Caesar Creek Hike (Day 1) – A Story Told Through Photos

It was a beautiful October day, cloudy, no wind or breeze at all. The perfect fair weather day for a hike and photographic trip. A simple walk in the woods.

I had the day off to myself and concluded I should visit Caesar Creek State Park near Waynesville, Ohio.

Almost 3,000 acres in size, this state park has something for everyone. Canoeing, kayaking, boating, fishing, archery, shooting, nature study, you name it. This day was to be a more hiking/backpacking centered day, with the camera taking a bit of a break.

Nearing the peak, there was beautiful Autumnal foliage abound! The duality of green in the understory transforming into yellow at the overstory of the tree canopy was quite apparent throughout the state park.

My goal was to hike the approximately 12.7 mile perimeter loop trail that wraps around the southernmost end of Caesar Creek Lake.

It was about 9am and I arrived at the visitor center to check in and obtain field guides or maps. The helpful desk lady informed me that there was construction going on on the only main stretch of road on the loop trail at State Route 73. Meaning I could start either way from the visitor center, but it would only be an out-and-back hike for the day.

Bummer, this shifted my entire focus for the trip. A thru-hike was not an option (and getting ticketed neither.) Yet I was glad to receive this information before hitting the trail without forewarning.

I could either choose the more scenic counter-clockwise side of the loop, with several waterfalls, the historic pioneer village, and other points of interest. Or on the other side is a more secluded woodland trek with rolling hills and lakeside views. I chose the latter in this case, and this section parallels with the Buckeye Trail. The yellow blazes are for the perimeter loop as the blue blazes for the BT.

And so at exactly 10am my out-of-doors trip began. The first trail marker being I1, I quickly found that the leaves covered up any tree roots, and so even with sturdy hiking boots I was tripping every couple of feet.

During my first steps on the trail, I kicked around the idea of filming the entire day and documenting the photos I took, yet this seemed too burdensome combined with the longer hiking miles. Gear-wise I only brought a single camera so it be unwise to drain the batteries that fast.

I settled upon a combined photo documentation in the form of collages along with a post-hike journalistic writeup as seen here. In the end something a little different than what I’m used to.

I didn’t take a wealth of photos, only about 50 unique images made their way to the computer after the fact. However I found that photographing autumn colors and foliage was such a special challenge than before.

The scenic overlooks and views of the landscape were grand in size and scope, and so my goal behind the camera was to “create order out of the chaos.”

I call this photo “Unveiling the Forest Canopy.”

The dense woodland canopy was still full of leaves on the trees, and a windless day meant that barely any were falling to the ground. A number of birds were singing and flitting about in the overstory, and various wading birds like Double Crested Cormorants and Ring Billed Gulls were in a decent numbers at the lake’s edge.

I took a quick break in the middle of the day after a trail outstretched to the edge of the lake waters. This is where I took a quick break to chow down on some hot oatmeal I warmed over the backpacking stove. This is an ultralight cooking setup that weights about a pound or so overall.

By the end, I was becoming lightheaded, sore and tired. Once reaching trail marker M1, I concluded with the remaining two hours of daylight that pressing on would have me hiking back in the dark. I turned around and made my way back to the start.

One thing I learned pretty quickly was overpacking can lead to fatigue faster than anything else. The entire trek would’ve been much more manageable had I not brought so many pounds with me. The majority of this weight on my back was extra camera gear, as well as water in a hydration bladder and spare cooking/food supplies. The water can definitely add weight quickly in large amounts however the food stuffs were negligible in their heaviness.

I also learned pretty quickly that plans can fall flat; in my own grand idealism I thought I could magically walk off almost 13 miles in a day hike. This was not the case, as I took many small breaks to sit, look around, eat and “water the plants.” A proper meal with the stove by the lake took up 45 minutes total! Let’s not forget the many stops to photograph foliage and other landscape shots, some of these moments taking up to half an hour long. There is only so much daylight available, and I was on my own with no outside help.

Sometimes big ideas go over my head until I attempt them, and this was a big eye-opener to what I’m really capable of.

Look to all angles, as there is always something out there to see.

In the future I hope to tackle the entire loop trail in one go when the highway portion reopens (probably leaving the camera at home too to conserve weight). Until then, smaller day hikes are the way to go.

Happy trails, and make sure to get out there!

(Stay tuned for Day 2, where I revisit Caesar Creek a few days later to hike the other half of the perimeter loop trail.)

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Happiness Vs. Fulfillment

Early morning, pre-dawn. I was awake a little more early than I am used to. Driving along the straight-lined backroads of rural Ohio.

It all started with an early morning spark of a thought on that solo drive to a far-reaching festival. Just me and my life’s work behind me (literally, as in filling my vehicle).

It was as if I had nothing left to lose.

It was then that I felt a pang of emotion.

“What could this be called?” I asked myself while still driving along.

That name for the feeling I was searching for was called pride.

The many sweat and miles of hiking all times of year in all times of weather. Searching for that perfect photograph…often times one that may never happen. Instead of giving up after an unsuccessful day, I only yearn to try again soon.

Pride is an emotional state deriving positive affect from the perceived value of a person or thing with which the subject has an intimate connection.

Even more so, this “intimate connection” is in a way with these pieces of my work. These frames and prints follow me around Ohio as I travel, sharing them with strangers and friends alike. While being inanimate objects, all these photos are ones carefully created and curated.

I have some stake in this game, the perceived value being whether I successfully sell my vision and way of seeing to others. This is a time where I need to stand up straight, not quite like some boring day job or other uninspired occupation.

The time and days leading up an incoming festival are often a tense time. Many factors such as packing are on the list of things to do before even arriving to the location.

This isn’t even about tooting my own horn but simply having the pride to go through all the trouble of loading and packing, setting up, tearing down, and everything in between. Anyone with a considerable amount of time invested in a project or career path has had a similar scenario unfold.

“The painstaking exhaustion of entire weekends spent just to share a passion with others.”

This meant everything to me (and still does.)

An example of how my booth looks at a festival.

For me, photography is a daily reminder to get up early for that sunrise shoot, to stay out late for the sunset light and to get out in between. Like a flowing waterfall, this motivation permeates everything else in life. This effect helps fuel my desire to succeed and “make it” in the photography and art world. The drive to succeed motivates me to try harder in other aspects of life.

