Articles from: July 2011

Wildlife Etiquette

This week’s guest blogger James Borden, James is a Wildlife Photographer from Springville, PA

As a child I was fortunate to grow up in a very rural area and to have a family that valued wildlife and the great outdoors. I was taught to be a hunter, a fisherman and a wise user of our natural resources.  I was taught stewardship and some very basic ethics about interacting with wild animals. Years later those lessons have served me well as a wildlife photographer. 

My ventures with outdoor and wildlife photography have exposed me to many people in the outdoors and I have observed a wide range of behaviors in regard to viewing and photographing wild animals.  Occasionally some of those behaviors are bothersome. 

Living in an area that is hunted heavily has taught me to use patience, diligence and some very basic behaviors for getting wildlife images.   My wife and I use camouflage, blinds, hides, ghillie suits, scent masking compounds along with behaviors that allow us to stalk close to wildlife.  We have also been in National and State Parks that have animals that are more acclimated to humans (e.g. Baxter, Shenandoah, and Yellowstone).  We have found that our behaviors get us even closer to wildlife without stressing or alarming them.  Careful movements coupled with indirect approaches helps get those highly valued wildlife shots.

On a recent trip to Big Meadows at Shenandoah,  I was able to observe many others who obviously had not been around many truly wild animals.  They walked directly at the animals and made direct eye contact with them.  I could tell the animals were stressed by their behavior (bobbing heads, look away and then look quickly at the people, nervous foot motion and then short flight).  We watched one individual chase a doe and three fawns over 700 yards across the meadow trying to get pictures of them. If he had only stopped, setup low and waited, that doe and fawns would have fed right around him and he would have gotten the images he desired.  We watched as a young lady spent the first part of the morning directly approaching does and fawns with her camera. The animals would flee a short distance and she would directly approach them again only for them to flee once more.  She did this for almost an hour before coming back to where some of us were setup.  She then spotted a doe we had been watching for quite awhile and she took off right after it. She chased that one around the meadow for 15 minutes or so until the doe got agitated, hid the fawn and departed for the woods.  She not only interfered with other photographers and people observing that doe and fawn, she stressed that deer and fawn. 

I have found that wearing camouflage or at least dark or natural colored clothing is a great help in being able to get close to wild animals.  One important aspect is that our forms are “broken up” so that our movements are less easily detected.  I have a large lens and tripod and sometimes resort to carrying it over my shoulder, but have found it better to carry it in front of me or to my side as it is less likely to alert a deer, moose or elk.  I recommend careful movements that take an indirect route to the animal.   Also important is taking cover when available, this allows you time to setup and to observe the animal and learn its behavior.   

Looking directly at the animal and directly approaching it will quickly put it on alert and the animal will move or bolt when the comfort zone has been penetrated. That comfort zone is dependent on how acclimated the animal is to humans.  That direct approach also results in a lack of good images as when one stops to setup tripod and get camera ready, the animal recognizes the change in behavior and most likely will move a little further away or in the case of animals that are not acclimated, they will flee. Using these techniques and a little patience, I was able to come home with about 500 to 600 keeper shots of fawns, does and coyotes from Shenandoah while others struggled to get anything at all chasing around the meadow.

It is my hope that learning to have a little patience, taking the time to observe the animals behavior and using a few of the techniques I mentioned above, you will come home from your next trip with better images and a better experience!

Sunflowers Abound at McKee-Beshers

This week’s guest blogger is Corey Hilz!

The McKee-Beshers Wildlife Management Area is prime shooting for fields of sunflowers in mid-July. Located in Western Montgomery County, it offers photographers easy access to rows upon rows of sunflowers. So if you’re in the Washington DC area, beautiful sunflowers are close to home. The photo opportunities at McKee-Beshers range from capturing the expanse of sunflowers to individual flower portraits and close-up details. 

The area is open from sunrise to sunset, and there is no entrance fee. It can be busy on the weekends with other photographers, but if you can go during the week things will be much quieter. However there are plenty of sunflowers to go around, so even with lots of photographers there is plenty of room for everyone (you just might find your wide angle options limited). I like to get there first thing in the morning, getting in my shooting before the heat of the day arrives. If you arrive at sunrise you’ll have time to photograph the sunflowers in soft diffused light before the sun breaks over the tree line. Once the sun is on the fields, take advantage of the warm early morning light. Front, back and side lighting can all be used effectively, but shooting the sunflowers backlit can be particularly dramatic. First thing in the morning is also a great time to look for bees on the sunflowers because they’re more likely to be still. Once the sun starts to warm things up the bees will begin moving about at their regular frantic pace, making them harder to photograph.

Some years the sunflowers grow quite tall and you may find it handy to bring along a step stool to give yourself a little more height to get up to eye level (or higher) with the sunflowers. Even a simple milk crate can give you the needed height advantage. I’ve also seen photographers bring ladders – now that’ll definitely put you up on top! If you’re using a tripod along with a step stool or milk crate, remember your tripod needs to extend high enough to reach your new height. It’s no good if the step stool puts you seven feet tall, but your tripod only goes to five feet.

Recommended equipment:

-wide angle lens for scenes of the fields

-telephoto lens for sunflower portraits

-macro lens or closeup accessories (extension tubes, screw-on close-up lens) for sunflower details

-polarizing filter


-diffusers and reflectors to soften the light and fill in shadows with flower portraits and details

 Bring along some insect repellent as the mosquitos can be out in force. Also there are no facilities at McKee-Beshers.

