22 October 2019

Raptor Rapture

My goal Saturday was to download, edit and upload all my photos and then build my 2020 calendar before going to bed (after only one hour of sleep the night before because I was so excited).

I can't even begin to describe how hard that would make me laugh now, if I had the energy!!!

I left my house at 5:30 a.m. I got home at 8 p.m. after one of the most miserable metro drives I've endured in a very long time... mostly because I don't drive into or through the metro area all that much anymore. You could say I try avoiding the metro area like the plague, except for when I have to go to work, of course. The commuter train does that driving for me.

I thought perhaps I could at least get all the photos downloaded, edited and uploaded after church on Sunday. Of the 1,449 photos, 42 are uploaded as I write this post. That includes a short little movie featuring all of the birds but one. The plan was to begin working last night on my next pdf snowflake booklet to raise money for the fight against Parkinson's. Now I realize that probably isn't going to happen this week, and perhaps not even this month.

But, hey, it was such a fantastic day, and the photos are so incredible!!! It's worth every single minute I have to sink into them.

The Raptor Education Foundation did such a magnificent job of scoping out and providing suitable photography backgrounds that mimic the birds' natural habitat as close as possible. REF president Peter Reshetniak tried to cater to the 12 drooling photographers, letting us suggest alternate spots if desired, provide light angle suggestions and shoot as long as we still had room on our memory cards.

My excitement bubbled over upon arrival (the first photographer to arrive) when Peter recognized me because of a collection of peregrine photos I shot about 24 years ago at the building where I work. I met Peter way back in approximately 1995 when he presented a program (with a live peregrine!!!) that included, among other things, a few details regarding the history of peregrine introduction in Downtown Denver during the late 1980s by Colorado Parks and Wildlife. I had captured (via old-fashioned 35mm film) a peregrine enjoying lunch on a (31st floor) window ledge of our building. Our general manager at the time (since retired) blew up and framed three of my photos, which still hang in the office today, in spite of office moves, renovations and complete building overhauls. Peter had been impressed by my photos, and he was excited to see peregrines actually thriving in downtown.

I have fancied myself a photographer since I was about 5 years old, when my dad gave me my first camera. He learned very quickly that a film camera was better for a child than a Polaroid (which is what he used) because he didn't have to put actual film in the little Instamatic. I could shoot to my heart's content (which I did), and he didn't have to worry about processing the film. (It did have film in it when he gave it to me, and that lasted about eight minutes. I'm not sure a single shot turned out.)

When I began shooting for my first newspaper employer, I used a Pentax K-1000, and I had only the lens that came with it. I'd worked my heart out at the McDonald's drive-through and babysitting to pay for that camera. I still have it today. It always works. Even when the battery dies. The battery powered only the light meter. Batteries in the small town where I grew up were so difficult to obtain, I often shot without one after whatever I was using expired. I learned, via experience, how to judge the light quality of just about anything I photographed by bracketing, thanks to Professor Ray Kissiah at New Mexico State University. "Bracket like hell!" he would preach every single week in class.  BLH was his class motto.

I bought a Pentax ME Super while I was still working for a newspaper. It was so exciting to use a camera with auto everything back then! The excitement, however, was short-lived. The camera couldn't handle the desert heat, and the computer circuits fried while I was shooting a national event at White Sands National Monument just a little more than a year after I bought it. I sent the camera to Pentax, only to discover it could not be repaired. It would be cheaper to buy a new camera, the corporation wrote back. I made do with that manual Pentax body for many years. I converted to a Nikon FM at my second newspaper and actually bought my first big telephoto so I could shoot wildlife in Rocky Mountain National Park. That camera and lens were destroyed in a motor vehicle accident in 1994, and the Nikon was later replaced with a much nicer model (the camera I used last weekend).

I used that same Pentax K-1000 to capture my first peregrine ever on the window ledge at the office where I work. Although the company where I work often asks me to photographically document places, events and people, I am no longer a professional photographer. I shoot for the joy it brings me and for the joy my photos bring others. My job has enabled me to buy two Nikon D300s (released circa 2008), the first in about 2009 and the second a couple of years ago, and a host of lenses. I would like to purchase a newer Nikon model one day, but I'm doing just fine with what I've got, and I'll use both D300s (and my little point and shoot) until they can't shoot and can't be repaired.

