http://blog.hankchristensen.com Behind the scenes info about the nature photography of Hank Christensen Tue, 09 May 2017 15:51:01 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.7.5 http://blog.hankchristensen.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/01/HCPhotoIcon.png http://blog.hankchristensen.com 32 32 This Is A Crappy Photo http://blog.hankchristensen.com/2017/05/this-is-a-crappy-photo/ Tue, 09 May 2017 15:51:01 +0000 http://blog.hankchristensen.com/?p=5828 Continue reading "This Is A Crappy Photo"

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I captured this tree silhouette at the peak of a glorious sunset in the heart of the Namib desert. I spent some time with this tree, crafting the photo. I wanted to reduce the tree to a graphic form against the beautiful colors of the sky. Because the tree was reaching to the right, I oriented its trunk to the far left of the photo so that it is reaching into the frame and up and over the distant mountains.

After taking a look on the computer, and doing some basic processing, I was really happy with it. That is until I showed it to my wife Kerry, and was met with a frown and shrug of the shoulders. “It doesn’t really do anything for me,” was the response I remember.

Now to give a little bit of background, Kerry has a great eye for photography and is certainly not one to heap praise where it is not due. As surprised as I was by her reaction, I knew I needed to pay attention to this critique because of her impeccable taste. So what went so wrong?

A desert tree silhouettes against a sunset sky, Namib-Naukluft National Park, Namibia.
A desert tree silhouettes against a sunset sky, Namib-Naukluft National Park, Namibia.

The more time I spent with the photo, the more I began to agree with her review. I finally realized that I was the victim of an age old pitfall of art. I had spent so much effort creating the photo, I was attributing more value to its end result than I should have. Okay, so its not a horrible image. But like all good husbands, I agree with my wife – it doesn’t do that much for me either. The fine branches of the silhouette are too chaotic and it has a relatively weak subject matter. The colors of the sunset are not enough to hold the main focus of the image.

Since I share many successful photos with you, I thought I’d share a failure. Well, maybe not a failure, but one that leaves me with a “meh” feeling. The lesson here is to seek honest, unbiased feedback for your work. Oh, and wives makes great critics!

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Sunset Over Azhagappapuram http://blog.hankchristensen.com/2017/05/sunset-over-azhagappapuram/ Thu, 04 May 2017 14:46:46 +0000 http://blog.hankchristensen.com/?p=5808 Continue reading "Sunset Over Azhagappapuram"

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I took this photo on the final day of a fantastic trip to India last year. I was in the state of Tamil Nadu, at the southern tip of India staying with my friend Frans. The village in which he grew up is just on the far side of this small lake, so I only had to travel a few minutes from where I was staying to get this shot.

I had been eyeing the sky for a few days, hoping for some clouds at sunset that would catch the last rays of the day. Luck was with me for my last evening in town, as the clouds started to build in the afternoon.

Unfortunately, I did not get the still water that I was hoping for, in order to create a reflection of the southern most expanse of the Western Ghats. In typical southern Tamil Nadu style, wind was whipping across the water at great speed, creating small white caps (definitely NOT what I was hoping for!) In fact, this area is known for its expanse of wind farms, which should have given me a clue that waiting for a calm day was likely an exercise in futility.

Evening clouds turn to fire over the mountains north of Azhagappapuram, Tamil Nadu, India.
Evening clouds turn to fire over the mountains north of Azhagappapuram, Tamil Nadu, India.

However, I had previously scouted a small area of lotus plants close to the shore, which helped the photo in two ways. First, the lotuses broke up the waves that the wind was creating. And second, they added some level of interest to the foreground. This was the next best option given there was no chance for a reflection.

As a side note, these plants would have been much more beautiful had any blossoms been on the plants. But alas, they were picked clean. As I was wondering about why this was, I saw a man in a canoe further along the shore, slowly making his way through the lotuses and plucking any fresh blossoms. Oh well, maybe time for a little photoshop? Just kidding of course….

Apparently, this area doesn’t see many photographers or foreigners. As I was standing by the shoreline with my tripod, many people stopped on the nearby road to watch what I was doing. That was okay – the resulting photo was well worth the extra attention.

Every day I was there, I discovered more of the natural beauty of the area’s land and animals. I will certainly return to cover this amazing landscape more in depth.

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How To Scout A Location For Landscape Photography http://blog.hankchristensen.com/2017/05/how-to-scout-a-location-for-landscape-photography/ Tue, 02 May 2017 14:05:03 +0000 http://blog.hankchristensen.com/?p=5666 Continue reading "How To Scout A Location For Landscape Photography"

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Hang around a group of landscape photographers long enough, and you’ll undoubtedly hear them talking about location scouting. As the old saying goes, understanding your subject better will improve your photographs of the subject. This is true for all kinds of photography (wildlife, architectural, portrait), and landscapes are no exception. Location scouting is the process of getting to know a particular landscape better, and is an important aspect of improving your landscape photography.

Before we talk about the nuts and bolts of how to conduct a proper location scout, let’s talk about various types of scouting and how each might bring a new perspective on an imperfect landscape.

Seasonal scouting

Location scouting can be done long before the final photo is taken, sometimes even years. Anytime I visit an area for landscape photography, I not only try to create the best photograph I can at the time, but I also imagine what the scene might look like during different times of the year. Would that alpine meadow make the perfect foreground if only it were covered in wild flowers? Would those high mountain slopes pop if the aspen groves were in peak fall colors? Or if the tree line was blanketed with fresh snow?

Sometimes certain areas don’t look very good when I first visit, but in a different season, it would shine. In those cases, I make a mental note to come back in the season I think will show the area at its best, and do research to find out optimal timing for those seasonal elements. But while I’m there, I can spend the time finding some of the shots that I will eventually take, even if it ends up being years later.

Ponytail Falls shoots outward from a cleft in a rock cliff, and cascades over large stones below, Columbia River Gorge, Oregon
Ponytail Falls shoots outward from a cleft in a rock cliff, and cascades over large stones below, Columbia River Gorge, Oregon

In this example, I first visited Ponytail Falls in Oregon’s Columbia Gorge in late fall. The trees were bare and the moss on the river’s rocks was brown. It was still a pretty scene, but I knew that by visiting the same area in the spring, I would green up the scene, and catch the falls at peak water flow. I returned in spring a couple years later to capture the photo above. Having already scouted the area and set up my shot made the return trip easy, as I had already formulated my target compositions in my mind.

Scouting for a different time of day

Scouting an area for a future season is an extreme example of the practice. More often, we’re scouting in anticipation of different light on the scene. Examples include visiting an area in the evening in anticipation of sunrise light, visiting midday while waiting for a beautiful sunset, or even waiting for a passing squall to reveal the full glory of its post-storm light show.

The tetons rise behind a stand of fall aspen, Grand Teton National Park
The tetons rise behind a stand of fall aspen, Grand Teton National Park

The photo above was taken on a trip to Grand Teton National Park with some friends. We scouted out a beautiful aspen grove in full fall foliage with the Tetons rising behind. However, the sunset we were hoping for failed to materialize with heavy cloud cover all the way to the western horizon. One of my friends suggested that although we had been targeting this location for a sunset, it might actually look spectacular at sunrise, as both the Tetons and the aspen grove would be front lit, slightly from the left. This would give definition to both the mountain and trees, and hopefully the sunrise would reveal some of that nice fall color throughout the grove. With another visit in mind, I spent some time composing the shot above, in anticipation of sunrise light.

The sun just lights the top of the Tetons as it rises behind a grove of aspen in their fall colors, Grand Teton National Park
The sun just lights the top of the Tetons as it rises behind a grove of aspen in their fall colors, Grand Teton National Park

A couple of days later, I was rewarded by the preparation. We arrived just before dawn, and because of my earlier visit, I knew exactly what my composition would look like. I quickly reset the shot based on GPS coordinates I took the previous visit. Using the exact spot I had set up in previously, as well as my reference shot from two days earlier, I took all the guesswork and stress of finding a shot that morning. Now it was just a matter of waiting for that beautiful light to brush through the aspen grove and make those yellows and oranges glow.

The on-site scout

The last type of scouting (and often the most frantic) that I do is what I call the “on-site”. This stems from me showing up unprepared, but still needing to quickly assess the area and find those great compositions that convey the essence of the area to the viewer. This is much easier done when showing up for a sunset shoot, because you typically have a few hours of daylight in which to scout and set up your shot for the magic hour. On-sight scouting for a sunrise shoot is much more difficult, because even if you show up early, you have to wait until pre-dawn light before you can see the scene well enough. It is very hard to create compositions in the pitch black of night!

Sunlight moves down the mountains to the west of Salt Creek, now a dried salt flat, Death Valley National Park
Sunlight moves down the mountains to the west of Salt Creek, now a dried salt flat, Death Valley National Park

The photo above was the result of one of those rare pre-sunrise on-sight scouts. This shot was taken on my first trip to Death Valley National Park in the salt pan near Salt Creek. As I walked out onto the dried salt bed, I was surrounded by a thick salt crust. While this could make for an interesting foreground, it felt a little too overbearing to balance out the distant mountains. However, I had never been here before, and I didn’t quite know where to go. As I saw the sunlight start creeping down the mountain face, a composition suddenly came to me. I wanted to contrast the bright red of the sunlit mountains with the blues of the still-shaded salt. However, this thick crust of salt wasn’t working for me – I needed a much more delicate salt ridge pattern that gave more emphasis to the structure of the salt in between the ridges.

I quickly scanned the ground to the north and south, looking for a ground pattern that would help fulfill that vision. In the distance to the south I saw something that might work, but I had only a few minutes to get there and set up before the light would flood the salt pan itself, ruining the color contrast effect. I heaved my tripod (camera still attached) over one of my shoulders and ran as fast as I could across the pan. As I got close, I could see that this foreground would work out perfectly. Down went my tripod, already set up to the right height with the right, wide angle lens attached. Less than a minute later, the sun was just touching the lower slopes of the mountains, creating the beautiful color separation I was hoping for.

Scouting techniques

Now that we’ve gone over the various types of location scouting, how does one actually go about doing this? You’ve arrived to a spot with several hours to spare, but now what? For landscapes, there are three major elements I’m thinking about combining to create my composition – background, mid-ground and foreground. The goal of scouting is to essentially find each of these elements that you want to add together to create a potential composition. If the lighting is great while you’re there, wonderful. You may luck out and get your ideal photo of that location. But more often than not, it helps to think about other times or seasons in which to capture the scene.

1. Find your background:

The sun rises over Thousand Island Lake and Banner Peak, Ansel Adams Wilderness
The sun rises over Thousand Island Lake and Banner Peak, Ansel Adams Wilderness

Backgrounds are easy. These are the huge dominant aspects of a landscape that typically draws you to the area in the first place. In my typical compositions, this is usually a mountain, ocean, or waterfall. In the photo above, I was backpacking at Thousand Island Lake in the Ansel Adams Wilderness of the Sierra Nevada. Banner Peak is a dominant feature of that area and hard to ignore. I knew well before my trip that I wanted to capture this massif at sunrise. One element down.

2. Find your middle ground:

The sun rises over Thousand Island Lake and Banner Peak, Ansel Adams Wilderness
The sun rises over Thousand Island Lake and Banner Peak, Ansel Adams Wilderness

A middle ground typically ties your foreground and background together. Every landscape doesn’t need a middle ground, but I’m always assessing the area around me to find some element that will compliment, or draw the viewers’ eyes toward the background. In this case, Thousand Island Lake itself was a no-brainer. It was a calm morning and Banner Peak cast a strong reflection, doubling the impact of the mountain. Now just to find a proper foreground to lead the viewers eye into the frame, and balance the strength of the mountain.

3. Construct your composition with proper foreground elements:

Banner Peak is reflected in Thousand Island Lake at dawn, Ansel Adams Wilderness
Banner Peak is reflected in Thousand Island Lake at dawn, Ansel Adams Wilderness

The perfect foreground usually takes some searching to find. If you see a photographer wandering around looking at their feet, this is likely what they are doing. If the angle of the lens is very wide, these foreground elements can sometimes be very small. You can often find several good options for foregrounds using the same middle and background elements. If so, shoot them all! In this case, walking along the shoreline of the lake led me to a line of rocks breaking the reflection of the deep blue sky. Perfect elements to draw the viewers eye toward the reflection and up to the peak itself. With my shot in the bag, I headed back to camp for my morning coffee.

A final word – virtual scouting

Today’s information age brings us many advantages in learning about far away places. Although I think nothing beats learning about a location like visiting it yourself, I often utilize digital exploration techniques before I go somewhere to photograph it. This helps me get my bearings and start to think about what kinds of photographs I’m going to attempt. While I won’t go into detail here, tools such as the Photographers Ephemeris, Google Maps 3D and Google Maps photo overlay help in seeing what others have captured in the area, as well as planning your own trip.

Sun lights the tip of Mt. Davis at dawn, Ansel Adams Wilderness
Sun lights the tip of Mt. Davis at dawn, Ansel Adams Wilderness

I often shoot remote mountain locations while backpacking. Every time I pull into a new campsite, I drop my pack and start scouting the surrounding area, thinking about sunset that night, and also sunrise the next morning. As I had never been to Davis Lakes in the Sierra Nevada before, I spent a good deal of time researching the area using the tools above. Based on the time of year and angle of the sunrise, I knew that sunrise light on the peak of Mt. Davis reflected in the lake would look fantastic. When I arrived at my predetermined campsite, I set about finding a composition that would lead the viewer’s eye right up to that beacon of light in the frame. In order to do this, I had to pre-visualize what it might look like the following morning. The next morning, I emerged from my tent and set up in the exact spot I had scouted the previous evening. Now I just had to wait for the light until it was perfect.

Next time you think of a new area you’d like to photograph, spend time beforehand learning about that location. Give yourself plenty of time to explore the area on foot, setting up several potential shots that might work well in the right lighting conditions. Above all, if mother nature does not cooperate with your photo endeavor, don’t despair! Just chalk it up to a valuable scouting trip!

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Location Photography – Telling A Story Through Photos http://blog.hankchristensen.com/2017/03/location-photography-telling-a-story-through-photos/ Mon, 06 Mar 2017 15:46:07 +0000 http://blog.hankchristensen.com/?p=5629 Continue reading "Location Photography – Telling A Story Through Photos"

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Sometimes when I go to new locations, they can be so awe inspiring that I feel photographically challenged. When this happens, I need to take a step back and think about the location’s special traits that fill me with such awe. What is important about this area – is there some natural event occurring, or some irregular weather phenomenon? In short, what are the stories this new place is trying to tell me? Answering this question often lends direction to my photography and helps me realize which stories about the area I want to share with others. (Note: although I primarily photograph natural subjects, this technique works equally well with any location or subject).

I recently used this technique when I spent several days in the Namib Desert in Namibia last year. At first, being surrounded by these huge red sand dunes was overwhelming. What should I shoot first? As I explored the desert around me, I began to recognize several stories that this place had to tell.

The most obvious story was about the sheer size of the sand dunes found here. This is the oldest desert in the world, and home to the world’s largest sand dunes. I had photographed sand dunes before, but never any of the massive size that I saw in this desert. The rust-orange massifs were more akin to sand mountains than something as temporary and fleeting as a dune. Some of the largest dunes stood over 1000 feet tall, dwarfing the sparse trees and flora that dared to grow at their feet. In the photo below you can faintly see a few trees, which give the enormity of the dunes a sense of scale.

The giant sand dunes of Namibia turn many shades of red and orange under shifting clouds, Namib-Naukluft National Park, Namibia.
The giant sand dunes of Namibia turn many shades of red and orange under shifting clouds, Namib-Naukluft National Park, Namibia.

Although this desert receives only 10 mm of rain each year, amazingly there are large mammals that thrive here. This was story number two. Here, a gemsbok oryx (one of Africa’s many species of antelope) roams among dry scrub and dying trees. With no ground water to drink, these animals rely on the occasional fog that rolls in from the Atlantic ocean. After the fog collects on plants and their fur, the oryx lick the scarce moisture from each other’s coats, sustaining themselves until the next foggy morning.

A gemsbok oryx stands in front of a massive dune, wet from a rare early morning thunder storm, Namib-Naukluft National Park, Namibia.
A gemsbok oryx stands in front of a massive dune, wet from a rare early morning thunder storm, Namib-Naukluft National Park, Namibia.

While I could take up-close portraits of oryx in other parts of Namibia, telling the story of these large antelope thriving in the desert necessitated using a shorter lens than I usually do for wildlife. A 400mm lens allowed me to include the massive red walls of sand that dominate this habitat. Again, it was important for me to use unique elements of the scene to tell the story of that location.

Gemsbok oryx cross flat ground in front of a wall of sand - the lower slopes of a massive sand dune, Namib-Naukluft National Park, Namibia.
Gemsbok oryx cross flat ground in front of a wall of sand – the lower slopes of a massive sand dune, Namib-Naukluft National Park, Namibia.

A third aspect of this desert that I wanted to show photographically was the rust orange color of the sand. This reddish orange comes from the high iron concentration in the sand and the gradual oxidation of that iron. The older the dune, the more orange it becomes. In order to offset the beautiful orange and red tones of the sand, I needed blue skies, giving my photos nice complimentary colors. Counter to most of my landscape photos, I opted to shoot in late morning or early afternoon (instead of sunrise or sunset, when the sky itself would be much warmer and closer in tonality to the sand). Had I not been thinking of how to convey the story of these ancient orange dunes, I likely would have kept my camera in the bag at this time of the day!

Afternoon light provides enough blue in the sky to compliment the reddish-orange of the dune, Namib-Naukluft National Park, Namibia.
Afternoon light provides enough blue in the sky to compliment the reddish-orange of the dune, Namib-Naukluft National Park, Namibia.

A final story waiting to be told about this area was the play of light across the contours and textures of the dunes. The photo below was shot at sunrise, creating extreme side light and casting a sharp shadow line along the front crest of the dune. This strong shadow added shape and contrast to the dune.

Rare storm clouds cast shadows across the massive dunes of the Namib Desert, Namib-Naukluft National Park, Namibia.
Rare storm clouds cast shadows across the massive dunes of the Namib Desert, Namib-Naukluft National Park, Namibia.

The shadows in the image below manifested very differently in that they are not created by the shape of the dune itself, but rather by clouds moving in front of the sun. Because these dune ridges are actually quite far apart, a large cloud shaded only a single ridge at a time, giving me endless shadow patterns to choose from over the course of about half an hour. This was my favorite image of this type, as the closest and farthest ridges are in shadow, isolating the middle ridge in sunlight.

Rare storm clouds cast shadows across the massive dunes of the Namib Desert, Namib-Naukluft National Park, Namibia.
Rare storm clouds cast shadows across the massive dunes of the Namib Desert, Namib-Naukluft National Park, Namibia.

When I first arrived in this vast desert, I was challenged by where to start with my photography. But by focusing on those stories that made this place so special, I could use them to direct my photographic effort. It even helped me develop a shot list to try to fill during my brief stay. Next time you find yourself in a challenging location, stop and listen. Perhaps the area will open up and share its stories with you.

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Indian Giant Squirrel http://blog.hankchristensen.com/2017/02/indian-giant-squirrel/ Wed, 01 Feb 2017 16:25:59 +0000 http://blog.hankchristensen.com/?p=5380 Continue reading "Indian Giant Squirrel"

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One of my biggest surprises on my last trip to India was encountering several giant squirrels. I am use to the cute and cuddly squirrels of North America, so it was quite a shock when I first saw one of these tree beasts. Measuring a body length of around 14 inches, and a tail length of over 2 feet, these squirrels were bordering on raccoon size!

An indian giant squirrel perches in a tree and eats a piece of banana, Mudumalai National Park, India.

Although large, they were still pretty cute, with little round ears that stick up.

An indian giant squirrel perches in a tree and eats a piece of banana, Mudumalai National Park, India.

One of the squirrels had gotten ahold of a banana from someone in our forest camp in Mudumalai. He took it up into a tree and proceeded to devour it, holding it firmly in his dexterous grip while balancing his body weight across a small branch.

An indian giant squirrel perches in a tree and eats a piece of banana, Mudumalai National Park, India.

This is a tree dwelling species that rarely leaves the upper canopy. I felt lucky to see three of these shy creatures in less than 24 hours. My last sighting was a stroke of luck. We had pulled over to let the car rest half way up a long a winding climb up to Ooty. One side of the road was a cliff towering above, and the other side was lush with the tops of trees growing far below. And there through the canopy, directly at eye level was another giant squirrel.

With a body length of 14 inches and a tail 2 feet long, the indian giant squirrel is a site to behold. Mudumalai National Park, India.

I got several photos of this guy, but this was my favorite. Although I had a direct view, I shot through some leaves at a wide aperture to give the feeling of peering through a thick forest at a shy, solitary creature.

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Namibia 2016 Gallery http://blog.hankchristensen.com/2017/01/namibia-2016-gallery/ Tue, 17 Jan 2017 15:54:43 +0000 http://blog.hankchristensen.com/?p=5113 Continue reading "Namibia 2016 Gallery"

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Namibia 2016

I’ve finished processing my photos from a trip to Namibia, Africa last year (yeah, sometimes it takes a while to get everything processed). Here is a gallery of some of my favorite shots.

Several plains zebra line up to drink at the Okaukuejo waterhole, Etosha National Park, Namibia.

It was a truly amazing trip, as I was lucky enough to

  • Watch endangered black rhinos congregating around a waterhole in the dead of night
  • Walk among the tallest sand dunes in the world (over 1000 feet) in the world’s oldest desert
  • Witness a rare lightning storm in the desert as thunderclouds rolled over endless dune fields
  • Visit Deadvlei, an ancient river valley dotted with 700 year old desiccated tree husks in the heart of the Namib desert
  • Drive 2500 miles (mostly on dirt roads) over 11 days, see a good variety of countryside
  • See the desert-adapted bush elephants of Damaraland
  • Check out the gallery this and much more, including numerous birds and wildlife. Click each image to see the next, or use your keyboard arrows to navigate.

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    Storm In The Desert http://blog.hankchristensen.com/2017/01/storm-in-the-desert/ Fri, 13 Jan 2017 15:52:57 +0000 http://blog.hankchristensen.com/?p=5103 Continue reading "Storm In The Desert"

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    Pre-dawn sunlight turns rare desert storm clouds orange over the Namib Desert, Namib-Naukluft National Park, Namibia.

    The crackling of distant thunder woke me from a deep sleep at 4:30 in the morning. Instantly wide awake, I looked to the floor-to-ceiling windows to see flashes of light behind the thick drapes. I made my way out of the door of my bungalow to the balcony overlooking a wide expanse of the desert valley. Suddenly a lightning bolt ignited the night sky, silhouetting the 1000 foot dunes in the distance.

    It was my last morning in the middle of the Namib Desert in western Namibia. I stood on the balcony in awe of mother nature’s light show. Lightning continued to split the sky as pregnant thunder clouds rolled across the endless dune fields. A dry cool wind was whipping across the desert floor, bringing respite from the African heat. All at once, the sky opened up and I stood in one of the most impressive downpours I’ve ever witnessed. This land receives only 10 mm of rain each year, and here was buckets of water drenching everything to the horizon.

    Pre-dawn sunlight turns rare desert storm clouds orange over the Namib Desert, Namib-Naukluft National Park, Namibia.

    Although I was now soaked, I found that I couldn’t bring myself to go inside. After twenty minutes of intense rain, it suddenly stopped. Ten minutes after that I was dry, thanks to the return of the desert’s typical aridity.

    I gathered my gear and met up with my traveling companions, who I was planning to join to do an aerial shoot at sunrise. Obviously these plans were quickly scrapped, as none of us wanted to be tossed around in a small aircraft in the middle of a thunderstorm. Instead, we headed out into the desert where we got into position to capture this marvelous sunrise over the Naukluft Mountains. Clear sky to the far east allowed the sun to light up the underside of the storm clouds, painting the sky a deep red. A couple of gemsbok oryx crossing the desert floor in front of the mountains added the icing on top.

    Rain falls from a storm cloud over the Namib Desert, Namib-Naukluft National Park, Namibia.

    With rain still pouring from clouds in places, we chased the light through the dunes, hoping to capture this phenomena.

    A rare rainfall turns the giant dunes of the Namib Desert wet, forming patterns across the dune’s massive face, Namib-Naukluft National Park, Namibia.

    Although there was not enough accumulation to create pools of water (I was hoping to find a reflection opportunity), the wet sand lent a very different look to the massive dunes. The water softened the edges of sand cut by the wind, diffusing the contours into abstract patterns.

    A rare rainfall turns the giant dunes of the Namib Desert wet, forming patterns across the dune’s massive face, Namib-Naukluft National Park, Namibia.

    After about an hour of dramatic lighting, the skies cleared up into their usual blue. I felt so fortunate to witness such drama on my last morning in the desert.

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    Red-vented Bulbul http://blog.hankchristensen.com/2017/01/red-vented-bulbul/ Tue, 03 Jan 2017 16:25:06 +0000 http://blog.hankchristensen.com/?p=5032 Continue reading "Red-vented Bulbul"

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    A red-vented bulbul perches on a small twig, Mudumalai National Park, India.

    The red-vented bulbul is common across the Indian subcontinent and has been introduced to other locations such as Hawaii, Fiji, Argentina and New Zealand. In fact, this species can so easily establish itself in new locations it is included in the list of the world’s 100 worst invasive alien species.

    I came across several of these birds over the course of just two days, a couple of which I managed to photograph.

    A red-vented bulbul sits on a narrow branch, Mudumalai National Park, India.

    This bird gets its name due to the red feathers at its vent. However, these feathers are often hidden while it is perched, forcing identification through other means. It has the characteristic crest of a bulbul, and a scaly feathered body.

    A red-vented bulbul perches on a rock, Mudumalai National Park, India.

    My main challenge with these photographs was getting close enough to the birds. I was not using my regular bird lens, and only had a 400mm with me, forcing me to put my stalking skills to work. Luck was in my favor and I managed to get close enough for some decent shots before they flitted away.

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    2016 Round-up – Top 100 Photos Of The Year http://blog.hankchristensen.com/2016/12/2016-round-up-top-100-photos-of-the-year/ Sat, 31 Dec 2016 16:37:26 +0000 http://blog.hankchristensen.com/?p=5098 Continue reading "2016 Round-up – Top 100 Photos Of The Year"

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    In years past, I’ve curated a list of my best 40 photos of the past year. However, with trips in 2016 to India and Africa, I couldn’t whittle down the set to just 40. So here is the best 100 photos of 2016, many of which are previously unpublished. As always, there is a mixture of bird, wildlife and landscape, but this year includes much more wildlife than usual.

    Please enjoy the gallery below. For best viewing (especially if viewing on a mobile device), please click on the following photo:

    The endangered african wild dog has a hunting success rate of 80% due to its pack hunting and ability to chase large prey to exhaustion, reaching speeds of over 40 miles per hour for 5 – 10 minutes.

    To view the gallery, click here to see individual photos.


    If you are interested in compilations from previous years, please see the 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, and 2015 lists.

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    Red-headed Finch http://blog.hankchristensen.com/2016/12/red-headed-finch/ Thu, 22 Dec 2016 16:25:51 +0000 http://blog.hankchristensen.com/?p=4840 Continue reading "Red-headed Finch"

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    A male red-headed finch carries nesting material, Windhoek, Namibia.

    Red-headed finches are a medium sized finch with a beautiful feather pattern on the body. The males display a bright red head, while the females have a grayish head with slightly duller body colors.

    I came across a wild colony in Windhoek, Namibia, where it appears that they took over a set of old nests abandoned by some kind of weaver.

    A male red-headed finch perches on a nest, Windhoek, Namibia.

    The nests were hanging from the branches of a tree, with a small entrance on the underside. This species is known to take over and retrofit nests of other species, though they also build their own.

    A female red-headed finch perches on a thick branch, Windhoek, Namibia.

    I was not able to find much information on this bird, other than to read that they are occasionally bred as caged birds.

