrusted rock formations that those who do climb the face of Enchanted Rock never get to see.

A good combination is to walk half the loop trail to the far side of the Enchanted Rock summit, use a short cut along a ravine (Echo Canyon) to link with the summit trail then take this up to the peak. The southern part of the loop trail climbs through pine woodland and past large granite boulders with many colorful wildflowers during spring. There is a short side trail to a viewpoint of distant lands to the west, while the main path continues past a primitive camping area and a large pond (Moss Lake) with fish and turtles, then meets the Echo Canyon junction. The trail through here passes one of the main rock climbing areas, then meets the summit trail half way to the top.

Details

Enchanted Rock State Natural Area

Elevation: 1,825 feet (high point)

Address: 16710 Ranch Road 965, Fredericksburg, TX 78624

Phone: (830) 685-3636

Directions: From Fredericksburg 18 miles north on Ranch Road 965; from Llano, 14 miles south on SR-16 and then west on Ranch Road 965

Entrance Fees: $7; children 12 years and younger, free

The 4-mile Loop Trail, a favorite among hikers and backpackers, winds around the base of Enchanted Rock.
The 4-mile Loop Trail, a favorite among hikers and backpackers, winds around the base of Enchanted Rock. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Note: Park closures are possible on weekends and holidays. The number of people in the park is limited to protect its fragile resources. When parking lots are full, the park will close for up to two hours. This can happen September through May, sometimes as early as 11 a.m.

Worth Pondering…

I am humbled by the forces of nature that continuously -mold our great state of Texas into a beautiful landscape complete with geological diversity, flora and fauna. It is my goal as a photographer to capture that natural beauty and share it with others.

—Chase A. Fountain

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The Seasons of My Life

When I was born in 1941, life expectancy was 63 years for men and 66 for women.

Anyone who has listened to John Denver sing about country roads and the Blue Ridge Mountains can easily imagine the transcendent beauty of Shenandoah National Park.
Anyone who has listened to John Denver sing about country roads and the Blue Ridge Mountains can easily imagine the transcendent beauty of Shenandoah National Park. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Medical advances and healthier lifestyles have paved the way for greater longevity.

With my 74th birthday approaching in August, how much longer will I live?

I don’t spend much time thinking about it.

Author Henry Miller wrote that life itself should be the art and that—in the spirit of Shakespeare—we should regard ourselves as players on a stage.

Time has a way of moving quickly and catching you unaware of the passing years. It seems just yesterday that I was young. Yet in a way, it seems like eons ago, and I wonder where all the years have gone. I know that I lived them all. I have glimpses of how it was back then and of my hopes and aspirations and dreams.

I have cried over the death of our son.

I have toured London and the Scottish Highlands, Paris and the French Rivera, Rome and Venice, Lisbon and the Algarve, Cuzco and Machu Picchu, Maui and Hawaii, St. Lucia and Barbados, Hong Kong and Tokyo, and Bangkok and Singapore.

There is a long list of goals still on my bucket list.

The Galt Market covers ten acres of great deals with fresh fruit, vegetables, nuts, and seafood displayed along ‘produce row'. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
The Galt Market (near Lodi, California) covers ten acres of great deals with fresh fruit, vegetables, nuts, and seafood displayed along ‘produce row’. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

But I am no longer driven.

I realize life is sweet and I am lucky to be here.

But, here it is—the winter of my life and it catches me by surprise. How did I get here so fast? Where did all the years go? I remember seeing older folks through the years and thinking that those older people were light years away from me and that winter was so far off that I could not fathom it or imagine fully what it would be like.

But, here it is—my friends are retired and moving slower—I see an older person now.

Route 66, also known as the Will Rogers Highway and colloquially known as the Main Street of America or the Mother Road, was one of the original highways within the U.S. Highway System and continues to captivate people around the world. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Route 66, also known as the Will Rogers Highway and colloquially known as the Main Street of America or the Mother Road, was one of the original highways within the U.S. Highway System and continues to captivate people around the world. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Some are in better and some in worse shape than me—but, I see a great change. They’re not like the friends that I remember who were young and vibrant; but, like me, their age has started to show. We are now those older folks that we used to see and never thought we’d become. Each day now, I find that just completing the daily crossword puzzle is a real target for the day!

