Catching Up...

It's been a while since I've posted here in my journal. A lot has been going on... and most of it is good!

I just spent a week down in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas photographing birds. Alan Murphy is arguably one of the best avian photographers in the world. I've always drooled over his work and have had attending one of his workshops on my bucket list for years. It was everything I expected... and more!

I think attending a workshop is good for photographers of all levels. These workshop leaders have been going to these places for years. They know the right times and the right places to get you on whatever subject matter you want. My workshop was all about birds... and we saw plenty.

I made over 15,000 clicks during this workshop. After being home for a couple of weeks, I've paired this down to about 2,500 files. I was concentrating on shooting birds in flight and bird interactions. I wasn't disappointed. I'll be shocked if I don't find at least 100 portfolio quality images.

This workshop was limited to 5 participants. I really enjoyed shooting with these guys. All were seasoned shooters who lived, breathed, and dreamed about birds for 5 days. It was a great experience for me and I plan to do another workshop soon. 

This image is a pair of Red-wing Blackbirds interacting. It was the first file I fully processed, and I wanted to share it with you today. I like it... but I have many more that I feel are much better.

 

Red-Wing Blackbirds  Hidalgo County, TX

Happy New Year!

I'm SO glad 2017 is over! There's no need to dwell or reflect on it. I'm moving on...

Sharon and I always spend three days at the Crane House Retreat (http://www.cranehouseretreat.com)   every year when the Whooping Cranes are here on the Coastal Bend. It usually happens on the weekend after Thanksgiving. This year we had the wonderful opportunity to spend New Year's Eve, New Year's Day, and the next day out there... and it was perfect. 

The weather was COLD! It was OVERCAST! Everything else there was just perfect. There was a mating pair of Whooping Cranes there just about all day every day. They didn't have a colt with them this year. There was also a pair of Sand Hill Cranes with them most of the time. We'd bundle up and sit in the screen porch and watch all of the action. There were also 30 or 40 feral hogs and plenty of deer always right there in front of us. It was very "aquarium-like"!

The weather kept me from making too many photographs. It was just to cold and windy. But we had a perfect time. The Crane House is so special for us. Having the chance to welcome in 2018 there was a dream come true...

"Out Of The Fog"  Johnson Ranch  Lamar, TX

 

 

 

The Ranch...

I still haven't gone back out there. The contest ended on June 11, 2017. Hurricane Harvey came on August 25, 2017. Two significant events... two separate reasons!

I fell in love with the Ranch the very first time I went out there in 2012! It was beautiful... 3000 acres of diverse South Texas land. It has fields, hills, streams, lakes, forests, barns, fences, and even a river with a resaca. Truly a "little slice of Heaven right here on Earth!"

I was pretty burned out when the contest ended. I had a lot of "shooting days", and it took a toll on me. As much as I loved driving through the gate and being "OTR" (on the ranch), I was tired. It felt like going to work... and it was work. I needed a break...

And then Hurricane Harvey came in August. My life and the Ranch will never be the same for going through that experience. I'm bouncing back and have returned to a more or less normal life. Yes... they're putting a new roof on my house as I write this. And yes... there is still a LOT of hurricane evidence remaining all over this town. But I can see things getting better every day.

Wade (owner of the Ranch) tells me how bad it is out there on the Ranch. The hundreds of very old oak trees that have been growing out there forever took a real beating. Two barns and a house were lost. It's bad. I need to get out here and see it for myself. I'm just not ready...

This is an image of one of my favorite places on the Ranch. These Live Oaks have provided canopy from the hot sun for both humans and animals. I haven't the slightest idea of how it looks today. All I know is that on this morning when I stood there and watched the rising sun cast those long shadows I knew I needed to make this image. I'm glad I have it...

The Ranch  Refugio County, TX

First Step...

Yesterday was a very important day for me, the local art community, and the entire city of Rockport. 