    A male red-headed finch perches on a thick branch, Windhoek, Namibia.

    It is birds like this that makes traveling to other parts of the world so much fun for me. When I arrive in a new area, even the most common species are new and interesting.

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    Chanting With Goshawks http://blog.hankchristensen.com/2016/12/chanting-with-goshawks/ Mon, 19 Dec 2016 16:44:51 +0000 http://blog.hankchristensen.com/?p=4946 Continue reading "Chanting With Goshawks"

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    A dark chanting goshawk perches on a short bush, Etosha National Park, Namibia.

    One of the species I was hoping to see in Africa this spring was the pale chanting goshawk. I got lucky in that I not only saw a few of them, but was also rewarded with a beautiful sighting of a dark chanting goshawk as well.

    The chanting goshawks get their name due to their tune-like “whistling” calls primarily during breeding season. At this time the males are rather vocal, and their calls resemble a kind of chant.

    A pale chanting goshawk perches on a sturdy branch, Etosha National Park, Namibia.

    Dark chanting goshawks prefer a habitat of open woodlands, while the pale species frequent open grasslands and more arid climates. Dark chanting goshawks have a sub-Saharan range, but are replaced by pale chanting goshawks in the south. Parts of Namibia fall in both species distributions, where you can see both in a single day.

    Each pale chanting goshawk I saw was perched rather high up, either near the top of a tree of in one case a power pole. However, I lucked out with the dark chanting goshawk because it was perched on a low bush, putting it directly at lens height.

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    African Bush Elephants http://blog.hankchristensen.com/2016/12/african-bush-elephants/ Tue, 13 Dec 2016 16:08:36 +0000 http://blog.hankchristensen.com/?p=4990 Continue reading "African Bush Elephants"

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    An african elephant lifts its trunk to trumpet, Etosha National Park, Namibia.

    I was very lucky to see and photograph both Asian and African wild elephants in a single year. My Asian elephant experience was in the thick forests of northern Tamil Nadu, India, while I got to get up close and personal with the larger African cousins on the plains of Etosha National Park in Namibia.

    And these guys were certainly huge! They are physically larger than Asian elephants, with larger ears and tusks. I saw a few drinking and having a mud bath next to a waterhole.

    An african elephant gives itself a mudbath at a waterhole, Etosha National Park, Namibia.

    This elephant would suck up large amounts of mud and water with its trunk and alternate flinging it up and over its head, and blasting its underside. The grayish white on the elephant’s skin is mud dried by the hot midday sun.

    An african elephant gives itself a mudbath at a waterhole, Etosha National Park, Namibia.

    At one point we were watching a large adult snacking on some leaves of a low bush. After finishing its meal, it starting wandering in our direction, getting closer and closer. The beast soon filled my camera frame at 70mm, and yet it came closer still, making me nervous. My mind’s eye was playing out a scenario which involved this guy getting upset and flipping our van. Luckily, our driver was prepared and when the elephant got within 20 feet, he threw the van into gear and got out of there.

    An african elephant flares its large ears as it grazes on branches, Etosha National Park, Namibia.

    It was a joy to just sit and watch these mammoth creatures. Similar to watching primates, you can see the intelligence and intention in their movements. Their amazing multipurpose trunks that they use to grab, smell, drink, touch, carry, and sometimes break is endless enjoyment to see.

    An african elephant eats leaves and grass, Etosha National Park, Namibia.

    As excited as I was to see these large bush elephants, I was looking forward to seeing the smaller, desert-adapted elephants in a few days time. Stay tuned for photos!

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    Asian Elephants http://blog.hankchristensen.com/2016/12/asian-elephants/ Fri, 09 Dec 2016 15:45:42 +0000 http://blog.hankchristensen.com/?p=4942 Continue reading "Asian Elephants"

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    An asian elephant herd surrounds a tiny baby to protect it, Mudumalai National Park, India.

    On my recent trip to Mudumalai National Park in India, I was lucky to encounter a herd of forest elephants. Asian elephants differ greatly from their African counterparts in that they are smaller, have much smaller ears, larger nails on their feet (for digging and foraging) and have two large forehead bulges.

    Two asian elephants surround a tiny baby in order to protect it, Mudumalai National Park, India.

    Asian elephants have been domesticated by humans for the last 5,000 years, used for transportation, to move heavy objects, and for beasts of war.

    An asian elephant walks across a clearing in the forest, Mudumalai National Park, India.

    In Asian elephants, only the males have pronounced tusks (commonly known as “tuskers”). When females do have tusks, they are very small and usually only visible when the mouth is open.

    An asian elephant stands at the edge of a forest eating, Mudumalai National Park, India.

    Unlike the elephants I saw in Africa earlier this year, which were in the open savanna, these forest elephants seemed to appear out of nowhere. Like giant ghosts, they emerged from the thick forest overgrowth and surprised us. I was very glad at this point not to be on foot. These elephants seem gentle enough from a distance, but getting up close and personal could be a very dangerous prospect!

    An asian elephant with a juvenile stands at the edge of a forest, Mudumalai National Park, India.

    Later in the evening after seeing the elephants, I was back at the forest camp in which I was staying. About 10:00 at night we starting hearing some loud cracking and snapping coming from the dark forest, very near to us. We soon realized it was an elephant snapping bamboo and crashing through the underbrush. After a few minutes of this, we saw a large flash in the trees. The lights of the camp flickered a few times and then went dead for good. It turns out a large bamboo tree fell against the power line coming into the camp.

    About 15 minutes later, we heard people shouting, banging pots, and lighting off fire crackers in the distance. The rogue elephant had left our camp and was now approaching a nearby village. Eventually these sounds died off and the forest went back to sleep. With no power. And an upset elephant. In the dark.

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    Deadvlei – A Study In Graphic Forms http://blog.hankchristensen.com/2016/12/deadvlei-a-study-in-graphic-forms/ Wed, 07 Dec 2016 16:07:13 +0000 http://blog.hankchristensen.com/?p=4975 Continue reading "Deadvlei – A Study In Graphic Forms"

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    The clay pan of Deadvlei contains numerous camel thorn trees that have been dead for at least 600 years.

    Welcome to Deadvlei, one of those mystical places on earth that simply takes your breath away. There are a few places in the world that have spoken to me this way – whether it’s 5,000 year old Bristlecone Pines clinging to life on a windswept mountain slope, or morning sea fog rolling through a quiet stand of old growth California coastal redwoods (why do these special places always seem to involve trees?). Deadvlei is certainly one of those places.

    Deadvlei is a dry and dusty river bed, located in the heart of Namib-Naukluft National Park, Namibia. Deadvlei translates to “dead marsh”, taking the Afrikaans word vlei, meaning a seasonal pond or marsh. This area once lined the banks of the Tsauchab river, flooding at times of abundant rainfall. Around 600 to 700 years ago, a great drought hit the region, drying up the river. Blowing sand encroached upon the flood plain, blocking the river’s path and forming the massive dunes that cover the land today. The camel thorn trees that grew in this marsh died, but due to the extremely dry climate, none of the wood decomposed, leaving skeletal husks still standing for hundreds of years. Centuries spent in the hot African sun have scorched the remains into blackened ghosts.

    600 years ago, a drought dried up the Tsauchab river, 1000 foot dunes encroached on the dried up marsh, and the river was blocked.

    In order to do an on-sight scout and be ready for the light, I arrived before dawn. This involved rising about 4 AM, hopping in a hired safari vehicle (with giant tires) and taking the 45 minute ride among the largest dunes in the world. The asphalt road soon turned to dirt, which turned to sand. Low tire pressure, 4-wheel drive, and high clearance are all musts in this area – no sedans allowed.

    From the drop off, it was a 15 minute hike into the dunes before I topped a rise and saw Deadvlei down below me, surrounded on three sides by immense walls of blood red sand. The tallest point is south east of the clay pan, nicknamed Big Daddy. Standing over 1,000 feet tall, it towers above everything else in the area.

    I did a quick scan from my vantage point before descending to a stand of trees. I set up a composition, and waited for the light.

    The wood of the dead trees does not decompose because the area is so dry.

    Based on my trip research, I knew much of my shooting at this location would be a study of form and separation. Before I set up for any particular shot, I spent a lot of time looking for the right composition. I needed to avoid unnecessary converging lines, and try to separately my subjects from each other. I would walk around clusters of trees, trying to discern how I would render three dimensions onto a flat, two-dimensional plane.

    I imagined the trees in silhouette, reduced to graphical elements of lines and shapes. I moved forward and backward, up and down, trying to find the angles that would convey the subjects in a compositionally elegant manner.

    Sun spotlights the side of a dune wall behind a desiccated tree.

    The sun moved higher in the sky, spotlighting parts of the landscape through lazy clouds. I looked for new patterns that the light played out across the desert surface.

    Tree husks reach out of the clay pan toward the morning sky.

    As the desiccated trees moved from shadow to light, their dark forms contrasted against the bright ground and red sand, emphasizing the graphical nature of the scene.

    Pulling a three-dimensional stand of trees into a flat plane can be challenging.

    This is a place I’ve wanted to visit for a long time. As I was standing in that dusty, dry, ancient river bed, I could hardly believe I was there. I was half a world away from home, and my surroundings could not have been more alien. I truly relish these experiences. Being able to capture an area photographically and share it with others is rewarding, but there is nothing that could replace being there in person.

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    African Leopard http://blog.hankchristensen.com/2016/12/african-leopard/ Mon, 05 Dec 2016 16:52:21 +0000 http://blog.hankchristensen.com/?p=4906 Continue reading "African Leopard"

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    An african leopard hides in the shade as it closely watches a herd of springbok, Etosha National Park, Namibia.

    While in Etosha National Park in Namibia, I was lucky to photograph an Africa leopard. Our guide (the incomparable Kiran Khanzode) had found out from some locals that there had been a leopard kill in a particular area two days before. Since leopards typically hunt every two days (depending on the size of the game), we went to that area to see if we could see a leopard stalking prey for another kill.

    An african leopard hides in the shade as it closely watches a herd of springbok, Etosha National Park, Namibia.

    We pulled up our vehicle and scanned the area, but saw nothing but a small herd of springbok. Then a very small movement caught my eye and there in the shadow of a small tree was a leopard curled up around a fallen log. The leopard was busy scanning the herd of springbok, and in particular watching one break away from the rest and wander closer – oblivious to the danger lurking under the tree.

    A lone springbok grazes on grass in a clearing, Etosha National Park, Namibia.

    A waited with baited breath, hoping to see the leopard spring into action. All the while I was using my 800mm lens and Canon 5DSr camera to squeeze every bit of detail from the scene. Fortunately for the springbok, the leopard decided against a full frontal strike, and decided to wait for a better opportunity. The herd moved away, and the leopard decided to catch a midday nap.

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    The Etosha Pan http://blog.hankchristensen.com/2016/12/the-etosha-pan/ Thu, 01 Dec 2016 15:55:53 +0000 http://blog.hankchristensen.com/?p=4902 Continue reading "The Etosha Pan"

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    A camel-thorn acacia grows next to the Etosha Pan, Etosha National Park, Namibia.

    The Etosha Pan is a large dry lake bed in Namibia, which due to heavy mineral deposits forms a dry salt pan. The name “Etosha” comes from an Ndonga word meaning “great white place”. While the pan rarely sees water, it is surrounded by savanna and sparse forest, teeming with wildlife. The pan is 75 miles long and just shy of 3,000 square miles. Here you can see the white expanse of the pan stretching into infinity.

    A blue wildebeest wanders out alone onto the Etosha Pan, Etosha National Park, Namibia.

    Occasionally the wildlife that lives at the edges of the lake bed wander out onto it to gather surface minerals, making up a portion of their diet. A blue wildebeest is dwarfed by the vastness of the pan.

    The lake was fed by a large river about 16,000 years ago when glacial melt caused the formation of many such rivers. At some point tectonic plate movement changed the course of the river, and the pan dried up to its current state. The only time it sees a few centimeters of water is due to heavy rains, but this is a seldom occurrence.

    Herds of plains zebra and springbok visit a waterhole for a morning drink, Etosha National Park, Namibia.

    The area surrounding the pan is dotted with waterholes which support a wide variety of wildlife. This area is protected within the boundaries of Etosha National Park, which completely surrounds the pan. Although I only spent one full day here, that glimpse of wildlife photographic possibilities will surely draw me back.

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    Indian Boar http://blog.hankchristensen.com/2016/11/indian-boar/ Mon, 28 Nov 2016 16:48:51 +0000 http://blog.hankchristensen.com/?p=4782 Continue reading "Indian Boar"

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    A female indian boar stands watch over its baby, Mudumalai National Park, India.

    One of India’s less attractive wildlife is the Indian boar. While these guys won’t be winning any beauty pageants, I found them quite cute in their own way. We were lucky enough to see several mothers with babies, and it was fun to see them cuddling and nursing.

    An indian boar stands in a forest clearing, Mudumalai National Park, India.

    The boar that I photographed were fairly deep within the forest. I came across several of them in a clearing, basking in the morning sun.

    An indian boar roots around on the ground, Mudumalai National Park, India.

    These animals provided a good example of the results I’ve been able to get using the 50 megapixel Canon 5DSr for wildlife. While I bought the camera primarily for landscape work, I’ve found that for wildlife portraits (slow moving, non-action shots), nothing can beat its resolving power. I’m not going to print any of these shots wall sized (though I could!), but it is pretty amazing to be able to zoom in on the monitor to see the fine detail of the boar’s tiny hairs.

    A young indian boar stands next to a tree, Mudumalai National Park, India.

    It is always fun to photograph new species in the wild, however “ugly” they might be.

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    Tufted Gray Langur http://blog.hankchristensen.com/2016/11/tufted-gray-langur/ Wed, 23 Nov 2016 17:47:06 +0000 http://blog.hankchristensen.com/?p=4805 Continue reading "Tufted Gray Langur"

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    A tufted gray langur poses on a rock, Mudumalai National Park, India.

    One of my most challenging subjects from my recent India trip was the tufted gray langur. Any animal that has a mixture of very light and very dark colors is an exercise of balance. It takes just the right kind of light, and the perfect exposure to get enough light to see details in the dark areas, while making sure not to blow out the highlights. In the case of the gray langur, I had to make sure the black face was bright enough, while the white hair surrounding the face still rendered in fine detail.

    In the portrait above, I was fortunate to have diffused afternoon sunlight directly lighting the face. This helped keep the contrast of the scene low and caught all the details of his solemn expression.

    A tufted gray langur clings to the top of a tree, Mudumalai National Park, India.

    The langur seemed to live more wild than the ubiquitous macaques. They have extremely long tails, as can be seen in the photo above. Gray langurs have superior eyesight which allows them to sit in the tops of trees to watch for predators from a distance. They are often seen near herds of chital, as each species can warn each other of approaching predators. In fact, one morning in Mudumalai National Park, we did hear the treetops go wild with monkey calls. About 30 seconds of waiting earned us the growling of a tiger in the thick underbrush. We never did sight the tiger, but the langurs certainly alerted us to its presence.

    A tufted gray langur sits on the ground for a portrait, Mudumalai National Park, India.

    In all, I only spent a few short moments with these monkeys. In the future, I hope to capture active interactions between family members, as I have in the past with macaques. The unpredictability of wildlife always gives me reasons to keep going back for more.

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    Southern Masked Weaver http://blog.hankchristensen.com/2016/11/southern-masked-weaver/ Mon, 21 Nov 2016 15:25:55 +0000 http://blog.hankchristensen.com/?p=4814 Continue reading "Southern Masked Weaver"

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    A non-breeding male lacks the black face and beak of a male in breeding colors, Windhoek, Namibia.

    On my very first morning in Namibia, I woke early to photograph any song birds that happened to visit the garden of the bed and breakfast in which I was staying. I was quickly rewarded with sightings of both male and female southern masked weavers. In general, female birds are usually harder to identify than males, which tend to display more color and distinct markings. This identification was made more difficult by the fact that even the male that I saw was in non-breeding colors, looking much more like the female.

    A non-breeding male lacks the black face and beak of a male in breeding colors, Windhoek, Namibia.

    The first two photos here are of a male, while the last is a female. Although the male’s colors are similar to the female, it is distinguished by its red eye. In breeding season, the male has a black face and beak (giving the species its name), looking very different.

    A female southern masked weaver lacks the black face of the male, Windhoek, Namibia.

    These weavers did not hang around for long. I had a total of about 30 seconds with the male (which is why cameras with high frame rates are vital with bird photography!). The female perched for a few brief seconds before she was off to the next spot.

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    India 2016 Gallery http://blog.hankchristensen.com/2016/11/india-2016-gallery/ Fri, 18 Nov 2016 17:19:07 +0000 http://blog.hankchristensen.com/?p=4787 Continue reading "India 2016 Gallery"

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    India 2016
    An indian peacock walks through short grass, Mudumalai National Park, India.

    I’ve finished processing my photos from a short trip to India last month. Here is a gallery of some of my favorite shots. It was a whirlwind trip through the southern state of Tamil Nadu, visiting Mudumalai National Park, Ooty, Coimbatore, Azhagappapuram, Nagercoil and Kanyakumari. These photos were shot over the course of four busy days. Click each image to see the next, or use your keyboard arrows to navigate.

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    Chital – The Indian Spotted Deer http://blog.hankchristensen.com/2016/11/chital-the-indian-spotted-deer/ Wed, 16 Nov 2016 14:28:58 +0000 http://blog.hankchristensen.com/?p=4777 Continue reading "Chital – The Indian Spotted Deer"

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    A chital stands in a clearing in the forest, Mudumalai National Park, India.

    On my trip to southern India last month, I saw quite a few chital, the spotted deer that live throughout the country’s forests. Sometimes appearing solitary, sometimes in herds of 10 or more, they were distributed in a variety of environments from the thick forest of Mudumalai National Park to more open scrub land.

    Two chital stand in a small clearing, Mudumalai National Park, India.

    Males are larger than females and can have antlers. These antlers are three pronged and can grow up to one meter long, giving the larger males a majestic appearance.

    An adult chital stands in a patch of cactus, Mudumalai National Park, India.

    Like most mammals, the chital are much more active in the early hours of the day. They seemed most relaxed just before sunrise – however that was a much more difficult time to photograph them due to the lack of light. Unfortunately, the closer subjects were extremely skittish, diving into the dense trees as we slowed our vehicle.

    A chital stands in a clearing in the forest, Mudumalai National Park, India.
    A young chital looks back over its shoulder, Mudumalai National Park, India.

    Chital are endemic to the Indian subcontinent and can be found as far north as Nepal and Bhutan. A small herd was introduced to the Hawaiian island of Molokai in the 1860s, and can today be found on the island of Lanai.

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    Fun With Rhesus Macaques http://blog.hankchristensen.com/2016/11/fun-with-rhesus-macaques/ Mon, 14 Nov 2016 16:25:16 +0000 http://blog.hankchristensen.com/?p=4709 Continue reading "Fun With Rhesus Macaques"

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    A rhesus macaque carries her baby underneath her as she travels from place to place, Mudumalai National Park, India.

    In some areas of India, Rhesus macaques are all over the place. In certain temples, palaces or other tourist attractions, these guys are more like city pigeons in their ubiquity. However, as someone not usually around wild monkeys, I take every opportunity to pick up my camera and capture some of the amazingly human-like expressions they display.

    On a recent trip to southern India, I encountered some of these guys as I got closer to the forests of the Mudumalai Tiger Preserve. For several mothers and their babies, upside down and clinging on definitely seemed to be the transportation mode of choice.

    A rhesus macaque carries her baby underneath her as she travels from place to place, Mudumalai National Park, India.

    While monkeys can often be very cute as they go about their primate lives, it is important to keep your distance. They can be quite territorial and aggressive, and I certainly wouldn’t want to get into a fight with one!

    A rhesus macaque bares its fangs in a show of dominance, Ooty, Tamil Nadu, India.

    As we were leaving the city of Ooty, we spotted the guy in the photo above on the side of the road. He had gotten into a neighborly dispute with the fellow below. They were screaming at each other across the road, so I got up close views of each as they bared their fangs and made their intentions known. Sitting in the car and shooting out the window was about as close as I’d want to get!

    A rhesus macaque bares its fangs in a show of dominance, Ooty, Tamil Nadu, India.

    Not to give you nightmares of macaques, I’ll leave you with a cute shot of a little guy. He was minding his business atop a fence, watching all the goings-on with interest.

    A juvenile rhesus macaque sits on a fence looking cute, Ooty, Tamil Nadu, India.

    While my Indian friends often roll their eyes every time I take out a camera for monkeys, I am always fascinated with watching them go about their day. I’m not sure if I dig their dexterous use of tools or if I’m anthropomorphizing their facial expressions, but I’ll take their photo any day.

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    An Early Ooty Morning http://blog.hankchristensen.com/2016/11/an-early-ooty-morning/ Wed, 09 Nov 2016 17:12:18 +0000 http://blog.hankchristensen.com/?p=4713 Continue reading "An Early Ooty Morning"

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    A red-whickered bulbul perches on a berry busy in pre-dawn light, Ooty, Tamil Nadu, India.

    There was a chill in the air as I walked down the four flights of stairs to the garden below. Then I remembered that I was close to 8,000 feet of elevation, which also explained my slight shortness of breath. I was in the hill station of Ooty, a mountain top town surrounded by tea plantations. My friend Frans Xavier generously offered to play host to his home state of Tamil Nadu, India for a few days, and this was our first stop on the way from Coimbatore to Mudumalai National Park. We had flown into Coimbatore the day before where we met Frans’ good college friend Frank. This was truly the best way for me to see such a beautiful part of India, with two locals showing me the way!

    A female house sparrow eats a grub from the ground in the early morning, Ooty, Tamil Nadu, India.

    But of course day one saw me up at dawn, anxious to see which birds I could photograph before we hit the road later that morning. At first I spied one of my regular usual suspects, the house sparrow. Here is a female in the grass, just pulling a fat grub from the earth. I suppose this was the epitome of the “early bird!”

    Unfortunately, what was once a common species throughout India, the house sparrow is rapidly disappearing, due most likely to urbanization. It is the typical story we see over and over in this planet’s wild places – loss of habitat.

    A red-whickered bulbul perches on a berry busy in pre-dawn light, Ooty, Tamil Nadu, India.

    I slowly wound my way through the garden, which was terraced – carved into the side of a steep hill. My journey was very quiet until I got to the very bottom, at which point the manicured garden met the thick, wild forest. It was alive with bird song, monkey calls, and other unidentified animal sounds that could only be attributed to the beasts of my imagination. At this point, I struck gold (at least from a bird photographer’s perspective). I was eye level with the tops of several bushes, thick with red-whiskered bulbuls.

    Two red-whiskered bulbuls perch on a berry bush in pre-dawn light, Ooty, Tamil Nadu, India.

    I had photographed this bird on two occasions in a trip to India last year, but this was by far the most I had seen at once. From my position, it was difficult to move as I was perched on the side of a very steep hill. Any time I tried to move closer to the birds, I ended up underneath them, as I dropped in elevation. So I was pretty much stuck at a fixed distance from the bushes, which fortunately was close enough.

    A pied bush chat perches on a branch in early morning, Ooty, Tamil Nadu, India.

    In addition to the bulbul clan, I found a couple of male pied bush chats (a new species for me), flitting up and down the hill. These guys proved to be more skittish than the bulbuls, most likely because they weren’t busy gorging themselves with berries.

    A pied bush chat perches on a branch in early morning, Ooty, Tamil Nadu, India.

    After about half an hour, the birds were clearing out and the world around me was stirring. I was happy with my haul – an excellent start to wonderful trip.

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    Namib Rock Agama http://blog.hankchristensen.com/2016/11/namib-rock-agama/ Mon, 07 Nov 2016 16:13:42 +0000 http://blog.hankchristensen.com/?p=4702 Continue reading "Namib Rock Agama"

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    A male Namibian rock agama perches on a flat stump, Twyfelfontein, Namibia.

    When I visited the Damaraland region of Namibia earlier this year, I found and photographed a few Namib Rock Agamas. This colorful lizard hung out on and between some of the large boulders that decorated the landscape.

    A male Namibian rock agama splays out against the warm rock, Twyfelfontein, Namibia.

    While there were likely other species of lizards in the area, these lizards could be seen out in the open and were easily spotted due to their striking color against the gray rock. Unfortunately they were somewhat skittish and didn’t let me get close enough for more of a macro treatment.

    When photographing small ground creatures, it is important to bring the lens as close to eye level as possible. Sometimes this means sacrificing personal cleanliness in order to get the shot.

    A male Namibian rock agama splays out against the warm rock, Twyfelfontein, Namibia.

    While the big game is Africa’s major wildlife draw, it is important not to forget the little guys. Sometimes the smaller critters can have an even more interesting story to tell than the big guys.

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    Recent Publication – Bay Nature October 2016 http://blog.hankchristensen.com/2016/10/recent-publication-bay-nature-october-2016/ Thu, 20 Oct 2016 14:39:43 +0000 http://blog.hankchristensen.com/?p=4636 Continue reading "Recent Publication – Bay Nature October 2016"

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    Image of a California Condor in Pinnacles National Park used for an article about the rehabilitation and release of Condors.

    Run to your local news stand and grab the current issue of Bay Nature. There is an article on California Condors that features one of my photos taken of a condor in Pinnacles National Park. This is a popular release point for these birds bred in rehabilitation centers, and the rocky area has proven a successful wild breeding area. As there are less than 300 of these birds in the wild, each is given a wing tag with a unique tracking number, and a radio transmitter.

    A California Condor perches on a branch in front of a rock wall, Pinnacles National Park

    The condor feature in my photo had a wing tag of number 340, which allowed me not only identify this as a male, but also get some detailed information about the bird’s history from the National Park Service:

    Upon arrival at the Pinnacles flight pen, 340 was by far the most active and aggressive juvenile. Perhaps he was aware of his distinction in being the first chick produced by the Oregon Zoo, where he hatched on 5/9/04. As a culturally significant species to the Wasco tribe, the honor of naming 340 was given to Chief Nelson Wallulutum, who named him Kun-Wac-Shun, meaning Thunder and Lightning.

    After his release at Pinnacles in 2005, 340 started to expand his range and quickly ascended the dominance hierarchy. He is outfitted with a GPS tag and has taken flight within 50 miles of the Bitter Creek National Wildlife Refuge condor release site. His continued exploratory flights make him valued within the flock for his ability to lead others to new areas. During the winter of 2013, he began courting Ventana Wildlife Society (VWS) condor 444. Unfortunately, 444 died due to lead poisoning in the summer of 2014. As a high ranking male, 340 found a new mate in VWS condor 236 and they are currently nesting within park boundaries, raising their chick, 828.

    https://www.nps.gov/pinn/learn/nature/profiles.htm

    It is an honor to view and photograph these gigantic and extremely rare birds.

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    Sunset Over Damaraland http://blog.hankchristensen.com/2016/10/sunset-over-damaraland/ Fri, 14 Oct 2016 17:16:05 +0000 http://blog.hankchristensen.com/?p=4627 Continue reading "Sunset Over Damaraland"

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    One of my favorite locations I visited in Namibia was the Damaraland region. I was staying at the Mowani Mountain Resort – a collection of beautifully architected bungalows settled in among giant boulders. Each structure was connected by a series of footpaths, and situated so that each room felt completely isolated. I felt as though I had the entire landscape to myself.

    The Damaraland region of Namibia is very dry, and features an occasional white-barked tree growing from the rocks.

    The surrounding desert was composed of hard sandy soil and large red rocks. It was occasionally accented by gleaming white-barked trees that popped out of the rubicund scene.

    The setting sun turns the boulder strewn landscape surrounding the Mowani Mountain Camp a burnt red, Twyfelfontein, Namibia.

    The low sun lit up the rocks all around me, accentuating the ruddy hue.

    Godrays stretch out from the sun setting over the African desert region of Damaraland, Twyfelfontein, Namibia.