But, here it is—I enter into this new season of my life unprepared for all the aches and pains and the loss of strength and lack of energy to do things that I wish to do. The winter has come, and I’m not sure how long it will last; but this I know, a new adventure has begun.

Life has regrets. There are things I wish I hadn’t done and things I should have done; but, there are many things I’m happy to have done. It’s all in a lifetime.

If you’re not yet in the winter of your life, let me tell you straight—it will be here faster than you think. Whatever you would like to accomplish in your life, do it NOW! Don’t put things off too long! Life goes by—and it goes by too quickly.

Do what you can TODAY, as you can never be sure whether this is your winter or not! You have no promise that you will see all the seasons of your life.

Live it well! Enjoy today! Do your dream! © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Live it well!
Enjoy today!
Do your dream! © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Life is a gift to you. The way you live your life is your gift to those who come after. Make it a fantastic one.

Henry Miller said we either devour life or we are devoured by it. That worked for me when I was younger. But, as I say, I am quieter now.

I enjoy the camaraderie of good friends and neighbors. I enjoy good food and quality wines, and hiking and photography.

Another decade on the planet? I plan to read books I have put aside and continue exploring the US Sunbelt in the comfortable luxury of our motorhome.

How long can I lead this lifestyle? Where was I going?

Life is good. If I have worries, they are of my own making. If I can, I will try to help others.

I will never pass this way again, but it would be nice to be remembered for some small deed in the heart of another.

Life is too short to let even one day be frenzied or frazzled or frittered away. Life is too short not to take time to do the things that will hold the most meaning for you. So let yourself float like a leaf on a stream, relax with your memories, and let yourself dream.

ferry boat returns from Cumberland Island to the dock in St. Marys
It’s the end of a wonderful day as our ferry boat returned from Cumberland Island to the dock in St. Marys, Georgia. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Life is too short and flies by if you let it, so choose what you want every day—and go and get it.

The future is uncertain. A wise sage once said, “if you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans”.

LIVE HAPPY IN 2015!

LIVE IT WELL!

ENJOY TODAY!

Worth Pondering…

Enjoy life NOW. It has an expiry date!

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Family Vacation Photos Subject to Tax & Fines

Taking photos from your phone now poses a serious risk to your pocket book.

National Forest land along the Apache Trail, Arizona).
National Forest land along the Apache Trail, Arizona). © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Believe it or not, the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) is finalizing plans to fine photographers who shoot on federal wild lands without a permit.

Under the measure, still photography and commercial filming in Congress-designated wilderness areas would require a permit, and shoots would also have to be approved and meet certain criteria like not advertising any product or service and being educational.

These policies would require journalists to apply for a $1500 permit to photograph the 36 million acres of designated wilderness area administered by the USFS, reports Oregon Live.

These new rules would also make it illegal for independent photographers to take photos or shoot video (even with a camera phone) and would result in a fine of $1000 per shot. This even includes family vacation pictures! If you uploaded 10 photos to Facebook from a family vacation the government then fines you $10,000.

Forest Service spokesman Larry Chambers said in a statement the directive has been in place for more than four years and “is a good faith effort to ensure the fullest protection of America’s wild  places.”

National forest lands at Brasstown Bald, North Carolina.
National forest lands at Brasstown Bald, Georgia. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Liz Close, the Forest Service’s acting wilderness director, says the restrictions are meant to preserve the untamed character of the country’s wilderness.

Close didn’t cite any real-life examples of why the policy is needed or what problems it’s addressing. She didn’t know whether any media outlets had applied for permits in the last four years.

She said the agency was implementing the Wilderness Act of 1964, which aims to protect wilderness areas from being exploited for commercial gain.

“It’s not a problem, it’s a responsibility,” she said. “We have to follow the statutory requirements.”

Exploiting public lands with a camera? Really?

The Forest Service’s previous rules caused a fuss in 2010, when the agency refused to allow an Idaho Public Television crew into a wilderness area to film student conservation workers. The agency ultimately caved to pressure from Idaho Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter.

Critics have characterized the rules as too vague and say it infringes on the First Amendment’s free speech clause.

