david stork photography

The Sandhill Crane Migration – March 21, 2017

I recently got the opportunity to take a quick trip out to central Nebraska to view the annual migration of sandhill cranes. Starting around the end of February, sand hill cranes begin arriving in Nebraska along the Platte River. They stay in the area through the end of March or early April.  From their wintering grounds in Mexico, Texas and Oklahoma, sandhill cranes can make the trip in just a couple of days. Flying up to 35 mph, they typically fly 200-300 miles per day, but can sometimes travel as much as 500 miles with a good wind at their tail. The Platte River with its shallow waters and abundance of sandbars provides a safe haven for the cranes to rest. During the day, they make their way to nearby farmland and feed primarily on grain left in cornfields. Then at night they fly back to the river and gather in their roosts for the evening. The stopover in Nebraska allows them to rest and bulk up for the remainder of the trip north to their breeding grounds in Canada, Alaska and even as far as Siberia.

What’s awesome about this area along the Platte between Grand Island, Kearney and North Platte is the shear abundance of cranes that congregate here every year. Over a half million sandhill cranes will stop here. Not to mention a huge population of Canadian geese, snow geese, ducks, whooping cranes and other waterfowl and migratory birds.

For a photographer or birdwatcher, the sights and sounds are breathtaking. The crane’s courtship display is a dance combination of hops, leap and bows and is an amazing sight to see. And the chorus of thousands of cranes can be heard for miles.

I started my long day at 6:30 in the morning. Sunrise was still an hour away. Unfortunately, I chose a week when the weather decided not to cooperate. 18 degrees with wind gusts up to 40 mph led to below zero wind chills and made for interesting photography conditions. I proceeded to a quiet spot on a gravel road south along the Platte River and just east of Gibbon. With the low light conditions, I would have preferred to be outside with my camera on a tripod, but the wind gusts were just too strong. Facing the driver’s side of my truck to the North in clear view of the river, I was able to steady my long lens on a beanbag on top of my rolled-down window. While I got a great view of the cranes huddled down in their roosts, I also got a face full of the north wind. Thankfully, I could just close the window as needed to warm up. The cold and wind, however, didn’t seem to bother the cranes. They hopped and leaped as they courted their potential future mates. Then as the sun began to rise, they began taking off in huge flocks on their way to their daytime feeding grounds in the cornfields of nearby farms.

During the daylight hours, I traveled the gravel back roads of the heartland and literally saw thousands of cranes lining the fields. They tended to be a bit skittish though and wouldn’t always let me get close. Often, just pulling over to the side of the road would make them retreat if not fly off to a new location. What I really needed was a camouflaged truck! Even so, I spent hours just watching their behavior and graceful flying abilities. Then, as the sun began to set, like magic the cranes took to the skies by the thousands and made their way back to their nightly roosting spots on the Platte River. Like a scene from an Alfred Hitchcock movie, there were birds everywhere. What a sight to behold! And the sounds were equally impressive and mesmerizing. While I only got to spend a day watching this amazing spectacle, the cranes would likely follow this same routine for a few more weeks before heading north. Me, on the other hand, had to make my way back home to work.

My only hope is that continued efforts will be made to preserve these great wetlands. The adverse affects of erosion, dams, pesticide runoffs and drought have taken their toll on the area. Hopefully these wetlands will be around for all future generations to enjoy, including the great sandhill crane. I for one hope to come back again soon.

Graduated Neutral Density Filters - June 12, 2016

If you’ve never used a graduated neutral density filter, you’ve been missing out on a secret used by many landscape photographers when photographing scenes with a broad dynamic range. While this effect can now be applied digitally in post-production with the likes of Photoshop or Lightroom, it’s always best to capture images as true to form as possible before manipulating them in post-editing software.

As you look at a scene, your eyes adjust to the varying light and dark areas. However, your camera captures the scene with the same exposure throughout. This can cause some bright and dark areas to look washed out or lack detail. Using a graduated neutral density filter can help make the image look closer to what your eyes are seeing. It can help keep the sky from getting overexposed while maintaining a correctly exposed foreground.

