Rebecca Wilks

Rebecca Wilks; Photographer, Teacher, Yarnellian, Do-Gooder

Thursday, July 25, 2019

Whack-A-Mole and the Big Splash

B & W Hummer, Processed for Texture
Yeah, I fell out of my kayak.  I learned a couple of interesting things.  It is possible to be embarrassed when you’re alone, for one.  Also, when landing a kayak on a rocky lake shore (as opposed to a boat ramp) its best to keep your paddle with you until you’ve climbed out.  I put mine on shore, drifted back out as I started to climb out, and then learned how quickly the lake deepened.  Points for having my phone (in my PFD pocket) in a Ziplock, anyway, and no real harm done.

Trout Pond, South Fork Ranch (Near our cabin)
Lisa, Kim, and I cooked this trip up after my October workshop with Scott Baxter at X-Diamond Ranch in the White Mountains of Eastern Arizona.  They teach hummingbird photography workshops together, and I thought the Ranch might be a nice place to do those in the summer.  When they talked about a scouting mission this year, I naturally invited myself along.  I’ve never photographed the little buggers with flash set-ups before, so I jumped at the chance to learn from the experts.  They were very generous about teaching and also have the gear.  I’m so very grateful for both.

G - Forces

The first day we had mostly single birds at our feeders, which was just as well for me since I was learning the ropes. I tried different settings and backgrounds (though I quickly found that I preferred plain white.)  We interspersed a visit to Sipe White Mountain Wildlife Area.  There were indeed lots of hummers there but we were a bit frustrated that they weren’t interested in our feeders, painstakingly set up with backgrounds, cameras, and flashes.  They had their usual feeders on the visitor Center porch and weren’t going to leave.  Experiments shooting them on the porch were (ahem) interesting but not productive.


Thwarted, we returned to the Ranch and found a dozen or so birds zipping around one of the back porch feeders we’d left. We shared that spot that evening and the next morning for a very fruitful time.  It’s here that the process started to feel like Whack-A Mole. I was trying to hit the remote trigger to photograph two or more birds, separated in space (not overlapping) and in the same focal plane (so they’d all be in focus.)  These guys move fast. Typical of wildlife photography the ratio of images made to keepers is very high; upwards of 100:1. Still the process was fun, and in the end I felt that I’d learned quite a bit.  I was glad to have had the single-bird practice before the degree of difficulty increased with multiple birds.

"Bird Butt"
Here's an example of an outtake, of a "bird butt" photo as I was calling them.  I don't want to give the impression that I'd mastered this craft...

Lisa is a brand ambassador for Tamron.  She’d been praising their 150-600mm G2 lens for some time, so I rented one to try out with the birds.  It’s about half the weight and much smaller than my standard telephoto zoom lens (and about 85% less expensive), but these “super zooms” always present a trade-off in image quality and in that they gather less light.   The lens was shockingly sharp.  I’m tempted to pick one up for an upcoming international trip.

After a couple of nights at X-Diamond, Lurch and I struck out on our own and I took the Kayak out on a couple of lakes.  I’d never been to Fool Hollow (AZ) State Park before.  It’s an unfortunately busy place, even on weekdays, but a lovely lake.  I got out at dawn on the second day and saw a beaver, osprey fishing, and all manner of other birds.  Oddly there was no one else out at 5:00 AM.

Smoky Sunset at Fool Hollow Lake

I grabbed a few landscape shots there as well.

The last night I was at a familiar and favorite spot; Rock Crossing Campground, near Blue Ridge Reservoir in the Coconino National Forest.  For the third time I was there for the first significant rainfall of the year (late this year) and enjoyed watching the temperature drop 20 degrees and smelling the wet forest.  My last paddle at BRR was last September.  The lake was really low then, but is up 50 feet from that level now.  I laughed when after I launched, I spied a “No Parking” sign just above the water line and 30 feet out the submerged ramp from where I put in.  I also enjoyed getting much further upstream than I had before.

