The Art of a Diving Duck by Todd Henson

The Art of a Diving Duck

When I photograph nature I’m often trying to capture interesting views of different species to share my love of nature and wildlife. But sometimes something more artistic can come out of my explorations. I’ll notice something beautiful, or something I think has the potential to become beautiful. And I begin exploring this, trying to find whatever it was that sparked my interest.

Diving Below the Glowing Surface

The 3 photographs in this post came out of one of these explorations. I had been photographing a Long-tailed Duck, a somewhat unusual species in Northern Virginia. It was very indifferent to human presence so I was able to spend a lot of time watching its behavior, and it was often close enough to fill the frame without need of cropping.

Across the Water

As I watched I kept noticing the patterns formed when the duck dove below the surface of the lake. Its long tail helped add an interesting element, either forming a fascinating pattern, or flicking droplets of water in fantastic patterns. I began watching specifically for the moments it dove, trying to capture as many variations of this as I could.

I think these 3 images best express what I was seeing and feeling as I watched this unusual duck repeatedly diving for food. I’m sure it was as indifferent to my excitement at the beautiful patterns it was creating as it was to my presence. But I’m very happy to have shared these moments with this duck, and thankful for the opportunities it gave me to explore my creative side.

All of these photographs are available for purchase through my online store, run by Fine Art America / Pixels.

Fine Art Prints by Todd Henson

Fine Art Prints by Todd Henson

Fine Art Prints by Todd Henson

What Happens When Your Camera Malfunctions in the Field? by Todd Henson

1: Entry display of orchids at Longwood Gardens

Have you ever thought about what you would do if your camera broke down while you were on a trip? Would it spoil your trip? Or could you recover and make the most of what remained of your trip? Thankfully, I chose the latter when it happened to me.

2: Closeup of orchid display

3: Streams inside Longwood Gardens Conservatory

A few weeks ago I shared a post about the beautiful Orchid Extravaganza display each winter at Longwood Gardens. That post reminded me of an experience I had there during a different trip. Shortly after arriving at the Conservatory I had a bad experience with my DSLR, the only time I’ve had this kind of experience. I had been shooting with my relatively new wide angle lens and decided to switch to a telephoto lens. But the wide angle lens got stuck when I tried to remove it. I was unable to remove the lens, and I was also unable to fully reattach it. It was stuck partly connected. Something had malfunctioned in the mount of the camera or the lens. I worked on it for a few minutes, but couldn’t budge the lens.

4: Brick path through Conservatory at Longwood Gardens

5: Lots of greenery in hallway

My brother offered to go back to the car to try to figure something out, or for us to trade his camera back and forth so we could both shoot. But I didn’t want to take away from his enjoyment of the trip, so I told him to keep shooting with his camera. I had my phone with me and could use that for the remainder of the trip. I didn’t see any need to cut the trip short or to change any of our plans. So I packed my DSLR into the camera bag, pulled out my phone, and fired up a camera app. Some of the photos in this post were created using the DSLR before it malfunctioned, and the rest were created using my phone. Can you guess which are which? See the end of this post for the answer.

6: So many beautifully laid out walkways

I’m happy to report I thoroughly enjoyed the rest of the trip. There might have been times in my life when I would have let this experience ruin the trip. But not this time. I think both my brother and I had a great time. And looking back, I’m reasonably happy with the images I created. Using the camera phone did somewhat limit the types of photos I could create. The lens on the phone was a fixed focal length, there was no switching of lenses. I lost true macro capability, and had no telephoto capability. I was very limited in my ability to create a shallow depth of field. And I couldn’t mount the phone on my large tripod.

7: Path around a central lawn display

8: View of lawn display from a path

9: Another view of a lawn display from a path

But all of these limitations create opportunities to exercise your creativity. You must be more creative to work around the limits, to still produce pleasing images. You will learn more about the strengths and weaknesses of the gear you’re using. And you’ll either find a way to make it work, or you’ll discover that even though it may be limited in some ways, it still has a large number of capabilities. And if you give it enough time and patience you’ll learn how to leverage those capabilities.

10: Colorful flower closeup

But even more importantly, when you set yourself up with technical limitations you’ll have to focus more on the creative and artistic aspects of your work. You will need to spend more time thinking about what makes a pleasing composition. You won’t have the option of simply zooming the lens to try to fill the frame. You will need to think about how to fill the frame and why. Perhaps a different angle would be better. Maybe getting down low, laying on the ground, would help create a unique image that better expresses your vision. Maybe you need to walk closer to the subject, or move a little further away.

Having limitations to work around can help teach us that creativity is in the photographer, not in the gear. I have learned a lot about these topics from David duChemin, a photographer who focuses on the artistic side of photography. He teaches about how to see, how to find something that speaks to you and might speak to your viewer, and how to translate that into a moving, impactful image. He teaches about seeing, about vision, and about turning those visions into stories to share with the world.

11: Small field of colorful flowers and foliage

Try this some time. Find some way to limit yourself. Maybe pick a specific lens and decide to only use that lens for some period of time, especially if it is a prime (fixed focal length) lens. If you only have zoom lenses then pick a focal length and put a small piece of tape on your lens to keep it from zooming. Spend the entire day using just that one focal length. Try this for more than a day if you can. Sometimes it takes time to learn to let go of what we’re used to and really start to embrace the limitations. But I do believe your creativity will benefit from repeating this exercise every so often. Try different limitations, be creative in how you limit yourself. And believe me, I’m saying all this for my own benefit as well as yours. I need to constantly remind myself to try these exercises, to try something different, to find ways to limit myself and to grow in the process.

