Photographing The Beautiful Iowa Woodland Wildflowers

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What was once a land of grasslands, immense prairies and undeveloped savannahs, Iowa has experienced vast changes over the last one hundred and fifty years. In spite of the drastic human development, the woodlands remain the most enduring remnants of Iowa’s biological population. In early spring, the woodlands seem to explode with life layer by layer. The first Iowa woodland wildflowers begin peeking through layers of fallen branches and dead leaves. These spring woodland flowers are some of the most colorful and abundant.

The first to bloom, usually in April, are the light pink-white or blue Hepatica, white Bloodroot that “bleeds” a reddish-orange liquid when the stem is broken, white Trillium, pale pink or white buttercup-like Rue Anemone (Wind Flower) and the aromatic drooping Dutchman’s breeches. Early May brings out the nearly hidden maroon flowers of Wild Ginger, Common Violets in yellow, white and violet shades, the blue petal Virginia Bluebells and the nearly stem less white Dog-tooth Violet. Mid-May starts showing the bluish-lavender flowers of Jacob’s Ladder, white and lavender Virginia Waterleaf (named because of the spots on the leaves), and the favorite Jack-in-the-Pulpit pale green flower with the inflorescent center.

Wildflowers in such vast quantities capture the attention of photographers that film nature more than almost anything else. Nothing can surpass the beauty that nature itself supplies for us. Massive fields are beautiful as photographs just as they are, or as backdrops for photo shoots especially of children or for weddings. Each individual flower is beautiful. Often these pictures are seen on postcards or greeting cards. Nothing needs to be added inside to make these a special gift in itself.

If interested in photographing wildflowers at their best, it is imperative to have certain basic equipment. The standard 35mm camera is a must. Adding a close-up lens or macro-lens is preferred for a better outcome. Some nature photographers prefer the 105mm macro lens and others prefer the 50 or 55mm macro lens. The perfect lighting for nature video or still photography is essential. At noon the bright sun will wash out the petal colors, so early evening or morning is the most opportune time for catching the warm colors that pay tribute to the blues, reds and yellows of the petals. Often times a cloudy day is perfect since it serves as a light diffuser. Although natural light is the most ideal, if that is not possible, an electronic flash will sometimes be a good alternative. If it is possible to backlight or sidelight the flowers, it will bring out a radiant glow accentuating the venation in the leaves and petals. Holding the camera steady is nearly impossible, so the use of a tripod or a bean bag to steady the camera is best. When photographing an individual flower you must get down close and personal to the flower to get the best possible picture. Focusing directly at the center of the flower will make sure the brilliantly focused flower, which is your main subject, is accentuated by a blurred background. However, at high magnifications, the depth of field, which is the depth of the image that is in sharp focus, is very shallow. So make sure the most important part of your flower is in sharp focus. Oftentimes when filming Iowa woodland wildflowers there has to be a compromise of a small enough aperture to have all the flower in focus but large enough so that you are maintaining a blurry background to make the flower stand apart. The wind can be a major obstacle in trying to get the perfect picture. Increasing the shutter speed on your camera will help alleviate that problem. If the light is dim, you may have to increase the ISO of your camera to accomplish that.

Fortunately, the tall trees that canopy the wild flowers are the last to leaf out. Once they are in full leaf, they block out the sunlight that is necessary for the wildflowers to survive. Regrettably, this marks the end of their season and the Iowa woodland wildflowers disappear until the beginning of the next spring thaw.

When Congress Plays God, Wolves Lose

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The Endangered Species list has always been monitored and managed by an apolitical scientific group. This changed for the first time in history in April 2011 when the United States Congress removed the wolf from the Endangered Species list. The proposal to declare the wolf as not at risk was included in a section of the infamous budget-balancing act, which has made more than a few people scratch their heads: what do endangered species have to do with sound financial planning? The deed was done by Senators from Idaho and Montana where commercial hunting is popular. Coincidentally, the Montana Senator is up for re-election.