To refer back to the title, let’s define what both short-term happiness and fulfillment are..

Happiness can be a temporary feeling or showing of satisfaction with one’s possessions, status, or situation.”

So for one thing, this to me can be a temporary but possibly long term feeling of happiness and satisfaction.

For example in terms of wildlife photography ethics, temporary happiness would be purposely provoking a deer or baiting a hawk or owl in order to get a closer and better shot. I would possibly feel good seeing the amazingly close photo at first (no actually, I would feel pretty terrible) but the guilt of stressing the animal would always be on my mind when viewing the image later on.

Another example of being happy or mildly content would be if I photographed the same exact thing everywhere I go in the same way.

Fulfillment is to develop the full potentialities of or to convert into reality.”

Now fulfillment to me is the means to an end of this type of happiness. Fulfilling a goal or end result that proved to be difficult or trying on your willpower. Fulfillment is experimenting with a new subject or tricky lighting situation. Fulfillment is knowing you have invested your time, energy, and creativity into a project and can now reap the rewards. Whether those rewards are intrinsic or extrinsic is up to you, but the lasting positive feelings will stick around.

I am here to seek lessons and struggles, for which I come out on the other side with a perspective and sense of “huh, I just did that difficult thing, hiked many miles with all the gear, waited around until way after dark, and took some photos that might’ve been complete trash, but I’m still learning.”

Some of the less exciting parts of my workflow take effect here too, like editing (sometimes can be a tiresome slog but usually is creatively rewarding) but especially keywording and cataloging image files.

At the end of the day, I believe there is a lesson in everything. The mundane and the imperative. The dull and the important.

Nothing in life is truly time wasted.

My first gallery reception, and the payoff of over six months of preparation.

If anything, it is my fans that have made me a more empathetic person. I have realized over time how creating the art is not so much about satisfying myself, but rather to share images I want others to be impressed by. Creating for myself but ultimately I prefer to see the joy in someone else’s eyes who shares the same interest and enthusiasm for what photos I take.

A walk and talk where I discuss how it feels to manage the various sides of a photography business.

This attention and mild success is never about greed. I take time to appreciate every step of the way and acknowledge those who have been following my journey. Some have tagged along on my travels out in the field, while others got my back by supporting the events I am in.

Photography with friends is a rather different experience that rewards you with incredible images like this you wouldn’t normally get otherwise. (Photo Credit – Jacob Delong)

No one is forcing me to do this, I make the conscious choice and so it is fulfilling to see it happen and manifest. Exactly how I would hope it would.

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The Beginnings of Birding

Birds! One natural progression of hiking out in nature has been an interest in the feathered ones all around the areas in which I roam.

My first successful image of a Ruby-Throated Hummingbird! It was perched just long enough for me to switch lenses in the Golden Hour light before deciding to fly away.

Huffman Prairie Flying Field, July 2019

“Birds to me are a wonderful sight, no other existing experience to me comes close. The definition of a good life is waking up nice and early to view them flitting around the marsh. It’s a wonder that birds have their own agenda, and we are very privileged observers of their world. Fleetless moments are abound wherever! Whether this is the calmness of watching them preen in the pond, to walking around with their babies, to a male and female perched next to each other. All times of year and season bring forth joy in viewing their intricate lives.”

This was my first real good look at a Prothonotary Warbler and I happened to acquire this decent close-up shot of this beautiful migrant. Birding with friends is a great way to share information and check more off your “life list.”

Huffman Metropark, May 2019

The beauty in what is is in their accessibility. Birds are practically everywhere! You can travel to not too far locations to view them, or you can bring them to your backyard with birdseed and suet. There is room for everyone to enjoy them.

The very striking blue and sapphire of this songbird is unmatched during Spring and Summer in Ohio. A rather vocal bird, I heard dozens of them in the treeline as they flew out in the open to a prairie as seen here. It was simply a matter of watching for their habits and setting up gear accordingly.

Bill Yeck Park, May 2019

Everyone who is interested in birding has that “spark bird.” The one or several species that got them interested in this activity. I might have several, particularly larger ones like Great Blue Herons and Red Shouldered Hawk, and then smaller ones like a Ruby Throated Hummingbird. Practically anytime I get to view a new species I am awestruck. Plus, it is addicting to check them off your life list. With so many out there, it is impossible to get bored!

Upon hearing the call of this warbler in the tallgrass prairie, I used a sound technique called “pishing” to bring this curious Common Yellowthroat out into the open.

Huffman Prairie, July 2019

I was already taking up photography when I realized that birds are the most abundant wildlife in Ohio, so it only made sense to study and then photograph them. Purchase or borrow some field guides and read up on all that you can. I have a collection of the free Ohio Division of Wildlife booklets that are nicely laid out for common birds, raptors, waterfowl, warblers and owls.

Quiet, slow observance of birds is the best way to learn more and take better photos. This Blue Grey Gnatcathcer seemed to be really interested in a small tree as it flitted to and from. I soon recognized a small nest built on a tree limb where it was returning to often to bring food.

Glen Thompson Reserve, May 2019

Simply put, we are here today because birds are. Many birds migrate twice a year due to climate and temperature changes. Because of this birds are an important indicator of climate change and will move to hotter/colder climates depending on their preference. Help them out by setting up birdseed feeders in your backyard. This will help the local residents with finding food and certain migratory songbirds will appreciate the rest stop to feed. On top of that you can enjoy some close views of their amazing colors.

I spent the morning at a local pond that is brimming with migratory waterfowl a good portion of the year. This day had me getting my first photos and close-up looks at a Redhead duck. This image shows it splashing about to wash its’ feathers.

Spring Lakes Park, April 2019

Another beautiful aspect of birding is the communal approach, birding is a worldwide language! We are all in this together and so find a group or forum to exchange details and tips. Rare bird hotlines and alerts can be set up for your county or region, and local groups such as this Facebook one for Miami Valley Birding have helped me so much in learning about what’s outside my doorstep. Explore the resources around you then explore the world!