    Luckily there was an interesting cloud bank to the west, blocking the sun and allowing its light to radiate into strong beams. The only element missing was a herd of desert-adapted elephants roaming the desert floor.

    Godrays stretch out from the sun setting over the African desert region of Damaraland, Twyfelfontein, Namibia.

    I had two camera bodies with me for the shoot, one mounted to a tripod with a medium zoom (24-70mm) and the other with a telephoto zoom (100-400mm) which I was hand holding. This way I could capture the larger scene with the tripod, and still shoot the sun’s transition through the western clouds as a dominant subject with the telephoto. The photo above was taken at 170mm, emphasizing the sun’s rays breaking through the clouds.

    Twilight decends upon the landscape of Damaraland, Twyfelfontein, Namibia.

    After the sun had set, the landscape radiated a deep blue, beckoning me to keep firing the shutter. This is a crop of a much wider panorama. Sometimes these photographs that appear more muted lend themselves to large wall hangings. Some day I may do just that.

    As usual for a sunset landscape session, the action was over too quickly. Soon it was time to pack up the gear, have a quick sleep and prepare for an early safari the next morning.

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    Rock Hyrax http://blog.hankchristensen.com/2016/10/rock-hyrax/ Fri, 07 Oct 2016 01:09:05 +0000 http://blog.hankchristensen.com/?p=4623 Continue reading "Rock Hyrax"

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    A rock hyrax peaks out from behind a tree, Twyfelfontein, Namibia.

    When I was in Namibia earlier this year, I had a chance to see several rock hyrax up close. I came across them in the Damaraland region, living among the boulders in the dry desert landscape. Rock hyrax are small mammals resembling guinea pigs, distributed across Africa and the Middle East. However, their closest living relative is actually the elephant.

    A rock hyrax sits on a granite boulder in the Damaraland region, Twyfelfontein, Namibia.

    At first they seemed very skittish, but I found that if I just sat down and was still, they could get curious and would creep closer. I small face would appear around the side of a boulder and then quickly disappear, only to reemerge in a closer location.

    A rock hyrax sits on a granite boulder in the Damaraland region, Twyfelfontein, Namibia.

    Unique among the hyrax is a dorsal gland that is used for territorial markings. Here is can be seen as an area of matted down fur on its middle back.

    Although they can live among groups of up to 80 individuals, I only saw a few during my stay. They were a cute and pleasant variety to the larger mammals I saw there.

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    Okaukuejo Waterhole: Wildlife Diversity http://blog.hankchristensen.com/2016/09/okaukuejo-waterhole-wildlife-diversity/ Sat, 03 Sep 2016 20:27:26 +0000 http://blog.hankchristensen.com/?p=4596 Continue reading "Okaukuejo Waterhole: Wildlife Diversity"

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    My last blog post detailed my experience with five endangered black rhino at the Okaukuejo Waterhole in Ethosa National Park, Namibia. But that’s certainly not all I saw during those long quiet hours in the dead of night.

    The sun sets over the Okaukuejo Waterhole, Etosha National Park, Namibia

    I arrived at the waterhole just as the sun was setting behind the horizon. Night is the best time to see wildlife here, and to facilitate wildlife viewing, this camp has set up a flood light by which to see the nocturnal visitors. Quite a few people gathered at the waterhole to watch the sunset, but soon they were off to dinner and bed. Over the next hour, the crowds thinned out and only the die-hards remained for a long night’s wait.

    Zebra come at night to drink from the Okaukuejo Waterhole. Night is a good time for prey animals to visit waterholes as they have a better chance of escaping predators.
    Zebra come at night to drink from the Okaukuejo Waterhole. Night is a good time for prey animals to visit waterholes as they have a better chance of escaping predators.

    One of the more common visitors were the zebra. One night a small herd came at dusk, but it was those few that crept up to the waterhole in the middle of the night that were more fun to watch. The absolute silence was only disrupted by the soft crunching of rocks under their feet, as they lined the edge of the water to drink. The stillness of the water cast a perfect reflection. However there was no chance to relax, as any little sound had the zebra darting their gaze to the darkness, trying to see beyond the wall of black.

    A giraffe stands next to a tree at the Okaukuejo Waterhole. Its body is reflected in the still waters, Etosha National Park, Namibia.
    A giraffe stands next to the Okaukuejo Waterhole. Its body is reflected in the still waters, Etosha National Park, Namibia.

    Zebra gave way to giraffe, which traveling in ones and twos. In order to capture photos of these animals at night, I had my 400mm lens locked down on the tripod, my mirror locked up, and my shutter speed just slow enough to gather the required light. Keep the shutter too slow, and the animal was more likely to move during the exposure. It was a careful balance of predicting animal behavior, and making sure all my camera functions were set correctly.

    Giraffe visit the Okaukuejo Waterhole at night, drinking from its still water, Etosha National Park, Namibia.

    One of my favorite sights was the comical way in which giraffe drank water. They had to contort their bodies and spread their front legs in order to bring their heads low enough to the ground to drink.

    A springbok visits the Okaukuejo Waterhole at night, its form reflected in the still water, Etosha National Park, Namibia.

    In addition to the larger mammals, I saw a couple of antelope species. The ever present springbok made an appearance.

    A species endemic to Namibia, several black-faced impala visit the Okaukuejo Waterhole at night, Etosha National Park, Namibia.

    As did the endemic black-faced impala.

    I did see an elephant in the early hours of morning. However luck was not on my side, and none of my photos turned out. There was too much movement from this giant beast to capture under low lights.

    I would certainly recommend this type of experience to wildlife lovers. It was incredibly intimate to watch these animals interacting under the cover of darkness, with nobody else around. It was a wildlife cathedral I was lucky enough to attend!

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    Two Nights At Okaukuejo Waterhole http://blog.hankchristensen.com/2016/08/two-nights-at-okaukuejo-waterhole/ Thu, 11 Aug 2016 14:17:53 +0000 http://blog.hankchristensen.com/?p=4576 Continue reading "Two Nights At Okaukuejo Waterhole"

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    Under the cover of darkness, two endangered black rhinos socialize next to the Okaukuejo Waterhole, their bodies reflected in the still water. These uncommon rhinos are rarely seen in daylight and are usually solitary creatures. Only at night can they be seen interacting with one another socially.

    The endangered black rhino was long thought to be solitary and territorial, usually alone and resting most of the day in deep brush. On a recent trip to Namibia, I was hoping to see one of these rare creatures in the wild. With a worldwide wild population of only 5000, I wasn’t sure how easy it would be to see one. Not only did I get my wish, but what I saw was counter to every description I’ve read about these animals.

    I was traveling with a group through Namibia, photographing both wildlife and the incredible landscapes of that country. We spent a couple of nights in Etosha National Park, a stop on every wildlife tourist’s “todo” list. Okaukuejo camp features a natural waterhole that is kept floodlit all night. This allows visitors to view the amazing variety of wildlife that frequents the waterhole only at night. Knowing that the black rhino makes itself scarce during the day, I was hoping for a nocturnal sighting.

    An endangered black rhino drinks from the Okaukuejo Waterhole, its body reflected in the still water. These uncommon rhinos are rarely seen in daylight.

    I waited and waited long into the night, with nothing to show for my weariness. I had a tripod mounted Canon 100-400mm lens with a new 50 megapixel Canon 5DSr attached to the back. At about 3:00 in the morning, just as I was about to pack up my gear, the silent darkness was disturbed by an incredibly loud crunching sound. Suddenly, an impossibly large form emerged from the brush a mere 50 yards from my position. My heart leapt into my throat – it was a black rhino!

    A black rhino and her baby visit the Okaukuejo Waterhole, thier bodies reflected in the still water. These uncommon rhinos are rarely seen in daylight.

    Even more surprising was the baby rhino that followed closely behind. I couldn’t believe my luck in seeing not one but two of these rare creatures. After drinking by the water’s edge, the mother walked into the water to bathe. Soon her timid baby followed, and they ventured into water up to their stomachs, drinking as they went.

    A black rhino and her baby visit the Okaukuejo Waterhole. A dip in the cool water washes away the dust. These uncommon rhinos are rarely seen in daylight.

    As they emerged from the water, they looked like some kind of strange half-white, half-black creature, as the water and washed away all the dust from the surrounding landscape. After a few more minutes, they wandered back into the brush, content. I was certainly happy to have lucked out on my first night, but was hopeful to see them again the next night, now that I knew they were in the area.

    The next night I didn’t have to wait long. Soon after sunset, two rhinos emerged from the brush. These were two full grown adults, and based on the lack of a baby, I figured that neither of these was the mother from the night before. After a quick drink, the two faced each other. Expecting some kind of fierce territorial battle, I was shocked to see them rub their faces against each other (see lead photo). Exchanging soft grunts (or at least as softly as a huge beast like this can grunt), they stood like this for several moments, touching horns and nuzzling each other. This certainly didn’t look like the solitary hermits I had read about before my trip!

    A black rhino drinks from the Okaukuejo Waterhole, its body reflected in the still water. These uncommon rhinos are rarely seen in daylight.

    As I was watching these two, the mother and baby from the night before came to the edge of the water. Finally, a fifth black rhino joined the party by the waterhole. At this point, I was expecting a confrontation of some sort, having seen protective wild animal mothers with their babies before. Surely one of these large adults would get too close to the baby and then the action would start!

    Three endangered black rhinos socialize and drink from the Okaukuejo Waterhole, their bodies reflected in the still water. These uncommon rhinos are rarely seen in daylight and are usually solitary creatures. Only at night can they be seen interacting with one another socially.

    Not only did none of that happen, but the five rhinos seemed almost sweet with each other. For the next half an hour, these nocturnal socialites drank and mingled, exchanging pleasantries (read: more grunting at each other). The baby was free to wander among the other rhinos. Before they left, I caught a quick video of them all together.

    With my only experience consisting of two nights, I have no idea how rare or common it was to see this type of behavior. But rare or not, I was in awe of these amazing creatures and felt blessed to be given an opportunity to photograph them.

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    Gem Lake, Emigrant Wilderness http://blog.hankchristensen.com/2016/08/gem-lake-emigrant-wilderness/ http://blog.hankchristensen.com/2016/08/gem-lake-emigrant-wilderness/#comments Thu, 04 Aug 2016 15:38:58 +0000 http://blog.hankchristensen.com/?p=4540 Continue reading "Gem Lake, Emigrant Wilderness"

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    Last weekend I took a quick two night backpacking trip with some friends, in hopes of hitting the high country of the Sierra Nevada in peak wildflower season. I set my sights on Gem Lake in Emigrant Wilderness – just about the right elevation for flowers this time of year. Having been there before, I knew that even if the place wasn’t in bloom, we’d have a great time and see some amazing scenery.

    I like Emigrant Wilderness because there are no trail quotas and it is very easy to get a wilderness permit with short planning. We set out from the Bay Area early Friday morning, stopping at the Mi Wuk Ranger Station on the way up Highway 108. Even though we were taking our time, we still hit the trail by 10AM, plenty of time to reach our 10 mile destination of Gem Lake.

    A backpacker hikes along the trail from Crabtree Camp trailhead to Gem Lake, Emigrant Wilderness, CA.

    The trail meanders between thick forest and open granite-filled vistas. Most of Emigrant Wilderness is easily accessible cross country due to many gently-sloping wide open granite bowls and domes. This time we stuck to the trail, and made easy progress. Every so often we were rewarded with a scenic vista. If you are not already a lover of granite, after a few hikes in this part of the Sierra you soon will be!

    Cliffs to the north of Gem Lake reflect in the still water at sunset, Emigrant Wilderness, CA.

    The elevation changes were just enough to tire our bodies by the time we reached Gem Lake. This lake certainly lives up to its name. However, it is very popular and can get quite crowded on the weekend. As it was Friday night, we were able to relax lakeside in relative peace. As the sun set, the wind settled and we got some nice reflections on the water.

    Cliffs to the north of Gem Lake reflect in the still water at sunset, Emigrant Wilderness, CA.

    The next day we went further up trail and explored Jewelry Lake and Deer Lake. Deer Lake is much larger and Gem or Jewelry, and it was hot enough to warrant a midday dip in its cool waters. This is a great area to take your time and not hurry along the trail. One more night, and it was time to head back.

    A winding stream flows into Jewelry Lake, Emigrant Wilderness, CA.

    Luckily there were plenty of wildflowers along the trail to keep us entertained. We had perfect weather for our 26 mile journey and everyone enjoyed the change in scenery.

    A backpacker hikes along the trail from Crabtree Camp trailhead to Gem Lake, Emigrant Wilderness, CA.

    With its easy access and lack of quotas, this is the perfect place for an impromptu night or two in the wilderness.

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    Secretarybird http://blog.hankchristensen.com/2016/08/secretarybird/ Tue, 02 Aug 2016 14:35:00 +0000 http://blog.hankchristensen.com/?p=4547 Continue reading "Secretarybird"

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    A large secretarybird stalks its prey in African grasslands, Namibia, Africa.
    A large secretarybird stalks its prey in African grasslands, Namibia, Africa.

    When I was little, I had a picture book about the wildlife of Africa. Due to my fascination with this book, the pages soon became dog-eared and worn. My favorite image was that of a large, strange looking bird. Half crane, half eagle, this creature looked like nothing I had even dreamed of. Even the name, “Secretarybird” seemed odd and out of place. Over the years, my obsession with this bird became a distant childhood memory.

    When I suddenly saw this creature in the flesh, stalking through the brush just beyond the window of our van, these memories rushed back to me like a flood. Suddenly I was a wide eyed child staring at the worn page of this picture book – but this time the unworldly creation was moving! “Secretarybird!” I called out to the others in the van, surprising myself with unconscious recall.

    The secretarybird stands up to 4.5 feet tall and is a mostly land-based bird of prey. Instead of swooping on its prey like most other hunters, it prefers to stomp on small prey (such as mice, hares, mongoose, crabs, lizards, snakes, and tortoises) with its large feet. There are two theories about how its name came about. One is that this bird resembled secretaries of old, who used to tuck their writing quill behind their ear. As this bird’s head feathers look like quills, this is origin seems plausible. The other main theory is that the name is derived from a French corruption of the Arabic saqr-et-tair, or hunter-bird.

    A large secretarybird stalks its prey in African grasslands, Namibia, Africa.
    A large secretarybird stalks its prey in African grasslands, Namibia, Africa.

    Here is another secretarybird I saw later in the day. Here you can see it out in the open hunting in the short grass.

    It was truly an amazing experience to see this bird in action only a few yards away. I had long forgotten this amazing animal from my past. As a child with a picture book, I never thought I’d actually see one out in wild Africa.

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    Lassen Cinder Cone http://blog.hankchristensen.com/2016/06/lassen-cinder-cone/ Fri, 03 Jun 2016 15:13:38 +0000 http://blog.hankchristensen.com/?p=4429 Continue reading "Lassen Cinder Cone"

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    The Lassen Cinder Cone forms a large round hill when approached from the west, Mt Lassen National Park.

    A couple of summers ago I met my brother and dad in Mt. Lassen National Park for a backpacking trip. This park sees one fraction of the backpacking that other national parks get. As a result, you get the feeling of having the back country to yourselves. More importantly for me, this trip would revolve around revisiting the Lassen Cinder Cone that sits in the east part of the park. We had been there many years before on a day hike, but backpacking would give me more time to explore it photographically.

    A backpacker is dwarfed by the large Lassen Cinder Cone as he heads up the steep trail to the top, Mt. Lassen National Park.

    We spent the night at Snag Lake, and in the morning, approached the Cinder Cone from the south. From there, we reached the steeper of the two trails that wind to the top. In the photo above, you can see my brother as a small speck as we neared the cone from the west.

    Two backpackers climb the steep southern trail up the Lassen Cinder Cone. Mt Lassen and the Painted Dunes can be seen to the west.

    The trail to the top is built using the loose volcanic scoria that makes up the cone itself. It is only a little more solid than walking up a sand dune, and is not for the faint of heart. This is due not only to the phyisical exhaustion that comes from pushing up such a slope, but also the steepness of the trail itself. At times I felt like I was going to tumble backward down the trail as my backpack made me somewhat off balance.

    A large cinder cone sits to the east of Mt. Lassen in Northern California. A trail decends a hundred feet into the mouth of the cinder cone to a large steam vent.

    Those who reach the top are rewarded with spectacular views of Mt. Lassen to the west, as well as a chance to peer down into the crater of the cone. A trail even descends into the mouth of the crater, where you can stand next to thermal steam escaping from the ground.

    The cinder cone was formed long ago by many small eruptions that threw lava into the air, which cooled into the loose, porous volcanic rock. Over time, this piled up into the 700 foot tall cone that we see today. It is thought to have erupted as recently as the 1650s, though the only activity that remains today is the steam rising from the crater.

    A backpacker looks at Mt. Lassen from the top of the Lassen Cinder Cone.

    Walking to the western edge of the crater, we were rewarded with views directly across from Mt. Lassen, as well as views of the Painted Dunes below.

    The Painted Dunes extend to the forest surrounding Mt. Lassen in Northern California. These volcanic dunes were formed by a thousand year old cinder cone.

    The painted dunes are pumice fields formed by oxidation of volcanic ash from earlier eruptions of the Cinder Cone. Its beautiful colors formed because the ash fell on lava that was still hot and forming.

    Two backpackers decend the steep southern trail of the Lassen Cinder Cone, Mt Lassen National Park.

    After a while at the top, and after we tired of braving the fierce wind, we descended the way we had come up. I tried not to think about the consequences of losing my footing, and took it step by step.

    A backpacker heads west away from the Lassen Cinder Cone, Mt Lassen National Park.

    Soon we were down and continuing our day’s hike to our destination of Summit Lake. The promise of camp chairs and cold beer quickened our step. It was great to spend time up close with this unusual creation of nature.

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    Cuddling Lion Brothers http://blog.hankchristensen.com/2016/05/cuddling-lion-brothers/ Tue, 31 May 2016 14:51:09 +0000 http://blog.hankchristensen.com/?p=4510 Continue reading "Cuddling Lion Brothers"

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    Two lion brothers sleep side by side in the fading shade of a tree, Etosha National Park, Namibia

    On my first evening in Etosha National Park (and third evening in Africa), my traveling companions and I came across two lion brothers snoozing away the afternoon in the shade of the only tree for miles. Although it was still early in the afternoon, we decided to hunker down and wait them out. We were somewhat close to a waterhole, and wanted to see if the lions would wander that way as dusk settled. While we waited, we were treated to many poses as the restless lions moved around.

    Two lion brothers sleep side by side in the fading shade of a tree, Etosha National Park, Namibia

    Armed with both my 100-400mm and 800mm lenses, I had plenty of options for focal length (especially given that I couldn’t get out of the vehicle and move around!) As the lions were more or less stationary, I was able to combine my 800mm lens with the fantastic 50 megapixel Canon 5DSr for maximum reach.

    A lion stands in the shade of a small tree, escaping from the hot afternoon sun, Etosha National Park, Namibia

    Based on the length of their manes, these lions were definitely young, and seemed to enjoy each other’s company. At time ticked by, their main reason for movement was to get up and walk a few feet when the shadow of the tree had moved sufficiently to no longer provide enough shade.

    A lion stands in the shade of a small tree, escaping from the hot afternoon sun, Etosha National Park, Namibia

    As often happens with wildlife photography, we waited patiently for something to happen. Although the lions lazed about with no intention of getting up to go to the waterhole, we were eventually presented with a beautiful sunset over the grasslands of Etosha. To capture the landscape, I used my 100-400mm lens zoomed out to 100mm.

    Two lions sleep in the fading shade of a single tree as the sky lights up an sunset, Etosha National Park, Namibia.

    After a few more minutes, it grew dark enough that wildlife photography at any great focal length became impossible. I packed up my gear in anticipation of a long, sleepless night at the floodlit Okaukuejo waterhole (photos coming soon!)

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    Cheetah Conservation Fund http://blog.hankchristensen.com/2016/05/cheetah-conservation-fund/ Thu, 12 May 2016 14:20:20 +0000 http://blog.hankchristensen.com/?p=4473 Continue reading "Cheetah Conservation Fund"

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    While they are being rehabilitated by the Cheetah Conservation Fund, cheetahs are regularly given exercise, as they are not actively hunting game.

    Glancing a movement to its right, all the instincts of evolution sparked the cheetah into instant speed as it exploded after its prey. At an acceleration speed of zero to sixty miles per hour in only three seconds, the chase was immediately at full speed. The huge cat rounded a corner, sending clouds of dirt into the dry, African air, as it came directly toward me. Turning slightly once again, it thundered past, mere feet from me, shaking the ground with its massive paws.

    While they are being rehabilitated by the Cheetah Conservation Fund, cheetahs are regularly given exercise, as they are not actively hunting game.
    While they are being rehabilitated by the Cheetah Conservation Fund, cheetahs are regularly given exercise, as they are not actively hunting game.

    It was my second morning in Namibia and I was at the Cheetah Conservation Fund, experiencing the thrill of cheetahs running no more than ten feet from me. Started in 1990, the CCF works to enhance the long-term survival of the cheetah and other key indigenous wildlife species on Namibian farmlands by developing a habitat improvement program that is both ecologically sound and economically viable. One of its conservation efforts involves fostering and rehabilitating cheetahs, some of which can be released back into the wild.

    While they are being rehabilitated by the Cheetah Conservation Fund, cheetahs are regularly given exercise, as they are not actively hunting game.

    In order to keep the cheetahs healthy, they exercise them by getting them to chase a piece of cloth on a wire. Once the cloth starts moving, the cheetah’s instincts take over and they race to catch the cloth. While their top speed is 70 miles per hour, they were probably reaching speeds of 30-40 miles per hour during this exercise. I was standing in the middle of one such exercise area, watching cheetahs race past – a thrilling experience.

    As the fastest animal on earth, the cheetah is one of the few animals where all four feet come off the ground during its gait, Namibia, Africa.

    As the fastest animal on earth, the cheetah is one of the few animals where all four feet come off the ground during its running gait. It is hard to appreciate this in person, but photographs can showcase this awesome feat.

    A cheetah rests in the shade at the Cheetah Conservation Fund headquarters in Namibia. The CCF has as its mission to be the world’s resource charged with protecting the cheetahs and ultimately ensuring its future.

    Another CCF conservation method that has saved many cheetah lives is their work with predator-friendly farming methods, such as the Livestock Guarding Dog Program. The CCF raises herding dogs from pups side by side with goats. This habituates the dogs to the goats and helps form a tight bond. The CCF then works with local farmers to use these dogs to herd their livestock, keeping the herd safe from the cheetah. This, along with education, helps reduce the number of cheetahs that are shot by ranchers each year.

    A cheetah roams through open grass, Namibia, Africa.

    Although I didn’t see these cheetahs out in the wild, it was a wonderful opportunity to get up close and personal with them. I got photographic opportunities for tight headshot portraits, as well as chances to photograph them running. I never would have had this kind of close proximity with free roaming cheetahs.

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    Recent Publication – Bird Watcher’s Digest http://blog.hankchristensen.com/2016/05/recent-publication-bird-watchers-digest/ Wed, 04 May 2016 14:58:33 +0000 http://blog.hankchristensen.com/?p=4465 Continue reading "Recent Publication – Bird Watcher’s Digest"

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    A townsend's warbler sits atop a cherry blossom, Pacific Grove, CA.
    A townsend’s warbler sits atop a cherry blossom, Pacific Grove, CA.

    The current issue (May/June 2016) of Bird Watcher’s Digest has my photo above published with an article about a group of birders who sought out all 51 wood warbler species in a single year. I got this photo of the Townsend’s Warbler several years ago in Pacific Grove, California, while on the hunt for monarch butterflies. While the butterflies were scarce that day, I was thrilled to get wonderful views of this striking bird, with a color bonus of pink cherry blossoms.

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    Recent Publication – Boxing Jackrabbits In Bay Nature Magazine http://blog.hankchristensen.com/2016/04/recent-publication-boxing-jackrabbits-in-bay-nature-magazine/ Wed, 27 Apr 2016 14:57:35 +0000 http://blog.hankchristensen.com/?p=4460 Continue reading "Recent Publication – Boxing Jackrabbits In Bay Nature Magazine"

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    A male and female blacktail jackrabbit engage in a courtship ritual in which the male approaches the female and she wards him off with a leaping and boxing display.
    A male and female blacktail jackrabbit engage in a courtship ritual in which the male approaches the female and she wards him off with a leaping and boxing display.
    A male and female blacktail jackrabbit engage in a courtship ritual in which the male approaches the female and she wards him off with a leaping and boxing display.
    A male and female blacktail jackrabbit engage in a courtship ritual in which the male approaches the female and she wards him off with a leaping and boxing display.
    A male and female blacktail jackrabbit engage in a courtship ritual in which the male approaches the female and she wards him off with a leaping and boxing display.
    A male and female blacktail jackrabbit engage in a courtship ritual in which the male approaches the female and she wards him off with a leaping and boxing display.

    If you live the San Francisco Bay Area, grab the latest issue of Bay Nature Magazine to see an article on boxing jackrabbits featuring my three photos above. The bay is home to many blacktail jackrabbits, and on this occasion I was lucky enough to witness a courtship display of sorts. In this case, one or more males will chase a female, who will in turn ward off her suitor’s advances by rearing up and boxing at him with her front legs. Often, the male will mimic this behavior, giving the appearance of two boxing jackrabbits. The female will continue this behavior until the most aggressive male becomes apparent, at which point she will succumb to his advances.

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    African Paradise Flycatcher http://blog.hankchristensen.com/2016/04/african-paradise-flycatcher/ Mon, 25 Apr 2016 14:19:38 +0000 http://blog.hankchristensen.com/?p=4457 Continue reading "African Paradise Flycatcher"

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    An african paradise flycatcher perches on a narrow branch for a few seconds, before flying away, Namibia, Africa
    An african paradise flycatcher perches on a narrow branch for a few seconds, before flying away, Namibia, Africa

    I just returned from an 11 day trip through Namibia. It was a wonderful trip full of new sights and sounds, many new species for me, and a lot of fascinating locations. Overall, I traveled nearly 2500 miles, mostly on dirt and gravel roads.

    While there is much to come on this blog, I thought I’d start by posting one of the birds I saw during my first morning in country. After 36 hours of travel, I finally made it to Namibia. I woke early the next morning to see which new bird species I could photograph. It wasn’t long before this beautiful paradise flycatcher landed on a nearby branch and gave me magnificent views in warm morning light.

    An african paradise flycatcher perches on a narrow branch for a few seconds, before flying away, Namibia, Africa
    An african paradise flycatcher perches on a narrow branch for a few seconds, before flying away, Namibia, Africa

    The African Paradise Flycatcher is the most comment flycatcher in the continent, as well as the largest. Usually found in ones or twos, this bird lives up to its name by eating passing insects, or flitting about in the branches looking for flies. For one of first new species sightings, I new I was off to a good start of my trip. Stay tuned for lots more, including tons of wildlife (of course!), as well as some dramatic landscape spots.

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    Burney Falls http://blog.hankchristensen.com/2016/02/burney-falls/ Mon, 29 Feb 2016 20:34:28 +0000 http://blog.hankchristensen.com/?p=4431 Continue reading "Burney Falls"

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    Burney Falls drops across a wide cliff into a pool below, creating a tree-lined grotto.
    Burney Falls drops across a wide cliff into a pool below, creating a tree-lined grotto.

    Burney Falls is located in Northern California in McArthur-Burney Falls Memorial State Park. It is a beautifully wide waterfall, dropping 129 feet into a tree-lined grotto below. Even in the summer months, when most other creeks in the area have withered or dried up to nothing, this falls keeps up its steady flow rate. This is because the water originates from an underground spring not far upstream from the falls itself.

    Burney Falls drops across a wide cliff into a pool below, creating a tree-lined grotto.
    Burney Falls drops across a wide cliff into a pool below, creating a tree-lined grotto.