The Rockport Center for the Arts has reopened in a small building at 106 S. Austin Street. And even more exciting, yesterday was "Exchange Day" in the Member's Gallery. It actually wasn't an exchange day because the old RCA building was lost to Hurricane Harvey. 

Building Front with logo small _003_.jpg

Every year the RCA hosts a big exhibit for it's members. It called Currents 2017: The All Member's Show. Yesterday from 1:00 pm to 4:00 pm, artists took their art to this quaint little building and registered to display in the exhibit. A juror will select 5 artists to be the Merit Artists for the year. A 6th artist will be chosen by the public as the People's Choice. It's a big deal...

It was so much fun seeing how excited everyone was there. The RCA Staff and volunteers wee there receiving the art from the artists. In a day or 2, everything will be hung and hopefully open to the public for viewing. This will be a huge step forward in getting our community back to a bit of normalcy.

OK... Here's my entry. It's an image of a Redhead drake that I made for the Wildlife In Focus contest. It will be published in the next book. I like this image a LOT, and hope it continues to be good to me...

"Redhead"  Refugio County, TX

It's Really Time This Time...

This is really hard for me to admit. I'm really not sure why... but it is.

I know I'm not alone feeling this way, but I'm a bit depressed. It's been almost 12 weeks since Hurricane Harvey changed our lives and town... and I just guess I'm feeling and acknowledging the mental effects of that experience. 

No... I'm not sitting in the corner in a fetal position. But I feel different than normal. I'm not sure I have a "normal" setting... but what I'm feeling isn't right. It's almost like I'm ready for all of this to be over. It's NOT! And honestly... it's going to take a LONG time for things to get dramatically better here in Rockport. 

I'm not alone. Almost everyone I know thats even remotely in my life is feeling the same way. We want our town and our lives back to a kinder and more gentle time. Thats my heart speaking. My mind knows differently. This is our reality...

I can do only what I can do to help myself. I have been shooting more in the last few weeks... and that helps a lot. I'm beginning to feel more creative and hungry to make fine art photographs again. Just journaling about this is good for me. 

Today is the day I stop grieving and get on with my life. There are so many things that I need to be doing right now. I will not be a victim. I will be a survivor...

This is a female Red-winged Blackbird I photographed during the contest. She was feeding on some of the grasses that grow near the banks of the resaca. The wind was howling that morning and I was mesmerized by watching her try to eat. I like this image a LOT. Enjoy...

Female Red-winged Blackbird   Refugio County, TX

"Estes Flats Magic"

It WAS a magical morning! I had forgotten how much I enjoy setting up my gear in the darkness of night. Just me and a million mosquitos... alone!

It's always exciting to wait for the shutter to close during a long exposure. Most of the time I can get it right on the second or third try. Not this morning. I made one exposure for this shot. This is a 30 second exposure at f/4 with an ISO of 800. Of course I used a tripod... and of course I used a shutter release. 

It was 5:30 in the morning and I couldn't see much except for some lights over on Port Aransas. I knew it was cloudy because squalls of rain had been rolling over Estes Flats for over an hour. Without my flashlight, I couldn't even see this fishing pier. But I knew it was there... and I knew where I wanted it in my frame. 

It feels so good to be back doing what I love. It takes me away from dealing with insurance claims and scheduling contractors. It's MY time... just me alone with the mosquitos!

 

"Estes Flats Magic"  Aransas County, Texas

 

 

Starting Over

My life is different now. I feel differently about some things. My priorities have changed...

Hurricane Harvey made a direct hit on Rockport, Texas on Friday, August 25, 2017. I've lived here almost 10 years... and it broke my heart to drive back into Rockport on Monday, August 28. You can't imagine what this town looked like that day... and I want to forget. But I never will!

We went almost three weeks without electricity here where I live. The internet was restored yesterday. Slowly... ever so slowly... it's getting better. People are putting their lives back together. Every day something good happens here to give people hope. A store or restaurant reopens. A huge pile of debris gets hauled off. it's the little victories like these that keep lifting your spirit. 