New stuff, failed and successful experiments, Whack-A-Mole, and time with friends.  It’s good to be back on the road again.

Tuesday, July 9, 2019

Keep Going

Burrowing Owl
Yeah, I know.  I’ll spare you the details of my existential crisis.  I’ll just say that June was a challenging month, during which I didn’t feel particularly creative.  I neither shot nor traveled much.

This sort of discomfort has a purpose, though.  It urges us to look at the big picture and to consider new perspectives, especially mental ones. After all, when we’re happy, we’re unlikely to be motivated to learn and grow.  We don’t want to change anything.

Paul Andrews proposed the “Analytical Rumination Hypothesis” (I’ll be brief, I promise) which posits that, when we have tough stuff to sort out, we need to focus on these issues while avoiding distracting stimuli and activities.  When we feel lousy we avoid most everything, so everyday slumps have a purpose.  Fascinating stuff, but this perspective doesn’t make these interludes feel more pleasant.

Beer with a view, San Clemente CA
Toward the end of the month, I picked up Austin Kleon’s book, Keep Going. I loved the other two in this sort-of series as well.  They’re a bit like graphic non-fiction and deeply inspirational.  In one of those mind-boggling coincidences, this book is about continuing to be creative when you’re bogged down, with chapter titles like “Every day is groundhog day” (create some daily structure), “When in doubt, tidy up” (procrastinate work with other work), “Build a bliss station” (find places of inspiration and flow), “Forget the noun, do the verb” (don’t waste time on self-labels; just move forward), and my favorite, “Demons hate fresh air” (go outside and move to banish the monsters of self-doubt.)

Looking back, I see that I was doing some of these things instinctively.

Many of you know that my husband and I are enduring the thousand tiny decisions inherent in building a house.  Then there’s the challenge of putting the other house on the market, firing an unprofessional real estate agent, and being unsure whether I’m arriving or departing.  My computer, camera gear, and I now live in Yarnell.  We’re mostly getting mail here and, though we have just 700 square feet, Marco and I are managing to get along. I admire Tiny House People but, in my family, we do better with a bit more space.

So, I’m feeling rather overwhelmed, but there have been precious opportunities to distract myself with other kinds of work.  House d├ęcor decisions are creative.  Sort-of.

I did have a road trip planned mid-month, but instead was laid up with a health issue.  While on involuntary R & R, I started scrolling through my Facebook photo feed and was reminded of the richness and blessings in my life.  I shook myself by my figurative shoulders and felt a bit better; perhaps a bit less sorry for myself. 

San Clemente Pier
Family visits in California are sometimes productive creatively.  Typically, I get up early (while the others sleep) and make photographs.  This year’s Marine Layer (“June Gloom”) was pernicious and there was no sunshine for my entire 5-day visit.  I came home with a few gloomy Black and Whites, but didn’t feel creatively triumphant.  Bike rides and kayaking in Dana Point Harbor were good for my attitude, at least, and the fresh air helped banish the demons.

Dykinga Reception, Etherton Gallery, Tucson
I had a lovely weekend trip to Tucson, spending time with old friends and attending Monsoon Con, which is a day-long event for storm chasers.  I’m not one of those but did enjoy combing through the technical information and learning about weather.  Afterward my friend and I had the pleasure and inspiration of Jack Dykinga’s Grand Canyon Exhibit opening at the Etherton Gallery.  The lovely chat afterward with Jack and Jeff Kida (Photo Editor at Arizona Highways Magazine and my treasured mentor, though he doesn’t much seem to like the designation) was a great inspiration.  The whole weekend seemed like an “Artist Date,” as Julia Cameron encouraged in The Artist’s Way.

Or, perhaps a “bliss station.”

Burrowing Owlets
Last weekend a friend and I had some great fun with a group of burrowing owls in the outskirts of Phoenix.  I’m feeling the first bit of Mojo returning. Wish me luck?