Friday, July 26, 2013

Eagle ground school

All flight training starts with ground school where the flyer learns the instruments and methods needed to stay aloft. And, of course, learns how to safely land. Eagle flight training is no different. Baby eagles just out of their down, start practicing first with wing flapping. Later they hop on a branch in the nest, then pounce on pretend prey - or sometimes what's left from the meal his parents brought. They spend a good bit of time "branching" which involves flapping wings and attempting to gain some lift. Then actually jumping from branch to branch, using their wings to keep them from falling off the branches.

This year's offspring seems to be a late starter. In the past week when I've visited the nest, he would flap about the nest a bit, then sit. And sit. Occasionally he'd throw his head back and snap his beak without making a sound. Maybe a yawn from being so bored. Last year's brood fledged a week earlier than this little one. Maybe with more than one in the next, they torment each other so much that they have to fly to get away from one another.

Last night, I witnessed something new. The baby was very interested in what was going on above him. I turned around and saw papa eagle about 50 feet up flying in circles - not over the nest but near it, so the baby could see and react. React he did - with a flurry of wing stretches and flapping, then hopping and catching a bit of air under his wings. This was clearly eagle ground school in action.

Then something surprising happened. A juvenile eagle, maybe two years old, also did some flight maneuvers close to the nest. This juvenile had to be kin. The baby eagle seemed to be showing off to the older bird (perhaps a sibling from last year or the year before). And the older juvenile didn't look like he was going to land anywhere near the nest. A month ago, the parents wouldn't have tolerated any raptor - even kin - anywhere near the nest.

Just as quickly and silently as the two eagles had arrived, they disappeared from the area. The baby settled back into sitting and looking around the area. I'm excited to see what happens next - maybe fledging soon! Then it will be practicing takeoffs and landings, short flights and balancing on unfamiliar branches.

Monday, July 22, 2013

The art of photography

My first sale - while setting up the night before the festival.

I just finished up a picture-perfect weekend at the Gig Harbor Summer Art Festival. The weather was fabulous, the visitors friendly, and more than a few people were actually buying artwork. I did "okay," which means that I didn't sell as much as I thought I would but I sold enough to pay for the booth fee ($250) plus about half of the cost of getting ready for the show. I'll call it breaking even, if I manage to sell more at the two other events I'm scheduled to do this summer and fall.

This is my first outdoor arts festival in about five years. After the last one, I announced that I was done with this business of sitting in a tent for 10+ hours a day, listening to people talk about how they could get that shot if they had the expensive camera equipment that I have. Or, worse, that they got the exact shot only it was still in their cell phone camera. I'm savvy enough to recognize that someone is not going to buy art they think they (or their kids) can do themselves. But do people really think that if they just buy a 400mm lens that they'll get shots like these? Apparently the answer is yes.

The jeweler in the booth next to mine overheard a visitor say something about all the eagles that are around his house and said, "yes, but look at how well trained the ones Kate photographs are. That one just held still for her." Wildlife photography is a relatively new area for me. I've been a photographer for 40 years. Wildlife began capturing my interest about 10 years ago. And it ain't easy. I have spent hundreds of hours photographing eagles over the past three years and several hundred more hours photographing hummingbirds. I've been known to spend most of Saturday morning photographing birds. Wildlife photography is not unlike hunting. You may spend hours – or days – waiting and watching, getting nothing except cramps in your hands and knees.

People were fascinated by the metal prints (shown above) but not enough to buy. Every one of them has fingerprints on them, because people had to touch them to see that they were actually metal. I sold one – to an art museum docent. If I charged a dollar for every person who asked where I had the metal prints done, I'd have a nice start on a new collection of metal prints. One man asked if I'd be willing to order metal prints of his work for him. I said I could but that he needed to be sure that the images were very high resolution, such as 300 dpi. I told him that a typical file size for a 16x20" image was about 50 megabytes. I could tell he had no idea what I was talking about. In his mind, he had photographs equally as good as mine. And they might just be fabulous on a small screen.

"Metamorphosis" photo illustration
Visitors were also fascinated by my photo illustration "Metamorphosis." It's a large image, roughly 2 by 4 feet, with an equally large-ish price. I had several conversations with visitors about the image which consists of images of a tree in spring and winter. I photographed the spring scene at tulip fields in Skagit County and the fall scene at St. Martin's University in Lacey, WA. Most of the visitors really loved the image, except for one woman (apparently an artist) who exclaimed that the image was "incongruent" and that I should start over to "get it right."

I had several revelations over the weekend, including a direction I want to move in my photographic work. It makes me sad that all of the years that photographers have worked to have photography recognized as an art form are now going backwards. Like the independently owned photography store that's disappearing, professional photography is changing rapidly along with changing technology. Anybody with a good eye can be a photographer - even a professional photographer.

At the same time, I encountered two disturbing beliefs that people (including artists) have. I was asked several times if I "manipulate" my images. My answer: I don't know any photographer who doesn't. I used to spend hours in the darkroom, getting images right. They were certainly manipulated with different papers, exposure times, and sometimes retouching. Now I spend hours in a "lightroom" getting images right. My "Metamorphosis" image represents at least 10 hours of work, not including traveling to locations and photographing them. I photographed the tree on the right for at least an hour, trying to freeze the leaves as they fell from the tree. I shoot all images in "raw" format, which means you can't just use them right out of the camera. The advantage of shooting raw format is that the sensor records everything. So the image needs to be adjusted (manipulated?) for color and light balance, and sharpness. Just like in the darkroom, some areas might need to be lightened or darkened.

"Photoshopping" is the new term for retouching - making someone thinner, less wrinkled, or even a different color. It's the new "airbrushing" that retouchers used up until the mid-1980s. Is it "cheating" or somehow dishonest to make adjustments? I think not. Photoshop is a poweful tool designed to coax detail that your eye sees but sometimes the camera doesn't. I explained that to two visitors who wanted to know if I printed photographs right out of the camera, with no editing. I really enjoy photo illustration and all of my images that are combinations of elements are clearly identified as "photo illustrations" or "digital paintings."

The other disturbing belief – and this often comes from painters – is that if you send your work to a professional printer (which I do for any image over 11x14"), that it's somehow no longer fine art. Never mind that most painters exhibiting at art festivals reproduce their paintings as "giclée" images. Giclée is a fancy art word for "digitally printed image." Basically the painting is photographed, then printed exactly the same way any digital image is printed. I doubt that painters are burning the midnight ink cranking out dozens of images on a large-format printer in their studio. Most of the painters at this show have at least a few of their paintings reproduced as digital images. One of my artist visitors actually asked me how my work could be considered art if I sent it to a printer.

I hope all of this doesn't sound cranky. All in all, I met some wonderful people, had some colorful and stimulating conversations, and even got my ego stroked frequently. At the same time, it bothers me when someone who picked up a camera six years ago and has never used anything but the automatic settings on the camera is now asking me a thousand questions about getting into the business. I've devoted many years to studying, making mistakes, and improving my art. My preferred art medium is photography. It's not the camera that makes a photographic artist any more than a handmade brush makes a good painter.

Now it's time to go check on the eagle's nest and see if the baby's ready for first flight – or is already out of the nest.

Stay tuned....

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Eagles are landing in Gig Harbor

Eagles, hummingbirds, and lots more will be at the Gig Harbor Art Festival this weekend. Hope you can catch it!