I just didn't feel like making art for the last month. I wasn't inspired. I tried to direct myself in other areas. Areas much more important than brand or self promotion. Sometimes it's good to realize that you personally are not the center of the universe. Actually... it's ALWAYS good to feel that way!

Everyone deals with a life event of this magnitude differently. For me it provided the opportunity to reassess whats really important in my life. My family... my neighbors and friends... my community... and my God are now MUCH more important to me. I'm not saying that they weren't important before August 25, but it's different now. I'm slowing down and smelling the roses. I'm going to be more thankful for what I have. 

I hope that I will be a better photographer going forward. That would be nice. I love being an artist and bringing joy to others through my art. But more importantly, I want to be a better husband... a better friend... and a MUCH better citizen of this wonderful town. 

This is an image of Water Street in Rockport that I made before the hurricane. Sadly, it doesn't look this way any longer. It'll come back some day... but not today!

 

Water Street   Rockport, TX

Here We Go...

I've been doing a lot of good things over the last three weeks. I just haven't had time to journal about it...

Most of my gear was filthy after shooting the Wildlife In Focus contest. Even though I take really good care of my bodies and lenses, they took a real beating this year. I've cleaned everything I can, and will be sending a Canon 1Dx and a Canon 5DsR body back to Canon Professional Services for a thorough cleaning and inspection. They always return my gear in perfect condition. I've actually checked serial numbers to make sure they didn't send me NEW product back. 

One of the things on my to-do list is to get more active with my drone. One of the problems I've always had was the glare on my iPad screen as I flew my Phantom 3. I recently found... and ordered... a hood that should be perfect. I plan to give it a try this week and will let you know how it works.

No interest on my part to try and photograph the eclipse happening later today. I guess I don't understand why so many folks want to photograph this event. Yes... it will be cool to safely observe the eclipse. But setting everything up and trying to memorialize this escapes me. That's just me...

OK... time to get to work organizing things!

Cattle Egret  Refugio County, TX

 

 

The Time Has Come Today

I just haven't done much with my photography since finishing up the Wildlife In Focus contest. Honestly... the 2017 contest was a real grind on me. But i'm starting to feel like I'm ready to grab my gear and start shooting again. It's time...

So here is my plan. Wednesday morning I'll set up and see if I can get a decent sunrise. I'm not going far from home... maybe 500 yards as the proverbial crow flies. It's a great spot that I've used a lot over the years. It's nurturing...

I think I'm a better photographer now. We'll see on Wednesday...

 

 

I Tried...

I tried hard to work this handsome Redhead drake portrait into my final portfolio for the 2017 Wildlife In Focus contest, It didn't happen...

I've liked this image ever since the magical morning I made it. It was truly a "reverse perfect storm" scenario... great first light and no wind. I had crawled into this tiny blind and was laying on my stomach inches away from the water. I had to lay there for over an hour until dawn.

Getting into that blind in the dark scared me to death. My biggest fear was that a snake, or even an alligator, might have decided to bed down in there. We see both of these on this pond frequently. But there was no other way to be in place before the ducks started to move around at dawn.

I was rewarded that morning with over 2000 clicks of these beautiful ducks. It really was hard choosing only 3 for the contest. As much as I like this fellow, I believe the others are better. We'll see...

Redhead Drake  Refugio County, TX

Old Dog... New Trick?

Yes... You CAN teach an old dog a new trick! And this image is a good example.

I made the original version of this file over 5 years ago. Even though my editing skills were pretty basic at that time, I managed to sell "Enchanted Oaks" many times. Maybe my patrons were just being kind!

I took another look at this file several days ago and decided to completely reprocess it. The original had a bluish tint that I thought looked good. I color balanced and reset the white balance of the image and it looked much better.

There were also some distracting elements in the original that I just didn't have the expertise to remove. There's a chain linked fence in the trees that I didn't like. Now that I regularly use Photoshop in my workflow getting the fencing out of the frame was a snap. 

