Backwards Tuxedo in a Straw Colored Hat

The bobolink travels over 12,500 miles from southern South America to spend some time at Springbrook Prairie in DuPage County. Its beautiful plumage, often described as a “backwards tuxedo”, a white back and black underparts along with a straw colored yellow hat on its head make it a unique songbird in North America.

Like many other birds, the bobolink is diminishing in numbers. Poisonous pesticides and shrinking habitats are taking a great toll on the bobolink and most other birds.

Backwards Tuxedo

A bobolink perches on a dying goldenrod stem in an emerald grassland. The bobolink has a white back and black underparts, similar to wearing a tuxedo backwards, along with a brilliant straw-colored patch on its head. The colors of this bubbling, virtuosic songbird make it unique in North America. Read more ›

Bird on a Wire

A white dove on a wire dreams of places to go and things to see in the wild blue yonder.

A white dove on a wire dreams of places to go and things to see in the wild blue yonder.

Queen Anne’s Lace

Whether you consider the Queen Anne’s Lace invasive or an elegant delight, its delicate beauty is a sight to behold. The bright white flowers of the Queen Anne’s Lace can be found almost anywhere, lining our Midwestern highways or in open prairies. Their pink petals surround tiny lace like flowers which in turn hid an almost unseen a solitary purple flower that blossoms in its center. The next time you are out for a drive, look at the road edges, I am sure you’ll see the Queen swaying in the wind.
Queen Anne's Lace

Secrets for Gorgeous Flower Photos

Woodland flowers seem to bring life back to the world after a long, cold, and sometimes drab winter. Their subtle beauty in a rough and rugged environment make these flowers a rewarding challenge to photograph. I recently shared many of my tips and techniques in the Shutterstock Blog article 6 Photographers Share Their Secrets for Gorgeous Flower Photos.

The most important advice that I can give anyone who photographs (or just enjoys being) in a natural environment is to leave the area as untouched and pristine as when you arrived. Never leave evidence of human intrusion, this will help keep the environment healthy and thriving for many years to come.

The wildflowers pictured above are woodland phlox that were sprouting over a fallen tree. I noticed these flower as I was walking on a forest trail. To the left of the log (and out of the photograph) was a batch of poison ivy that I carefully avoided. As I stated previously, their are may challenges photographing wildflowers but the results can be extremely rewarding.

Springtime Robins

Recently, I was fortunate enough to be asked by Shutterstock Blog to share some tips for photographing my favorite springtime subjects. Immediately what came to my mind were birds. Birds are wonderful to photograph in the springtime because they are so active. Whether they are migrating through an area, feeding off of the newly blossomed trees or building new nests, birds are always a delight to watch and photograph. One of my most treasured experiences as a photographer was sharing time with a family of nesting robins. To my delight the robins paid no attention to me and continually fed their young a steady diet of worms.

The photograph to the left is one that Shutterstock Blog used for the article. Along with the image, I provided several tips and techniques that I took advantage of while photographing the robins. The article, Photographers Share Tips on the Best Springtime Subjects includes my thoughts as well as the techniques and ideas of several other photographers who also enjoy springtime photography.

Attracting Hummingbirds and Orioles

A ruby throated hummingbird hovers over a solitary bright red monarda blossom in our backyard. We planted bee balm (monarda), trumpet vine (campsis radicans) and butterfly bush (buddleia) in our garden with the specific intention of attracting hummingbirds. With the use of some additional sugar water feeders, hummingbirds are in are backyard throughout late spring, summer and finally into early autumn. Initially attracted to the sugar water, the hummingbirds will eventually forego the feeders and sip the nectar from the flower blossoms. To show their appreciation of our gardening efforts, these tiny acrobats hover and dance for us all summer long. Link to Audubon’s Guide to Attracting Hummingbirds and Orioles to find more information about creating your own hummingbird garden.

Do Dogs Get Colds?

Abe, our Labrador Retriever, is a wonderful soul. Though he loves all of the seasons, winter seems to be his favorite. On a winter’s day, he could spend hours running, jumping and playing in the snow. The joy on his face is clearly evident in this photograph that was used in an article on Labrador Training HQ.

Migratory Birds Are Worth Protecting

In our backyard, Baltimore orioles have a choice of oranges and grape jelly. Keeping their feeders full is a small price to pay for the delight in hearing their chitter and gasping at their orange plumage all summer long.

George Fenwick (President of the American Bird Conservancy) and John W. Fitzpatrick (Director of the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology) wrote a wonderful article explaining why migratory birds are worth protecting. The article was is response to Allysia Finley’s (Wall Street Journal) article about how birds are a drag to our economy. Read George Fenwick and John W. Fitzpatrick’s article about the importance of birds to our environment at the American Bird Conservancy.

