It feels like I’ve been seeing on my wildlife safaris recently have been birds: peregrine falcons, bald eagles, ospreys, great horned owls, and wilsons warblers to name a few. I’ve managed to capture some feeding their young or sitting in various vantage points, but I feel like I need to get more good images in flight or action to push by bird photography to the next level.
This weekend I was out looking for bobcats and had the most incredible luck. I spotted one in a field almost immediately and decided to approach it from behind a hill to get closer without spooking it. This meant going the long way round, but as I crossed into a different field I found myself close to another one. It was hunting and didn’t seem bothered by my presence.
I watched it catch a gopher, then take it to the bushes to eat. Afterwards, it continued its hunt while I got a couple of my best photos to date. In the first it looked like it was growling at me, but in reality it was just panting in the hot afternoon sun. What a day!
After weeks of rain, travel for work, a new job, and other commitments, I finally got a couple of weekends where I could get out and take photos in Point Reyes. The trips were a real mixed bag.
The first was incredible. The first tree I looked in had a great horned owl. The first field had a bobcat. We watched a great blue heron for a whole two minutes before it snagged a gopher and swallowed the poor wee guy whole.
The second was less successful. I spotted my first ever weasel, but it ran into the bushes before I got a photo, and the only bird I photographed was a black winged blackbird. But, I’d rather have a day out there missing the shots than sitting at home, and no matter whether I get a photo or not, seeing a new critter is always a thrill.
Today I was honored to have one of my photos selected for Lee Filters’ March gallery. My photo of Merced River, Yosemite Valley, was one of five selected by photographer Andrew Marr. Here’s what he had to say about it:
“I would love to one day visit Yosemite, with its waterways, unique forests and majestic mountain ranges. This image has each of these elements, expertly composited to guide the viewer through the scene.
Snow can be difficult to expose correctly. However, Derick has captured detail in the bank of snow along the edge of the water, that helps guide the eye in the midground of the scene, and has also retained detail in the darker shadows amongst the trees.
The falling snow or mist drifting in front of the mountains adds to the mood. By using a shutter speed of 6 seconds, through the use of a Big Stopper filter, Derick has managed to capture more of the fog. This approach also provides separation between the trees and the mountains in the background.
The image leaves me in no doubt that Yosemite should stay high on my list and I think winter would be an excellent time to visit.”
In retrospect it was worth heading up there in a blizzard and wrestling with tire chains until my hands bled for this image, and this feature.
Over a year ago I had an amazing experience photographing wildlife at Point Reyes with renowned photographer Daniel Dietrich. The whole experience got me hooked on a whole new kind of photography, and I’ve been visiting Point Reyes for that reason at every opportunity since.
There’s been many highlights in the past year, but nothing compared to finding a bobcat in the wild and watching her hunt. I’d been looking for another bobcat to photograph ever since and constantly failing. This week I had some spare time and decided to dedicate a whole day to the search.
I arrived early in the morning and almost immediately spotted one walking down the hillside. When he sat in the grass I thought I had the perfect opportunity to find some cover and get a bit closer. Unfortunately a deer stumbled upon the bobcat first and chased it away into the bushes. I lost sight of it and spent hours roaming around the fields looking for another glimpse.
Late in the afternoon I spotted another bobcat hunting on a hillside. Just as I got into position a tractor came over the hill and the bobcat ran away. I stayed on its tail and came around the hill from the other side. I had no idea where it could be, but it turned out closer than I expected. Ten yards away it left up and all I saw was two back legs springing into the bushes.
As evening arrived I finally decided to wrap up and leave. As frustrating as the day had been I was energized and excited by the experiences and happy to have spent a day outdoors. And then I saw another bobcat. It was on the other side of a cattle coral so I knew I had a chance to use that as a bluff and get close without scaring it. Eventually I found a position lying in the grass where I could watch. The cat spotted me of course, but I wasn’t bothering it and she calmly let me watch her hunt for a while from a safe distance. A magical, and lucky, experience.
With a week off between jobs I was looking for somewhere in reach I could take landscape photos for a few days. Death Valley was the perfect option: far enough to merit a special trip, but near enough to drive. Even although it’s a desert, the variety of landscapes is astonishing. And the place is huge! That meant a lot of planning to see everything I wanted under the right conditions, but it was really worth it.
I visited Death Valley a few years ago, and to be honest I shot many of the same landscapes. But that was intentional because this was an opportunity to see how far my photography has come since then. I also experimented with panorama stitching and focus stacking (after being inspired by Thomas Heaton’s fantastic YouTube channel). I was really pleased with the results, but Zabriskie Point at sunrise was the highlight of the trip.
What do you do when the weather’s too bad for photography? Take photos anyway. Billy Connolly says, “There's no such thing as bad weather, just the wrong clothing, so get yourself a sexy raincoat and live a little.” That’s what I did this weekend. It was gray and wet, but we went to Muir Beach anyway and captured some of the atmosphere.
Yosemite is stunning under a blanket of snow, but sometimes the challenge of getting there makes the payoff even more rewarding. After one failed attempt to get in via 120 due to road conditions, and multiple fails with tire chains, we finally got into the valley a full 24 hours later via 140. I’m glad we did though. In the meadows the snow was up to our waists and with a few fortuitous breaks in the snowfall I got some photos I was really pleased with.