I like the newer iteration of "Enchanted Oaks" a lot better than the original. It was rewarding to take this old file and put some new life into it.

 

"Enchanted Oaks"  Rockport, TX

What To Do Now?

Of course I'm kidding! While I'm missing going out to the ranch every day... I have PLENTY of things to do here in and around Rockport.

I do have several ongoing commercial projects that I'll be able to dedicate more of my time to now that the Wildlife In Focus contest is over. I'm also spending some of this time reviewing some of the image files I've "collected" over the years. I've decided not to be an image "collector" any longer...

So what does THAT mean? That means I'm seriously culling out files I know I'll never use... want... or need EVER again. Most of them just live on external hard drives and take up storage space. This process also allows me to really get all of my "keepers" named properly and organized in places where I can immediately get to them. 

I'm also finding seasoned files that I'd like to try and reprocess. I LOVE editing photos. It's one of the things I like the best. As my editing skills have improved over the years, I find I can go back and put some new life in these old images.

This is an image of Cove Harbor Marina taken from the boardwalk. I gave it some love this morning and feel pleased with this new version. And yes... I culled a lot of similar files this morning!

Cove Harbor Marina  Aransas County, TX

 

 

Today Is THE Day!

This journey stated on January 15, 2017... and it's going to end some time mid-morning today! My final portfolio of 100 images for the Wildlife In Focus photography contest is ready for submission. My job is done...

And now we wait. These images won't even be seen by the judges until August. And the we wait again until October when the awards are announced. It's a long time to wait around...

Actually I'm not waiting around for anything. This contest is over for me. I've done everything I can do. Once I give them my files today, it's 100% out of my hands.

I'm moving on! I have projects I want to shoot...

Blue-winged Teal Drake  Refugio County, TX

This Feels Good!

OK... For the first time in 6 years, I didn't spend yesterday getting set up for the Rockport Center For The Arts Fourth of July Art Festival! And guess what? It DOES feel good...

Setting up and breaking down my display tents were always the hardest on me. And as I got older, it became more and more like hard work. It was the in-between of those two activities I loved. 

I always enjoyed having the patrons come by to look at my art. It was fun to watch people's reactions to my display. Normally I never get to meet my patrons. I sell my art in galleries I don't own. The gallery owner usually calls and says they have sold one of pieces and I never know the buyers. 

So today I'm going to be a patron myself. I'll go over to the Festival and casually walk around. I'm looking forward to talking with the artists and maybe even buying a piece of two! Much more fun...

Common Grackle   Refugio County, TX

Personal Time

For the last 6 years, these last few weeks leading up to the 4th of July weekend have been crazy for me! But not this year. Instead of trying to get ready for the Rockport Center for the Arts Art Festival, I'm doing other things...

Don't get me wrong. I'm still busy...but not busy preparing art and unpacking display tents. And you know what? I'm feeling so good NOT doing that!

I am still finishing up my final portfolio for the Wildlife In Focus contest. I'm taking my time and making sure I have everything just right. I haven't the slightest idea of what the judges will think, but I really feel good about some of the images. We'll see...

This Little Blue Heron appears to know how to relax and take care of himself/herself. Preening is important for birds in order to keep their feathers clean and straight. I watched this one preen for over 30 minutes. Afterwards there were a few yawns and this heron flew off to hunt. But it did rest for a while.

Maybe theres a life lesson here...

Little Blue Heron  Refugio County, TX

The Good Life

I'm feeling good!

 Finally I seem to have control over both my personal and professional schedule once again. Yep... this does feel good!

It does still seem odd not to be driving out to the River Ranch every day. I do love that place... and I'll miss seeing it so often. But having all of this discretionary time is great. 

OK... short and sweet today. I have things I want to do...

Reddish Egret   Aransas County, TX

From Fear To Respect

One of the side benefits of competing in the Wildlife In Focus competition is being forced to get out of your personal and professional comfort zones. Normally I NEVER place myself in situations where I'm no longer at the top of the food chain. But nature photography sometimes takes you there...

