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Outer Banks Guide > Outer Banks Blogs > Eve Turek's Natural Outer Banks Blog

Saturday, January 24, 2015
It's Caturday! Er, Critterday!
Ever heard of “anthropomorphism”? The word was first used in the 1820s to mean applying human characteristics or emotions to non-human subjects. Anthropologists, historians and psychologists used the word most often. The tendency to “personalize” Greek and Roman deities with human feelings like love or desire or greed provided an example of cultural anthropomorphism. When we say machines have it in for us, we’re doing the same thing. Children’s literature uses anthropomorphic characters when books feature talking animals that act like people; think Peter Rabbit and Aesop’s Fables. Science cautions against thinking of animals in human terms, so much so that editors, publishers and educators now often frown upon children’s stories that feature animals expressing “human” feelings or thoughts.

Here’s the problem I have with that line of reasoning, and why I even bring it up.       I think anthropomorphism might be useful as shorthand to describe a cultural practice. We’ve all given or gotten funny greeting cards—or emails—featuring critters with hilarious poses or expressions. While those critters may not have been thinking the same thoughts we do when we look like that, the temptation is great to think maybe they were. Or, to put it another way, to look at those images anthropomorphically. I think a little common sense goes a long way here. I can enjoy these humorous images and the associations they prompt. AND I can recognize in my own dog’s eyes—and in wild critters—emotions and expressions that I have human words for. I think we exhibit arrogance if we assume that only humans have feelings and emotions we’ve categorized and labeled, like love, affection, preference, impatience, grief, and so on. I just don’t think those emotions are the purview of humans alone.

For all of these I used a fast shutter speed. Hike up your ISO if you need to in order to increase shutter speed; you don't want to miss these blink-of-an-eye moments!

So in the spirit of Caturday, I offer you these birds and critters. LOL.

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Karen Watras (shellgirl) and I saw this uber-cute bunny at Pea Island years ago.

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In Carova, this past summer. I call it Unwind. You can likely think of funnier titles.

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Anthropomorphically speaking, that first fox seems to be saying, uh-oh! Run Forrest Run!

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Taken several years ago at Bodie Light. The Snowy Egret is smaller than the Great Egret, and in this pose I can imagine the caption: I am SO a Big Bird!!

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This picture makes me smile every time I see it. Yellow Rumped Warbler. (Birders call them "Butter Butts." -- which is reason enough for this expression, don't you think?)

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This might be my favorite humorous series taken all last year. I call it, Don't Even Think About It!

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Here we have a perfect example of why I don't do yoga.

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I see pure contentment here. (And wisdom.) Mere anthropomorphism? Or Truth?

posted by eturek at 8:24 PM

Comments [9]

Saturday, January 17, 2015
Keyword: Connection
To recap my previous post on Keywording… Inspired by an article by photographer Andy Biggs, I have begun to re-think my photographic portfolio in terms of emotional keywords in addition to subject matter. Actually, I’ve begun using this shorthand in all sorts of ways, from thinking about my life in totality to my goals for 2015.

A major keyword for me is connection. Some of the harbor seal photographs I shared in my last blog fit into this category. The photographs I tag with “connection” usually include a sense of shared interest or communication between the subject and me, often expressed through direct eye contact. Sometimes the connection is between two or more subjects and I am merely the fortunate observer rather than a participant in the process.

I believe we humans can participate gently, reverently, respectfully and lovingly with the natural world. I don’t believe a nature photographer’s best role is to be an impartial observer disinterested in the subject. I believe we can quietly advocate to “care for” by “caring about” and sharing that care through our photography. Respect to me means paying attention to the animal or bird’s behavior. If your subject appears restless, agitated, or nervous, that means either you are bothering it by your presence (another reason for a long lens) or that some other potential predator is nearby. Keep alert! And if you realize the issue is with you, back off. I always remember to say thank you for any gift of presence when I finish photographing.

