Musings with Camera in Hand

Belinda Greb – The Photographic Journey


Alaskan Wonderland

Male Brown Bear at Lake Clark NP

Male Brown Bear at Lake Clark NP

Seeing and being able to photograph bears and cubs in their wild habitat was on my bucket list. I wanted a place where bears were plentiful and I could observe them and their interactions to each other. I’ve seen grizzlies and black bear in both Glacier National Park and Yellowstone, but only at a distance and in a very fleeting way. So I researched several different places in Alaska and found many places were simply not feasible for my budget. I finally settled on Alaska Homestead Lodge in Lake Clark National Park. I was a bit disappointed that due to my late scheduling (I had procrastinated about whether I could afford it or not and finally went for it in early March) there was not room for me to stay overnight, but I arranged for a day trip, which means you are flown over from Soldotna, Alaska in the morning and are picked up about 5pm that day.  I also wanted to see Denali, but found I had waited too long as all reasonable places to stay had sold out, so I decided to explore Anchorage and the Kenai Peninsula instead.

Portage Lake, No. 3

Portage Lake, No. 3

Alaska is quite expensive, but seeing as their tourist time is probably limited to two months or so of good weather, I guess this is to be expected. I was only there four days, but each day was so full of beauty and wildlife, I consider the outlay for my trip to be money well spent.

My first full day, I went for a 5 mile walk/hike in Kincaid Park. The park is right in Anchorage but has wildlife, including moose and bear. I was so excited to see a bull moose within the first 30 minutes of my walk, and then later I came across a moose and her calf. Later I also visited Potter Marsh Wildlife Viewing Area and then drove down Turnagain Arm to Portage Lake. This was in early July, so it never gets dark. Luckily the hotel had blackout drapes and after a long day, I fell asleep easily.

The second day I headed out on the Seward Highway. The drive is known for its beauty. I had a taste of it the day before, but as I got further on the Kenai Peninsula, I found myself breaking into songs from the Sound of Music. The scenic beauty literally made me want to sing. I was filled with a renewed sense of awe at how beautiful our world is. I was surrounded by snow capped mountain peaks and lush green valleys. One especially beautiful place was Tern Lake, right at the junction of the Seward and Sterling Highways. The lake had a lot of wild birds, including a swan family with a cygnet.

Though I was trying to watch my budget, a few days before I left, I arranged for a half day boat tour of Resurrection Bay in Seward. Next time, I will take a full day trip in order to see more of the fjords. The tour was through Major Marine Tours and was informative and wonderful. I didn’t really listen to the information as I was out on the boat’s deck taking pictures and trying to keep warm! Sadly, clouds had started to blow in, so the light and contrast were not as good for the scenery or photography, but I saw lots of wildlife, including mountain goats, sea lions, two different types of puffin and humpback whales. After the tour ended, I headed over to Soldotna, where I was scheduled to fly out the next day for my bear viewing adventure.

