The Peconic River in Late Winter

When I returned to my favorite spot on the Peconic River. I was hoping that spring would be arriving, but instead winter was making a last cloudy, foggy gasp. Below is a thumbnail.Image

For a larger image click on this link to the Peconic River in Late Winter.

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Jamaica Bay Take-offs

Here are a few flight shots of the thousands of waterfowl on the West Pond at the Jamaica Bay National Wildlife Refuge yesterday. They are: red-breasted mergansers; mute swans; and scaup (I couldn’t tell the species from this distance).

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Buffleheads Land; Mergansers Take Off

With a wind-chill of 5 degrees, I began to wonder if sitting by an arm of the Cedar Beach Lagoon at 7 AM made any sense. (Thanks for the hand and toe warmers, Pam!) But when the action finally got hot, it seemed worthwhile. First these buffleheads landed, and then a bunch of red-breasted mergansers passed through and into flight (including one little bufflehead who must have gotten confused by the big birds). The last shot is a close-up of one of the female mergansers.

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It always seemed to me that given their gaudy colors, the birds called “wood ducks” should have been called “harlequin ducks”. On the other hand, I supposes that the ducks shown below probably wouldn’t want to be called “wood ducks.” Still, even though their coloring is spectacular, it also has a certain contrasty dignity that doesn’t seem to go with the court jester. In any case, one of the surest places to encounter this little fellow is the jetty near the Barnagat Light in New Jersey during the coldest winter days. It’s true that the rocks are usually covered with ice, and more than one photographer has had to be rescued after a fall; the “Barnagat Jetty Site Guide” is one long safety message. However, Tuesday was warm, and I was able to carefully make my way onto the jetty without slipping, and here are the results.

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Snowy Owl

There were reports of a snowy owl at Jones Beach on the south shore of Long Island. I went into the cold and wind, expecting to get nothing because all prior expeditions have been fruitless. The fates (or maybe just this one owl) took pity on me. The bird was sitting along the dunes on the edge of the beach, posing. I’m almost ashamed to admit this, but after an hour I went home, even though I would have loved a flight shot, because he or she seemed quite content to stay in the vicinity of the dunes all day.

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Florida Hawks

While in Florida a few weeks ago I got these flight shots. The first is of a Cooper’s hawk at Green Cay. The second and third are of a red-shouldered hawk at the Loxahatchee National Wild Life Reserve.

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6:30 AM. Sunrise at 7:00 AM. 31 degrees. Dressed in layers. Visions of the Pillsbury Doughboy or the Michelin Man.

Ducks seem to scare easily so I figure if I get out while it is still dark, I might not scare them. I move along an eastern arm of Cedar Beach Lagoon. I set up and level the tripod and lens and open my small folding chair. I sit absolutely looking for ducks. Silence.

Just a moment before sunrise, I see movement to my right in the direction my lens is pointing. I look through my camera and see two female buffleheads (our smallest duck) that weren’t there a moment before. I follow them through the lens as they swim west. The only sound is the soft clicking of the camera. Finally the two reach a point just in front of me and I can’t swing the camera more without moving the tripod. I slowly look left. There are dozens of buffleheads on the water to my left. Do I dare to try to move the tripod to photograph them. I left one tripod leg a quarter of an inch. Every one of the buffleheads take flight at the same instant and they are all gone.

Silence again.

But I did get a shot of a female bufflehead that morning, and the next day I set up further west, didn’t try to move my tripod, and got a nice shot of a male and two birds in flight. By the way, the male’s magenta and green head looks black from a distance.

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New Jersey 9/11 Memorial

While photographing lower Manhattan from Liberty State Park in New Jersey, I came upon this memorial to the residents of New Jersey who died on 9/11 at the Twin Towers, the Pentagon and in Pennsylvania. Their names are inscribed on the inner side of the two walls. What I found particularly moving was the siting. If you look down the walls you can see the location where the towers existed, and of course the ends of the walls replicate the outline of the towers.




































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The Photographer’s Vision: Understanding and Appreciating Great Photography by Michael Freeman

Folks who have read Michael Freeman’s books, “The Photographer’s Eye: Composition and Design for Better Digital Photos” and “The Photographer’s Mind: Creative Thinking for Better Digital Photos” might well assume this is another well-conceived, how-to book. But it is so much more. It is in fact the entire story of photography, including history, aesthetics, criticism and technique.

The book is divided into three parts called “A Momentary Art”, “Understanding Purpose” and “Photography Skills” but the content is so interrelated that these headings seem almost irrelevant. Freeman does define what a photograph is; talks about the genres of photography; describes the different methods of presentation; explains the purpose of photographers (and editors and art directors); and mentions some issues like the methods that photographers use to pull us into their images. He outlines many of the issues in photography like whether an image should be printed in black-and white or in color. The book is profusely illustrated with images dating back to the nineteenth century and as current as the work of today’s critical darlings like Andreas Gursky and Jeff Wall. Moreover, the book examines photographs not just from Europe and North America but the other continents, showing that so-called “western society” is not the only place where great images are created. All of this is written with great clarity, and even though one may infer where the author comes down on issues where opinion is divided, his presentation of both sides of conflicting opinions about photography issues is fair.

One might easily treat this as a history of photography, but it is one of the few books to really explain how to read a photograph critically. It should take its place alongside Szarkowski’s “The Photographer’s Eye” and Shore’s “The Nature of Photographs: A Primer“. Pleasantly enough, it doesn’t wander off into the field of photography theory for discussion of indexes or punctum or any of those ideas that seem so beloved of semioticians and so far removed from the reality of a photograph. On the other hand, Freeman is willing to give critics like Clement Greenberg and Michael Fried their due.

Although I was engrossed throughout the book, I particularly enjoyed the author’s analysis of photo essays by W. Eugene Smith and Larry Burrows. I was delighted by his quote of Carl Wolinsky’s efforts to capture the image of a half-shorn sheep.

Even though we are bombarded by images, few people are trained in visual literacy. Serious photographers may begin to understand the language, but without aid it can take many years to become truly conversant. This book is perhaps the best introduction to visual literacy I have encountered.

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LeHardys Rapids

I belong to the North American Nature Photographers’ Association which is a group consisting of professional and serious amateur nature photographers. Every year they hold a contest for the best images of the prior year. I’m pleased to announce that my picture below of a common merganser in LaHardys Rapids, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming was selected as one of the top ten photographs.


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