Follow Me on Pinterest The wolf is an apex predator, which means that it has no predators of its own. In short, nothing hunts wolves, although, thanks to politicking, humans are now allowed to. Apex predators are an important part of the natural cycle of life in the wild. Prey species, those animals that have natural predators, are keep from over-populating. In turn, they are kept from devastating ecologies by their vast numbers. A good example is the rabbit in Australia. In 1859, a man released 12 rabbits into the wild. Rabbits are not native to Australia and the environment was not prepared to handle this invasive species. In 1950, there were 600 million rabbits in Australia. Apex predators keep this from happening.

The Endangered Species Act of 1973 was made into law to protect species from extinction because of “…economic growth and development untempered by adequate concern and conservation.” Yet that is exactly what wolves have fallen prey to. The decision to remove them from the Endangered Species list (or rather, to allow commercial hunting of them) was not made by scientists, wildlife experts, or conservationists, it was made by politicians, who were very conveniently benefited by the decision. Follow Me on Pinterest Furthermore, it was not openly proposed and discussed, but rather hidden away in a bill so important that those involved would have no choice but to pass it. This is clearly a case of political maneuvering. Everyone has seen the movie where, to save the sinking ship, the captain must seal off the leaking rooms, dooming the men inside. To do a greater good, a wrong must be done as well. The only reason it was done in this situation is that Senator Jon Tester and Representative Mike Simpson forced it to be so. If they had legitimate evidence of the species’ safety from nature and wildlife experts, they could have presented the unprecedented idea to Congress (remember that Congress has never, in 235 years, taken authority to remove an animal from protected capacity) in its own bill, instead of squirreling it away in the Congressional Budget Act which had to be passed immediately to avoid a government shutdown.

When politics are allowed to influence the treatment of ecosystems, the natural world is in serious danger. The good of species and life forms is no longer dictated by conservation measures, but by the agenda of individuals. We may as well add the planet to the Endangered Species List, although it would probably just be removed by some Senator looking for votes.
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A Free eBook for Taking Better Nature & WIldlife Video


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I’ve been working on a new site for quite a while now. A site that will help people shoot better nature and wildlife video. It doesn’t matter if you’re a beginner learning to shoot video or a seasoned pro. My goal is to provide something for everyone.

While I’m working on developing the content, I put together a free eBook with ten no-cost tips that will help you shoot better nature and wildlife video right now. These are tips that if you’re not using them right now can instantly make a difference in your footage.

You can find out more about it by clicking HERE

One feature of the new site is entitled “It’s Your Nature”. Here I’ll post articles on such topics as attracting butterflies to your garden.

I’ll also be creating video tutorials on how you can shoot better video. I’ll cover topics such as why you should manually white balance to how to protect your gear in the cold.

But I really want to hear from you! I want to know what you are wanting to know more about. Is it how to use a slider or why would I use a grey card? Maybe it’s how can I get closer to wildlife or where’s the best place to film grizzly bears? Leave a comment and let me know what topics I should be focusing on.

In the meantime, download the free eBook and start shooting better nature and wildlife video today!

It’s POC time!

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There’s a project I’ve been wanting to do for over a year now. But in order to do it right I really needed another HD camera. I suppose I could have used one of my SD cameras but if I was going to do it right, I should go ahead and invest in another HD camera.

So after a lot of research and talking to people I finally bit the bullet and ordered another camera.

The thing about this camera is that it’s tiny. Tiny enough that no one would pay me much if any attention. It seems now days, that’s becoming more and more important.
The other reason I wanted a small camera is if I have to bring two complete camera systems into the field, I need something that’s not going to weigh a ton and be able to fit in the bags I currently own along with my other HD camera.

This one fits the bill on both of those.

The scary thing is that this little dynamo is capable of create better footage than my big camera. The downside is that it lacks a lot of the tools my other camera has to allow me to take some fantastic footage.