Assembly Required

The raven, framed by a full moon, shrieks into the moonlit night while emitting a mysterious red glow from its eye.

As the Rolling Stones song goes “You can’t always get what you want but if you try, sometimes well, you might find you get what you need.” This was certainly the case with the Raven’s Eye and the challenges that I faced; alignment of the bird and moon, a full moon and a bird on a branch. Once it became obvious to me that coordinating these events was going to be at best difficult, I decided to take a different approached and manually create my vision.

Both the moon and bird were taken at different times, the moon at night and the bird during the day. The moon, is actually a scan of a picture that I took several years ago. The bird is one of many that I have taken positioned on a white background. The result is a composite image that met my vision of a silhouetted bird in a glowing moon. The steps that I took to create the image along with the Photoshop layers are detailed below.

Moon
The moon was imported as a smart object for two reasons. A smart object allows for nondestructive multiple edits to an image without reducing the overall quality of that image. Since the size of moon needed to be increased and also blurred, a Photoshop smart object was the best way to manipulate the image.

Moon Adjustment
The empty sky surrounding the moon required darkening. A luminosity mask on a curves adjustment with a multiply blend mode darkened the sky properly. The multiply blend mode multiplies the pixels together thus the result are darkened pixels.

Raven
The raven also had to be adjusted, thus it also was imported as a smart object. Once sized correctly in comparison to the moon, the transition of the branch from moon and sky had to be adjusted. The branch was extended both sides of the raven which provided a smooth transition from the moon into the night sky. Once the branch was extended, the three layers where merged into a single layer. The white background of the raven image was eliminated with the darken blend mode. This blend mode compares the two layers and only displays the darker of the pixels, thus the white background is completely eliminated.

Adjust Raven
In order to create the silhouette, two types of clipping mask adjustments were applied to only the raven layer. A clipping mask applies the adjustment to the the pixel layer directly beneath that layer without impacting any other layers. First, a black and white clipping mask adjustment was applied to eliminate any color remnants made by the following levels adjustment. Then the noted levels clipping mask adjustment was added and manipulated to turn the raven into a black silhouette.

General Cleanup
At this point the image was coming together but the branch required some touch up. On a separate layer, the areas that required darkening were painted black.

Raven’s Eye
A curves adjustment with the multiply blend mode was use to create the mysterious aura of the raven’s eye. The entire adjustment was masked except for the eye.

Final Adjustments
After review, the sky appear light so it was slightly darkened. A curves adjustment layer masking the moon was created with a multiple blend mode. This adjustment was all it took to slightly darken the sky and leave the moon untouched.

You can’t always get what you want but if you try sometimes you might create what you need as is the case with The Raven’s Eye.

Luminance Adjustments

Luminance is the intensity of light emitted from a area. The darkest luminance levels are known as the shadows, the brightest luminance levels are known as the highlights and then the luminance levels in between are known as midtones.

There are three automatic, and destructive, luminance adjustments, Auto tone, Auto Color and Auto Contrast.

    Auto Tone
    The Auto Tone command makes the darkest pixels black and the brightest pixels white on a channel by channel basis, affecting each channel independently. This means the color cast of the image is changed. Thus if an image contains a color cast it can be removed.

    Auto Constrast
    The Auto Contrast command makes darkest pixels black and the brightest pixels white on a composite basis. So in other words, all three channels are affected in exactly the same way. That means darker shadows and brighter highlights, but the natural color cast of the image is not affected.

    Auto Color
    The Auto Color command makes darkest pixels black and the brightest pixels white, once again on a channel by channel basis, just as with the Auto Tone command, but it’s also neutralizing the midtones. This is a command that adjusts the midtones in order to neutralize them.

A fourth method to adjust luminance, also destructive, is the Brightness/Contrast Adjustment. But the nice thing about this adjustment is that it’s incapable of clipping luminance levels; it can’t take big shadow regions and make them black or big highlight regions and make them white.

    Brightness/Contrast
    This static adjustment has both sliders and and an auto button in its dialog box. The Auto button evaluates not only the shadows and the highlights, as with the Auto Tone and Auto Contrast commands, but it’s also evaluates the midtones, the way the Auto Color command does. The command does it on a composite basis, as a result there is no chance of a color cast being introduced.
    There is method to use the Brightness/Contrast as a dynamic, non-destructive adjustment layer. At the bottom of the layers panel click the Create New adjustment Layer panel. Select Brightness/Contrast, this will create a Brightness/Contrast Adjustment Layer. The same functionally exists as the static Brightness/Contrast adjustment described above but it makes the changes on an adjustment layer and thus is non-destructive.
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