Graduated neutral density filters have a graduated blend from clear to a neutrally-colored grey. The more the density of grey, the more it blocks light. They have two affects on your photographs… dynamic range and contrast. They capture the scene even when its range of brightness exceeds that of your camera. They also increase the contrast in the extreme light and dark regions bringing them closer to the midtones, which are where your camera's tonal curve has the most contrast.

Graduated neutral density filter’s effects are determined by their strength and rate of transition. In other words, how much light is reduced at one side and how fast the transition takes place. There are two types of graduated filters: hard edge and soft edge. Hard edge work well when you have a defined horizon in your scene (i.e., sky and ocean). Soft edge works nice when you don’t have a clear horizon, like in a forest/all trees scene.

If you have more than a 2 f-stop difference in your sky and your foreground, you may want to use a graduated neutral density filter. Standard filters come in a variety of strengths; 0.3 ND2 = 1 stop, 0.6 ND4 = 2 stops, 0.9 ND8 = 3 stops. It’s important to keep your sky and foreground within 1 stop of each other. So choose the strength that will best help to get you there.

I use the Cokin P-Style square graduated neutral density filter system. The filter holder and macro ring fit onto the front of your lens and the square filter slides in the filter holder allowing you to position it to your liking.


Celebrating Our National Parks - February 20, 2016

This year marks the 100th year anniversary of America’s national parks. On Aug. 25, 1916, President Woodrow Wilson signed the Organic Act establishing the National Park Service. Until that time, there was no guarantee that our country's national parks would be preserved. Who would have known that over the course of these 100 years, our national parks would become some of the most visited destinations in the world. Averaging only a million visitors per year in the 20’s, today’s visitors have ballooned to over 300 million. While that number has grown exponentially over the years, it’s now even more important to continue to preserve our parks, landmarks, forests and coastlines from future development, commercialization and the negative effects of our ever-growing population.

When I think about national parks, the first image that comes to mind is summer family vacations! In my case, we jumped into our Oldsmobile in 1971, pulling a pop-up Jayco camper, and road-tripped to Rocky Mountain National Park. This was my first experience seeing any of our national parks. While the camper may not have been my favorite memory, the scenic backdrop of expansive mountains, trees and wildlife is what really got my attention. Getting the opportunity to visit one of our treasured national parks at such a young age is a memory I’ll never forget. Better yet, knowing that it and others will be around for future generations to enjoy is priceless. 

That's me second from left at RMNP!

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Rocky Mountain National Park was also one of my first parks to photograph. In 1979, with my shiny new Canon AV-1 camera in hand, a friend and I headed to Estes Park, Colorado to commemorate our surviving high school, before embarking on our next endeavor…college. While not as enthusiastic about photography as I am today, I still enjoyed capturing images of Dream Lake and the many scenic views from Fall River and Trail Ridge Roads.

Dream Lake - Circa 1979 (from my faded photo album)

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Including Rocky Mountain National Park, the United States and US Virgin Islands have a total of 59 protected areas we call national parks. Of these 59, I have been lucky enough to visit Mount Rainier National Park in Washington, Glacier National Park in Montana, Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado, Haleakala National Park in Maui, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park on the Big Island of Hawaii and Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks in Wyoming and Yosemite National Park in California. Sadly, there are too many national parks I haven’t visited. With 51 parks to go, I definitely hope to include many of them on my bucket list. National parks, as you can well imagine, are a nature and landscape photographer’s dream. Each has its own unique scenery, landmarks and wildlife.

Beginners, amateurs and professional photographers have flooded the parks for years eager to capture the image of a lifetime. World-renowned photographer Ansel Adams, best known for his iconic black and white photos of Yosemite, devoted his career to advocating the national park system. Many of his images including “Monolith, The Face of Half Dome (1927)” and “The Tetons and the Snake River (1942)” were instrumental in promoting conservation and preservation of our national parks. His photos remain inspirational to Adams wannabes. His careful use of composition, precise exposure, sharp focus, strong tonal contrast and understanding of light made him “the” photographer to emulate.

