Category Archives: Nature

Dinner Time

While on a safari in South Africa, my wife and I were fortunate enough to meet Nottens. She’s a female leopard and has grown up on the private game reserve located adjacent to Kruger National Park. The first night we were staying on the property, Nottens was tracking a meal when our vehicle spooked the animal she was about to pounce on. As Nottens made her way for other dinner options, we followed close behind.

Slowly she crept along in the tall grass keeping a close eye on a large field full of impalas. Quietly she waited for the right moment to act and, as if giving her a gift, a few of the impalas broke away from the rest of the pack and walked right into where Nottens was hiding. Suddenly, she sprang from her hiding place and scattered the impalas. In one lightning-fast move, she reached out her giant paw and brought down an impala, quickly breaking its neck. Our guide put us in a fantastic position to watch the drama unfold, and after the coast was clear, he drove us closer to the kill site.

Nottens was fast at work devouring her catch. This was Africa at its wildest, and the leopard knew her time was short. Before long, hyenas caught on to the action and wanted a piece of it for themselves. Using strength in numbers, three of them moved in, driving Nottens from her meal. Wisely, she ate as much as she could before the hyenas arrived so when she ran off it was with enough food to make it another day. Meanwhile, the hyenas couldn’t settle on who should eat, so they began to fight amongst themselves for the meal.

After we originally spotted her, barely ten minutes had passed before Nottens brought down an impala. A mere six minutes of feeding had passed before hyenas had chased her off. Such is life on the African bush.

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Feeding Flamingo

I’m primarily self-trained as a photographer. Some time back in my childhood my parents gave me a small film camera that, I think, took 110-style film. Later on I graduated to a 35mm camera and didn’t get very far with it. I remember exploring an extremely old cemetery in my teens, only to become very disappointed when I realized the camera was broken and after I took a picture it didn’t advance the film.

After purchasing a new camera, in high school I put together a small, monthly newspaper about whatever seemed super-important to a kid at the time. As our grade would go on field trips, I begun to travel my camera along with a roll of black and white film loaded in it (it was easier to print black and white images in my black and white newspaper). By high school I joined the yearbook club and attended all of one meeting. I did, however, enjoy the photography class in which we developed our own film in the lab.

Years later I didn’t do much of anything with photography. In college I had a Polaroid camera, which was the earliest form of Instagram. Beyond that, I didn’t do much until 2005 when I purchased a Nikon D70s before a trip to Italy. Since then, I’ve watched my photography grow from simply taking pictures while on vacation to taking specific vacations to take pictures. Those early images from 2005 through 2010 can be pretty rough. Sure, there are some things I’m proud of, but as the saying goes, “Every-now-and-then even a blind squirrel gets a nut.”

As the years progressed, my image-making improved. I’m pretty proud of some of the pictures in my portfolio. Additionally, some things not in the portfolio have been used in advertisements, travel brochures, newspaper articles and even hang on peoples’ walls.

Looking back at pictures through the years, like the above one of a flamingo in the Galapagos Islands, I’m amazed at how rough my photography was back then. As the years have progressed, so have my skills. If an overly-backlit flamingo in search of food helps me learn and advance my ability, then so be it. It all has to start somewhere.

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Black-collared Barbet with a Snack

Last week I asked how many pictures I’d take on any given vacation, and I genuinely didn’t know.

There is always discussion amongst photographers about taking too many pictures. One of the guys I frequently work with is on an effort to take less pictures this year. In general, a lot of photographers can hold their finger on the camera’s shutter button and fire off nearly a dozen frames per second. They then have to go through and decide which of those dozen is “the best.” The guys next to me at baseball games will do this for every pitch for most of the game. At the Air and Water Show in Chicago a few weeks back, one photographer I know took nearly 3,000 images in two days. Wedding photographers can shoot several thousand images in a day. So when my co-worker says he’s trying to take less pictures, I clearly see his point. Nobody picks up a camera and says “I want to sit in front of a computer editing images all day long!”

So to answer the question how many pictures can I take on a vacation: I suppose it varies amongst photographers, location and time spent taking pictures.

For myself, whom I’ll call a “serious hobbyist,” spending a week in Maine during autumn netted nearly 600 pictures. While in South Africa, which is where the above Black-collared Barbet is native to, I took 1,100 images during the five-day safari.

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Garter Snake on the Lookout

Wandering around in my parents’ garden (the size of which dwarfs my garden), I was introduced to the resident garter snake. Apparently, he hangs out and eats whatever may pass by and does fairly well himself. Knowing he was fairly docile allowed me to get pretty close for some pictures. Occasionally he’d flick his tongue out (a snake’s way of smelling) but that was the extent of our time together. I didn’t want to stay too long to freak him out and I didn’t have the patience to sit and wait hoping for him to devour something scampering by.

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Bee Pollinating

Springtime is always fun with the brightly-colored flowers popping up all over the place. Even when they are small and don’t have a lot of color, the flowers attract bees for pollination. There is the old phrase about stopping to smell the flowers once in awhile, but it’s also fun to stop and watch the flowers on occasion. There is a tiny ecosystem in operation along with the scent that can be quickly passed over if one is too busy to look around and enjoy.