After a weekend in wine country we decided to take a drive back via the Sonoma coast. I remembered that there were sometimes bald eagles by the Russian River in Jenner, so we swung by to see. There were a couple down by the harbor seals, but they were too far away to get a decent shot. When they flew up to an old fallen tree on the beach I realized if I was quick in getting round to Goat Rock Beach I might catch them from the other side. I crept along the beach until I was close enough to get a shot. Just as I arrived, and with a break in the rain, they took off, but I managed one sharp shot at that exact moment. Some days you just get lucky.
Over the last couple of weekends I made two trips to Point Reyes. On the first I came across a beautiful great horned owl. After taking some photos I was really pleased with I promptly lost my memory card and the images are seemingly gone forever. Typically that would really bother me, but four incredible encounters with the wildlife later I was feeling truly grateful for my experiences.
In each occasion I was able to spend a lengthy period with each animal, watching from a reasonable distance and observing their behavior. Elephant seals tussling on the beach, a hawk scaring turkey vultures away from her kill, and a northern harrier surveying his land calmly from a rocky perch were special moments. My favorite, however, had to be the tiny burrowing owl standing over his underground nest. The photographs were worth every second lying in the wet grass.
This year on Instagram I created 135 posts and received a surprising 15,383 likes. I'm not ashamed to say that's a number I'm proud of. These numbers were generated by 2017bestnine.com. My favorite nine are shown below.
A few weeks ago I talked about all the missteps I had trying to capture an image I was happy with for the Mill Valley Click-Off. The image above is the one I finally created on the last possible opportunity I had before the deadline. It wasn’t exactly the photo I set out to capture, but that’s the nature of, well, nature. It doesn’t always cooperate. And I was really happy with how it turned out.
This week the winners of the Click-Off were announced at a small ceremony. There were five categories and I’m honored to say I collected first prize in the Black and White category. It felt even better when I saw the quality of images. There were some amazing photographs included, and some very talented photographers taking part. I was also proud to have won in that specific category given that my photography is almost always in color.
I hadn’t entered any photography competitions before this year, but I’ve gained a ton of confidence having been selected for a monthly feature by Lee Filters, collected third prize in a Visit Marin competition, and now this recognition. I’m also really grateful for the encouragement from Allison too. Now I’m looking forward to what 2019 has in store.
This year I’ve had a lot to be thankful for, so on a very autumnal Thanksgiving weekend it was great to #optoutside and enjoy much that I have to be grateful for.
Shooting an image for the Mill Valley Click-Off competition really tested me! For my first attempt I went up Mount Tamalpais looking for a dramatic sunset image. The cloud cover made it difficult, and while I got a couple of images I liked in color, I didn’t manage to get one that felt right in black and white.
On my second stop I headed to San Pablo Bay looking for a sunrise shot. That got off to a bad start as the clocks went back that night and I mis-timed daybreak by an hour. Conditions weren’t great either and I new my window of opportunity for the competition was closing.
My third attempt was at Black Sands Beach in the Marin Headlands. I found a great composition, but the tide was moving in fast. Every time I got set up and began my long exposure a rogue wave would surge up the beach. I had a few lucky escapes with my camera until one wave drenched me up to the waist and my camera got soaked. I was very lucky it still worked the next morning.
In a final, desperate attempt I went back to Black Sands Beach the next day. I like the additional layer of meaning with black sand and white water on the theme of a black and white and white image. I’ll share the results of that image soon.
I recently entered a photography competition, the Mill Valley Click-Off. Competitors are randomly assigned a category by drawing a theme from a hat. My theme was ‘Black and White’. I was pretty enthusiastic about this as I could still shoot the kind of photos I love to take and have been evolving as style around, but It’s been years since I shot in black and white so it give me a chance to take it in a new direction.
The competition rules state that the photo needed to be taken in Marin County between two dates, so selecting something from my archive wouldn’t work. I thought it would be fun though to take some of my past images and revisit them in black and white for inspiration and get a better sense of what might work. Here’s a few of my favorites.
From the desert to the mountains in one week was quite a contrast. Winter is definitely on the way along the Tioga Pass Road in Yosemite. It was worth braving the cold though for these views from Tuolumne Meadows.
Joshua Tree is a long drive from the Bay Area, but with a spare weekend I took a notion to go down there and try to photograph something different. It wasn’t as fruitful a trip as I planned, but, even with getting a bunch of cactus needles jammed in my leg, I’m still glad I went. It’s always special to see the Milky Way.
Today, up at Point Reyes, I pulled over at the side of the road and got my car firmly stuck in a ditch. Nothing I tried worked and I only succeeded in getting the wheels stuck further. There was no signal on my phone either so I had to walk across a few fields to reach a dairy farm and ask to use their phone. The one person working showed me to the office and I called AAA.
By the time they arrived and pulled me out I was tired, dusty, and frustrated. I was so close to calling it a day and going home, but something told me to keep going, and I’m so glad I did. I saw two norther harriers; one hunting low over a field, the other in a bush. For the second I waited patiently and caught it looking straight at the camera during takeoff. If that hadn’t been enough I came across a herd of elk, and coyote sleeping in a field. He got up, scratched, bathed, and went back to being a badass. Not bad for a day I almost quit on.
On a couple of occasions recently I’ve gone to Point Reyes to see what I could photograph, but it’s been the drive home through Inverness and Nicasio where I’ve been really inspired.
Point Reyes never disappoints. Some days I go up there and all the wildlife in the area comes out to say hello, and sometimes I’m just pausing to take a landscape shot, but even if nothing is leaping out at me it’s still a special place to be for a few hours. Luckily today there was a some inspiring wildlife and landscape opportunities.