VermPhoto: Blog en-us (C) VermPhoto (VermPhoto) Mon, 16 Mar 2020 07:13:00 GMT Mon, 16 Mar 2020 07:13:00 GMT VermPhoto: Blog 120 79 The All-Star Blog This will be an action-packed blog post as so much has happened since I last posted.  Great to be so busy. My apologies for not posting more often,  but I hope you enjoy a bunch of cool photos here and endure some chest-beating.  I've been stressed out like crazy as to the impending fate of our environment given the rise of Emperor Tiny Hands.  But one thing that brings me back down to Earth is getting outside to immerse myself in Nature.  So here are some of my favorite photos from the last 12 months.  I hope you get lost in them too and do your bit to encourage your representatives to defend the Endangered Species Act, support public lands, and fight against those who would pollute our water and air.  For months I have been upset at how Social Media has driven a wedge between me and my friends who are on different sides of the political fence.  I resisted publishing my own opinions as I found the constant bickering to be depressing.  But what I found more depressing was the thought that I would lay down and just let Nature get run over by short-sighted politicians and profiteers.  If I lose some friends by taking a stand to protect our environment, then so be it.  But I think that we all depend on clean air and potable water for our survival.  That being able to retreat on occasions into unspoiled lands recharges our soul.  That we don't want the Grand Canyon to become Exxon National Park.  That we only have one planet to live on and if we screw it up, we don't just annihilate other species, we demolish ourselves.  There are those in Congress that would sell out the environment and my and your health to corporate interests for short-term economic gains.  I can't stand by meekly and watch this happen.  This (the photos I share here), and much more, is what we stand to lose.  I hope you enjoy these photos and encourage your representatives to put our environment ahead of corporate interests.

For sale to highest bidder???


Hey Handsome!  My favorite bird species, if you haven't guessed long ago, is the California Condor.  I've been on a mission to photograph every member of the Arizona/Utah population and have documented 74 of 75.  Condor 203 has eluded me so far, but thankfully Condor 441 struck this wonderful pose that ended up as a Table of Contents shot for Arizona Highways. But wait, there's more!  (Do I sound like an infomercial?)  This condor portrait won a Silver Medal in the International Regional Magazine association contest. 

I had no idea it had been entered (the staff of Arizona Highways did me the favor), but it garnered high honors in the Portrait Category and this was against portraits of humans in such esteemed magazines as Texas Monthly, et al.  GO CONDORS!!!!!  Even my Mom tells me "Well Son, it's a nice sharp photo, but what an ugly bird."  I couldn't disagree more (well, it is sharp I'll agree, but condors are beautiful).

And the Condor Love just gets better.  I entered a number of photos in the uber-prestigious Bird Photographer of the Year contest.  This is an international contest run out of Britain and attracts the best talent worldwide.  I was thrilled that not one, but five, of my photos got shortlisted for the awards.  This is out of thousands of entries.  Here's the link to the short list - check it out, the photos are amazing and I'm honored to be included. Best yet is that two of my five short-listed photos were of my buddies the condors.  For an "ugly bird" to be in the running against the glamorous egrets, puffins, penguins, eagles, Cedar Waxwings, and other perennial favorites is terrifically heartening.  This is what I hope for when I spend days in blinds atop Vermilion Cliffs and combing the rims of the Grand Canyon - bringing attention to this incredibly majestic and critically endangered species.  Cross your fingers and hope one of the condor shots can become the Bird Photo of the Year and raises awareness and support for this incredible species.

One of the short-listed shots


Back last spring, I was enlisted by the mega-talented National Geographic photographer Keith Ladzinski to scout out locations for a commercial shoot to advertise Nikon's new D500 pro-level APS-C sports and wildlife camera.  The job was to find engaging bird photo ops.  I chose Florida due to the time of year (lots of breeding and nesting behavior going on) and the fact that Florida is a bird photographer's paradise regardless of season.  It was stressful scouting the job, but a complete blast when I came up with several golden locations for us to shoot the ad in.  Here are some pics from job with Keith.


Wood Stork

It was a great experience working with Keith.  He is terrifically animated and mellow at the same time, keeping his crew and clients entertained, excited and yet on point throughout the shoot.  Check out his work here.  While you're at it, check out the work of the client, Mike Corrado from Nikon (head of pro relations and marketing business development) who as you might guess is no slouch with a camera.  He loves bird photography but where he goes beyond other photographers is with his Drummer Love series of multi-camera shots of famous and soon-to-be famous drummers and his coverage of the families and child cancer patients at Ronald McDonald House.

If you aren't following me on Instagram yet, it's @vermphoto, where you can see the latest greatest.  But that small format just doesn't do some photos justice, so to wrap up here are some of my faves since I last posted.  Thanks for checking in and enjoy. 

text and photos all copyright John Sherman - no reproduction without written consent.



]]> (VermPhoto) Arizona Highways Birds Florida Verm abstracts landscape photography nature photography wildlife photography Sun, 12 Mar 2017 23:51:07 GMT
Celebration Time Super super super psyched to be profiled in the current issue of Arizona Highways magazine. 

When I was starting out in photography back in my teens I dreamed of being an accomplished landscape photographer - something in the Weston, Adams, Porter or Muench mode.  Back then, and of course still today, Arizona Highways was one of the most highly regarded publications to be seen in and it was an ambition of mine to have my work featured in its pages.  I've had quite a few photos published in Highways now including portfolios on peregrines and condors, but being profiled in the annual Photo Issue is an even greater honor.  Heck, it's like having the head cheerleader ask you out to the prom.

Big thanks to Noah Austin for penning the profile, Dawn Kish for the great shots accompanying it, and Jeff, Robert, Kelly, Barbara, Nikki, Diana and the rest of the crew at AHM for all their support.  I look forward to many more years of being part of the Arizona Highways family.


]]> (VermPhoto) Mon, 22 Aug 2016 23:47:37 GMT
In Memory of Condor 337 The biologists don’t give names to individual condors.  Instead they get a number.  Supposedly this helps keep the biologists from getting too attached to the birds. I’m a photographer, not a biologist. Does it make a difference?  When I heard that Condor 337 died, I cried.


Condor 337


I got the news on Father’s Day.  Wretched timing as 337 had just become a dad again and was tending a chick in a cave high up the towering orange walls of Zion National Park.  In 2014, Condor 337 gained the distinction of having sired the first wild-hatched chick in Utah.  It’s common that a condor pair’s first attempts at rearing a chick fail.  That chick didn’t survive.

In 2015 GPS data suggested that 337 and his mate 409 may be tending a new chick.  They were commuting back and forth between food sources and a possible nest site in the Kolob section of Zion National Park. Perhaps there was a chick they were feeding in the outback. However, nobody had seen a chick to confirm this.  At the time I was just over a year into my mission to photograph every wild condor in the Arizona/Utah population.  337 and 409 were both birds I had yet to see, so when I was invited to join biologist Eric Weis on a reconnaissance to check for the chick, I jumped at the chance.

It was three days after Christmas, sunny and cold.  Our first telemetry check from the roadside yielded little.  



We moved closer to the last known location and picked a high point to gain for another signal check (both 337 and 409 carry small GPS and radio transmitters attached to their wings).  It was clear and sunny and gaining the high point involved a mile of hot slogging through wet snow only to summit and find a road coming up the other side.  Why work smarter when you can work harder instead?  From the hilltop we picked up a signal and Eric spotted one condor from several miles away through his spotting scope.  Was it 337 or 409?  No telling from that distance.  But we had a lead.

We hiked down the hill then drove to where a suspected carcass might be.  The first hint the condors might be around were some eagles flying about.  


An immature Bald Eagle cruising for carrion.


Eagles are frequent scavengers and sure enough there was a carcass nearby.  Then on the hillside I saw two black birds even larger than the eagles.  Jackpot!  It was 337 and 409.  


Condor 337 casts a glance back at his mate Condor 409. 337 gives a loving glance over his shoulder to 409.  Check these two lovebirds off my list.  


These were hard birds to get photos of because they rarely joined the other birds that frequent the release site atop Vermilion Cliffs.


337 and 409 soaring together in happier times.  Mated condor pairs like to fly in tandem.


I’d succeeded in photographing 337 and 409, but we still hadn’t seen a chick and I knew I could get better shots if I worked harder (or maybe smarter?).  409 flew across the valley and settled in on the hillside while 337 disappeared.  Had he gone to feed a chick?

Only one way to find out - slog up another snowy hill only this time steeper and looser. Two steps up to every one step sliding back down.  It was going to be a low probability trip - there was less than an hour of daylight left, the hiking arduous, and no telling how far 337 might have wandered off.  


Biologist Eric Weis trudges up the hill in search of Condor 337 and a possible undocumented chick.

Topping the mesa, we picked up 337’s signal.  Wandering through the juniper pinyon forest, we followed the signal then were blocked by a deep ravine lined with scrappy sandstone cliffs.  The direct line down and back up looked tough and a time waster. So we opted to stay high and hike around it.  We reached the head of the canyon then made a beeline down the far side.  The sun was dipping quickly and I feared the prospect of reversing our hike in the dark.  The signal got stronger as we approached a point looking over the valley below.  With a clear line of sight between transmitter and receiver, a signal can be heard 80 miles away, so it’s not an exact science.  From the point the signal directed us to march west.  After 75 yards it told us to head back east.  Was 337 on the move or… ha, there he was surveying his domain from the treetop right above us.


Male Condor 337 perches in the rugged terrain north of Kanab, Utah. GPS tracking data indicate he and his mate Condor 409 may be tending to a chick, however no visual confirmation of this has yet been made.

Real estate Bill Gates couldn't afford - Condor 337 at home near Zion National Park.


The sun was just about to kiss the horizon and the light was warm and delicious.  I backed away from the tree to get my angle and 337 obligingly busted off some nice poses for the camera.  We tried to locate a nearby chick, but there was none to be seen.  A few minutes later as the shadows licked up 337’s tree, he yawned mightily, spread his wings and leapt forward into the blue sky.


Condor 337 drops from his perch.


As it turned out, there either wasn’t a chick or it didn’t survive.  If it had, 409 and 337 would still be busy raising that chick and would not lay another egg this year.  

Fast forward to 2016 and we have a confirmed chick for 337 and 409.  When I heard the news I was so excited I couldn’t get to sleep.  Last week 337 became sedentary and stopped making food runs for his family.  Biologists from the Peregrine Fund’s Condor Recovery Project went to check up on him and found him lethargic, dehydrated and severely emaciated.  The biologists took him in for treatment, but 337 was too far along and he died the next day.

How did 337 die?  337 tested positive for high lead levels in his blood.  Over half of all diagnosed wild condor deaths are from lead poisoning.  Among other symptoms, lead poisoning causes paralysis of the digestive system - a bird with a full crop and stomach can die of starvation because food can’t move through the GI tract and rots in place. 337’s emaciation and dehydration were consistent with these symptoms.

Condor 409 has been widowed and now has the enormous task of trying to feed and raise a chick on her own. (More awful timing - International Widows Day was yesterday).  Compounding the tragedy is that 337’s death was so easily avoidable.  

The solution to lead poisoning is simply for hunters, ranchers and anyone else who dispatches an animal with a gun to use non-lead ammo instead of lead bullets.  This prevents lead from entering the food chain where it doggedly persists and continues to kill.  For instance, a rancher might euthanize an ailing steer with a lead bullet.  Later a group of scavengers (eagles, coyotes, turkey vultures, ravens, condors, etc.) clean up the carcass.  Because lead bullets fragment while traveling through an animal several of the scavengers might ingest lead fragments.  Those that do become sick and/or die and if their carcasses are scavenged the lead fragments can be consumed again.  Lead poisoning takes time to kill, so there’s always concern that if a new parent like 337 ingests lead, he can pass it on to his chick when he regurgitates food for the young one.  We all hope this has not happened to 337’s offspring, and that his mate 409 didn’t eat from the same tainted carcass.  So far 409 and the chick appear in good health and the chick is probably old enough to maintain it’s body temperature long enough that his mom can go on food runs.


Will 409 be able to raise their chick on her own?


This incident occurred well outside hunting season, which demonstrates that lead poisoning can occur at any time of year.  And while condors prefer to gorge on freshly dead large mammals, they will also eat smaller carcasses - varmints and such.

What can we do to help?  If you’re a hunter or someone else who dispatches animals with a gun please use non-lead ammo.  The remains you leave behind will then become a nutritious meal for a scavenger.  Please do this whenever and wherever you hunt, not just in condor country.  An alarming number of bald eagles contract lead poisoning too and they are found nearly everywhere.  We took lead out of our paint and out of our gas and out of our pipes (unless you live in Flint).  It’s terribly toxic.  Why pump it back into the environment?  Furthermore the new non-lead ammunition is very effective - for more info on the latest findings please visit, a website by and for hunters.  Save your lead ammo for target shooting, that way you’ll never have to worry if it was your bullet that inadvertently killed one of these majestic and rare birds.  If you don’t hunt, but have friends or family that do, encourage them to make the switch and share the link:  To help the Condor Recovery Project directly click here and you can choose condors specifically on the donation page.

There are only 74 wild condors in the Arizona/Utah population, of those perhaps 20 are males of breeding age.  At twelve years old, 337 was one of the elder males.  He had terrific attributes - he was one of the more independent birds in the population, preferring to seek out his own food sources rather than rely on food left out by the biologists.  It is this sort of independence that will be needed for condors to become a self-sufficient population in the future.  Sadly, it is also this independence that made 337 more susceptible to ingesting the lead that caused his death. I’ll remember 337 as a hard bird to find, but one of the most rewarding to photograph.  I hope his chick survives and leads me on more wonderful adventures.


Condor 337 (2004 - 2016)

Fly On 



]]> (VermPhoto) Mon, 27 Jun 2016 14:15:00 GMT
How Can Anyone Live Without This? Well last year's resolution not to buy any new camera gear self-destructed with the release of Nikon's new 500mm not to mention having to replaced my beloved D810 which did not survive the Jeep rollover I luckily walked away from.  This year I think I'll do better to resolve to buy the newly announced D5.  Speaking of things I can't imagine doing without...

How can anyone live without a life-sized condor print hanging in their living room?  The only downside I see is it makes the 50" TV look so puny.

On to serious and seriously good stuff.  My recent one-man show Plight of the Condor has been announced as one of the final nominees for a Viola Award.  The Viola's are Flagstaff's Oscars for arts and science and as Condors are so beautiful and full of natural history and pressing significance as a critically endangered species they are a great fit for the Violas.  Plight of the Condor is entered in the Excellence in Visual Arts category.  Wish me and my enormous feathered friends good luck. 

