Posts Tagged ‘wildlife photography’

Wimberley Sidekick_4769

As a landscape photographer I do not really have a need for a full gimbal style tripod head, however, on more than one occasion I do recall wishing for such functionality in a tripod head with some of the wildlife encounters I stumble upon while shooting landscape imagery. Enter the Wimberley Sidekick. The Sidekick is designed to convert any ball head into a gimbal-style tripod head in seconds and is available from Wimberley. The Sidekick is light weight at 1.3 lbs and can easily fit into a gear bag or the large pockets of cargo-style pants (as I do with my Sidekick). I find the Sidekick to be particularly useful when I am using my Nikon 200-500mm lens. It would also be highly useful for other folks that are using other super-zooms such as the Sigma 150-600mm lenses or the Tamron 150-600mm lens. Although super-zooms are designed to be relatively light weight they do still weigh in at 5-7 lbs (when handholding this gets heavy and can cause arm strain after awhile, especially if you suffer from tennis elbow), by adding a Sidekick to a ballhead the strain of supporting the gear is completely eliminated and you can effortlessly track and photograph you wildlife subjects.

Wimberley Sidekick attached to ballhead with Nikon 200-500mm lens mounted on a Nikon D800

Wimberley Sidekick attached to ballhead with Nikon 200-500mm lens mounted on a Nikon D800

When fitting a super-zoom set-up to the Wimberley Sidekick you will need to slide the lens’ tripod foot in the Sidekick’s quick release mechanism to find the optimum balance for the gear depending on what focal length you have the lens zoomed too. To effectively balance your rig you may need to purchase a long lens plate such as those available from Wimberley here. I am typically using the lens at it’s 500mm focal length for the wildlife subjects I am photographing, so balancing the set-up is usually required once and then I am good to go. To use this set-up you must flop the ballhead into the vertical position and then insert the Sidekick and lock the ballhead’s quick release mechanism. Position the lens and camera in the Sidekick’s quick release mechanism, balance the set-up and lock down the quick release mechanism. Once proper balance is set you can loosen the ballhead’s panning knob and the Sidekick’s five-lobed soft touch knob. You should now be able to freely and effortlessly move the gear around, in all directions, without fear of the lens flopping up or down because it is perfectly balance within the gimbal style set-up.

The convenience of this small, light weight accessory to convert my ballhead into a gimbal type tripod head is a huge advantage for me in the field. I never leave home or head down a trail without it. I can make the switch from photographing landscapes to wildlife in seconds, which can often translate into getting the shot or missing the shot.

Below are a few images that I have created over the last several months of using the Wimberley Sidekick with my Nikon 200-500mm lens:

Do click on each image to view the sharper, larger versions.

My dog Koko.  She is often my guinea pig for new photo gear when the need arises.

My dog Koko.
She is often my guinea pig for new photo gear when the need arises.


Common Loons at Tiny Marsh Elmvale, Ontario, Canada

Common Loons at Tiny Marsh
Elmvale, Ontario, Canada


Blue Jay Algonquin Provincial Park, Ontario, CAnada.

Blue Jay
Algonquin Provincial Park, Ontario, Canada.


Gray Jay Algonquin Provincial Park, Ontario, Canada

Gray Jay
Algonquin Provincial Park, Ontario, Canada


Pine Marten Algonquin Provincial Park, Ontario, Canada

Pine Marten
Algonquin Provincial Park, Ontario, Canada


Female Northern Cardinal in Winter Thornton, Ontario, Canada

Female Northern Cardinal in Winter
Thornton, Ontario, Canada


Red Squirrel Algonquin Provincial Park, Ontario, Canada

Red Squirrel
Algonquin Provincial Park, Ontario, Canada


Common Loon Horseshoe Lake, Ontario, Canada

Common Loon
Horseshoe Lake, Ontario, Canada

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While I find photographing animals in the wild to be a much more fulfilling and rewarding experience, controlled subjects can also offer unique opportunities. I will often attempt to capture images of a given subject that I know will be virtually impossible for me to capture in the field, such as the Bobcat portrait above. I also tend to select subjects that are threatened or endangered. Here is a collection of some of my favorite images of controlled subjects. Hope you enjoy this collection of photos.

This Red Fox was trying to sleep while keeping a watchful eye on a pair of young Siberian Tigers were playing in an adjacent enclosure.