Some of my best views of a personal favorite bird came at a local fen. This Pileated Woodpecker was scaling up this tree and made for an impressive display of size and beauty. Always look at the dead trees and cavities for woodpeckers!

Siebenthaler Fen, May 2019

So grab the binoculars, spotting scope, and maybe a camera.

As always, make sure to get out there!

Happy birding!

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How Videomaking Improves Photography

Being a newcomer to the “vlogging” and filmmaking scene, you have to start somewhere.

Having no prior “formal” education with video production, my only experiences are of an AV club in elementary school and an afterschool video club in high school.

Yet neither really dealt with nature or the outdoors, or vlogging or talking or jump cuts or b-roll or..

You get the point, I was started from ground zero, point A, from essentially nothing.

So then I looked to streaming videos online of my favorite photographers for inspiration. From there I began eruditely consuming content of the photographic greats.

I had been watching some of them for years and realized how much one can pick up on, extracting those editing details and nuances became the launching pad for this next creative outlet in my visual medium.

After mulling over the idea for a couple of months, I started a YouTube channel on New Years Eve of 2018, to be a tad bit cliche (and mildy OCD) this became a new year resolution. Unsure of my total commitment to it would satisfy.

I waited a couple more weeks before committing to putting something out there. See it below.

The very first video I uploaded, a simple slideshow set to music with images from the previous year.

The (real) first video of me in front of the camera was taken a local park I walked to during the peak of winter. Cold and unsure of myself, I simply wanted to film a few bits talking in brief of my background and what I wanted to accomplish with the channel. The camera propped on a tripod and no script in sight, I fumbled over my speech a dozen times before leaving at dark feeling unaccomplished. Almost ready to throw in the towel before I began..

I was reluctant to see myself talk again, so I waited a solid two weeks before even touching that video footage, however this became an important lesson in persevering.

This first step became a lesson in embarrassment, which in turn is a reflection of fear: the fear of being judged. Anytime you put a piece of art out there, there is the agonizing sting of rejection (or even compliments) that await from friends and peers. Yet the main takeaway is that the embarrassment is a sign of growth, it’s humbling! Pursuing a new creative avenue that I never sought to delve into.

If you asked me even a year ago if I wanted to stand in front of the camera rather than stay behind it, I would’ve laughed at you. Yet here I am, making short scripts, planning out visits and having the video workflow move seamlessly with the phototaking and post-processing. At the time of this writing, I am only six months in!

You can't just go waist deep, you have to go over your neck.

So one could say I am creating these videos to push my limits (both creatively and personally) and overcome my fears. A little dramatic to say but it is with sincerity. From shooting on location to editing at home, these projects can be massively exhausting. Pushing through all these uncomfortable feelings towards the the goal at the end. The results are worth it when you and others can enjoy the production.

To see the (fairly mediocre) intro video, look no further.

Six months (and counting) later, I am much more confident when explaining things and talking to the camera, almost to the point that it comes naturally. A monotone inflection is tossed aside when speaking excitedly about the incoming sunset or a potential bird photo. Speak even if your voice shakes!

Besides all this expository rambling, why am I telling you all of this?

Because videomaking gave me the confidence not only in that. but in shooting stills more.

If I could verbalize what I am seeing, then I should be more likely to correctly expose it on a camera, no?

The feeling of recording yourself talking about the subjects helps in slowing down and creating more of a story.

And photographs are about the story after all.

I shoot more with a purpose, as I want to share what I am feeling in that moment to the viewer. If I’m just on burst mode with no rhyme or reason then the photo feels empty.

Another question: Just at what point does a photographer become more of a videographer?

What about a YouTuber?

For me, the photos are always first and foremost as the main focus. Any supplemental footage (called B-roll by filmmakers) is secondary to “the shot.”

Let’s not forget to mention the editing that goes along with the visual creation, this can seriously take up valuable time spent on editing photos and, well, going out with the camera.

As a “one-man army,” all the shooting and editing is down on my own too. We must eventually strike a balance between video and stills, both when in the field and when processing it on the computer.

Obviously YouTube in particular is not a moneypot for most videographers, making only a handful of dollars in ad revenue per month. I view it less as another stream of income, but rather another tool and platform to share my work. This visual format gave me a voice.

Some photographers would argue that a video medium is essential in this day and age to market your work. To some extent I would agree

If you’re still with me up to this point, here are some playlists with which I have made video content. And of course, feel free to subscribe for future uploads. Thanks!

Start from the beginning to see my progression and skills improve, or watch them in whatever order you please.
Editing photos at the home office.
Strictly B-roll footage interwoven over nature scenes, sometimes with music.

Do you believe photographers should dive into video production on top of their regular photos?

Do you have a YouTube channel? Share it with us in the comments.

Good luck shooting (or filming.)

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Stumbling Upon A Herd of Deer

“Live bold, without fear. This is life amongst the deer.”

Giovannie de Sadeleer

Every nature photographer has moments and experiences that gladdens the heart.

This one for me however was a definite “I pulled over for this” moment.

It was May 13th 2017, and I was cycling along the local multi-use bicycle path on a pleasant summer evening. On the route home next to a local nature reserve, a clearing showed me several deer off in the distance.

Why my main purpose was for a simple bicycle ride, I had a small camera bag slung over my shoulder, just in case anything interesting happened to cross my way.

This particular patch of riparian woodlands, dubbed Creekside Reserve, includes countless deer in my explorations, but this herd was the largest I’ve ever seen in one area.

First, a lone deer carefully crept towards me as I stood frozen. There is something stunning about this large hulking mammals. Some of them can be so skittish and shy of humans that they will retreat at the first sight. Others are completely comfortable being near humans and won’t even bat an eye. I attribute this instinct or behavior to hunting season, each one can react differently!

Almost like a horror movie, one by one more deer came out from the treeline not too far away. By my counts there were about fifteen total deer all feeding and looking at what I was doing. I was equally paralyzed shaking and standing in excitement.

Photographically speaking this was “golden hour” light at its best, as these mammals come out in the open during dusk.

