Thursday, March 10, 2011

When Mother Nature Lends a Hand




Maryland Nature photographer, Bob Cammarata, shares some of his unique and entertaining experiences as well as some of the secret methods he's developed for "shooting" the animals.  You will really enjoy his stories and his magical photographs.

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Bob has submitted two other stories of Relentless Pursuit.  Here are links to them:

"Next Stop Oz"

"On White Mountain"

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I'd love to know what you think of the "Relentless Pursuit" series. Please leave a comment below or email me with your suggestions on what you'd like to see on this blog. If you have a story to post on this theme, contact me. And be sure to take a look at my photography site. I'd love to hear from you!
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Michelle Alton
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When Mother Nature Lends a Hand

Nature photography is a challenging endeavor. A thorough working expertise of one’s equipment, acquired stealth prowess and species knowledge can take the optimistic outdoor shooter only so far. It’s always appreciative and obliging when Nature tosses that tiny crumb of providence his or her way. No matter what species or circumstance a nature photographer may choose to pursue, it’s his or her subject that will always have the final word…so I guess a little luck can never be a bad thing.


Where's My Carrion ?


Certain creatures can usually be relied upon to follow predictable behavior patterns. Unlike their larger cousin…the shy and reserved Turkey Vulture, Black Vultures have always been known to be a little more “camera friendly”. But who would have expected the antics of this particularly bold character? I was perfectly content shooting this bird perched high overhead in a nearby tree. From inside my vehicle, it was easy to get full-frame crops with my 600 mm pointed skyward. I was pretty much able to fire at will.

I took my eye off the bird for a brief instant to check my camera settings and when I looked back at the tree, the branch where my vulture once perched swayed empty in the breeze. It had been fun while it lasted but I knew that all good things must eventually end.

A few seconds later, I was startled by a strange scratching sound which seemed to be emanating from the roof of my Jeep. A quick glance through the window revealed that the intrepid bird had landed on my roof rack and was staring down at me!

Could it be this easy? Could it be possible to get close-up head shots of a wild black vulture without battling with huge glass? In an effort to find out, I quickly shed the 600 mm lens and attached a 180 mm. When I quietly opened the car door to step out, I was amazed that the vulture had held its ground (or rather, its roof). The bird was very cooperative and after having shot what was considered my share of intimate portraits from a few feet away, I shooed the avian invader into flight and got back into the Jeep to drive to my next stop.

But that same familiar scratching sound indicated that this rambunctious critter wasn’t yet quite ready to quit! After circling a few times, the bird had returned to its previous position on the roof rack. I slowly drove away, expecting the motion to prompt my hitch-hiker into flight but it wasn’t until I had accelerated up to speed that it finally abandoned its newly-found favorite roost and departed. I later learned that my accommodating photographic subject had left a fairly large deposit on the roof. (…payment for services rendered, no doubt.)



I Feel Pretty

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Special Moments

White-tailed fawns are born scentless and with an inbred instinct to curl into a ball and remain motionless when approached or threatened…using an effective camouflage to “disappear” into their surroundings. To actually witness young fawns exhibiting this behavior in the wild is a rare and unique experience. I happened upon this newborn a few years ago while hiking in the Catoctin Mountains in central Maryland. As luck would have it, I was toting my full arsenal of photographic gear.

After grabbing a few photos from varying angles, it was apparent that my discovery seemed completely unconcerned with my close proximity. To take full advantage of this special moment, I quickly attached a second camera with a wide-angle lens to my tripod and used the timer to set up a few self-portraits. Throughout the entire session, the fawn did not move.

I was initially concerned that this was possibly a sick or diseased animal so I sent a few photos to Maryland D.N.R. They assured me that this was likely a healthy fawn exhibiting normal behavior. For that, I was relieved.

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Part of the Act
This story-telling photographic opportunity could not have been any easier! It happened a few years ago during a local ladybug explosion…when my home was so full of the little buggers that I was convinced that my house was the primary winter layover stop for their annual migrations. One evening while sorting and editing a recent batch of photos, one of my resident ladybug tenants, with obvious aspirations of stardom, flew toward my workstation and landed onto one of my slides. After realizing the photographic possibilities of what had just transpired, I immediately grabbed my camera. A quick rearrangement of the slide trays and a propped up black background was my only involvement. The rest was pure luck.

A few seconds after her brief film debut, Lady Luck decided it was time to spread her wings and take to the air to rejoin the rest of her clan encircling my ceiling light.