The forecast for this day had changed to rain, but thankfully it turned out to be a day where the gods took take pity and granted a reprieve! The flight over to Silver Salmon Creek at Lake Clark National Park, was short (about an half hour) and filled with amazing scenery of the Cook Inlet and Redoubt Volcano among the other beautiful snow capped peaks. There is a beach where the plane lands, and brown bears could be seen in the distance clamming. These brown bears are genetically the same as the grizzlies in Yellowstone and other places, but because the food sources are plentiful, they tend to be less aggressive and the dynamics between the bears are different. I was excited and just wanted to get going, but we had to get in the ATV trailer to go to the lodge to get on our Wellington boots first. There is a line of fir trees off the beach and beyond that a very large meadow with a dirt trail around it for the ATVs. Across the meadow are a few structures, a few belonging to Alaska Homestead Lodge and next to it the Silver Salmon Creek Lodge. There is also a ranger in residence during the summer. The creek is off to the south, and that area becomes the focal point later in the summer as the salmon begin to run and the bears congregate there. In the meantime, the bears graze in meadow sedge grass and go clamming. Behind the lodge and meadow lie wilderness and forest and mountains and the terrain becomes difficult to navigate through. Very close to the lodge, there were two cubs playing with each other while their mother grazed. By the time we got our boots and got back to the beach, the bears had started to come in from the beach, but we followed a mother and her cubs and watched as the triplets nursed. The day was filled with lots of bears and cubs. The cubs stay with the mothers up until they are three years, so most of the cubs were yearlings or two year olds, and I was beginning to despair that I would not see any of that season’s cubs, when we viewed a mother and two dark brown cubs way across the meadow. We finally made it there to watch the two young cubs. (It can take quite a while to make it around the meadow loop. Looking at my picture times, it took about 45 minutes from the north end of the meadow to go clockwise around the loop out to the beach and then to the area where the young cubs were.) They were adorable as they climbed over mom, but they were ready for a nap shortly after we arrived. The day went quickly but was rich with experiences. We also had a tasty salmon lunch (caught fresh the day before). The guide was knowledgable about the brown bears and I always felt secure and never frightened. We retained a respectable distance from the bears, and the distance was even greater for the very young cubs. I really didn’t want to go back on the plane, I loved being with the bears so much and this is a trip I want to repeat and not cross off my bucket list.

Dall Sheep Above Seward Highway, No. 1

Dall Sheep Above Seward Highway, No. 1

The rains did let loose on my final day, but even then I had a morning of just clouds and light rain when I went looking for the caribou herd that was supposed to be in the area around Sterling. Unfortunately I did not find them, although I did come across three moose. In the afternoon, it started to pour so I started back to Anchorage, stopping at the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center on the way. I felt sad to see some of the animals in captivity, but many of these are rescues – black bears cubs that were orphaned, or bears, moose, foxes, or owls that were injured or had to be picked up. If they are able to release them they will, but some will never be released as they cannot fend for themselves or have become too used to urban areas. The center was responsible for reintroducing a herd of wood bison back into the wild, so it does good work. There were also caribou, a new animal for the center, but they were in a back area going through an observation period. They are trying to get the caribou population back up in Alaska. The central Arctic herd that was 70,000 in 2010, fell to 50,000 in 2013 and is now estimated at only 22,000. The rain continued to pelt down as I continued my drive towards Anchorage. Suddenly through the heavy rain, I was surprised to see a Dall sheep ewe and its calf lower on the mountainside above Turnagain Arm. I quickly drove into a turnout on the other side of the highway where a man was watching the low tide and hadn’t noticed the pair. I had seen Dall sheep a couple of days before, but they had been specks high up above me. Not even the bad weather could diminish the joy I felt at seeing just another instance of natural, wild, and untamed beauty before I headed towards the airport to return home.

Big Girl

Big Girl


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Sandhill Cranes

I’ve been away for a long while due to slogging through the winter blues and a more recent family medical emergency. I’m going to be doing some short photo posts from my recent trip back to Harney County. My spirit is rebounding due to Spring’s appearance and the family member is recovering!

It was my first time seeing Sandhill Cranes and I was not disappointed by their beauty and gracefulness.

Craning X 2

Craning X 2

Sandhill cranes arrive in early Spring in Harney County from California. Many of the cranes I saw were in pairs, and this is normal as well as family units as the chicks or colts stay with the parents until 1-2 months before the new eggs are laid. During winter, migratory Sandhill Cranes will forage and roost in larger numbers called survivor groups.

Working in Pairs

Working in Pairs

An interesting fact I read about the cranes is that fossils of Sandhill Cranes have been found that date back to 2.5 million years, and there is one 10 million year old fossil that probably was a predecessor of the Sandhill Cranes.

Looking Both Ways

Looking Both Ways

I will be processing more of my recent photographs of the Sandhill Cranes as well as some beautiful wild horses that I photographed in Harney County.

More of my photography can be found at and these in particular at my bird gallery.






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A Few More from Chincoteague

I think I will try to have some intermittent shorter posts with just a few images and fewer musings!