Below are three photographs of an endangered Key Deer that I made while Pete and I were on vacation in early December. For the first image, I had an average f/stop of f/9, which keeps the subject as well as some of the environment in focus. I use a smaller f/stop (if light allows) when I want to show several animals that are not lined up with each other, and have more than one in focus. When thinking about wildlife portraits, I try to photograph with a wider aperture which accomplishes two things: first, the larger the lens opening, or “f-stop,” the less depth of field your image will show. Your subject or at least its face will be in sharp focus while the foreground and background will be out of focus. This helps draw the viewer’s eye to your subject and reinforces the feeling of connection. Letting in more light with a larger lens opening means you can increase your shutter speed, useful when photographing wildlife or birds that might move suddenly.

The last two images have an f/stop of f/5, much wider open, and double the shutter speed of the first image. I was in approximately the same spot for each photograph. Key Deer are curious and will approach fairly closely. As with the Carova horses, you are not allowed to feed them (though I suspect some folks do). Notice how a shallower depth of field helps heighten connection, and how the deer’s behavior, by continuing to graze, helped signal its ease in my presence. By the time I made image #3, the deer had come even closer and I had both backed away and reduced my focal length from my maximum of 400mm down to 300mm. This is also a great image for next post’s Keyword: Humor!

To summarize: if you want to convey a sense of connection with your subject, be alert to nuances of behavior, use the longest lens you have to encourage your subject to feel comfortable in your presence, and use the largest lens opening to help eliminate distractions in the background.

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Key Deer. Mid-afternoon, ISO 500, 1/500 shutter speed, f/9 aperture, and 400mm focal length. I've been noticed.

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Next click of the shutter. In between I increased lens opening which decreased depth of field and increased shutter speed. Still ISO 500, f/5, 1/1000, still 400mm. She is coming closer.

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She came closer and I backed up a step or two and changed focal length to 300mm. Still at f/5 but the slight difference of light made shutter speed 1/1250. Faster shutter catches action! Hand-held for all three.

posted by eturek at 2:12 PM

Comments [3]

Friday, January 9, 2015
Signed, Sealed, Delivered
Harbor seals are winter heralds. As the mercury plunges, individual harbor seals haul out on the warmer sands to rest in the sun and take short naps before heading back into the ocean. It's not unusual to find the same seal hauling out a few days in a row before continuing on its migratory journey.

These seals are big (110-165 lbs.), and faster than you would expect, for all their clumsiness on land. If they are healthy, they rest with their hind flippers elevated, a pose that looks most uncomfortable to me! But a "banana" posing seal is a happy, healthy seal, so I'm told.

Although they look cute, they are wild animals. They tend to be overcautious when on land, alert for any movement or noise.

If you find a seal on the beach, call the NEST hotline. Someone will come and assess the seal's condition (from a respectful distance), and set up a perimeter within which the seal may safely rest. That number is 441-8622.

If you want to photograph a seal, you really need a long lens. I used my 200-400mm today, at 400mm range. I could have easily added a teleconverter. Since the seal hauled out in late afternoon, I had to contend with growing shadows from beach cottages and lessening light. I tried to time my images so that I was looking the seal in the face, waiting for that moment when I could see the catch light in its eye. Since I photograph for NEST, I also took examples of its movements and tried to photograph from each side and the back, once a volunteer had marked off the area, so NEST experts could use the images to assess its health.

When photographing a subject against a bright light source, you might be tempted to dial down exposure. I often do the opposite. INCREASING exposure (so long as I don't blow the highlights) will usually render more detail in the subject itself even if the background is made lighter than you might wish. Otherwise, your camera can "read" the brighter background and you wind up with a silhouette--which can be pleasing, if that is what you are after. Today, I was seeking detail. I had set my ISO at 400, and my f/stop was 6.3 for most of the images. I wanted a high enough shutter speed to freeze motion and this combo, in this light, gave me about 1/2000 shutter speed.

