Back to the Bighorn

Bighorn Ram doing his rut stuff.

I’ve started my bighorn sheep photography season. I took last year off from photographing the bighorn. Mostly due to congestion and construction in the area where I normally look for the sheep.

Out this past Wednesday with friend Jim Esten and we easily found a cooperative group to photograph in short order. A good morning overall. No ram combat witnessed on the trip but there was plenty of mating activity and we did manage a few good photographs out of the trip.

Most of what I do with bighorn goes to the stock agencies these days. I try to get at least a handful of photos for stock on these outings, and ended up with an even dozen this time out.

Here are a few samples from the Wednesday outing.

Early morning light in cloudless skies makes for harsh contrasts, but you take what you get.

 

Immature bighorn ram posing in the morning sun.

I’ve found the best time to look for the bighorn is the day after a snow storm, as the sheep come down from the higher elevations to get to good grazing grass. I’ll be keeping my eye on the weather reports and will plan more trips around the snow predictions. Luckily, I can get to them in 45 minutes of driving.

Mature ram mating with a mature ewe.

On a side note, my main camera, the Nikon D810 is getting a little old and the rubber grip on the memory chip access door peeled off.  I’ve got it cleaned up and will glue it back on the camera in the near future.. First time that’s happened to me on a Nikon body. I don’t feel like sending it to Nikon to be fixed, as the camera works fine. I think I can get it glued back on without creating a mess. I’ll report back with the results of that effort.

It always makes for a fun morning.

Covid-19 Hunker-down Log Signing Off – Stardate 44129.34

This will be my last scheduled “Hunker Down” blog entry. Here we are some seven and a half months into the pandemic and there’s no light at the end of this tunnel. Perhaps a vaccine for COVID-19 will be available within the next six months, but I’m not holding my breath.

My family has done well. None of my family that I’m aware of has been infected by the virus. One of my friends and his son did contract the virus a month or so back and both made it through okay. We’ve been lucky, but a lot of that luck has been a result of our diligence to not contracting or spreading the virus. In our house, we still follow the rules we created at the onset back in March. It’s been difficult but one does what one has to do to get through hard times.

We’ve been preoccupied with thought and action regarding our home in Red Feather Lakes that was and is still threatened by the largest wildfire in Colorado history. Other family members have been forced out of their homes as well, and luckily nobody has lost their home yet or even worse, suffered any casualty.

This winter is looking to be a dark season for everyone. The election is a little over a week from now and the political nonsense has grown into something evil. The bottom line is that I’m backing up, taking stock of our lives here and concentrating on the things that matter the most. I’m tired of dealing with and reading about all the idiots, so I’m leaving them to their fate and with no concerns.

It’s difficult to keep writing this blog as life has been like the movie Groundhog Day, with every day, more or less, being a repeat of the day before and the day before that and so on. There’s really nothing to write about and my inspiration has left me. There’s nothing left to say.

We’ve done our best and will continue to do so.

My best wishes to all my friends and followers for the future. Maybe we can rid ourselves of the criminals running our country in the upcoming election. I’m skeptical.

No first responder activity to report.

Still alive and well here in Denver.

 

 

Photography Stuff

The San Juan Range near Last Dollar Road.

I’ve installed the latest Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop updates on all my computers. I’m fairly impressed with the new Photoshop feature for sky replacement. This is going to give me a lot of stock photography wiggle room on photos that otherwise would not have been used. Today’s photo was taken in the Autumn of 2011 and I had never edited it before because the sky was dull and grey. Quickly fixed in Photoshop. A new stock photo too.

DXO Labs has released DXO PhotoLab Elite 4, which I’ve also updated. The new release improves on what may be the industry benchmark for removing noise from images, as well as a few other enhancements which I’ll get around to playing with. My initial tests on the new DeepPRIME noise reduction is encouraging. Comparing the original Prime noise reduction to the new AI based algorithm, DeepPRIME shows a definite improvement on what was already pretty darn good noise reduction.

From my tests, the new DXO PhotoLab 4 works well on ISO 6400 test images from my Nikon DSLR Bodies.

Here is a 100% crop sample at ISO 6400 image taken on my Nikon D750.