    There are many ways to photograph the falls, from the grand view taken above the falls, to more intimate closeups of rivulets running over bright green moss. It is important to shoot waterfalls with a tripod – that way you can use longer exposures and blur the water into a glossy silk texture. Down in the grotto, it was dark enough to let the exposure run over a second, giving me the desired look.

    Burney Falls drops across a wide cliff into a pool below, creating a tree-lined grotto.
    Burney Falls drops across a wide cliff into a pool below, creating a tree-lined grotto.

    One challenge was to balance bright hot spots of light reflecting off the water with the dark shadows within the rocks. Luckily a quick check of the histogram on the back of my camera told me that I was able to capture the entire dynamic range of the scene in a single shot, and so I exposed to the right, getting as bright an exposure as possible without blowing out the highlights. This was corrected in post processing, giving me an amazing amount of detail in the shadows.

    I’d love to go back and shoot this scene in early, pre-dawn light, which would give me soft even lighting across the entire scene. The quick visit left me thinking of many other compositions I could use to better cover the variety seen in this beautiful falls.

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    Puerto Vallarta Wading Birds http://blog.hankchristensen.com/2016/02/puerto-vallarta-wading-birds/ Fri, 19 Feb 2016 16:33:39 +0000 http://blog.hankchristensen.com/?p=4314 Continue reading "Puerto Vallarta Wading Birds"

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    Every time I go to a new place, I try to have at least basic photography gear with me in order to explore the area photographically. For a location as beautiful as a Mexican beach, there are opportunities for both landscape and wildlife (in this case, birds). Due to the necessity to travel light, I left my 800mm behemoth at home and opted instead for the (comparatively) compact 100-400mm zoom lens.

    A whimbrel struts across a sandy beach, Puerto Vallarta, Mexico
    A whimbrel struts across a sandy beach, Puerto Vallarta, Mexico

    Given that I was still in North America, most of the shorebirds along the beach were the usual suspects. The ever-present whimbrel was strutting around through the breaking waves, poking at exposed treats in the sand.

    A black skimmer stands in shallow water along the shore, Puerto Vallarta, Mexico
    A black skimmer stands in shallow water along the shore, Puerto Vallarta, Mexico

    One of the stranger looking birds in my usual list is the black skimmer. When seen on land, they look slightly off balance, with a long protruding lower beak. It is not until they take flight until you realize the grace of their build. Skimming low across the surface of the ocean, they dip their lower beak into the water, scooping up food while in flight. Seeing a group of ten or more doing this is a remarkable sight.

    A willet wades through shallow water, Puerto Vallarta, Mexico
    A willet wades through shallow water, Puerto Vallarta, Mexico

    The willet is one of the blander looking birds of the bunch, and is similar is size to the whimbrel. Here I caught a slight reflection in the shallow water, which were few and far between on this blustery morning.

    A laughing gull stands just off shore in the shallow water, Puerto Vallarta, Mexico
    A laughing gull stands just off shore in the shallow water, Puerto Vallarta, Mexico

    I was happy to see this laughing gull, as I don’t see those very often close to home. The black eye ring is a give away here for identification. I typically find gull species hard to differentiate from one another, given the species similarity, and the great plumage variance depending on the bird’s age.

    A semipalmated plover stands on small bits of exposed sand, Puerto Vallarta, Mexico
    A semipalmated plover stands on small bits of exposed sand, Puerto Vallarta, Mexico

    Finally, I snagged some photos of a semipalmated plover among the lesser sandpipers. I am a big fan of plovers, and am always excited to find them hiding among the masses.

    If you are interested in casual bird photography while traveling, I highly recommend a lens like the 100-400mm zoom. With some careful stalking, you can usually get close enough for some good photos, and it is very easy to travel with. Also, you can leave the tripod at home, as it is easily handheld.

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    Great-tailed Grackle http://blog.hankchristensen.com/2016/02/great-tailed-grackle/ Thu, 11 Feb 2016 17:22:47 +0000 http://blog.hankchristensen.com/?p=4312 Continue reading "Great-tailed Grackle"

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    A great-tailed grackle struts along the sand with its head in the air, Puerto Vallarta, Mexico
    A great-tailed grackle struts along the sand with its head in the air, Puerto Vallarta, Mexico

    The great-tailed grackle is an interesting blackbird. Look to quickly and you might mistake it for a common crow. However, once you glimpse that long tail, you’ll know this is an entirely different beast. Even better, if you see it in this strange strutting behavior with its neck thrust up into the air, you’ll really wonder what’s going on. This is usually an indication of the male breeding display, and can be quite entertaining to watch.

    A great-tailed grackle picks food items out of the washed-up seaweed, Puerto Vallarta, Mexico
    A great-tailed grackle picks food items out of the washed-up seaweed, Puerto Vallarta, Mexico

    I found a colony of grackles along a beach in western Mexico. Originally from Central and South America, the great-tailed grackle has expanded its range into North America as far north as Oregon. They can often be seen in agricultural areas, where food can be more plentiful.

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    Ranganathittu Bird Sanctuary http://blog.hankchristensen.com/2016/02/ranganathittu-bird-sanctuary/ Sun, 07 Feb 2016 14:57:53 +0000 http://blog.hankchristensen.com/?p=4316 Continue reading "Ranganathittu Bird Sanctuary"

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    I’ve posted previously about some of the birds I had a chance to photograph on a trip to India last year. No spot was more prolific than the Ranganathittu Bird Sanctuary just outside Mysore. Although I was there off-season for migratory birds, I was able to get up close to a variety of the resident species, through the cunning use of a wooden rowboat.

    A little egret stands alone on a rock, Ranganathittu Bird Sanctuary, India
    A little egret stands alone on a rock, Ranganathittu Bird Sanctuary, India

    Some of the birds were close cousins of common birds that I regularly photograph. This little egret very closely resembles the snowy egret that is common in wetlands near my home in California.

    A mugger crocodile suns itself on a large rock, Ranganathittu Bird Sanctuary, India
    A mugger crocodile suns itself on a large rock, Ranganathittu Bird Sanctuary, India

    On the other hand, most of the sightings were brand new for me, and very different from home. We were able to get quite close to this mugger crocodile in the boat. Luckily, he seemed busy sunning himself and didn’t pay us much attention!

    A male river tern sits on a rock, ready to go find food to feed his mate as part of a courtship ceremony, Ranganathittu Bird Sanctuary, India
    A male river tern sits on a rock, ready to go find food to feed his mate as part of a courtship ceremony, Ranganathittu Bird Sanctuary, India

    One of the less common birds for that area was the river tern. We lucked upon a pair engaged in courtship ritual. A male and female were sitting on separate rocks when the male flew off to find food to give to the female. Although we didn’t get a chance to witness it before we floated on, the pair engages in a food exchange as part of their courtship.

    A juvenile black-crowned night heron stands on a large rock in a shallow lake, Ranganathittu Bird Sanctuary, India
    A juvenile black-crowned night heron stands on a large rock in a shallow lake, Ranganathittu Bird Sanctuary, India

    There were an abundance of black-crowned night herons, which I see often at home. Here a juvenile was stalking about on a large flat rock.

    An eastern great egret stands tall on a rock, Ranganathittu Bird Sanctuary, India
    An eastern great egret stands tall on a rock, Ranganathittu Bird Sanctuary, India

    The eastern great egret is closely related to the great egret seen throughout North America. To my eyes, it was identical in appearance.

    A black kite perches high in a tree over the water, Ranganathittu Bird Sanctuary, India
    A black kite perches high in a tree over the water, Ranganathittu Bird Sanctuary, India

    Even from low in the water, we got some decent views of black kites circling high overhead. One landed in a tree growing out of the top of a nearby cliff. My 800mm lens came through and allowed me to get reasonable shots even from far away.

    Several flying fox fruit bats hang upside down from a tree, resting through the hot day, Ranganathittu Bird Sanctuary, India
    Several flying fox fruit bats hang upside down from a tree, resting through the hot day, Ranganathittu Bird Sanctuary, India

    And yes, it was much more than just birds. In addition to the crocodile, I was able to see a cluster of fruit bats trying to sleep away the morning. I found and photographed a couple that weren’t completely sealed up in their wings.

    A white-spotted fantail spreads its tail feathers and dances around on the open ground in the shadow of a tree, Ranganathittu Bird Sanctuary, India
    A white-spotted fantail spreads its tail feathers and dances around on the open ground in the shadow of a tree, Ranganathittu Bird Sanctuary, India

    Finally, after departing the boat, we lucked upon a white-spotted fantail. He was quick and difficult to photograph, staying under bushes most of the time and rarely coming out into the open. But when he finally did, I was low to the ground and ready for him.

    In all, I loved the variety and experience of shooting in a different part of the world.

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    2015 Round-up – Top 40 Photos Of The Year http://blog.hankchristensen.com/2016/01/2015-round-up-top-40-photos-of-the-year/ Mon, 18 Jan 2016 15:52:18 +0000 http://blog.hankchristensen.com/?p=4387 Continue reading "2015 Round-up – Top 40 Photos Of The Year"

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    I recently finished compiling my top 40 picks from the last 12 months. The gallery is an assortment of my various trips and outings, including trips to India, Mexico and Canada. As always, there is a mixture of bird, wildlife and landscape, including some previously unpublished.

    Please enjoy the gallery below. For best viewing (especially if viewing on a mobile device), please click on the following photo:

    The sun sets behind the western horizon, casting the offshore sea stacks into shadow, Bandon, Oregon
    The sun sets behind the western horizon, casting the offshore sea stacks into shadow, Bandon, Oregon

    To view the gallery, click here to see individual photos.


    If you are interested in compilations from previous years, please see the 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, and 2014 lists.

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    Brown Pelican, Mexico http://blog.hankchristensen.com/2016/01/brown-pelican-mexico/ Fri, 15 Jan 2016 19:58:58 +0000 http://blog.hankchristensen.com/?p=4308 Continue reading "Brown Pelican, Mexico"

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    A brown pelican stands in shallow water along the beach, Puerto Vallarta, Mexico
    A brown pelican stands in shallow water along the beach, Puerto Vallarta, Mexico

    Finding the right place from which to photograph wildlife takes experience and patience. When arriving at a new location with the intention of photographing wildlife, I first scout the area very similar to how I’d scout for a landscape shot. In this case I’m looking for one place to hunker down that is likely to yeild a good variety of animals with great light.

    In this instance, I found a low area of sand jutting out into the water, just inches above the high tide. As it was morning, the sun was at my back, and I could shoot birds wading in the water in three directions, all without moving. I kept still and tried to make very slow movements so as not to spook any subjects.

    As I was shooting some smaller birds now coming quite close to me, a large brown pelican arrived on the scene, very close to me. I took the opportunity to get some portrait shots of this beautiful specimen while it was preening, and generally not paying me any attention. I don’t believe I would have been able to approach this bird this closely if I had been stalking it. But by remaining in one spot and being still, I created a space that seemed safe for a variety of birds to approach me.

    A brown pelican flies low over the water, looking for a place to rest, Puerto Vallarta, Mexico
    A brown pelican flies low over the water, looking for a place to rest, Puerto Vallarta, Mexico

    Unfortunately, this was not an isolated location, and soon other beach goers wandered by without any thought to disturbing wildlife. My only reaction was to prepare for the pelican’s inevitable takeoff, and make sure I captured it in camera.

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    Red-whiskered Bulbul http://blog.hankchristensen.com/2015/11/red-whiskered-bulbul/ Mon, 16 Nov 2015 15:30:11 +0000 http://blog.hankchristensen.com/?p=4342 Continue reading "Red-whiskered Bulbul"

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    A red-whiskered bulbul sits on a branch in the midst of a jungle, Nandi Hills, Karnataka, India
    A red-whiskered bulbul sits on a branch in the midst of a jungle, Nandi Hills, Karnataka, India

    One of my favorite birds I photographed on a recent trip to India was the Red-whiskered Bulbul. In particular, I liked its head feathers and distinct red cheek pattern. I saw a few glimpses on my first day of photography at a wetland bird sanctuary, but got my best views the second day at the top of Nandi Hills in more of a jungle environment.

    A red-whiskered bulbul sits on a branch in the midst of a jungle, Nandi Hills, Karnataka, India
    A red-whiskered bulbul sits on a branch in the midst of a jungle, Nandi Hills, Karnataka, India

    The photography here was much harder than the more open wetland location. Most of the birds stayed high in the forest canopy, only offering quick glimpses in the dark, filtered light close to the ground. Here, shooting at a high ISO (ISO 2000) helped, which my 7D Mk2 was able to handle capably.

    The photo above was a rarity in this thick jungle. In this shot, I had the benefit of shooting into a clearing instead of from a clearing. In this way, I was lucky to have the background foliage far away from the subject, creating a solid green background instead of distracting leaves and branches. Most of the time however, I was standing in a clearing (giving me the ability to move around) shooting at a wall of jungle.

    A red-whiskered bulbul sits on a branch in the midst of a jungle, Nandi Hills, Karnataka, India
    A red-whiskered bulbul sits on a branch in the midst of a jungle, Nandi Hills, Karnataka, India

    My main takeaway from this type of photography is that the biggest secret weapon you can have is time. Without luring the animal with something like food, you need to have time and patience to photograph the amazing diversity of these jungle habitats. Unfortunately I only had a single morning, just long enough to give me a small taste of what a longer expedition could achieve.

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    Rufous-backed Robin http://blog.hankchristensen.com/2015/11/rufous-backed-robin/ Wed, 11 Nov 2015 15:42:43 +0000 http://blog.hankchristensen.com/?p=4306 Continue reading "Rufous-backed Robin"

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    I photographed this rufous-backed robin in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. Although it is not one of the more “exotic” looking species I was hoping to see, as a bird photographer, I was elated to get a new species. We’re just weird that way. The only robins I had photographed before are the extremely common American robin, found throughout North America.

    I was shooting up into a thick canopy, so I was happy to get the few clear shots I could. Before long, the robin flew to the upper reaches of the trees and out of sight.

    A rufous-backed robin perches on the branch of a green tree, Puerto Vallarta, Mexico
    A rufous-backed robin perches on the branch of a green tree, Puerto Vallarta, Mexico

    The rufous-backed robin (or rufous-backed thrush) is endemic to the Pacific side of Mexico, so this was definitely the spot to see this bird. It is shyer than the American robin, and slightly smaller. In retrospect, I was very lucky to see this bird, and even more lucky to have captured these photographs.

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    Oriental White-eye http://blog.hankchristensen.com/2015/11/oriental-white-eye/ Sun, 01 Nov 2015 19:39:11 +0000 http://blog.hankchristensen.com/?p=4344 Continue reading "Oriental White-eye"

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    An oriental white-eye pauses briefly on a narrow branch, Nandi Hills, Karnataka, India
    An oriental white-eye pauses briefly on a narrow branch, Nandi Hills, Karnataka, India

    I captured this photo of an oriental white-eye after a difficult (and sometimes frustrating) morning of bird photography in the Nandi Hills, north of Bangalore, India. I was situated in a clearing in the middle of a small area of jungle. While beautiful and diverse, jungles can be incredibly difficult to shoot in, especially if the target is small birds. Due to the density of the foliage, you have to practically be right in front of the birds in order to get a clear shot – there always seems to be something blocking you. In addition, so many small birds spend a great deal of their time high in the canopy, making them all but invisible. The cacophony of their calls only increases the frustration, knowing they are there but out of sight.

    However, as usual in wildlife photography, time and patience pays off. Toward the end of the morning, I was photographing on one edge of the clearing, a wall of green in front of me. This little white-eye flew in and started preening, occasionally hopping from one perch to another. I tracked him as best I could through the leaves, until finally he flew onto this open perch. While he was only there for a few seconds, I was ready and was able to capture a couple of frames.

    It is always a good idea when traveling far from home to pick only a few spots to do photography, allowing yourself the adequate time to spend in each. I would rather come back from a trip with a few stellar shots than visit more locations but settle for shots that are just okay.

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    Canon 5DSR For Bird Photography? http://blog.hankchristensen.com/2015/10/canon-5dsr-for-bird-photography/ Mon, 26 Oct 2015 13:11:05 +0000 http://blog.hankchristensen.com/?p=4328 Continue reading "Canon 5DSR For Bird Photography?"

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    After fussing between either upgrading my next landscape camera to either a Sony A7RII or a Canon 5DSR (I’ll cover that saga in a future post), I finally pulled the trigger and received my new Canon this weekend. While I’ll primary use this 50 mega pixel monster for large resolution landscape images (wall sized prints, anyone?), I wanted to see if/how it would handle (albeit simple) bird photography. After spending a half hour with it in my front yard, chimping on the rear LCD, I was blown away.

    An anna's hummingbird perches on a thin branch, Belmont, CA
    An anna’s hummingbird perches on a thin branch, Belmont, CA

    First of all, the auto-focus is fast and accurate – exactly what you’d expect from such an expensive camera. Maximum frame rate is low due to the huge image size, but that is not a concern with its intended use (my typical landscape frame rate is about 1 shot per minute!) The noise level looks better than my 7D Mk II, which is great given the pixel density of the sensor. All images in this post were shot at ISO 500 with no noise reduction – buttery smooth backgrounds.

    But where this camera really shines is its gigantic 50 MP sensor – this largest ever released for a 35mm DSLR. Even better than just packing in so many pixels however, is the fact that at 1:1 zoom, the details are tack sharp. Below is a 1:1 crop of the above image.

    Headshot portrait of an anna's hummingbird, Belmont, CA
    Headshot portrait of an anna’s hummingbird, Belmont, CA

    As you can see, the details are extremely sharp. I’ve seen other sensors that look sharp right out of the camera, but once you zoom in to 1:1, the details are a bit mushy.

    Head and shoulders portrait of a house finch, Belmont, CA
    Head and shoulders portrait of a house finch, Belmont, CA

    If I’m not concerned about printing wall size, the vast amount of resolution I have at my disposal opens up new cropping opportunities. Here I’ve included a few more yard birds I shot during my morning test. I’ve given each a massive crop to see what kinds of portraits I could create with these tiny birds, without having to shoot them with a macro lens (which would be nearly impossible with these fast movers).

    A chestnut-backed chickadee finishes eating seed, Belmont, CA
    A chestnut-backed chickadee finishes eating seed, Belmont, CA

    The main areas that will limit this camera as a great bird photography setup is a low frame rate and full frame sensor. But with patience and careful technique, it could produce some amazing results. I’ll see what it can pull off for birds in flight in the future.

    A lesser goldfinch perches on a narrow branch, Belmont, CA
    A lesser goldfinch perches on a narrow branch, Belmont, CA

    Previously I’ve only been able to get head-and-shoulder portraits with much larger birds. But these tests tell me that I’ll likely be bringing this camera along on my next bird shoot. It won’t replace my primary body for now, but if I come across a docile bird that lets me get relatively close, I’m definitely going to pull out my 5DSR and capture some of those insane details this camera is able to resolve.

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    Great Stone-Curlew http://blog.hankchristensen.com/2015/10/great-stone-curlew/ Mon, 19 Oct 2015 14:46:19 +0000 http://blog.hankchristensen.com/?p=4302 Continue reading "Great Stone-Curlew"

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    A great stone-curlew stands alone on a rock in a shallow lake, Ranganathittu Bird Sanctuary, India
    A great stone-curlew stands alone on a rock in a shallow lake, Ranganathittu Bird Sanctuary, India

    The great stone-curlew (also known as the great thick-knee) is a large wader, frequently seen along the shores of slow moving bodies of water. These birds are typically nocturnal, but can sometimes be seen during the day, moving slowly and deliberately. They can be quite skittish, often not allowing a close approach. In this case I was photographing from a small boat, so that likely helped me get close without spooking the bird.

    A great stone-curlew stands alone on a rock in a shallow lake, Ranganathittu Bird Sanctuary, India
    A great stone-curlew stands alone on a rock in a shallow lake, Ranganathittu Bird Sanctuary, India

    When photographing this bird, I was able to circle the rock on which it was standing. This gave me typical front-lit lighting (with the sun directly behind me), as well as back-lighting (with the sun behind the subject).

    A great stone-curlew stands alone on a rock in a shallow lake, Ranganathittu Bird Sanctuary, India
    A great stone-curlew stands alone on a rock in a shallow lake, Ranganathittu Bird Sanctuary, India

    As I was finishing up photographing this bird, I could tell it was quite comfortable with my presence. Soon it stopped pacing and sat down on the rock to rest in the sun.

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    Royal Tern http://blog.hankchristensen.com/2015/10/royal-tern/ Wed, 14 Oct 2015 15:19:06 +0000 http://blog.hankchristensen.com/?p=4310 Continue reading "Royal Tern"

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    A royal tern stands among a flock of shorebirds, Puerto Vallarta, Mexico
    A royal tern stands among a flock of shorebirds, Puerto Vallarta, Mexico

    Whenever I’m at the beach I take a close look at any shorebirds I see, scanning to see if there is an uncommon species in the bunch. On a recent trip to Mexico, I was rewarded with great views (and photographs) of a Royal Tern. This is not necessarily an uncommon species, but one that I don’t get to see often.

    When I see a target bird among a larger group, I do my best to isolate it photographically so that it will stand out as a well defined main subject. In this case I wasn’t able to photograph it away from a multitude of sandpipers, but by using the largest aperture I had available, I was able to isolate the tern using depth of field. By focusing on its eye, I made sure it was the only bird it focus, drawing the viewers eye to it.

    A royal tern flies low over a flock of shorebirds, Puerto Vallarta, Mexico
    A royal tern flies low over a flock of shorebirds, Puerto Vallarta, Mexico

    It is also a good idea to be patient, as you never know when you’re going to see action. In this case, I spent some time focused on the tern and was rewarded when it suddenly took flight. I was ready to go, and got several sharp in-flight photos before it disappeared.

    The next time you see a large group of shorebirds clustered together, spend a little time picking through the crowd. You might just be surprised what you find!

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    Black-headed Ibis Feeding Chicks http://blog.hankchristensen.com/2015/10/black-headed-ibis-feeding-chicks/ Thu, 08 Oct 2015 16:18:07 +0000 http://blog.hankchristensen.com/?p=4295 Continue reading "Black-headed Ibis Feeding Chicks"

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    A black-headed ibis feeds two large chicks, Ranganathittu Bird Sanctuary, India
    A black-headed ibis feeds two large chicks, Ranganathittu Bird Sanctuary, India

    My recent trip to India was timed well with getting to see chicks feeding from their parent. By this time in their lives, the chicks were nearly as large as the adult, however they still relied on the parent to feed and shelter them.

    A black-headed ibis feeds two large chicks, Ranganathittu Bird Sanctuary, India
    A black-headed ibis feeds two large chicks, Ranganathittu Bird Sanctuary, India

    Although I had never seen a black-headed ibis before, I was familiar with the feeding behavior of this size of bird. Typically the adult will eat food away from the nest and then bring it back, regurgitating the food for consumption by the juvenile.

    This photo shows just how far the chick will insert its beak into that of the parent. During this feeding, only one of the chicks got food, pushing its sibling away from the parent with its wing. This survival of the fittest instinct is common amongst siblings – sometimes they go so far as to push each other out of the nest so that they themselves have a better chance at survival.

    A black-headed ibis stands on a large rock in a shallow lake, Ranganathittu Bird Sanctuary, India
    A black-headed ibis stands on a large rock in a shallow lake, Ranganathittu Bird Sanctuary, India

    Although the Ranganathittu Bird Sanctuary was technically off season for the peak of bird activity, there were many ibis in and around the water. Most were nesting in trees and feeding their young, but several were out in the open, offering nice portrait opportunities.

    A black-headed ibis stands on a large rock in a shallow lake, Ranganathittu Bird Sanctuary, India
    A black-headed ibis stands on a large rock in a shallow lake, Ranganathittu Bird Sanctuary, India

    While not a beautiful bird by any means, it was great to get up close and personal with a new species. Appreciation of even the most common birds brings forward interesting and previously unseen details, allowing for much greater enjoyment of the natural world.

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    White-browed Wagtail http://blog.hankchristensen.com/2015/10/white-browed-wagtail/ Mon, 05 Oct 2015 15:08:35 +0000 http://blog.hankchristensen.com/?p=4300 Continue reading "White-browed Wagtail"

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    A white-browed wagtail stands on a rock backlit by beautiful greens and yellows of distant foliage, Ranganathittu Bird Sanctuary, India
    A white-browed wagtail stands on a rock backlit by beautiful greens and yellows of distant foliage, Ranganathittu Bird Sanctuary, India

    While almost every bird I saw in India was a new species for me, it always feels special to see a species you know is somewhat uncommon for the area. One such bird I saw at Ranganathittu Bird Sanctuary was the white-browed wagtail.

    White-browed wagtails call often in the mornings and are active at this time like most other wagtails. The song is long and loud with many different notes. The usual call has a wheezy sound. They can fly fairly rapidly for long distances, and have been recorded as fast as 40 km/h. They usually perch on the ground or low rocks.

    A white-browed wagtail stands on a rock backlit by beautiful greens and yellows of distant foliage, Ranganathittu Bird Sanctuary, India
    A white-browed wagtail stands on a rock backlit by beautiful greens and yellows of distant foliage, Ranganathittu Bird Sanctuary, India

    I was lucky to not only have great views of this species, but also beautiful light. Our small boat circled the bird and I caught several shots with a background of distant green foliage, lit by speckled sunlight.

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    Pied Kingfisher http://blog.hankchristensen.com/2015/09/pied-kingfisher/ Fri, 25 Sep 2015 13:34:26 +0000 http://blog.hankchristensen.com/?p=4289 Continue reading "Pied Kingfisher"

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    A pied kingfisher perches on a narrow branch above a small lake, Ranganathittu Bird Sanctuary, India
    A pied kingfisher perches on a narrow branch above a small lake, Ranganathittu Bird Sanctuary, India

    On a recent trip to India, I managed to get photos of several new birds. The very first that I photographed in the country was this pied kingfisher, one of my target species. My friend Gaurav showed me around one of his local haunts, and within ten minutes, I had several hundred photos of this kingfisher under my belt. In fact, at one point, we got too close to the bird for my lens to focus.

    Gaurav had taken me to Ranganathittu Bird Sanctuary just outside of Mysore. As it was off-season, there were very few people around (great for bird photography), but there were also fewer birds than normal (not great for bird photography). Even given the that there were fewer birds than during peak migration, I was in photography heaven. Everywhere I turned there were new species to photograph. In order to get out into the middle of the action, we hired a guide and a rowboat for an hour, getting us within feet of many new and exotic birds.

    A pied kingfisher perches on a narrow branch above a small lake, Ranganathittu Bird Sanctuary, India
    A pied kingfisher perches on a narrow branch above a small lake, Ranganathittu Bird Sanctuary, India

    The pied kingfisher is the world’s third most common kingfisher, widely distributed across Africa and Asia. This species typically does not migrate, which is why it was see here out of season. This particular specimen likely lived at this lake year round. In the US, I am more used to the belted kingfisher, which is usually quite shy and difficult to photograph without spooking it. By contrast, the pied kingfisher was bold and didn’t leave the tree the entire time we were photographing it, offering many great poses.

    While this bird is by no means a rare find, I felt honored to spend a little time with this little one. Any time I get a chance to capture great photographs of a new species, I am more than satisfied with the day’s outing.

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    Great Kiskadee http://blog.hankchristensen.com/2015/09/great-kiskadee/ Wed, 23 Sep 2015 14:56:48 +0000 http://blog.hankchristensen.com/?p=4235 Continue reading "Great Kiskadee"

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    A great kiskadee perches on a narrow branch high above the ground, Puerto Vallarta, Mexico
    A great kiskadee perches on a narrow branch high above the ground, Puerto Vallarta, Mexico

    I photographed several great kiskadee when I was in Mexico at the beginning of the year. These are large flycatchers, prevalent throughout Latin America. Most of the time I saw them high in the treetops, but after a bit of patience, I was able to photograph several in the lower branches.