12: A display room within the Conservatory at Longwood Gardens

Tell me if you’ve had any similar experiences, or if you’ve tried any of these exercises yourself. How did it turn out? What did you learn? Would you try it again?


The resources below contain affiliate links and I will be compensated if you make a purchase after clicking on my links. This is at no extra cost to you.

Recommended Books by David duChemin:

Book Review - The Red: First Light by Linda Nagata by Todd Henson

Infrared image without white balance adjustment

This post contains affiliate links and I will be compensated if you make a purchase after clicking on my links. This is at no extra cost to you. I received my copy of The Red from the author through a giveaway at SF Signal (a site that is, sadly, no longer around).

Creativity exists in many different forms. I think all creatives benefit from experiencing as many forms of creativity as possible. With creative photography the photographer may craft a story or evoke an emotion with an image. It is up to the viewer to put words to the story or to experience the emotion. The viewer is a part of the creative process. Different viewers may create completely different stories from an image. Literature is similar. Authors craft the words of the story and it is up to the reader to conjure the images, emotions, sounds. Each form of creativity is similar in that there are at least two creatives at work, the one creating the original piece of art and the one experiencing the art using their own imagination.

This website is primarily about my photography. I see scenes that affect me in various ways and I attempt to create images that will allow viewers to share my experiences. I hope the viewers will experience some emotion when viewing my photos, even if it differs from my own when creating the image. If I’ve done my job correctly viewers may find stories in a few of my images. I think any photographer can improve their abilities by experiencing as many forms of creative expression as possible, to learn how other creatives express themselves, to learn other ways of expressing an emotion or telling a story. Reading great books is one way of doing this. First is the simple joy of experiencing a new world created by the author and brought to life by a synthesis of the authors words and your own imagination in how you visualize and experience the world they’ve created. Another purpose of reading is to learn about the creative process. Granted you can’t know how the author goes about their creative process, but you see the end result and that can be informative. It can show you an example of what is possible and give you something to strive for. It can provide inspiration for your own work.

So all of this is a long-winded way of saying I really enjoy reading good books. And I enjoy books of all sorts in many different genres. If I read too many books of one type I find myself craving something completely different. I’ve recently read several fantasy and more contemporary novels, so I’ve been craving a good science fiction novel. I found that in the form of Linda Nagata’s The Red: First Light. It is the first book of a trilogy, and having finished it I’m looking forward to seeing how the story progresses through the next two.

Trying not to give too much away, the story is told using first person point of view from the perspective of Lieutenant Shelley, commander of a Linked Combat Squad (LCS). It takes place in a perhaps not too distant future displaying a combination of technologies just coming into their own now, and those not yet developed. LCS gives you an idea of the sorts of technologies present, ones that allow a more cohesive team, improving communications and status updates. The first person perspective is perfect for conveying Shelley’s point of view. We see what he sees and more directly experience the technology he uses and the situations he’s put through. This perspective is even more appropriate for reasons you’ll quickly learn when you read the book, as we’re not the only ones seeing what he sees.

The title of the novel is The Red, and early on we’re presented with imagery that keeps the title in mind. The LCS uses equipment they wear to tap into the infrared feed of the angel, a semiautonomous drone used by the LCS to get a better view of the terrain. The houses in the African villages they pass through are made of red mud bricks. During an engagement an enemy is hit multiple times and “drops in a spray of brilliant red blood.” A local from one of the villages wears rust-red-and-gray camo pants. A piece of diagnostic technology “blazes with red light.” When Shelley drops to the ground to avoid being seen by the enemy he notices the slick red dirt, wet from recent rain. The use of red imagery is beautifully done. Red occurs often in the beginning, but not so often it distracts. It’s just often enough to remind us red will play an important role in the story. It reminded me of the use of green in the movie, The Matrix. If you aren’t paying attention you might never notice until someone mentions it to you. If not for the book’s title I may not have noticed. The use of red built tension. I wanted to know what The Red was and how it related to the story. We do eventually learn this, but I’ll leave that for you discover when you read the book. It’s worth the read.

This was only a short taste of The Red. I don’t want to reveal too much and risk taking away from the enjoyment of experiencing the events as they unfold, of learning what the Red is and how it will affect Shelley and the other characters in the story. As short as this description was I hope it was enough to entice you to pick up a copy and give it a try. I was lucky enough to win my signed copy of The Red (thanks, Linda!) through a giveaway at SF Signal (as mentioned above, unfortunately this site is no longer active). This was my first exposure to Linda Nagata’s work, though I had heard of her through positive reviews of The Bohr Maker years ago. It’s a book that’s been on my far too long and always growing to-be-read list. I’ve now purchased a copy of that as well as the other three books in The Nanotech Succession (Tech-Heaven, Deception Well, and Vast), and the next two books in the The Red series: The Trials and Going Dark. If you’d like to learn more about Linda Nagata check out her website at

UPDATE: I’ve finished reading the The Trials and Going Dark, the last two books in The Red Trilogy, and I very much enjoyed them both. The story definitely takes a different turn in each novel, further exploring some of the issues first presented in The Red: First Light. I look forward to the next book I read by Linda Nagata, though which that will be I don’t yet know.