Category Archives: Photo News

A textbook photo

Back in summer 2009 I spent several weeks monitoring a bird nest.  Not just any bird nest, but the nest of killdeer (Charadrius vociferus), the shorebird species least likely to be associated with a shore.

Close-up of a killdeer (Charadrius vociferus) (2009_06_03_021880_n)

The few times I walked through the field where the pair nested, the adults gave me their best diversionary tactics, which is how the adventure began: their no-holds-barred displays to lead me, the predator, away from their nest.  They showed me false brooding, the broken wing display, the threat display, and the ungulate display, though they didn’t treat me to their most dramatic move: flying into the face of an approaching threat, something that often scares animals into changing directions—away from the nest, of course!

Eventually I also captured photos of them standing guard over the nest, their last-ditch maneuver when a predator just doesn’t get the hint, and of course when the happy day finally arrived, I got to see the chicks as they hatched and left the nest, never to look back.

Close-up of a killdeer (Charadrius vociferus) (2009_06_03_021915_c)

The opportunity was too cool for words for many reasons, one being the opportunity to get some totally excellent photos and another being the learning opportunity, but the most important being the chance to experience nature as it happens, something I rather enjoy and much prefer to reading about it later.

One of the photos to appear in the first post linked above happens to be of the male giving me his best broken wing act.  Killdeer have mastered this display, as you can see from the photos in that post, but the image in question I snapped as I walked slowly behind him, letting him feel confident his display was working.  (It’s important under these circumstances to let the animals feel accomplished lest they abandon the nest due to failure.)  The picture is this one:

A killdeer (Charadrius vociferus) giving the broken wing display (2009_06_03_021847)

All his acting skills are brought to bear, as you can see, and I let him win by leading me away from the nest and the eggs (seen in the second post linked above).  I had by that time let them show me all their moves, and I wanted them to be there later as I continued to watch the nest, so we trailed across the field until he felt confident I wouldn’t find the nest, then off he flew.  (Of course I already knew damn well where the nest was, but we must play our games.)

Almost a year later, I had all but forgotten the photo.  But then the talented Seabrooke Leckie reminded me of it by showing off her own version, a colored pencil sketch that is rather impressive.  I was glad someone had seen something in that photo and decided to work some personal magic on the scene.

Then in October 2010, I received an e-mail from Dr. Jack W. Bradbury, the Robert G. Engel Professor of Ornithology Emeritus in the Department of Neurobiology and Behavior at Cornell University.  He said in part:

Dr. Sandra Vehrencamp and I are working on a second edition of a textbook entitled Principles of Animal Communication. We have a draft figure in which we want to show a shorebird doing a broken wing display and really liked your third (from the top) photo of a killdeer doing this display on your site …

Would you be interested in letting us use this photo?

Would I be interested?  Does a bear…  Well, yes, of course I’d be interested, and so I pursued the opportunity.  After agreements were made and the file provided, I then had to sit back and wait.  And wait.  Because the book wasn’t to be published until summer 2011, precisely two years after I took the shot.

But now the wait has ended.  I recently received my contributor’s copy of Principles of Animal Communication, Second Edition, and I’m thrilled to say it’s one more notch in my photographic belt.


As these things go, it’s a large book, but it’s a textbook, so I shouldn’t be too surprised by its bulk.  Better than many of the textbooks I grew up using, this one is full color and thorough.  It covers tremendous amounts of science and overflows with graphics, photographs and diagrams.  It’s a mighty fine piece of work!

And there on page 574, in the section titled “Last-ditch prey signals to predators,” is my charming killdeer, right beside a skink showing off its recently detached tail:


As has happened with all my licensed photographs, this opportunity presented itself not because I went looking for the chance, but rather because the chance came to me, thanks to simple web searches bringing someone to my blog.  It’s called crowd sourcing, and take it from me, it’s pretty damned neat!

Fuzzy turtle travelin’

In June 2009, during a walk at White Rock Lake, I stood on the footbridge spanning the inlet to Heron Bay (the lagoon behind the paddle boat house).  Sweat ran down every part of my body as I stood smothered in Texas summer: oppressive heat and humidity.  I had already decided to get in the car and go home, if for no other reason than to turn on the air conditioning in the car before I melted into a puddle.