The first image is no noise reduction, the second is with the new DeepPRIME noise reduction.

No complaints.

Sky Editing With Photoshop AI Update

I’ve been reading about the upcoming updates from Adobe to Lightroom and Photoshop. The new Photoshop 22.0.0 feature for sky replacement has been the feature I’ve been eagerly waiting to see.

My first attempt is encouraging. I have a number of landscape photographs that were taken on what we call “bald sky” days. The last two years of Autumn foliage trips have been ripe with bald sky days. I don’t let it stop me but I’d prefer to have something more interesting in the sky. Photoshop has solved the problem and from the looks of it, quite well.

Here’s a look at my very first attempt to fix a bald sky photo. Nothing complicated. The change isn’t drastic. I wanted to show a sky with simple cloud patterns rather than totally blue.

First shot the original raw file developed with a neutral preset. Nikon D750

Original neutral preset raw file.

Now, here’s the same image with an artificial AI sky inserted by Photoshop.

Photoshop AI sky generated image.

I don’t know about you, but the image with clouds looks better than the bald sky photo. Now, is the “fixed” image all that great an image? Well, I wouldn’t call it a work of art, but it does have some functionality from my view of the road.

This is a canned effect too. The flexibility of Photoshop will allow you to create skies from your own images and reuse them with the new sky tool as well. Plus the fine tuning aspect of the tool give you plenty of legroom to manipulate your sky image to a more refined look.

I have a butt-load of photos with bald skies that I have never edited and quite a few I have used in my stock photo portfolio. As stock photos, they don’t sell that well, but from time to time, somebody will buy one. Now, I can fix those bald sky shots and probably improve the sales of these types of generic shots, simply because they don’t have bald skies.

I dove down to the pixel level and the edges look very good, which if you’ve ever tried to edit a sky manually, those jagged mountain peaks and trees against a sky are darn right tedious to get looking nicely. Way too much work for me, I don’t normally dink around with the skies in my post processing beyond making minor contrast adjustments and/or adding a gradient filter. This photo at 100% magnification looks far better than anything I would have ever accomplished manually. It works.

Here’s a 100% crop of the mountain ridge in the right-center portion of the screen.

100% crop of the resulting AI render.

That passes muster.

So, I’m sure there are some photographers out there who think that creating a fake sky is cheating. If you are one of them, fine by me. To me though, there is no cheating in photography unless you’ve agreed to not create a fake sky for your client or constituents and do it anyway. When it comes to good photographic art, there are no rules. There are only good photographs. (my Ansel Adams quote, paraphrased)

As for the software update, it’s about time Adobe got back in the game. There’s been a lot of competing software hitting the market over the past couple of years and I was very close to buying one or two just to get the new features. Adobe has stepped up and created a very useful tool for those of us who aren’t afraid to cheat, err, sell more photos.

 

Covid-19 Hunker-down Log – Stardate 44121.58

Jeff Hanna and John McEuen of The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band

Combating Boredom

I’ve been picking up the camera more frequently lately. Since I cancelled my plans to do Autumn foliage this year, I’ve made up for it by shooting wildlife and landscape scenes that are a little closer to the house. Not bad, I’ve added to the portfolio and it is certainly good therapy to get out and use the photographic gear.

I also received my new (used) Sigma 50mm f/2.8 EX DG Macro lens today. I’ve been watching eBay for the past year waiting for one of these rare lenses to come up for sale and finally it did. I now have a matching pair of Sigma Macro lenses, the 50mm and the 105mm f/2.8 EX DG Macro, both of which are outstanding lenses that I’ve owned before in the Canon mount. Sigma has long since discontinued these lenses and nothing they’ve released as replacements over the past 10 years comes close to the optical quality these two lenses offer.

There’s a third Sigma Macro lens I’m still watching for, the Sigma 70mm f/2.8 EX DG Macro that will complete the trifecta.

Good news on the wildfire front, for us at least. The evacuations in Red Feathers have been lifted and we made a run up earlier this week to get a few things before Winter closed in. The Cameron Peak Fire, though still burning out of control, seems to have skirted the village and saved us at least.

Life otherwise has been pretty much the same here, just hunkering down and trying to fly below the radar.