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Another to follow in Adams’ footsteps is present-day photographer Thomas Mangelsen. Tom is not only a legendary nature photographer, but also a passionate conservationist. Nature's Best Photography named him the 2011 Conservation Photographer of the Year and his work is now in the permanent collection at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History, in Washington, DC. Mangelsen has photographed nature and wildlife all over the world, but he remains a fixture at Grand Teton National Park as he resides in Jackson, Wyoming. He may be best known for his photographs of grizzly bears in the Tetons and Yellowstone, but his portfolio includes a plethora of stunning landscapes and wildlife seldom seen by the average photographer. Fortunately, I have had the pleasure of meeting and shooting beside him on numerous occasions. Tom encourages us to get out and discover the wonders of the world, and to care enough to help preserve what still remains.

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So as we celebrate 100 years of national parks, grab your camera, get outside and experience this great country of ours. There’s a lifetime of memories waiting to be made! To learn more about our national parks, visit their website at www.nps.gov.

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Winter Photography Tips and Techniques - Dec. 12, 2015


Winter can be a wonderful time to get outside and take advantage of some beautiful and unique photographic opportunities. With landscape, wildlife and even portrait photography, there is no end to the number of stunning shots that can be captured during this season. However, it can also be a very harsh time of year and can pose some challenges to your photography skills and equipment. To help you get started, here are a few tips and techniques to make your photography experience much more enjoyable.

Be prepared

1. Wear appropriate winter clothing for the occasion. Dress in layers and wear warm socks, gloves and a hat. You can always take something off if you get warm.

2. Good boots with gripping soles will help trekking through the snow and up steep inclines.

3. Thinner “Touch” style gloves can help you operate your camera dials and buttons easier and will allow you to use the touch screen on your LCD when your gloves are on. Consider wearing these under heavier gloves when you are not shooting. Pack a few disposable hand warmers just in case.

4. Know your camera settings ahead of time. Trying to fiddle with settings during a cold shoot will just make you colder and more frustrated. Learn to understand and use the camera’s histogram.

5. Let someone know where you are going and bring a charged cell phone along with you just in case you would require emergency help. I once got my truck stuck in a ditch along a country gravel road on a cold, snowy morning and didn’t have my cell phone. I waited over a half an hour until a car finally drove by and I could flag them down and ask to use their cell phone.

Equipment

Winter conditions can be extreme and will play havoc on your camera equipment if you’re not careful. So take some precautions before wandering out into a blizzard!

1. Keep your batteries warm! Cold temperatures can greatly reduce the battery life. Store your batteries in an inside coat pocket, close to your body. Always carry a couple of spare batteries. There is nothing worse than running out of power during the perfect shot!

2. Let your camera acclimate to the cold temperatures before you start shooting. Don’t keep your camera inside your coat. Body moisture and rapid temperature changes can cause fog or condensation on your lenses. When you bring your camera inside, keep it in the cold camera bag and let it slowly warm up or place it inside a zip-loc bag. This again, will keep the warm air from condensating on the camera. If you plan to go back outside soon to shoot, leave your camera in a cooler area.

3. Keep your camera dry in inclimate weather. Use a DSLR rain cover like the Manfrotto E-702 PL Elements Cover if necessary to protect your camera from moisture.

4. If you are using an aluminum tripod, consider purchasing a set of insulated leg covers. These make carrying your tripod much more comfortable.

5. Use memory cards better suited to extreme conditions like ProMaster’s AWXC|MAX Professional Memory Card that is guaranteed freeze proof and waterproof.

6. Keep your camera on a strap so you won’t lose your grip and drop your camera in the snow. I use a BlackRapid Sport camera strap that keeps my camera easily accessible at my waist at all times.

Shooting Tips

1. When to Shoot - Shoot early in the morning when the sun is rising or late in the afternoon as the sun begins to set. This is the time of day that can yield warm dramatic light and produce stunning images. Shoot with the sun at 90 degrees to the camera to keep contrast and textures in the snow crystals. Watch for reflections in the snow and ice. Shoot hoarfrost, ice cycles and snowflakes up close. They make wonderful macro subjects. Last of all, shoot right after a snowfall when the setting is most serene and be cautious not to get footprints in your composition.

