A Happy Accident

Sandhill crane (Antigone canadensis)

When seafog persists along the upper Texas coast during our transition from winter to spring, milky white skies and limited visibilty are the order of the day.

So it was yesterday, as I roamed the west end of Galveston Island in search of Spring. Crossing over San Luis pass, I paused for a walk into a bayside marsh when the unmistakable, gutteral cry of sandhill cranes began echoing through the air. 

Not expecting to sight them in the fog, I gave not a thought to camera settings until they crossed in front of me, their great wings creating eddies in the fog.

Shooting into milky skies with who-knows-what settings is an iffy proposition at best. But to my surprise, the photos in the series seem perfectly right: a delightful evocation of a foggy island day.


Comments always are welcome.

50 thoughts on “A Happy Accident

    1. In this case, I thought so. Every time I’ve tried to photograph sandhill cranes, they’ve been too far away, and/or against a busy background that makes it hard to distinguish them. No problem with that here. I was delighted to see that fog could create such an effect, and I’m even more glad I didn’t stay home because of the fog.

    1. Or, as you Austinites have been known to say, “Onward through the fog!” This pair of cranes certainly was taking the motto seriously — if I’d been more alert and hadn’t had a camera to tend to, I might have been able to grab a foot as they whizzed by.

    1. We always enjoyed late winter snows, primarily because they covered up the dirty snow that had accumulated over the months. I’m sure for you it’s just as delightful; change is nice, and snow always is beautiful, especially when it isn’t causing problems.

      We’ve had days and days of sea fog: sometimes so thick that it closed the port. I’m glad for these images it provided, but it puts a stop to my work, and I’ll be glad when it’s gone.

    1. Thanks, Gary. I thought of you and your experiences with fog when I was heading down-island. It was the funniest thing: the Gulf was covered in fog, but in Galveston proper it never crossed the seawall. It wasn’t until I got down toward 11 Mile Road and Pirates’ Beach that it crossed nearly to the bayside. San Luis was something, with the fog coming in through the pass over the water. Today, it burned off by about 10, and that was it for the rest of the day. Maybe the front that’s coming will finally take care of it.

      1. I’ve had experiences like that at the refuge. Blue skies in Alvin, fog so thick you could cut it with a knife at the coast… And that was early afternoon.

  1. Oh fabulous!Minimalist folk would adore this, as I do.
    It’s nice when happy accidents with settings occur like this. Some advocate putting the “wrong” white balance in simply to gain a different effect.

    1. When I saw the photos, they reminded me of wood block prints, or perhaps water colors. I like the colors, and the simplicity, too.

      Sea fog’s quite a phenomenon. The sky above can be pure blue and clear, but the fog layer obscures it, and creates the white-sky effect. I don’t think I could have done anything about that with my settings, but a faster shutter speed would have provided sharper images of the birds. No matter — I like this, a lot. The next time the fog rolls in, I may try to duplicate the effect, just to see if I can.

    1. You know, I probably wouldn’t have posted these a year ago. I would have thought they weren’t “good enough.” Now? I’m really fond of them, and thought some others might be, too. Besides, I know exactly how they could have been improved, so the next time I face foggy conditions, I’ll see what I can come up with!

    1. One thing’s certain, Curt — if we’re going to get out and roam around in the world, there’s no predicting what’s coming next.

      Have you read Braiding Sweetgrass, by Robin Wall Kimmerer? I don’t have my copy yet, but I read an interview with her that included an interesting proposition: just as we love nature, nature is capable of loving us back. Maybe that’s true. She certainly gives us plenty of gifts, and these cranes were one of those gifts.

      1. “there’s no predicting what’s coming next.” Which is one of the great things about it.
        I believe that loving the natural world translates into respecting and protecting it, Linda. And we all benefit. Ever so much.
        Haven’t read the book, but I’ll check it out. Let me know your thoughts. –Curt

          1. “I was lucky enough to grow up in the fields and the woods…” A great interview, Linda. I am always impressed by the breadth and depth of your concerns. The quote is one of the first in the interview, and it truly reflects how I feel about my childhood. And it reflects the thinking of so many of the authors I have read and learned from in my life. I will definitely buy the book. Thanks. My next two posts on MisAdventures, one on the Pond and the second on the Woods, both reflect how nature impacted my youth. –Curt

  2. The images turned out just fine. In fact, the white background is a nice change from colour.

    I envy people who can photograph birds in flight. Regardless of camera settings, my few images of birds in flight are more luck than skill. I’ve now got one camera set up for birds only on shutter speed and the other set to aperture priority.

    1. When I posted the images, it reminded me again of how happy I am that I changed my theme. Occasionally I come across someone who still is using my old theme, and it wasn’t at all suitable for photos. It took me a while to figure that out.

