Monday, October 12, 2015

Fish Out of Water

I was recently hired to photograph an engagement session and was brainstorming with the couple for a nice outdoors setting. It dawned on me about a river nearby to all of us that had shallow flowing water over a solid yet craggy rock bed. It had been a while since I had been there, but the setting would be great for engagement photos.

Upon mentioning the place, they too agreed that the setting would be perfect and we set a time to meet.

I showed up a little over an hour early to walk around and check everything out beforehand. At the head of the park where the river comes in is a small dam. The water blocked at the dam was several feet below the top. The river was stagnant with little flow downstream from the dam. Several places in the rocky bottom lay small pools of water, many with less surface area than a small above ground pool would have.

With the rocks as the bottom, the water was fairly clear and I could see an abundance of fish still swimming in them. There were bass, shad, various species of bream, and even a bowfin surfaced to take a gulp of air. Yes, bowfin can breathe air if necessary in low oxygenated water.
That also meant the water had little oxygen left in it.

I met with the newly engaged couple and we had a great session together. But I was still concerned about what I saw. With no rain in the forecast for a few days I questioned whether the fish would make it. Many were of good size. There was no telling how many smaller fish there were that I didn’t notice.

I drove back a little later, as the location is less than 30 minutes from home. I was not sure what I could do, but quick simple thinking had me grab a net to see if I could harvest a few and help them to the river a few yards away.

When I arrived, I noticed several other people there looking at the fish. One had a cast net. Since I was coming in behind them, I checked out the scene. No bucket or stringer was nearby. Evidently they were not trying to get easy catches. It was very near the saying ‘trying to catch fish in a barrel.’
So here we had a half dozen people all with the same concerns. Unless we had a strong enough rainstorm to either fill the river over the dam or create enough runoff to cause the small pools to flow to the river the fish were not going to make it. And we did not want to see that happen.

Each of us had fishing licenses we came to find out. We all hunted. The same callous, uncaring, animal murderers that outdoorsmen get portrayed as many times were the only ones out there trying to find a way to save several species of fish that became landlocked in too little water.

The truth is outdoorsmen do care. Yes, another time we may have been there solely to catch our next meal. But this day we were trying to make sure these creatures survived to be caught another day, to reproduce, to be part of life’s circle.

Friday, October 9, 2015


The outdoors world can be a strange culture. On one hand, there is a set of people that will do anything to share their knowledge, teach those that do not know, and spend valuable time to help others. The other hand, is the complete opposite. They tend to be boastful, hide their secrets so others cannot obtain the same success or exceed their own accomplishments, and ridicule others.

I guess it could be a microcosm of the business world as well. Or it could be a similar sampling of a social group. But this is an outdoors column, so we will look at it in that perspective.

Usually the ones that are on the helpful side will see a recent photo of a monster buck and look at in awe. They will admire both the beauty of the animal, and the blend of talent,hard work, and in some cases luck that went into the successful hunt.

The ones that are on the other side, usually remark about how the hunter was only successful because the land is private, or the hunter  just happens to have better quality game in that part of the area, or the hunter gets to hunt more often.

The willing-to-help side will share what he did in preseason scouting. He will explain how he set up a food plot, what time of year he started the plot, and what he used in the plot. He will draw a diagram as to where to place it and where he placed his stand accordingly. He will talk about where he set trail cameras and when he would go in and check them.

The other side, well, they tend to keep things hush-hush. Answers to questions remain vague except for exactly how big the game was, and then it tends to be over exaggerated. If you happen to find out what county the hunt took place you have found out more than was intended.

The real fireworks happen when the two come together with a third person asking the questions though. Something as simple as a question of what caliber firearm to use can start the exchange. The mentor type will begin with an answer only to be interrupted by the other. Then it will be a conversation devoted to how much I know and you don’t. And the novice is left with a bad taste and disdain.

Our sport deserves more. Our heritage deserves more. Many times we may feel inadequate and it is easy for us to take an avenue of ‘well, I need to show what I know’ or ‘well, look what I have successfully hunted.’ It takes on a grammar school mentality if we let it.

Instead, we should be able to recognize when someone does know what they are talking about and has been successful and realize it is time to listen rather than to speak. Even writing this column for several years does not make me an expert on anything. I can share my experiences and what has or has not been successful and hopefully others can and will learn from it. But I have many more instances of what has not been successful compared to what has.

The world could use a little more humbleness. Even the outdoors world.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Deer Scout

Middle of July. The summer is pounding away with searing heat. The gnats, mosquitoes, and biting bugs are having a feast on you every time you go outside. But, the work must be done.

This is the prime time to get those cameras out in the fields and woods to see what may be hanging around. Deer season is less than two months away. Yes, only two months. It is imperative to start scouting if you have not already begun.

