The Trumpeter Swan Society May 2012 Photograph of the Month

Dawn on the Madison: Trumpeter Swan , Cygnus buccinator© by Jeff Wendorff

Professional Photographer and TTSS Photo-of-the-Month host Greg Smith says:

Jeff’s image of the Trumpeter Swan on the Yellowstone’s Madison River shows the importance of positioning yourself to get the optimum chance for a great photograph and the timing to accentuate different colors during that “sweet” light of early morning or late afternoon.  And having led many tours to Yellowstone myself, Jeff’s shot just exemplifies the knowledge of how to get a “natural moment” shot.

I know all of us have been to parks where a wildlife sighting is cause for most everyone to rush to the subject and click away.  And there are times (mating, dominance etc.) where it is appropriate to subtly and safely approach your subject and try to capture the moment.

But in the world of wildlife photography, you usually get your best shots by planning your time in the field (early morning when wildlife is beginning daytime activities or early evening when nocturnal wildlife start to forage) and also knowing the habits of your subject.

Jeff took the time to get into the field at dawn prior to sunrise.  Without having done that, the pink pastel reflection on the water would have been long gone and not even be a possibility for inclusion in the photograph.  We have all seen how rapidly a sky (and its reflected color) can disappear or change.

Most very good wildlife photographers know that it is usually best to let the wildlife come to you.  You will get a more relaxed pose from the subject, and you will see actions that are natural and not necessarily based on the animal’s response to your presence.  For me, this is the number one rule to follow to get the “natural moment” photograph!

Jeff also used a long lens which brought the foreground reflection and water into focus along with the swan.  Notice how the background fades into “nothingness”, thereby not taking away from the focal point of the photograph.

An obvious personal decision of the photographer is always where to put your subject in the photograph?  We have discussed the rule of thirds in the past regarding placement of your subject as Jeff has followed.  But Jeff’s decision on whether to include the reflection or not is a personal one.

If Jeff had decided to crop the reflection out of the photo, there still would be a partial reflection – and that might appear “awkward”.  To make your own decision, hold you hand away from your face and towards Jeff’s picture on the monitor.  Now move you hand up and down to see the different compositions with the reflection, without and partial.  As I did this, it made me very aware that Jeff’s decision to include the complete reflection was the most appealing to my perspective.

Jeff saw the opportunity of the swan moving down river and used his capabilities as a photographer to position himself to capture an outstanding swan photograph with the sky reflecting on the water!

The Life History Moment

A movement that could only be captured in a burst of photographs or a movie would show that Trumpeter Swan heads are not static when they are on the water.  Jeff’s shot shows just one position of the bird he was photographing – extended.

“Trumpeter Swans frequently bob their head and necks up and down (head bobbing). With this motion they also have a variety of vocalizations. This combined activity apparently serves as a form of communication between individuals and within the group. Head bobbing and vocalization activity increase when the birds are disturbed and reaches maximum intensity just prior to the birds taking flight. This behavior may be brief or absent if the birds are suddenly startled and take flight.”

Featured Photographer for May, 2012 – Jeff Wendorff, State of Louisiana

From Jeff:  Nature Photographer, Workshop Leader, Writer

I’ve been a professional photographer for almost 10 years and my focus is on the natural world. I have a particular passion for photographing birds, but am very opportunistic and when a moment presents itself, I try to capture it. That was particularly true with this Trumpeter Swan image.

Jeff’s work has been widely published from books and magazines to cans of cat food in China. He leads photography workshops throughout the year focusing on birds and nature photography. Jeff lives in New Orleans and is finishing his first book, Photographing New Orleans, to be published this fall.

You can read about all of his antics, workshops and photography at http://www.jeffwendorff.com.

About the Photo:

From Jeff:  It was taken in Yellowstone last winter and we were there primarily for the big game in winter. On our way in to the park along the Madison, we came upon a lone swan swimming in the river. We were able to move ahead and pull off of the road and get our gear ready for the swans arrival. It was one of those magical moments, when the subject came in to range and the sunlight cast a perfect pink glow of the dawn on the swan and the Madison River.

We are pleased that Jeff was willing to share this “keeper” shot in support of Trumpeter Swans and The Trumpeter Swan Society.

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