Happy Thought Inventory

Our home in Red Feathers is still standing and I have a new lens to play with.

Today’s photo is from a concert Trudy and I went to on LaVeta Pass a few years back. The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band and several other acts. We all rode the vintage train to the venue, along with the band. We got to sit with these guys and talk to them one on one during the trip.  A very good day it was. A happy memory it is.

Slacker Status

The virus is spreading at about twice it’s previous rate, up to about 800 or so infections per day here in Colorado. That means people are letting their guard down and slacking off. Stupid is as stupid does.

No first responder activity to report.

Still alive and well here in Denver

 

Still Living in DSLR Land

Garden of the Gods, Red Rock Formations (Nikon D810,  24-70mm f/2.8E ED VR AF-S, 58mm, f/10, ISO 280)

I purchased the Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8 VR earlier this year in February as a replacement for the 24-120mm VR I had been using for years. The old 24-120mm is basically a kit lens and not a bad lens, but it does have a few problem areas that I wanted to eliminate.

My first real use of the newer 24-70 f/2.8 was this past week when I gave it a good days work at Garden of the Gods and I’m very happy with the results I got from it. This isn’t a new lens to the market though. It was originally released by Nikon in 2015, a lifetime ago by market standards, but it is the most up to date version in that focal range for the DSLR mount.

Which brings me back to my current mindset. The camera manufacturers are all producing Mirrorless products these days. Mirrorless is the latest-greatest but honestly, they aren’t the greatest from my view of the road. Battery life and lack of system additions, along with product shortages and lack of longer and macro lenses don’t make for a better system. While the mirrorless surge takes over the commercial consumer market, I plan to keep my DSLR’s for some time yet to come. Mirrorless isn’t producing better photos and all the perceived advantages of switching to mirrorless aren’t that many and where they fall short makes them a 89% solution from my view of the road. I’ll let the herd follow the market. Myself, I’ll keep using my DSLR’s and getting great shots without having to trash my gear and buy new commercial products.

I’ve got my day kit all worked out for the time being. Nikon DSLR’s, D810, D750, D500, and lenses. I can pack two bodies, the 24-70, 70-200, and the 200-500 in my courier bag along with a few extras and I’ve got a handy-dandy day kit that will get just about anything done well. Plus I can count on battery life up to 3,000 shots per battery charge. Try that with your mirrorless body.

Filling in the Holes

Garden of the Gods, Colorado Springs, CO

My primary pursuit for photographs these days are stock photos. Yeah, I’m still interested in the fine-art aspect of the work I do, but the really nice landscape and wildlife photos are not really my focus (no pun intended.) Case in point, Garden of the Gods in Colorado Springs. A good stock photo is one that sells. Not everyone is looking for fine art, some are looking for descriptive photographs of popular landmarks.

Garden of the Gods is a city park located near Pikes Peak and is a really big tourist spot. I’ve been going there for many years, and even photographed a wedding there once many years ago. It’s a beautiful place with very interesting rock formations and beautiful views of the Rocky Mountains. My stock photo catalog of images from Garden of the Gods for years has been limited to a handful of photographs, and those photographs sell frequently. The problem has always been that I didn’t have a lot of shots from there.

Earlier this week I decided to address the lack of coverage issue and wanted to add to the selection of images on the stock agencies, so my buddy Jim Esten and I made the drive down in afternoon construction traffic and worked the park for several hours.

The end result is that I added another dozen or so images to the catalog and I fully expect some of them to make a few bucks. Travel websites and other online publications are always looking for specific images of a location, so now they have more to choose from in my catalog. I’ll probably return to Colorado Springs this Winter to get some added photos with snow on the ground.

The idea, find the holes in my catalog and fill them. If filling those holes earns me more than it cost me to get new photographs, it’s a win. By my estimates, I spent about $20 on gas. The dozen new photos will probably earn me more than that within a year.

Nature’s Variations

I had an interesting close encounter with a herd of mule deer at Rocky Mountain Arsenal this past Saturday afternoon.

One thing I look for when out photographing deer are genetic mutations. The two most common deer species here in Colorado are Mule Deer and White-tailed Deer. Both species can be found in abundance at Rocky Mountain Arsenal NWR, often in the same proximity.