I clicked my shutter a lot. A LOT. Why, when I might only share, or print, two or three? Because a wildlife photographer can learn so much from her own images! This is the third year I've had the opportunity to watch seals at rest. My own portfolio, combined with all I can learn by asking those more knowledgeable than I am, reading credible internet sources, taking NEST training, and keeping my eyes open, makes me a better naturalist and therefore a better photographer.

What do you love to photograph best? Photograph it a LOT. In all sorts of weather, conditions, seasons, lighting. If it is wild, photograph all the behavior you can. Learn all you can. Share all you can. It is a wonderful world, after all.

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First look from a long distance away. I loved the pose.

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Closer, and at 400mm, and cropped in the computer beyond that. Now we can observe details.

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From every angle, the seal appeared healthy and unwounded.

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I've seen harbor seals nod off before, and this one closed its eyes for brief periods, but this was the first time I photographed one yawning.

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I enjoyed watching its reaction to the gulls as they walked closer or flew overhead, and to the water itself as the tide came higher.

posted by eturek at 10:21 PM

Comments [8]

Wednesday, January 7, 2015
Reinvention. That’s an ambitious word for a new year, right up there with “resolution.” I don’t exactly make resolutions anymore, but I do believe in goal-setting and in the power of change. Early January is a time of year I allot to considering positive course correction. Our gallery is open by appointment instead of regular hours. The pace slows. I can take time to reflect on the year before, what worked well and what could work better. One item that has been on my mind is this blog. I want to improve its content for readers and increase its frequency. What held me back from making a change in the busy part of the season was, well, the busy part of the season!

Especially in season, I struggle with carving out enough time outdoors to keep readers posted with nuances of change in weather or landscape on a frequent basis. Beginning with this blog, I will take you behind the scene, so to speak. I’ve now had the joy of meeting many of my readers. Folks often ask me photography questions, which I am happy to answer. I’m going to start including some of that information here. You’ll still get the sense of what inspired me in the first place, and a bit of the backstory. I think the new format will free me from having to post images that were taken in the few days right before the blog, and let me draw from my portfolio as we continue to explore together these wonderful Outer Banks we all so love. For a sense of what I mean, scroll down.


Most photographers I know have their own system for organizing or cataloging photos, even if it is as simple as by date. Some folks prefer broad subjects such as “vacation” or “soccer.” Professional photographers often keyword their photos to allow searches on specific terms like coastal, beach, sunrise, gull, and so on—any or all of which might apply to a particular photograph. A few months ago an article in Outdoor Photographer by Andy Biggs suggested a different way of categorizing images through the use of emotional keywords. I liked his approach and began thinking about my work in that context. Serenity is one of the keywords I identified.

Below are some images taken over the past couple of months that would fit with that emotional keyword. Now that I have emotional keywords in mind, I approach the outdoors a little differently. I’m not merely thinking about “waves” or “clouds” or “birds,” I am also thinking about “serenity.” How about you? Do you find yourself photographing not only the same subject(s), but often the same themes over and over? I’d say you are drawn to those themes for a reason. I’ll be exploring this concept more as the new year unfolds.

I deeply appreciate your readership and comments over the years. If you would, please let me know your thoughts on this new format. Thanks!

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I call this "The Open Door." While the photo contains many elements, they work together to draw the eye into a scene that inspires calm and serenity. October 2014, Nags Head.

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Here is the opposite approach. Often my "serenity" images are simple, containing few elements. Here the floating fallen leaf and its reflection imply a sense of letting go. I call this Repose. Nags Head Woods, November 2014.

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Something of the soft light of this November day at Pea Island drew my heart as well as my eye. While the birds were in motion, I was still and at peace. As they moved into this pose, I sensed a title and an intention: The Peacemaker.

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You don't necessarily have to have pale, subtle colors to invoke serenity. Here, the simplicity of the silhouetted shapes against the vibrant sunset-colored sound does it. Oregon Inlet bridge, November 2014.

posted by eturek at 4:44 PM

Comments [8]

(c) 2009-2010 Eve Turek & OBX Connection, all rights reserved - read 560904 times

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