The deer are usually out in daylight, searching the fields for grazing spots on fresh soft vegetation. In the evening, they are even more plentiful. The bucks are not worried about what may be lurking and are gathered in their batchelor groups as they comb the areas for nutrients to help in the development of their growing headgear.

After all, hunters are not the only ones excited about seeing large antlers spreading from the skull of a deer. Bucks with the largest are the most dominant, and they want to establish themselves as the alpha in order to pick their choice of females later during the year.

As they are in feeding mode, the deer tend to stay in the area and make it home until the batchelor groups break up. Once that happens, the bucks will disperse and establish their own territories.

The secret is finding where the deer are. Look for tracks along the edges of fields and wood lines. This is where you set up the cameras. The deer are coming out there and heading straight for the food sources. Because this is not necessarily where you will hunt come opening day, you do not have to worry about finding the times they are coming through.

It does help to lay some type of attractant in front of the camera though. You do not want to catch the tail end of the deer walking to the field or hard angles where you cannot tell exactly how big the deer is. Corn remains the best way to stop a deer. Even if the deer does not stop and graze on the corn, it will be enough to slow him down and have him hang there for more than a few fleeting seconds, giving the camera time to do its job.

Things to be careful of are where the camera is set up in accordance with sunrise and sunset. A direct line towards the sunrise or sunset will ruin a shot, especially if using an infrared camera. Even the flash camera can be fooled and you end up with a dark shot or a completely white screen. For this reason, a north or south facing camera is best. But again, if there are no tracks near there, the camera will be useless. The only way to get a picture of a deer, is to have deer there.

After you check the images, you will have an idea of what has made it through another hunting season and you can start making a hit list. This will be when you fine tune where the camera is set up so you can catch the unexpecting giant on opening day. We will cover this set up in a later column as the season approaches.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Reality of Getting a Story

Watching various documentaries on animals, hunting and fishing, one can become awestruck by the beauty of the photography and videography while listening to the voice over. Whether it was old television shows like Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom, or even current offerings such as River Monsters or any number of Shark Week presentations, someone had to get in position and do what most would not in order to get the shots that keep us glued to the screen.

I have heard people remark about how there was no way they would get as close as the hunter was to a charging Kodiak bear, yet they forget that there was another person, holding the camera trying to get the shot.

I follow a gentleman named Mike Eastman, who I believe is one of the premiere outdoors photographers. He continuously goes out and hunts for the photo. Each week he posts and displays samples in which he is hanging on the side of a thousand foot cliff so he can get a shot of two bighorn sheep ramming horns to establish dominance. Or it may be a grizzly staring directly at the camera after lifting his head with a mouth full of vegetation. And yes, it may be a shot of a mountain lion putting on a stalk of an unexpecting elk calf. Each case, he has put himself in harm’s way in order to pull off what most would consider a shot of a lifetime.

Daily, there are people such as he that do those same things in order to get the story or the photo, or both.

I am sharing this information to give you, the reader, an inside look at what has to happen in order to make the story interesting.

I recently was approved for a story regarding shark fishing on North Carolina’s coast in large part due to the national media’s coverage of the attacks. If things go right, and I can land the photo I want, it is possible to get the cover of the magazine as well. Magazine cover photos are a big deal for journalists and photojournalists and the pay reflects such.

Now the magazine does not want a hero shot of someone sitting on a shoreline holding a big shark. The magazine needs something that will reach out to the person at the newsstand and make them want to buy the magazine. There has to be action, but the photo has to tell a story.

So, for the shot, I need something like an underwater photo of the shark with the hook, bait, and line in the creature’s toothy jaws with the kayak angler’s silhouette above the out of focus water’s surface. There is only one way to make that happen. You have to have a camera under the water.

To set up the shot, we have to fish for sharks. We have to hook one that is large enough to garner that ‘wow’ effect. After fighting the shark for a bit, you have to tire him down to reduce the dangers of what happens next. Someone, me in this case, has to get into the now proven shark infested waters, get below the shark and angler, and compose the photo.

There is still more to it. Even though we may put ourselves in danger’s way, we still want to make it as safe as possible. For instance, while I am in the water trying to capture the shot, the angler is using gear a little heavier than what one would usually use. The reason? Just in case the shark is tempermental with a hook in his mouth and decides to make a beeline towards me, the angler will have a better chance of at least tightening the drag and making the fish turn with a good tug of the rod.

There is also a chance the shark could overturn the kayak. Well, if I am in the water and the angler ends up in the water too, we need someone else to help get the two of us out. For this reason there will be a boat tethered to the kayak and beside it with another person inside. The boat person can assist myself or the angler out of the water if things go south quickly.

This is just a little of the type of planning that goes into getting some nature shots of dangerous animals and dangerous locations. There are other precautions we have taken as well, but it does show what we will do for a story and accompanying photo or video.