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Working for Peanuts

I’ve always been an ardent fan of “conceptual photography”. That truly special artistic genre in which an idea or concept is first envisioned in the mind’s eye. After which, tools and techniques are planned and implemented in an attempt to realize the artist’s vision. It’s relatively easy to achieve this objective when working entirely with inanimate objects. With live subjects…maybe NOT so simple! After enjoying and photographing the amiable antics of the ubiquitous array of gray squirrels that gather to frolic around my bird feeders each winter, I thought it might be kind’a cool to somehow get a photograph of one of the squirrels taking MY picture for a change. But how does one perform so seemingly daunting a task?

Knowing that gray squirrels are so easily bribed was half the battle. And, they’ll work cheap…literally for peanuts! So with my cache of specialized film camera equipment and a battle plan in hand…along with a few pounds of unsalted peanuts, I set out in an attempt to accomplish my goal. A “prop” camera on a table-top tripod was meticulously set up in an area frequented by squirrels, chipmunks and other back-yard fuzzies. A second tripod-mounted camera was positioned nearby. A radio slave remote system was wired to the motor drive of the main camera to allow me to observe the action and trip the shutter from a safe working distance. A few dozen peanuts were scattered around the prop camera with one peanut lightly secured to the back of the camera near the eyepiece with a piece of cellophane tape.

In theory, the scattering of nuts would attract the squirrels to the area of the camera and after they were all consumed, some brave soul might wish to press its luck and reach up onto that weird contraption to snag that final peanut…thus positioning itself into the perfect pose for my intended photograph.

Throughout the earlier stages of this enjoyable, multi-hour project some valuable lessons were learned. The first realization was that gray squirrels are much heavier and stronger than they look. My prop tripod was tipped over several times when the ravenous rodents quarreled over the nuts close to the tripod legs. To combat this problem, a few heavy rocks had to be wedged against the feet of the tripod (…out of frame, of course).

And I learned that gray squirrels are really fast! My plan seemed to be working as perfectly as intended…except that I’d miscalculated how quickly they could snatch the nut off the back of the camera. I had to be lightning-quick on the remote trigger because in the blink of an eye it was all over and the squirrel was back on the ground munching its prize.

Another interesting fact I discovered was that chipmunks can sense the presence of free peanuts from  great distances but unlike their larger cousins, they prefer their meals “to go”. They would emerge from tiny holes a dozen yards away, snag a nut, then scurry quickly back to the safety of their underground burrows.

I also learned something new about Tufted Titmice and Chickadees. They like peanuts too! On several occasions, these tiny birds would land on top of the prop camera and either fly off with the bait or just repeatedly peck at it until it fell to the ground to be quickly consumed by whatever lucky squirrel fortunate enough to be next in line.

But eventually, I fell into my groove. All of the bugs and pitfalls had been worked out, my “customers” were eagerly awaiting the next handful of handouts…and I could usually anticipate with relative certainty the exact micro-second to trip the shutter when that full-body stretch for the last key peanut was attempted.

And even though this photo session ended up consuming several hours and three rolls of slide film for just one keeper, the memories of times invested in search of any inner-visions are truly immeasurable.

As a side note: A few folks have asked me what ever happened to the pictures that squirrel took but I’ve never been able to locate that roll of film.

(…you think he buried it?)

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Bob's Bio:

I am a Maryland photographer who specializes in nature in all its forms. For as long as I can remember, my love for the outdoors has inspired me to capture nature's beauty and intrigue. My primary interests photographically involve traveling the country and getting up close and personal with subjects in nature. My travels have taken me to every corner of the U.S. and parts of Canada but in today’s economy, it’s becoming evermore difficult to plan a road trip unless it’s all downhill!  I prefer to shoot in full-manual 100% of the time because I believe that it affords the ultimate in control and accurately represents the challenges and rewards that this great art has to offer.  I’m an active member of BetterPhoto.com and a regular contributor to their Forums and Newsletters. My photos have been published in business brochures and on Bugguide and other popular wildlife sites and many have been sold as fine art prints. Lately though, I do this for fun.

I believe photography to be the therapy which keeps one sane in a crazy world.

Feel free to visit my website at http://www.cammphoto.com/ .


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  All photographs in "When Mother Nature Lends a Hand" by Bob Cammarata.


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4 comments:

Emncraig said...

Well, I thoroughly enjoyed each one of these. The photography was as enjoyable as the storylines.
Thanks for sharing these experiences and please post more!!

Anonymous said...

Most enjoyable. Interesting as well. A real study of nature.

Joe DiGilio said...

Good story and great photos too Bob. You must very fast and know animals as well.

Nikki said...

Wonderful stories, Bob, and so very well written. You are an artist of words as well as photography.