Best wishes for a great 2016 to all my readers!




]]> (VermPhoto) Arizona D5 Nikon Verm condors nature photography Tue, 05 Jan 2016 23:44:41 GMT
Sixty-two and Counting This is the condor release site atop the Vermillion Cliffs on a cold windy November morning.

Those little black specks in the sky are giant birds. 


Anytime I'm granted access to the site I jump at the chance to photograph the condors and help tell the story of their reintroduction into the wild.  As many of you know I'm on a mission to photograph every individual in the Arizona/Utah wild condor population.  I was thrilled to see Condor 266 up there, one of the condors I had yet to photograph.

Here's the 13-year old 266 flying in tandem with fellow male 388, a ten year old.


Sometimes the tandem flying produces interesting photo ops.


And here's Condor 193 doing a dragonfly imitation.  193 is a dominant male, who with his woman 241 pretty much enforce the pecking order at the release site.


One bit of tandem flying the condors could do without is this:


Here a juvenile Bald Eagle is hassling Condor 354.  The eagle made several passes at 354 but stopped short of hitting him.  I've also seen juvenile Peregrines dive at the condors.  The juvenile birds of prey seem to practice their hunting techniques on anything that moves, regardless of whether that something could kick their butt. 


Before the condors were reintroduced to the Grand Canyon area, the Golden Eagle was the biggest bird around.  Several Golden Eagles nest along the Vermillion Cliffs escarpment.  Even though they're no longer the baddest bird on the block, they are still very impressive, especially when in a vertical dive, or stoop, like this.


In such a stoop a Golden Eagle can hit speeds of 150 mph.  Not sure if this one hit that speed but it was sure going helluv fast when I took this pic.



Biologist Mark taking notes of all the goings on around the release site.  Which birds are showing up, who's bossing who around, if an eagle attacks and whatnot. The biologists spend long days alone hidden inside this 5'x5'x8' wooden blind.  I really admire their dedication to saving this species.


The biologists drop off fresh calf carcasses at the site so the birds will have a clean, lead-free meal whenever they want.  Some of the population take advantage of the MacCarcasses while others prefer to scavenge in the wild.  Here is Condor 114, a 20-year old male who is the eldest member of the Arizona-Utah population.


After the condors pick a carcass clean guess who gets to dispose of the remains?  Erik the biologist! 


Eagle or condor?  The bent wings look like an eagle, but that quick flash of white under the wing identifies this as a condor.  Usually condors will soar with outstretched wings, but the high winds this day caused them to tuck their wings lest they get blown half way to Salt Lake.



Adults and wild-born juveniles have the experience to fly in high winds that keep the captive-bred juveniles grounded.


Condors in calmer conditions.


Condor 618 is captive-bred and four years old.  She was released into the wild this year (most captive bred release candidates are about a year and a half old when they get released so she was a late bloomer).  See my previous blog about the public release - she was one of the birds that took to the wild that day.  It was good to see her adjusting well to her new surroundings.


Prior to release the captive-bred birds get fitted with a transmitter.  I was honored when asked to lend a hand while Condor 752 got his transmitter.

Ah, smell the love.  Holding a condor is an experience I won't soon forget.  As you can see they would make a pretty big lap dog and like a lap dog they are very warm.  My right hand is holding his wing still so they can remove his old tag.  My left is cradling his body and I could feel the strong steady beating of his heart.


P2 is 752's new tag number.  Why don't they have all three digits on the tags to avoid confusion?  Because the tags would be too big and flap too much while flying.  Why not leg bands like other birds?  Because condors, like vultures, urinate on their legs to help cool themselves.  Bands would interfere with this.  The white color of the legs is evaporated urine.  The piercing of the wing is akin to getting one's ear pierced.


Here's my boy 752 dropping in to a carcass to feed.  Go get 'em 752!


Condor 721 is a relaxed sort who seems content to eat then just perch atop the release pen all day instead of flying about like the other condors.  Come sunset the other condors had all found safe roosts on the cliff face below.  However 721 was still hanging around atop the cliff and seemed disinclined to leave.  Part of the biologist's job is to ensure the safety of the birds.  Spending the night atop the cliff would put 721 in danger of predation by coyotes so Mark had to haze her from her roost so she would find a safe spot to spend the night.  The biologists don't go home until they know the birds are safe for the night.


My last trip to condor country started slow.  I didn't see a condor until day three.  Later on though I saw five I hadn't photographed before and now have shots of 62 of the 76 wild-flying condors in Arizona and Utah.  With winter coming in the birds will be leaving the high country in Utah and heading to Arizona.  I'll be waiting for them.


All text and photos ©John Sherman, no reproduction without prior written permission.






]]> (VermPhoto) Arizona Birds California Condor Verm Vermillion Cliffs biologists condors conservation endangered species nature photography Tue, 08 Dec 2015 21:02:25 GMT
Salt of the Earth and the Stench Too The Salton Sea has been on my photo bucket list for years.  With over 400 different avian species recorded there, it promised to be a wildlife photographer's dream. 



When I dream it’s primarily visual, a bit tactile, but never olfactory.  So the reality of The Sea was a bit of a shock to the ol’ nostrils.



Ah, the beaches I visited at Salton Sea sported multiple bathtub rings of dead tilapia.  (As the Sea’s salinity has increased over the decades, tilapia are the last sport fish able to survive.) When life gives you limes, make Vermaritas.  When life gives you dead fish, make still lifes.



The sand under the fish is primarily composed of barnacle shells.  The barnacles are not native to The Sea, but were introduced from the hulls of Navy seaplanes that landed there back in WWII. 

In the 50’s The Sea was a resort destination for Hollywood types.  As the lake became saltier and saltier, the ecosystem evolved into sub-resort quality conditions -- the fisheries cratering, rising lake levels from agricultural runoff and pollution, the barnacle beaches taking on a razorwire texture.  Now, when you manage to make it to the shoreline you sink into bacteria-rich muck.  As your feet ooze down, the hydrogen sulfide fumes rise to compete with the rotting fish aroma.  No wonder the resort towns are mostly deserted now.  But what’s a bit of stench and shredded feet when you have 30% of North America’s White Pelican population wintering there?



The White Pelican is one of the biggest birds in North America, with a 9-foot wingspan, it’s second in size only to the mighty California Condor.



The white flock is pelicans.  View from Rock Hill lookout at the southeast end of Salton Sea.

There are also the formerly endangered Brown Pelicans at The Sea.


I dig watching these birds utilize their mastery of ground effect aerodynamics.  By flying just inches above the water surface, they compress a layer of air under their wings that provides lift, allowing them to glide long distances quickly without wingbeats.



Egrets are predictably common.


Great Egret with pelicans


Snowy Egret landing


Cattle Egrets


The Cattle Egrets thrive at the local agricultural fields, as do the White-faced Ibis.




The wind cranked up when we moved to the south end of The Sea to visit the Sonny Bono Salton Sea National Wildlife Reguge.  Whitecaps raced across the surface and waves crashed on the rocks.


Cormorants on their morning commute.

The grebes were unperturbed by the rough water.



When confronted with a wave. They’d just dive under it or punch through the curl like this Western Grebe (Clark’s Grebe?).



Why not fly over?  Turns out the1.5 million Eared Grebes that winter here give up flying for the winter.  So much so that their flight muscles waste to near nothing while their digestive organs greatly increase in size.  (This is an even greater morphologic change than my body undergoes during football season.)  After gorging all winter on brine shrimp and the such, they reverse the changes, put back on their flight muscle and migrate to the breeding grounds.  I’m not sure if the Western Grebes undergo the same metamorphosis (still researching this) but I didn’t see them fly at The Sea either.

The dead fish fragrance was not as pungent at the south end of The Sea and Sonny Bono Salton Sea NWR. 


Rock Hill pokes out of the shoreline to the left.  A trail leads to a lookout at the summit.  Steam rises from a geothermal plant to the right of Rock Hill.


Is this due to the competition from the geothermal plants or agricultural fertilizer?  Or could it be a sweet whiff of eau d’Cher?


A Northern Harrier send a flock of blackbirds flying, geothermal plant in background.


Doves on power lines.


The Refuge grows crops for the Snow Geese and Sandhill Cranes to keep them from raiding the nearby agribusiness fields.



Back at the coast, cormorants are abundant, but still can’t eat all the tilapia.



Nor could the Pelicans.  This next scene cried for B&W.



I spent only 100 hours at the Salton Sea, but had an amazing and prolific time.  Who knew the Wildlife Photographer's Dream smelled like a dead fish farting fertilizer in a bucket of rotten eggs?


Can you count all the cattle egrets?


Text and contents all ©John Sherman – no reproduction without prior written permission. 

]]> (VermPhoto) Mon, 16 Nov 2015 13:45:00 GMT
Welcome to the Wild This weekend three new California Condors left the realm of coddled captivity and soared into a new life with the wild population in Arizona.  This brings the Arizona-Utah condor population up to 73 members, roughly one third of all the wild California Condors in the world. Yep, that's not many.  The three captive-bred birds were released atop the Vermilion Cliffs.


The Vermilion Cliffs - condor country.


I was super-honored to be asked to photograph the release from a blind atop the cliff near the release pen.  Also in the blind was condor biologist Erin Bramnon, who graciously answered my condor questions and taught me a lot about the birds' habits and personalities, and the many tasks of a condor biologist. 

Let's meet the new birds.  At 11 AM the doors to the release pen were opened. Initially the birds seemed content to stay in the pen, but at 11:29, Condor 618 ventured out the bottom door, ran down the rock slab below and took flight. 


Condor 618 is first out of the gate


618 is a four-year old female.  An adolescent, her neck is just starting to turn pink.


First flight for 618


618 cruised out over the rim, then flew out of view.  We wouldn't see her again for a couple hours, but Erin kept tabs on her transmitter signal and could tell she hadn't strayed far.  Meanwhile Condors 731 and 735 ventured to the bar at the entrance of the top door.


731 (tag P1) and 735 (tag P5) stare down into House Rock Valley and the hundreds of condor fans waiting for a glimpse of them.  731: "Look at all those people down there."  735: "That huge guy in the ball cap looks like he might die of answering all those questions."  731: "Yeah, that could feed us for weeks."


Neither seemed inclined to follow 618's lead and just fly off and explore.  Instead they worked their way to the top of the pen and hung out there.



The pen was far enough from us that heat shimmers were driving the photographer in me crazy.  Long telephoto lenses don't do well at midday.  But what to do other than enjoy watching these young ones enter a whole new life?

731 and 715 are both one year old and for the moment were content to watch the adults wing around. 


Condor 389 (tag 89), a feisty ten-year old female, wings past.


After a bit, Condor 162 decided 735 was occupying a perch that would be better suited for an adult.  


It's common for more dominant condors to shoulder submissive condors off their perches and that's just what happened. 


Knocked from his perch, 735 takes off on his first flight.


735 takes a peek over the rim and decides to quickly circle back.  The first time flying outside a flight pen is tricky with the updrafts.  731 doesn't seem too sure about his raven escort either.


Tail end of 735's first wild flight.


Lastly 731 gets coerced by the adults to fly.


And after her short first flight, 731 comes in for a landing.


First wild flights out of the way, the newbies took to getting to know their new tribe.  Condors have a well-defined social hierarchy.


Elders get to eat first.


618 gets shooed away until the adults finish.


520 (tag J2) tells 735 it's time to leave the bath.  Adding insult, a raven yanks 735's tail feather.  The newcomers will soon learn that ravens can be real irritating.


Drying out after his bath.


At last the newbs get to help themselves to the leftovers.


731 lies down to digest while 618 decides to fly off.


Into the sunset after a busy day one.


All contents, text and photos are copyright John Sherman.  Absolutely no reproduction without prior written permission from John Sherman.  That especially means you Scrubby.


]]> (VermPhoto) Arizona Birds California Cliffs Condor Endangered Species Verm Vermilion condor nature photography Wed, 30 Sep 2015 21:07:41 GMT
Bald is Beautiful, especially when you have a 9-foot wingspan California Condors are some of the most majestic and rarest birds out there.  It's always a great honor to photograph them and now I feel honored yet again with the wonderful portfolio Arizona Highways just published of my condor shots.  So many things came together for me to get these shots - access, lighting, timing and of course the presence of the birds which is never a given.



This is one of my favorite shots of all time - everything came together at once to make it happen.  Check out those primary feathers - each is well over a foot long. 



Get the August 2015 issue of Arizona Highways for the full page look at F1 getting his neck feathers tugged by another bird.  Condors have a pecking order, though in this species the dominant birds are the ones getting their cheeks bitten and feathers tugged.



The top left shot was one of my cooler photo experiences.  54 kept flying straight at me until my lens wouldn't focus any closer then passed six feet over my head.

Thanks again to the crew at Highways for publishing these shots and helping bring attention to the cause of helping this noble bird back from the brink of extinction.  To learn more about the Condor recovery program please visit the Peregrine Fund's website.  Please consider helping out the condors with a donation.  And as always you can help out my efforts to try and photograph all of the Arizona/Utah wild population by purchasing prints, Condor coffee mugs or even just some fridge magnets from this site.   I'm working to get these shots which will be donated to the Condor recovery program to help create an adopt-a-condor program.  This way people will get to see and know each individual bird they help support.  Spending time with these birds, it becomes obvious that each has it's own quirks and personality.  With public support and the continuing hard work of the biologists we hope that in the near future we'll all be able to see sights like this.



This is a young condor born in the wild and not yet touched by humans, hence the lack of ID tags and transmitters that get attached when the birds are annually checked for lead poisoning.  Catching sight of an untagged condor is exceedingly rare.  Let's make it common.




all photos ©John Sherman, please no reproduction without written permission


]]> (VermPhoto) Arizona Arizona Highways Birds California Condor John Sherman Verm nature photography Sat, 18 Jul 2015 09:33:22 GMT
Olympics Less than two weeks have passed since my latest near-death experience.  It was one of those things you always think might happen climbing - you're on easy, but loose terrain, and unroped so if you slip you don't kill your partner as well.  How many hundreds or thousands of times have I said, "if this foothold comes loose, I'm a goner?"  I guess I wasn't meant to die on my birthday, because when the moss hummock blew out under my feet nearing the top of Beacon Rock, my rickety handhold stayed in place and I swung to the left.  Had I swung to the right it would have been 400 feet of what the fuck vertical freefalling to the base of the rock.  Which would really suck because I had a slideshow to give that night in Portland and I hate giving shows on crutches.  Instead I landed in a nice soft patch of poison oak. 