    A great kiskadee perches in a tree high above the ground, Puerto Vallarta, Mexico
    A great kiskadee perches in a tree high above the ground, Puerto Vallarta, Mexico

    Regardless of the pose, the best photos are captured with a catch-light in the bird’s eye. This brings a sense of life to the bird, and creates a more pleasing photo.

    Both photos were shot with the great Canon EF 100-400mm lens. It is not the fastest out there (f/5.6), but when used correctly, it can produce fantastic results.

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    Fun With Palm Trees http://blog.hankchristensen.com/2015/09/fun-with-palm-trees/ Mon, 21 Sep 2015 13:11:50 +0000 http://blog.hankchristensen.com/?p=4245 Continue reading "Fun With Palm Trees"

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    Interwoven palm fronds create various designs when viewed from above, Puerto Vallarta, Mexico
    Interwoven palm fronds create various designs when viewed from above, Puerto Vallarta, Mexico

    One thing that struck me on a visit to Mexico this year was the variety of palm trees in the vicinity. I watched the way palm leaves of different sizes interacted with each other, and decided to create some abstract photos showing some of the patterns the leaves create.

    I played with a variety of angles, shooting up into the trees. However, this didn’t really give me what I was after. In most shots, the sun created a harsh back light and I couldn’t see enough of the palm details. I then realized that I could try shooting down into the trees instead.

    Interwoven palm fronds create various designs when viewed from above, Puerto Vallarta, Mexico
    Interwoven palm fronds create various designs when viewed from above, Puerto Vallarta, Mexico

    Using a telephoto zoom, I climbed to the fifth floor of a hotel and got out onto a balcony. By shooting directly down over the edge, I was able to get a great vantage point of the tops of the palms. Using different focal lengths of the zoom gave me a variety of compositions. My favorite is the shot below, zoomed out a bit and showing more of the trees.

    Interwoven palm fronds create various designs when viewed from above, Puerto Vallarta, Mexico
    Interwoven palm fronds create various designs when viewed from above, Puerto Vallarta, Mexico

    As always, playing with the edges of the frame (what are you going to cut off) and with the negative space within the image are all critical to the success of the image. Through experimentation I found several compositions that I liked, balancing the palms throughout the frame.

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    Recent Publication – Bugle Magazine http://blog.hankchristensen.com/2015/09/recent-publication-bugle-magazine/ Fri, 18 Sep 2015 13:03:07 +0000 http://blog.hankchristensen.com/?p=4262 Continue reading "Recent Publication – Bugle Magazine"

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    Image of a Roosevelt Elk eating grass was used for an article on and elk's diet in the Sept-Oct 2015 issue of Bugle Magazine.
    Image of a Roosevelt Elk eating grass was used for an article on and elk’s diet in the Sept-Oct 2015 issue of Bugle Magazine.

    This image of a female Roosevelt elk eating grass was used in the Sept-Oct issue of Bugle Magazine, published by the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation. It is a published as an interior image with an article about a typical elk diet. This publication broke my all time record – it was requested a mere 3 days after I made it available on my site.

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    Recent Publication – Travel Oregon Top Fall Hikes http://blog.hankchristensen.com/2015/09/recent-publication-travel-oregon-top-fall-hikes/ Thu, 17 Sep 2015 15:08:46 +0000 http://blog.hankchristensen.com/?p=4260 Continue reading "Recent Publication – Travel Oregon Top Fall Hikes"

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    This image of Eagle Cap Wilderness in eastern Oregon was published by Travel Oregon in an  article about the hiking area.
    This image of Eagle Cap Wilderness in eastern Oregon was published by Travel Oregon in an article about the hiking area.

    This image of Eagle Cap Wilderness was used in a recent article on Oregon’s top fall hikes by Travel Oregon. You can find the full article by clicking through to their website. I took this photo five years ago on a fall backpacking trip with my brother and father. You can read about the epic trip here and of course see many more photos.

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    Recent Publication – Save The Bay 2016 Calendar http://blog.hankchristensen.com/2015/09/recent-publication-save-the-bay-2016-calendar/ Wed, 16 Sep 2015 15:19:09 +0000 http://blog.hankchristensen.com/?p=4254 Continue reading "Recent Publication – Save The Bay 2016 Calendar"

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    Image of a juvenile green heron was used for July in the Save The Bay 2016 calendar.
    Image of a juvenile green heron was used for July in the Save The Bay 2016 calendar.

    If you are a Save The Bay supporter, be sure to flip to July to check out my image of a juvenile green heron when your 2016 calendar arrives in the mail. Save The Bay is a San Francisco Bay Area non-profit dedicated to the preservation of the SF Bay. If you’re not a supporter, the calendar is yours free with a gift of donation. Its a worthwhile cause – I’m just saying!

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    Common Iguana http://blog.hankchristensen.com/2015/09/common-iguana/ Mon, 14 Sep 2015 12:48:45 +0000 http://blog.hankchristensen.com/?p=4228 Continue reading "Common Iguana"

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    A common iguana climbs vertically up the smooth trunk of a tree, Puerto Vallarta, Mexico
    A common iguana climbs vertically up the smooth trunk of a tree, Puerto Vallarta, Mexico

    On a trip to Mexico at the beginning of the year, I was lucky to find a large, male common iguana and set about photographing it. My favorite portrait position was when it began to climb the trunk of a smooth tree. It walked vertically up the tree with ease, employing the use of its long toes claws.

    The common iguana's features are striking, from scaled multicolored skin to small horns and spikes
    The common iguana’s features are striking, from scaled multicolored skin to small horns and spikes

    I also managed to get some interesting poses from the ground, where it was patrolling its territory. Here you can see the iguana’s large dewlap, a flap of skin hanging from its neck used to regulate body temperature.

    A common iguana eats leaves from a plant growing along the ground, Puerto Vallarta, Mexico
    A common iguana eats leaves from a plant growing along the ground, Puerto Vallarta, Mexico

    I soon realized that it was on the lookout for its mate, when a female emerged and began eating low growing plants.

    A common iguana sits in the sun in short grass, Puerto Vallarta, Mexico
    A common iguana sits in the sun in short grass, Puerto Vallarta, Mexico

    As the male had spines of an extraordinary orange color, I wanted to get a ground portrait that showed them off. I used a shallow focus an emphasize the head, while you still see a hint of the orange spines in the background.

    The common iguana's feet help it cling to a vertical tree trunk, Puerto Vallarta, Mexico
    The common iguana’s feet help it cling to a vertical tree trunk, Puerto Vallarta, Mexico

    Probably the most notable feature however was the large feet of the iguana. It was fascinating to watch it grip smooth surfaces and navigate them so easily.

    Using a long lens, I made sure to keep my distance, both so as not to disturb the lizard, and so that I felt safe! The last thing I wanted was to have to treat a nasty lizard bite. As usual, please click the images for larger, more detailed versions.

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    Bandon Moody Mornings http://blog.hankchristensen.com/2015/09/bandon-moody-mornings/ Mon, 07 Sep 2015 17:26:21 +0000 http://blog.hankchristensen.com/?p=4155 Continue reading "Bandon Moody Mornings"

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    A moody sky breaks in early morning over Bandon Beach, Oregon
    A moody sky breaks in early morning over Bandon Beach, Oregon

    Recently I published a post about my trip to Bandon Oregon and some of the sunset conditions I faced. Here is a counterpart to that article about the mornings I spent on the beach. Due to the weather, most mornings were overcast and very moody. It was a perfect opportunity to capture a quiet beach in somber lighting.

    A moody sky breaks in early morning over Bandon Beach, Oregon
    A moody sky breaks in early morning over Bandon Beach, Oregon

    Most mornings had a very low tide, offering more compositional opportunities than sunset. For the photo above I spent some time studying the interplay of shapes between the sand, water, rocks, and their reflections. It is important to separate out the graphical elements in your image to prevent strong lines from overlapping. I had to carefully balance the space in between the large rock reflection and the sand bar jutting into the tide pool, with the spacing between the mid-frame rock and the sea stacks out on the horizon.

    Low tide uncovers clusters of mussels, Bandon, Oregon
    Low tide uncovers clusters of mussels, Bandon, Oregon

    On another part of the beach, I found a large group of exposed mussels and decided to use them as leading lines out to the large sea stacks in the water. Getting down low with a wide angle lens helped emphasize the mussels in the foreground. Here I used focus stacking to ensure sharp focus throughout the frame.

    A low tide exposes large stones and carved sand along Bandon Beach, Oregon
    A low tide exposes large stones and carved sand along Bandon Beach, Oregon

    The flat light of the morning lent itself well to black and white conversions. What attracted my eye to this area were the deep lines in the sand cut by the receding water. By converting to black and white, I was able to emphasize these lines by increasing the contrast and bringing out the drama of the image. I also liked the randomness of the rocks strewn about the background of the image. Compositionally, it is a nice juxtaposition of the round shapes of the rocks with the jagged straight lines cut through the sand.

    The sun rises on a blue, dreary day along Bandon Beach Oregon
    The sun rises on a blue, dreary day along Bandon Beach Oregon

    Sometimes instead of adding contrast to an image (as in the black and white image seen above), it is better to showcase the low contrast qualities of the scene. Many mornings there was a foggy mist that settled around the rock formations, and here I wanted to show that atmosphere as well as the blue light cast of the morning.

    The sun rises on a blue, dreary day along Bandon Beach Oregon
    The sun rises on a blue, dreary day along Bandon Beach Oregon

    Finally, this image was shot on the same day as the image above, but I increased the contrast to show off the sharpness of the foreground rocks leading to the rock spire.

    It was a lot of fun to really think about why I was attracted to each of these images and use the processing stage to convey those thoughts to the viewer. It is also a reminder that taking the photos is only half of the story. A lot of communication comes through in the processing itself.

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    Roosevelt Elk http://blog.hankchristensen.com/2015/08/roosevelt-elk/ Sat, 15 Aug 2015 22:57:17 +0000 http://blog.hankchristensen.com/?p=4210 Continue reading "Roosevelt Elk"

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    A roosevelt elk grazes with its herd in Northern California
    A roosevelt elk grazes with its herd in Northern California

    Roosevelt Elk are the largest of the remaining four subspecies of elk in North America. I photographed these elk in northern California, just south of Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park. They travel in a herd of about 30-40, and can usually be seen grazing or lazing about on either side of highway 101 in the mornings and evenings. I have seen them about 50% of the times I pass through that area, and it is always worth a quick stop to photograph them.

    A roosevelt elk grazes with its herd in Northern California
    A roosevelt elk grazes with its herd in Northern California

    The herd is mostly made up of females and calves, but there are a few young bulls sprinkled here and there. This male kept pretty far away from the dirt road from which I was photographing, but occasionally he emerged from the brush to give me some clear views.

    A roosevelt elk grazes with its herd in Northern California
    A roosevelt elk grazes with its herd in Northern California

    As with any wild animal, photographing them takes special care and etiquette. Especially with large mammals, keeping your distance and being extremely vigilant around them is of utmost importance, both for your safety and theirs. Using a long lens is a necessity in order to stay far enough away so that they don’t get agitated. I’ve seen too many tourists approaching with small point and shoot cameras, trying to get close enough to get a reasonable shot. In these cases, it is much better to just admire them from a distance, and if you must have a photo, go buy a postcard from a local merchant!

    A roosevelt elk grazes with its herd in Northern California
    A roosevelt elk grazes with its herd in Northern California

    In a world of ever encroaching human presence, it is a joy to see a large herd like this living fairly undisturbed. Next time you are planning a road trip, do some research before hand and look for any wildlife viewing areas along your route. You never know when you might be treated to a personal experience with large wild animals.

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    A Broken Down Treasure Trove http://blog.hankchristensen.com/2015/08/a-broken-down-treasure-trove/ Mon, 03 Aug 2015 15:07:26 +0000 http://blog.hankchristensen.com/?p=4159 Continue reading "A Broken Down Treasure Trove"

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    On a spring trip to Oregon to shoot the coast, my friend Dan and I were met with gray, overcast days, limiting the dynamic light in which I usually enjoy shooting landscapes. Still wanting to get in lots of time behind the camera, and keep exploring the area, we chose to go for some interesting macro opportunities. We heard word of a nearby boat repair yard and headed to Charleston, Oregon to check it out.

    Weathered wood shows a variety of texture on aging boats
    Weathered wood shows a variety of texture on aging boats

    Upon arrival, I was happy to see a wide variety of boats and parts in various stages of repair or lack thereof. There were many textures and subjects to choose from, which I quickly set about exploring with my 100mm macro lens.

    An old weathered bumper hangs off the side of a paint-peeling boat
    An old weathered bumper hangs off the side of a paint-peeling boat

    Before pulling out our cameras however, we found someone who works in the yard in order to get permission to shoot. It is important to always be respectful to people you are around, and do your part to represent photographers well. In addition, any time I am shooting on private property, I want to make sure I have permission to be there. The added bonus of asking for permission was that we got plenty of local knowledge of what else was interesting to shoot in the area, and met a really nice guy.

    Steaks of paint form patterns along the front bow of a boat
    Steaks of paint form patterns along the front bow of a boat

    As I made my way through the repair yard, I came across what I found to be the most interesting single item, a Trackson Company logging tractor.

    Ancient logging machinery rusts in the damp weather of Charleston Oregon
    Ancient logging machinery rusts in the damp weather of Charleston Oregon

    While I couldn’t find details on this specific model, Trackson Company was founded in 1922 in Milwaukee Wisconsin. They made a variety of excavators and formed a partnership with Caterpillar. This particular machine was obviously made for the logging industry, and it looked very old and was covered in rust.

    A frayed rope lies against dark rusted metal in a boat repair yard
    A frayed rope lies against dark rusted metal in a boat repair yard

    This logging tractor provided many different framing opportunities.

    Ancient logging machinery rusts in the damp weather of Charleston Oregon
    Ancient logging machinery rusts in the damp weather of Charleston Oregon
    Ancient logging machinery rusts in the damp weather of Charleston Oregon
    Ancient logging machinery rusts in the damp weather of Charleston Oregon

    On the other side, a small plant was growing through the wheel. Here I was able to show a nice bit of nature verses machinery contrast.

    Ancient logging machinery rusts in the damp weather of Charleston Oregon
    Ancient logging machinery rusts in the damp weather of Charleston Oregon

    Finally, the tracks themselves were interesting with all the rust that had built up over the years. Here I created a balanced image emphasizing the symmetry of the tracks. A smaller aperture of f/5.6 let the detail of the rust disappear into obscurity.

    Ancient logging machinery rusts in the damp weather of Charleston Oregon
    Ancient logging machinery rusts in the damp weather of Charleston Oregon

    Eventually we worked our way around the yard and it was time to go. But we were very happy with our decision to change focus for the afternoon due to weather conditions. With all photography, it is always beneficial to be flexible and creative.

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    Cape Blanco Lighthouse http://blog.hankchristensen.com/2015/07/cape-blanco-lighthouse/ Mon, 20 Jul 2015 15:25:50 +0000 http://blog.hankchristensen.com/?p=4157 Continue reading "Cape Blanco Lighthouse"

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    Cape Blanco Lighthouse stands on a point that juts out a half mile into the ocean.  Its light can be seen up to 23 miles out to sea.
    Cape Blanco Lighthouse stands on a point that juts out a half mile into the ocean. Its light can be seen up to 23 miles out to sea.

    Cape Blanco Lighthouse stands on a piece of land that juts out into the Pacific Ocean one half of a mile, making it the western most lighthouse in Oregon. Erected in 1870, it is the oldest continually operated lighthouse in the state as well. In order to save money in construction cost, two kilns were erected on site to provide the bricks needed for the lighthouse and other structures.

    The stairway up the lighthouse tower circles within a brick structure
    The stairway up the lighthouse tower circles within a brick structure

    The narrow, winding staircase mimics the logarithmic spiral of the golden rectangle when viewed from above. How could I not capture a perfect composition with these elements laid out before me?

    The fresnel lens at the Cape Blanco Lighthouse is one of the largest and oldest in the nation.  It magnifies a small light so that it can be seen up to 23 miles offshore.
    The fresnel lens at the Cape Blanco Lighthouse is one of the largest and oldest in the nation. It magnifies a small light so that it can be seen up to 23 miles offshore.

    The crown jewel of this lighthouse is not the structure itself, but rather the Fresnel lens it houses. Standing about six feet tall, the rotating lens encircles a small electric light. Before electricity was installed in the light house, this service was provided by a simple candle. Due to the lens’ magnifying power, the light can be seen up to 23 miles off shore.

    Cape Blanco Lighthouse stands on a point that juts out a half mile into the ocean.  Its light can be seen up to 23 miles out to sea.
    Cape Blanco Lighthouse stands on a point that juts out a half mile into the ocean. Its light can be seen up to 23 miles out to sea.

    Cape Blanco is a beautiful, tall and elegant lighthouse. If you are ever in the vicinity of the southern Oregon coast, it is well worth a visit.

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    Common Murre http://blog.hankchristensen.com/2015/07/common-murre/ Thu, 16 Jul 2015 12:40:43 +0000 http://blog.hankchristensen.com/?p=4153 Continue reading "Common Murre"

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    A common murre perches atop a rock along a southern Oregon beach
    A common murre perches atop a rock along a southern Oregon beach

    I photographed this common murre in Oregon on an early spring trip geared toward landscape photography. Although I did bring my wildlife lenses with me, I happened not to have them down on the beach the day I saw this little guy. My longest lens in my bag was a 70-200 on a full frame camera.

    The common murre only comes to shore to breed, and this one can be seen in breeding plumage. Once these birds breed, both the male and female molt, rendering them flightless for one to two months. I’m not sure if this one had been through this molting yet, but he seemed quite content just to hang out on his rock.

    After seeing this murre standing on a small rock, the first thing I did was creep around to the south to approach him with the sun at my back. This made the bird front lit, which is the typical lighting necessary to create a pleasing bird portrait. Once I had the angle of light correct, I began to creep toward my subject (partially to compensate for my short focal length I had available) in a low crouch. I moved very carefully, only creeping forward a few inches when he was looking away. As usual, I balanced my desire to get as close as possible with the bird’s comfort zone.

    After taking several photographs at the distance with which I was comfortable, I backed up slowly the way I had come. It is always better to leave your subject undisturbed than to selfishly stand up after you have your desired shots and risk flushing the bird.

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    Bandon Sunsets http://blog.hankchristensen.com/2015/07/bandon-sunsets/ Mon, 13 Jul 2015 12:51:15 +0000 http://blog.hankchristensen.com/?p=4149 Continue reading "Bandon Sunsets"

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    The sun sets behind the western horizon, casting the offshore sea stacks into shadow, Bandon, Oregon
    The sun sets behind the western horizon, casting the offshore sea stacks into shadow, Bandon, Oregon

    This spring I made a trip with a friend to photograph the area around Bandon, Oregon. Bandon is a very popular golf destination, and in recent years has become a gathering point for many photographers. Mornings and evenings can see dozens of tripod wielding forms roaming up and down the beach, searching for that unique perspective. Here are a collection of sunset photographs I made over the course of several days.

    The setting sun at Bandon Oregon turns the sky an orange pink and turns the sea stacks into silhouettes.
    The setting sun at Bandon Oregon turns the sky an orange pink and turns the sea stacks into silhouettes.

    While I was there, I was blessed with some reasonable low tides at sunrise, but unfortunately, most sunsets coincided with higher tides, moving me further away from some of the spectacular sea stacks for which this area is known. However, you always have to work with what nature gives you, and I used the varied tides to give me a wider variety of images.

    In the shot above, I worked with a lower tide, which allowed me to use a wide angle and get very close to the foreground rock. This gave the beach a lot of depth, and pulled the sea stacks farther into the background.

    However, in the shot below, the tide was in much further. This allowed me to use a longer lens and compress the rocks together, giving much more weight to the background sea stacks.

    The setting sun at Bandon Oregon turns the sky an orange pink and turns the sea stacks into silhouettes.
    The setting sun at Bandon Oregon turns the sky an orange pink and turns the sea stacks into silhouettes.

    In the hour before sunset, I moved closer to one of the sea stacks and played with sun stars along the edge of its silhouette. The sinking sun forced me to constantly change my tripod position, but it helped to have a vertical line to play against. This gave me many more opportunities than if the sun sank behind a horiztonal-oriented object. To catch a good sun star, you have to use a stopped down aperture and catch a light source right on the edge of an obstruction.

    The setting sun at Bandon Oregon turns the sky an orange pink and turns the sea stacks into silhouettes.
    The setting sun at Bandon Oregon turns the sky an orange pink and turns the sea stacks into silhouettes.

    Unfortunately for much of the trip, we had clear skies in the evening. We did get the sunset glow over the horizon, but the color interest faded to dull grayish orange as you moved up in the sky. This kept most of my compositions low to the horizon, choosing instead to catch the color interplay of red and blues in the moving waves.

    The sun sets behind the western horizon, casting the offshore sea stacks into shadow, Bandon, Oregon
    The sun sets behind the western horizon, casting the offshore sea stacks into shadow, Bandon, Oregon

    It always helps to get a variety of lens lengths to capture a subject in different ways. In the shot above, I used a long telephoto to compress the waves and rocks together, creating a more graphical image. In the shot below, I went much wider, including more of the sky and much more of the incoming waves.

    The sun sets behind the western horizon, casting the offshore sea stacks into shadow, Bandon, Oregon
    The sun sets behind the western horizon, casting the offshore sea stacks into shadow, Bandon, Oregon

    In all this was a sometimes frustrating trip due to the weather. Many mornings were socked in with fog and the evenings saw blown out clear skies. But trying to pull variety out of the location is always a challenge I strive to overcome. I know I’ll be back to this location in the future, hoping for more changing conditions and weather variety.

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    How To Win a Photo Contest (including a sneaky bonus tip) http://blog.hankchristensen.com/2015/06/how-to-win-a-photo-contest-including-a-sneaky-bonus-tip/ Tue, 16 Jun 2015 14:17:02 +0000 http://blog.hankchristensen.com/?p=3836 Continue reading "How To Win a Photo Contest (including a sneaky bonus tip)"

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    Recently I was asked to judge a photo contest for a small camera club. The skill levels of the participants ranged from beginner to advanced, and after viewing the wide variety of entries, I began to think about simple ways to increase anyone’s chance of winning. Follow some or all of the tips below to maximize your chances of your photos rising to the top of the heap. I’ve sprinkled in some photos that I’ve entered in previous photo contests.

    Barrel cactus is just starting to bloom in the Alabama Hills, Lone Pine, CA
    Barrel cactus is just starting to bloom in the Alabama Hills, Lone Pine, CA

    Follow the theme

    Got an absolutely amazing photo of the setting sun over the ocean? If the contest theme is fall colors, then its probably best to save that great shot for a more appropriate contest. Good judges will disqualify even stunning photographs if they don’t suit the theme of the contest. Along the same lines, make sure you pay attention to all the criteria. You don’t want to waste your time or the judge’s by submitting photos that will be technically disqualified.

    The Mesquite Dunes stretch across the valley just north of Stovepipe Wells, Death Valley National Park
    The Mesquite Dunes stretch across the valley just north of Stovepipe Wells, Death Valley National Park

    Tell a story

    Some contests provide an opportunity to fill in information about the photograph. If there is a description field, use it! But don’t just describe what the photo already shows visually. Rather, tell the story of how you captured the photo and what you were thinking when you clicked the shutter. This is your opportunity to “sell” the photograph to the judge, so use the space wisely. Any details you can provide about motivation, technique, or even processing can help cement the image in the judge’s mind so that it is remembered later.

    A male ring-necked pheasant cranes his neck in between bits of grass
    A male ring-necked pheasant cranes his neck in between bits of grass

    Get independent opinions

    It is always a good idea to ask your peers what they think about the photos you are considering for a contest. Gather a selection and ask your photo friends to act as judge. You might be surprised by their choices. In the past, I’ve gravitated toward photographs that I’ve spent a lot of effort taking and processing, and that has influenced too much what I thought of it, regardless of whether it was actually a good photograph or not. Asking for others’ opinions can help prevent your personal skewing of a photograph’s merit based on the effort it took to produce it.

    Silken water reflects the gold colors of fall, South Fork Bishop Creek, Inyo National Forest, CA
    Silken water reflects the gold colors of fall, South Fork Bishop Creek, Inyo National Forest, CA

    Point your subject into your frame (not out of it)

    Whether your photograph is of a person, animal, or even mountain, it is always more aesthetically pleasing to have the subject face into the frame. That means there is more space in front of the head than behind it. The same is true for direction of motion – if an animal is walking or running, put more space in front of it than behind. So what about the mountain? Most mountains (or trees, or clouds, or …) seem to point in one direction or another. Put more space in front of the direction it is pointing than behind it. Of course, many rules are made to be broken, and sometime going counter to the rule can add a lot of tension to the photograph. But make sure that the judge will recognize and receive that tension well.

    The sun just lights the top of the Tetons as it rises behind a grove of aspen in their fall colors, Grand Teton National Park
    The sun just lights the top of the Tetons as it rises behind a grove of aspen in their fall colors, Grand Teton National Park

    Avoid converging lines

    Find plenty of separation between your photograph’s main elements and avoid converging lines. Space between major subjects helps the photo breath, and convergence can create unintended tension points and generally looks sloppy. Usually converging lines can be solved in the field by moving your camera forward, backward, side to side, or up or down. Try to find the right perspective that when flattened into a two dimensional photograph, leads the viewer easily through the frame.

    Sunlight moves down the mountains to the west of Salt Creek, now a dried salt flat, Death Valley National Park
    Sunlight moves down the mountains to the west of Salt Creek, now a dried salt flat, Death Valley National Park

    And now for the sneaky bonus tip….

    Get to know your judges

    If possible, try to find out who is judging the contest. Some contests will publish this information outright; others you might have to dig around a bit. Spend a little bit of internet time finding out more about the judges and what style of photography they gravitate toward. Have they judged a contest before? Which images did they choose previously? Chances are they will judge the current contest based on similar criteria. If the contest is judged by a panel, try to contribute at least one photo that matches each judge’s personal style and tastes. This may seem like cheating, but any leg you can get up on the competition is a worthy pursuit.

    Dawn begins to light Lone Pine Peak and the wild rock formations of the Alabama Hills
    Dawn begins to light Lone Pine Peak and the wild rock formations of the Alabama Hills

    Hopefully these tips get you thinking about photo selection and photo taking for the next contest that you consider entering. This can help you maximize you time, effort, and money!

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    Sunrise Sunset, Hawaiian Style http://blog.hankchristensen.com/2015/06/sunrise-sunset-hawaiian-style/ Thu, 11 Jun 2015 15:12:40 +0000 http://blog.hankchristensen.com/?p=4080 Continue reading "Sunrise Sunset, Hawaiian Style"

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    Okay, so I’m REALLY behind on my photo editing. I try to keep up to date with important photo shoots, but that often means that my less important photos fall into my backlog for later processing. Here is a set of images I shot in Kauai in 2013. Like I said, I am very behind!

    Clouds billow over the water at sunset, Kauai, Hawaii
    Clouds billow over the water at sunset, Kauai, Hawaii

    Often when I’m shooting landscapes, I create images that has a foreground, middle ground and background, to create depth and lead the viewers eye into the frame. However when I was in Hawaii, I found myself simplifying ocean images into nothing but clouds, colors and water. These images are really all about the colors and texture of the clouds, and most are shot with longer lenses.

    Pastels color the northern sky at sunrise, Kauai, Hawaii
    Pastels color the northern sky at sunrise, Kauai, Hawaii

    While I was there, I had a mixture of dramatic sunrises and sunsets. As I was situated on the north shore of the island most of the time, I had similar side-lighting on each end of the day.

    Clouds billow over the water at sunset, Kauai, Hawaii
    Clouds billow over the water at sunset, Kauai, Hawaii

    However, sunrise gave me the most dramatic clouds and lighting. When shooting into the rising sun, I used silhouetted tree tops to give a sense of scale.