These two in particular seemed awfully curious as they slowly crept up towards me. I was camera-ready by this point with a 75-300mm zoom lens attached. Only needing to zoom in at 120mm and using an f-stop of 6.3 to distance these two away from the background more as a portrait. Then with a shutter speed of 1/200 second handheld, and ISO 800 to keep up with the slowly darkening skies. As you can see, 120mm isn’t that far from these ungulates.

While I doubt as was in any real danger, I stood motionless and only twitched my fingers to adjust dials and buttons. Another third deer seemed rather perturbed and kept pouncing and hissing off to the side to provoke me. After over half an hour, the herd passively retreated back into the woods.

Still brimming with adrenaline, I pedaled on home under the night sky.

This encounter is perhaps my favorite moment I’ve shared with these beautiful mammals.

“Going to the woods is going home.”

John Muir

Photographers: What are some of your favorite stories of encountering wildlife? Did you get the shot? Share them down below.

Make sure to get out there!

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A List of Favorite Nature Books

As you can probably tell from this blog, writing is one such interest and passion of mine. So naturally talking about my favorite books related to the subject of nature and photography seemed incredibly poignant.

A majority of these books are ones that combine nature and photography as I obviously prefer those the most. Others are more about the hikes and scenery, while others focus more on the biology of the land.

My preference (both ideally and literally) at this time to stay local (in Ohio) which means the majority are exclusively about the Buckeye state. For your convenience, I have separated the strictly Ohio books from the others.

Save these for a nice rainy spring day or brutally cold winter day. Read up, do your research, and be willing to learn!

Here’s the list hitherto, no affiliate links (affixed photos are not my own) but you may copy/paste the titles and authors into your browser to find them. Enjoy!

OHIO BOOKS

Wild Ohio: The Best of Our Natural Heritage – Jim McCormac, Gary Meszaros

A very satisfying read of natural features in Ohio. The depth of info about the flora and fauna from a well-known naturalist like Jim and photographer like Gary. A page-turner from beginning to end.

A Place Called Aullwood – Its Flowers, Woodlands and Meadows: Photographic Essay – Allan Horvath, Paul E. Knoop, Gail Horvath

A beautifully-told narrative of how Aullwood Garden came to be, the history and married couple who sought to protect this property from outside urban influence. Aullwood became the first nature education center in the country. Fortunately Aullwood is still a stunning place to visit to this day, where the history is alive and well as you take each step through the meadows and garden trails. This piece of land was the Aull’s gift to the world, and must cherish it all that we can.

A Photographer’s Guide to Ohio (Volume 1 & 2) – Ian Adams

A very treasured two-volume guide to nature and scenic photographers in the Buckeye state, I have discovered a number of new locations close to home to explore with the camera and lens. Discover everything from lighthouses, hills and bluffs, forbs and petite waterfalls. There is so much out there that many would be happy to see.

Discovery and Renewal on Huffman Prairie: Where Aviation Took Wing – David Nolin

A story-driven book about local naturalist Mr. Nolin’s experience and knowledge of the famed tallgrass prairie. Huffman Prairie Flying Field is arguably a historical crown jewel of wet meadow and prairie habitat in southwest Ohio, mixed in with a rich history of aviation. The book goes through the entire history of the area from conception, to the Wright Brothers era, to threats of farm and human development, to the way it is protected today.

The Ohio Nature Almanac – Stephen Ostrander

This is practically a bible for the entire state. Jam-packed with trivia, facts, and detailed descriptions for boating, fishing, hiking, hunting, running, and so much more. Listed in detail are state parks, wildlife areas, nature preserves both big and small. A rather thick nonfiction book at around 500 pages, this will surely make you want to get out there and experience all the Buckeye state has to offer.

Natural Wonders of Ohio – Janet Groene, Gordon Groene

If I had to give a perfect example of all things natural in Ohio, this is the book! A bevy of trivia and anecdotal stories and sprinkled throughout the text, as well as listings of state parks, wildlife areas, nature preserves. Locations where one can hike, bike, fish, boat and swim are given, and the information is limitless in this large book.

Much less a book for hikers and more of one for aspiring naturalists and nature enthusiasts. This publication lists out many different nature preserves and state-protected natural areas. Reasons to visit include the typical wildlife viewing and observation, botany studying and other “passive” recreational activities.

50 Hikes in Ohio – Ralph Ramey

A short and sweet book detailing many major (and some smaller) hikes to take all across the Buckeye state. I’ve already done a handful of these on my photography trips however discovered many new-to-me locations to explore.

OTHER BOOKS

Notes From the Field – Tom & Pat Cory

An indispensable guidebook to nature photography of all kinds. Written in the late 1990’s for film, the advice and tips still hold up to this day. Technical knowledge is very useful in this easy-to-read book however I felt myself disagreeing with some of the composition techniques. A fantastic read that is currently out of print.

Deer, Elk & Moose: Grand and Majestic Creatures – Stan Tekiela

Stan’s naturalist background shines in this short photo book, detailing these ungulate’s life cycle every year and season. The variety of photographs at different angles provide a narrative-styled and intimate look into these “grand and majestic creatures” everyday happenings.

The New Art of Photographing Nature: An Updated Guide to Composing Stunning Images of Animals, Nature, and Landscapes – Art Wolfe, Martha Hill

If I had to give an all-around pick for learning nature photography, this would be the book. Reading and “studying” (as I call it) an Art Wolfe book is like taking a master class through the photographer’s lengthy career. A wealth of photos and techniques are shared.

The Art of the Photograph: Essential Habits for Stronger Compositions – Art Wolfe, Rob Sheppard

My favorite book for getting out of a creative rut. This one helps you see the world in a new way. Compositions are everything to creating a compelling image, and this piece of text will challenge and delight you with new ways of seeing.

Photographs from the Edge: A Master Photographer’s Insights on Capturing an Extraordinary World – Art Wolfe, Rob Sheppard

Some of the best photographs have a story, and this photo book is no slouch to that. In fact, the entire premise is to share the stories behind each photo in this book. So much goes into taking an image, and explaining what you cannot see adds so much more to the entire experience.

Earth is My Witness – Art Wolfe, Wade Davis

A career retrospective look at the stunning work of Art Wolfe. Nature, travel and cultural photography are all nicely blended in this publication in a seamless matter, displaying the best this planet has to offer.