Now one would think that would be the most memorable moment of my northwest tour, but so many other cool things happened that the scary mishap and the rash are quickly fading into the past.  Most of the trip was climbing-related, but DKish and I had a few days to explore the Olympic Peninsula before returning to Flagstaff.  The Olympics were her birthday gift to me and it was an incredible 48 hours of sensual overload. 


My landscape photography has often been hampered by the lack of any dark clouds over my head.  Our first afternoon we went to Hurricane Ridge and watched clouds swirl through the valleys.


I encountered my first Black-tailed Deer.  Being in a National Park they seemed very tame.




The Olympic marmot is only found in this range.  It's the State of Washington's official endemic mammal.  Sorry orca.


This non-native Mountain Goat found a yummy pee patch.  The goats crave the salts found in human urine and will hang out around trails and the base of climbs sniffing out their treats.


Hiking back to the car some mist moved in.


Creating this cool sunbow.  That's my shadow.


We spent the night ay Crescent Lake.  Even though the water is super clear, you can't see to the bottom - it's over 600 feet deep.  Wild to see such a cool glacial feature just miles from the coastline.


The next morning we went to the coast and Rialto Beach.  These are some of the medium-sized logs that have washed up there.


And Dkish bouldering on more sizeable fare.




It's a popular place.


This Black-tailed Deer was just cruising along checking out tidepools and such.


It reminded me of Point Lobos in that everywhere you turned there was something cool to shoot.  From long shots...


To close-ups.


Getting a bit abstract.


Then working with forms in black and white.



This crow photo-bombed the Bald Eagle perched atop the pinnacle. 


The last morning came way too fast.  We had less than two hours to explore the old growth forest.


Lush is not a word I get to use much in Arizona.  At least not the adjective.






This last one is for the photogeeks - a handheld 3-shot HDR (braced on bridge railing) processed in Lightroom 6's HDR function - I was impressed at the seamless job it did (set at high no-ghosting). 

Thanks DKish for a great birthday trip. 


Text and photos all ©John Sherman, please no reproduction without written permission.






]]> (VermPhoto) Olympic Peninsula Verm Washinton nature photography Thu, 25 Jun 2015 03:00:04 GMT
Random cool pics Much of my writing of late has been in the form of reviews and essays for Photography Life.  Reviewing gear can get boring if you let it, so instead of shooting lens charts, I like to get creative with real world examples.  Following are some shots I had fun taking with two new offerings from Nikon - the Coolpix P900 with its crazy 24-2000mm equivalent zoom, and the new DX flagship the D7200.  If you are interested in the techy details please click the links to get to the reviews I did.  Without further ado.


Here's the P900 catching a flight of Turkey Vultures passing by the Desert View Watchtower at Grand Canyon.  Shot from over a mile away - bravo for the zoom range.


And inside the Watchtower.  Designed by Mary Colter and built in 1932.  The paintings were done by Hopi artist Fred Kabotie.


Looking west down canyon.  Smoke from prescribed fires added to the haze.


Moonrise in Sedona, again with the P900, but at moderate zoom range for it.  Fully zoomed you can fill the frame with the moon.


On to the D7200, which I was interested in for it's wildlife capabilities.  The autofocus system works great and this Osprey can attest.


This other Osprey looks less enthused.  Actually it might be clearing a bone stuck in it's throat.


Ah, the rarely seen Virginia Rail came out and posed for a few shots after sunset.  I'd only seen one before and only got a shot of it's butt disappearing in the reeds.  Can you say ISO 5000?


Not a great shot, but a really great and uncommon bird - the Gray Hawk.  These guys rarely mess around soaring lazy circles like other hawks.  Instead they blast past like they are always on a mission to get past my camera before I can get a lock on them.  I'll be back for more with these beauties.


Why should birds get all the fun?  A nice Pronghorn buck near Chino Valley.  Digging the D7200's fur-level detail.


And what about amphibians?  Canyon Tree Frog northeast of Chino Valley.


Let's not forget the invertebrates.  Making more dragonflies near Whitehorse Lake.


All that sex can make a girl hungry.  While the male minds to his business, this female Pond Strider spied a fly which it caught and ate while the male was still mounted.  Who needs cigarettes?  (As a technical note, the male had probably already inseminated the female, but will hang out on top of the female, sometimes for several hours, to make sure no other male tries to share his genes with her.)


GT likes invertebrates too.  Female Western Box Turtle in Scottsdale backyard.  She's been hanging with the jet set pet set for over 15 years now, maybe 30.  Rumor has it she has implants under her belly plate.


The D7200 does fine at landscapes too.  Baboquivari Peak from Buenos Aires NWR.  Had to climb it a few weeks later. 


Messing around with a plasma globe and 6400 ISO at Kitt Peak.  We thought Chuck had already killed all his brain cells, but the plasma globe managed to suck a few more out through his nose. 


Damn, that's one huge yucca.  And AZ's classic desert dove - the White-winged Dove.  Underneath Baboquivari.


And perhaps my favorite with the two cameras (this one back to the P900).  Landscape photographer immersed in his work at Grand Canyon.



Text and photos all ©John Sherman.  Please no reproduction without written permission.

]]> (VermPhoto) Mon, 08 Jun 2015 19:04:43 GMT
First D400 sample image leaked












Just when I was starting to believe all the D400 rumors were pure baloney, a VRS ("very reliable source") leaked this sample image to me.  The resolution is not quite what I expected for the D300 replacement, but wildlife shooters will be wowed that this was taken by the light of a crescent moon at ISO, wait, wait, 1,024,000!  Hallelujah! 



The D400 release date is not yet set, but again, and I have this from One Of Those In The Know, it is going to be the same day that Bigfoot beats Nessie in the 1000m freestyle.  Now this may seem a long ways off, but rumor from Nessie's training camp is she has torn an ACL in her left ventral fin.  Come race day she'll be turning left like she was at Daytona.


Happy Shooting Everyone,


]]> (VermPhoto) D400 Verm humor rumors Wed, 01 Apr 2015 11:30:00 GMT
Arizona's Grand Vortex This is Grand Falls on the Little Colorado River.  Or as we like to call it around these parts, The Niagara Falls of the Southwest.



Pretty sweet, huh?  It's one of the classic  landscapes to shoot in Northern Arizona, so of course when I saw that water levels were high I had to go out and practice my cliche waterfall shots.



Slow shutter speed.



Fast shutter speed.



Slow shutter speed.



Fast shutter speed.






Long shots.



Yeehaw, I score the coveted double cliche rainbow/waterfall shot.  But there's more to this scene than shown above.  Like this.



Yep, thar be a Pot o' Trash under that rainbow.  If we zoom back on our initial offering we can see this is no little trash pile.



The giant gray peninsula at the base of the falls is composed of driftwood, styrofoam, plastic bottles and so much more. 



In addition to numerous tires, coolers and the like, I counted 50 basketballs under the falls. 


Click play below to trip out.  (Hit your browser "back" button if needed to return to the post.)



Not only does it undulate, but unlike the vortices in Sedona, this vortex actually spins without drugs.



That's about three minutes in real time as is the clip below.



Arizona Daily Sun photographer Jake Bacon showed up to join the fun.  He reported seeing a new piece of trash fall from above about every minute.  But why let that spoil family fun time at the beach?  Here he takes a break from his Pulitzer Prize search to snap some Spring Break at the Beach shots of his daughter.



What's not to love?



I camped out there to shoot sunset and sunrise and had trouble sleeping.  My mind was racing with calculations of how to clean up a football field's worth of trash, haul it up to the canyon rim and dispose of it properly.  Just when I was about to call Sheriff Joe to get some convict labor, I ran into a young woman already engaged in an effort to organize a clean up.  Here's a link to the Grand Falls Clean Up Facebook page This Sunday is Round One.


Picking up and bagging the trash is the easy part (assuming the shore is cleaned up first and the floating vortex cleaned up when the water drops to a trickle later in the year - right now there is quicksand and tricky hydraulics making the in-water clean up risky).  Hauling it to the rim of the canyon will be very time-consuming without a crane.  Disposing of it?  Anyone got some landfill space they want to donate to the the cause?  All help will be much appreciated. 



Let's make Grand Falls grand again.


]]> (VermPhoto) Arizona Grand Falls Verm landscape photography trash vortex vortex Thu, 19 Mar 2015 21:28:52 GMT
(Black and) White Sands My girlfriend gave me several Edward Weston books for Christmas.  Great inspiration that I took to heart on a recent visit to White Sands in New Mexico. 



White Sands is the biggest field of gypsum sand dunes on our planet.  Gypsum sand is very white compared to those boring over-photographed quartz sand dunes of the Sahara or Namibia.  It makes for great color photos, especially at sunset when the sunlit sand turns orange and the shaded sand goes blue.  But this is winter and with the sun low in the sky, there's little excuse not to shoot all day.  Add the psyche that came from ogling the Weston shots of the Oceano dunes, and I couldn't help thinking in black and white.



Near the road, the dunes are laced with footprints, but venture a few hundred yards from the cars and the footprints diminish until after 15 to 20 minutes of wandering you are in untracked territory.



Here was a place where my photo brain, usually easily overwhelmed by the "grand landscape", could digest both the overall view and the abstract details.



Yep, another photographer laying tracks into my otherwise pristine landscape.  Dang it, if I want to see another person out here why can't it be one of those alluring dune nymphs that seem to pop up in Weston's shots?



Oooh, oooh, there's one now.  Time to reach into my bag of wildlife photography tricks and see if I can get a bit closer. 



Damn, I think she spotted me.  Please don't run....



Wow, I must have made Santa's nice list.



Okay, I admit when I was a young lad, the thought of shooting nudes seemed pretty erotic.   I dreamed of lusty trysts with the models.  But when I actually have the opportunity, I found I was more intent on nailing the exposures and the poses than the model.  



It's a lot of hard work requiring rigid, unflagging attention to details.     



One aspect of the Weston dune nudes I found cool was the dark outline around the figure - a natural reflective phenomena of front-lit subjects that nevertheless Weston was often accused of somehow doctoring after the fact.



I'm managing to capture a bit of the dark outline by dialing up the contrast on these shots. 



Overall, I'm quite happy with these shots and excited to do more figure photography in the future (not to mention I have a strong emotional attachment to my subject).  And next time I'll pay as much attention to the armpit-ponytail shadow as I do to the nipple shadow.



As always on this blog, all content is ©John Sherman, no reproduction without written permission.  Thanks.


]]> (VermPhoto) New Mexico Verm White Sands figure photography landscape photography Mon, 02 Mar 2015 21:02:17 GMT
Feeling Ducky This Mallard mom is starting her own duck dynasty at Page Springs and made it to the Table of Contents page in the latest Arizona Highways.  I'm always psyched to have my pics appear in Arizona Highways and super happy that this sale will help chip away at the cost of owning the 10-pound 1-ounce Baby Jesus (AKA Nikkor 800mm).  BJ is one seriously fun and challenging lens to shoot with and it should be at over 22 bucks per millimeter.  Go BJ!



Spring is just around the corner here in Arizona and the Mallard drakes are already battling amongst each other to win over the females.  It won't be long until this mom has another passel of chicks to rear.


For those wondering where I've been the last many months, I've been writing about photo gear and technique for the Photography Life website.  You can check it out here.   Search around and find why this shot of DKish has great significance.





]]> (VermPhoto) Arizona Birds Highways Verm nature photography Tue, 27 Jan 2015 20:09:28 GMT
Oooh Lava Falls, You Make Me Wet (in just fourteen seconds) This was a level of Hell that Dante couldn't describe.  The ferocious desert sun torched the black lava boulders until they could fry eggs, burn skin and make even the cruelest rattlesnake whine for its mama.  I crawled down through this field of overgrown smoldering briquets, dodging the cactus, braving the polished sizzling inky slabs, forging onwards into the forge.  Of two groups of rafters, nobody else dare follow me.  They all crawled back into the cool comfort of their overgrown innertubes and readied for a relaxing pleasure float down through the sparkly frothy riffles of Lava Falls.  Here is one of the runs.


Everything looks dandy as this raft eases into the mocha frappachino waters of Lava.




Oops - the frappachino has gone all double espresso on our boatman and ripped an oar from his hand.  (Of the eight rafts I shot plunging through Lava, half to boatmen had their right oar ripped from their grasp in this top bit.  If the Colorado wants your oar, the Colorado gets your oar.)


But he calmly reaches out...


and regains control of the oar.


Back in business,


and it's all smiles.


My, what have we here?


Hang on!


Wow, looks like they got thrown in the chocolate milkshake machine and someone hit the puree button.




How fast smiles turn to screams.


Who peed in the pool?


One more bitty wave.




Fourteen seconds after the first shot in this sequence, the raft glides safely by Cheesegrater Rock.  Bravo!


Once again, all words and images copyright Vermphoto - please don't reproduce without permission.





]]> (VermPhoto) Arizona Grand Canyon Lava Falls Verm rafting rapids Fri, 26 Sep 2014 17:47:43 GMT
Arizona Flyways Big thanks to these Sandhill Cranes for flying past the Dos Cabezas at sunrise.  I told them I'd make them famous and now they're featured in the August issue of Arizona Highways - on the photography page no less.  Yeehaw!


]]> (VermPhoto) Arizona Arizona Highways Birds Verm nature photography Tue, 29 Jul 2014 18:42:06 GMT
Joining the Photography Life Team I'm honored to be joining the team at Photography Life.  Photography Life is a site I've visited for years, especially for the insightful gear reviews.  I'll be supplying content to them on photographic subjects/issues but still will post up here with other less gear/techy content and also just to share some cool images like this.



Here's the (in)formal announcement.  And here's a recent post with more images from Point Lobos and some interesting trivia about photography great Edward Weston.  I hope you'll check it out.



]]> (VermPhoto) Photography Life Verm nature photography Sat, 19 Jul 2014 22:20:37 GMT
Point, shoot, post! And one more scouting mission from this week.  This morning I hit the beach armed with a point and shoot and an iPhone both locked in Auto mode.  The fog was shrouding the kelp-wrapped boulders in mist, not to mention getting my lens wet.  Yes Verm, you're not in Arizona anymore.  Here's some examples.



all contents Copyright John Sherman, yet again

]]> (VermPhoto) Asilomar Beach California Verm nature photography point and shoot Sat, 28 Jun 2014 02:03:46 GMT
Scouting Wildlife near Elkhorn Slough The pressure was on to find a good location near Monterey Bay to take some wildlife photography students to to introduce them to the joys of the pursuit - i.e. crawling through guano only to watch your subject take off an instant before you lock focus then discovering that that bush you snuggled into to use as a blind is poison oak.  I think I found the spot!

Here's some pics from the other afternoon of the critters I hope my students get to photograph.


Great Egret coming in for a landing.