Walking across the bridge, I noticed something swimming near the surface.  It paused even as I turned to snap a few photos.  It turned out to be a red-eared slider (Trachemys scripta elegans) with algae growing on its shell.  Yet I forgot about the photos, something I do often considering the volume of pictures I take.  It wasn’t until April 2010 when I stumbled across those pictures again and posted about the fuzzy turtle.  I included this photograph:

A red-eared slider (Trachemys scripta elegans) with algae on its shell (2009_06_21_024620)

That happens to be a crop of a larger image.  Here’s the original:

A red-eared slider (Trachemys scripta elegans) with algae on its shell (2009_06_21_024620 original)

As has been the case with every photo I’ve licensed, I gave nary a thought to the image after I posted it.  Then in October 2010 I received an e-mail that said, in part,

I have seen your photos of a turtle covered with algae on the web (‘fuzzy turtle, april 15, 2010). The algal growth represents one of the algal species (Basicladia spp.) I have been working on during my PhD, which I just completed as a draft. I would like to use the image of the turtle for the introduction chapter of my PhD thesis (Leiden University, the Netherlands)…

Of course I was interested.  When contacted about licensing a photograph, anything for nonprofit, conservation, education and/or science garners my immediate interest.  And it helped to see this in the initial request: “I would send you a copy of the book once it’s printed.”  I always like to see how my work is used and I appreciate that consideration being understood, especially when it’s understood at the time the initial request is sent.

I eventually agreed to the request and sent the original unadulterated image file.  It seemed my fuzzy turtle was traveling to the Netherlands Centre for Biodiversity Naturalis.  And I never asked if it spoke Dutch before I shipped it overseas.

Only a month after originally contacting me, Christian sent a new request.  Though originally intended as the introductory image for the first chapter, she said she liked the image more than expected and wanted to use it on the book’s cover instead.  She wanted to be certain that was OK with me.  Um, let me think about that.  YES!

Then less than two months after she originally contacted me, Christian sent another e-mail, this time asking for my mailing address.  I was excited.  I couldn’t wait to see the book, to hold it in my grimy paws, to read it with that inner tickle that screamed, “Hey, dude!  Your frackin’ photo is on the cover!  Look!  Look!  Loooooook!

After enough of our ice storm double whammy melted last week and it was safe enough to walk to the mailbox, I was pleasantly surprised to find a package from the Netherlands.  And inside the package: a copy of “Phylogenetic, taxonomic and biogeographical studies in the Pithophoraceae (Cladophorales, Chlorophyta)” by Christian Böedeker.

Cover of 'Phylogenetic, taxonomic and biogeographical studies in the Pithophoraceae (Cladophorales, Chlorophyta)' by Christian Boedeker featuring a photograph of mine on the cover (HPIM0034)

That photo scarcely does the book justice (photography isn’t my strength at the moment, I assure you).  The cover has an underlying color scheme that makes it look like it’s painted on canvas, thus giving it great visual texture.

But what about the contents?  Oh, it’s a delightfully heavy bit of science that made for a wonderful read.  And when I say a heavy bit of science, I mean that in the most complimentary way.  Christian has done some fantastic work in an area that lacked serious study, and her book shows just how much this science was needed.  To wit (from the back cover):

The confused taxonomy of the Aegagropila-clade was clarified using methods of molecular phylogenetic inference, resulting in the re-instatement of the Pithophoraceae, descriptions of two new genera and several nomenclatural changes.

With ample color images, maps, tables and illustrations to complement hundreds of pages of research, I feel a great deal of pride seeing my photograph on the cover.  As science is a dear passion of mine, licensing this photo gave me satisfaction beyond measure.

I’m eternally grateful to Christian Böedeker for contacting me and letting me play a small part in her work.  I’m also thankful for her consideration in sending me a copy of the book once completed.  Of all the photos I’ve licensed to date, this one has the most meaning.

Florida comes calling

After the first time one of my photos was licensed and published, I walked away from the experience with some coin in my pocket, my name and one of my pictures in a book, and a newfound appreciation for crowd-sourced materials.  I could also lay claim to being a published nature photographer.

Yet I didn’t hold my head high and look down on others, and I didn’t feel a new career opportunity rising up from my hobby.  One reason for that should be obvious: My usual jesting self-deprecation aside, I really don’t think that highly of my photography.  We are our own worst critics, true, and no one is harder on me than I am.  Every photo I take needs improvement; every image I post could be much better; every time I post-process a picture, I kick myself for not capturing as good as I wanted and I promise myself I will focus on improving.  In essence, I considered the Adventure Publications scenario a fluke.

I had a lot to learn.  In July 2010 I received a missive that said, in part,

I am contacting you on behalf of the Lyonia Environmental Center in Deltona, FL. ( )

We would like to use one of your photographs of the Purple Passion Flower on signs that will be placed in our native plant garden and around our nature center.