    Dramatic shadows play across the thick clouds at sunrise, Kauai, Hawaii
    Dramatic shadows play across the thick clouds at sunrise, Kauai, Hawaii
    Palm trees are silhouetted by sunrise clouds, Kauai, Hawaii.
    Palm trees are silhouetted by sunrise clouds, Kauai, Hawaii.

    And when appropriate, I included a bit of shoreline to the east and west, depending on sunrise or sunset.

    Clouds to the east light up over Kauai's north shore at sunrise
    Clouds to the east light up over Kauai’s north shore at sunrise
    The sun sets behind the northern cliffs of the Napali coast, Hanalei Bay, Kauai
    The sun sets behind the northern cliffs of the Napali coast, Hanalei Bay, Kauai

    Overall, the colors and lighting of the Kauai sea were spectacular enough to hold their own without a strong foreground. When seen together, they paint a picture of the drama that can play out between light, clouds and ocean.

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    American White Pelican http://blog.hankchristensen.com/2015/04/american-white-pelican-2/ Mon, 13 Apr 2015 15:35:26 +0000 http://blog.hankchristensen.com/?p=4059 Continue reading "American White Pelican"

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    An american white pelican stands alone atop a small island in a pond.
    An american white pelican stands alone atop a small island in a pond.

    I’ve featured the American White Pelican in my blog before, and given their beauty and grace, I’ll likely feature them again. Of the two pelican species in the Bay Area (the other is the California Brown Pelican), this is by far my favorite. Both regal and elegant, these pelicans create an air of significance with every sighting.

    An american white pelican stretches its neck forward, elongating its beak and pouch.
    An american white pelican stretches its neck forward, elongating its beak and pouch.

    I found one recently on a small island in shallow water, close to my location. These were perfect conditions for portrait shots – the full body standing on ground, the background very distant (so as to create a smooth out of focus area) and devoid of other birds. This allowed for a clean, simple portrait – something I’m often striving for with my bird photography.

    A white pelican perches on an underwater stump in the middle of a slough, Byxbee Park, Palo Alto, CA
    A white pelican perches on an underwater stump in the middle of a slough, Byxbee Park, Palo Alto, CA

    Portraits can be captured on water as well, but when the pelicans are on land, I am usually rewarded with more interesting grooming shots. However, after a pelican dives, you are sometimes lucky enough to see a wild head throw, usually to whip water off of its head feathers.

    Perched on an underwater stump, an american white pelican throws its head into the air, twisting it back and forth
    Perched on an underwater stump, an american white pelican throws its head into the air, twisting it back and forth

    When I think one of these throws in imminent, I make sure I re-frame to include plenty of sky. This way I can capture the entire action at its peak – I’ve been burned too often with a great head throw, but half the top of the head getting clipped out of frame.

    Whenever I’m out doing bird photography, I look for clean portrait opportunities. But when I get one with an American White Pelican, I feel extra lucky.

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    A Photo Five Years In The Making http://blog.hankchristensen.com/2015/04/a-photo-five-years-in-the-making/ Mon, 06 Apr 2015 12:54:20 +0000 http://blog.hankchristensen.com/?p=4030 Continue reading "A Photo Five Years In The Making"

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    A double-crested cormorant stands very still next to a tidal slough
    A double-crested cormorant stands very still next to a tidal slough

    Believe it or not, I have been working on the photo above for the last five years. During that time, I have been heavily into bird photography, particularly around the San Francisco Bay Area. Along with many other water birds, the double-crested cormorant is a frequent visitor. Cormorants are a diving bird, and can swim long distances underwater looking for fish. When they are done eating, they will exit the water and sun themselves on a rock or pier with their wings spread wide. They will stand there frozen for minutes, feathers fanned out to the sun to dry themselves properly.

    A double-crested cormorant fans its wings after an underwater dive in order to dry them in the sun
    A double-crested cormorant fans its wings after an underwater dive in order to dry them in the sun

    When I first observed this, I told myself that this would be a easy species to get close to in order to get a frame-filling head shot. However, try after try, I failed to get close enough to one of these sun bathing birds to get a tight shot. Finally after many attempts, I managed to get my shot.

    I found this cormorant in Redwood Shores, CA, close to my home. It was early morning and he had obviously been for a morning swim (and probably breakfast as well). I spent a very long time creeping up on him, inching my tripod legs forward and shuffling closer behind my rig. After many safety shots, I finally managed to get close enough to fill the frame with a beautiful head shot. My patience was doubly rewarded when he opened his beak (possibly to yawn?)

    A double-crested cormorant opens its beak wide and cranes its neck
    A double-crested cormorant opens its beak wide and cranes its neck

    After getting my shots, I quietly backed away so as not to disturb him any further. I was finally satisfied as I had my elusive shot. I’m sure I appreciate this shot much more because of the time and work that went into it, than if I had managed it on my first try.

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    Happy Easter http://blog.hankchristensen.com/2015/04/happy-easter-4/ Sun, 05 Apr 2015 17:01:30 +0000 http://blog.hankchristensen.com/?p=4051 Spring Chick

    May you and your loved ones have a joyous and rejuvenating Easter. Here are a few spring chicks to help welcome the coming of spring.

    Spring Chick

    Spring Chick

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    Using Adobe Slate For Mobile Stories http://blog.hankchristensen.com/2015/04/using-adobe-slate-for-mobile-stories/ http://blog.hankchristensen.com/2015/04/using-adobe-slate-for-mobile-stories/#comments Fri, 03 Apr 2015 22:22:24 +0000 http://blog.hankchristensen.com/?p=4033 Continue reading "Using Adobe Slate For Mobile Stories"

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    Adobe just released a photo and text composition app called Slate. Its purpose is to allow quick and easy creation of stories composed of photos and text. I decided to give it a try, and created a post about the color diversity of Death Valley National Park. Click here to give it a try. It is optimized for mobile, so be sure to try it on your phone or tablet. Let me know what you think in the comments below. Want to see more posts in this format, or is a simple blog post more accessible?

    Dawn breaks over a basin of rivulets winding through salt flats, Death Valley National Park
    Dawn breaks over a basin of rivulets winding through salt flats, Death Valley National Park
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    On Creating Meaningful Photographs http://blog.hankchristensen.com/2015/03/on-creating-meaningful-photographs/ Sun, 22 Mar 2015 17:43:24 +0000 http://blog.hankchristensen.com/?p=4008 Continue reading "On Creating Meaningful Photographs"

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    As a photography blogger, I oftentimes get more caught up with the latest gear that was used to create a photo rather than the substance of the photograph itself. But when the focus shifts to meaningful subject matter and creativity, all pixel count, ISO performance, and frame rate melt into the background. Meaningful photographs can be created with almost any gear. In order to succeed here, the emphasis should be on photographer intent and how well the photographer conveys that intent.

    At 4 days old, Jake Jr does a lot of sleeping
    At 4 days old, Jake Jr does a lot of sleeping

    Recently I welcomed the arrival of my nephew Jake with a quick photo session when he was four days old. Due in part to the latest technology of my gear, I was able to capture high quality photographs without much disruption to little Jake or his parents. I was able to use natural light, a quiet shutter, and a fast frame rate to capture those fleeting expressions of a newborn.

    Nancy cradles Jake Jr's hand in her own.
    Nancy cradles Jake Jr’s hand in her own.

    When I first started photographing regularly, I thought of myself as an explorer, both of the technology I was using and of the world around me. Seeing through a variety of lenses provides many different perspectives of the world, and being able to record those perspectives provides avenues of endless creativity and communication. I first had to master my tools before I could really concentrate on the art. As I improve (I like to always think of myself as improving!) I find myself thinking more about the meaning behind the pictures I am creating, and what I am trying to communicate to the viewer.

    At 4 days old, Jake Jr's feet are slightly bigger than an adult thumb
    At 4 days old, Jake Jr’s feet are slightly bigger than an adult thumb

    Don’t get me wrong, when taking these photos of baby Jake I was using many techniques I’ve learned over the years. But much more important than how I achieved the photos are the photos themselves. These photos will serve both as a keepsake for family members, and as a lasting record of Jake as he appeared as a newborn. I’m sure there will be tens of thousands of photos taken of Jake in his lifetime. Most will become a visual record of his life, but it is those most meaningful photos that will have lasting impact to those who love him.

    Jake Jr sleep soundly while resting his hand in his mother's
    Jake Jr sleep soundly while resting his hand in his mother’s

    The next time you are out shooting, whether you are capturing a beautiful sunset, a wild creature, or a portrait of a loved one, think about the message you are trying to convey in your image. If your answer is “I am creating a beautiful scenic”, that is a great answer. But over time, you might find a deeper message creeping into your work. I know I keep striving to find my meaning and connect with the viewers of my photographs.

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    Use Lightroom’s Match Total Exposures Feature For Quick And Dirty Panoramas http://blog.hankchristensen.com/2015/02/use-lightrooms-match-total-exposures-feature-for-quick-and-dirty-panoramas/ Thu, 19 Feb 2015 14:40:29 +0000 http://blog.hankchristensen.com/?p=3996 Continue reading "Use Lightroom’s Match Total Exposures Feature For Quick And Dirty Panoramas"

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    When I shoot landscape panoramas, in addition to tripod use and careful alignment, I always follow one basic technique – set my camera in manual exposure mode. To determine the optimum exposure for a panorama, I set my aperture (typically between 11 and 16 for landscapes), and meter different parts of the scene. I select the brightest portion of the scene and over-expose the meter to a point that no highlights are blown out. Then I set the camera to manual exposure, dial in the appropriate shutter speed, and I’m ready to capture all the frames of the panorama, knowing that they will blend together nicely in post production.

    However, when I am photographing birds or wildlife panoramas, I am often forced to use quick and dirty techniques. These panorama situations usually arise when I am close enough to an animal that their face can fill an entire frame, but I still want to capture their entire body. Instead of backing away, I usually resort to taking multiple overlapping images, knowing I can stitch them together later. This often happens with large water birds such as this great blue heron, that are docile enough to allow me to get close.

    Because I know that the animal can move at any time, I need to be quick with my overlapping photos, taking them in rapid succession. This means I don’t have time to carefully meter the scene and dial in the optimum exposure. Usually I will leave my camera in aperture priority (for overlapping photos to stitch together, aperture MUST be the same throughout all images) and let the camera decide the exposure. Usually no photo is more than 1 stop from any other photo.

    Now that I’ve taken my photos and have imported them into Lightroom, I need a quick way to align the same exposure across all photos. Enter the “hidden” Match Total Exposures feature.

    Use the Match Total Exposures feature to synchronize the exposures between frames that will make up a panorama.
    Use the Match Total Exposures feature to synchronize the exposures between frames that will make up a panorama.

    I pick one of the photos with which to optimize the exposure. Once I’ve adjusted the exposure slider to my liking, I select all the photos in the series and click the menu Photo->Develop Settings->Match Total Exposures. All of the other photos in the series will move their exposure sliders up or down so that the adjusted exposure is matched to the original. For example, let’s say we have three photos all shot at f/5.6, with the following shutter speeds: 1/500, 1/250, and 1/1000 (the exposures will typically be much closer, but I’m using easy math for illustrative purposes). If the first photo (1/500 seconds) is selected as the original to match, then the exposure slider for the second photo will move up one stop and the exposure slider for the third will move down by one stop. This is a quick and easy way to make sure the exposures for all photos in the series are similar so that they blend properly.

    Once I’ve adjusted all the exposures, I keep them all selected and click Photo->Edit In->Merge to Panorama in Photoshop. This will result in a perfectly blended panorama.

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    Palo Alto Baylands http://blog.hankchristensen.com/2015/02/palo-alto-baylands/ Wed, 11 Feb 2015 16:04:58 +0000 http://blog.hankchristensen.com/?p=3985 Continue reading "Palo Alto Baylands"

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    While I usually don’t make location specific posts about birding, I did want to call out Palo Alto Baylands as one of the San Francisco Bay Area’s great birding spots. Located in Palo Alto right along the bay, it provides the birder with a variety of species, from water birds to song birds to raptors – there is always something interesting to see here. It even holds one of the best viewing areas for the elusive (and endangered) clapper rail. Here are a few photos of what I found there on a recent morning.

    A song sparrow perches on wild fennel in the morning sun
    A song sparrow perches on wild fennel in the morning sun

    Song sparrows are one of three most common sparrow (along with white and golden-crowned) species seen at Baylands. The ubiquity of the house sparrow in the suburbs gives way to the song sparrow this close to the water. With common birds such as this, I try to create photos that go beyond just showing the bird, but also show some behavior or interesting background. In this photo, I liked the way the sparrow is tilting downward (he was eating from the wild fennel) – it creates more of an action pose.

    A white-tail kite perches on a large branch
    A white-tail kite perches on a large branch

    Baylands has the occasional visit from a bird of prey. Kites are seen anywhere from the water up into the foothills, hunting large, open spaces. Other birds of prey I’ve seen include fly-overs by osprey, red-tailed and red-shouldered hawks, and norther harriers.

    A female yellow warbler pauses briefly on wild fennel in the morning sun
    A female yellow warbler pauses briefly on wild fennel in the morning sun

    The smaller passerines get me excited because they are much harder to photograph than water birds or sparrows. The are small, fast, and rarely stay in one place for more than a few seconds. The most common warbler here is the yellow-rumped, but orange-crowned and yellow warblers are not uncommon. There are many many others, from chestnut-backed chickadees to bushtits – all of them equally hard to photograph. I loved the tonality of this image – the yellow on yellow really works here, blending the bird into her background.

    A domestic goose swims through still water reflecting fall color foliage
    A domestic goose swims through still water reflecting fall color foliage

    Palo Alto Baylands also has a man-made pond that attracts a wide variety of migrating ducks throughout the year. There are also quite a few year-round residents, including this domestic goose. Most of the resident ducks here are cross breeds of domestic ducks and mallards. But this pond is also a great opportunity to see migrants up close, including ruddy ducks, greater and lesser scaup, northern shovelers, american wigeons, and a variety of teals.

    An american avocet stands in shallow water, catching the first rays of morning sun
    An american avocet stands in shallow water, catching the first rays of morning sun

    Finally there are the water birds. Habitat here includes plenty of tidal wetlands, so these species abound. All the usual suspects can be seen here, and there are good viewing angles in morning and evening. In this photo, the earliest morning light is lighting the feathers of this american avocet. In spring, there is a popular nesting area for avocets and black-necked stilts. Photographers line up to capture cute photos of hatchlings venturing for the first time out into the mud flats.

    For birders there is always lots to see at Palo Alto Baylands. If you live near or are visiting the San Francisco Bay Area, be sure to put this on your list of bird spots to visit.

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    Gem And Max http://blog.hankchristensen.com/2015/01/gem-and-max/ Tue, 13 Jan 2015 16:32:51 +0000 http://blog.hankchristensen.com/?p=3974 Continue reading "Gem And Max"

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    Quite some time ago, I posted photos from a session I did with a kitten named Gem. Recently I resurrected more photos I took during a second session with Gem and her brother Max, when they were still kittens. Click here, or on any of the photos below to see the entire collection of Gem and Max, getting into mischief.

    Gem stretches out on the couch, fast asleep
    Gem stretches out on the couch, fast asleep
    Max is caught in the action of playing around the bottom of a stool
    Max is caught in the action of playing around the bottom of a stool
    While fast asleep, Gem is treated to some pets from above
    While fast asleep, Gem is treated to some pets from above
    Max drinks milk from a saucer and makes a mess
    Max drinks milk from a saucer and makes a mess
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    2014 Round-up – Top 40 Photos Of The Year http://blog.hankchristensen.com/2015/01/2014-round-up-top-40-photos-of-the-year/ Fri, 09 Jan 2015 15:42:44 +0000 http://blog.hankchristensen.com/?p=3965 Continue reading "2014 Round-up – Top 40 Photos Of The Year"

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    After a bit of thought, I have compiled my top 40 picks from the last 12 months. I selected from a variety of outings and types of photography, ranging from landscape, to wildlife, to pet photography. Unfortunately, 2014 was not the year I caught up on my backlog of photos waiting to be processed, so this list was not selected from all of my 2014 photographs (you’ll have to wait till next year’s round-up for those!)

    This year included a fantastic fall color photo trip to the San Juan mountains in Colorado, as well as visits to the Sierra Nevada and of course many bird photographs, including some previously unpublished.

    Please enjoy the gallery below. For best viewing (especially if viewing on a mobile device), please click on the following photo:

    Gem lies on the floor, fast asleep
    Gem lies on the floor, fast asleep

    Or, just enjoy the gallery here on the page. To view larger photos in the embedded gallery below, click here to enter full screen mode.


    If you are interested in compilations from previous years, please see the 2010, 2011, 2012, and 2013 lists.

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    Recent Publication – Backpacker Magazine http://blog.hankchristensen.com/2014/12/recent-publication-backpacker-magazine-2/ Thu, 11 Dec 2014 16:29:40 +0000 http://blog.hankchristensen.com/?p=3944 Continue reading "Recent Publication – Backpacker Magazine"

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    Backpacker Magazine used one of my images of Banner Peak and Thousand Island Lake for an infographic about the John Muir Trail, January 2015 Issue.
    Backpacker Magazine used one of my images of Banner Peak and Thousand Island Lake for an infographic about the John Muir Trail, January 2015 Issue.

    Backpacker Magazine used one of my images of Thousand Island Lake in the Ansel Adams Wilderness to create an infographic of the John Muir Trail. The image appears in the January 2015 issue.

    There are a couple of nice aspects to this particular publishing. First, the image takes up almost an entire page (in the world of magazine publishing, size does matter!) Second, it was great to have something positive come out of the JMT trip that never really got going.

    This image was taken on the last morning before my friend Steve and I had to bail out of the trail. With a 19 day hike planned, we only lasted 3 days on the trail before we were forced to evacuate because of torrential rains.

    Dawn breaks over Banner Peak and Thousand Island Lake, Ansel Adams Wilderness
    Dawn breaks over Banner Peak and Thousand Island Lake, Ansel Adams Wilderness

    Here is the image without all the text. It was probably chosen because of its subdued nature – if it had been a vibrant sunrise, it likely would not have been used for such a purpose.

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    Processing For Moods http://blog.hankchristensen.com/2014/12/processing-for-moods/ Tue, 09 Dec 2014 15:48:16 +0000 http://blog.hankchristensen.com/?p=3935 Continue reading "Processing For Moods"

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    Recently I uncovered a couple of unprocessed photographs in my collection that I took in Death Valley National Park several years ago. These were sitting in my “reject” pile, but upon a second look, I thought each photo had its own merit. When I looked at these two images a little more closely, I began to feel a very different mood with each.

    Blue shadows of twilight dance over the dunes of Death Valley National Park
    Blue shadows of twilight dance over the dunes of Death Valley National Park

    What struck me with the first photo were the vibrant blue hues that emerged after sunset. Shot in deep twilight, the evening sky was reflected off the light tan sand, creating an amazing blue glow throughout the dune field. In order to accentuate this glow, I increased the contrast of the image overall, and increased the clarity. High contrast helped show off the intricate texture of the foreground dune, showing sharpness in each ripple of sand. Contrast was increased two ways: the first was to set the white and black point of the image. While I didn’t use the extreme ends of the histogram, I got pretty close.

    The second was to add a contrast s-curve to the image. All adjustments were done in Adobe Lightroom. I kept the white balance pretty close to what the camera chose, increasing it slightly. This gave me a white balance of just over 6000 Kelvins – I was amazed at how blue it still was even after using such a warm color temperature.

    In the blue shades of twilight, smooth dunes stretch to distant mountains, Death Valley National Park
    In the blue shades of twilight, smooth dunes stretch to distant mountains, Death Valley National Park

    The second image I selected gave me a sense of calm and quietness. In order to accentuate this mood, I kept the contrast very low. I left the white and black points where they were originally, and actually decreased the clarity, giving the dunes a soft, buttery appearance. Because this was more of a graphic image, the low clarity and contrast helped to de-focus attention on the sand texture, and instead allow the dune pattern to abstract, driving the eye up toward the distant mountains.

    When making processing decisions, I find it vital to fully understand the message I am trying to convey with each photograph. These moods convey two extremes, even though the images were captured within 20 minutes of each other.

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    Black And White Challenge http://blog.hankchristensen.com/2014/12/black-and-white-challenge/ http://blog.hankchristensen.com/2014/12/black-and-white-challenge/#comments Tue, 02 Dec 2014 13:39:16 +0000 http://blog.hankchristensen.com/?p=3891 Continue reading "Black And White Challenge"

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    Two weeks ago I was challenged by friend and photographer Jerry Dodrill to post 5 black and white photographs on social media over 5 consecutive days. As I am not known for shooting much black and white, I dug back into my archives to see what I had. From that selection, I chose five photos from a variety of subject matter (landscape, wildlife, and architecture) that spoke to me more as fine art than editorial photos. Here is my selection collected together, along with a short synopsis of each.

    Day One

    Dawn breaks over Banner Peak and Thousand Island Lake, Ansel Adams Wilderness
    Dawn breaks over Banner Peak and Thousand Island Lake, Ansel Adams Wilderness

    I shot this last year on my attempt at the John Muir Trail. Thousand Island Lake is a beautiful location in the heart of the Ansel Adams Wilderness. This was a dark, moody, stormy morning, and during a brief pause in the torrential downpour, I braved the elements and scrambled out of my tent to capture Banner Peak with the lake below. In order to convey my feelings at the time I shot it, it seemed like a perfect candidate for a B&W conversion.

    Day Two

    Death Valley's Mesquite Dunes are a study of form and lines
    Death Valley’s Mesquite Dunes are a study of form and lines

    This shot is of the Mesquite Dunes outside of Stovepipe Wells in Death Valley National Park. I shot this fairly wide (21mm) as I was standing on the foreground dune. Those who have photographed a lot of sand know that you can’t just back up to reshoot – you’ll end up with a photo full of footprints! Black and white allowed me to add contrast into the sand ripples along the crest of the dune.

    Day Three

    Four american white pelicans line up, all of them fishing at the same time. There was a nice symmetry to this image, which was calling very strongly to be rendered as a black and white fine art photograph.
    Four american white pelicans line up, all of them fishing at the same time. There was a nice symmetry to this image, which was calling very strongly to be rendered as a black and white fine art photograph.

    With this photo, I’m switching focus to birds (hey, birds can make great B&W too!) I was shooting a group of American White Pelicans and was waiting for that perfect, synergistic moment. Finally they all ducked down for fish at the same time (the white pelicans tend to be much lazier when eating as compared to the California Browns who are constantly dive bombing their food). I caught the moment and new it would make a nice pano crop – a conversion to a high-key black and white was icing on the cake.

    Day Four

    Church and cemetery, Great Smoky Mountains National Park
    Church and cemetery, Great Smoky Mountains National Park

    This image is a little different from my usual fare. Quite a few years ago, a friend and I were hiking through the woods of Great Smokey Mountain National Park. It was a still, crisp November day, and we were utterly alone with the trees. Throughout the day, we had been getting a very creepy vibe. Unlike the wilderness of the west, these forests are littered with remnants of past civilizations – small mountain villages linked to other settlements only via walking paths. It almost felt like the ghosts of the past were watching our progress through their woods. Suddenly our trail opened up into a clearing with an old church, complete with cemetery and 100+ year old headstones. When I took this photograph, I knew I wanted to try to convey that feeling that we’d been getting all day. A black and white, high contrast conversion was in order.

    Day Five

    Soft light across the dunes adds a milky texture to the wind carved lines, Death Valley National Park
    Soft light across the dunes adds a milky texture to the wind carved lines, Death Valley National Park

    My final shot is another B&W dune photo from Death Valley. This time I kept the contrast and the clarity low, to emphasize the soft buttery texture of twilight. What first attracted me to this spot was the three tall dunes in the background. I think they reminded me of pyramids off in the distance. I set about looking for a foreground. When I found layer upon layer of sand “waves” stacked up in front of the dunes, I knew I had my shot. I fell in love with the way the light moved across the sand like it was a living thing. In order to remove all other distractions from the photo, I subtracted all color and let the interplay between the shadows and highlights define the photograph.

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    7D Mk II High ISO Performance http://blog.hankchristensen.com/2014/11/7d-mk-ii-high-iso-performance/ http://blog.hankchristensen.com/2014/11/7d-mk-ii-high-iso-performance/#comments Sun, 23 Nov 2014 13:03:00 +0000 http://blog.hankchristensen.com/?p=3893 Continue reading "7D Mk II High ISO Performance"

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    Last week I went out in the evening to run my new 7D Mk II through its paces with bird photography (most likely my primary use for this camera). Since my mind was in test mode, I decided to stay out after sunset (much later than normal for bird photography) to see how the camera performed in low light situations. I left the camera in auto-ISO mode to let it decide how high it needed to go. About a half hour after sunset, I was packing it in and heading back to the car, when I saw this blacktail jackrabbit eating from a patch of grass.

    A blacktail jackrabbit ventures out into the grass just after sunset, Redwood Shores, CA.
    A blacktail jackrabbit ventures out into the grass just after sunset, Redwood Shores, CA.

    I was a bit skeptical that anything would turn out given how dark it was. Not even sure if the auto focus would be able to work well in the darkness, I splayed out my tripod legs and got very low to the ground. Auto-focus seemed to be tracking well, so I started firing off bursts of shots, not really paying attention to the ISO. I knew it was high, but I wanted to see how high the ISO could go and still produce a usable image. This was highly dependent on the noise produced at high ISOs, and the amount of reasonable noise reduction I could perform in post processing.

    The image above was shot at ISO 25,600! While I realized this produced far too much noise for a large print, it seems to be perfectly usable for web-sized images. You can also see here that the auto-focus was extremely accurate, even in low light.

    So how does this translate into changes in the way I photograph? Nothing, really – a shot with this much noise is more of a curiosity than any hard data with which to change my workflow. However, let’s look at another example at a more reasonable ISO.

    A hermit thrush pauses briefly on a branch in the last night of the day, Redwood Shores, CA.
    A hermit thrush pauses briefly on a branch in the last night of the day, Redwood Shores, CA.

    I photographed this hermit thrush a little earlier in the evening than the jackrabbit. It was around sunset, but the sun had already set over the coastal mountains, so the light was certainly waning. Because of the extra light, the camera chose a more “reasonable” ISO of 5000 for this shot. But still, ISO 5000 is very high!

    With my previous camera, ISO 1600 was really pushing the boundary of acceptability, with only about 50% of those images being able to hold up to the noise level. After running noise reduction on this image however, it became clear that images shot as high as 5000 ISO would be usable for many circumstances. This probably still wouldn’t hold up for a 16 x 20 inch wall print, but would most likely do fine for editorial use.

    Finally, in order to show how smooth the images really are at ISO 800, I’ve included a shot of an anna’s hummingbird, followed by the 100% crop of its head.

    An anna's hummingbird perches on a thin branch, surveying the landscape, Redwood Shores, CA.
    An anna’s hummingbird perches on a thin branch, surveying the landscape, Redwood Shores, CA.
    A 100% crop of an anna's hummingbird. At ISO 800, the Canon 7D Mk II performs with amazingly low noise.
    A 100% crop of an anna’s hummingbird. At ISO 800, the Canon 7D Mk II performs with amazingly low noise.

    With previous cameras, I’ve always used ISO 400 as my standard starting point, moving up and down the range as light would allow. But with the 7D Mk II, I will likely start shooting at ISO 800 most of the time. I’ve run a slight amount of NR on the hummingbird shot, but the noise is so low that I’d rather have an extra stop of light to play with and get faster shutter speeds than feel the need to drop down to a lower ISO.

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    When reality is too crazy to print http://blog.hankchristensen.com/2014/11/when-reality-is-too-crazy-to-print/ Fri, 21 Nov 2014 16:02:48 +0000 http://blog.hankchristensen.com/?p=3783 Continue reading "When reality is too crazy to print"

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    Those of us who have spent a good deal of time in nature have probably witnessed a few moments of pure magic when weather, light and other natural forces converge to create unforgettable events. I have had several such experiences, some of which I’ve been fortunate enough to have had a camera ready to capture them. When I see it in person, I’m often awe struck at the magnificence before me. But many times when I get home and process the resulting photos, I realize that I’m going to have some explaining to do. Sometimes the colors and lighting are so striking and unusual, that the resulting photo looks completely fake. This is especially true in this modern world of extreme photo manipulation capabilities.