Those trees aren't dead. They are whitewashed with guano.  It's a rookery for Great Blue Herons, Great Egrets and tons of Cormorants.


The Brown Pelican is a great introductory bird for bird-in-flight practice.  They are slow direct flyers and that pass by in wave after wave.


Harbor Seal


Heerman's Gull - a nice simple portrait of this handsome specimen.


Look what washed up on the bank.  The head of this thing is the size of a compact spare.


Jellyfish detail.


Red-tailed Hawk lurking in the woods.


Southern Sea Otters roughhousing.


Turkey Vulture feasting on student who didn't tip.


all contents copyright John Sherman

]]> (VermPhoto) California Elkhorn Slough Verm nature photography wildlife Sat, 28 Jun 2014 01:53:39 GMT
Landscape Nirvana "The world is going to pieces and people like Adams and Weston are photographing rocks!"  Henri Cartier-Bresson, the Godfather of Street Photography, said that during the 1930's as the world tumbled into depression.  Of course had HCB been to Point Lobos, he would have traded that toy of a Leica, hoisted a manly 8x10 view camera and gone on a kelp-shooting, rock-snapping, cypress-hugging tour de force.

Oh heck, words can't do it justice.  On to some pics from my scouting missions.


And all these years I thought Point Lobos was made of black and white.  Sunset last night near Whaler's Cove.


That's better - also last night's sunset at Whaler's Cove..


From the Cypress Grove trail.


Oooh, gnarled cypress in black and white.  I'm feeling a photorgasm coming on.


Yeah HCB, the world is still falling to pieces. 


And we're still shooting rocks.


In China Cove.


Along Cypress Grove trail.


Lots of Harbor Seals near here.


Mmmm, gentle surf washing over polished black pebbles.


Kelp swaying in the current.


Do not fall into the jaws!


all this stuff copyright John Sherman as usual

]]> (VermPhoto) California Point Lobos Verm landscape photography Sat, 28 Jun 2014 01:24:46 GMT
Burn Baby Stop - Time-lapse from Slide Fire As I post this a few raindrops are coming down in Flagstaff.  Northern Arizona could sure use it.  The Slide Fire has been burning over a week now and consumed over 20,000 acres in one of Arizona's most scenic regions.  I was having a great time shooting in the Verde Valley when I first saw the smoke cloud billowing to the north.  My experience is summed up on this Arizona Highways blog.  For those linking over here from Arizona Highways' website here's the time-lapse sequences I shot from May 21st to May 24th. 

Big thanks to DKish for editing this together.

Let's all hope for a speedy end to this fire,


all contents copyright John Verm Sherman


]]> (VermPhoto) Arizona Slide Fire Verm nature photography time-lapse Thu, 29 May 2014 17:11:53 GMT
Downstream from the Slide Fire If you linked over here from Arizona Highways' Slide Fire blog, the squirrels in my computer are feverishly working to compile those time-lapse sequences which I hope to post soon.  In the meantime here are some of the images I was capturing the day the fire started.  These were taken further down Oak Creek at Page Springs.

D'oh, missed!  A Green Heron emerges from the water empty-billed.  I'm used to seeing Green Herons stalk prey along the water's edge, but this guy was hunting from a guardrail over a pond and making dives for prey from there. 


Got it!  This time the heron scores a yummy Tiger Salamander.  I saw him gulp down three or four of these in half an hour.


This is how my new computer is making me feel right now.


While the Green Heron hunted from it's perch, a Great Blue Heron cruised past through some nice light.


This Great-tailed Grackle did not like the GBH coming so close to his tree.


So the Grackle chases off the heron.


While we're on the subject of herons, this Black-crowned Night Heron was hunting above one of the raceways at the hatchery.  It was real windy - bad news for the growing fire to the north and a challenge for the heron to stay on the oscillating wire.  The wires across the raceways are designed to disrupt merganser flight paths, but unintentionally provided this bird with a hunting perch (avian predation accounts for a 30% kill rate on fish in the uncovered raceways).


Here's one for the photo geeks who wonder why anyone would ever shoot at 102400 ISO (not a typo) and if such camera settings are just BS selling points.  This was shot on a Nikon D4s at dusk, a 500mm handheld at 1/50 sec (also not a typo), wide open at f/4 - thanks VR, and thanks that the wind had calmed a bit by then.  Massaged quite a bit with NR in Lightroom.


Thanks for checking these out and please visit again soon for the time-lapse fire shots.

]]> (VermPhoto) Arizona Birds Verm nature photography technique Thu, 29 May 2014 08:22:40 GMT
I'll Have Mine Rare While reading Moose Peterson's blog, I learned today is Endangered Species Day.  As Hallmark doesn't make a card for this, I chose to take Moose's suggestion and share some photos of animals on the endangered list and some that thanks to conservation efforts are making a comeback.

Whooping Cranes at Goose Island, Texas.  Hooray for the young one (cinnamon head) increasing the numbers.  One of the tallest birds in North America and also one of the least numerous.


Brown Pelican also at Goose Island, Texas.  In the early 1900s, Gulf Coast fisherman, feeling threatened by the Brown Pelican's fishing skills, tried earnestly to exterminate the species and by 1940 had succeeded in slaughtering 80 percent of the population.  From then it just got worse for the pelicans as in the 60s and 70s the species was on the brink of extinction due to pesticide pollution.  But since the banning of DDT and reductions in the use of the pesticide endrin, Brown Pelicans have got their freak on, boosted their population to over 650,000, and were removed from the Endangered Species list in 2009.


Wood Stork hiding in Big Cypress Swamp, Florida.  This species is slowly expanding its breeding range in Florida, but groups like the conservative/libertarian pro-development Pacific Legal Foundation are trying hard to remove it from the Endangered Species list.  But don't take my word for it - to learn more about PLF's efforts to move species like the wood stork and manatee off the endangered species list visit their website.  Oh, don't forget your barf bag.


Speaking of Manatees....  One at Blue Spring State Park in Florida.  Soon this lovely sea cow won't have to drink out of this nasty creek full of tarpon poop, but can enjoy it's tasty water out of a plastic bottle because Swiss behemoth Nestle obtained the rights to Blue Springs' water.  Yes, it's a windfall for Florida as Nestle had to pay a $230 permit fee for these rights until 2018.  What?  That's not $230 million, but 230 dollars and no cents? I take back my windfall statement.  See Tampa Bay Times for more.


This Florida Scrub Jay doesn't look too happy to be officially "threatened", but actually these birds are quite inquisitive if not downright friendly when it comes to posing for the camera.  Oscar Scherer State Park, Florida.


Well, here in Arizona we're not about to let Texas and Florida get all the glory for killing off their wildlife.  God and Ted Nugent willing, we'll get the Gila Monster off the threatened list and onto the endangered list.  Oh strike that last comment too as to quote from Uncle Ted's Facebook page: "The Endangered Species Act, the EPA, Humane Society of the US are all rotten frauds & scams from hell."  There has not been a documented human fatality from a Gila Monster bite since the 1930s - maybe it's time for another.


Common Black-Hawks, though not endangered internationally, are rare in the US and protected in Arizona.  Cheers to these two for making more!


And just yesterday I got this pic of one of the parents bringing a lizard to the nest.  Eat up, Junior!


One of the best rebounds is of Peregrine Falcons, nearly outdone by DDT as well back in the 70s, but I see them all over these days. 


Raptors playing chicken 2Raptors playing chicken 2

Falcons have better things to worry about than losing habitat - like chasing much bigger Zone-tailed Hawks out of their territory.  (The Peregrine won this game of chicken and escorted the hawk out of the canyon.)


And last but not least, the California Condor, this one seen near Lee's Ferry, Arizona.  This guy has strapped a load of C4 to himself and appears ready to blow up Navajo Bridge and all those pesky tourists.  Or perhaps he's just resting before flying up to take out Glen Canyon Dam.  (Note to FBI - this is satire - the C4 is actually an identification tag.)

Like Whooping Cranes, this species is struggling hard to come back.  In 1982 California Condors had a population of just 22 individuals.  As of 2013 there are 230 in the wild and another 180 in captive breeding programs, numbers slightly less than the Whooping Crane.  Lead poisoning (from bullet fragments in gut piles) is currently the greatest cause of condor mortality.


If you enjoyed these photos I hope you'll consider joining/renewing or donating to conservation organizations.  The ones I'm currently a member of are Audubon, National Wildlife Federation and The Cornell Lab of Ornithology.  These photos might never have happened without the Endangered Species Act and the work of organizations like these.  


Like everything on this site, all this stuff ©Vermphoto.  Please don't use without permission.


]]> (VermPhoto) Arizona Birds Florida Gila Monster Texas Verm manatee nature photography Sat, 17 May 2014 01:39:49 GMT
The Bald Eagle strikes again My favorite Eagle makes an encore performance in yesterday's Arizona Highways blog.


Click here to get to Arizona Highways blog site.  While you're there you can order The 100 Greatest Photos book that features a great shot from our beloved DKish.

]]> (VermPhoto) Arizona Arizona Highways Birds Verm nature photography Fri, 21 Feb 2014 16:48:00 GMT
Ozzy makes Audubon's Top 100 - was there ever any doubt? Ozzy, Ozzy, Ozzy!  Call it Osprey Yoga or whatever you like - I'm proud that of the nearly 6000 entries in the 2013 Audubon Magazine Photo Awards, my osprey shot made the Top 100.  This was my first time entering the Audubon contest.


Click here for Audubon Magazine's Top 100 slideshow.


Here's a bonus shot from the same location, Kaibab Lake, near Williams, Arizona.  This shot was featured in the Collections of Flagstaff show at Northern Arizona University's High Country Conference Center last fall.  Kaibab Lake's Ospreys have been good to me.  Thanks Ospreys!


These two Osprey took a break from fishing to chase each other around the lake.  San Francisco Peaks in the background.



]]> (VermPhoto) Arizona Audubon Birds Verm awards nature photography Thu, 20 Feb 2014 17:15:00 GMT
You Lose Some, You Win Some It was another sucky day full of unfulfilled promise.  A quick spin around the Everglades Anhinga Trail didn't result in any shots of alligators ripping off tourists' hands.  Dammit.  But as you know from reading the 5 Keys post, if you want to succeed at this nature photography thing you must persevere.

So on the way back to the parking lot, this Red-shouldered Hawk is hanging out in a Palm tree above the gift shop.


There's a photo here somewhere, if only I can reposition my camera without falling in the gator pond.


While I'm trying to get another angle the bird launches out of the tree and barrels right towards me, passing between me and the gift shop (a gap of maybe five yards).  He's eyeballing something just behind my right shoulder.


Boom.  He smashes into this bush just as an alert black bird jumps away to safety.  A split second quicker and the hawk would have had it's meal and I might have nailed a nice shot.


Instead the hawk flies off hungry and I didn't even get a lousy Everglades T-shirt for my trouble, just some so-so shots.  I do however have an amazing memory of watching the struggle for survival from very close range.


Not to be deterred, we leave the Everglades the next day and take the scenic Loop Road through Big Cypress Preserve, passing the cheery hamlet of Pinecrest.


These Black Vultures have found an attractive perch.


I get to work shooting gators.  The Loop Road is dirt and just wide enough for two cars to squeeze past each other.  It's lined with dense cypress swamp but there are numerous culvert crossings where the jungle parts revealing the shallow waterways.  If you're lucky there will be something cool to shoot.


When you are 10-15 feet long and weigh up to 1000 pounds, you rule the swamp.  Adult alligators are big enough they have no predators save man.


I'm shooting a nice fat gator not far from the road when I hear a sizable bird fly out from the swamp to my left.  No time to think - just shoot.  It takes less than four seconds for the immature Black-crowned Night Heron to cross the road and disappear into the woods.  I manage to capture six frames in two seconds, then it's gone.  Through the viewfinder I could tell it was carrying prey.  I'm guessing a frog as Night Herons are fond of those.


Imagine my surprise when I downloaded my photos that evening and discovered the prey was not a frog, but a baby alligator.  Less than 24 hours after missing the close-up hawk action I witness and capture this moment - a moment I'll most likely never see again. 


A black bird escapes to live another day or maybe just another hour.  A hawk flies back to its perch to resume the hunt.  I rue a missed opportunity.  An alligator dies in the first months of its life.  A Night Heron eats.  I get the shot.  That's Nature.  That's nature photography.


As always, all content ©John Verm Sherman

]]> (VermPhoto) Big Cypress Birds Everglades Florida Night Heron Verm alligator nature photography Thu, 13 Feb 2014 15:45:00 GMT
Is that a Camera in Your Pocket or are You Just Happy to be in Nature? This blog is for my badass friend Amy, who tracked a coyote through the snow the other day, eventually finding it and spending some quality adventure time together.  She didn't bring her camera that day, but fortunately saved some great images in her mental hard drive.  Nevertheless, she kicks herself for not grabbing a camera on the way out the door - I'm sure we can all relate to that.  So what to do when we forget the camera or just don't feel like lugging it around?

Until recently I didn't give much thought to the camera I usually have with me.  As a "serious" photographer, I couldn't embrace the iPhone camera as anything more than a toy to take embarrassing blackmail shots of friends with.  But after seeing another photographer's blog with an array of photos from everything from his iPhone to his Leica, and realizing (at least at web resolution) you couldn't tell the cameras apart unless the pics were labeled, it got me to reexamine the camera in my pocket.  What if I actually tried to shoot some good photos with my phone - ones I would be happy to share with the world on my blog?  One way to find out.  So I took our friend's pup Kaibers for a hike at the park down the road and spent a half hour snapping these shots.


File this under stock keywords winter, somber, death, dreary, darkness, health insurance.


Cropped 1x1 to give that Hasselblad look - which gives me a thought.  Now that Hassy is slapping wood grips on Sony point and shoots and charging $7000 for them, how about a Hasselblad Smart Phone?  Call it the ipHone.  My girlfriend calls me a subgenius - I guess she's right. 


Plenty o' detail.


Channeling my Inner Callaghan.


If I were a grub, I'd live here.


Here the iPhone shows some weakness in the dynamic range department as there's a chip of wood at right center that has some clipped highlights.  Maybe I should go back and shoot this in the iPhone's HDR mode.


So the answer is, "of course I'm happy to be out in Nature."  The camera is already in my hands.

]]> (VermPhoto) Arizona Verm black and white iPhone nature photography Fri, 31 Jan 2014 21:56:37 GMT
Raptors Gone Wild - Arizona edition Ouch!  It hurts that we live in a time where all photos are viewed with a suspicious eye.  Because of Photoshop and the like the camera is no longer considered "the unimpeachable witness".  Hence I was disheartened, yet not surprised, when I received this question in an email from Arizona Highways in reference to my Bald Eagle shot on the back cover of the current issue. "We (Arizona Highways) got an email from another photographer who noticed the band on the bird's right leg, and he said it looked like the bird was tethered to the branch (or something). Is that the case, or is it just a band for tracking the bird?"

