Birds – Eagles, Snow Geese, Swans & the Skagit Valley

Copyright Karen Ulvestad

I am often asked where I find birds to photograph.  I have spent a number of years traveling, and documenting the birds I see.  I have notes that I refer to every year, that lists where a certain species of bird is most likely to be found, and the time of year to look for them.

One of my favorite places to go in the winter is the Skagit Valley, either into the mountains or out onto the flood plains (the flats).  The amount of migratory bird life in incredible.

Through the months of December to April, thousands of Snow Geese remain in the Skagit Valley.  They feed on the winter cover crops that are planted by the farmers.  The pristine farmland becomes covered with these large flocks, and give photo opportunities to professional and amateur photographers.

Along with the Snow Geese are Tundra and Mute Swans.  All three of these species migrate down from the arctic for the winter.  The summer months are spent raising young, in the short arctic summer.

Other birds that may be seen in the winter are Snowy Owls (depending on their food supply), Short Earred Owls, Northern Harriers, Red-tailed Hawks, Sand Pipers, Great Blue Heron and more.

Through-out the area, bald eagles migrate down from Alaska and British Columbia for the salmon runs on the Skagit River.  These beautiful birds can be seen in large number in the mountains along Highway 20, and other roads along the river.  Also, the eagles can be found closer to Puget Sound in the Skagit flats.

Copyright Karen Ulvestad

This past weekend, we discovered an area along the river by the small town of Concrete with 15-20 eagles at a time.  There were both mature and immature eagles roosting in the trees, and flying over the river hunting salmon.

The eagles usually start leaving, and returning North in February. . .

More Later. . .Karen


If one doesn’t choose a point-n-shoot, the other option is a DSLR.  Basically, this is a SLR that is digital.  Manufacturers took all the basics of the SLR, and programmed the information into a digital format.  It is a hand-held computer with manual over-rides, therefore, more creative control over you photographs.

copyright Karen Ulvestad
Shot at F18.0 at 1/10 second

The photograph shown has a slow shutter speed, that would need to be set manually in both a point and shoot or DSLR camera.  This was shot with a wide-angle lens (17-40 mm) at 17 mm.  The F18 is the aperture setting, and allows for the large depth of field in the image.  I used tripod to keep the camera steady.

This type of shot is easier with a DSLR, because the manual settings are easier to use.  The lens optics are better glass, though it depends on the lens purchased.

Copyright Karen Ulvestad
This was shot at F4.5 at 1/60 second.

This image is of a captive Snowy Owl (unable to survive in the wild due to previous injury).  In this image, the aperture is F4.5, which accounts for the background being out of focus.

More later. . .Karen

Happy New Year and Finding the Perfect Camera

Happy New Year to All. . .

Copyright Karen Ulvestad
This is along the Oregon coast, taken during my trip this Holiday Season.

I thought it was time to write about cameras.  It seems like it should be simple to go to the store, and purchase a camera.  From my workshops, I have met many individuals, who purchased a camera that does not do what they want.

Digital cameras are as diverse in their function as software programs for a computer.  First, the camera is a mini-computer.  It is programmed by the manufacturer to take pictures.  Also, it has the limitations that the manufacturer puts into the camera.

When choosing a camera, the first step is to think about what features you would like, such as:  Manual control, full Auto, Scene selection, Flash and Flash control, and what do you want to photograph with the camera.

Many inexpensive point and shoots have a slower processor.  So, they are not the best choice to photograph a child playing sports.  They are great for  subjects that do not move, such as:  Landscapes, Still Life, Portraits and Macro.

The upper-end point and shoots usually have faster processors, Manual function options and manual focus.  Usually, the manual focus is not as easy to use as it is on a DSLR.

For in-depth information on functional usage of a Digital Camera, I teach a workshop for the City of Edmonds titled Digital Photography 101.

I’ll be talking about DSLRs next issue. . .

More Later. . .Karen

What’s in the Weather

The weather is an interesting part of a photograph.  Most of us like to see the sun and blue sky, so many photographs reflect this.

In the following photograph, it was a stormy and rainy day at the beach.  This is the Pacific Ocean, with large waves (approx. 10-20 feet).  It was a torrential downpour, and my partner held the umbrella over my camera to keep it semi-dry.

copyright Karen Ulvestad

The weather caused the photograph to become mono-chromatic (one color), which adds to the stormy mood of the image.  In overcast or stormy weather, color can be brought out in a photograph.  The following image was taken the same same day.  I worked on the color and contrast in Photoshop to bring out the details in the image.

copyright Karen Ulvestad

An overcast sky brings out color without harsh shadow and highlight.  In the second photograph, I composed the image with a focus on a series of waves.  Their color is richer, due to the lack of extreme darks and lights. 

The first photograph shows the starkness of a storm, due to the lack of color and less contrast.  It feels cold.  The second looks warmer, because of the color.  It doesn’t have the feel of a cold, rainy Pacific Ocean storm coming ashore.  The image looks more inviting.

So, the weather can affect the colors that are shown in a photograph.  It can be used to show a mood or feeling.  It can make a photograph appealing to someone else, or truly give a sense of place/environment.

More later. . .Karen

Looking for Photographic Opportunities

Photography is a wonderful opportunity to explore our world.  It requires us to slow down, and observe what is happening around us.  By putting a camera in our hands, we choose to focus on the mechanics of the world.

Yesterday, I had a wonderful opportunity to go to a wildlife rehabilitation center with a class I was teaching.  The students brought their cameras, and listened to the stories of the individual animals.  Many ended up at the center, because of injuries that occurred from human created activities (such as being hit by a car or shot with pellets).

Each permanent resident of the center were unable to survive in the wild.  Their issues ranged from inability to fly to inability to hunt for themselves.  So, the center looks after and feeds them.  In return, the animals are teachers in presentations the center gives about wildlife.

The center encouraged my students to take pictures and learn.  This is one photo of I took on the tour. . .

This image is photographed through a mesh enclosure.  The process for eliminating the mesh includes proximity of the camera lens to the mesh, exposure and flash. 

copyright Karen Ulvestad
This is the Snowy Owl at Sarvey Wildlife Care Center

First, the mesh needs to be near the lens, and remember to place the important parts of your subject in the openings.  In this case, I placed the eyes of the owl in the openings, so that they would be tack sharp. 

Second, I used a shallow depth of field.  By doing this, the background became a blur, and, with the mesh distortion in the foreground, it looks like running water.  Also, it makes the owl stand-out from the background.

Third, I did not use a flash.  I used natural light.  A flash could have made the mesh stand-out, scared the owl and made the background look harsh.  It would have taken away from the soft natural light look of the image.

Next time you visit the zoo, bring your camera, and experiment with exposure for the best pictures possible. . .

More later. . .Karen

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