Cradle of Forestry, North Carolina
Cradle of Forestry, North Carolina © Rex Vogel, all rights

“I am very concerned about the implications this has for Americans’ First Amendment freedoms of speech and the press,” U.S. Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.) wrote in a letter to Forest Service Chief Thomas Tidwell.

“It is also very troubling that journalists could be held to different standards at the discretion of the issuing officer depending on the content of their stories and its relevance to wilderness activity.”

Walden said he worried access might be granted “based on political calculations” and noted a majority of Oregon land is controlled by the federal government.

U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) also voiced concern for the policy.

“The Forest Service needs to rethink any policy that subjects noncommercial photographs and recordings to a burdensome permitting process for something as simple as taking a picture with a cell phone,” he told Oregon Live.

“Especially where reporters and bloggers are concerned, this policy raises troubling questions about inappropriate government limits on activity clearly protected by the First Amendment.”

Most of the country’s wilderness is in the West. Nearly 50 wilderness areas have been designated in Oregon, including wide stretches of land around Mount Hood, Mount Jefferson, and Mount Washington.

National Forest Land enroute to Fish Lake, Utah
National Forest Land enroute to Fish Lake, Utah. © Rex Vogel, all rights

The rules allow exceptions only for breaking news coverage of events like fires and rescues. They’re more stringent than similar policies on wilderness areas managed by a different federal agency, the Bureau of Land Management.

The BLM does not require any special permit for newsgathering in wilderness areas.

The Forest Service is currently accepting public comment on its proposal.

Worth Pondering…

Real freedom lies in wildness, not in civilization.
—Charles Lindbergh

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Bird Photography is What I like to Do

With binoculars, scopes, and gazes turned to the skies, birders are often easier to spot than their feathered friends.

Green jay takes a bath in Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park, headquarters for World Birding Center. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Green jay takes a bath in Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park, headquarters for World Birding Center. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Birding has become one of the fastest-growing and most popular activities in the U.S. and around the world. An estimated 30 percent of all Americans go birding each year.

According to an U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service study, birdwatchers contribute over 36 billion dollars annually to the nation’s economy.
Bird watching is also one of the few activities open to all ages and levels of ability.

Getting Started

It doesn’t take much to get started in bird watching. You don’t need special hiking boots or clothing and you don’t require special equipment. Birds can be observed with the naked eye, although a pair of binoculars makes the experience more enjoyable.

Field Guides

Using one or more field guides are also recommended.

The choice of a field guide for birding can be a very personal thing. Partly it depends on what you want from your field guide; partly on how you process information.

Sibley Guide to Birds

Eastern and Western editions of The Sibley Field Guide of Birds of North America.
Eastern and Western editions of The Sibley Field Guide to Birds of North America.

The Sibley Guide to Birds is THE North American bird book if you’re a serious birder.

The volume covers all the birds, and most of the plumages of all the birds you can find in Canada and the United States. If you have more than a passing fancy, it’s well worth owning. Its large size makes it generally impractical for use as a field guide. Alternately you may opt to purchase this guide in smaller Eastern and Western editions as we have.

Kaufmann Field Guide to Birds of North America

Kaufmann Field Guide to Birds of North America is also THE guide to own. The text is clear and the illustrations are very well done. Kenn Kaufman took the illustrations from photographs and digitally enhanced them to bring out the species characteristics. This field guide quickly became my reference guide of choice.

Record Keeping

Keep a list of the birds you’ve seen.

A great way for birders to keep track of the species they’ve seen is with a “life list”.

The standard procedure for recording a species you’ve seen for the first time is to include the common name, the date and time, and location. Special notes regarding identification, weather conditions, or unusual plumage are often useful for later reference.

Many birders maintain their list by recording their sightings in their favorite field guide. This is a handy approach, but more than one bird watcher has managed to lose a field guide, and also their life list at the same time.

Some birding websites also make it easy for you to maintain a life list directly on-line.

If you decide to become even more serious about keeping lists of the birds you have seen, there are several PC-based packages that make it easy to create and manage your lists.

Birding with a Camera

Bird Photographers wait in predawn light for the sandhill cranes lift-off at Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, New Mexico. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Bird Photographers wait in predawn light for the sandhill cranes lift-off at Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, New Mexico. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A small but increasing number of birders have started to combine photography with their love of birdwatching.