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Monkey on the Lookout

In Bali, Indonesia is a forest called Alas Kedaton, and within that forest is the small Alas Kedaton Temple. Monkeys live and play within the forest and have taken advantage of the quiet atmosphere surrounding the temple. Fairly docile yet extremely playful, monkeys will wander around the forest and play with the tourists who make their way here. Some will run and jump on their human counterparts and some will look curiously at their own reflections in camera lenses.

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French Canyon Black and White

This past weekend my wife was out of town and I had great plans of living the life of a bachelor. However, Friday’s baseball game involved a nearly-four hour rain delay and Saturday I fell asleep on the couch before I could make it out to a friend’s birthday party.

So, I ended up doing a lot of nothing.

Something I did before I fell asleep was go through a lot of my “saved” websites within my internet browser. Basically, over the years, I’ve been bookmarking photographers I like with the intention of going back to their site to see what they’ve been up to. Turns out I forgot about most of them. With the advent of Facebook, I looked up each of them to see who had pages and who didn’t. I liked whoever had a Facebook “photography” page where I can, hopefully, keep up better with what they’re doing.

None of this, of course, has anything to do with the above picture from Starved Rock State Park near Utica, Illinois.

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Half Moon in the Night Sky

Last week I was driving along the highway shortly after midnight and looked to the east as the moon peaked over the horizon. Earth’s natural satellite looked enormous in the night sky, so I took the next exit and drove about a mile off of the highway to photograph it.

I’m surprised how quickly the moon (and sun) move in the sky. When standing outside and looking directly at it, the moon doesn’t move very much. The closer one looks the more noticeable the movement.  When framed inside my camera’s lens, every minute or so I’d have to change my composition to keep the moon in the frame.

By the way, the above image is heavily cropped. I don’t have one of those crazy big lenses to zoom all the way in to explore the moon. Once I got home and downloaded the images into the computer, it’s fun to blow up the moon’s image and look at the surface and all the craters.

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Curious Kudu

One of the nice parts about going on a safari via a private game reserve is, I feel, the animals are far more docile. In the massive Kruger National Park anyone can drive through and scare the living bejeezus out of the animals, but private game reserves are far more strict on some rules, yet loose on others.

This really pays off with the different animals because they’re not as terrified of humans as they may otherwise be. As long as the animals are continuously left with a good experience with humans, they will continue to not be as terrified of them.

So, at a watering hole while in South Africa, we were able to sit and watch elephants drink water while other animals moseyed up and drank as well. The kudus (picture above) did glance over at us on occasion, but for the most part everyone did their thing and life continued without much care for the humans in the land rover nearby.

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Lone Zebra in the Wild

Recently I changed how I was going through my pictures.

Normally I’d import however many images I took, scan through them to choose the better ones, then post those in the galleries section, on this blog or on Facebook. Lately, however, I learned I’m skipping over a lot of good photographs in search of the next better one.

I learned with India to take the time and go through each picture to look at it.  Yes, it may take several days, but I’d rather not fill my hard-drive up with 1,000 images I won’t ever use, and instead see about making all of the better pictures work.  Between this photoblog and my stock photography sales (which I’m terrible at keeping up with), I can certainly do more with all of the pictures I’ve taken.

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Brightly Colored Tulips

Both of the family of flowers, the dark red “Ronaldo Triumph Tulip” and the orange “Temple’s Favorite Single Late Tulip” grow at the Chicago Botanic Garden.

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Leopard on the Prowl

This is Nottens. She’s a female leopard and we stumbled upon her while she was out in search of dinner on our game drive in South Africa.

Rumbling through the African bush, we spooked a small animal that Nottens was getting in position to pounce on for dinner.  The small animal darted away, and Nottens set out in search another meal.  Our guide, Trevor, knew a clearing ahead, which Nottens was most likely headed to, and we raced ahead to see what would unfold.

In front of us, the leopard slowly crept towards a group of idle impalas (the deer-like animal, not the car) and waited for her chance.  As the impalas began to move, some headed straight into the waiting ambush.  In what seemed like a fraction of a second, Nottens had brought down an impala with a single swipe of her paw.

It was finally time for her dinner.

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Pollen-Happy Housefly

Wandering around the backyard with my camera, I was shooting super close-up images of random things: grass, dirt, flowers, etc.  It was interesting to me because the lens I was using allows me to get closer to things than I normally would be able to with an ordinary lens.

As I was sitting over this flower being in awe of the small little world I was looking at, a fly buzzed up and started nosing around.  It was fascinating to watch him wander around the flower collecting pollen, and I happily shot away.

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White Domes Slot Canyon

This picture falls under the category of “Good Idea, Bad Execution.”

While making plans to visit Las Vegas, I decided to make a trip to a nearby state park and explore some of the canyons surrounding the area.

