Great Blue Heron Strutting Its Stuff In The Wetlands by Todd Henson

Great Blue Heron strutting its stuff, reflected in the wetlands.

Great Blue Herons are beautiful birds that feed and live around water. On this particular day the wetlands were full of Great Blue Herons and Great Egrets, all keeping close watch below the surface for their next meal, but also watching one another. These birds can be somewhat territorial and will try to chase off any that approach too close, though that didn’t occur in this case.

This heron had just caught and swallowed a fish and was now lifting its head and looking around, letting gravity help with the fish. I like the look of its plumage at the base of its long neck, the feathers spreading out towards the water. Some of these feathers can also be seen on its back, though not quite as striking in this photograph.

I’d been watching and photographing this heron for about 15 minutes before creating this image. I also captured images of it catching and eating the fish. But the heron was facing away from the camera at that time and the images just didn’t come out as well as this one, when it was almost parallel to the camera, or actually leaning just slightly towards the camera. The sun was behind my back, which helped light up the heron in this position.

In the end, I spent 3 hours at the park this day, which is not at all unusual. The light is softer first thing in the morning, and the animals are usually more active early. But there is often still activity to watch and photograph throughout the morning. There have been days when I spent 6 to 7 hours at the park. It’s so easy to lose track of time when watching these fantastic birds.

The Ansel Adams Wilderness: Photographs by Peter Essick by Todd Henson

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 Cover of   The Ansel Adams Wilderness

Cover of The Ansel Adams Wilderness

Peter Essick, a National Geographic photographer for over 25 years, had always been inspired by Ansel Adams' work. After reading Adams’ book Sierra Nevada: The John Muir Trail, Essick felt the pull to start a project photographing some of the same locations as those from the book, which in 1984 were renamed The Ansel Adams Wilderness. Essick didn’t want to recreate Adams work, but instead he wanted to create his own photographs of this region while still paying homage to Adams' work. That project resulted in a new book, The Ansel Adams Wilderness: Photographs by Peter Essick.

   The Ansel Adams Wilderness  , pages 16-17

The Ansel Adams Wilderness, pages 16-17

The photographs are organized into 5 sections:

  • SNOW and WIND
   The Ansel Adams Wilderness  , pages 24-25

The Ansel Adams Wilderness, pages 24-25

Each of these sections begins with a one page essay, followed by Peter Essick's photographs reflecting the subject, interspersed periodically by quotations from folks like Theodore Roosevelt, John Muir, Henry David Thoreau, and others.

   The Ansel Adams Wilderness  , pages 50-51

The Ansel Adams Wilderness, pages 50-51

The book also includes a Foreword, Introduction, Afterword, and at the end one of my favorite sections, Photographer’s Notes, where Essick provides some context for each of his photographs. I love when photographers include sections where they talk about their work, what they were thinking and how they approached the scene. In this case some of the notes are very short, but others have a nice amount of detail. Each also includes the equipment used and the exposure settings for those interested, as well as the date and time the photograph was created.

   The Ansel Adams Wilderness  , pages 80-81

The Ansel Adams Wilderness, pages 80-81

The Ansel Adams Wilderness is a really nice book. I like that Peter Essick chose not to recreate Ansel Adams photographs. Instead he used modern equipment to create his own photographs, processing them as black and whites reminiscent of what Ansel Adams might have done.

   The Ansel Adams Wilderness  , pages 86-87

The Ansel Adams Wilderness, pages 86-87

The book is about 112 pages in length with pages measuring 8 1/2 x 10 inches. The Photographer’s Notes section begins on page 88, with everything before being photographs, essays and quotes. The paper used in my edition is a reasonably thick, smooth stock suitable for showcasing black and white photographs.

I continue to look to nature for answers to the deeper questions, and I believe that nature offers an unlimited source of material for any artist or observer willing to look.
— Peter Essick

If you have an interest in photographs of the Sierra Nevada region and enjoy the work of Ansel Adams then you might also enjoy Peter Essick’s The Ansel Adams Wilderness.

Angular Flow No. 1 by Todd Henson

Angular Flow No. 1

The Story

Angular Flow No. 1 is a more abstract photograph than I usually create. It depicts water flowing over a dam above Great Falls on the Potomac River, which flows between Maryland and Virginia and past Washington, DC.

I had been on the Maryland side of the river photographing the falls and also some of the many Great Blue Herons that congregate at the falls looking for fish. A little later in the day, while standing on a platform overlooking the dam above the falls I was taken by the interesting lines and tones as the water flowed over the dam.

I liked the look of the flowing water, and how the dam created a distinct line between the darker water above the dam and the lighter water below the dam. I figured a slow shutter speed would accentuate this, smoothing out the water and showing all the different tones, helping with the abstract nature of the scene.

The Technique

I wanted a slow shutter speed but I didn’t have a neutral density filter with me, so instead I stopped the aperture of my lens down as far as it would go, f/36 in this case. Stopping down the aperture limits the amount of light that gets through the lens to the camera sensor. That’s why it lets you use a slower shutter speed, the sensor needs more time to collect enough light for the exposure.

Stopping down the aperture also increases the depth of field. I wasn’t all that worried about the depth of field in this case, but it does help assure the line of water going over the dam is in focus.

Be aware, using very small apertures can also adversely affect the sharpness of a photograph due to diffraction. In this case I wasn’t as worried about that, as the subject was flowing water. But you may notice your photos are a little soft when you use the smallest aperture. If this happens open the aperture a little more.

Setting an aperture of f/36 and keeping my ISO as low as I could (ISO 200) let me keep the shutter open for 5 seconds (requiring a tripod), creating just the sort of look I was after.

The Processing

Below you can see the raw image I started with before making any adjustments in Adobe Lightroom. This is an unprocessed raw, so it is naturally a little flat. I didn’t think the rocks in the background added anything to the image, as I was most interested in the water, itself. So I cropped out the top part of the image. I also noticed the rocks were not very sharp.

The original raw image for Angular Flow No. 1

Next I tweaked the white balance and made various other adjustments to bring out a little more contrast between the different parts of the frame. As you can see below, the blue, reflected from the sky, begins to look a little unrealistic. But I had in mind a monochromatic photograph to concentrate on just the tones and lines so I wasn't worried about how the colors looked, just how the contrast and patterns looked.

Initial color processing of Angular Flow No. 1

Finally, I converted the image to black and white and tweaked all the color channels to adjust the levels of grey associated with each color. I brought up the whites and darkened down the blacks. In the color images the water flow was not quite horizontal, there was a slight upward tilt towards the left. So I rotated the image just slightly to make the water flow more horizontal. I thought about cropping such that the diagonal line of the dam ran from one corner to the other but I actually preferred the look where the line ends just above and below the corners.

Angular Flow No. 1 - The final version in black and white

Let me know what you think in the comments below. Would you have done things any differently?