    But what to do in such circumstances? I certainly don’t want to de-saturate and alter the unusual colors so that the scene looks more “natural”. That is like saying these lighting events never occurred and what I witnessed should have looked like any other day. Instead I process the image so that the result matches my memory and add some written descriptions to allow the viewer to understand what they are seeing. So without further ado, here are three “crazy” lighting events and the resulting photos.

    Dramatic light bursts from behind the Tetons at sunset. Thick smoke and haze from nearby forest fires create God beams as the sun drops behind the horizon, Grand Teton National Park
    Dramatic light bursts from behind the Tetons at sunset. Thick smoke and haze from nearby forest fires create God beams as the sun drops behind the horizon, Grand Teton National Park

    We’ll start with one of the most unbelievable sunsets I have ever seen. I was with some friends on a photo trip in Grand Tetons National Park a couple of years ago to photograph wildlife and fall colors against the spectacular backdrop of this mountain range. Smoke from nearby wildfires somewhat hampered our efforts early in the trip, but it also lent a special atmospheric quality to the otherwise clear skies.

    The sun set behind the notch in the mountains, and we waited. Finally, it peeked out underneath the clouds on the horizon, cutting through the lingering smoke and turning the sky into an unbelievable magenta. In post processing, I kept finding myself wanting to desaturate or change the sky color, but finally I just left it as is. That is how I saw the scene, so I have to trust the colors.

    Mt Wilson and the Wilson Mesa glow a light magenta under a cloud that catches the morning light.
    Mt Wilson and the Wilson Mesa glow a light magenta under a cloud that catches the morning light.

    The next example is from a recent fall color photography trip (notice a pattern here?) that I took to Colorado. Standing just below Last Dollar Road and looking out over the Wilson Mesa, I waited for what the sunrise would bring. The morning did not disappoint, and the clouds over Mt. Wilson lit up a beautiful orange. What was strange about the scene though, was that the entire landscape was cast in a similar orange, as if the color from the clouds on the horizon was emanating out in all directions.

    What I realized later was that directly above me was a similar cloud catching similar light. It acted as a giant diffuser, coloring the grass, trees, and mountains in that same orange tint. Again I found myself tempted to remove the color cast, but again, that glow was real, and that is exactly how the scene looked that morning.

    Clouds explode with light over the multi-colored rock at Zabriskie Point, Death Valley National Park
    Clouds explode with light over the multi-colored rock at Zabriskie Point, Death Valley National Park

    This sunrise was really spectacular. Given that I was shooting at a popular roadside pullout, the sky really saved the shot here and made it unique (which is why I emphasized it so much in this photo). The bright pink/magenta color continued to get more and more intense as the sun rose behind me. This was one of those moments when the heart starts beating faster and I can feel the blood pumping. I knew I had just seconds to capture the shots I wanted while this phenomenon remained. In all, within 30 seconds it was gone.

    As I look back on these shots I see wild colors and unreal looking landscapes. I’m not sure if I’ll ever print any of these, because they look processed beyond reality. But looking at these photos also reminds me of some amazing moments that I’ve witnessed first hand. I wouldn’t trade them for anything.

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    Strive For Separation http://blog.hankchristensen.com/2014/11/separation/ Fri, 07 Nov 2014 16:07:31 +0000 http://blog.hankchristensen.com/?p=3791 Continue reading "Strive For Separation"

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    One goal of nature photography is to take the chaos of a wild landscape, and using nothing but the perspective of the rectangle of your camera’s view, to simplify and distill the scene into a singular message. One of the most chaotic environments in which I shoot regularly is a forest. Once you combine tree trunks, branches, leaves, and vegetation, you are often presented with quite a mess of a scene. Finding patterns and removing the extraneous elements can be a huge challenge.

    One technique I use to help the viewer see the intended patterns I am trying to convey is to use and pay careful attention to the separation of the main elements of my photo. Here are several forest scenes that I shot on a recent trip to the San Juan mountains in Colorado. With each, I spent a great deal of time in the field moving the camera and field of view to just the right location, to make sure the trees were not merging with each other in ways that detracted from my vision.

    Bone white aspen trunks create abstract lines over distant fall foliage, Ridgway Colorado
    Bone white aspen trunks create abstract lines over distant fall foliage, Ridgway Colorado

    When I took this photo, I was in a location with a dirt road running along one side of a narrow valley. The opposite side of the valley was covered with a kaleidoscope of fall colors – a beautiful display. Above the road on my side of the valley was a stand of aspen, with perfect bone-white trunks. I knew the shot I was looking for – now it was a matter of hoping I could find the right composition.

    I moved up the steep slope and into the aspen grove. Using a medium to long lens and moving up-slope above the trees, I could shoot straight through a select group of trunks, using the beautiful colors from the other side of the valley as my backdrop. Now was the truly challenging part – I needed to find just the right group of trees that showed a consistent pattern of separation from one another. I finally found some good candidates and spent a while getting my tripod into the right location. Working on such a steep muddy slope made the work slow and arduous. I slipped more than once, preferring to let my clothes take the brunt of the mud rather than my expensive gear.

    In the photo, you’ll notice that the spacing between the left and right edges and the left and right most trees is the same. I tried to keep similar spacing between each tree, so as to repeat this pattern across the frame. The trouble trees are the three right most; but after working with them a while, I began to really like how they broke the perfectly even pattern. It brings just a touch of wildness into the photo, hinting at the chaos of this forest.

    Thick fog shrouds a forest of aspen, Ridgway, Colorado
    Thick fog shrouds a forest of aspen, Ridgway, Colorado

    Another great natural phenomenon to take advantage of to help simplify a scene is fog. This can work especially well to simplify a forest scene, and it worked very well with aspen. Again, I worked on creating an even spacing across the closest trees, knowing they would be rendered in the photo with the most contrast. With these photos, it is especially important to pay very careful attention to the edges of the frame.

    Fallen aspen leaves carpet the forest floor casting the trunks in a golden white
    Fallen aspen leaves carpet the forest floor casting the trunks in a golden white

    This last photo was perhaps the most difficult of the three. I saw the foreground cluster of trees, and as I moved closer, I saw a repeating cluster in the background, a perfectly placed V shape in the similarly shaped void between the right most tree and the trees to the left of the frame. However, seeing it and shooting it were different beasts. Instead of using my perspective to flatten a three dimensional scene across the frame as in the previous two photos, here I was using the shapes to accentuate the depth of this pattern.

    Once I got the tripod and camera in place to get the background cluster of trees where I wanted them, I spent time working on smaller separations appearing in the left most cluster. Some of the trees I could stack on top of each other and hide from the camera’s view-port, but there was one distant tree that kept creating problems. Finally, I got into a position which put the distant tree into a spot that prevented it from peaking out from behind the foreground trees, and I knew I had it.

    Although I was working with depth in this photo, the goals were the same as the previous photos: to simplify the chaos of nature into a digestible, understandable subject. Paying special attention to control the spacing between primary elements in the photograph can help achieve this goal.

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    Bird Photography With The Canon 7D Mk II http://blog.hankchristensen.com/2014/11/bird-photography-with-the-canon-7d-mk-ii/ Wed, 05 Nov 2014 21:21:58 +0000 http://blog.hankchristensen.com/?p=3839 Continue reading "Bird Photography With The Canon 7D Mk II"

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    A great blue heron stalks fish in still shallow water, Belmont, CA.
    A great blue heron stalks fish in still shallow water, Belmont, CA.

    I spent about an hour this morning doing some bird photography with my new 7D Mk II. My primary use for this camera will be birds and wildlife, and I found and photographed some of the usual suspects around my home. This is not meant to be a formal review by any means, but I wanted to share some of my first impressions.

    A black-crowned night heron perches above water in pre-dawn light, Belmont, CA.
    A black-crowned night heron perches above water in pre-dawn light, Belmont, CA.

    Aesthetics

    Before we get to performance, I have to address how the camera felt out in the field. It was a real joy! The build quality is solid and the camera was extremely responsive and accurate. Ergonomically, the buttons are laid out well, and I can tell a lot of thought went into designing the UI. The number of settings on this camera can be daunting, but almost everything can be customized to suite your exact photography needs.

    A golden-crowned sparrow perches atop an ornamental bush, Belmont, CA.
    A golden-crowned sparrow perches atop an ornamental bush, Belmont, CA.

    Auto-focus

    Obviously auto-focus capabilities are one of the headliner features for this camera. Canon’s new auto-focus debuted on their flagship pro body, and have been filtering down to less expensive cameras in the last couple of years. I haven’t tried out the myriad AF algorithms available (I’ll do further testing with these using birds in flight), but I can say that auto-focus was fast and accurate. Almost everything I captured was tack sharp. I’ll be setting up the camera with different AF settings depending on whether I’m photographing stationary animals or birds in flight.

    A blacktail jackrabbit pauses in the morning light to watch for predators, Belmont, CA.
    A blacktail jackrabbit pauses in the morning light to watch for predators, Belmont, CA.

    Noise Performance

    As the sun was rising, I shot mostly at ISO 1600, gradually dropping down to ISO 400 as the day got brighter. At ISO 1600, there is still some noise visible in the shadows, but it was easily corrected in post processing. I found very clean shadows at ISO 800 and below. With my previous camera (7D), my starting ISO was usually 400 and I’d go up from there if the situation demanded it. Based on the performance of the Mk II, I will probably do most bird photography at ISO 800, giving me a full stop of extra light to play with in most circumstances.

    A great blue heron is reflected in still water in early morning light, Belmont, CA.
    A great blue heron is reflected in still water in early morning light, Belmont, CA.

    Frame Rate

    Shooting at 10 frames per second felt awesome. Even though I’m used to 8 fps with the older 7D, the incremental speed boost was noticeable. While I didn’t have any action situations that called for this speed this morning, having that capability was reassuring. With the large buffer, I never hit any card write delays, even though I was shooting with a slow card.

    A black-crowned night heron stands on a buoy, watching for fish, Belmont, CA.
    A black-crowned night heron stands on a buoy, watching for fish, Belmont, CA.

    Silent Shooting

    At one point, I crept close to a black-crowned night heron and began to fire off 10 fps bursts (mostly just for fun). The chatter of the shutter was loud enough to get his attention, and he stared at me, looking a bit anxious. I then remembered that the camera features a silent shutter mode (it applies extra dampening to the shutter mechanism so that it is very quiet). I set the camera to silent burst mode. This reduces the fps from 10 down to what felt like 3 or 4 fps, but it was nearly silent! I continued shooting photos of the now comfortable bird. This feature will actually be very helpful for getting close to some of the more sensitive wildlife – a nice little bonus.

    A greater yellowlegs is reflected in shallow still water, Belmont, CA.
    A greater yellowlegs is reflected in shallow still water, Belmont, CA.

    Overall Image Quality

    So far, the results are fantastic. One caveat is that at the time of this writing, Adobe does not yet support the camera’s RAW files, so I had to use Canon’s software to convert to tiff before processing them in Lightroom. I’m sure I’ll get better results once I can process the RAWs directly with Lightroom, as Canon’s processor seems very poor. But the images are sharp, and the tones are pleasing. Auto white balance seems accurate. If anything, it seems that the Mk II overexposes a little more than the 7D, but I’ll get a feel for where the exposure compensation needs to be for various lighting conditions as I use the camera more.

    Of course, the camera also has some goofy crowd-pleasers like multiple exposure and in-camera HDR. While I wont be using these for any serious work, they can be fun to muck around with if you’re bored.

    A black-necked stilt fishes in shallow water, Belmont, CA.
    A black-necked stilt fishes in shallow water, Belmont, CA.

    Overall, this is a fantastic camera, and I had a very enjoyable first time out with it!

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    Many Slices Of A Scene http://blog.hankchristensen.com/2014/11/many-slices-of-a-scene/ Mon, 03 Nov 2014 13:14:07 +0000 http://blog.hankchristensen.com/?p=3789 Continue reading "Many Slices Of A Scene"

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    When arriving at a new location to photograph, it is easy to get over-excited, and like a moth to a flame, focus all attention directly on the obvious composition. This is easy to do when shooting a grand vista, and more than once I’ve gotten so caught up in this one shot, that only later do I realize that I’ve missed many other great photos that could have been captured there.

    On a recent trip to Colorado, I kept this top of mind as I shot a valley filled with beautiful aspen. I made sure to look for many different photos to be made within the scene. This is a good example of thinking of different ways to capture a scene, because I didn’t even move the tripod – here are six different shots taken from the same spot.

    Light beams cut through afternoon storm clouds over Abrams Mountain, Ouray, Colorado
    Light beams cut through afternoon storm clouds over Abrams Mountain, Ouray, Colorado

    I started with the “obvious” grand vista shot. Situated on a bluff overlooking this valley, I shot down the valley at the mountain capping it off. Of course, waiting for just the right moment is also important, and here I captured a ray of light that broke through the clouds for a moment, illuminating the peak.

    Abrams mountain rises above lower slopes filled with bright fall colors, Ouray Colorado
    Abrams mountain rises above lower slopes filled with bright fall colors, Ouray Colorado

    My next shot was essentially the same shot, but in a vertical orientation. When the landscape allows for it, I always try to capture both vertical and horizontal shots, offering variety for my stock collection.

    Fall colors explode on the slopes of Hayden Mountain, Ouray, Colorado
    Fall colors explode on the slopes of Hayden Mountain, Ouray, Colorado

    Turning to my left, I shot another vertical, this time of Hayden Mountain. The groves of aspen climbing up its lower slopes were ablaze in fall color glory.

    Mountain slopes exhibit a kaleidoscope of color in the fall, Ouray, Colorado
    Mountain slopes exhibit a kaleidoscope of color in the fall, Ouray, Colorado

    Now it was time to switch to a telephoto lens (in this case my 70-200mm) and focus on abstracted swatches of fall color.

    Mountain slopes exhibit a kaleidoscope of color in the fall, Ouray, Colorado
    Mountain slopes exhibit a kaleidoscope of color in the fall, Ouray, Colorado

    Telephoto lenses are great for carving out smaller sections of a landscape. If the landscape holds enough detail interest, there are likely many different photographs to make from a single scene. Here the collection of colors was changing from spot to spot, providing strong abstract photos, each unique from one another.

    Abrams Mountain caps the end of a valley filled will fall color, Ouray Colorado
    Abrams Mountain caps the end of a valley filled will fall color, Ouray Colorado

    Finally, I made a shot similar to my first, but this time leaving out the sky and mountain top. Using the telephoto I created a photo that was more about the variety of color (the warm colors of the forest contrasting with the cool blues of the base of the mountain) than it was about a mountain scenic.

    I tried a variety of other shots from this spot (panoramas, cloudscapes, etc), some more successful than others. But by the time I left, I felt I covered the area pretty thoroughly photographically.

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    Finding Originality In Arches National Park http://blog.hankchristensen.com/2014/10/finding-originality-in-arches-national-park/ http://blog.hankchristensen.com/2014/10/finding-originality-in-arches-national-park/#comments Thu, 30 Oct 2014 12:05:43 +0000 http://blog.hankchristensen.com/?p=3827 Continue reading "Finding Originality In Arches National Park"

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    An old log twists around a fall bloom, Arches National Park
    An old log twists around a fall bloom, Arches National Park

    Like many of the most visited national parks, Arches in Moab, Utah offers the visitor many spectacular natural wonders. But for the photographer, these more popular parks can be a real challenge – how do you find originality in a place that has been covered with a camera so thoroughly? I found this especially true when I visited Arches this past September. It was true that everywhere I turned I saw famous arches, but that was just the problem – they were all famous. Sure, I still set about capturing them for myself, but looking back, are any of these photos of which I’m really proud? How does this differentiate my portfolio from any of the thousands of talented photographers that visit every year?

    Another challenge of this park is that in many areas, visitors are restricted to established trails. While I can certainly appreciate the reasons (the main one being the fragile biological soil crust supporting life throughout the desert), it is not my idea of freedom of exploration with a camera!

    I thought about these challenges as I explored the park in 90+ degree heat. The last time I was here there was a fresh blanket of snow on the ground, so the dry desert look was bumming me out a little. I had already taken a midday hike out to Delicate Arch (purposefully leaving all my heavy camera gear back at the car), and I was getting impatient for sunset, even though I had not yet scouted an acceptable location. Finally, I saw something of interest just off trail, and it wasn’t surrounded by twenty photographers! An old twisted log created some interested shapes, and had the bonus of wildflowers growing at its base. And you know what? Not a single arch in sight! Oh well, just because I’m in a place famous for arches doesn’t mean all my shot HAVE to include arches.

    I set about creating a composition that I liked. This process is usually a mixture of pre-visualization and experimentation. I knew I wanted to get in relatively close to the flowers and the log, and I wanted something fairly wide to include the cliff beyond. Probably no wider than 24mm, so I attached my 24-70 and got my tripod legs low and splayed out. Slowly I worked the camera and tripod in and out of the scene, watching the edges of my composition, and adjusting the tripod legs as necessary. When working in this way in a busy location, don’t worry about others stopping behind you to watch what you’re doing, and sometimes wondering what it is you are taking a picture of (rest assured, this WILL happen).

    After about 10 minutes, I had my shot in the bag and was ready to move on. While certainly not a portfolio quality shot, I was happy to have found something that allowed me to express my creativity, and come away with something that wasn’t also on hundreds of other photographers’ memory cards that day.

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    Yankee Girl Silver Mine http://blog.hankchristensen.com/2014/10/yankee-girl-silver-mine/ Tue, 28 Oct 2014 11:50:43 +0000 http://blog.hankchristensen.com/?p=3787 Continue reading "Yankee Girl Silver Mine"

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    In the late 1800s, the Yankee Girl mine was one of the most profitable mines in the history of silver mining in the United States. At its height, Yankee Girl produced 10 tons of ore on a daily basis.
    In the late 1800s, the Yankee Girl mine was one of the most profitable mines in the history of silver mining in the United States. At its height, Yankee Girl produced 10 tons of ore on a daily basis.

    Last month, I took a great trip out to Colorado to shoot fall colors in the Rockies with some friends. One of my favorite locations to visit (we went back several times because the area had so much to offer) was the Yankee Girl Silver Mine, south of the town of Ouray. Nestled in the San Juan Mountains, Yankee Girl was operational until the early 1900s. In the late 1800s, the mine was one of the most profitable mines in the history of silver mining in the United States. At its height, Yankee Girl produced 10 tons of ore on a daily basis, some of which was carted out by 75 mules every day.

    Silver ore was carted out by 75 mules every day. Here the old mine is front lit with dramatic dark skies beyond.
    Silver ore was carted out by 75 mules every day. Here the old mine is front lit with dramatic dark skies beyond.

    A dirt road winds up into the mining area from the highway, which is comprised of several sites, all of which are in various stages of decay. While these abandoned buildings are interesting enough to explore and photograph, being surrounded by intense fall color foliage added an extra layer of interest to the photos.

    There remain many small details of interest scattered about this area.
    There remain many small details of interest scattered about this area.

    When covering an area photographically, it is important to look at a subject from many angles and to incorporate elements that help the viewer understand what the scene was like. Here I used old weathered boards to lead the viewer’s eye up into the frame, showcasing the main building. I’m sure if I spent an afternoon roaming the hill on which the mine buildings were perches, I could find many more such elements (old rusted pipes, mined rocks, etc) to incorporate into interesting compositions.

    One of the smaller mine structures of the Yankee Girl Silver Mine sits perched over a valley of colorful fall aspen, Ouray, Colorado
    One of the smaller mine structures of the Yankee Girl Silver Mine sits perched over a valley of colorful fall aspen, Ouray, Colorado

    Here is one of the smaller buildings in the mining complex. While not as attractive as the main building, it was perched on the edge of a hill with a magnificent color display on the opposite slope. I stitched multiple frames together to create a large resolution panorama.

    Stay tuned for more posts based on photos from this trip.

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    Recent Publication – Bay Nature http://blog.hankchristensen.com/2014/09/recent-publication-bay-nature-2/ Fri, 26 Sep 2014 16:22:29 +0000 http://blog.hankchristensen.com/?p=3772 Continue reading "Recent Publication – Bay Nature"

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    A turkey vulture perches on a log along a beach in early morning
    A turkey vulture perches on a log along a beach in early morning

    I was fortunate enough to have an image selected for the cover of the upcoming issue of Bay Nature magazine. I shot this turkey vulture in soft diffused morning light out at Pescadero State Beach. Once I saw him, I dropped to my knees in the sand and slowly started making my way toward him, every few feet stopping to get a safety shot. Finally I was close enough to frame him in a portrait, and was able to get several head poses. It turned out that he was in no hurry to leave, so after I got the shots I wanted, I crept away from him so as not to disturb him.

    While not the prettiest bird, when caught in the right light, you can bring out their feather detail as seen here. In bright sunlight, their dark feathers are usually rendered to an inky black, so it was nice to see some of the lightness of the feathers come through in this kind of light.

    If you live in the San Francisco Bay Area, grab a copy. It is a great magazine and will introduce you to new places around the bay.

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    Why I’m Buying the Canon 7D Mk II http://blog.hankchristensen.com/2014/09/why-im-buying-the-canon-7d-mk-ii/ http://blog.hankchristensen.com/2014/09/why-im-buying-the-canon-7d-mk-ii/#comments Wed, 17 Sep 2014 12:49:13 +0000 http://blog.hankchristensen.com/?p=3741 Continue reading "Why I’m Buying the Canon 7D Mk II"

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    This week Canon finally released their long awaited successor to the very popular (5 year old) 7D. The 7D is one of my main workhorse camera bodies, used primarily for bird and wildlife photography.

    Canon 7D Mk II

    Here is a rundown of why I have already pre-ordered the Mk II. These are the features that are most important to me based on the type of photography I will do with this camera.

    Most Important Features

    • APS-C sized (cropped) sensor.

    The smaller size of the sensor on this camera is what sets Canon apart from many competitors, who seem to be pushing the high-end pro-sumer market to full frame cameras. Canon still sees a space in the lineup for APS-C sensors, and so do I.  I will primarily use this camera for action (wildlife and bird photography), so having the extra "reach" will be a big benefit to me.

    This factor prevented me from considering the 1DX for wildlife work when it came out. Although that is a fantastic camera, I couldn’t justify losing the 1.6X “zoom” factor that a cropped sensor gives me. The 7D Mk II has a much higher pixel density than the 1DX (20 MP on 7D MkII vs 18 MP on the 1DX), which will allow me to capture more detail. In fact, if you compare the pixel density of the same area of sensor between both cameras, the 1DX only has just over 11 MP compared to 7D Mk II's 20 MP.

    • f/8 auto focus capability.  

    This has been under-reported on, but is a huge feature for my use. Allowing auto-focus to work down to f/8 means I can pair my 800mm f/5.6 lens with a 1.4X tele-extender, which gives be an effective maximum aperture of f/8. This combo also gives me the 35mm equivalent of a whopping 1792mm, a distance I’ve never been able to use auto-focus with before.

    Having this kind of distance flexibility to work with can get me closer to the action without spooking or antagonizing my target species.

    A burrowing owl stands on a small berm overlooking its burrow

    Species like the endangered burrowing owl will become stressed if you get too close. If it is only watching you, then you are too close – it should be constantly swiveling its head looking skyward for predators.

    • Improved AF tracking (including low light) [65 all cross-type auto-focus]

    There is nothing worse for a bird photographer than to patiently wait for your subject to take flight, only to watch the bird fly away as your camera is hunting for focus.  Having the best of class auto-focus will ensure my equipment will not be the one at fault.  In the future, I'll only have myself to blame!

    Having so many auto-focus points for the camera to choose from means that the auto-focus algorithms can track a subject throughout much of the frame.  Cross points allow auto-focus on horizontal and vertical lines throughout the frame.  This means faster, more accurate focus seeking and tracking.

    A barn owl flies low over a field, hunting for rodents just after sunset, Bodega Head, California.

    The 7D Mk II’s improved low light auto-focus tracking should make keeping focus locked on birds such as owls who take to the sky at dusk more manageable.

    • "Intelligent Tracking and Recognition (iTR)"

    iTR is a new feature introduced with the Canon 1DX and has now filtered to the pro-sumor line. This employs a new RGB metering sensor which can detect and track moving subjects based on color, size and shape. Theoretically, this should help keep focus on erratic motion, such as flying birds. I’m looking forward to putting this to real world tests.

    • Improved high ISO performance

    The majority of wildlife come out during the ends of the days, either in early morning or late evening.  Having a camera that can focus and capture images in this kind of light with relatively low noise will be a huge advantage.  While this camera probably does not match the low noise of cameras with a lower pixel density, it will be a big improvement over my 5 year old 7D.

    • Auto ISO parameters

    Canon finally got this feature right, with many manual controls around how the metering will select the proper ISO for a given shooting condition.  I can now set a maximum ISO to use (which I'll set to the highest ISO I deem to have acceptable noise), as well as the minimum ISO. With this feature, I can also set the minimum shutter speed the camera will use before increasing the ISO in low light scenarios. Currently I manually set my ISO up or down as the situation calls for it, but I will certainly be using a limited auto-ISO range so that I don’t miss any critical moments.

    Nice to have features

    • 10 fps shutter speed

    I already have 8fps with the 7D, but hey, 10 is more than 8, right. All the better to help capture critical action like this:

    A male white-tail kite flies past a female, which reacts to his close proximity
    • GPS

    Sure, why not?  However, I will now have to be careful to strip out any location data from photos of sensive locations such as this:

    The mountains of the easter Sierra Nevada glow red over the Sky Rock Petroglyph, just outside of Bishop, CA
    • Intervelometer

    Nikon cameras have had this for years, so its nice to see Canon catch up.

    • Buffer depth (31 RAW vs 25 RAW in 7D)

    This is a huge buffer! Having the ability to take 31 consecutive photos at 10 fps is pretty incredible. I’m not a big fan of spray and pray photography, but when you need to blast off a few, knowing that your camera won’t suddenly go quiet on you brings great peace of mind.

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    Evening Grosbeaks http://blog.hankchristensen.com/2014/09/evening-grosbeaks/ Thu, 04 Sep 2014 15:09:36 +0000 http://blog.hankchristensen.com/?p=3734 Continue reading "Evening Grosbeaks"

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    An evening grosbeak perches on a branch of a chinese pistache tree, Sunnyvale CA.
    An evening grosbeak perches on a branch of a chinese pistache tree, Sunnyvale CA.

    I recently finished processing a series of photos I took of a flock of evening grosbeaks that invaded a neighborhood in Sunnyvale, CA, a little south of my home. For several days, the birds were repeating a pattern of flying into the area in the morning, and perching on a row of chinese pistache trees, so I decided to head down and see if I could locate the flock.

    I arrived in the neighborhood just after dawn when I figured the birds would be busy eating. I began to walk up and down the streets, occasionally stopping to listen for the distinct crunching sound of the birds eating the fruit off of the trees. All the while I was under the watchful eyes of the residents, who probably don’t often see someone walking past their house with an 800mm lens mounted to a large tripod.

    An evening grosbeak perches on a branch of a chinese pistache tree and eats a small seed, Sunnyvale CA.
    An evening grosbeak perches on a branch of a chinese pistache tree and eats a small seed, Sunnyvale CA.

    Finally, I was on the verge of giving up and decided to make my way back to my car. On my way back, I passed under one of the many chinese pistache trees and heard the soft crunch crunch crunch. Looking up I could just see one or two of the grosbeaks in the upper most branches. Thrilled, I set up my gear on the sunny side of the tree (so that the birds would be front lit), and waited until some of them ventured to lower fruit.

    An evening grosbeak reaches for food on the branches on a chinese pistache tree, Sunnyvale, CA.
    An evening grosbeak reaches for food on the branches on a Chinese pistache tree, Sunnyvale, CA.