I highly doubt that I will ever see a Wolverine in the wild so when the opportunity to photograph one in a controlled situation presented itself I jumped at the chance.

A young Siberian Tiger hissing at its litter mate while playing. Would you really want to be this close to a tiger in the wild with this menacing look?

A Lioness photographed near my home at a sanctuary that gives exotic pets a home when there owners realize that big cats don’t make good house pets.

A beautiful, captive, Swainson’s Hawk spreads its wings in the wind for a pleasing pose.

Great Horned Owl

Turkey Vulture – ugly as they may be, vultures are one of the most beneficial species on the planet – nature’s clean-up crew.

Lynx – I’ve seen one Lynx in the wild, in Ontario, in my lifetime. It ran across a highway with no chance to photograph it.

Eastern Screech Owl – difficult to find and photograph with a pleasing background.

Green Water Dragon – by using a flash I was able to eliminate many elements in lizards enclosure and give the illusion that it was photographed at night.

A highly endangered Cuban Crocodile photographed at a breeding facility in Cuba. These crocodiles are now thought to only exist in Cuba’s Zapata Swamp.

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One of my favorite photo destinations is Tiny Marsh Provincial Wildlife Area near Elmvale, Ontario. It is designated as an “Important Birding Area” (IBA) in Canada and is managed by Ducks Unlimited Canada. Many years ago I decided that this would become one location I would use for a personal project- shooting in-depth coverage. Being located only 40 minutes from my home makes it a relatively easy destination in all seasons regardless of weather conditions. I leave my house at such a time that I can be on location well before sunrise. Arriving for work early you might say. After capturing a few sunrise images I begin to work on my wildlife photography. Tiny Marsh has a large breeding population of Canada Geese and Black Terns as well as a few breeding pairs of Trumpeter Swans. This, however, only scratches the surface as to the wildlife inhabiting this wetland. This project will be ongoing for me. Tiny Marsh, despite its name, is very large in size. It gets its name from Tiny Township, the township in which it is located.

Shooting in-depth coverage will help you tell the story of a location should you wish to publish an article on a given subject and also improve your odds at image sales to publications should they run a feature on such a place too. Below are a few of my favorite images from time spent at Tiny Marsh throughout the years. I hope you enjoy them.

The above image was captured one autumn while waiting for sunrise. As it turned out, sunrise on this day was uneventful, however, I learned a valuable lesson on this day – always look behind you when shooting sunrise images.

Above is another reason to look behind yourself when shooting early in the morning. Most wildlife is most active at dawn and dusk and you never know who might be watching you. On this day, I heard grunting noises behind myself and turned around to see this curious otter family checking the new guy out.

The male Canada Goose above was less than impressed with my presence on the pathway where he and his mate decided to build their nest. Here he stands with his “hackles” raised as he threatens me should I move any closer.

A few years ago the marsh was drained by Ducks Unlimited Canada to improve the wetland and slowly water was re-introduced. This controlled drainage was to mimic what occurs naturally to wetlands. This image helps to tell the story of how Tiny Marsh was originally drained for agricultural purposes many, many years ago. Those attempts failed and eventually it was restored to its natural state.

A full moon setting at dawn in early spring.

One of the many beautiful Trumpeter swans that inhabit the wetlands at Tiny Marsh

One of my favorite seasons for photography is winter. Here a strong wind the day before had blown away enough snow to reveal the icy surface of the wetland, creating some foreground interest to this image. The dried plant life protruding from the ice and snow is wild rice.

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Many years ago I remember reading an article by the late Galen Rowell about photographers knowing their limitations. I always interpreted this to mean that knowing your limitations could aid creative vision. Further to this, Canadian photographer David duChemin’s (Pixelated Image) phrase “gear is good, vision is better” is solid advice and Darwin Wiggett’s recent column in Outdoor Photography Canada’s Fall/Winter issue is a must read for anyone wishing to upgrade their gear. Links to both of these photographers can be found on my blogroll.