So it’s another learning curve to figure out what works and what doesn’t. Tweak a setting here, adjust a little there.

But I think it’s all going to be worth it. I feel I have the right tool to start on my project which I think is going to allow me to pursue a life of filmmaking.

Just a few more tweaks and I think I’m good to go.

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All the images on this page are grabs from the new camera. Below is some footage I shot today at one of my favorite local haunts, Indian Creek Nature Center. Another Proof of Concept video to see if the camera could in fact do what I needed it to do.

So what’s this big project that required a second camera? All I can say is stay tuned, I’m working on it!

[flv:http://www.silverphoenixllc.com/phoenixblog/movies/Prairie_GH1.flv 592 331]

Film Festival Selections

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I’m proud to announce that two of my films have been chosen as official selections of the 2010 Cedar Rapids Independent Film Festival April 9-10, 2010. Collins Road Theatres
Marion, Iowa 52402 319-377-4555

“Silent Kingdom” is a 3:10 long PSA style film calling people to action to save our environment.

What people are saying about “Silent Kingdom”:

I got to say this is a another triumph of imagery for you Kevin. I always love to see what you come up with ! In every one of the these challenges, there are those that give the rest of us new goals to work toward, and you are always on that list. Thank you for that.
Chris J. Barcellos

Kevin, Kevin, Kevin…..Have you ever shot an image that was not just flat out beautiful??
You are the king of gorgeous….seriously….
Nicely done, nice message…the text was perfect!

Bob Thieda

Wonderful imagery as always. The words short and to the point. Having watched several short environmental films on a big screen last night, I can say this beats the pants off all of them.
Annie Haycock

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“The Prairie” is a 3:00 long film about the cycle of life in an Iowa tallgrass prairie.

What people are saying about “The Prairie”:

Another beautifully shot film. The editing was spot on and had a good pace to it. The insect shots were great, especially the one of the spider and droplets of water. You clearly made use of the good light.
Mihali Moore

Probably your most stunning camera work yet, Kevin…
Meryem Ersoz

It is an enjoyment to observe your film. You have a good taste for joining pictures, music and words, -a feeling of art.
Finn-Erik Faale

You really captured the magic here.
Mike Sims

Cedar Rapids Independent Filmmakers began with the first Cedar Rapids Independent Film Festival in 2001. The Festival was created to provide a venue for Iowa filmmakers to screen their work for peers and general audiences. For every filmmaker whose work is admired by audiences in megaplexes across the world, thousands more lack the means to show films to the masses. The greatest reward for an independent filmmaker is to have their work shown to an captive audience. One festival entrant commented what a wonderful feeling it was to observe an audience reacting to his film and laughing when they were supposed to laugh!

The Cedar Rapids Independent Film Festival was created to provide a venue for Iowa filmmakers to show their work and for the general public to view the best of the state’s filmmaking industry.

CRIFM also publishes the Iowa Film News Update, a newsletter featuring screenings, casting calls, festivals and other news of interest to Iowa film enthusiasts.

The organization’s primary goals are to encourage Iowa independent filmmakers to continue improving their craft, to provide a place to specifically showcase Iowa-connected films, present a unique cultural event to the community, and to offer networking opportunities for the purpose of building the Iowa Filmmaking Industry.

Check out the 2010 film schedule here for times.

Nature’s Noel

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As I sit looking out my window this Christmas Eve, my thoughts travel many miles to a valley in Montana where a family of wolves settle in against the harsh Montana Winter. My thoughts also travel to Alaska where a wolf pack follows the faint scent of a meal that had long past.

So often at this time of year we reflect on the love of family and friends and all that is good. Yet we pause not for even a moment to reflect on the incredible beauty of nature and how little we’ve done to protect it.