It’s funny when you come back from a trip with tons of images, there are some you just can’t wait to start processing.  But on the second or third round, it’s always the case that there’s one that was overlooked and you wonder how in the world you missed it.  This one of an egret landing on a pond is such a photograph for me.  I love the grace of the egret coming in for a landing and the background colors of the reeds and water.

Early Evening on the Chincoteague Bay

Early Evening on the Chincoteague Bay

This second photograph was taken just about sunset, as I looked eastward from the boat we were in.  The light was just so beautiful around that time and this image lent itself to a subtle watercolor effect.  As I often do, here I worked with layers and masks to blend in an effect for more control and artistry. Westward the sky was more dramatic but to me visually less appealing. This was looking towards Assateague Island, and I like the one post sticking out of the water and the trees in the background.

The next two photos use textures. In the case of the mallard hybrid, the background was just sort of light as I had spot focused on him to bring out the details of his feather.  Another thing I enjoy is researching the photos for more information. For instance in this case, I tried to identify the duck as he really didn’t look like a mallard.  I found that domestic ducks and cross breeds often result from pairings with a male mallard as the iridescent green head is apparently quite appealing to female ducks of all species. I used one of the fabulous textures by Jerry Jones.

In the final photograph for this week’s post, I have taken many photographs of this filly as she was young and beautiful of course! 🙂 I was shooting with a telephoto since we were in a boat and at a distance. I cropped one of the more sharper images to use as just a head shot, and used a free beautiful texture found on Deviant Art and created by env1ro. I loved the bold colors in this texture.  Generally when I use free textures, I do try and change them up by using more than one, or another exposure to blend in, and for the Portrait of a Filly I did add another texture in but the primary texture was so gorgeous, the changes were pretty subtle. For the mallard, the texutre was such a perfect background for the duck’s coloring, I also didn’t add in another texture. For me this is an exception rather than a rule. Generally I will try to personalize it. See my note on how  I usually do to that.

Note: For other textures or exposures to blend in, think blurred landscapes, flora, flowers, clouds. Or shoot texture found in metal, rocks, etc. Or try your hand at using the various brushes in Photoshop to create your own. Then experiment with the blends or use the masks to just brink in part of an effect.


Limitations, Inspiration, Perserverance

I’ve been busy the past few weeks since my trip to Malheur Wildlife Refuge in Oregon, working on pictures, catching up with work and daily life.  In reviewing the photographs I’ve taken I’ve come up against the limitations that exist currently in both my ability and equipment. I’ll start with the second one first, since being outside my self, that’s always the easiest to identify and evaluate.

In spite of the fact that the new telephoto lens I bought is much better than the one I had, its reach is still never going to be as long as I want it to be!  As I’ve talked about before in this blog, I love shooting animals, especially wildlife in their natural habitat. And of course the challenge is that they’re not always near you (harder to focus on) and they move (requiring high enough shutter speed).  So I get home and look at my pictures (where I can actually see them on a full screen) and in the majority of cases, I’m often disappointed because when I zoom in to 100% or more if I’m cropping the picture, it’s less sharp, or the area that the animal encompasses is just too small to be able to crop into a compelling photograph.

colt-with-mother-20130606Here is the original shot I took of this cute little colt whose picture I stopped to take.  I have a 100-400mm and I don’t know how far away he was, but far enough, so that this was my shot at a focal length of 400mm. It was almost 7pm so the light was lower, but still acceptable.  I had raised the ISO to 250, had the aperture set to 11.0 and my shutter speed was 1/80 sec. At 100% I can see that the colt is a bit soft, so obviously my focus wasn’t spot on, but at its original size, it came out okay but it has a bit of noise.