The answer is the eagle has ID bands on both legs as clearly seen in these shots from the same sequence.  And c'mon, if I were going to fake the shot, the eagle would have a penguin in it's talons, a polar bear dangling from it's beak and lightning bolts crashing over the Grand Canyon. (Hmmm, note to self - go shoot some polar bear stock.)

And I thought our ability to accessorize is what separated humans from the beasts.  Bald Eagle at Page Springs, Arizona.  This is two frames after the shot featured on the back cover of Arizona Highways.


Fast forward 19 seconds and the same eagle is about to land in a different tree.  Both ID bands clearly visible.  No leg tethers so this is obviously not a trained animal actor.  (If it was an actor it would have better abs.)


If the person who made the tethered-to-the-branch accusation was as classy, intelligent and savvy as you my dear reader, he would follow my blog and other writings and know how I felt about wild versus captive subjects.  Just this week I wrote a guest post about truth in labeling wildlife photos for Photography Life in which I discussed my experience shooting captive venomous snakes at the Kentucky Reptile Zoo.  Those photos all have the word "captive" in their file names, keywording and caption information so no editor will ever be misled as to how the shots were taken.  This is in keeping with the North American Nature Photography Association's truth in captioning statement.  When I'm shooting in the wild I follow the ethical practices summarized by NANPA.

Was that just the most boring paragraph I've ever written?  Let's hope I never have to repeat that.  I put in a lot of time in the wild trying to capture exciting moments in the lives on my subjects.  The thrill of capturing those moments is what keeps me alert during the tedious hours of following a subject waiting for something cool to happen.  Screw setting up shots with trained animal actors - that's just BS practiced by those who's main objective is cashing in on the animals.  They can have their pet cougar in Antelope Canyon shots.  For me, I'll take wild and raw.

So I'm only going to say this once.  I WILL NEVER TETHER AN ANIMAL TO GET A SHOT... unless they're into that kind of thing.


Restraints in action!  This Harris Hawk couple are getting kinky in Scottsdale - notice how the female has looped herself under the power pole wire to enhance the feeling of submission to her oh-so-powerful mate.  As an aside, the male showed up to this encounter with some telltale white feathers stuck in one talon.  Was he out swinging earlier that day?

]]> (VermPhoto) Arizona Birds Photoshop Verm ethics humor nature photography Wed, 29 Jan 2014 19:39:01 GMT
Verm's Five Keys to Bird Photography Success and proof number 5 works I have a slideshow I've given to Audubon chapters in Arizona about bird photography.  At the conclusion of Fly Hard with a Vengeance, I give the Five Keys to Successful Bird Photography. 


These are:


Key Number 1 - Just like this heron you need to get close to your subject to score - quick movements are sure to scare wildlife off - chill out and move real slow (and bonus points for keeping low like this Green Heron).


Key Number 2 - The Harrier swoops over the marsh and grasslands endlessly looking for rodents and other prey to pounce on.  It dives repeatedly and comes up empty.  But by persevering all day it eventually hits pay dirt enough times to feed itself.  So it will be with bird photography - 99 percent of your shots will suck, but keep at it and don't give up on a good subject until you get fed.


Key Number 3 - do I need to explain this?  Oh heck, just go over to B&H and look up the Nikkor 800mm.  The lens shade itself costs a cool grand.

Lastly always...


Don't be satisfied repeating the success of other nature photographers.  Push yourself to come up with fresh exciting material.  So follow these five keys and success is guaranteed... but wait that's just four keys.  Oh yeah, the penultimate shot in my slideshow...



What photo editor can resist a Bald Eagle?  Bald Eagles are third only to polar bears and penguins in the "subject yummy as crack" list at all the mags.  At least that was my theory, but after 8500 miles on the road in the last four months I got to Arizona and lo and behold I saw the latest Arizona Highways with a Bald Eagle shot on the back cover.  Awesome, but wait, that's my Bald Eagle pic.

I had no idea the shot was going to be in the mag, much less the back cover so I was completely stoked.  Buying groceries is a delight now that I can wait at the Safeway checkout line, pull the latest Highways off the rack, flip a few pages, then nonchalantly replace it facing backwards on top of the stack of Globes. 

I mean really, who cares if OJ has brain cancer?


Thanks to Bald Eagles - we all win!

]]> (VermPhoto) Birds Verm humor nature photography technique Fri, 24 Jan 2014 14:15:00 GMT
Florida in 10 photos What can you say about Florida that hasn't already been said in Miami Vice or a Carl Hiaason novel?  Hence, just some pics from my trip with DKIsh to Florida.


"Quick DKIsh, grab the camera.  This is the shot that confirms everything I imagined Florida would be!"  Photo by Dawn Kish at speeds so fast it ripped the hair off these 20-something undercover agents.


Actually, this better sums up our Florida Experience. 


Brown Pelican diving for fish, Sanibel Island.


Manatees in the vodka-clear, er, I mean gin-clear waters of Blue Springs.  A polarizer is essential for such shots.


Wow, Tim Tebow's yacht must be out there somewhere.  Near Estero Lagoon.


Can't an egret enjoy a crawfish in peace?  The gulls eventually stole the meal.  1/1250 sec @ f/9, ISO 500, 500mm, D600.


You talking to me?  Black Vulture, Everglades.  Tight crop from the 80-400 @400mm.


Double-crested Cormorant, Everglades.  Extreme backlight called for extreme adjustments in post: Highlights -66, Shadows +94, Whites -100, Blacks -50.


Dragonfly, a Halloween Pennant (Celithemis eponina) to be precise, Everglades.  Nice hazy bright light allowed shooting at mid-day.


Token alligator shot, though not the cliche eyes and nose above water look.  Again the polarizer was essential.

]]> (VermPhoto) Birds Florida Verm alligator nature photography technique Mon, 20 Jan 2014 14:30:00 GMT
Makin' Whoopie (getting lucky one last time in 2013) Gain 10 pounds, drink more single malt and get published in Arizona Highways.  It seemed like a pretty challenging list of New Year's Resolutions I made at this time last year, but I kicked butt on all three counts.  Those 2013 accomplishments are pretty exciting, but nothing like the excitement of seeing and photographing wild Whooping Cranes.  In the 1940s, the Whoopers were down to only 14-16 wild individuals - extinction looked likely.  But the cranes got their groove on (many in captive breeding situations - sounds like some kinky fun there) and now there are approximately 200 Whooping Cranes in the wild. 


Here's one percent of the entire population of wild Whooping Cranes.  This is full frame from a D7000 (crop-frame sensor) with 500mm lens plus 1.4x teleconverter so 21x power.  For awhile it looked like the cranes would keep this distance from all the camera-wielding nature buffs parked outside the property boundaries. 


Whooping Cranes winter in South Texas in and around the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge.  Two family groups were residing near Goose Island State Park in the fields near a local hunting club. 


Horrid blow-up of a terrible shot, but it shows how freaking stately these five-foot tall birds are.  Those aren't pigeons it's towering over, those are Sandhill Cranes, a huge bird in it's own right.


With lame shots like those first two I was getting pretty frustrated.  I could book a boat tour to look for other groups, but with no guarantee of getting any closer.  So I went back the next day and decided I'd just wait and see what happened.  The birds were in the same fields and being pretty camera shy.  Numerous birders  snapped a quick pic with a point-and-shoot to prove they'd seen the rare bird, the left after a few minutes.  I waited.  Then I waited.  Other birders came and went.  More waiting ensued.  A few hours went by then a family of three took to the air.  It looked like they might land close to a nearby road so I gave chase.  Instead of landing in the field they continued on over the bay then landed in the shallow water about 50 yards offshore.  The boy is gonna get lucky!


Mom, Dad and Junior.  The Cranes generally stay in family units.  Junior is the one with the cinnamon head.


Preening - got to look good for the photo shoot.  Despite the camera being firmly clamped to a tripod, I was having trouble framing shots because I was shaking from cold and excitement.


Getting close involved creeping along the shoreline through a vortex of vultures feasting on a deer carcass dumped in the bay across the road from from the hunting club. 


Okay photographer, you been here long time.  We go now.



Thanks for checking out the Vermphoto blog this last year.  See you in 2014,


]]> (VermPhoto) Birds Texas Verm Whooping Crane nature photography Tue, 31 Dec 2013 20:10:46 GMT
Dammit Santa, what part of I was good didn't you get? So I wake up this morning, Christmas morning, and there was no Nikkor 800mm waiting for me.  WTF?  I was a good boy this year.  In the last three months I have saved not one, but two turtles from becoming roadkill.  I'm pretty sure I did some other good deeds too, but noooooo, I didn't even get a D4.  Today I'm on a barrier island on the Gulf Coast of Texas and I can't help but think Santa hit Colorado before Texas and had one too many pot cookies and forgot to drop off my goodies.  It's better to give than to receive Santa - I'm just trying to help you feel good about yourself.  Lord knows you could use some cheering up to deal with your body image issues.

I figure maybe the 800mm is on backorder, so Santa will at least bust out some cool birds for me to shoot today.  How about a Long-billed Curlew?  Or a Crested Caracara?  Alas, Santa must have been punishing me for not blogging any of those Florida pics yet (they're coming Santa, really).  The best Saint Nick could muster at sunrise was thick clouds on the horizon and this....


Hellooooooh?  A hunchbacked Sanderling?  C'mon Santa, how 'bout a Whooping Crane? 


Well at least Rudolph farted through the clouds....


Dear Santa, don't you have to bust out TWO miracles to be called Saint Nick?  This ain't a Curlew, just a Willet. 


I guess it could have been worse.  Santa could have given me a lump of coot.  Instead I get a bunch of poorly synchronized divers.


Pelicans at Mustang Island, Texas.  Rare shot with no offshore platforms in the background.


So I drove over to North Padre Island.  Distinct lack of drunk sorority chicks missing bikini parts.  But I did find this 20'x30' trash-lined puddle with some Texas-sized diversity?  Did I just say "Texas" and "diversity" in the same sentence?


Don't Mess With Texas.  Left to right: Bud Light cans, Tri-colored Heron, sandwich bag, Snowy Egret, Styrofoam cup, Immature White Ibis (yes, the Ibis was on Xmas break from UT), grocery sack.


I parked the Jeep next to the pond and shot out the window.  The Ibis is a prober - pretty boring (well at least with the lights on).  The Snowy Egret is a stabber, but wicked common.  Hence the Tri-colored Heron quickly became my favorite subject due to it's animated fishing style.


The Tri-colored Heron and Reddish Egret have similar fishing styles.  Both will run fish down.

As well, they will both spread their wings and hide their head under a wing before striking.  It's theorized that this creates a shadowed area in the water that the fish gravitate to, thinking it is safe cover under vegetation.  Fish ain't too bright.


I guess I didn't get what I asked for this Christmas, but instead Santa gave me the gift of knowing that the 800mm Nikkor is just a Warbler lens and who wants to waste their time shooting a bunch of tiny bug-eaters that won't sit still?  Well at least until Spring migration.  It was on backorder, right?

Happy Holidays y'all,




]]> (VermPhoto) Birds Coast Gulf Texas Verm humor nature photography Thu, 26 Dec 2013 02:17:57 GMT
KY - It's a Beautiful Thing Kentucky is known for horses and whiskey and when you get a bunch of drunk horses horsing around you don't hear much about the state's scenic splendor.  But Kentucky can hold it's own with the best when it comes to fall colors and the Red River Gorge is a great place to drink it in, not to mention pop off a bunch of cliche fall color shots.  So for your amusement:


The Red River Gorge itself from Chimney Top Rock overlook.


Fall color shooting tip - make sure your camera's LCD display is showing the separate red, green and blue channels, not a single overall combined RGB graph.  The reds are particularly prone to blowing out, especially if you take a matrix metered exposure, then "expose to the right."  Make sure the red curve is close to but not melting into the right end of the histogram.  This may give an exposure that is 1/3 to 1 stop under the matrix meter's recommendation.


A slight breeze can wreak havoc on focusing when trying to utilize a shallow depth of field.  For this shot I handheld (a fast enough shutter speed to handhold my 105mm, ~1/125 sec, is also good for stopping the leaf motion) which also helped in keeping the composition I wanted.  Using "C" continuous focus mode I placed the focus point on the leaf tip and took multiple shots to ensure one would be in focus.


Reds, oranges and yellows aren't the only fall colors.  I like the browns.  I also like how stinkin' sharp my 105mm macro is. 


I like the vine crawling up the tree here.


Rain muted the tones here, making for a pleasing background in this pseudo-abstract.


Looks like hard backlight, but actually this was done with a burst from the camera's pop-up flash, to allow me to underexpose the background.


Ah, the intimate landscape, or "landscape within a landscape".  I was quite amused examining the forest floor looking for just the right juxtaposition of leaves.  I could have just arranged some myself, but that would be a different game and one I don't care for outside a studio setting.  This is just how nature laid them down.


I had to get lower than my tripod would allow for this, so I shot at ISO 2000, rested the camera on my backpack, engaged the VR and shot many exposures at 1/25 sec, f/11 to make sure one was sharp.  What looks like a horizontal scratch through the lower shroom's gills is a thread of spider web.


Barfus maximus - WTF is this?  One shot out of a bracketed sequence I took in hopes of doing an HDR, But...


first, instead of going HDR, I thought I'd try maxing out the shadow and highlight sliders in Lightroom (plus some other hokey pokey - graduated filters, etc) and out popped this version.  Pretty good dynamic range on that D600, eh?


Straight out of the box on this one - poor neglected Lightroom sliders.


Abstract of a Big-leafed Magnolia leaf. 


Why they are called Big-leafed Magnolia.  DKish models the latest in forest fashion. 


400mm for this fog study.


This leaf was a long way from any tree, just floating through the rain way out over the gorge.  Auto-focusing on such a small target as this leaf is near impossible, so I manually-focused and ripped off multiple shots to be sure I nailed the focus on at least one.

]]> (VermPhoto) Red River Gorge Verm abstracts fall colors landscapres nature photography Wed, 13 Nov 2013 20:27:51 GMT
Happy Halloween


]]> (VermPhoto) Photoshop Verm mushroom Thu, 31 Oct 2013 09:00:00 GMT
Handle With Care I'm not a big fan of shots of captive animals or those that are baited in or otherwise set up.  However, when the subjects are serving a greater purpose than say selling Mercury Cougars, I'm okay with it as long as the shots aren't passed off as something they aren't (i.e. they should be conspicuously labeled as "captive").  Hence I'd like to share some shots from the Kentucky Reptile Zoo. 