One of the things I've noticed about some professional photographers is something common in the quilting world, too. Snobbery. I've told many a tale about the comments I've received from judges when I enter my quilts in competition. I try to roll with the punches and learn from the comments, but sometimes, the comments are just a little bit snarky and probably don't really need to be said.

While excitedly waiting for our first raptor last weekend, we photographers were huddled, asking who was shooting what. Many of the 12 photographers sported more expensive lenses than I will ever be able to justify. But that's always been the case for me, and I've always thought, "I just need to get closer than they do." And I often do. I once had a military guy rake me over the coals for getting too close to an oryx on White Sands Missile Range, after the fact, thankfully. I've even scared the daylights out of my brother with how close I was willing to approach a moose.

One of the safari photographers had a little point and shoot. I thought it was so cool that no one gave her a hard time. She was happy with her camera, and I was thankful the pros didn't try to voice their expertise and opinions. Especially after one did with me...

I had just stepped out of the car and was cradling my beloved D300 with fixed 300mm lens because Ray Kissiah had taught us way back in the '80s that you don't carry a big, heavy telephoto from the camera strap. Too much strain on the mount, he said. I always support the heaviest portion of my setup with my hand or arm.

"You're actually still using a D300??" one photographer balked.

"Yes, and very happy to still be using it," I truthfully responded. "It's still got another 20,000 shots to go, and I'm going to do my best to eke out every single one."

Another of the photographers quickly jumped to my defense, saying, "I bet you really love the manual settings on that camera.  The modern ones aren't as easy to use when you want to configure your own settings."

He is absolutely right.  I was very thankful for his presence and his courage to speak up.

The rude comment didn't really bother me too much that moment, but as the day wore on, I did let it get under my skin just a little. Perhaps because this guy was shooting 10,000 frames per minute and filling 256-gigabyte cards faster than I can devour homemade chocolate chip cookies and complaining the entire time about how long it was going to take him to edit his photos.  (In comparison, I filled three 4-gig cards.)  This guy also complained about having to shoot a bald eagle.  He'd been to Homer, Alaska, so he didn't need any bald eagle shots.

I spent eight years in Estes Park and often had elk in my yard.  I never tire of stalking the elk.

I had a motor drive many years ago with my ME Super. I used the motor drive and loved it... except it was such a power hog. It went through batteries as fast as the pro went through memory cards. When my ME Super died, I realized I could make my rolls of film last much longer if I shot one frame at a time. I also could anticipate the height of action and punch the trigger at precisely the right split second before I got the motor drive, and I had to redevelop that skill after I wasn't able to use the motordrive anymore.

My D300s will shoot multiple frames in a burst if I set them to do that. My point and shoot will do bursts if I put it in sports mode. The point and shoot has a serious shutter delay, so sometimes the burst mode is the best way to try to get the shot I want, by shooting before the height of action and hoping it might actually capture what I wanted. So I am pretty happy without a motor drive, and I'm most happy with my "real" cameras that feature no shutter delay.

It's going to take a good, long while for me to edit all of my photos from this shoot, but I don't have as many shots to edit as some of those other photographers.  I think that gives me the last laugh. So I'm not uptight anymore.

For your enjoyment, here's the little movie of all the raptors but one. I know, I should have used a tripod.  If I ever get to do this again, I promise I will pack the tripod.

I silenced the clip because it glorifies the non-stop buzz of camera motordrives. I thought about adding some pretty music to the background but ultimately decided the silence helps me imagine what I'd be hearing in the background if I was out in the wild shooting these shots.

This was one of the best days of my life.  I hope my photos bring you the joy they bring me!


  1. Wow, you sure got some wonderful captures indeed. Funny how you went through the film in 8 mins as a kid, or thereabouts haha People are snobs in everything, writing, cameras, whatever. There are always some. The have to compensate for something usually. Prop themselves up because they can do this better or buy this, or so they say, pffft to them. Awesome that you had a great day.

  2. Um 1 - I still think you are a total professional - both in photography and how you handled that comment - and 2 . WOW WOW WOW - what an awesome day!! I hope you will share more of your photos - they are SO amazing!!! oh and 3. - that guy needs a little joy in his life... sheesh - Look at what you got to see!! I am so happy for you ( and honestly a tad jealous!! ha ha) Amazing!


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