Today our limitations could be gear-related, physical or even monetary. Having a young daughter keeps me very close to home, so last winter I decided to construct a blind for backyard, songbird imagery. Everyday when my daughter would have her nap, I would head out to the blind, baby monitor in tow, and photograph songbirds for a couple of hours. On several days, it was dark, overcast and snowy. Since I am still shooting with, and a tad embarrassed to admit it, a Nikon D200, I do not have the luxury of cranking up the ISO to capture a razor-sharp image of birds in flight on days like these and my main lens for wildlife is the pathetically, slow focusing 80-400 VR lens. These limitations steered me towards being a little more creative, shooting intentional blurs of songbirds taking flight from perches. Capturing a pleasing blur is not as easy as it sounds, but it is fun to play around with various shutter speeds and see what transpires. Of all the blurs I shot last winter I kept only two images – the above Black-capped Chickadee image and another that has been submitted to Audubon’s “Birds in Focus” competition. This Black-capped Chickadee was shot at ISO200 @ 1/60 sec.

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I thought I would share an update on the Common Loons with two babies that I wrote about a few weeks earlier. I am very pleased to report that both chicks have survived. There are lots of snapping turtles in Horseshoe Lake, which is located near Parry Sound, Ontario, and I feared that one of the chicks would fall prey to them. They have not and are doing well. They are diving now to feed themselves, but like most babies still want mom and dad to feed them too. It is very difficult to try and get both parents and juveniles in the same photograph as they tend to spread out quite a bit when feeding. Below are two additional photos of one juvenile and one of the juveniles with one of the parents. Hope you like the photographs.

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It has been awhile between posts, due to renovation projects at home. I have also been busy preparing a large selection of imagery for clients – no time to shoot new stuff. As I was preparing my images I came to these two and thought I would share them.
A few years ago I was on Cayo Largo, a small island off the South coast of Cuba, which has a healthy population of cooperative Cuban Iguanas. While I was framing the above Iguana it suddenly displayed threatening behaviour towards another Iguana. I shot and hoped for the best. The Iguana image below, however, is my favorite, due to the primitive/prehistoric look of this large male.

Many of the small islands in Cuba, such as Cayo Largo or Cayo Guillermo, are very quiet, safe places to visit with many great photographic possibilities, particularly around the mangrove wetlands.

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This past spring was a quiet one and that I find quite disturbing. Behind my home lies about 40 acres of abandoned cattle pasture. This is traditionally a wet meadow with numerous vernal ponds resulting from the melting snow. I have lived here for 13 years and every spring we are serenaded to sleep by frogs and toads during the spring chorus. This year was an exception.

Normally, around my home, the frogs emerge from hibernation in the following order: chorus frogs, wood frogs, spring peepers, toads with leopard frogs, green frogs and gray’s treefrogs to follow. This spring began like any other – the chorus frogs were singing their hearts out by the end of March. The wood frogs and spring peepers followed, but as conditions warmed further where were the toads. Perhaps they would not arrive at the ponds until the first warm rainy night. Warm rainy nights came and went, but no toads. The toads never arrived this spring to chorus in any of the ponds within this field. The leopard frogs and green frogs did arrive, but only two gray’s treefrogs were heard chorusing on one occasion. I find this to be disturbing and puzzling. It is puzzling because during my forays to the ponds I could hear toads and gray’s treefrogs chorusing in distant ponds, but why not in these ponds? What happened? Where were they? I have no answers to these questions. Only more questions. I wonder if it is the first sign a frog populations in decline near my home.

All around the world frog populations and other amphibians too are in decline. Amphibians are considered to beĀ  “indicator species.” When their numbers are decreasing it indicates that there is something drastically wrong with their environment – a sign of biodiversity disaster.

Amphibians have been around for some 250 million years and survived when dinosaurs did not, but will they survive the impact of humans. We continue to destroy habitat. Wetlands are filled in and paved over all in the name of “progress.” In Southern Ontario, over 80% of original wetlands have been lost due to human development. Moreover, dryer summers as a result of global warming will mean there is a greater chance of vernal ponds drying out before amphibian larvae are able to complete their metamorphosis into adults. It would only take one or two such occurrences to have a drastic effect on local amphibian populations.

Declining amphibian populations is something that we should all take seriously. It is a warning sign!

Below is a selection of images to celebrate these amazing critters. Many of these images are older ones, captured on slide film with a Minolta X700, macro lens, and a cheap $5 Vivtar flash (purchased from a scrap bin at a Toronto camera store) mounted on a homemade flash bracket. The last two images are recent digital captures.

Hope you like the photographs.

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