It has been my experience that birding groups aren’t overly photography friendly.

Birdwatching runs at a faster pace and photographers are often considered a slowing threat for the listing expectations of the group. With their high powered scopes birders don’t require the same proximity to birds as do photographers.

As a result of past experiences I now tend to avoid groups of birders or at least maintain a distant presence. However, my encounters with individual birders have been pleasant and meaningful often sharing insights into our particular focus.

Although I deeply enjoy birding, I still consider myself first and foremost a photographer and writer. As a birder, I want to find and enjoy new birds, observe their behavior, and document what I see. As a photographer, I want to photograph birds in good light and a pleasing background, and above all return to my motorhome with quality photos.

I now take photos of birds with two purposes in mind.

Identification

The Black-vented Oriole made its home a short distance from our RV site at Bentsen Palm Village. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
The Black-vented Oriole made its home a short distance from our RV site at Bentsen Palm Village. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

I rarely carry binoculars with me. I can more quickly find a bird and observe it with the telephoto lens on my Canon D-SLR camera. When photographing a bird species for the first time, I’ll use my photo to help me identify the bird once the image has been downloaded to my computer.

Artistic Expression

Beyond and including simple identification, I want my photos to be artistic paying attention to form and composition, sharpness and exposure. I want to avoid compositions where the background will compete with the foreground for attention.

And that’s what gives me the greatest joy in photography and birding.

Worth Pondering…

Have you ever observed a hummingbird moving about in an aerial dance among the flowers—a living prismatic gem…. it is a creature of such fairy-like loveliness as to mock all description.

—W.H. Hudson, Green Mansion

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High Winds Can Damage Your RV

High winds can be unsettling, whether you’re driving an RV or parked in an RV park or campground.

High Winds Can Damage Your RV (Source: newsnet5.com)
High Winds Can Damage Your RV (Source: newsnet5.com)

Winds can be unpredictable, loud, and damaging. Before you take to the road, check the weather reports for the areas you’ll be driving through. If wind gusts or high winds could occur, you want to be aware of it so you can deal with the situation properly.

Winds can be deadly. They can overturn your RV, your tow vehicle, and cause major damage to them. In severe cases, you may become trapped or separated from your RV which leads to a handful of other dangerous situations.

If you’re driving when high winds or gusts occurs, you’ll know immediate because you’ll feel it.

The best thing to do when wind is hitting an RV from the side is to drive slower.

Do not speed during a windstorm. You never know when the wind will change direction severely affecting your ability to control your RV.

Reduce your speed when high winds occur. The faster you travel, the greater effect the wind will have on your vehicle. When wind gusts are 30 mph and you’re traveling at a speed of 45 mph, you’ll create a vacuum effect of a 75 mph wind gust around your vehicle.

If winds are severe and you no longer feel safe driving, wait it out by pulling well off to the side of the highway. If you stop too close to the road, a severe gust could move another vehicle into the path of your RV. Be aware of the traffic around you before you park to wait out a windstorm. Be even more cautious in the event of blowing dust or sand.

 

dust storm
An approaching dust storm over Phoenix. (Source: gawker.com)

Dust storms that turn day into night are a hazard to drivers. Dust storms can strike with little warning. Blinding, choking dust can quickly reduce visibility, causing accidents that may involve chain collisions, creating massive pileups.

Wind can be an issue even on an otherwise pleasant day. In many regions of the U.S. and Canada a fast moving front can produce substantially strong winds seemingly at anytime and in any season. Unexpected high winds and gusts can occur anywhere and at any time.

These winds can cause difficulty for the driver to maintain one’s own lane especially when driving an Interstate highway. Wind gusts, as opposed to a steady wind state, can amplify the problem greatly.

Numerous accidents occur as a result of driving in high wind conditions. These range from damaging a mirror to side-swiping a passing semi-truck and being struck by a flying object to leaving the road due to loss of control.

Know your vehicle and control level in windy conditions.  If you are driving with white knuckles or become nervous, you have passed your driving comfort level. Slow it down.