Purple passion flower (a.k.a. Maypop; Passiflora incarnata) grows wild at the family farm, its fruit enjoyed by all sorts of wildlife, including deer who will come right up to the back door of the house to nibble the sweetness off the vine.  I’ve photographed it often, not just because passion flowers are structurally fascinating but because they’re purple!  My favorite color.  When asked which photo they were referring to, they pointed to this one (originally seen in this post from August 2009):

A close-up of a purple passion flower (a.k.a. Maypop; Passiflora incarnata) (20080809_10605)

But when identifying the picture in question, they added something else: they also wanted to use this photo (originally seen in this post from May 2010):

A close-up of firewheel (a.k.a Indian blanket or blanket flower; Gaillardia pulchella) (2009_05_31_021051)

That’s firewheel (a.k.a Indian blanket or blanket flower; Gaillardia pulchella).  It grows all around White Rock Lake amongst the other native plants that are carefully nurtured and protected, for White Rock Lake harbors some of the rarest remnants of the Blackland Prairie ecosystem.  So much of that ecosystem was laid waste by development of the DFW Metroplex, so the City of Dallas and concerned citizens spend a great deal of time keeping what little remains of it in pristine condition, efforts that have won the city and its citizens accolades, awards and honorable mentions.

As for the picture, it’s a crop from this larger image:

Firewheel (a.k.a Indian blanket or blanket flower; Gaillardia pulchella) (2009_05_31_021051)

So I did my homework.  I asked what they would use the images for (interpretive signs to be spread around the preserve), I visited their web site, and I investigated the Lyonia Environmental Center to see what they were all about.  What I found was my own passion:

Lyonia Preserve is a 360-acre joint project of Volusia County’s Land Acquisition and Management Division and the Volusia County School Board to restore and maintain scrub habitat. Since 1994, restoration efforts have removed overgrown sand pines and opened up the understory, creating the characteristic bare sand areas with low-growing vegetation preferred by scrub species.

They focus on conservation, restoration and education.  To add to the goodness of the request, I found that the preserve is home to the Deltona Regional Library, one of Volusia County‚Äôs most comprehensive and busiest libraries.  Two of my passions together: nature and reading.  What a fantastic place it must be, I thought, and what a grand opportunity for library visitors to enjoy native flora and fauna.  So I licensed the photographs.

Some time later I received pictures of the interpretive signs.  I always like to see how my work is used.  Here are the signs.  First, the passion flower:

Second, the firewheel:

Very cool!  Not just the inclusion of my pictures and not just having my name on the signs, but the signs are cool.  Well done indeed.

So if you’re ever in Florida and have a chance, visit the Lyonia Preserve.  And be sure to look for my name and photographs on the interpretive signs.

— — — — — — — — — —

I’m not covering these photograph experiences in chronological order.  No particular reason for that other than it’s easier for me to post about them based on how quickly I can find the correspondences and the photos that go with them.

My first time

I purchased my first digital camera in October 2003.  It was a Canon PowerShot S50, a pocket-sized point-and-shoot job that had an optical zoom of 3x and could hardly focus on anything further away than the tip of my nose.  I used it for years on the automatic settings because I knew nothing whatsoever about photography.  Worse yet, I knew nothing about post-processing images and accepted what the camera spit out as being the final word on photo quality.

To explain how much of a novice I was, it was more than three years later when I found macro mode.  It was during that same year that I began experimenting with settings in an attempt to fuel my newfound passion for photography.  I still blew out the highlights on most of my photos and still had no clue how to edit an image to correct things like that, but I had begun the journey toward learning how to take reasonable pictures.

In May 2007 I visited the family farm in the Piney Woods of East Texas.  Mom and I, both quite interested in photography, meandered about the grounds looking for things to photograph.  (“Things to photograph” should be defined as “everything and anything.”)  That’s when I took this picture:

Littleleaf sensitive brier (a.k.a catclaw brier, sensitive vine littleleaf mimosa, native mimosa; Mimosa microphylla) (195_9522)

Nothing more extravagant than littleleaf sensitive brier (a.k.a catclaw brier, sensitive vine littleleaf mimosa, native mimosa; Mimosa microphylla).  It’s common around the farm.  And as you can see by the image, shown here just as it was posted back then, the brightness and contrast are terrible, yet the only thing I did before posting it was crop and resize (dimensions and PPI).  I wouldn’t consider it an award winner by any stretch of the imagination.

Imagine my surprise when, in October 2007, I received an e-mail which said this:

[W]e would like to purchase the use of a photograph from your website.  Please let me know how to proceed and I can send you further information about our company.

I still considered the vast majority of my photographic work to be lame and nonpresentable.  Only the least horrific had been posted to my blog.  So what photo was I being asked about?  The one above.  Shock!

The opportunity turned out to be quite real, not a joke as I assumed, and the company, Adventure Publications, turned out to be quite respectable.  They dropped names like Nora and Rick Bowers and Stan Tekiela.  They mentioned a nature field guide due for publication in 2008.  And they confirmed they did in fact want to use my photo.

