Here are the stories behind this Salon’s top scoring images:
Assignment – Lightning on the St. Croix – Fred Sobottka
Pictorial – Bull Nose After Sunset – Carl Wegener
The capture of the bull nose snake image was an unexpected coincidence. I regularly walk our dog from our house to the St. Croix river, a distance that covers about three miles round trip. The sun was getting low in the sky to the point I almost left my camera at home. On a wim I took it anyway. The trip down to the river was uneventful. On the way back around the halfway point the sun had just sunk below the horizon when I spotted my subject on the road. He/she I’m guessing was warming themself on the asphalt as the cooler air was starting to settle in. A car was driving down the road so I stood by the snake and made the driver divert his route around us as I worried that my subject might get run over. With no more traffic on the side road where we were I tried to capture the amazing three plus foot length and thick girth of the snake in a shot. The results were unimpressive in the viewfinder. My subject was laying close to the crown in the road and there was a ditch on the side which allowed me to easily reposition myself close to ground level for a prospective head on capture. The snake, not liking the attention, flatten his/her head which they apparently do when they get aggressive. The tongue was flickering in and out. The challenge facing me was running out of light.
I had my long 400mm slow lens on the camera, zooming in left me with little depth of field and there was a desire to capture the snake with its fast-moving tongue out. Taking a middle of the road (pun intended) position I set my ISO at 800, the depth of field was shallow, so I pushed the aperture to F10 which left me with a shutter speed of only 1/250 second. EV was set at -7. The image looked a bit dark in the viewfinder, but I left it there and fired off several hundred shots in burst mode. Then I pushed the snake off the road with a stick which he/she quickly slithered away. When I got home there was one really good capture with the tongue out. I spent several hours in post bringing details out of the shadow areas. I had my shot. When leaving the house for the dog walk, I never expected to capture the bull nose snake image. It was a bit of luck. It turns out upon researching bull nose snakes they are a rarity in this part of Minnesota. I guess if there is a moral to this capture it is to take your camera with you everywhere.
Pictorial – Monarchs on Blazing Star – Marianne Diericks
I had this image in mind the day I took my camera to a prairie in early October. Rough Blazing Star blooms later than other varieties and is a favorite nectar plant for hungry monarchs prior to fall migration. From previous visits, I knew this plant grew there but wasn’t sure it was still blooming. Fortunately, there were several areas of blazing star in bloom, some with only a few monarchs feeding. After more searching, I found this stand of flowers with plenty of monarchs. I took a series of photos as the monarchs flew around, and this photo had the best arrangement of butterflies. For processing, I began with Lightroom, reducing highlights and whites on flowers and adjusting clarity and/or sharpness on each butterfly individually, as needed. I also adjusted luminance and saturation to achieve natural colors. Next, I switched to Photoshop, using the lasso and spot healing brush tools to remove distracting grasses and flowers, and the dodge and burn tools to even out lighting on flowers and butterflies. I shot this photo with my Nikon D500, using a 80-400mm lens at 280mm focal length, handheld, with settings at 1/650th/sec., f/8, ISO400 and -1/3EV.
Pictorial – Human Candle – Fred Sobottka
Nature – Mama Owl on Nest – Marianne Diericks
I heard about this Great Horned Owl nesting site from a friend and visited it several times, initially hoping for flight images of the female or nearby male. On this day, they didn’t move from their respective locations, but the female finally turned her head in my direction, first exposing one eye then her entire face. When I reviewed the photos on my computer, I preferred this image. I used Lightroom for processing, first cropping the image to minimize distracting branches. I lightened blacks and shadows and increased exposure. I added sharpness and clarity for the owl and reduced clarity on the background branches. I also adjusted luminance sliders to emphasize oranges and yellows and added a vignette to separate the well-camouflaged owl from the tree. For equipment, I used my Nikon D500 with a 200-500mm zoom (set to 500mm) mounted on a tripod. The settings were 1/250th sec. at f/8 and ISO 400.