In Alaska more than 1000 wolves have been killed by aerial hunting. Ran to exhaustion before they are shot from the air, the wolves have little chance to escape the bullet. Protection has been lifted on the wolves of Yellowstone as well. Hundreds have already been shot for no reason other than being a wolf.

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Idaho has extended their wolf hunt into the Spring denning period when wolves are particularly vulnerable. Killing just a single pregnant female can have a huge impact on the population.

Polar bears are drowning due to lack of sea ice yet no one really seams to care about the changing climate. Why can we spend untold billions of dollars to fight a war that in the end changes nothing, yet we refuse to spend anything on our planet that is dieing.

Follow Me on Pinterest We’re poisoning our water, we’re polluting our air. We’re overfishing our oceans, we’re destroying our rain forests. Is it even possible for us to stop?

As I watch the snow fall silently upon the frozen ground outside my window, I worry about our planets future. I hope that you and your family have a joyous holiday. I hope one day our planet and all it’s inhabitants, human, plant and animal can do the same.

Below is my Christmas gift to you. It’s the most precious gift I can give.
I hope you enjoy it.

[flv:http://www.silverphoenixllc.com/phoenixblog/movies/Noel.flv 592 331]

There’s No Place Like Home

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The life of a nature and wildlife filmmaker is often a lonely one.

When I’m working on a project I’ll often head out well before sunrise and sometimes won’t be back until well after sunset. If I’m someplace like Yellowstone, this can go on day after day for weeks at a time. Usually I’m by myself. Sometimes my wife, Angi, will come along.

But even when I have someone along for company, I’m too consumed with figuring out what to shoot, how to shoot it and how it’s all going to come together. I’m in my own little world. Angi will bring a book to read since she’s learned over the years that nature filmmaking is many hours of boredom followed sometimes by a few seconds of something wonderful. Oftentimes she wouldn’t understand why I was so excited about something but was happy that I was so happy.

I’ve hiked to frozen lakes in the middle of July, waded through a canyon river where the walls were only eighteen feet apart. I’ve seen ancient ruins thousands of years old. Had bears close enough to touch, coyotes chasing a wolf,snow falling in the Utah desert.

I’ve seen and done a lot of things in the natural world pretty mush most of them I was the only witness that they ever occurred.

But I thought Hawaii would be different. I got a call about teaching at a workshop in Honolulu a while back. The way the schedule was set up, It would have been easy for Angi to come along and enjoy Waikiki Beach while I was out filming. Unfortunately, her schedule wouldn’t allow her to come along.The ironic thing is that the night before I left, her schedule cleared and she would have been able to go after all. The only problem was that now plane tickets were over $2k. So, she reluctantly accepted the fact that she was going to miss out on this opportunity.

Hawaii turned out to be everything you hear it is. I met some great people there and we had a blast filming around the island. In fact, I still keep in touch with them and hope to visit them the next time I’m in town. John Chance, one of the locals, turned me on to Loco Moko and Plate Dinners. We had a great time along with his family and another friend I met there Constantino Ferrer. We sat on Waikiki Beach at sunset and watched world class films being projected onto a 30 foot screen as part of the Hawaiian International Film Festival. There’s just something about watching a documentary film about sharks while you’re sitting on Waikiki Beach and can hear the ocean waves just feet away from you. It was truly magical!

But Angi was never far from my thoughts when I was there. I knew how disappointed she was that she couldn’t join me.

On the flight back to Iowa, I broke out the laptop and started pulling clips from the trip. Angi is a California girl and living in Iowa, she misses the ocean terribly.

As the plane touched down in Cedar Rapids, it was great to be home. I had been in paradise for two weeks but nothing was as good as walking in the front door of my house, setting down all the gear and being home.

So when she asked me how was the trip, I played her this video that I had edited on my flight home.

[flv:http://www.silverphoenixllc.com/phoenixblog/movies/Angi.flv 592 331]

Do Pictures Lie?

What do you think of this picture?