This leads me to the first part of limitations – my ability or habits as a photographer.  In hindsight, I might have taken the aperture down to 8.0 or even 5.6 to get a higher shutter speed. But I still get so caught up with wanting to get the picture (in this case before the colt moved behind a sagebrush, or turned away from me) that I went into my snapshot mode. So I don’t have the ability now to crop and get a sharp picture.  colt-with-mother-crHere is the picture cropped to just the colt, and you begin to see the problems.  Of course these are low resolution files at smaller width and heights than the actual files, but the comparison should still be telling.

When I look back at pictures I took in Kenya with a film camera almost 20 years ago, I’m amazed at some of the pictures I got. I had a cheaper lens at that time (Pentax camera/Tamron 400 mm lens) but the differences are: 1) my digital camera now is a full frame, which means my reach isn’t as long – 400 is 400 instead of maybe 640; 2) film didn’t have the noise that digital cameras do; and 3) shooting in Kenya, I generally had much more light to work.  However, I still love my digital camera for many reasons, not limited  to post processing control (never had a darkroom) and ability to adjust ISO for each shot (whether I’m always great at doing that is another matter altogether) to name just the first two that stand out.  The fact is that I need to find a way as a photographer to form better habits in order to work both with the tools  I have (which are quite good) and the limitations that present themselves (moving animals, low light, etc).

So the disappointment in not getting the shots I hoped I had gotten turns into a learning experience and a resolve to get better. I still will cherish the photo and the others I took of this colt, because he was beautiful, and I loved the way he seemed to be trying out his legs. I decided to enhance the photograph in Photoshop and added some artistic/impressionistic type effects.  This is the result. Colt-with-new-long-legs-2

The following two photos are two more examples of a similar situation.  I shot this photo, and actually I do like it, but again, it was shot in low light at nearly 8pm. So I took up the ISO to 800. Since the mule deer did not seem particularly disturbed by me as they were at quite some distance, in retrospect, I probably should have used my tripod and kept the ISO lower to avoid the noise. The aperture was 10.0 and the shutter speed was 40, but the photo was still fairly sharp – there was just a lot of color noise.The-Gathering

However, I felt the photograph was a bit conflicted. Was the subject matter the herd of mule deer (not close enough to really be about them) or the landscape?  In the end, as the result of a suggestion from a fellow photographer in a forum, I decided to just concentrate on the beautiful colors in the landscape.

I reassessed the picture, erased the herd of mule deer from the scene, blurred the edges of the photo, and played with effects to give it more of an abstract feel, since the photo really lent itself to that. See the second reinterpreted photograph.

You can judge for yourself. Some will like the more true to life version, and others the artistic interpretation.  I always feel there’s room enough for more than one version.

Blue-Green-LandscapeLuckily, the telephoto lens did work quite well with some of the animals that were closer to me.  I especially like this capture of a little house sparrow that was taken at Malheur Wildlife Refuge, but wasn’t so crazy about the fact that he was just sitting on a metal plant protector thing. But I kept returning to him, because I was so charmed by his expression and the fact that he was looking directly at me.  This is the initial photograph.

Little-BirdIn this case, I was able to crop quite a bit, and have him remain very sharp, although I did add a texture and a color filter to make his background more visually interesting. The-Sparrow-questions-why

Next week I will move on from Harney County, Oregon, although I am sad to do so as it was a great experience on many different levels.  I did want to share a few more photographs.

This is of the Hot Springs where my friend and I stayed, Crystal Crane Hot Springs.Crystal-Crane-Hot-Springs


The next picture shows a close-up of a mule deer that was taken earlier in the day near the same spot where the herd was, and this deer was closer to the road (love it when that happens!)

And finally I wanted to show you a composite picture I did using the little calf from the first post on Harney County – Wild Horses, Part 1.  I had two landscape pictures I liked, (but not enough on their own), so I combined them with this calf. I wanted to create an image that reminded the viewer of one of those old paintings you see at museums. This is entitled, “The Lost Calf.”

So in closing – acknowledge and evaluate your limitations, be inspired by them to break through them, and persevere! I’m not usually this Ra, Ra, but sometimes we need to do that for ourselves, just so we can deal with expectations that get a little banged up along the way.