As a general rule, reduce speed by 10 percent when wind conditions are between 15 and 20 mph and a further 10 percent for every 10 mph over 20. However, do not drive at a speed less than the minimum posted. If such a speed is warranted due to wind, it is time to get off the road and find a camping site.

All RV’s are capable of being upset by the wind force. Fortunately, in general, it takes a considerable wind force, far more than you would think to flip a trailer or motorhome.

If high winds or inclement weather ever have you concerned while driving or towing your RV, pull off the road and wait it out. It’s simply not worth jeopardizing your safety and the safety of your rig.

High Winds Can Damage Your RV (Credit: RGJ)
High Winds Can Damage Your RV (Credit: RGJ)

Only travel if absolutely necessary. It sounds obvious, but the best way to avoid having your RV tip over in high winds is to avoid driving in those conditions. Putting aside the damage to your RV in the event of an accident, the risk of injury to you and your passengers safety, it is simply not worth the risk.

Worth Pondering…

Whether the weather be fine,
Whether the weather be not,
Whether the weather be cold,
Whether the weather be hot,
We’ll weather the weather,
Whatever the weather,
Whether we like it or not
—Anon

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Take Only Memories, Leave Only Footprints

Get more out of life—take a hike!

Hiking the trails at Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park in southern Alberta. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Hiking the trails at Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park in southern Alberta. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Now that we’re well into spring and getting ready for summer, it’s prime time to get out on the trail and enjoy the colorful wildflowers, wandering wildlife, and breathtaking views of the natural world.

One of the primary reasons hiking is such a transcendent experience is it offers the opportunity to get away from civilization to enjoy the beauty of the natural world.

June is one of the best months of the year for hiking because the wildflowers also bring a lot of other cool stuff such as butterflies and hummingbirds.

With so many exciting subjects to observe and photograph, it’s easy to forget that this is also one of the most fragile times of year for the natural world. So, it’s important to leave no trace when you’re out on the trail.

Or in the words of Chief Seattle, “take only memories, leave only footprints”.

Leaving no trace means you leave the wilderness as you found it or maybe a little better by picking up any trash you find. Whatever you bring in, you should also bring out. Pack out your trash and pick up any litter left by others. If everyone carried out additional debris left by others, litter problems would be quickly eliminated.

Hiking the trails at Mount Robson Provincial Park in British Columbia. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Hiking the trails at Mount Robson Provincial Park in British Columbia. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

It means the only things you take away are memories and photographs, and the only thing you leave behind is footprints. But, you should also be careful just where you leave those footprints.

Avoid stepping on plants (especially wildflowers), and stay on established trails as much as possible.

Read the signs posted at the trailhead. At some of the more popular trailheads, there’s often a large sign with a trail map, posted regulations, safety reminders, and sometimes special considerations for leaving no trace. Make sure you read and follow any rules specific to that trail.

Control pets at all times, or leave them at home.

Learn the local ecology before visiting a new location. This will help you understand what’s endangered, what’s invasive, and how careful you need to be while you’re hiking through that area.

Observe wildlife from a distance. Do not follow or approach them.

Don’t feed the wildlife. NEVER feed wild animals. It not only ruins the wildness of the land, but it also makes the animal depending on human food.

To ensure you leave no trace, following are guidelines to follow when out on a trail.

Leave-No-Trace Principles

Plan ahead and be prepared.

Travel and camp on durable surfaces.

Dispose of waste properly and pack out your trash.

Leave what you find.

Respect wildlife and minimize impact.

Be careful where you step.

Be considerate of others.

Hiking the trails at Congaree National Park, South Carolina © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Hiking the trails at Congaree National Park, South Carolina © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Leaving a wilderness area just as you found it will also ensure that the next visitor enjoys that same wildness you did.

Above all, be aware that you are not alone in the woods. Other wilderness hikers and campers also enjoy the solitude. Make as little noise as possible while hiking.

Let nature’s sounds prevail. Avoid loud voices and noises.

Worth Pondering…

May all your trails be crooked, winding, lonesome, dangerous, leading to the most amazing view……where something strange and more beautiful and more full of wonder than your deepest dreams waits for you.

—Edward Abbey

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Organizing Photos: Transfer Images to Computer

Are you in control of your metadata?

