It’s Been a While…

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Sometimes, life takes turns you don’t expect. In my case, a short consultancy was extended over and over again and followed by another one almost right away. Since these consultancies had nothing to do with photography and occupied me full time, this blog took a backseat, even though I kept shooting for myself all the time.

Even when I started the first consultancy, I was thinking about a reset for this blog. I had lost the appetite for the race to build an audience that could lead to blog income, partly because I got tired of doing reviews for the sake of doing them; of having to follow the often uncritical writings about gear that only exist for the affiliate links; but mostly because there isn’t much sense to fight to get into a market that’s inevitably going to shrink in the coming years. Plus, my ideas were never purely about the blog and, if I take them up again, still won’t be about blogging.

Still, I enjoyed some aspects of this effort and will restart it on an irregular basis, at least until another opportunity precludes me from continuing (there’s an ‘if’ in there as well).

First, I’ll play catch-up. I’ll write about using the Zeiss Loxia 21mm and the Batis 18mm side-by-side during my summer break in Europe, both loaners from Zeiss. I’ll share my impressions of the Olympus 300mm f/4 on the new Olympus OM-D E-M1 II, which I’ve been using alongside my Canon 1Dx and 500mm f/4. I spent some time in the US Southwest, shooting the Olympus with various lenses alongside the Sony A7R II which I keep on planning to ditch, but somehow hold on to.

Then,  I’ve got a Fuji x100f coming my way and will share my impressions of that camera, one that I really don’t need, but that keeps luring me back in with its beauty and ‘gestalt.’ Got another trip coming up, so it will get used then. I also ditched my Canon 7D II for the 5D Mark IV and will probably write about that transition for bird photography.

What I won’t do is buy or rent any gear for the sake of reviewing it. I also have given up reading most photography blogs or sites, which has vastly improved my life. Actually, unless I’m looking for a specific review, the only sites I regularly visit – and recommend – are The Online Photographer by Mike Johnston and FredMiranda.com (for the forums). This means I’m not on top of the news and other than handling some gear at a trade show or in B&H, there is now a lot of new stuff I’ve never used.

There is no business behind the blog anymore, as there was a year ago. There is still a business idea behind Photographic Wanderings, one that’s also been put off by a year, but that’s for later…unless another opportunity pops up first. Life takes turns, you know.

Photographing Bald Eagles along the Hudson

This time last year, the lower Hudson River shores were filled with bald eagles escaping the frozen waters further north. In their wake, photographers and sightseers spent hours watching the graceful birds and shooting the occasional show of eagles fighting over fish.

I wrote much of this last year, at the end of eagle season, after I had been out to the river almost every morning for much of February and March. I figured it would be a guide for this season and I’d publish it around the time the eagles would visit the area.

Well, maybe the extreme cold spell this weekend will do it, but so far the pickings have been extremely slim. There are some bald eagles hanging around near Beacon, NY, outside of the area I covered last year. Yesterday for the first time this year, I photographed an eagle in Verplanck, NY, where I spent many hours and took thousands of pictures a year ago.  So far, it’s nothing like the dozens of eagles you would see every day last winter.

My one 2016 eagle shot...

My one 2016 eagle shot, so far…

So, just in case we still do get lucky and the eagles once again move to this area, I’m publishing this guide now. It focuses on locations along the eastern shore south of the Bear Mountain Bridge. It’s based on my own observations over many days last year and on information from others who have been observing bald eagles for years.

General Observations

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Zeiss Otus 28mm f/1.4: Nice, but Niche

An earlier draft of this article ran to almost 1800 words. It’s always like that with gear that’s actually good but that doesn’t suit me. I go through draft after draft, trying to write away the ambivalence that has little to do with the gear and – almost – everything with me.

But it’s not about me, it’s about the gear. And Zeiss didn’t make this Otus for me, or for people like me.

If you’re reading this, you’re probably interested in this lens. So, here’s the gist:

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Photographing Bald Eagles at the Conowingo Dam

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Once you fall for bird photography, the Conowingo Dam in Maryland beckons. The hydroelectric dam on the Susquehanna River is known to attract dozens of bald eagles in the fall. In their wake, an equal number of photographers and long, fast teles show up for an annual ritual of fishing, photographing and freezing.

The eagles, opportunists that they are, come for the fast food delivered to them courtesy of the Exelon Power Corporation which operates the dam several times a day, in the process stunning the fish that make the trip through the generators and making them easy prey for the big birds.

Like few other places, this predictable ritual allows photographers multiple spray-and-pray runs at fishing eagles and thus increases the chance for the money shot. One hour at Conowingo can deliver more payback than many freezing hours along the Hudson in mid-winter, as I can attest based on personal experience.

The season starts at the end of October and runs through the beginning of December, although there are always some eagles around. The height of the hunt is apparently around the Thanksgiving holiday. On weekends, the crowds of photographers, fishermen and onlookers do get large and parking space limited, but weekdays are manageable.

I was there at the end of October for two days and will return later this week for three days. I will write a detailed guide based on my experiences and talks with local shooters who have photographed here for years. For now, a few quick impressions and images.

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Stumbling into Bird Photography

Even in my early fifties, I sometimes realize how wrong I can be about myself. Which is a good thing, by the way. Keeps life interesting.

Take photographing birds.

It wasn’t for me. Apart from two early morning strolls through some swamp in Florida while attending a conference in the area years ago, I didn’t bother with it. I’m not much of an animal person, let alone a bird person. I never ‘got’ birding.

My early bird photography - Florida in 2003 with a 4-mp Canon 1D

                   My early bird photography – Florida in 2003 with a 4-mp Canon 1D

And while some images of birds can be gorgeous, it just didn’t look like it had much to do with vision. To me, one bird picture looked pretty much like any other bird picture. I could add one to the pile, but why would I?

Other genres of photography always struck me as offering better opportunities to do something unique. That particular angle to view a landscape, the street photograph depicting a scene that will never happen again, a model shoot that you direct and chose the lighting for…

Whereas a picture of a bird was just a picture of a bird.

Another 2003 Florida swamp shot

                                              Another 2003 Florida swamp shot

Even excellent bird images seemed a dime a dozen to me. Sure, it probably took skill, patience and some expensive cool gear, but as something to pursue it didn’t resonate. If you had asked me if I would ever take up bird photography, I would have answered with a resounding ‘no.’

And that would have been wrong.

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