I didn't grow up being around alligators...not that many of us did. Once I started spending a lot of time on the River Ranch in Refugio County, TX, that quickly changed. There are a lot of ponds and even a resaca of the Mission River on this 3000 acre ranch. And yes...every one of them hold "gators". I see these magnificent animals every time I'm on the ranch. I've reached the point where I can spot just their eyes and snout poking out of the water. 

It's when I'm walking around the perimeter of these waters that the hair sticks up on my neck. Maybe I've seen too many videos of big gators bursting out of the water grabbing some unsuspecting thirsty prey. The gators usually win those encounters.

But I'm better now that I've been exposed. Intuitively I know that the chance of me getting grabbed are low. NOT nonexistent... just low. My fear has ebbed a bit and I now have a healthy respect for these reptiles. Now snakes...thats a whole different story!

River Ranch  Refugio County, Tx

 

The Last Rodeo

OK! I'm done. The shooting window in the 2017 Wildlife In Focus photography contest has closed. Thank God...

Committing 5 months of your life to a single photography project is difficult in a lot of ways. Your "real life" gets in the way many of those days. Dealing with that reality is challenging. It's like walking a tight-rope...or maybe even a gang plank. Yes... "that is important but so is this", is a mantra I found myself mumbling over and over.

You learn a lot about yourself when you literally spend hours and hours alone trying to fill some, any, or all of the 59 different categories. Many of them are subjects that hold little if any interest for me professionally. If you think trying to be both creative and innovative photographing a lizard or a fly is easy...give it a try. 

This was my 3rd time doing the Wildlife In Focus... and it's probably my last rodeo. Thats not a slam on the contest, it's actually more about me and how I want to live my personal and professional life. I'm not a generalist with my art. I like shooting certain genres of photography...specifically landscapes/seascapes and birds. Thats when I feel the creative juices flowing. I feel inspired...

So now I have a little less than a month to finish up. More culling out the "bad" and processing the "good" images. Fortunately...I love editing photos. Unfortunately...the rules are pretty restrictive on what can be done during editing. I don't understand this...but it's the way it is. 

I'm so glad I did this again...and I'm so glad it's over!

 

River Ranch   Refugio County, TX

A Great Day

Meet my new best friend. I spent almost an hour yesterday morning with this spectacular Greater Roadrunner... and it was magical!

I observed a pair of roadrunners working the Oil Field Road within a minute of driving onto the River Ranch. They were probably 100 yards ahead of me on this gravel road. I continued slowly towards them for a few minutes... stopped my Jeep... and started to call them. This guy immediately returned my calls and raced towards me. I got out of the Jeep and started shooting.

For the next 45-60 minutes I made over 1000 clicks of this bird. He/she did the things I've always dreamed of in a roadrunner image. Suffice it to say I was able to upgrade my roadrunner category images for the 2017 Wildlife In Focus.

Here's a portrait of my star performer. I'll be so glad when I can show more from this experience!

Greater Roadrunner  Refugio County, TX

Counting Down

Yes I am counting down the days until this is over! In just 10 days I will have a whole bunch of free time on my hands...

The 2017 Wildlife In Focus shooting window closes on Monday June 12. I've been at this pretty consistently since January 15. I've made some good images (in my humble opinion), I've enjoyed the fellowship of seeing my friend Wade Grassedonio (he shares his beautiful ranch with me for this competition), and I've become a better technical photographer. Good... good... good!

I'd like to think that my final portfolio of 100 of the VERY best images I've made the last 5 months will be competitive. But... It doesn't matter what I think. In a month or so I'll submit those 100 images and leave my fate in the hand of 3 judges. Maybe some of them will catch their eye... and then again... maybe not.

I wish I could say we'll know soon, but thats not the truth. Even though the judging will be completed the first week of August, I'll have almost 3 months to just wait. I'm optimistic this year. I've always been optimistic... even in those years I didn't do so well. Maybe this year...