Trees: Between Earth & Heaven – Art Wolfe, Gregory McNamee

Learn about the world’s towering giants and experience their size and scale through photographs. The immense size of this photo book really lends itself well to page-spreading trees. Paragraph-filled captions of the spiritual and traditional meanings of trees in each region of the world add a lot of context. Perhaps my favorite example of an impressive presentation of nature photography in a photo book.

Honorable Mentions

Rarely Seen : Photographs of the Extraordinary – National Geographic

Examples, The Making of 40 Photographs – Ansel Adams

Creatures of Change: An Album of Ohio Animals – Carolyn Platt

Grandma Gatewood’s Walk: The Inspiring Story of the Woman Who Saved the Appalachian Trail – Ben Montgomery

Bonus: Favorite Magazines

If shorter magazines are more of your thing, here are some of my top picks for nature, photography and the outdoors in general.

Outdoor Photographer, Birds & Blooms, Birdwatching Magazine, Backpacker Magazine, Bird Watcher’s Digest, Outside, Ohio Magazine, National Wildlife, National Geographic, Audubon, The Nature Conservancy, Smithsonian

Make a visit to your local bookstore or library to find any of these and others.

Happy reading!

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Raising a Bluebird Family

Raising a clutch of Eastern Bluebirds (Sialia sialis) is such an special moment, and no easy task.

Cavity nesting birds face many modern challenges such as invasive bird species to compete with (on top of competing with native cavity nesters. Habitat decline and development also pose a big risk to their survival.

I began my nest box journey in 2018 when I erected a nest box in my backyard. Early spring that year, Eastern Bluebirds were fortunately arriving to the nest box, however halfway through the year a stubborn male House Sparrow took over and made a very messy nest, Bird poop was all over the top and inside and bugs lived in it.

Late summer brought a male House Wren to this abandoned nest box as it sung on top. The wren never attracted a mate and gave up before the cold of winter came through.

Fast forward to early spring of 2019, and the process was starting to look the same.

Little did I know that success was beginning to be found..

I began to see the beautiful little azure birds again, a pair started to check out the box and set up shop.

The first clutch is typically Early April to mid-May. The second clutch is typically from mid-June to mid-July, and there may even be a third clutch in late summer during August.

So here is a day-to-day highlight of the best moments during their nest building, egg laying, and young raising all the way to fledgling. Enjoy!

Some of the photos above are of favorite perches they were seen on, including a nearby antenna, a shed, various fences and a bird feeder pole.

Early May: I’ve been seeing Eastern Bluebirds here and there checking out the nest box. Making sure the habitat is suitable. I have this nest box facing away from the sun and wind. The box is looking towards fairly open grasses in a suburban neighborhoods with no fences. I found it hard to believe but they enjoy this space as much as they would an open meadow or cropland. One of their favorite spots to perch and hunt is from an old antenna tower next door.

This is the time when bluebirds lay a second clutch.

Late May: A very clean cup nest is being made, similar in design to a bluebird nest.

June 7th: Two bluebird eggs are in the nest! I see the parents come and go with nesting material and guarding the nest box.

June 11th: Three more eggs were laid, making a total of five. A typical bluebird clutch is about five to seven.

June 22nd: Still the same five eggs, no hatches yet. Both the male and female hang around the nest box for most of the day. A nearby European Starling (Sturnus vulgaris) was foraging along the ground underneath the nest box. The male flew from his perch and chased the nonnative bird away to a nearby crabapple tree. The male returned to the nest box top a moment later. Safe to say that most birds become very territorial when someone is near their eggs or young.

June 23rd: Eggs must’ve hatched this morning. The male Bluebird was bringing worms and other larvae to the nest box to feed the mouths as well as his partner. Feeding displays of the male and female are observed on top of the nest box.

Due to the sensitivity of the hatchlings, I avoided opening the nest box as much and stopped using flash to take a picture.

June 27th: Finally got a moment to carefully observe the hatchlings in the nest box. The parents still return frequently.

July 1st: The male bluebird is hunting and foraging basically all day as he returns to the nest box with worms and other larvae for the newborns.

Sitting high on a tree branch perch above the nest box. The male will swoop down to the grass below, pluck out a bug and fly back to the nest box.

July 3rd: The hatchlings are growing up fast. Should be ready to fledge soon.

July 7th: A single male House Sparrow (Passer domesticus) floats/flies towards the nest box hole before winging out of the way. The five hatchlings chirp in unison for at least a minute afterwards.

July 8th: Four of the birds have fledged! Upon checking the nest box, one is left behind.

July 9th: The last bluebird fledges and the nest is now empty. Success!

This is why birds are so wonderful, so see their growth and progress truly embeds us as one and the same with them. Leave a comment down below if you enjoyed the article, and share any success (or failure) stories you’ve had with monitoring nest boxes.

Happy Bluebirding!

Nothing else says true love quite as much as sharing a meal together.

If you are interested in supporting Bluebird conservation and all Ohio cavity nesters. I would recommend a donation or yearly membership to the Ohio Bluebird Society or North American Bluebird Society.

To submit your own sightings and reporting of nesting birds, please consider using Cornell Lab’s NestWatch website to log your data for citizen science.

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Is Photography Art?

I have visited a number of fine art galleries big and small over time, and only one so far has said ‘no’ to accepting any photography.

And so recently I visited a local art gallery with a juried exhibition.

The subject matter? Landscapes.

All artistic mediums were accepted, and fortunately I saw a variety of them present: a lot of paintings, sculptures, wall art, ceramics, mixed media, and of course photography.

Photography was in fact well represented, more than half of the exhibit was such.

And what’s wrong with that? Landscape photography is massive at the moment. So much that the industry is bloated with them, admittedly so.

While I enjoyed the both film and digital photos, my annoyance came when viewing the guestbook halfway through the show..

“Too much photos/digital stuff.”

“Too much photography.”

“Where are the paintings?”

With some optimism sprinkled in between such as..

“Nice to see photography being represented well!”

To be honest I felt a little bit offended, and I wasn’t even showing any of my work in this group exhibit! I felt a little sympathetic for the very talented photographers exhibiting.