    In all I hung out for about 20 minutes before the birds lifted off and flew elsewhere. It is always a treat to get such opportunities to photograph seasonal migrants.

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    Recent Publication – Bay Nature http://blog.hankchristensen.com/2014/07/recent-publication-bay-nature/ Thu, 03 Jul 2014 13:56:56 +0000 http://blog.hankchristensen.com/?p=3727 Continue reading "Recent Publication – Bay Nature"

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    Berry Creek Falls can be seen through the lush redwood forest, Big Basin Redwoods State Park
    Berry Creek Falls can be seen through the lush redwood forest, Big Basin Redwoods State Park

    If you are lucky enough to live in the San Francisco Bay Area, you can see one of my images in the July-August issue of Bay Nature, a regional magazine. This photo is of Berry Creek Falls in the heart of Big Basin State Park, one of California’s beautiful displays of coastal redwoods. As is typical in a dark forest, this was shot on a tripod at slow shutter speed. I’ve blown this up to 20 x 30 inches and it looks fantastic, even with your nose pressed against the photo.

    The day brought perfect conditions for waterfall photography – bright overcast skies and the high water flow of spring. It serves as a great reminder of our state when it is not in the midst of a drought crisis (in other words, I didn’t shoot it this year)!

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    Right Tool For The Job – Full Frame Vs Cropped Sensor http://blog.hankchristensen.com/2014/06/right-tool-for-the-job-full-frame-vs-cropped-sensor/ Mon, 16 Jun 2014 13:01:24 +0000 http://blog.hankchristensen.com/?p=3697 Continue reading "Right Tool For The Job – Full Frame Vs Cropped Sensor"

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    Recently I was asked by a prospective digital camera buyer about my opinion on full frame verses cropped sensors. The answer is actually not very simple, so I thought I’d expand on my thoughts in this post.

    For those who aren’t familiar with these terms, full frame refers to a digital camera that has the same sensor size as 35mm film. This became the prevailing film standard, and most of today’s digital SLR lenses use this size to calculate their relative lens magnification factor. A cropped sensor camera is a digital SLR that has a sensor smaller than 35mm film. These cameras use the same lens focal length scale, but apply an additional “magnification factor” to the 35mm numbers. For example, Canon’s cropped sensors apply a 1.6X magnification factor to lenses as compared to 35mm-sized sensors. If a full frame camera used a 50mm lens, the perceived magnification factor using the same lens of a cropped sensor camera is 50mm X 1.6 = 80mm. In other words, in the resulting photos, it appears as if the camera was zoomed into 80mm when using a 50mm lens on a cropped sensor camera.

    So which is better? As with any tool, it depends on the job. I use both full frame and cropped sensor cameras regularly in my photography. When I’m shooting landscape, architecture, or macro, I typically use a full frame camera. My current workhorse is the Canon 5D MkII (now practically a dinosaur of a camera!), which allows me to use a full range of lens focal lengths, including my widest. In these shooting conditions, camera features such as auto focus and frame rate are not as important to me as pixel count and low digital noise. With this camera, I shoot from a tripod most of the time and work slowly and methodically through the scene, getting as much right in camera as possible.

    Barrel cactus is just starting to bloom in the Alabama Hills, Lone Pine, CA
    Barrel cactus is just starting to bloom in the Alabama Hills, Lone Pine, CA

    The photo above is an example of using a full frame camera with a wide angle lens. Here my 17mm lens truly gave me the wide angle using my full frame sensor, instead of the appearance of a 27 mm lens (17 X 1.6) if I used a cropped sensor. I worked from a tripod, manually focused, and shot at ISO 100.

    When I’m shooting bird and wildlife photos, I always use a cropped sensor. This gives my long lenses that extra reach, and cropped sensor cameras tend to have slightly lower pixel count, which allows for faster frame rate. My cropped sensor workhorse is the Canon 7D, which has my most important traits for these shooting conditions – fast auto focus and high frame rate. While low noise is always desired, here the highest pixel count is not as important, as wildlife and bird photos typically don’t end up in huge prints. Pairing this camera with a 400 mm lens allows me to handhold while photographing giving me lots of mobility. When I use it with my 800 mm lens, I get the equivalent of 1280mm due to the lens multiplication factor. This gets me in close to my subjects without needing tele-extenders, which reduce auto focus performance.

    Crouching down and ready to strike, a juvenile green heron watches the surface of the water for movement
    Crouching down and ready to strike, a juvenile green heron watches the surface of the water for movement

    The photo above is an example of using a cropped sensor camera with a long lens. Using the equivalent of 1280 mm (800 X 1.6) allowed me to be far enough from my subject to not disturb it from its normal behavior. I was also able to shoot many frames per second to capture the perfect body and head position while the green heron was fishing.

    Just as a carpenter wouldn’t just use one type of hammer, a photographer won’t resort to just one type of camera. If you are just dipping your toes into the world of digital SLRs, think first about what type of photography you’d like to explore first. That will likely help you list your desired features and point you to the right tool for the job.

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    Recent Publication – Backpacker Magazine http://blog.hankchristensen.com/2014/06/recent-publication-backpacker-magazine/ Mon, 09 Jun 2014 14:05:45 +0000 http://blog.hankchristensen.com/?p=3711 Continue reading "Recent Publication – Backpacker Magazine"

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    A backpacker descends from Horton Pass through Eagle Creek Canyon, Eagle Cap Wilderness, Oregon
    A backpacker descends from Horton Pass through Eagle Creek Canyon, Eagle Cap Wilderness, Oregon

    The image above made its way into the June 2014 issue of Backpacker Magazine. The backpacker featured here is actually my dad – he and my brother agreed to be backpacker “models” on a trip to Eagle Cap Wilderness in Oregon a few years ago. As I mentioned in a recent article, you never know when a past photo will be used in the future, so it pays (literally!) to be well organized with your photo archive.

    Occasionally while hiking with others, I lag behind so that I can get natural backpacking shots against stunning scenery. Sometimes these types of shots can work much better than planned photo shoots – this way I tend to get a more natural look out of my subjects.

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    Hiker And Halfdome http://blog.hankchristensen.com/2014/06/hiker-and-halfdome/ Sat, 07 Jun 2014 23:16:09 +0000 http://blog.hankchristensen.com/?p=3716 Continue reading "Hiker And Halfdome"

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    A backpacker stands on an outcropping admiring the view while Half Dome rises high overhead, Yosemite National Park
    A backpacker stands on an outcropping admiring the view while Half Dome rises high overhead, Yosemite National Park

    I created this photo on a backpacking trip a few weeks ago. I set out with a couple of friends, Frans and Mark, and our three day plan was to hike along the northern rim of Yosemite Valley from Snow Creek to Yosemite Falls.

    I knew our best photo opportunities would likely be on the first evening. Snow Creek is located along the rim of Tenaya Canyon, directly across from the face of Half Dome. I had been here once before, and ever since that trip I had been visualizing the photos that I wanted to create there.

    Primary on my list was a shot of a backpacker with the face of Half Dome looming high above. Half Dome is most famously viewed from the side, as most photographs of it are taken from the perspective of Yosemite Valley. In order to be successful, this photo had to have a few specific characteristics.

    First of all, I knew I needed to use a long lens. I wanted to render the backpacker fairly large in frame, but also render the dome as large as possible. This meant that I needed to be close to the hiker and stack the layers of depth on top of one another, so that both near and far subjects would be large in the photo. Had I used a wide angle, the dome would be much smaller than in my vision.

    Secondly, I wanted to shoot this in late afternoon with clear skies to the west. When the sun sets, its light moves all the way up Yosemite Valley and strikes the face of Half Dome, giving it a warm orange glow. On this particular day, I could have done with some clouds to the south and east, so that I’d get a little sky interest, but I worked with what nature gave me.

    One thing I didn’t think about beforehand was the fact that the plateau from which I was shooting would be completely in shadow. This meant that in order to properly expose the cliff face, the backpacker would be too dark to clearly see details. After some experimentation, I decided to go with high contrast and render the backpacker as a detail-less graphic silhouette. I think this works very well in the final image, as it creates more emotional impact for the viewer. Those who travel this nation’s back country can easily see themselves standing in the photo, experiencing a glorious sunset.

    Mark and Frans graciously volunteered to be my models, and I ended up choosing this photo of Mark as my favorite. In order to add more of the scene, I took additional photos of Half Dome and stitched them to the first shot to create a panorama. This really completes the scene, showing the entire cliff from which Half Dome emerges. We had a great (and cold) three days in the wilderness, and as I suspected, the photos I took from Snow Creek ended up being my favorites.

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    Sooty Grouse http://blog.hankchristensen.com/2014/06/sooty-grouse/ Fri, 06 Jun 2014 13:31:06 +0000 http://blog.hankchristensen.com/?p=3702 Continue reading "Sooty Grouse"

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    Female sooty grouse can be seen in wooded areas, usually on or close to the ground.  Males can be heard throughout the Sierra Nevada, but are much harder to spot, as their deep booming vocalizations are difficult to triangulate. Yosemite National Park.
    Female sooty grouse can be seen in wooded areas, usually on or close to the ground. Males can be heard throughout the Sierra Nevada, but are much harder to spot, as their deep booming vocalizations are difficult to triangulate. Yosemite National Park.

    On a recent backpacking trip to Yosemite I managed to see and photograph a female sooty grouse. I had been hearing the booming calls of the male all day long as I made my way up switchbacks out of the valley, climbing ever higher into the high country. Although very vocal, the males are very hard to spot. They create a deep booming call that resonates at a low frequency. This allows the call to travel a great distance, but it is difficult to discern directionality of the sound. In addition, males will fly up into tree branches to broadcast, while most of the life of the female is spent foraging on the forest floor.

    A female sooty grouse picks through the forest needles looking for food, Yosemite National Park.
    A female sooty grouse picks through the forest needles looking for food, Yosemite National Park.

    Indeed this is where I found the female – scratching for food in a sparse forest next to a creek. This situation called for me to stretch my stalking skills to the maximum, because my longest lens I had with me on my trip was my 70-200 mm, and this was on a full frame camera. I usually photograph birds with an 800mm on a 1.6X cropped sensor, so I was at a severe disadvantage to my usual setup.

    Creeping ever closer, I managed not to disturb her too much. My best shots came when she ducked behind a tree and wandered into a small clearing. I managed to sneak up directly behind the tree, and then peak around the side.

    Trying for these shots in a dark forest required I gather as much light to the sensor as possible. This meant shooting wide open (f/4 was the best this lens had to offer), using the lens’ image stabilizer (of course!), and shooting at a high ISO.

    Although this is not the most colorful bird I have ever photographed, I was excited none the less. It was a life bird for me, and it was thrilling to have such an opportunity when I was not on a trip specifically geared toward bird photography, and I didn’t have my optimum gear with me.

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    White-tail Kite Fly By http://blog.hankchristensen.com/2014/05/white-tail-kite-fly-by/ Fri, 23 May 2014 14:49:44 +0000 http://blog.hankchristensen.com/?p=3683 Continue reading "White-tail Kite Fly By"

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    A white-tailed kite perches on a tree stump, surveying the landscape around it
    A white-tailed kite perches on a tree stump, surveying the landscape around it

    A little while ago I visited Arastradero Preserve in Palo Alto, CA in order to get some photos of some of the white-tail kites that live there. And I was certainly not disappointed. I climbed a large hill in order to get above some of the trees on which they perch while they are not hunting. I quickly saw one of the kites and slowly made my way toward its tree.

    A white-tailed kite perches on a tree branch, surveying the landscape around it
    A white-tailed kite perches on a tree branch, surveying the landscape around it

    With my eye glued to the view finder, I had my lens tight in on this bird, capturing shots of it flying up and back to various branches on the tree. Suddenly a dark form darted by just above the kite. Luckily, my photography training was to shoot first and ask questions later, and I capture a single frame of what I later saw to be another kite flying at the first one.

    A male white-tail kite flies past a female, which reacts to his close proximity
    A male white-tail kite flies past a female, which reacts to his close proximity

    I quickly realized what was going on, as the male came in for another pass, this time reaching his target, and landing on top of the female.

    A male white-tail kite approaches a female from behind and mates with it
    A male white-tail kite approaches a female from behind and mates with it

    The male quickly mated with the female, and just as quickly flew away. And before you ask, yes I do have photos, but hey, this is a family friendly blog!

    A male white-tail kite approaches a female from behind and mates with it
    A male white-tail kite approaches a female from behind and mates with it

    I’ve never seen this before or since, and I definitely know that I wouldn’t have been able to capture these shots if I hadn’t already had the female framed and in focus. Sometimes you just get lucky….

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    Try, try, and try again http://blog.hankchristensen.com/2014/04/try-try-and-try-again/ Mon, 28 Apr 2014 15:34:54 +0000 http://blog.hankchristensen.com/?p=3663 Continue reading "Try, try, and try again"

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    Waddell Creek flows through a green forest along the Berry Creek Falls trail, Big Basin Redwoods State Park
    Waddell Creek flows through a green forest along the Berry Creek Falls trail, Big Basin Redwoods State Park

    One of the keys for any budding photographer is to shoot often, and stay well organized. You never know when photos you have taken in the past might some day become marketable. Several years ago, I shot a series of photographs on spec for a national magazine, including the photo you see here. Shooting on spec means that the magazine is requesting a photo with particular specifications, but has not given you an assignment and guaranteed publication. This is something I wouldn’t recommend unless it is almost no cost to you (including time spent!). My brother graciously volunteered to come along an be my model for the day.

    Unfortunately, the magazine didn’t use my photographs for the intended article (in fact, I don’t know if they ended up running that article at all). This happens all too often with editorial publishing, which is why shooting on spec is almost never a good idea, especially if photography is your primary source of income. However, a couple of years later, that same national magazine did print one photo from this outing for a different article, and just recently another magazine is looking at these photos for publication as well.

    The only way this was possible was for my photos to be well organized so they were easy to submit for other uses over the years. This means they were well captioned, titled, and tagged with keywords. Even though the original intent for the photos fell through, they were still very usable and have become part of my photo archive. Who knows when one of these photos will be used again in the future?

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    Dark-eyed Junco http://blog.hankchristensen.com/2014/03/dark-eyed-junco-2/ Sun, 23 Mar 2014 23:56:27 +0000 http://blog.hankchristensen.com/?p=3658 Continue reading "Dark-eyed Junco"

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    A dark-eyed junco perches on a tree branch and flashes his tail feathers
    A dark-eyed junco perches on a tree branch and flashes his tail feathers

    Dark-eyed juncos are most often seen on the ground, pecking around for bits of seed. But in this photo, I managed to capture one perched for a long period of time in a tree branch, seemingly displaying his tail feathers.

    Normal courtship behavior for a male is to stand on the ground near the female, dip his head and raise his tail feathers while fanning them out to each side. I had never before seen one fanning its feathers up in a tree. And no females were anywhere to be seen. If this bird was attempting a courtship display, he was going about it all wrong.

    But it was amusing for me, and I snapped away, capturing a behavior and location that I had never seen before with this bird.

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    Failing the John Muir Trail Part 2 http://blog.hankchristensen.com/2014/02/failing-the-john-muir-trail-part-2/ http://blog.hankchristensen.com/2014/02/failing-the-john-muir-trail-part-2/#comments Mon, 24 Feb 2014 15:14:14 +0000 http://blog.hankchristensen.com/?p=3631 Continue reading "Failing the John Muir Trail Part 2"

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    If you missed part one of my JMT adventure, you can find it here.

    Waking up the second morning of my JMT attempt, I felt rejuvenated and ready to go. I had dried out from the previous day’s afternoon thundershowers and the elevation gain did not look as grueling as the day before. Top that off with a 6AM start, and I was ready to get some miles under my feet.

    Our day’s journey was supposed to take us at least to Tuolumne Meadows. If we made good time, we would consider pushing up into Lyell Canyon. As soon as we hit the trail, we were greeting by morning views of Mt Clark. The rising sun cast the peak in side-lighting, accentuating its scabrous textures.

    The rising sun side lights Mt. Clark and casts sharp shadows across its face, Yosemite National Park
    The rising sun side lights Mt. Clark and casts sharp shadows across its face, Yosemite National Park

    As the trail climbed ever upward, it moved through areas of dense pine forest. As I often do in changing conditions, I made sure my camera / lens combo was set up for any rapidly unfolding situation. In this case, I attached my 70-200mm lens in case we happened to see wildlife stirring in the early morning. I was not disappointed!

    A black bear cub climbs a tree to escape from unknown potential predators, Yosemite National Park
    A black bear cub climbs a tree to escape from unknown potential predators, Yosemite National Park

    We heard a rustling off to our right side and sighted a large black bear standing next to the trunk of a tree looking right at us. Movement above caught my eye and I realized that this was a mama bear who had just treed her two cubs in order to get them to safety. My heart instantly started thumping in my chest. It was very exciting to see so many bears at once, but a mother and her cubs can be a very dangerous combo. Luckily my camera was ready to go, and my ISO was raised high enough to manage the dark morning of the forest.

    After a while, the mother turned and walked away from us, and her cubs realized it was time to go. They nearly ran backward down the tree and lumbered off toward their mom. This made four bears sighted in less than 12 hours, as we had seen a large male the evening before just after the rain stopped.

    Soon we were on the well-worn train between Sunrise camp and Tuolumne Meadows. We made quick work of this portion of the trail as we had both done it together before. Of course, we had to stop for some of the prettier vistas.

    Cathedral Peak stands tall overlooking the surrounding wilderness, Yosemite National Park
    Cathedral Peak stands tall overlooking the surrounding wilderness, Yosemite National Park

    The day grew hot and we slowed down. The backpacker’s campground seemed an endless distance, always just around the next corner. Finally we arrived in the early evening, definitely not able to continue further that night, as we were feeling the day’s 15 miles. We camped in Tuolumne, ready to hit the trail early and tackle Lyell canyon. As soon as we set up camp, rain visited us again. At least this time we were done for the day and could retreat into the relative comfort of our tents.

    Next morning dawned clear and cool. Perfect weather for blasting up a relatively flat and open canyon, trying to get to Donohue Pass as early as possible. However, as soon as we began our climb, those ominous clouds began to form again, this time much earlier in the day.

    Upward we climbed, ever closer to the pass, as the clouds gathered and darkened. Soon the familiar patter of rain filled the air, picking up intensity with every step. At first I hoped the clouds would pass on by, but finally I gave up and stopped to put my camera gear away. I was prepared with a dry bag big enough for my camera body and the two lenses I carried with me, but this meant hauling my ten pounds of photo gear without the benefit of being able to use it.

    As the wind picked up and lighting started to test the distant peaks, our morale plummeted. Finally, Steve had enough. He stopped and yelled to the sky, “If this is the misery you’re going to put us through, at least show us a lightning bolt up close!” Not five seconds passed before the air concussed around us with the boom of thunder, as a lightning bolt hit a peak a quarter mile from the pass. “OK! That’s close enough!” I blurted out. We stared at each other wide eyed, instantly appreciating the potential ferocity of Mother Nature.

    Noon stretched into a long, rain soaked afternoon. We reached the pass and descended through a pretty alpine valley, one I must visit again in better weather conditions. The storm demanded a forced march, as stopping in such wetness was even more miserable than moving through it. Our desired campsite for the day came and went; our problem this time not a lack of drinking water but that of a dry place to sleep. Finally we reached Thousand Island Lake, and after 20 miles, our exhausted bodies required we stop, dry campsite or not.

    After quickly throwing our tents up and dumping out our gear, we huddled under Steve’s rain fly to eat a quick dinner. Passing out in my tent finally brought some somewhat dry relief.

    Dawn breaks over Banner Peak and Thousand Island Lake, Ansel Adams Wilderness
    Dawn breaks over Banner Peak and Thousand Island Lake, Ansel Adams Wilderness

    Tired as I was, I woke before dawn to a dark gloomy sky. But at least it wasn’t raining. I got out of my tent to enjoy a few moments out in the air, and to see if I could grab a couple of pre-dawn shots of the lake. Even with the foreboding weather, this lake and Banner Peak that towers above it create a gorgeous scene. I converted the shot above to black and white, because the early light cast everything in a pale blue, flattening out the contrast. Using black and white allowed me to pull some of that contrast back into the photo, showing off the subtleties of the rocky shoreline and face of the peak.

    Just as I walked back into camp and started packing my tent, the rain greeted us once again. This was too much! The only reason we were out here was to enjoy the long journey along the trail, and we certainly weren’t enjoying ourselves. We discussed abandoning, and after meeting up with a group of JMT hikers who had already decided the same, the deal was sealed. Seven short miles of descent and we were boarding a shuttle bus to Mammoth, where a shower, beers and burgers awaited.

    Abandoning the trail was a disappointment, but turned out to be a good decision. As it poured in the mountains for another seven days, it turns out it was just not our year.

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    Failing the John Muir Trail Part 1 http://blog.hankchristensen.com/2014/02/failing-the-john-muir-trail-part-1/ Sat, 22 Feb 2014 18:54:43 +0000 http://blog.hankchristensen.com/?p=3622 Continue reading "Failing the John Muir Trail Part 1"

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    Wildflowers grow next to a boulder, Thousand Island Lake, Ansel Adams Wilderness
    Wildflowers grow next to a boulder, Thousand Island Lake, Ansel Adams Wilderness

    Last July, my friend Steve and I set out to hike the John Muir Trail, something we had been talking about for several years. We had already canceled the trip once before several years ago when a 70 mile training hike along the PCT aggravated some cartilage damage in one of my knees and it swelled up for several weeks. But this year, we had been careful with our training, planned all the food and mailed off our resupply. We were ready to go!

    We met mid day in Bishop, and drove down to Whitney Portal to drop one of our cars at the trail head, which would serve as the terminus of our trip. After more than 10 hours of driving, we were finally back in Bishop, getting an early night sleep so that we could get an early start.

    Five AM rolled around and we drove back to Yosemite, stopping in Tuolumne Meadows to drop a food resupply that we would pick up the following day along the trail. Finally, we got back down to a jam packed Yosemite Valley, bursting at the seams with summer visitors.

    By now, it was almost 11AM, a very late start for a full day on the trail. In addition, we were unfortunate enough to start our trip on one of the hottest days of the summer. It was north of 100 degrees when we began our laden slog up the switchbacks to Nevada Falls. There were safety volunteers all along the trail warning people of heatstroke and helping those who were in danger of passing out.

    Liberty Cap looms above Nevada Falls, showing mid summer flow
    Liberty Cap looms above Nevada Falls, showing mid summer flow

    Being midsummer in a dry year, Nevada Falls was flowing at far less than maximum. But the stunning beauty of the Sierra Nevada more than made up for a somewhat anemic waterfall.

    After a grueling afternoon, we finally got off the veritable highway that is the Half Dome trail, and continued along the more secluded JMT. The crowds faded away and it finally began to feel like the start of our journey. Soon however, afternoon storm clouds started rolling in, followed in short order by the ominous rumbling of distant thunder. Rain drops, softened by their journey through the forest canopy, began to splash around us.

    A rainbow peaks through the dark clouds of an afternoon thunder storm, Yosemite National Park
    A rainbow peaks through the dark clouds of an afternoon thunder storm, Yosemite National Park

    Worried glances were exchanged, but not solely due to the increasing rain. During the entire climb from the falls, we had seen creek bed after creek bed, all bone dry. The light snow pack of the previous winter had rendered the high country a dry zone, punctuated only by year-round mountain lakes. Ironically (considering the downpour), we had to find water before setting camp, or we would go to bed hungry and thirsty, risking severe dehydration.

    We stopped for a short time under a towering redwood watching the storm pass through. But time was marching on and the afternoon was growing old. Continuing our climb at an anxious pace, we passed grand views of Mt Clark.

    A late afternoon thunderstorm moves across the sky over Mt. Clark, Yosemite National Park
    A late afternoon thunderstorm moves across the sky over Mt. Clark, Yosemite National Park

    Finally, using his uncanny sixth sense, Steve “sensed” water and left the trail. Off trail, over a low rise, we finally came to a narrow trough in the forest floor. Water bubbled along its bottom, giving us just enough volume from which to pull drinking water. Exhausted, we set up camp, ate a quick dinner, and collapsed in our tents, forgoing a camp fire. Secretly I hoped we had seen the worst of the rain. If only I knew what was coming….

    See the conclusion of the journey here.

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    Sunrise At Hanalei Bay http://blog.hankchristensen.com/2014/01/sunrise-at-hanalie-bay/ Sun, 26 Jan 2014 16:05:07 +0000 http://blog.hankchristensen.com/?p=3617 Continue reading "Sunrise At Hanalei Bay"

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    In the moments before sunrise, the sea washes a beach clean in Hanalei Bay, Kauaii
    In the moments before sunrise, the sea washes a beach clean in Hanalei Bay, Kauaii

    One morning on last fall’s trip to the island of Kauai, I woke before dawn and drove out to Hanalei Bay to capture day break with the backdrop of the dramatic green cliffs to the south, with a long exposure of moving waves in the foreground. Usually with long exposure shots, I like to feature a non-moving object somewhere in the foreground to act as sort of a sharp, visual anchor. Juxtaposed against smooth flowing forms of movement, these anchors can help keep the viewer centered in reality. However, in this case there was nothing along the beach to help me, so I used the line between water and sand to lead the viewers eye into the photo.

    Compounding the difficulty of this shot was the fact that my tripod was placed in soft sand (usually I try to find some kind of rock, but again none was available), and every 30 seconds or so the legs would start sinking into the sand. That kept my exposures about half what they normally would have been in this light (around 15 seconds), and not all of my shots were usable, because every once in a while a larger wave would undercut the tripod legs, resulting in a blurry photo.

    But in this light (pre-dawn), all of the subtle color differences of the cliffs came out, showing the complex contours of the mountains. This was only possible with low contrast light, giving me full control over localized contrast in post. Once I was fairly sure I achieved my desired shot, I made to way onto the pier and waited for the sun to rise, providing high contrast side lighting to the cliffs.

    Green mountains covered with waterfalls rise from the shores of Hanalei Bay, catching the first rays of sunlight, Kauaii
    Green mountains covered with waterfalls rise from the shores of Hanalei Bay, catching the first rays of sunlight, Kauaii

    This is a very different photo, at a much shorter shutter speed (as I had plenty of light after sunrise). Here I used a telephoto to make the largest mountain the star of the show. Here we see sail boats lined up along the beach in this tropical paradise. If you look closely enough, you can see one of the hundreds of waterfalls making its way through the clefts in the mountainside.

    Soon it was time to pack it in, head into town, and enjoy a coffee with my wife. Truly a great way to spend vacation!

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    2013 Round-up – Top 40 photos of the year http://blog.hankchristensen.com/2014/01/2013-round-up-top-40-photos-of-the-year/ http://blog.hankchristensen.com/2014/01/2013-round-up-top-40-photos-of-the-year/#comments Sun, 19 Jan 2014 16:56:53 +0000 http://blog.hankchristensen.com/?p=3608 Continue reading "2013 Round-up – Top 40 photos of the year"

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    I am a little late this year, but finally, here are my favorite images from the previous 12 months. This year I only had one major photography focused trip to the northern California coast, capturing the delicate rhododendrons amongst the fog of the coastal redwoods. I also had a truncated attempt at the John Muir Trail (got completely rained out after only three days) and a wonderful trip to Kauai to celebrate ten years with my beautiful wife.

    Photos from all of these trips plus a wide variety of birds made my top 40 list this year. Please enjoy the gallery below. For best viewing (especially if viewing on a mobile device), please click on the following photo:

    Click the photo above to see the top picks from 2013!
    Click the photo above to see the top picks from 2013!

    Or, just enjoy the gallery here on the page. To view larger photos in the embedded gallery below, be sure to click the icon in the lower right corner to enter full screen mode.


    Hank’s Picks 2013 – Images by Hank Christensen

    If you are interested in compilations from previous years, please see the 2012 2011 and 2010 lists.

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