First, I’m not a wildlife biologist. I have no special training on ungulates beyond information readily available on the internet. I have done a bit of reading and research on the different types of deer though. I know enough to easily identify the different species I’ve encountered. Sometimes.

Learning to identify which type of deer one is observing isn’t normally very difficult. Mule Deer have a distinct antler growth pattern that is different from a White-tailed Deer. Another indicator of species is the coloring of the fur on the tail of the deer. Mule Deer generally have a black tip at the end of their tail, and White-tailed deer normally have a dark outer fur with a white under coat on their tails. The first thing I look for when identifying the species is the tail. Sometimes I run across a deer that doesn’t follow those norms though.

Case in point.

The herd of Mule Deer I photographed on Saturday afternoon had a nice mix of young adult male and female deer, along with some youngsters and yearlings. One particular buck in the herd, at first glance, appeared to be a typical young Mule Deer buck. It had the black tip tail. The fur coloring was identical to the other deer in the herd; however, there was something a little different. His antlers were not typical of a Mule Deer and looked more like the antlers of a White-tailed deer. The other bucks in the herd all had the typical Mule-deer antlers. I quickly dialed in to the variant and followed him with the camera until I could get a nice photo of his antlers.

Mule Deer buck with different antlers. Rocky Mountain Arsenal NWR.

Notice the antlers on the deer in the above shot. They extend up and quickly turn to the front of the deer. There’s also no front tine on the antlers, as is typical of a mule deer. These antlers look like White-tailed deer antlers.

The next photo is a typical young Mule Deer buck. Notice how the antlers, while containing some curvature, are growing more in a upward direction and then splitting off to different points. There’s also small tine growth near the base. Typical Mule Deer.

Young Mule Deer Buck with normal antlers. Rocky Mountain Arsenal NWR.

Now, take a look at a pair of White-tailed bucks in the last photo. Again, found at Rocky Mountain Arsenal. These young bucks are classic White-tails, with the forward curved antlers and growth pattern. Also notice the lack of a black tip on the tail.

Young White-tailed bucks, Rocky Mountain Arsenal NWR.

I’ve seen these and other variations at RMA from time to time. I’ve also found these variations in other locations along the front range of Colorado.

It’s known that deer species will interbreed and that interbreeding often results in deer with characteristics of the two different species. In my experience, the cross bred Mule Deer and White-tailed Deer often look more like Mule Deer with hints of the White-tail Deer in its body. The deer I saw on Saturday all accepted this cross bred fellow as one of their herd. He was living with the Mule Deer and probably didn’t know he was a little different, but somewhere up the gene pool, one or more of his relatives was a White-tailed deer there at the Arsenal.

I was fortunate to encounter this group and find this mutant amongst them.

Adding to the experience, while I was photographing this group of deer, an older fellow with Florida license plates on his car drove up to where I was working. As he crept along behind me, he lowered the passenger window of his car and was watching me work. The deer were standing near a fence at the end of Rattle Snake Hill road and he blurted out through the window of the car.

“You aren’t going to get any good photos with that fence in the background.” I paused long enough to turn towards his car and I gave him a raised eyebrow look that beamed my annoyance at him for disrupting the deer I was trying to photograph.

I walked up to the window of his car as he began explaining how bad that fence was going to look in my photo and whispered in the window, “I’m not photographing the fence, I’m photographing that young buck you just spooked.”

He closed his car window and zipped on away from the scene. Fortunately, the deer settled down quickly and I was able to continue working.

It happens all the time. I’ll find a group of animals and sit and watch them, taking my time and being quiet, I’ll get the shots I am looking for, but someone will drive upon the scene, make a lot of noise and offer advice or want to inject themselves into what I am doing and totally foul up the situation with their presence. It’s hard to be polite to people like this. The traveling experts, always there when you don’t need them. He had no clue and would have never noticed the cross-bred animal.

All he saw was a fence.

