Wednesday, January 30, 2013

January 26, 2013

The Sculpture - Osceola, WI
Canon 5D Mark III + Canon 24mm f3.5L TSE
3-Shot Stitched Panorama
January 26th was another 14 degree morning. The crisp night turned water to stone, and a sculpture was left in its wake. Ephemeral as the day's weather, the ice evolves as warm air replaces cold. The artist, Winter, manipulates her medium with a frequency unlike any I have seen before. Her work is nothing short of a masterpiece, and I am lucky when I stumble upon her unique vision. 

©2000-2013 / Bruce & Tamy Leventhal. All rights reserved. No image on this site may be used without permission.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Species Profile: Kirk’s dik-dik (Madoqua kirkii)

Kirk's dik dik (Madoqua kirkii) - Lake Manyara National Park, Tanzania
Canon 1D mark II + Canon 300mm f2.8L IS w/ Canon 1.4x converter @ f4.5 
Dik-dik’s are unique members of the family Bovidae. Like their more famous Bovid cousins, the dik-dik is a ruminant with unbranching horns and paired toes. Smallest among the antelope, these diminutive wide-eyed creatures can top out at 42 km per hour to evade monitor lizards, caracals, leopards and lions prowling about the brush-lands of East Africa. A preorbital gland lies ventral to large lashed eyes, and secretes a sticky substance used to mark territorial boundaries. The elongated nose with bellows-like musculature is an adaptation to the extreme heat on the savanna. Expansions and contractions by the snout increases airflow across blood vessels thus maintaining a constant body temperature. Famously monogamous, dik-dik males deposit dung or urine directly on the excretions produced by their mate. Such behavior is likely to deter intruder males from invading the tightly guarded territorial boundaries.

The male dik-dik pictured here just “over-marked” his mate’s feces prior to being photographed. Captured in Lake Manyara National Park, we found this dik-dik during our search for leopards in the tall brush.

©2000-2013 / Bruce & Tamy Leventhal. All rights reserved. No image on this site may be used without permission.

Sunday, January 20, 2013


On Solid Water - Gooseberry State Park, MN
Canon 5D Mark III + Canon 100mm L Macro IS 
It was 41℉ (5 ℃) during yesterday’s commute. Less than 24 hours later, the temperature has plummeted 34 degrees. We now expect that tomorrow’s daytime high will be -17 ℉ (-27 ℃). 
Winter on Lake Superior - Grand Marais, MN
Canon 1D Mark II + Canon 17-40mmL @ 17mm

2012 was the warmest year on record in Minnesota, and January 2013 has continued the trend until now. Broad climatic shifts now seem to be the norm. A state known for its predictably cold winter now seems more like the moderate East Coast weather that I recall from my youth. While the current bitter temperature challenges my ability to expose, compose and shoot, it is a welcome change. Minnesota ice is back... and I hope that it sticks around for a while. 

©2000-2013 / Bruce & Tamy Leventhal. All rights reserved. No image on this site may be used without permission.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

The Devil's in the Details

Medicine Lake - Jasper National Park, Canada
Canon 5D mark II + Canon 24mm f3.5L TSE
5-shot bracket - HDR
Geek alert... this post focuses on the digital techniques I used to produce the leading image. So, if you’re just interested in the picture, here are the liner notes... you are looking at the long view of Medicine Lake in Jasper National Park. The photo was captured around 4:00 p.m. on a summer day just as the light began to soften.

I wish this image was as easy to produce as it is to describe, but in practice, it required a lot more forethought. Tamy and I spent 16 days exploring the Canadian Rockies. During our travels, we focused on wildlife, flowers and landscapes. I had seen so many amazing images of Lake Louise, I knew that this was something I had to have for myself. After spending many early mornings and late evenings working the iridescent blues of Canada’s most famous lake, and getting the shot in “the can*,” Medicine Lake was next on my hit list. We visited the Medicine Lake area at least four times during our four-day shoot in Jasper, and each stop was more disappointing than the last. We’d arrive early and shoot the pre-dawn light and stay late into dusk, but we just couldn’t get the conditions that I had envisioned. My attempts were fraught with complications like overcast like, cloudless skies, or choppy water. During the final pass out of the Medicine Lake area, I impulsively stopped and dragged out the gear to make one last attempt. It took about 30 minutes to set up this shot, as I wanted to position the tripod as close to the ground as possible, level the horizon and build the composition. It was around 4:15 in the afternoon and, being a mid-summer day in Canada, the sun produced many deep shadows and bright highlights throughout. To counter this impossible situation, I produced a 5 stops series of bracketed images in order to capture all of the details from shadow to highlight.

In the initial edit, I was pretty disappointed with my Medicine Lake series. All of the images had serious flaws that I couldn’t see past, so I relegated the photos to my increasingly large pile of non-selects. Thus, a blog-post is born. I need something to say or something to share, and this challenge and frustration seemed as good as any idea I’ve had in the past. 

