More Cherry Creek Wildlife

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Dinner Time. A coyote lopes across the fields of Cherry Creek State Park in Aurora, Colorado.
Nikon Z8 with Nikkor Z 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 VR S at 400mm, 1/1000 sec, f/5.6, ISO 640.
Wariness. A prairie dog stays close to shelter in Cherry Creek State Park, Aurora, Colorado.
Nikon Z8 with AF-S Nikkor 500mm f/5.6E PF ED VR at 1/1000 sec, f/5.6, ISO 320.

This post is a continuation of last week’s: last week focused on the herons of Cherry Creek State Park; this week shows off some of the other wildlife I found on my recent visits. That said, I am mixing a few things up this week. First of all, the images in this post are all a very wide aspect ratio, namely 5:2 (or, if you prefer, 2.5 to 1). Doing this was a bit of a whim, but inspired by my trip to Vancouver Island, Canada, this past week. That tour was led by Adam Gibbs and Alister Benn, both of whom are rather fond of the 65:24 (a touch over 2.7 to 1) in-camera crops that their Fuji GFX 100 cameras support. So I decided to try something similar. There is probably a reason that those cameras offer 65:24 crops in particular, but to my mind that is a pretty goofy ratio: if you print on photo paper with a border it would be fine, but I always order my prints on metal and they are printed right to the edge, so I prefer simpler ratios that can be ordered without resorting to fractional inches.

I also kept the two pictures above as a pair since they tell a (rather obvious) predator-prey story. My original rendition of the prairie dog was definitely more of a here’s-an-adorable-prairie-dog image. Once I imposed the narrow crop, the prairie dog is clearly cramped in the frame which gives the feel of it being cornered. I also darkened and cooled the image, making it a lot less happy-feeling.

Appeal. A red-winged blackbird calls from a bank of dry reeds in Cherry Creek State Park, Aurora, Colorado.
Nikon Z8 with AF-S Nikkor 500mm f/5.6E PF ED VR at 1/1000 sec, f/5.6, ISO 200.

I think this wide crop also works pretty well with the red-winged blackbird, above. The bird is a strong visual focus in what is otherwise a very busy (although neutrally-colored) scene, but all that space in front of him also gives a feeling that, although he is calling, there is no one listening.

Black Plague. A group of common grackles—known as a plague—swarm in a treetop in Cherry Creek State Park, Aurora, Colorado.
Nikon Z8 with Nikkor Z 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 VR S at 400mm, 1/1000 sec, f/5.6, ISO 640.

The image above has a lot of nice wing positions that gives it a much more active feel than it would have if they were all sitting docilely. It’s also a very graphic image, with only the black birds, the blue sky, and the orangish branches. Two unfortunate things that bother me a little bit in this image are the bird that is partially sticking into the frame along the bottom edge and the bird’s wing in the lower right that looks like it is patting the other bird on the head. A little effort with Affinity Photo could fix both of these irritants, though.

Solo. Three birds perch in a treetop in Cherry Creek State Park, Aurora, Colorado.
Nikon Z8 with AF-S Nikkor 500mm f/5.6E PF ED VR at 1/3000 sec, f/5.6, ISO 500.

Since we are going artsy in these images, we may as well include the minimalistic image of three silhouetted birds, above, with a huge amount of negative space off to the right.

Twilight Hunter No. 2. A great horned owl perches in a tree in Cherry Creek State Park, Aurora, Colorado.
Nikon Z8 with AF-S Nikkor 500mm f/5.6E PF ED VR at 1/1000 sec, f/5.6, ISO 3200.

One highlight from my second visit was spotting the great horned owl, above, while walking back to my truck after photographing the great blue herons. I took a few pictures of it, then checked how they were turning out, and—he was gone! I was rather crestfallen that he had snuck away when I wasn’t looking. I figured it was hopeless to look for him, but fortunately when he fled he went closer to my truck and I found him again.

I did learn something useful here. I had been using my “birds-in-flight” settings and even though I had reduced the shutter speed a bit, I should have reduced it another stop or two (to 1/500 sec or even 1/250 sec) since this bird was clearly not in flight. As it was, my images were underexposed and when I brightened this one up—yes, it is brightened up here—it was pretty noisy. Lightroom’s AI noise reduction works pretty well in these situations, though, so all was not lost.

If I was going to print this image, I am certain it would need to be lightened up a bit more; when viewed on screens it is probably fine, though. Images like this are a little tricky because it was very dark and so it should look dark, but perhaps this is a little too blue and too dark and too low contrast. I’d be happy to hear your thoughts on it.

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2 responses to “More Cherry Creek Wildlife”

  1. I like the narrow crops except, perhaps, on the prairie dog image – partly for the same reasons you like it! He(?) looks (too) hemmed in and hasn’t enough to look out to on the left.

    Twilight hunter is moody! Great.

    • Thank you, Rob. I am always excited to see an owl and even more to photograph it. I just wish that I could find one of the ones I hear outside my house sometimes…

      Well, I only cropped (and otherwise edited) the prairie dog to try to make it fit the rest. I originally had a very nice picture of a cute prairie dog in warm light. It was a great picture with great detail, but it was kind of boring, I must admit. So I am glad to have tried something new. And if I ever need a cute picture of a prairie dog, I have one of those, too. I don’t usually try to completely reverse the feel of an image in post-processing, so it was an interesting exercise. I can’t say that I have a preference; they are just very different!