 See the website for additional information and directions:

Corey Hilz is a professional photographer specializing in nature and travel photography. He is a published author and his work is seen in magazines, books, calendars and catalogues, as well as in art galleries. Corey finds the diversity in nature offers boundless opportunities for new images. He approaches his subjects with an artistic eye, looking for a fresh perspective. Corey has a passion for helping others improve their photography by sharing his knowledge through group and private instruction. He offers workshops and classes in the Washington DC area on various photography and software topics, plus leads workshops to locations in the United States and abroad. Follow Corey on Facebook and Twitter, plus find out more about workshops and classes on his website:

Kenilworth Gardens

 This week’s guest Blogger is Debbi Koplen.  Debbi is  a member of the Vienna Photographic Society.

If you’ve never been to Kenilworth Park and Aquatic Gardens before, you will be delighted to find this 14 acre oasis filled to the brim with lotus flowers and water lilies, frogs, turtles, heron, hawks, blackbirds, geese, butterflies and dragonflies.  It also boasts a river trail and a boardwalk with observation platforms along the marsh that offer spectacular birding and wildlife sightings all year long.  The park is nestled among the wetlands of the Anacostia River in northeast Washington, D.C.  A Civil War veteran purchased 37 acres of this land in the late 1800’s and cultivated it into a magnificent water garden that now operates under the National Park Service. 

 The lotus flowers are generally in full bloom by the first week of July, but lotus and other various water garden flowers are present from May through August.  The best time of day to photograph the flowers is early morning before the temperature hits 90 degrees and long before the sun is high in the sky.  The blossoms will literally close up in the extreme heat and not re-open until the next morning, and a high sun will cast harsh, unwanted shadows on your subject.  The optimal time to photograph in the park is under an overcast sky in the morning.  If you are lucky enough to arrive just after a light rain, the water droplets will add another interesting dimension to your images.

Although a torrent of photographers show up mid-summer to capture the garden’s beauty, the park is large enough and the ponds and flowers are numerous enough to allow for the capture of images without background distractions.   

I recommend shooting with a telephoto or macro lens for optimal images, and to use a tripod at all times.  A polarizing filter is necessary to reduce glare on the foliage.  There is often a slight breeze in the park so a shutter speed of at least 1/500th of a second is often critical in getting sharp images.  You may want to experiment with depth of field for varied looks of the same scene by shooting wide open at f 2.8 (or as wide as your lens will allow) and then bracketing your way down to f 8 or f 11 or more.  You may also want to use fill flash to fill in shadows.

The park rangers state that you are more likely to get bitten by a mosquito in your backyard than in the gardens, but I recommend wearing insect repellent just the same. I also recommend bringing sunscreen and water (the park has no vending machines, but last time I was there, the water fountains were operating), and wear closed-toe shoes due to geese droppings and the unlikely event of a snake on the walking path.

There is a small Visitors Center with bathrooms and there are picnic tables if you want to picnic there.

The walking paths are level and fairly wide, but the ground gets mushy and soft around the edges of the ponds after a rain.  There are no fences around the ponds themselves, so keep an eye on small children if you have them in tow.

Admission is free and there is ample free parking.  It is about a 10 minute walk from the Deanwood Metro station to the park, but the official website does not advise coming by Metro.  If you do come by Metro, an internet poster advises that you walk out of the Polk street exit, and then walk over the ramp across the highway and down Douglas Street until you get to Anacostia Avenue.  Make a right, walk a block and the entrance to the park will be on your left.   I have never personally come by Metro so I can’t verify these directions. 

Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens (1550 Anacostia Avenue, NE) is located in northeast Washington, DC, near the Maryland boundary along the tidal Anacostia River. The entrance to the Aquatic Gardens is just west of I-295 (Kenilworth Avenue), between Quarles and Douglas Sts., on Anacostia Ave. It is open daily from 7:00 am to 4:00 pm. For more information call 202/426-6905. The Gardens are not within close proximity to a Metro station.

Debbi Koplen is the founder and organizer of Pixel Pals, a group of photographers made up of mostly women, who go on many causal half or full-day local shooting excursions throughout the year. There is no fee to join the group. Just send Debbi an email and let her know you want to become a Pixel Pal member. Debbi formed the group because she believes in safety in numbers for female photographers.

Debbi can be reached at: 

Galapagos Sea Lions

This week’s guest blogger is Denise Ippolitio,  Denise is a freelance photographer, artist and writer living in NJ.  Denise will be speaking at this year’s Expo.


1/250 sec. at f/11, ISO 640, Canon 100mm-400mm lens @135mm, hand held.

In July of 2010, I co-lead a 2 week Galapagos photo cruise with Arthur Morris, one of the premier bird photographers of our time. We cruised around the many islands on a small yacht “The Beagle” visiting several of the Islands that make up the Galapagos. The one that stood out to me was Gardner Bay, Hood Island, which is the southernmost island of the archipelago called Espanola. With our anchored vessel we tendered to shore. Our group arrived on the long white sandy beach of Gardner Bay, where colonies of sea lions bask in the sun. Artie said there are more than 200 Galapagos Sea Lions with pups there during the month of July. One thing I enjoyed about photographing on the beach is that you can go barefoot and bring a short telephoto zoom lens. I always like to get down on the ground and shoot hand held, this style of photography really appeals to me. I was able to move about freely and get in close for some intimate views of these beautiful creatures.

 As I walked down the beach I stumbled upon the pair of sea lions pictured above. Their intimate behavior caught my attention so I immediately started to think of how I was going to compose the image. I wanted to include a bit of the environment with the beautiful soft colored aquamarine ocean so I got down to a seated position. I was careful not to disturb them as I liked the way the one sea lion was embracing the other. I tried several compositions before being content with this one. I added an Orton Effect in Photoshop to add a slight soft glow to the image.


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