I pulled up my five shot series from Medicine Lake in Aperture 3.4.3, examined the histogram for each shot, and exported the files as tiffs into my “HDR folder.” In general, I am not overly fond of HDR (high dynamic range) images, and when using this technique, I lean towards the side of realism. The five shots were then imported into Photomatix Pro v4.2. Here I decided to “align the image according to features,” “reduce noise in shadows,” and “reduce chromatic aberration.” The program did it’s magic and spat out a cartooned version of what I had hoped to see.... this is why I generally dislike HDR! Rather than accepting the tone-mapped surreal product that greeted me, I used the program’s “Exposure Fusion,” option and began to tweak the black and white points. After adjusting the luminance and saturation, I saved the file and imported it into Photoshop CS5. In photoshop, I created a layer mask, adjusted the levels and then began to question whether the final image would be worth the effort. Looking at the post, I’m not sure that it is, and that’s why I think my process is worth these words in this blog. With the levels set, I created another layer mask where I adjusted the shadows and highlights. The global adjustments were over the top, so I painted back the dark tones except for the trees in the foreground. The use of the shadow tool often produces a flat image, so I needed to bump up the contrast. Because a global adjustment would wipe out the shadow mask I just made, I created another layer and used the Unsharp Mask tool at 20 sharpen, 80 radius, and 0 threshold to create some pop. The effect was overwhelming, so once again, I decided to “paint in” the contrast where it was needed. In a final step, I applied a minimal Smart Sharpening to the image and prepped the file for printing and web output. 

Post-processing is a necessary evil of the present. The film guy of the past would have taken the shot, edited the slide and tossed this image into the bin. The blown highlights and black shadows would have made for a lousy film shot. But hey, it’s 2013 and computers can do magic with troubling light. Digital now offers the opportunity for a hack like me to challenge my vision and capture a moment that I would have avoided in the past. Here’s to the “modern era!”
  • For you photo-noob’s, the phrase “in the can,” is a reference to film. Film, much like the LP, is ancient history. Film is a thin flexible piece of plastic or other material coated with a light-sensitive emulsion like silver halide. When you finish a roll, it goes in “the can,”... a metal or plastic film container ;-{> .

©2000-2013 / Bruce & Tamy Leventhal. All rights reserved. No image on this site may be used without permission. 

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Those Two Guys

Inbound (Cygnus buccinator) - Vadnais Heights, MN
Canon 5D Mark III + Canon 300mm f2.8L IS
This past Sunday I had the pleasure to do a bit of winter photography with my good friend Brian Collins. We first met at the Bell Museum in Minneapolis where we worked as naturalist/guides for the Bell's education program. Brian was working on his fisheries and wildlife degree, and I had just given up the life of a field ecologist to become a biology educator. Even back then, we both shared a passion for capturing the drama of nature and wildlife on film. To me, photography was the placebo that eased my transition from research to work, and to Brian it was a way to document the world he hoped to study. Shortly after graduate school, I moved on to a career in teaching, we lost touch, and that was that.
Preening (Cygnus buccinator) - Vadnais Heights, MN
Canon 5D Mark III + Canon 300mm f2.8L IS
Some might call it fate, I call it probability. There was no guarantee that we would bump into each other at Kohl's Department Store, nor that we might recognize one another five years later, but life's random nature and probability made for an unexpected reunion. The collision of our paths is now a distant memory, but ever since that day, we have remained great friends, photo-buddies, and sufferers of cold winter mornings.
Arousal (Cygnus buccinator) - Vadnais Heights, MN
Canon 5D Mark III + Canon 300mm f2.8L IS
So this past Sunday we ventured out on a frigid morning to catch a sunrise with trumpeter swans. Clear skies and cold air made for challenging photography, yet the swan activity kept us both engaged. Two guys pursuing a common craft and enjoying the still of a winter day may not be for everyone, but I could not imagine a better way to spend a weekend in January. To see more images of swans and other species that captivate the imagination, visit Brian's amazing photography blog at
Sometimes it's Better to be Lucky than Good (Cygnus buccinator) - Vadnais Heights, MN
Canon 5D Mark III + Canon 300mm f2.8L IS

©2000-2013 / Bruce & Tamy Leventhal. All rights reserved. No image on this site may be used without permission

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Fear and Inhibition

Finch Flight (Carduelis tristis) - Pasadena, CA
Canon 5D mark iii + Canon 300 f2.8L IS w/ Canon 1.4x Converter
This craft, photography, can be defined in so many ways. 
It is...
...a form of pure journalism when the photograph captures the “decisive moment,” a proverbial blip in time.
...a narrative, when the photograph tells a story about a place and time.
...a form of commerce, when the photograph captures its subject and portrays an ideal that can be bought and sold.
...a form of expression, when the photograph is a tool used by an artist to convey an idea or abstraction that resides within.
Sharks Love Popcorn - New York City Aquarium
Fuji X100
To the working stiff, this craft is a hobby, an outlet for the weekend warrior who is trapped by the constraints of life, career, and time. Yet we, the amateurs of the world, have the least to lose by taking a risk and still, we  tend to play it safe. We stay in our comfort zone rarely look beyond our strengths. 
Years Later at Ground Zero - New York City
Fuji X100
Guilty as charged, this is my modus operandi. I travel, document untouched ecosystems, avoid people and photograph large charismatic mammals. Shrouded behind a veil, I stay within my predefined limits and protect myself by hiding the experiments. Sadly, this is also a formula for quieting creativity, innovation and growth. My craft requires an adventuresome spirit and desire to take a risk, bug fear of acrimony or ridicule inhibits the urge. So here it is, the New Year and the requisite Resolution. 
Green and Gold (Carduelis tristis) - Pasadena California
Canon 5D mark iii + Canon 300 f2.8L IS w/ Canon 1.4x Converter
“I Bruce Leventhal will continue to push myself beyond my comfort zone, and I will share the experiments that I too often hide from my peers.”

©2000-2013 / Bruce & Tamy Leventhal. All rights reserved. No image on this site may be used without permission.