At the end of one of the scenic drive within the Valley of Fire State Park is the White Domes Loop Trail.  The 1.25 mile hike is fairly popular and extremely colorful. There are beautiful patterns all along the journey and the trail winds through a short slot canyon.  The walls of the canyon feature an intricate “Swiss cheese” texture which were impressive in their own right, but even more-so since I was experiencing them alone on a weekday, without any other tourists around.

That’s where the aforementioned “Good Idea, Bad Execution” comes in.

I decided to make my journey through the park alone and without water. I realized early I had become dehydrated, but by then it was too late to do anything.  I spent the rest of the trip attempting to stay in the shadow of the rocks and avoid thinking about it. For the most part, the White Domes Loop Trail is well-marked, but as one can expect in an area that flash-floods when it rains, some signs and markers weren’t easy to spot.

So there I was dehydrated in the middle of the desert, roasting at 80 degrees in the hot sun, long since without water and unsure of whether I sure turn left or forge straight ahead.

In the middle of everything, I chuckled to myself because it reminded me of the time I went to Gary, Indiana solo to shoot some abandoned buildings. Wandering around crumbling buildings may not have been the best thing to do by myself, either, but at least I had water on that trip.

June 2011. (0575)

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Three Brightly-Colored Tulips

In early 2011 we had a fairly definitive springtime.  The weather patterns did what they normally do and towards the the middle-to-end of April we had a bunch of pleasantly sunny and warm days.

In 2012, on the other hand, things got crazy.  Our winter was nearly non-existant and our spring came early.  Very early.  We had something like ten days in a row where Chicago broke the high temperature mark in March.

As a result of the crazy weather patterns, this year’s spring is a little aloof.  Since it was so nice so early, many plants and trees are in danger of losing their buds should we get a frost.  Additionally, the flowers are all coming up at random times, so when the weather gets nicer and spring actually arrives, I’ll be curious to see what, if anything, still pops up.

May 2012. (9171)

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Leaping into Flight

For whatever reason, I don’t have many pictures posted in the photoblog from the safari Alisha and I took in South Africa.  It’s a shame because we had a wonderful time and I came home with a plethora of pictures — 1,107 pictures to be exact.

I could easily do a month or two of safari pictures every day that didn’t make the South Africa photo gallery, but instead I’m apparently going sparingly with them.

So here’s a picture of a Bateleur eagle leaping into flight.

August 2011. (4354)

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Island of Bartolome

I’ve seen this picture pop up around the internet lately.

I highly doubt there is some actual event going on which makes it the current thing to write about. More likely, I think it’s just a popular image and just a coincidence I’ve seen it around as much as I have.

While plundering the Galapagos Islands, we woke up early to start our accent to the Island of Bartolome. As we approached the dock in our eight person raft (six guests, one guide, one raft pilot), a giant National Geographic Adventure boat roared up. The few of us on our catamaran commented how we really liked our experience on the smaller boat better than the large, ominous boat. I remember only thinking how much I wanted to get to the top of the Island of Bartolome before the massive boat unloaded its swarm of passengers.

Luckily, that’s exactly what happened.

The National Geographic boat took a long time to offload all of it’s passengers that we were already on our way back to our boat when the hoards of tourists were just leaving their boat for the dock.

March 2007. (2127)

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Busy Bee

I’m not sure spring can get here any faster.

This image was taken at my dad’s farm near Viola, Wisconsin.  On this photography blog, I’ve posted a number of pictures taken on his property. While I normally do big, expansive wide shots, it’s always nice to watch nature do it’s thing on a much smaller scale.

August 2011. (8402)

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Armenian Grape Hyacinth


As the title suggests, this is the Armenian Grape Hyacinth.

This is another picture taken this spring at the Chicago Botanic Gardens.  While we’ve had a fairly mild winter (so far) this year, I’m already looking forward to the colors and temperatures of springtime in Chicago.

May 2011. (9828)



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Elephants on the Move

I took a lot less pictures on our safari then I thought I would — which was a good thing.

On our first game drive, we exited the area in which our lodge was located, and promptly saw a group of elephants. All the while the elephants ate, I took a number of pictures. Eventually I slowed down my picture-taking, and then I stopped and just enjoyed the elephants.

I suppose a better photographer would keep shooting away, but I wanted to enjoy nature. It turned out to be a good thing, because we would see elephants several times throughout our stay, and many times in better light, closer experiences or, in the case of our final encounter, the elephant came up and sniffed the hat off of our tracker. Cool stuff.

During our stay, we came upon a watering hole that was the place to be, apparently. We watched a herd of elephants drink up and head out, just as another group came over the hill to also get water. (In the picture above, there is a tiny baby elephant that was adorable to watch.  He was still learning to master his trunk, so it was fun to watch him suck up water, only to mostly miss his mouth when he tried to drink it.) As we sat, birds and Kudus came up to get drinks, as well.

These experiences would become my favorite part of our game drives: sitting and watching nature for a long period of time.  Eventually, I’ll get to the story of how we sat for a half-an-hour, helping a leopard get acclimated to his surroundings, but in the meantime, quietly sitting and watching elephants do their thing was pretty remarkable, as well.

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