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It’s a beautiful picture isn’t it? One of those Golden Graham mornings.

How about this one?

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Not quite the same impact is it? Would it surprise you to know that both pictures are at the same location? Would it surprise you even more to know that the “mountain” in the background is actually our local landfill “Mt. Trashmore”?

We’ve all heard the pictures never lie, but they do all the time. There’s an old mission in Montana that I’ve seen in books and magazines for many years. It shows this beautiful mission seemingly in the middle of nowhere with majestic mountains rising up behind it.

So one year, I made the trip to photograph the mission. As I travelled up the highway I happened to glance over to my right and there was this building that kind of looked like the mission. I was puzzled because this building was right in a town. There were telephone lines running every which way run down buildings, junk cars. It couldn’t be the same mission could it? Well, it just so happens that if you set up at just the right angle, you can eliminate all the distractions and get the iconic shot of the mission against the mountains that you see in all the magazines.

As a photographer and now filmmaker, I’ve learned that it’s not so much how things look but how you see the possibilities within them.

Here’s a shot from a recent short I did. It’s a tranquil pond seemingly set in a Waldenesque setting.
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You can feel the peace and tranquility in this quiet little spot.

In actuality, this pond is in my housing development just off a major highway, Tons of traffic on the highway, dogs barking in people’s yards. It certainly wasn’t peaceful by any means.

This is what it normally looks like whenever I drive by.
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Do pictures really lie? I don’t think they do. I think they can show us the possibilities that we’ve chosen not to see. They show, at least to me, that there is beauty everywhere. We just need to take the time to see it. I feel fortunate to be blessed with the ability to see beyond what’s in front of my eyes and find those possibilities that seemingly lie hidden away.

Ghosts Among the Corn

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Several years ago before I made the switch to HD and started Silver Phoenix, I had a production company called Pawprint Productions. At the time there were quite a few stories about mountain lion sightings in Iowa.
Usually every TV news story or newspaper article ended with a bunch of people wanting to go out and kill it. Pretty soon it seemed like everyone was spotting mountain lions. There were even rumors that the Department of Natural Resources were using Blackhawk Black-Ops helicopters under the cover of night to establish a breeding population to control the exploding deer population.

It saddened me that Iowans wouldn’t even give mountain lions a chance. You’re more likely to die from a whitetail deer than you ever would from a mountain lion. Even today, they are shot on sight. Yet other predators like bears that come down from Wisconsin and Minnesota are protected by Iowa law. So why do mountain lions have no protection but a bear, which can kill you just as easily, has full protection?

So, I decided to put together this film. If people would take the time to educated themselves instead of living in ignorance, they would find that it is not very difficult to live alongside nature.

Baba Dioum said, In the end we will conserve only what we love; we will love only what we understand; and we will understand only what we have been taught.

Do we have no time to learn about the mountain lion?

[flv:http://www.silverphoenixllc.com/phoenixblog/movies/GATC3.flv 592 331]

Silent Kingdom

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Another film for the Underwater Over Land Film Challenge.

The theme for this challenge was “Animal Kingdom.”
Unfortunately this film had to be put together in just a few hours.
Family matters kept me home for most of the time period we had to complete the film. So, on the last day I headed out and spent most of the day driving around trying to find anything to film.
I knew I didn’t have enough wildlife footage to even come close to doing a film that really addressed the theme. So, I came up with the idea of doing a film about there not being any wildlife in the “Animal Kingdom in the tenth hour.

With the film due that night, I sat down about 9:00PM and started trying to put something together. My plan was to do a voice over but as the night wore on, that grew to be less likely.

The clock struck 2AM and I was still trying to put something together to beat the deadline.

Finally I just started laying down track, hoping that it would all make some kind of sense.

Although not the film I was hoping to do, I made the deadline and hopefully it has a bit of a message.
[flv:http://www.silverphoenixllc.com/phoenixblog/movies/SilentKingdom.flv 592 331]