2. Shoot in RAW - Step away from shooting in JPEG format and change to RAW if possible. Snow is seldom white because it picks up reflections that cause your camera’s sensor to misread the white balance and change its color. The resulting factor is usually snow that looks grey or blue. If you are able to shoot RAW, you can correct any of these unwanted colorcasts on your computer’s imaging software at a later date.

3. Exposure - When you’re photographing snow the majority of the landscape is usually white or extremely bright. Snow is known to trick the camera meter to give false exposures. The meter on your camera is designed to evaluate lights and darks, average them and give you a neutral grey or middle tone neutral reading. However, with all of the bright snow, the meter is fooled and underexposes the shot (it tries to see the bright white of snow as 18% grey, thus underexposing it and producing a darker image). Fortunately, you can do a few things to prevent the snow from turning grey. Switch your camera to Manual mode and shoot the images slightly overexposed or use your camera exposure compensation. The amount of overexposure is dependent on your lighting conditions and how white you want your snow to look. As a rule of thumb, you can try +1 to +2 1/2 stops.

4. Take Action Shots - Use fast shutter speeds and/or higher ISO to capture and freeze action shots when the lighting conditions are less than perfect. Sledding, skiing, snowboarding and wildlife photographs add excitement to any backdrop.

5. Add color and contrast - Look for something that brings color or contrast to your scene….a covered bridge, a lone evergreen or a snow-capped mountain with blue sky to add some appeal to your photo. On the other hand, try converting your image to black and white to add contrast and give your image an entirely different look and feel.

6. Capture falling snowflakes - Use a lens like the Canon EF 70-200mm f2.8 IS II USM with a shallow aperture and the fastest shutter speed you can get (1/400 of a second or higher) to capture the snow falling. This can make the snowflakes close to your lens and behind the focus point look larger giving your image a magical look.

7. Use fill flash - When shooting people or animals in snow, or just to add a bit of sparkle to your image, you may need to use fill flash to reduce contrast. You should set your flash compensation to -1 to -1.5 stops to avoid the image looking unnatural.

Hopefully some of these tips will help make your outdoor winter photography experience a success. Most importantly, get outside and enjoy the stunning beauty that our winter months provide. Be safe and have fun!


Tips for Photographing Autumn Foliage - Oct. 1, 2015


Late September and October means the season is changing and autumn is looking you straight in the face. What better time to get outside with your camera? The ever-changing colors of the autumn foliage can make some of the most dramatic and vivid photos you'll ever take. From the subtle reflection of golden maple leaves in a tranquil pond to a colored hillside framed with a vibrant blue sky, photo opportunities are abundant. Let's take a look at a few tips you should remember when you're shooting fall colors:

1. Planning - After all, being in the right place at the right time has a lot to do with your success. Take some time to scope out the areas you think might provide the best shots. Watch the weather forecasts and do some research online. Many websites provide updates on the progression of fall foliage. And remember, rainy overcast days don't necessarily mean bad photos. Some of the best fall images are captured when the light is filtered by mist, fog or overcast skies, adding contrast, vibrance and softer shadows. Eliminate the sky from your composition and focus more on framing your shot with trees, rocks or water. Plan to shoot during the "golden hours" of the morning or early evening. Direct afternoon sun can often be harsh and produce high-contrast images.

2. Reflections and Water - Use water to add drama and enhance the leaf colors in your photo. Look for a bank of colorful trees that are reflected on the mirror-like surface of a lake or on a slow-moving stream. Shoot down at the forest floor and capture wet leaves after a rainstorm. The water will bring out their vivid colors and add an additional dimension to your photos.

3. Filters - Use a polarizing filter. This filter will help deepen the color of blue skies and reduces the glare on bright, hazy days. It also eliminates the reflections and glare on dampened leaves and helps to brings out their true saturated colors. Neutral Density and Graduated Neutral Density filters are helpful in balancing exposure and the high contrast of skies during sunrises and sunsets. They are also good for reducing the light, allowing for longer shutter speeds when you want to add a soft blur to a flowing stream or waterfall.