People have their opinions and that is fine. To be honest I will say I wished there were more landscape paintings involved. Art is simply art to me.

And while none of them said photography isn’t art. It still got me thinking..

what really is Photography?
is it Art?

To start, we need to know what art is; what does that word objectively mean?

Let’s rationally break down what a typical photographer may do in their day-to-day activities and operations.

So, art is defined as…

“Skill acquired by experience, study, or observation.”

In its simplest form of explanation, I go out and press the shutter button. But that’s not it, to make a halfway decent photograph requires a trained eye for pleasing composition and balance. That to me sounds like a skill or set of skills based on experience, study and/or observation.

“An occupation requiring knowledge or skill.”

Photography can and is an occupation for millions of people around the world. Any occupation requires a legitimate set of knowledge and skills in order to finish the task.

I only can improve with making an effort and with time. Studying the works of others and observing my own failed photos helps to become a better photographer.

Even after the shutter capture, I still meticulously edit the image file, then print on the suitable papers, checking all the colors for accuracy. Then choosing a frame and matting that appeals to the photos’ strengths while improving the overall “experience.”

And as I said, many people make a living producing these works or similar, whether for a client on commission or for a gallery.

“The conscious use of skill and creative imagination especially in the production of aesthetic objects.”

This is perhaps my favorite definition for the word. I am taking a tangible three-dimensional reality, for example a old-growth forest, and transferring it to a two-dimensional photograph. There is a conscious need to know what looks right vs. wrong in making a photograph of something real.

Not only that, but the photo must have a stopping-power that only the best can do. Stellar use of contrast, color or subject matter needs to apparent, and that only comes with harnessing a creative imagination.

Now, that image you have created is the production of an aesthetic object. Photos can document and spread awareness or ideas, but at the end of the day they are a means of communication or entertainment. With the photo being an object to admire and appreciate for aesthetic purposes.

“One of the fine arts.”

This is obvious, but a good majority of photography can be classified as “fine art.” To be fine art photography in my opinion is producing an image or print in hopes of selling if after the fact to prospective buyers. In essence, the opposite of commercial photography. I am creating this image first and foremost for myself and with my unique vision, but then intending on someone else to “buy my unique vision” in the form of an open or limited edition print.

You can probably guess, but yes.

I believe photography is an art form, and always will.

Art transcends digital pixels and technology and is no different from using a paintbrush or pastel, which at one point were considered new technology as well.

So with that being said, I personally don’t care what camera you choose to use, or whether you shoot digital or film, full-frame or mirrorless.

The point is, to keep on shooting shutter bugs and f-stoppers.

Photography is alive and well.

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Searching For a Great Horned Owl Nest

Woodman Fen is a gorgeous example of a (now) rare wetland habitat in southwest Ohio.

Where 90% of Ohio in pre-settlement times was comprised of wetlands and prairie, now wetlands have become an important ecosystem to conserve. Fens, bogs and marshes are home to many native flora and fauna that depend on them for survival.

It was mid-April of 2019 and I was on photo trip at nearby Hills & Dales Metropark in the Oakwood area of Dayton. Some passerby hikers told me of some nesting Great Horned Owls in Woodman Fen, they didn’t know specifically where though. With a credible piece of advice, this became my first real attempt at “owling.”

In less than a week I make my way to the fen, scouting out the area in the late afternoon light while asking several other visitors if they’ve seen them around yet to no avail. Every local seems to be aware of owls yet no one knows where to find them.

While waiting for dusk I find myself at a large patch of invasive plant species called Garlic Mustard that are growing along the shaded loop trail around the fen. Their name comes from the aroma given off by the crushed leaves. Macro photography keeps me occupied while I like high up in the trees with every step.

Typical owl nests can be over eighty feet high in the trees, making a good look at them difficult from the fen’s wetland floor. Every semi-large bird flying overhead catches my attention, yet none are the owls.

Great Horned Owls may nest in tree cavities such as this one. This is a hole over seventy feet up in a tree that I looked at through binoculars for a while. I swear I saw an Owl’s face in there!

About 45 minutes before sunset, exhausted and sweaty from the hike, I set out one last time to search for them as they come out to hunt. Going out again with no expectations of sighting any owls, morale was fairly low.

I decide that the better vantage point for viewing would be to hike the very muddy loop trail instead of going straight through the boardwalk. No sooner than five minutes back into the fen, I witness a very large bird very high up on the trees.

My heart sinks, this has to be it. This is an owl.

This is an adult perched with a possible rodent kill, with their excellent hearing, This one is already staring me down. As my first sighting of a Great Horned Owl in the wild, I will never forget that look it gave me. (seen in the images below)

Not long after this sighting is when I hear an immature owlet’s call and see it. The juvenile looked to be almost all grown up and the adult male was helping catch food for it to eat. My assumption is that they were out so early in the night due to a lack of food?

The adult male had some sort of small rodent in its mouth, and as the two images above suggest, must’ve almost dropped it as it struggled to regain its balance on the tree branch.

As the fen grew darker and darker, all I could see was their three silhouettes perched on the same tall tree branch as they waited. I had a few minutes to leave the fen and so I packed it up and left. Under the cover of the night sky and the owlet’s wheezy call in the distance. I drive home with a successful batch of photos, a compelling video, and some memories to last a lifetime.

Fast Forward to 9:26 to hear my in-the-moment reactions to spotting the owls.

All of the photos were taken at 600mm so it goes to show just how far away these owls were!

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Finding Your Photographic Style

A photographic style, kind of like finding your life purpose.

Same day, same sunset. It pays off to turn around for another look!

Style is defined as “a distinctive manner of expression.”

Over the years, I have narrowed my style down to a particular set of guidelines or standards.

To make a metaphor. I see all the muscles as parts that make up your creative style, but they always will flex on the same arm, also known as your body of work.

Like muscles, you have to train and develop those points of interest over time.

Some Ohio naturalists and biologists wanna simply document living species, regardless of the quality of light.

An experiment with panoramas. While the lighting isn’t too exciting, this surely documents the area for future visits with better light.

There is nothing wrong with this! To me photography is the perfect artistic medium where “anything goes.” Nature photojournalism has a powerful niche within that place. Some of my favorite photos do just that, documenting the living things around us.