Covid-19 Hunker-down Log – Stardate 44114.30

White-tailed buck at dawn. Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge

Combating Boredom

Another week of hunkering down. Not much happening here in Denver other than the constant bombardment of political crap and reruns on television. The national election is in a few weeks and I’ve long since made up my mind as to how I’m voting. I try to avoid political discussions with my friends and acquaintances, what’s the point? I’m sure they’ve made up their minds too and it isn’t my job to convince anyone of the correctness of their decisions. I guess that’s what elections are about, everyone getting their two cents in. For the record, I’m an Independent voter and I’m not voting for any Republican on any ticket. I doubt I’ll ever vote for another Republican, ever, for the remainder of my life. If you’re wondering why, you’re probably a Republican. Enough said about that.

The photography is still on hold, more or less. It’s hard to find motivation to make road trips during the pandemic. We don’t go out much, except to buy groceries and necessary supplies to continue hunkering while the world goes mad. I’ll wait it out, sooner or later, things will change.

On the subject of photography, I’ve closed my stock photography account with ShutterStock. A few months ago they changed their payment structure for contributors, reducing the amount paid for any particular download to a paltry 10 cents per image in most instances. It’s a shareholder thing, their stock performance has been lackluster and the people who’ve invested in their company are wanting more money so they’ve decided to take it out of our pockets. Apparently, I’m not the only contributor to feel fleeced as the general feeling amongst us contributors is that ShutterStock has screwed a lot of people who rely on their stock photography to supplement their income. My official top stock sales site is now Adobe Stock. Adobe has been very good to me and other contributors, maintaining a solid payment for downloads and providing top contributors with free subscriptions to Adobe Creative Cloud (Lightroom and Photoshop.) Right now, I’d say ShutterStock is an “avoid” for buying stock photography. They’ve turned to sweat-shop tactics to bolster their profits. The sad truth is the only loyalty a company has is to the share-holders. Since they have no loyalty to the people who actually do the work that keeps them in business, I’m out. I’ll make up the minor loss of income by doing something different.

In a few weeks, I’ll be scaling up the photography efforts though. Even though I’ve skipped the Autumn foliage trip this year, the cycle of subjects is always changing and I’ll be putting more effort into bighorn sheep, and other Winter subjects. The big bummer so far has been that I’ve not had much of a chance to use a new lens I bought specifically for landscape work.

I just received my Senior lifetime National Parks Pass. Wow wee. I tried going to the National Parks Office in Conifer back in August to get one, but their office was closed. Too bad they didn’t indicate that fact on their website, I could have saved four gallons of gasoline and 2 hours of driving, so I applied for one online instead. It only too six weeks to receive. Like everything else with the Federal Government these days, serving the public seems to be low on the priority list of the Trump administration. No problems now though. I’ll never have to buy another annual parks pass. Getting old has benefits from time to time.

I’m still waiting for our vehicle registration from Jefferson County DMV. Apparently the pandemic has put a big crimp in the pipeline for issuing new vehicle registrations. Our first temporary tag expired in September and we have a second temporary tag on the Lexus. I’ve heard that if they fail to send you your registration a second time, they have to give it to you for free. I don’t know if that’s true or not, but we’re good until mid November, what ever the case may be. My expectations are low.

Happy Thought Inventory

Hard to find any happiness in the world these days. People screaming everywhere about this or that. Politics dominating our lives like never before. Crazy people in charge and accountability at a minimum. I guess I’m happy that our family is doing well and staying healthy. I’ll cast my votes in November and continue avoiding people I don’t want to be around, particularly those who believe that they would be better off if my family was sick or dead. The rest is out of my control.

Slacker Status

I have to say that the few times I’ve been out in public, there seems to be an improved willingness by most folks to wear masks and at least give a minimal effort to maintaining public health. For those who don’t give a shit, I say to you, I don’t give a shit about you either. I have no problems avoiding you and your business if you aren’t on board with doing what needs to be done and I really don’t care if you want to get sick and die. My mindset has been solid and constant and it isn’t going to change. I’m not going to be a good consumer if it involves a serious risk of getting sick. I do enjoy the videos of the numb-skulls having fits in public, screaming about their rights and doing things that don’t improve the situation. To me, those people are dumb-shits and I don’t associate with them.

No first responder activity to report.

Still alive and well here in Denver.