4. Use a tripod - When shutter speeds become slower and low-light situations are prevalent, a tripod will ensure you get the sharpest image, along with your aperture selection and focusing. Also, choosing the time of day, like early morning may be the calmest with the least amount of wind.

5. Try a variety of lenses - Use a telephoto zoom lens to get close-ups or for isolating details. Use a wide-angle lens when you have a large area of color. Try getting down low and focusing on a nearby subject while filling the frame with an abundance of background leaves. Choose a macro lens for getting up-close and personal with your subject. Early morning is a great time to shoot dewdrops on leaves or spider webs made overnight.

6. White Balance - Now might be the time to experiment with your white balance. Don't be afraid to turn off your auto white balance and try a manual setting. A "Cloudy" setting, for instance, may add some warmth to your shot.

7. Be creative - Try something you haven't tried before. Back lighting of leaves can make the colors pop and allows you to see the intricate detail of their make-up. Look down. The forest floor can provide a plethora of unique photo opportunities.Shoot straight up through the trees to create and interesting perspective. Initiate an artsy blur by moving the lens up and down while the shutter is released. Most of all, have fun doing it.

Hopefully some of these tips will help you get the most out of your fall foliage excursion creating images and memories that will last a lifetime.


Planning a Wildlife Photography Trip

to the Greater Yellowstone Area - May 22, 2015


Not everyone has the opportunity to travel strictly for the purpose of taking photographs. However, if you ever get the chance, I would strongly suggest a trip to Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks. I have been lucky enough to make this trip three times in the last year. Twice in early-May and once in mid-September. The reason I chose these time periods are; 1. May and September are not peak tourist times and, 2. They are excellent months for viewing wildlife and fabulous scenery.

The Parks

As the snow begins to melt in April and May, the parks begin to come alive with wildlife. Some animals are coming out of hibernation and others are out looking for good sources of food in lower elevations, which often include the meadows and grassy areas near roadsides. This can be both good and bad. On the good side, the chances of seeing a wild animal such as a bear, moose, bison or elk are very high. However, on the bad side, these animals can be extremely dangerous, especially if you get between them and their offspring. Secondly, these animals often find themselves in the middle of the road and every year many die or have to be put down due to being hit by vehicles. Thus it’s important to be aware at all times. Drive slowly, stay in your car when you can, don’t feed them and most of all, respect them in their environment and habitat. Remember, they’re “Wild” animals, not domesticated pets. Both Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks require you to be at least 100 yards back from bear and wolves and 25 yards away from moose, elk, bison and other large mammals. With today’s zoom and telephoto camera lens capabilities, this rule should not be restrictive in the least.

In September, the parks become vibrant with autumn color. The golden leaves of the aspen trees are a sight to be seen during their peak. While the grizzlies make themselves a little scarcer at this time, you still may have a chance at seeing black bears feeding on berries or a bull moose munching on the willows. The best time to see elk is at dusk or dawn while they are down from the hills grazing in the meadows. However, don’t be discouraged if you don’t see any of these larger mammals, as there are many smaller species to be seen including river otters, marten, beavers, bighorn sheep, mule deer, pronghorns and marmots to name a few. Birding is also popular in the parks. Over 300 species have been identified as migrating through or living in the parks. Your chances of seeing pelicans, heron, trumpeter swans, sandhill cranes, eagles and osprey are good, not to mention a huge variety of songbirds. And if the wildlife is slow, you can’t go wrong with the gorgeous landscape. Over 1300 species of flowering plant have been documented and the majority of both parks are forested with pine, fir, cottonwood, aspen and willow.  While I chose the spring and fall seasons to visit the Greater Yellowstone Area, summer and winter also provide excellent and unique photo opportunities. However, be aware, portions of the parks are closed in the winter due to the heavy snow coverage.