But one has to wonder when the photojournalism is elevated to an art form.

Personally I want my body of work to stand between these lines. Further blurring fine art and nature photojournalism.

Over the years I realized that I don’t wanna just simply document, at least not always.

I wanna show nature artfully while keeping true to its’ roots.

Describe Your Process of Seeing With Words

I have noticed that I describe the photos to others using one word a lot: juxtaposition.

Juxtaposition is defined as “the act of placing two or more things side by side to compare or contrast to create an interesting effect.”

I enjoy conveying the calm and collected fragility of nature, while sometimes switching it up with jagged and “intense” leading lines. This is one example I noticed throughout my work, a strong use of these straight lines, interwoven with vanishing points and curves.

The above two images were taken in different months, two different locations, two different seasons. Yet I captured them in the same way. Upon seeing the two photos together as prints, the connection became clearer.

Likewise, I enjoy making aimless and meandering pieces of art. The minimalism clashing with the chaotic. Balancing the two in a single image.

The photos display inner details and ideas, while others show everything no matter how beautiful or ugly.

You Won’t Figure This Out Overnight

In order to find your photography style, keep shooting!

I am several years in and just now starting to see patterns and connections in my entire portfolio.

The more you shoot good and (more likely) bad photos, your trained eye will gain a sense of perspective.

Certain people enjoy specific compositions more than others, that same goes for focal lengths, colors, lighting conditions, etc.

Now I personally don’t narrow my portfolio down to a certain white balance and color tone, other photographers achieve this so well. Is a moody color palette with a warm splash of red or orange more of your thing? Own up to it!

It goes without but “what do you like to see?”

More so, “what do you want to see more of?”

What is lacking in the art and photography world? Find a way to carve a definitive niche in the industry.

Your peers and viewers of your work will admire your desire to stand out from the crowd.

One last idea, and this is more of a writing prompt to try.

Write an Artist Statement

Yes, an artist statement can be an oft-forgotten part of the photography world. Typically written by fine art photographers only, I recommend creating your own regardless of genre or niche.

Clearly you shouldn’t copy another’s statement, but read a few others before embarking on your own writing. Get inspired!

Diagonal lines, reflections, horizons. This is a big part of my way of seeing.

Like how this writing piece began, a photographic style is like finding your life purpose.

Never give up that search, those who seek it will eventually find their style.

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A Nature Photographer’s Workflow

Workflow is a topic of debate among many photographers (and any working professionals).

The day starts with a shutter capture…
…and ends with a beautiful photo or a print.


Workflow is by definition; “the sequence of steps involved in moving from the beginning to the end of a working process.”

To put it simply, there is no right or wrong way to approach this.

Every (nature) photographer will have their own unique set of circumstances and steps to the process. Like any well-oiled machine, that process is fine-tuned over the years to suit their needs.

So allow me to briefly list out my way of operating as I currently am. Naturally this entire workflow is flexible and has changed many times over the years. Because of this, I wouldn’t recommend following it verbatim. I am merely looking to show you how I work in order to inform you of ways to improve your own workflow.

This is all about sharing ideas and knowledge, so let’s begin..right at the very beginning.

Planning a photo trip

Decide what you need to bring vs. don’t need.

I research the location(s) I plan on shooting days or even weeks in advance. Searching tooth and comb on resources like Google Maps and the websites of local park districts for my next location. I then look for my next big window of time off I have and I follow through with my plans. It’s important to stick with your plans and not blow it off for friends or because of the weather. Now I’m a bit of an oddity as I plan locations but don’t always plan subject matter. Maybe this is to safeguard any feelings of failure, but I like a nature space to “show me” the subjects I want to shoot. So instead I go there with an idea in mind of what I will see (spring wildflowers, warblers, etc) yet will not be dead-set on a single point of interest.

For example if I’m more than likely shooting wildlife, the telephoto lens will already be attached to the main camera body, ready to go. I will then pick out the clothes from my wardrobe (in this case some Realtree camouflage works well) followed by searching up that location on eBird for whatever sightings have come up recently. Do your research! I bring field guides with me to leave in my car or bag in case I need to quickly identify a species. However, I would much rather use my time out in the field photographing than thumbing through pages, so read up on likely-to-see subjects beforehand.

Wildlife is a special case, however my typical kit includes small telephotos and wide angle lenses for anything else. Landscapes, macro, flowers, insects all require this gear and I wear more “pedestrian” clothes for these cases. Invest in a good pair of waterproof hiking boots! ? A lot of physical and mental prep is needed to make a trip happen. I very rarely just go out at the drop of a hat. If I set aside a day to work on writing or editing, then I do that, regardless of how amazing the weather is outside.

The time it takes

When out in the field. I typically spend half-days (8-10 hours) in the field and full days for trips farther out. Yes, that is dawn to dusk. Trust me, I really don’t feel like getting out of bed at 5am either but once I’m out hiking under the beautiful twilight, then I am reminded why I do this. Typically the half days are either before sunrise to midday noon when the lighting gets very washed out and harsh. I will also wait the morning out and leave home around noon to begin, being out until sunset. These trips work best when I use those first several hours of overhead sun to scout out locations and compositions.

The photo op

This is where the magic happens. The real reason we do what we do!

As you can tell, these trips can have long hours of sweating out in the middle of nowhere. Some days I may see two or three people at most if I’m lucky. A long time may be spent waiting for that bird to move in closer or to strike that fish out of the water. A lot of time may be spent studying the last bit of light in the day as the sun sets. Or when a stubborn wildflower stops moving in the wind so you can get one shot. In short, you have to be a little obsessed, well, very obsessed. You won’t improve much sitting at home, you gotta “get out there!”

The image

For this location I set out to photograph this specific waterfall after heavy rainfall came through the day before.

This is where the conception of an image may take place. A sunrise landscape, a morning heron eating a fishy breakfast in the mist. By noon I am typically either packing up for the half-day or scouting locations out for a full-day which I’ll shoot later on.

After capture

I get home and either immediately plug the cameras in the computer or wait a day or two to “see with a new set of eyes.” That all depends on if I was outdoors all day or not. Generally I want to make a copy or backup of my files soon after capture. Whatever suits you is fine.