      Have I mentioned Mia McPherson’s site to you? She does primarily bird photography now, although there are flower and tree galleries on her site, too. Even though many (most?) of the birds are different from yours, she adds so much information about each photo — equipment used, settings, and so on — that reading it every day can be like a little tutorial. I’ve learned a good bit just by comparing the settings I use with those she uses — seeing her results along with the information is great.

      1. Mia McPherson is an amazing bird photographer, and I would also mention her friend Ron Dudley from ‘Feathered Photography’ (http://www.featheredphotography.com/blog/). They both shoot together in Utah and Montana and are friends (although they never mention this in their blogs). Ron Dudley is one of my favorites also with shooting birds. He’s a true master. He has the tendency to simplify images even more than Mia.

        1. Thanks for that tip about Ron Dudley’s site, Maria. I’m signed up for new posts now, and look forward to exploring it. I read a couple of his more general “tips’ blogs last night, and found them interesting. I had wondered how she managed to get some of the shots she does — now I know. She’s in the back seat, and not driving and shooting at the same time.

          I was amused by the story of how he used to accidentally roll up her window, until they put a piece of duct tape over his control switch. Sometimes the ability to solve ‘small’ problems can lead to a collaboration working, or not.

          1. From what I know they go out shooting together, and they carry the 500mm lenses which are pretty hefty. Believe it or not, Mia hand holds her super telephoto lens, while Ron uses a tripod head mount called ‘Wimberley Head’, which is designed to hold the 500mm super telephoto and swing it at different angles.
            They drive together and also shoot from their truck window, and use the “doodle” which is just a piece of foam (made from a pool toy) placed on the edge of the window glass, to stabilize these humongous lenses.
            They also only shoot with crop factor cameras (7D) to get more magnification.
            They are indeed a great team. Mia tends to emphasize the environmental situations, but Ron simplifies his subjects and focuses solely on them. His latest images of owls flying with voles are jaw-dropping.

      2. Thanks for the link, Linda. I’ll cross over and check Mia’s blog out. I’m still learning when it comes to bird photography, but have found that sometimes, you’ve just got to be quick and press that shutter button before the bird flies away and you can’t necessarily get the right angle or a good composition, hence me making multiple images and/or cropping the image to put the bird where I want it within the frame.

        I was always wondering what camera settings photographers used when I started bird photography, especially trying to get well-focused images of birds-in-flight.

        One thing that really disappoints me is when photographers, (even professional), upload an image and don’t tell you where it was made. I like to know the story behind the image.

        1. The day I found the ‘continuous shooting’ setting was a good one. Of course, there’s continuous, and then there’s really continuous. On Saturday, a woman with a lens that looked to be about a foot and a half long showed up next to me. When she started shooting, it made the speed of my camera seem like a Model T running next to a Porsche. I had no idea a camera even could do that. I’m not sure I’d want to drag such a lens around with me — let along the tripod and monopod to help support it.

          I’ve already figured out the perfect solution to the problem of my 70-300mm lens not having enough reach for some subjects: shoot something closer. :-)

  3. The simplicity of the background is perfect for the subjects. It actually reminds me of something I was trying to do recently which was to remove a background from an image with a Background Burner. A lot of fun but perhaps not as much fun as taking photos in sea fog.

    1. I’d never heard of Background Burner, or the other programs that do the same thing. Of course, I’ve never wanted to remove a background, so there’s that. I just learned from Maria in a comment below that this kind of image is known as “high key.” I’d heard the term, but never had explored the meaning. Now, I’ve managed to create the effect without even trying. I need to understand it better, and see if I can do it intentionally. It seems like it’s a technique used more in studio photography — advertising work, for example — but it did work here.

  4. I really like these images. I know this also as ‘high key’, when the background becomes so bright that it turns white, and emphasizes the subject really nicely like these cranes.

    1. I’ve heard the term ‘high key,’ but didn’t really understand what it meant. I’ve read a couple of articles now — one on studio photography, and one on achieving the effect outdoors — and have a better grasp of the hows and whys.

      There’s nothing so much fun as accidentally bumping into a technique. I knew I liked these images, but I had no idea there were people out there intentionally trying to achieve the same result. It reminds me again there are two ways of learning: setting out to achieve a result, or getting a particular result and then thinking, “How did I do that?”

      1. I agree, and ‘setting out to achieve a result’ is the most boring to me. It’s the ‘academic’. The ‘how did I do that’ is the ‘experiential’ which is more fun, for sure.

    1. There certainly was a lot of luck involved with these. In fact, the phrase “dumb luck” probably applies. One of the great advantages of a digital camera is the freedom to shoot “on the wing,” without knowing what will result. For every photo I save, I delete a good many more, and that kind of culling never would have been affordable with film.

      I thought of you this weekend when I saw the butterflies out and about. There weren’t many, and I’m not sure what they were (one was a small yellow one), but the flowers are beginning to emerge, so they’ll be able to find nectar and pollen. I didn’t see any native dandelions on Saturday, but on Sunday, in the same place? They were quite common.