Grand Teton National Park’s biggest attraction is the Teton majestic mountain range that the park is named after. The jagged mountain peaks tower 5000-7000 feet above the valley floor, which make for some of the most spectacular photographs. Ansel Adams famously photographed these peaks high above the Snake River in 1942. Yellowstone National Park is most famous for its thermal features. Much of Yellowstone sits within a volcanic caldera. Geysers, hot springs, mudpots and steam vents are prevalent. In fact, Yellowstone has approximately half of the world’s geysers with Old Faithful being the most recognized. Many of them erupt or vent steam on a daily basis. These too can make some interesting photos. Needless to say, both parks offer a plethora of wildlife and landscape photographic opportunities.

Planning Information

Now that you know what the parks have to offer, you may ask how much does it cost and where do I stay. First the entrance fee to the parks is $25 for a 7-day pass (good for both parks) or an annual pass is $50. Once inside, there are numerous lodges, rental cabins and campsites throughout with many offering all the conveniences of home. I actually stayed at a Guest Ranch during my three stays. They offered activities, meals and other amenities not available at a standard hotel or lodge. And dependent on the time of year, you may be able to get off-season rates. For a complete list of lodging information, contact Grand Teton National Park visitor information at 307-739-3300 or visit www.nps.gov/grte. For Yellowstone visitor information call 308-344-7381 or visit www.nps.gov/yell.

What to Bring

Weather can be unpredictable in the parks any time of the year. During my visits, I was often greeted with snow and brisk morning temperatures, so come prepared. Don’t forget, wildlife photography is all about patience. You may be waiting for a while to get the perfect shot. Here is a list of a few things I brought along on my trips…just in case!

1. Winter jacket, hat and gloves

2. Rain gear

3. Waterproof hiking boots

4. Snow chains for tires

5. First aid and emergency kit

6. Bear spray

7. Binoculars

8. Sunscreen and Sunglasses

9. Insect repellent

10. Flashlight

11. Water – stay hydrated!

12. Trail mix

Camera Equipment to Bring

1. Tripod

2. DSLR camera, preferably one that shoots high frames per second.

3. UV, polarizing and neutral density filters

4. Telephoto and zoom lenses for wildlife

5. Wide angle and macro lenses for landscapes and close ups

6. Battery charger with multiple batteries. If cold, keep batteries in an inner coat pocket close to your body to keep them warm.

7. Extra compact flash or SD cards

8. Shutter release cable

9. High-quality camera backpack

10. Rain gear for camera

Tips for Photographing Wildlife

• Know your gear, its capabilities and settings or you may miss the shot.

• Know your subject. Spend time observing your subject so you understand their behaviors and can predict when and what they might do. Focus on their eyes. When possible, wait until the animal is in the clear and looks your direction.

• Use a tripod when possible to help eliminate camera movement.

• Telephoto and zoom lenses with focal lengths of 200-600mm are preferable by most wildlife photographers to help bring the subject closer to you without scaring the wildlife. If your subject isn’t skittish, then shoot with a wide lens and include more of the animal’s environment in the shot.

• Choose suitable shutter speeds of at least 1/125th of a second to stop motion. If necessary increase your ISO to get faster shutter speeds.

• Use an aperture that will give you a good depth of field to capture the details of your subject. However, if the surroundings are distracting, choose a wider aperture to keep the attention on your subject. A wider aperture can also be better for capturing low light motion.

• Use image stabilization whenever possible to help eliminate camera motion.

• Pay attention to the light. Wildlife photography is often best during the golden hours of dawn and dusk. Thus low-light levels are common. Mid day lighting can be harsh and very contrasty. Use a UV or polarizing filter if shooting in very sunny or snowy conditions, so your photos won’t be overexposed. Remember, weather can be your friend. Cloudy, overcast and even rainy days will filter the light and will yield some awesome photos.

• Most of all be patient. It may take hours to get that perfect “money” shot. I recently spent six hours waiting for a grizzly to show her face, but it was worth it! After all, how often do you get to see a grizzly bear in the wild?

If you would like more information regarding wildlife photography, equipment or Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks, feel free to drop me an email at storkdw@gmail.com and I will try to answer your questions.







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