The King Cobra - smart, deadly and up to 18 feet long.  It packs enough venom to take down an elephant.  This captive specimen is one of the venom donors at the Kentucky Reptile Zoo.


Judging by outward appearances, The Kentucky Reptile Zoo could be just another kitschy tourist trap in Eastern Kentucky's Red River Gorge.  I remember visiting the area in the late-80s and seeing curio shops with tubs full of Copperheads and Timber Rattlers.  They were just there to lure in visitors who would then blow money on souvenirs.   The Kentucky Reptile Zoo is different.  It's a non-profit outfit with a mission to educate the public about reptiles and extract reptile venom for use in research and medicines.   

Well hello there gorgeous.  Skin like porcelain, this beautiful Suphan-phase Monocled Cobra (captive) lunged at the camera seconds later.  At moments like that one is glad to be shooting in a controlled environment with a terrarium window between the snake and photographer.


Not knowing what to expect I rolled with the D7000 and guilty pleasure lens (GPL, AKA 18-300mm Nikkor).  Light levels were low, so these were all shot wide open and at ISOs between 2500 and 6400.  Obviously not ideal for high resolution (nor is shooting through the terrarium glass), so instead I had fun playing with the light and working the images in post to obtain a more graphic feel. 

Timber Rattlesnake (captive)

Desert Horned Viper (captive)


Saint Lucian Lancehead Viper in post meal bliss (captive).


Rhinoceros Viper (captive)


The aptly-named Beautiful Pit Viper (captive)


If you find yourself in Slade, Kentucky be sure to sink your fangs into the Kentucky Reptile Zoo.  If you can't make it there you can still support their mission by "adopting" one of the snakes there through their website  Who knows, your adopted snake could provide the key to alleviating arthritis or curing breast cancer.



]]> (VermPhoto) Kentucky Reptile Zoo Verm captive nature photography Mon, 28 Oct 2013 03:20:23 GMT
Who's More Psyched? I spent most of June and July of 2012 living with a family of Peregrine Falcons in Northern Arizona.  I photographed them from approximately one week old to the moment of fledging and continued shooting for another week or two after they'd left the aerie.  It was a very time-consuming self-imposed assignment and a terrific experience getting to know these wild individuals. 


Guess who got in Arizona Highways?  Me and Verm.


All the effort has rewarded me again as the prestigious photo magazine Arizona Highways has featured the Peregrine story as a photographer portfolio in the November 2013 issue.


Just a teaser.  Pick up a copy to see the rest or subscribe to the online edition.


Who's more psyched?  This falcon celebrating its first ever flight (minutes before) or me celebrating my first feature in Arizona Highways? 


While I'm beating my chest (taking care not to bruise my shutter finger) I'll add that the High Country Conference Center in Flagstaff is displaying a number of artworks focused on the San Francisco Peaks including the below Verm shot of two ospreys chasing each other over Kaibab Lake near Williams. 20x30 inches of B&W lusciousness.  (Dawn Kish work also on display at HCCC). 








]]> (VermPhoto) Arizona Birds nature photography Mon, 28 Oct 2013 01:57:10 GMT
More Than Hot Air When people think of Arizona, they think of corpses bloating in the desert sun then exploding with virulent hot air before drying into leathery satchels of nothingness.  But its more than just McCain and Kyl down here, we do get some refreshing monsoon rains in late summer, and with the monsoons come the impressive thunderheads without which we probably would have no Arizona Highways calendars.   Dkish and I are off on a three-month road trip to the Southeast - hellyeah!  But before delving into shots from that I want to share a few Arizona cloud shots from a great day at Mormon Lake.

This is the shot I come here for - a hawk riding the updrafts above Mormon Lake with a thunderhead background.


Next, cue the monsoon rains.


Add some lightning over Sunset Crater.


Give Mount Elden a bit of love.


Then rock another cool Arizona sunset.






]]> (VermPhoto) Birds Mount Elden Red-tailed Hawk San Francisco Peaks Sunset Crater Verm clouds lightning nature photography thunderstorms Sun, 06 Oct 2013 12:15:00 GMT
Monshrooms Part Deux I was originally going to call this post We Are the Champignons, but discovered that champignon isn't simply French for mushroom but more specifically refers to Agaricus campestris, an edible type of mushroom.  None of the mushrooms pictured in this post are edible to my knowledge so don't chow on these (in fact I handled them with gloves in case they were poisonous).  The last post celebrated the amazing monster 'shrooms we got with the huge 2013 monsoon season in Flagstaff.  This post shows off fancy fungus found on the North Rim of the Grand Canyon in September 2013.  Without further ado:



and for those who prefer their fungus in color...


(addendum 10/14/2013 - The little red 'shroom is likely the toxic Witch's Hat.)



]]> (VermPhoto) Arizona Grand Canyon Verm mushrooms nature photography still life Fri, 04 Oct 2013 21:31:42 GMT
Flagstaff is the New Seattle Welcome to the rainforest of Arizona where Flagstaff tied 1919's record July rainfall this year, beat the August average by over 50% and as of today has already equaled the September average with another 20 days left in the month.  As I write this is is raining again - oooh Flagstaff, you make me wet.  And you also wash out a lot of my outdoor activities.  In turn, of course I end up in bed with the girlfriend.  Barry White's playing on the stereo, one thing leads to another and before you know it we're perusing Edward Weston books and wondering how someone who shot bedpans in soft sensuous light, nudes in harsh direct light, and most everything else in lousy light got a Guggenheim.  Must have been the bell pepper studies.  Which got me thinking I should shoot some vegetable still lifes.  I dig bellpeppers, but Dawn despises them so I needed another subject to practice with.  Fortunately one upside of all the rain has been some wild fungus action in Northern Arizona.

Without futher ado, the magnificent Lobster mushroom:


Seven-inch diameter Lobster Mushroom.  A nice garish orange, but as I'm going all Weston with these you get to ogle the B&W version.


Lobster detail - this is a very firm rough surface texture.


About four inches across the cap - I don't have an ID on this pup (possible Russula genus), but it sure has classic lines.


Nine inches of soft heavy flesh.  An Oyster mushroom.


Oyster mushroom detail - bring on the bedpans. 


Ahh, the venerable Giant Puffball - but really it needs something for scale to attest to it's awesomeness...


Ah, here we go.  The Boss, all 22 pounds of him, dares me to kick him out of my La-Z-Boy.


A scene unlikely to be found in nature, but fun to set up, and showing that here at Vermphoto we believe in diversity. A denizen of the humus gets it on with a wood rotter.


As always, thanks for visiting Vermphoto.  Get wet.


]]> (VermPhoto) Arizona Edward Weston Verm mushrooms nature photography rainfall still life Tue, 10 Sep 2013 23:26:38 GMT
'SpreyFest It sucks to be an osprey at Kaibab Lake the last few weeks.  Record monsoon rains this summer in Northern Arizona has led to high runoff  and so much added sediment in the lake that you can see less than a foot deep into the water.  Imagine trying to spy a trout in a reservoir of chocolate milk from 50 feet overhead and you can understand how difficult fishing must be if you're an osprey.  On average an osprey only spends 12 minutes scanning the water before it bags a meal (yep, some ornithology student probably got a masters for figuring that one out).  But yesterday, there were up to four ospreys at one time working the lake and after several hours only one fish total had been caught.


Monsoon thunderheads await this osprey punching in for the afternoon shift.


On the flip side, it makes for plenty of good photo ops as the osprey circle over the lake repeatedly, land to rest for a bit, then run the drill all over again.  Add some rich Arizona sunset lighting and I had a productive day. 


Ho hum magic light on the noble raptor.


Yeah this 'sprey looks like it's taking the Nureyev of all poops, but it actually shat a minute before this shot was snapped and is now stretching out before going for another sortie over the lake.


Dive, dive, dive.  Actually this dive was aborted partway to the water.


A hungry osprey contemplates its next move.

Thanks for dropping by,


]]> (VermPhoto) Arizona Birds Kaibab Lake Verm nature photography osprey Fri, 09 Aug 2013 04:41:22 GMT
The Tooth Fairy Strikes Hard When is going to the dentist an awesome deal?  When the dentist finds a decayed spot in the molar you tear off bottle caps with and says you need come back first thing the next morning to get a filling.  Well when life gives you limes, make a Vermarita I say.  So I had to put my Grand Canyon plans on hold and instead went to nearby Watson Lake to scout out photo ops.  I was in the van, yacking with DKish on the phone, when I saw a prominent "V" cutting across the lake surface about 100 yards away.  A cormorant surfaced nearby, giving some scale to the object making the wake.  Whatever it was, it was small; too small to ID through my binos.  Guessing turtle, I grabbed my D600 with 80-400mm attached and went to the lakeshore.  I found a sparsely vegetated spot where I could get to the water's edge, then very obligingly the critter, which turned out to be a gartersnake, decides to check me out and swims straight towards me. 


"Make sure you get my good side."  Gartersnake approaching camera, Watson Lake, Prescott, Arizona.


The dude even stops offshore right at the minimum focusing distance of my lens.  Nevertheless, his head is no bigger than my thumb, so I'll get to be my happy cropoholic self later.


Bold bug comes in for a pass.  1/1250, f/5.6, 80-400 @400mm, ISO 320, Nikon D600


Next a damselfly starts buzzing him.  Rad.  This could only get better if...


No way!  It's an Enallagma civile. (Familiar Bluet to you laypeople).


And then the Money Shot.


You want Happy Ending?  The snake did not eat the damselfly (saving his appetite for a frog later), but rather just slowly submerged and the bluet flew away.





]]> (VermPhoto) Arizona Damselfly Gartersnake Lake Verm Watson nature photography Wed, 24 Jul 2013 18:16:26 GMT
Sapsucker 1 - Kidnapper 0 It's not everyday a bird sends a kidnapper to jail, but back in the early 1980s, the Williamson's Sapsucker did just that.  An avid birding couple from Pennsylvania had traveled to Colorado in the hope of seeing a Williamson's Sapsucker. 


"Have any Happy Meal you want." A male Williamson's Sapsucker brings a lunch of red ants and yellow caterpillars to the kids.


While searching the foothills west of Denver for the elusive bird, the couple missed a turn-off and ended up down a little-used dirt road.  The wife got the urge to answer nature's call and noticed an abandoned outhouse.  At the outhouse she heard "weird cries" and looked around.  She then heard a little girl cry "Mommy, I want some Kool-Aid."  The birders discovered a 3-year old girl hidden in the pit beneath the outhouse and called authorities.  The girl had been abducted three days earlier then presumably left there to die.  Rescuers evacuated the girl who was taken to the hospital suffering from dehydration and hypothermia.  There she was reunited with her parents. 

Prior to her rescue, one of the girl's playmates and a neighbor had given a description of a suspicious vehicle to police.  The cops had a suspect who was later picked out of a line-up by the victim.  After a year of legal battles as to what evidence would be admissible, the kidnapper copped a plea bargain and was sent to prison.


Before it's career of sending scumbags to jail, The William's Sapsucker was best know for it's extreme sexual dimorphism.  So extreme that prior to 1873 the males and females had been thought to be two different species. 


The work is never done for The Beak of Justice - here Pops is taking out the diapers (the young excrete a mucus coating over their feces, creating an easily disposable fecal sac).






]]> (VermPhoto) Verm Williamson's Sapsucker history nature photography Tue, 09 Jul 2013 16:03:04 GMT
Mein leibe Grebe Is that the lamest blog title yet?  It doesn't even really rhyme.  But the only word I could come up with that rhymes with grebe was a bigoted epithet and completely inappropriate as these birds are rocking Mohawks and not Jewfros.

Eared Grebe sporting too much hair product - sooo 1990's.


So what's not to love about birds that forage reasonably close to shore and wrangle their prey right in front of your camera?

"Take that you sissy grasshopper.  I'll rip your freakin' legs off."


They really like crawfish.

"I'm just going to flip you around a few times, mess with your head a bit, then I'll eat you."  Eared Grebe with crawfish; Kolob Reservoir, Utah.


The last laugh is on this grebe.  He flipped the crawfish in the air, tearing it apart, but the juicy lobster tail section flew out of sight and landed on his back.  It was pretty funny watching him search the water about him for his morsel.  Is that a tear dripping off his cheek?  He never did locate it and ended up diving to find another meal.


After a crawfish dinner dessert is served when the bugs hatch.

Eyes on the prize, this Eared Grebe give a kick with it's long rear-mounted legs and accelerates towards a yummy insect


And to finish, a tender moment - one bug, two lovers - a moment etched in eternity.

  You don't have to be lonely, at









]]> (VermPhoto) Tue, 11 Jun 2013 01:55:12 GMT
Hook, Line and Sinker This trout is having a real bad day.

Cliché, touché!  Osprey with trout, Duck Pond, Flagstaff, AZ.

]]> (VermPhoto) Thu, 25 Apr 2013 19:38:19 GMT
FLY HARD with a Vengeance Opening night is tonight in Sedona.  Second show tomorrow night in Flagstaff.  I hope to see you there.  See the last post for details.

Peregrine defecating

]]> (VermPhoto) Wed, 17 Apr 2013 16:07:07 GMT
Worth How Much? They say a picture is worth a thousand words.  Or sometimes just two.

"You Bastard!"

To learn more about my sordid relationship with my 500mm dreamboat Edie, and to see some cool nature photos, come to the slideshows I'm doing for Northern Arizona Audubon on April 17th and 18th.  The 17th is at 7PM at the Sedona Public Library - 3250 White Bear Road; the 18th is in Flagstaff, 7PM, Shepherd of the Hills Lutheran Church – 1601 N. San Francisco Street





]]> (VermPhoto) Arizona Verm humor nature photography slideshow Sat, 06 Apr 2013 05:01:03 GMT
The Cop and The Artist - Round Two After I cloned away that tree branch in the previous post, I felt like a king, Rodney King to be exact.  Yep, The Cop beat me so ruthlessly I couldn't even finish the cloning job and just posted it up all half-assed to see the reactions, which have been a mixed bag.   It was a good experiment going public with the shot as it got me to think more about the role of post-processing in my photography.  It also raised the question can The Artist ever beat The Cop?  It's art versus order, emotion versus accuracy, Lightroom sliders versus nightsticks in the continuing battle royal for the Verm's soul.  Round one went to the cop (check last post if you missed the Peregrine and Steller's Jay shot).  Round two?  Boom.


Common Black Hawk at moonrise.  Going all Edgar Allan Poe with this look. 