Contract signed, check deposited, details worked out and photo delivered, I received my contributor’s copy in September 2008.  Right there on page 96 was my photo and right there on page 428 was my photo credit.  Wow!  The book, Wildflowers of the Carolinas, hit store shelves just a month later in October 2008, exactly one year after they initially contacted me.

Having accomplished publication of a photograph without even trying—heck, without even knowing what I was doing with a camera—I became very excited about the possibilities and very serious about learning the trade.  So a new camera was purchased by the end of 2007 and I forced myself to not only read the manual up front, but also to get out of the automatic modes and start taking responsibility for settings.  Oh, and I also purchased image editing software and took the time to figure out the basics, like brightness and contrast, sharpening and noise reduction.

As for the original photo post, it will remain as it is, but the intervening years have taught me a thing or two about presentation.  Knowing the camera overcompensated for dim light on a cloudy day, hence the blown out highlights and lack of contrast, I took the liberty of editing the original photo so you can see what it really looked like when I snapped the picture.  With just a hair of an increase in contrast and a hair of a decrease in brightness, this is what Mom and I saw that day:

Littleleaf sensitive brier (a.k.a catclaw brier, sensitive vine littleleaf mimosa, native mimosa; Mimosa microphylla) (195_9522)

It goes without saying that I have never actively sought to license my photos.  I considered this experience a fluke, albeit a pleasant one that set me on the path toward better photography.  Nevertheless, since that time I have licensed more pictures for a broad range of uses, each of them discovered here on my blog without one bit of work by me.

The experience taught me about crowd-sourced materials in the age of the internet.  Whereas organizations years ago could only license work from those advertising and selling their wares, the web has made it possible to not only tap into a global supply with just a few keystrokes, but it also increased competition by making the professional and the amateur compete via the same search algorithms.  Now when someone hits Google to find a photo for use, say, in a textbook or on interpretive signs, there’s every reason to believe they’ll have a plethora of choices that come from people who just wanted to show their friends and family something interesting.

With apologies to Mom

Wildflowers of the Carolinas

Two years ago when my first published photo hit the market, I had already prattled ad nauseam about the subject due in no small part to the ebullient enthusiasm I felt at being contacted about, let alone paid for a picture that would be included in a book.  And when I received my complimentary copy of Adventure Publications’s Wildflowers of the Carolinas, I spent the first week permanently creasing the pages by flipping through it and looking at the image that carried my name and copyright.

Um, page 96 if you’re curious.

Since then my photography has been licensed several times for several uses, and by organizations as diverse as Cornell University and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.  And in one case, the pictures and corresponding blog post were licensed together.  But did I mention those things?  Did I jump up and down and post about the good news?  Did I even send an e-mail to Mom to let her know?

Um, nope.

I don’t know why I stopped doing those things.  Part of it I can blame on the convenience of Facebook and Twitter.  Tidbits like these events became easy fodder for social networks, small soundbites that could be tossed out with nary a consideration.  But what of those who don’t use social networks?

Um, oops.

So when I recently changed by blog’s theme and added my Twitter feed to the sidebar, this error came back to get my attention.  Mom noticed a little something about one of my photos being on the cover of a book.  In response, she sent an e-mail that included this:

You never mentioned one of your photos was on a book cover. Anything else I would be interested in?

She meant it with all the pride a doting mother could bestow on her beloved child, yet her phrasing was eerily biting in directness.  I laughed at myself because it smelled of the oft sarcastic tone I employ when ribbing someone, a skill that earned me kudos many years ago by my employees and bosses who spoke in terms of my ability to insult someone in a way that left them thanking me for it afterward.

Yet childish giggling aside, Mom’s missive did remind me that I’d grown all too comfortable with throwing such news into the social network queue with the idea that everyone would see it.

Um, not so much.

Heck, I even started putting together a new gallery on Facebook where I could show which photos were licensed and for what, a project in direct response to many people there who congratulated me each time while asking to see the photos in question.  It seemed like an appropriate blog chapter as well, but did I even think about doing that here?

Um, uh-uh.

So with apologies to Mom for my slacker tendencies in this area, I’m now acting to correct this error.

First, I’ve created a new category called Photo News that will include all relevant material, including old posts (once I move them over there) and all future posts (as I create them).

Second, I’m beginning a new series of posts to cover all licensed photos.  I intend to show the whole original picture along with the previously posted image that brought someone to my table with their photographic cup held out with hope.

And third, I will use the new series as the basis for my new Facebook album that will show to those folks which images I’ve licensed and to whom those images were licensed.

Um, yippee!

Oh, and I promise to do a better job in the future of sharing that information here as well as on social networks.  I owe it to the innumerable fans who throng outside my home waiting for yet another visual crumb from my vast yet elusive photographic table.

Um, whatev!