Copy & Backup

I will open up my RAW files one by one in order. Carefully checking for things like (under or over) exposure or the focus. Delete the ones that a definitely not worthy of space on your hard drive. Then make a list of the ones you wish to edit and which ones get cut. Be ruthless! Only put time into your best shots and scrap the rest. I write the file names down on a small white board. Ex. if the filename is IMG_1234.CR2 then I will write “1234, the next file…” and so on until I’ve looked through the whole memory card once or thrice. Try your best not to let photos pile up on the memory card without backing up and editing them!

I have several means of storing my files, I recommend three separate storage spaces. Two of mine are local; the main computer hard drive and an external hard drive connected to the computer at all times. I have read of clogging up a computer’s HDD to slow down the entire operating system however I haven’t found that to be true. I manually sync a select number of folders a couple times a week to the external drive.

The third backup is cloud-based, and it’s my website. Fortunately Smugmug has unlimited photo storage space. Should either one of my other drives fail then I still have my best work up in the cloud. RAW files originals on the local end go into folders separated by year-month-location.

I typically need to decompress my head before looking at what I just took so I wait a bit. As said above I sometimes don’t get to editing the images for up to a week! However when I come back to them, all the joy and excitement comes flooding back to me of being in that moment. That means it’s time to edit!

Post Processing

Here is a video playlist of images I have edited.

I will open up my software of choice; Skylum Software‘s Luminar 3 for single images and Aurora 2019 for HDR brackets. Working through the images one at a time from my list. I stick to a select few adjustment sliders that work contrast, HSL (for saturation), exposure, sharpness, etc. Never spending more than five minutes on a single image. To me, the more time spent on a single file, the more overproduced it will become.

Cataloging & Sorting

Up on the website they go!

I typically edit way more images than I plan to upload to the website. This is to ensure I get a variety of perspectives and colors, including converting some to black and white. After exporting each one as a JPG file at 80% quality, I then use a software to reduce that file size without degrading quality. This helps with file transfers, long term storage space, and with website load times.

Next step is a matter of handpicking which of these narrowed down files will land a coveted space on the website. While I have unlimited storage space on Smugmug, I still only want to show my best work in the public portfolio. I upload the “keeper” shots on the website while all the outputted JPG files are moved to local folders separated by subject matter i.e. Macro, Landscapes, Water on the desktop computer.

Filenames are given in regard to the main subject. Typically this is the acronym followed by a number. A wildlife image with a specific species will differ from a landscape shot. For example, the fifth Northern Cardinal image I have edited ever will have a filename of NC_05.jpg or something along those lines. Find what works for you.

Keywords becomes another thing to consider, I only apply keywords to the website-bound images. Using a simple word document file with a list of keywords for each gallery, copying and pasting it for each respective photo. I fill in any other details like locations, subject scientific names (if it applies) and photo titles. Also to rearrange the flow of the galleries with these new tenants. Basically we want to make everything look pretty and uncluttered.

Printing & Final Thoughts

One last step, and this is a big optional one, is to print your work.

I do a lot of printing myself and find it just as satisfactory as taking the image itself. Using a Canon iP8720 to print borderless as large as 13×19 and as small as 4×6. This is obviously not required to produce a photo.

For me, printing is something I mull over for a while (potentially weeks or months) before considering which photos get to grace the ink and paper. This is a whole other topic that is worthy of its’ own blog post, so I’ll just leave it at that.

Hopefully this has been a clear and detailed look into my workflow. Like mentioned at the beginning, this is a snapshot in time as the process is always evolving and changing.

If you’re a beginner, then don’t stress too much over finding a way to operate your craft. These matters will come naturally to you with time.

Until next time, happy trails and get shooting!

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The Hike is as Important as the Photo

There, I said it.

This is the perfect example of persistence. An all-day solo backpacking trip around the lake and woods ends with the sunset spectacle seen here. I could’ve packed up and left midday but I felt the need to wait it out. I’m glad I listened to that gut feeling.

Nature photography and hiking go hand in hand. I first started hiking mainly on my own as a way to reflect on life and to enjoy all the senses that a natural space can bring. At this time, the physical action of getting outside to places I love was the goal.

Soon after I started bringing a camera along on my bike rides and walks. The camera and any photos were a recording of memories. The experience was what I was after, capturing it on digital pixels was the byproduct. As long as I could get outdoors as often as possible, I was happy and content.

The photo is a means to an end; the end result. But an amazing image needs a compelling story to back it up. Without it, the entire cohesive piece of work feels hollow. A two-dimensional picture paired with a two-dimensional story is a failed experiment.

When starting out, I narrowed my photographic interests down to nature because there is a timeless quality to nature. Look throughout historical texts and old paintings, nature has always been omnipresent in life. While fashion trends in advertising photography come and go every year, nature is constant. A good nature photograph never loses its’ appeal.

Minimalist Sunset Landscape

Every now and again I lose my way in the vast sea of voices echoing the same photos and stories around the internet and beyond. It can be all too easy to fall into the trap of believing that your work is too similar to others. Be inspired, but seek out your lane to drive in. Humans love authenticity. Own up to it.

The photo is a great visual reaction to the hike, but the adventure is the reason I move.

Hiking all day for miles and really seeing how the light will interplay with the landscape harnesses my creative ability more than a photo would.

A majority of my trips in the field result in nothing too interesting happening. I can recall many days where I’d be out 8 to 10 hours at a time and turn up with 50 .raw files total, and about half of those are bracketed so about less than 20 different and unique images. Then, how many of those are worthy of a space on the website? Maybe two or three if I am lucky.

The hunt and search for that perfect image comes at the expense of work, and hard work at that. Likewise, there will be times of luck and being in the right place, right time. Overall I never got anywhere sitting on my butt at home. Expand your worldview, travel and see what is really out there.

The story comes to matter just as much as the photo. Remember, the byproduct. All parts are what make it whole. So, maybe in a way..

The journey is more important than the end.

Another example of revisiting the same spot several times in a day to understand how the light affects the camera. By the day’s end, I was gifted with this gradient lighting.

Thoughts or opinions? Let’s get a discussion going.

Thank you for reading.

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