Whoa, The Cop strictly enforces the no oversaturation rule, so the Artist hits him below the belt with an undersaturated grunge look.  Before The Cop can unhinge from the waist, the Verm says, "I like the emotion in this.  It reminds me of the feeling when this was shot as the moon rose in the gloaming."  Nothing cloned out or added in.


Elegant Trogon (female) at Patagonia Lake, Arizona. Aw, shucks.

The Cop won't fall for that trick twice and blows the whistle on the Trogon, but what's this?  These are actual colors, nothing but the Lightroom Punch preset with some post-crop vignette tossed in.  The Cop stands for the old film days rules and can't complain that he got hit with the old left right dodge burn.  The Artist has The Cop staggering.


Holy pinhole Batman!  What's The Joker up to now? Great Blue Heron diving through trees, Page Springs, Arizona.

So aghast at the moronic IQ of this shot, The Cop doesn't even notice the grunge preset.  The Verm too is confused, because he likes this.  He recognizes birds aren't all warm and fuzzy, especially Great Blue Herons, who sit around for hours just waiting to fuck up some fish's day.  Somehow this shot captures that feeling of menace.

Ding ding ding.  Round Two is over.  The Cop staggers to his corner and a big dose of smelling salts.  The Artist pumps his fists in the air to the roar of the crowd.  All tied up after two rounds.  Let's go to our commentators in the booth for a recap of these first two rounds.

Buster - "Well the battle for Verm's soul has got interesting.  After round one I was convinced The Artist didn't stand a chance.  The Verm obviously doesn't have the chutzpah to clone out anything more than a dust bunny or more than an inch of offending twig."

Granitico - "I don't what his corner said to him between rounds, but The Artist came out swinging.  He's showing some real emotion out there with the sliders.  When a contrast, color temp or saturation tweak can add to the mood of a shot he didn't back down."

Buster - "The Artist showed us something we hadn't seen before, that's for sure.  But, he has yet to take a solid one on the chin from The Cop.  I'll be interested to see just what that chin's made of.  If it's made of glass, he'd better hope it's Nano-coated."

Granitico - "Anybody who doesn't have this scored one-one on their card has taken one haymaker too many.  We've got a helluva a heavyweight battle brewing.  Grab your beers quick cuz here comes the ring girl for Round Three."




]]> (VermPhoto) Arizona Birds Black Common Elegant Trogon Great Blue Heron Hawk" Photoshop Verm art humor nature photography Fri, 29 Mar 2013 05:58:50 GMT
The Cop and The Artist "You are going to roast in the flames of Eternal Damnation for this," The Cop told me.

"Don't sweat it, Dude.  It's chill," said The Artist.

I had captured an unusual meeting - unusual enough that if you Google "Steller's Jay with Peregrine Falcon" you won't even come up with a shot of a falcon with a mouthful of blue feathers.  There they were, a Peregrine Falcon and a Steller's Jay perched on the same branch just feet apart.  The falcon was there first, then the jay landed on the same branch, hung out for under two minutes, thought better of the idea then boogied out of there.  I'm thinking what a great "Guess Who's Coming To Dinner" shot.  But, even if the birds were cooperating, the background wasn't.  Horrid tree branches in harsh light dominated the photo.  Of course I shot anyways, but I couldn't shift to the left without trees blocking my view, or to the right without stepping off a cliff and killing not just myself, but my darling 500mm Edie.  So I was stuck with the background.

Where's a cloud when you need one to darken the background?  Steller's Jay giving a Peregrine Falcon the "I'm not afraid of you" look.


I sat on the photo for over a year, before the "magic healing brush" caught me in a vulnerable moment and whispered naughty things in my ear.  Before I knew it the offending branches were gone and I had this crude, yet effective version:

Hand me the short sword and let me disembowel myself.  After a few minutes with the Tragic Healing Brush, the Peregrine is telling the Steller's Jay, "just you wait." 


Now most photographers would be either cool with this or say "no way."  Not much middle ground on this - you're either cheating or not.  For me, I've committed psychological seppuku every day since my mouse hand got the better of me.  Remember those career aptitude tests you take in high school that evaluate your personality, then tell you what kind of career you should excel at?   I took two.  One said I should be an artist.  The other said I should be a cop.  The Artist and The Cop battle constantly for control of my soul.  Usually The Cop tells me to "Bend over the keyboard and spread 'em to 100%."  Then he makes me delete any pics that aren't tack sharp, regardless of emotional impact or aesthetic value.  But sometimes The Artist gets to me first, and whispers "Give it five stars, that's beautiful." 

So what to do when I get a one star capture of a five star moment that will never happen again?  You tell me. 

]]> (VermPhoto) Birds Peregrine Falcon Photoshop Steller's Jay Verm ethics nature photography Sat, 23 Mar 2013 17:05:44 GMT
Chowing or Barfing Is that falcon leading off the Vermphoto home page slideshow chowing or barfing?  Good question and here's your answer: A month earlier this falcon was an adorable fuzzball being feed chunks of meat by his parents.  Following that was weeks of food fights with its siblings, but after they were done devouring a bird, there were usually uneaten feet left on the ledge.  A few days prior to fledging and the eyases were swallowing legs whole.  This sequence was shot a few days after this individual fledged.  It was still too inexperienced to hunt, so it got this meal delivered in midair from one of its parents.  Then it flew over to this ledge and started wolfing.  

To shoot this I crawled to the edge of the canyon with my D7000, 500mm f/4 and a 1.7x teleconverter attached.  I laid on my belly as close to the edge as I dared (a three foot shift to my right would have resulted in a 200-foot death plunge down the vertical wall) and used my backpack as a beanbag to steady the lens.  Still, my effective focal length was 1275mm so the slightest bobble shifted the bird all about the viewfinder.  No big deal I thought at the time, but when I got back to the van to load down the photos it became apparent this would make a fun psuedo-timelapse sequence.  (I call it that as the shots are not at precisely synchronized intervals.)  Problem is each frame was horribly misaligned from its neighbors.  How to fix this easily?  Here's one quick method that you can do with just Lightroom and Photoshop.

In Lightroom select all the sequence shots you want to include in the video.  If you want to tweak exposure, white balance and the like, go to the develop module, and with all the files still selected in a bunch, tweak one the way you want them all to look, then hit sync on the lower right of your screen.  You'll get a menu of settings you can synchronize, choose the ones you want then hit synchronize.  Go back to library module and you'll see the thumbnails gradually all assume the changes.  If they all look good to you then it's time to align them in Photoshop.

With your group of images all selected in Lightroom, go to Photo>Edit in>Open as layers in Photoshop.

This will boot up Photoshop and if you have a lot of images to load you might want to grab a beer.  Once all you images are loaded just go to Edit>Auto-align layers.

This will take a few minutes while Photoshop does all the hard work for you, so you might as well do what you're good at and grab another cold one. 

Once Photoshop has done its magic you'll get an image with a bunch of checkerboard cutouts in the corners.  Time to embrace your inner cropaholic and trim away those checkerboards and any other stuff you don't really want in the final video.  (Yep, if you were thinking ahead you would have stepped back or zoomed out to leave a buffer to crop out later.)

Next resize to your desired format.  Go to Image>Image Size>then fill in the table with your dimensions and chosen resolution.  Here I chose 640 pixels wide (my blog column width, though 720 is more standard for the web) and 72 dpi (standard web resolution). 

Now you've got a bunch of layers all sweetly aligned and sized, but they're layers, not separate files like you want to assemble into a video.  Make sure all the layers are selected, go to File>Scripts>Export Layers to Files.  You'll get a dialog box asking where to put the files, what format (these pics will scroll through so fast you might as well go jpeg), and if you pick jpeg what quality (I inputted 8 which is probably overkill).  Boom, hit Run and all those layers will go to your destination as separate files and you're done with Photoshop.

Back in Lightroom I added those files to the catalog with the import function.  In Library module select all the files then go to Slideshow module.  To keep this moving along, I selected 0.5 second slide duration with 0.1 sec dissolves (these settings are on the bottom right of your screen under Playback).  You can add intro and ending screens but they'll only be up for 0.5 sec also so keep 'em brief unless you're going for subliminal messaging.

Check out preview to make sure it looks good.  If so, then you'll probably want to hit Create Saved Slideshow (upper right of center panel) so you can always find it again in your collections.  Last step is to go to the bottom left of the screen, hit Export to Video and fill in the prompt box.  Voila!


]]> (VermPhoto) Birds Lightroom Photoshop Verm nature photography peregrine falcon technique Thu, 28 Feb 2013 15:45:00 GMT
Top Ten Wildlife Photo Cliches of All Time Is there anything more cliche than a Top Ten List?  Only if it's a Top Ten Cliche list, and here at Vermphoto we're all about raising the bar, so here goes with the Top Ten Wildlife Photo Cliches of All Time.

1  Mother Polar Bear with adorable cub

2  Any penguin

3  Bear catching salmon at waterfall

4  Hummingbird at flower

Bison in the snow at Yellowstone

6  Bald Eagle doing anything

7  Big cat staring into lens, bonus points if it's a cheetah with those emotive long black teardrops

8  Osprey with fish 

Red-eyed Tree Frog close-ups

10  Zebra stripe abstract

Wow, that took about two minutes to compile.  But what about Sandhill Crane in flight?  Why didn't Puffins make the list?  Snow monkeys in the hot springs?!?!?!?!?!!!!  Got more to add - please comment. 

Now onto the burning question as to why these are so cliche.  Because they work.  Year after year these subjects get more than their fair share of ink.  To double check my hastily compiled list I busted out the 2010 copy of Nature's Best on my desk.  Polar bear with cub and zebra stripe abstract right on the cover.  Bison in snow - Wildlife Winner. Bald Eagles - Bird Winner.  Cheetah staring into lens - check, and check again.  What only three bear-with-salmon pics?  Penguins - check, check, check.  No Red-eyed frogs, but the Geico gecko was doing a good imitation.  So all we're missing is the hummingbird at flower - replaced by a damn-that's-almost-too-good-to-be-real hummingbird with viper shot - killer. 

What about the Osprey with fish?  Grand Prize!

Naturally, I've done my best to get my own cliche prize-winners.  You'd think it would be easy, seeing as if you Google any of these subjects, you can find a workshop that will take you there, point you at the subject, and kaboom.  Well except for zebra stripe abstracts - no workshops for that exclusive subject, but no wonder, because the market is flooded.  First site listed in that Google search had over 3000 zebra stripe stock photos for sale.  But I digress, I figured this would be simple so I went out to get my own blue ribbon osprey-with-fish shot.  

Now the osprey emerging from the water with fish in talons shot would appear tricky to get. But if you watch ospreys you'll notice they hover before diving, allowing a good prefocus, then after they hit the water they are submerged for 10 seconds or so before emerging - plenty of time to focus on the splashing rippling entry point.  Just wait for them to reemerge and shoot.  So I've got it all figured out - I'll go to the local effluent ponds where the water bodies are narrow and I'll be sure to get plenty close to my subject. 

Sure enough the ospreys are there.  So here come a hungry one and hovers for me to get a bead on it.  Damn, it's going to dive behind those reeds.  I'll miss the emerging from the water shot, but I'll still get the flying away with the meal shot. 

Right on schedule, the osprey wings up above the reeds and flies past me.  Click, click, click, click.  Nailed it.

I get back home and start booking my tickets to the awards ceremony while my photos download.

In a few minutes, up come the photos.  There's my osprey-with-fish shot, sharp, well exposed and WTF??? 

Osprey with salamander 1

That fish has legs!  Osprey with Tiger Salamander, Kachina Wetlands, Northern Arizona.

Sometimes you just can't win. 

]]> (VermPhoto) Arizona Birds Osprey Tiger Salamander Top Ten Cliches Verm humor nature photography Mon, 25 Feb 2013 15:45:00 GMT
The Snowy Egret gets Honored plus the Greatest Cougar Shot Ever Remember the Snowy Egret shot from the Save The Nature Photographer Fund blog?  Well, I entered it in the Arizona Highways Online Photo Contest.  A couple weeks ago I learned it was a finalist, and today found out it earned an Honorable Mention as one of the top eight photos out of the thousands that were entered.  Big props to my model: 

"Hello fishies.  That blinding white glow of gorgeousness hovering above you will be the last thing you see before the inside of my throat."

Alas, I can hear the ghost of my father speaking right now, "Top eight out of thousands?  Why that only puts you in the 99.8th percentile.  That won't do for a Sherman."  Granted, Grand Prize went to a fine Grand Canyon shot, so next year I might have to pull out all the stops and go Grand Canyon plus wildlife action photo.  And you know, I think I have just the shot. 

It was a crisp fall day at the North Rim of the Grand Canyon - gold and yellow aspen leaves fluttering down through an azure sky, stags bounding through the forest, eagles fornicating in midair above.  Pretty standard stuff - the shit pros like Dykinga, Muench, and Verm wouldn't bother taking the lens cap off for.  Then out of the corner of my ear I heard a bloodcurdling sound - half hiss, half snarl, all menace.  The hairs on the back of my head and between my eyebrows stood up.  There was no mistaking the call of a female cougar in heat. 

I followed the sound through the woods, disguising my presence by smacking my camera bodies together to mimic the sounds of two bull elk clashing in the rut.  That might fool the cougar for a little bit, but I could tell from the rustling of the leaves near the canyon rim that when I got a bit closer the breeze would shift and I'd be approaching from upwind.  I'd been free soloing temples all morning, photographing rock falls in real time, and knew I smelled worse than an MMA locker room.  My stench would either scare off the cougar or knock it out.  Either way, not in keeping with my style of photography.

Fortunately there was a stray cow frozen in panic in the clearing ahead of me.  Like a nervous raptor about to leave its perch, this cow could barely contain her bowels.  I seized the chance, sprinted toward the fear-struck cow and threw myself to ground between its legs like a quarterback sliding for the first down marker.  This shock tactic had the desired effect, and I was quickly coated in Eau de Heifer, obliterating any human scent.  I gave the cow a slap on the ass with my non-shooting hand, then started crawling toward the siren's call.  Pine needles clinging to my Calvin Slime tuxedo, I edged right up to the cliff edge. 

I could hear the desperate cougar caterwauling from a ledge just below the rim.  I double checked my white balance and exposure settings.  All good.  Judging from the sound, the cat would be about 25 feet away.  I manually pre-focused to give my AF a head start.  I knew I'd only have one chance.  It would either be a slam dunk prize-winning shot or I'd be attacked and mauled.  It was go time.









Untamed Cougar Now that's a winner.