Do you know what you have, and can you find it?

Standardize your Workflow

No matter how you determine your file-naming convention (by date, by location, by subject, by keyword, etc.) the system must work for you. (Source: pcmag.com)

Have a plan for how images move from the camera to the computer. Establish an approach and then stick with it.

You can change it at a later date to upgrade to a better or more refined approach, but you’ve got to start somewhere and remain consistent for a while in order to develop a stable platform. It’s the foundation of your organizational system.

Download your photos from your digital camera memory card to your computer’s hard drive.

I connect my digital camera to my computer and hit the download button.

Some prefer to import using a high speed USB card reader. Be aware that all card readers are not the same.

After my images are transferred to my hard drive, I reformat the memory card.

When you open Picasa, you’ll notice that your photos are arranged by folder. You can drag and drop to rearrange your albums and create new albums.

There are as many filing systems as there are photographers. No matter how you determine your file-naming convention (by date, by location, by subject, by keyword, etc.) the system must work for you.

I create my folders by location. My procedure goes as follows:

  • Download my 4GB memory card to my computer using Picasa.
  • Select my folder and name for these images, e.g. BC, Okanagan Valley­_2012_08
  • After an initial run-through of my files, I delete the obvious throwaways and keep the rest.

Tag Photos

You can also tag your photos. Tagging is a concept found in photo management software where you attach descriptive text called tags (e.g. Birds, Hiking, Christmas, RV Parks,) to each photo in your collection.

Worth Pondering…

If I have any ‘message’ worth giving to a beginner it is that there are no short cuts in photography.

—Edward Weston

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Organizing Photos

The Digital Photography and RVing series will now focus on the second of the three steps of digital photography: Organizing and editing photos.

You’ve taken photos with your new digital camera. Now what?

Digital Workflow

Organizing photos using Picasa (Source: systeminsight.co.uk)

You can download your photos to a computer, organize them using a photo management program, and edit them using a photo-editing program.

Photographers refer to this process as digital workflow.

In simple terms “digital photography work-flow” is a systematic process of downloading, organizing, editing, backing-up, and sharing digital photos.

Walking along the path of a beginning digital photographer, I learned much the hard way.

Nikon Transfer is a basic program that allows you to import and manage files from the D90. (Source: steves-digicams.com)

I slowly came to realize that it was necessary to have a systematic work-flow for my digital photo processing.

Slowly, by numerous trials and errors, I’ve found a simplified way that works for me to develop, sort, organize, and archive my digital photo collection.

Select a Photo Management Program

If you shoot just 40 photos a week, you’ll end the year with more than a two thousand digital files—that’s a lot of photos to keep track of without some help!

For one thing, it’s going to be tough to find a specific photo. If you want to view the photo of a roseate spoonbill you took two years ago on South Padre Island in Texas, for example, you’ll have a difficult time finding it.

How can you put those photos into some semblance of order?

The first step in organizing your photos is to select a photo management program.

There are a number of excellent programs that organize, categorize, and keyword your photos so that you can store and locate all your digital files without losing track of them.

One of the most important factors in selecting a photo organization program is ease-of-use.

Which photo management system is right for you?

You have many choices. They include:

Picasa

Picasa is free photo management software from Google that helps you find, organize, edit, and share your photos. Picasa is one of the better photo managers available. Its ever growing popularity can be attributed to its simplicity and ease of use. And did I mention that it’s FREE. Picasa is available as a download for Windows, Mac, and Linux.

You can find out more about Picasa by watching this You-tube video.

Digital photo workflow using Adobe Photoshop (Source: brothersoft.com)

When you install Picasa, it automatically scans your hard drive for images.

Picasa does not store the photos on your computer. When you open Picasa, it simply looks at the folders on your computer and displays the photos it finds. It displays the file types that you tell it to find, in the folders that you tell it to search.

Your original photos are always preserved. When using editing tools in Picasa, your original files are never touched. The photo edits you make are only viewable in Picasa until you decide to save your changes. Even then, Picasa creates a new version of the photo with your edits applied, leaving the original file totally preserved.

Picasa 3.9 is available for download.

Worth Pondering…

Every picture I take is like a diary entry.

—Gilles Peress

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