      1. Oh you are seeing butterflies, Goodness what a few hundred miles south makes. I have not seen any butters for about two months maybe. Could be longer. The early ones is almost always the sulfurs, which for me, are very difficult to identify unless I happen to see one with open wings. As you mention theh dandelions are an important nectar source for the early butters. I saw a few dandies blooming in my yard looking so colorful among that annoying henbit. I want to chop the hne bit and worked on hoeing a bit of it this afternoon, But my arms gave out and I quit after about 20 minutes. I really do need to get in “shape” so my old body can tolerate more. I love working outside but my inside body is not in tune with the “outside.”

  5. I noted that these elegant and graceful birds got stuck with the scientific name of ‘Antigone canadensis.’ As anyone well up on their Greek mythohistory would know, Antigone was the incestuous daughter/halfsister of Oedipus and his mother Jocasta, and that thereby hangs a tale of angst, dun-dun-DUN!, furies and the obligatory high body count. What I’m still trying to work out is how sandhill cranes got dragged into such goings on. It’s bound to be in the word ethmology (anti = against + whatever a ‘gone’ is). If I was the four crane species that got lumped into the genus Antigone, I’d lobby to be put back into the genus Grus — which at least means “crane,” or else demand a genus name that was more suited to serious members of the Gruidae.

    The whiteout from the glare of sun on the fog produced an interesting, almost Photoshop effect. I suspect it was one of those times when the heart got the picture, and hoped the camera did, too.

    1. I wondered how the cranes got wrapped up with Antigone, too. I kept finding them listed in both genera, and finally figured out that Linnaeus was the one who named them Antigone. Then they were declared Grus, and then they were placed back in Antigone. It looks like that happened recently, since it was mentioned in the 2016 American Ornothologists’ Union’s Supplemental bulletin, where they list taxonomic changes. I appreciate the need for clarity, but I’m happy to stick with genus and species, and if a name change slips by me, I’m happy to be corrected.

      There’s nothing more fun than coming home, uploading photos to the computer, and saying, “Well, would you look at that?” I like your way of describing it. Even if the photos had been trash, the heart would have remembered.

  6. Wow to the max. Linda, these don’t even look like photos — they look like the most glorious paintings, the kind that I would kill to be able to paint. Detail, yet a softness, a beauty that no hard-edged photo can provide. That curtain of fog was just enough — not too much, perfection. This is one of those photos you should have printed on canvas.

    Sometimes the best photos are the ones for which you are least prepared. Or, as my pro-photographer pal Wally would often say, somewhat tongue in cheek and somewhat not, “I’d rather be lucky than good.”

    1. Or, we could flip Wally’s comment around and say, “There’s nothing like being good, and lucky.” Luck certainly played a role here, although being familiar with their calls helped. If I hadn’t recognized the sound they were making, I might not have been looking around, and would have missed them.

      I like the painterly effect, too. This has been my year to notice combinations of blue and brown, and he soft blue-gray and browns of the birds really appeals to me. I was interested to see that their little red caps showed up so well, and even the opened bill in the first photo. Sometimes, things just work out — and sometimes wandering around in a fog is perfectly fine!

    1. I love watching birds in flight, and seeing how they adjust those feathers as they’re soaring, or cruising along, or doing a takeoff or landing. But you’re right — when those wings are fully extended, the big birds are magnificent.

    1. They’re one of the birds I look for every time I go out. Even if they’re not close enough for photos, it’s always fun to hear them, or to see large flocks of them in the sky. They fly in formation, like geese, and sometimes the flocks are really large. They’ll be heading north soon, so I was especially delighted to have this encounter before they leave.

    1. I almost never print a photo, but I might print this one, just to see how it comes out. This one looks like it could fly right into one of your paintings and be perfectly at home there. I suspect it will be a one-of-a-kind experience in my lifetime, and it surely is one I’m not likely to forget.

      1. Oh yes, it really is one-of-a-kind. How wonderful that you got to see it, and were able to capture it! My first thought when I saw these images was to ask if I could paint them but really, they are perfect just as they are.

  7. It’s that high-key look, it’s beautiful for a big bird like that. It was a good thing that you went ahead and shot blind! My very first (and there haven’t been many) Sandhill crane sighting was in Florida, in January, middle of the west coast. So exciting! Your description is great, I can imagine the whole thing.

    1. I dallied and dallied responding, because I kept trying to identify why the expression “shooting blind” seemed so resonant. Like high-key, it’s an expression I didn’t know. Finally it came to me: Cohen’s song “Suzanne,” particularly the line “and you want to travel with her, and you want to travel blind…” That’s hardly related to photography, but that’s what I was searching for.

      Thank goodness for their distinctive calls. If I hadn’t heard them, and recognized the sound, I never would have looked for them. Who knew that hearing was important for photography, as well as sight?

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