]]> (VermPhoto) Arizona Birds Grand Canyon Snowy Egret Verm cougar humor nature photography Thu, 21 Feb 2013 05:31:21 GMT
In Search of the Ruddy Ground Dove "Have you seen anything good?" the man asked in a British accent.  There was a Rough-legged Hawk atop the shed 50 yards away, an American Bittern in the pond 20 yards away, Harriers skimming over our heads, blackbirds exploding out of the reeds, coyotes pouncing on yummy rodents, and 20,000 Sandhill Cranes pouring out of the wetlands immediately to the west.  I was about to formulate an answer when he continued. 

"Have you seen It?"  I could definitely catch the capital "I".


"The Ruddy Ground Dove."

"My friend has come a long way to see one," his companion added in case the accent hadn't already tipped me off. 

"I think I may have got some pictures of one this morning."  The two perked up.

"Can we see?" 

I started scrolling through the pics on the tiny LCD screen on the back of my camera.  About 500 bittern shots later, there it was.  "Is this the guy?" I asked.

Ruddy Ground Dove at Whitewater Draw, January 23, 2013.  This bird, though common in Latin America, has only expanded its territory north of the border recently.  The first recorded sighting of one in Arizona was in 1981.  This little guy is the size of my fist.

"Oooh, oooh."

Yep, that was the guy.

"Can you show us exactly where you saw it?"

I walked over to the tree where I shot the pic. The dove wasn't there.  "It was only here for a few minutes, then it flew to that bush, then a second later flew away."  The two thanked me then I went back to my Bittern who was proving to be a much more cooperative subject.  I don't know if the Brit and his friend got to see the dove that day.  I hope so.  For the record, this individual was photographed in a tree midway along the south bank of the (currently dry) pond in the middle of the loop trail.  Here's what led up to the shot above:

8:17:04 AM   I spot the small dove and anxiously snap a poorly exposed pic.  Five seconds later I have my exposure adjusted and snap this shot to record the encounter.  I'd never heard of a Ruddy Ground Dove until a few days before at Patagonia Lake State Park where some had thrilled the birders there.  I'm wondering if this is the bird all the fuss is about.  If so, I'd better get some shots, even if this background is a mess.

8:18:05 AM  Same bird, same branch, but a bit closer and now turned around to show off the ruddy color of the wings.  About this time I'm talking gently to the bird saying, "You're one beautiful bird.  Wanna get famous?  I'll take real nice pictures of you if you can just move to a better branch."

8:18:40 AM  Wow, it worked.  The bird has switched branches in the tree, but I've had to change my position as well, slowly moving a dozen small steps to my left, avoiding eye contact, trying not to get too close, but also trying not to back away and lose ground.  Every step I take I worry will scare the bird.  I get to this position and take some pics, not just to record something from this angle in case the bird bolts, but to also keep the bird used to the shutter noise and my presence and hopefully not view those as cause for alarm.  Cropped tight, this would be an acceptable ID photo.  Still this background is awful.  Maybe if I can shift right a bit and get the bulkier tree trunk behind the bird instead of those thin branches. 

8:19:14 AM  Ah, that's getting better.  I like the light and pose in this shot, and the bird is standing out much better than in the other shots.  This looks like I'm closer, but actually this was shot in vertical format and the top and bottom cropped, but not the sides.  The bird was preening, which I took as a good sign that it was not overly concerned with my presence.  I snapped a series here to make sure I got the preening action recorded, then cautiously moved my camera just a few degrees to the right and adjusted the height of my tripod to frame the dove's head against the the blurred out sky as seen in the opening shot of this blog post. 

8:19:43 AM  Here's the top shot again.  Nice light from a "hazy bright" slight overcast sky kept the shadows soft and a conscious effort to maneuver around and line up the best available background paid off.   Seven seconds later, the bird flew off. 

In total I had 2 minutes and 46 seconds with my subject.  It seemed a lot longer at the time, as my mind was racing with exposure and camera angle decisions. Furthermore, every movement I made seemed destined to flush my subject away.  From first shot to last I probably only moved 20 paces total, but each real slow.  Yeah, 2 minutes and 46 seconds is a very tiny slice of one's life, but for those yet to see a Ruddy Ground Dove, it might seem an eternity.  Just ask that Brit.


]]> (VermPhoto) Arizona Ruddy Ground Dove Southeast Arizona Whitewater Draw bird photography birder Sat, 16 Feb 2013 02:23:58 GMT
Verm Gets Em-Bitterned Imagine a line up of 100 kabuki actors trying out for a zombie role.  Now imagine trying to pick Michael Jackson out of that line up.  That's how hard it is to see an American Bittern in its marsh habitat.  The brown and tan striping of the bittern is one of nature's great camouflage jobs. 

Rocking the camo - the American Bittern. 

The Bittern would rather freeze than flush.  It assumes if it points its head skywards and gently sways its neck then it is indistinguishable from the reeds around it.  It is so convinced of this it will allow a very close approach.  This allowed me to try multiple lighting angles for a variety of portraits. 

Glamour shot. 500mm, 1/500, f/6.3, ISO 500.

This shot could cost my friend Chuck 8.5K to keep up in the optics race.  Nikkor 500mm at around 1:1, 1/1000, f/8, ISO 800, Nikon D600.

During this lengthy portrait shoot (most human models would have quit way sooner) the bittern became accustomed to my presence, realized I wasn't a threat, and proceeded to go about its business - hunting, preening, etc.  Here's some more pics.

Deep in the reeds, the Bittern stalks it's prey.  Shot from near minimum focusing distance of my 500mm as I lay on the ground and supported the lens with my pack. f/5.6 for shallow depth of field to blur the reeds in front and behind the bird. No cropping here - that's how good my model was. 

Yup, tastes like chicken. 24-120 at 98mm to get whole bird in, then the cropaholic in me took over to highlight the meat of the matter. 

The last rays of sunlight illuminate the reeds as a great day of shooting comes to an end.  Minutes after I took this, the Bittern calmly walked up the bank 12 feet from me, paused to pose for one last portrait, then flew off for the night. 80-200mm at 125mm, 1/80th, f/16, ISO 1250.

My apologies to those who read the title of this blog and continued this far looking for vitriol and cynicism and instead got a kinder, gentler Verm.  Hey, sometimes it's good to be em-bitterned.

]]> (VermPhoto) American Bittern Birds Bittern Verm frog hunting nature photography Tue, 05 Feb 2013 17:13:04 GMT
My Name is Verm, and I'm a Cropaholic My name is Verm, and I’m a cropaholic.  There, I’ve said it.  It’s gotten so bad, I’ll back up from subjects, just so I can fix the shot in post.  I’ll constrain the crop to 2x3 ratio to disguise my evildoing, even when the image would fit better as a 9x16 or 1x1 or even in an old oval portrait frame. 

I’ll excuse my actions as a necessary evil in bird photography.  Point out that a Peregrine Falcon glides at 60+ mph and can hit four times that speed in a high altitude stoop.  Explain how the most accurate AF sensors are centered in the frame so to track flying objects it’s best to center them, then recompose in post.  I might even expound on the diminutive size of my subjects and their cautious demeanor.  If all that doesn’t get my critics to back down then I’ll fight dirty and say, “Shoot any good senior portraits lately?”


My excuse for this bland composition?  The wind was whipping and the rain dumping as I shot this from a bobbing boat. My AF was locked on the center cross-type sensor for maximum accuracy in case some quick action like this should happen. The Anhinga emerged from underwater for just a minute, tossed the fish up to swallow it, but missed the catch allowing the fish to escape.


Back home, I couldn't help myself and grabbed the cropping tool.  If I wasn't such a naughty boy Santa would have brought me an 800mm and this would have never happened.


Fortunately I've seen the folly in my ways.  With the help of Cropaholics Anonymous I'm working hard to conquer my addiction.  With any luck we will no longer see anymore of this scat. 

Forgive me Father for I have cropped.  Over 75% of this image in fact, from a DX sensor no less. Please Lord, give me the strength to delete such sinful images from my archives.


"But Verm,: you say, "that shot looks killer on the web, check out those flying feathers.  Don't throw it out.  If you don't like it like that then cropped like this it would make a great web banner:"

I'm sorry reader, you just don't get it.  Cropping is a gateway drug.  Run with the cropping tool and next thing you know you'll be cloning out sensor dust and tweaking white balance.

"Then why not pull back on the crop and have a great contents page like this?"

What part of you don't get it, don't you get?  Cropping is for farmers.  A true, self-respecting photographer would never let their work run full two-page bleed in a mag because that works out to 11"x17", i.e. a 1.54545454 ratio, and everyone knows if you're going to print into you sprocket holes to prove your holiness, you'd better have a 1.50000000 ratio. 

"Join the 21st Century Verm!  Pull your head out of your analog ass and smell the ones and zeros.  High MP sensors and judicious cropping allow nature photographers to maintain a respectful distance from their subjects and allow the animals to behave naturally.  You don't have to bait or call them in to fill the frame anymore.  This is a technological win-win."

You poor delusional reader.  While your argument appears sound on the surface, it's really just the brink of The Slippery Slope.  Start compromising your ethics with the crop tool and pretty soon you're sliding down that slope faster than an otter on crank and your pics will go from this:

Kind, Adorable Snow Goose

To this:

Don't F#©K With Me Goose

Last I checked (when waiting for hours in the doctor's reception lounge), ESPN The Magazine isn't running Snow Goose portraits on the cover even if they've had the grunge preset applied.

So please, I implore you to disavow your evil ways, disable your cropping tool, and repeat after me.

Every pixel's sacred,

every pixel's great,

if a pixel's wasted,

God get's quite irate.


Yours in sober reflection,



]]> (VermPhoto) Anhinga Birds Verm cropping humor nature photography parrot Wed, 09 Jan 2013 03:30:59 GMT
The First VermPhoto Gear Review - The iPhone 5 for Nature Photography Huh? The iPhone for nature photography?  You must be crazy (that's besides the point).  The other day I was hanging out with a herd of sheep (wild ones this time, uh I mean "wild" like in wildlife) taking some tight portraits with Edie, my trusty Nikkor 500 mmMy wild girlfriend (as not in wildlife) had requested I send her a pic of the canyon I was in.  Not wanting to swap out lenses and expose my sensor to a bunch of dust, I turned to my iPhone and started shooting.  Let's check out a sample image and see how the iPhone 5 performed:

Young bighorn ram copulating with ewe

Whip the iPhone 5 out and who knows what will happen.  This young bighorn ram sneaks in a quickie while the older males ignore him.  If the ewes were receptive, this boy would have probably got his butt kicked.


Looks good to me.  Shadow detail held nicely and resolution is fine (image cropped ~15%, otherwise just as it came out of the phone with no post processing).  Despite the iPhone's lengthy shutter lag, the action was still captured at it's climax, giving the viewer a feeling of being part of the moment.

"C'mon Verm," you say, "you just got luckier than that young ram. Nobody in their right mind would turn to the iPhone to shoot nature."  Au contraire, the iPhone has a number of handy apps to help you with your shooting.  I like the following.  

First is The Photographer's Ephemeris, which will calculate sun and moon positions and phases anywhere on the planet at any time of day during any day of your lifetime - great stuff to know for planning out your landscape shots.

Second is a depth of field calculator, there are several free ones available. 

The third app I like is iBird PRO, which I use to ID birds as well as look up info on their behaviors and use that knowledge to help me get the shots I want.

So grab your phone and get lucky,




]]> (VermPhoto) Verm gear gear review iPhone nature photo apps nature photography photo sheep Tue, 25 Dec 2012 17:59:13 GMT
The Save the Nature Photographer Fund This sad-looking waif is Verm. 

He's a nature photographer.  He lives in a van and hangs out at the sewage treatment plant taking bird photos when not bathing in waste water with the grackles.

No matter how much the grackle splashes around, she will never become a pearly white egret.

And so it is with Verm.  But it doesn't need to be that way, because with your charitable help, Verm can escape the sewage plant.  If you just dig the change out from the cushions in your Gulfstream, you can sponsor Verm.

For just 1200 dollars a day, you can send Verm to shoot polar bears in the arctic.  Or you can look the other way and know that the someday your selfishness will cost the world a snowcat full of great photos.  This in turn will cause folks to forget the plight of the polar bear, accelerate global warming, wipe out the pack ice, and eventually lead to global economic collapse as Coke sales plunge.  Hey, it's your choice.

What's that? After paying your alimony, you don't have enough left to be a daily sponsor?  Well good news.  For a mere one-time donation of 6000 bucks you can outfit Verm with a Nikon D4.  Give a man a fish, you feed him for a day.  Give him a D4 and you sit him behind a computer screen for the rest of his life sorting through zillions of spray-and-pray BIF sequences.

Still too much for you, Mr. Skinflint?  The there's the entry-level Tin Sponsorship, where for only 79 dollars a week you can keep Verm's brain and this blog awash in 15-yr old Highland Park.

So this holiday season, give yourself the gift of giving. And please, give till it hurts.


photo of waifish Verm by Dawn Kish.  Grackle and Egret shot at Gilbert Water Ranch wastewater treatment facility, Arizona.

]]> (VermPhoto) Birds Egret Grackle Nikon D4 Verm art charity humor nature photography Sun, 23 Dec 2012 18:53:26 GMT
Verm Does Bosque Del Apache Bosque Del Apache is where I discovered I had what it took to be a bird photographer, i.e., long glass, gray stubble, and a couple colonoscopies under my belt.  Seriously, I've never seen so many privileged 50-something white guys doing next-to-nothing outside of Congress.  All milling about looking to shoot the same photo - this one in fact.

Oblivious to the din of 50 cranking motordrives, three Sandhill Cranes come in for an evening landing near the Flight Deck, Bosque Del Apache.


or maybe it's this one....
Much is made of the roaring sound of thousands of snow geese taking flight at once, but you never read about how powerful it smells. 


Well it was a bit intimidating trying to muscle into the line up of D1xs and D4s with my underpowered D7000, but this gave me the advantage of going off to explore how my eye sees these birds, not how the line up does.  Here's a few of my favorites:

I like the warm/cold contrast between the morning sun on the crane and the neighboring crane's shadow.  The shadow doesn't go too dark because of fill light bounced off the pond surface.


The "Blue Goose" is actually a Snow Goose in blue phase. 


This goose is going all Saturday Night Fever much to the delight and appreciation of his neighbors.  Actually he's slipping on the ice.  Trying to capture the awkwardness of birds struggling on the ice would be easier with video than stills.


The other photographers had all packed up and gone, but there was still nice color in the sky, though very little light to shoot with.  Hence, I decided to play with some long exposures, coupled with zooming and a burst from the camera's pop-up flash.





]]> (VermPhoto) Birds Bosque del Apache Sandhill Crane Snow Goose art humor photography Sun, 23 Dec 2012 00:36:11 GMT