Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

The last time from Hinton to Jasper

with 49 comments

On the morning of September 6th we checked out of our hotel in Hinton and, after stopping at the town’s Beaver Boardwalk, headed west to Jasper for the second and last time. As on the previous morning, I planned to stop and take pictures of the ponds along the highway in eastern Jasper National Park. My timing was good: these ducks (female mergansers, according to several commenters) were the first thing I saw after I got out of the car and walked across the road toward the pond.

If you’re interested in photography as a craft, you’ll find that points 6 and 19 in About My Techniques are relevant to today’s picture.

© 2017 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

October 25, 2017 at 4:54 AM

49 Responses

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  1. Stunning photo Steve. Lovely reflections and how lucky were you with those crested grebes!


    October 25, 2017 at 6:14 AM

    • Thanks for your correct identification. I hesitated when I wrote “ducks” and now you’ve confirmed I was right in hesitating.

      Yes, I was lucky not only that the grebes were there but that they’d chosen to swim past such a good backdrop. My archive shows that I managed to get 8 photos over 12 seconds. By the last of those pictures, the birds were beginning to pull away from the vegetation. I took two more photographs 17 and 18 seconds later, but they weren’t as good.

      Steve Schwartzman

      October 25, 2017 at 6:49 AM

      • Such a distinctive shaped head, but I confess I had to enlarge the photo to make sure.


        October 25, 2017 at 7:52 AM

        • A couple of commenters take these birds for merganser ducks. I’ve posted an enlargement of a couple of the birds in my reply to Shannon, below. What do you think?

          Steve Schwartzman

          October 25, 2017 at 8:13 AM

          • I haven’t heard of merganser ducks, but I shall have a look at yours in a minute.


            October 25, 2017 at 12:55 PM

          • Having looked at your photos and those of Common Mergansers I concede that these are most likely them. Very similar in shape to the Great Crested Grebe, but the grebe has a distinctive crest at the front whereas these birds have the crest at the rear.


            October 25, 2017 at 1:05 PM

  2. Gorgeous water shot. And I love that you turned it into a panorama to highlight the reedy habitat. These look to be female mergansers by the shape and bill.


    October 25, 2017 at 7:12 AM

    • Fortunately my camera takes 50-megapixel photographs, so I had plenty of leeway to crop this one into a panorama that plays the horizontal cortège of the birds off against the mostly vertical strokes of the vegetation.

      As for what kind of birds these are, Jude in the previous comment thought they’re crested grebes. I know nothing about birds, so I rely on other people. When there are differing opinions, I’m at a loss. Here’s an enlargement that may allow you to confirm the identification:

      Steve Schwartzman

      October 25, 2017 at 8:10 AM

      • Oh the benefits of shooting RAW! Thanks. And yes. I stand by my ID. Mergansers are less buoyant so long bodies are mostly submerged compared with ducks (my initial thought, even before zooming in). I can see how a grebe ID (eared or horned) is possible, but bodies and bills are much smaller compared with mergansers and I’m uncertain whether they flock in the same way. I’d be interested in what your other bird evangelists following could add.


        October 25, 2017 at 8:21 AM

        • Yes, RAW is great for giving photographers leeway to adjust and to get the most out of the data in the image. I wouldn’t shoot any other way.

          After your comment, Linda also went with mergansers. I haven’t yet heard back from her about the enlargement. If only identifications in nature were as certain as trigonometry.

          Steve Schwartzman

          October 25, 2017 at 8:31 AM

  3. What a fine composition. Birds on the move do pass by quickly, even in the water. Lucky you, to see such a large group of mergansers, too. They show up here from time to time, but I’ve never seen more than a pair at one time. They’re so distinctive, and you found the perfect background to show them off.


    October 25, 2017 at 8:02 AM

    • I am pleased with the composition, if I do say so myself.

      You probably noticed that Jude took these birds to be crested grebes, while you and Shannon have gone with mergansers. I’ve added an enlargement of two birds in my reply to Shannon to give the three of you more evidence.

      Steve Schwartzman

      October 25, 2017 at 8:18 AM

      • Now that I’ve seen the closeup, I’m even more willing to say “female common merganser.” Here’s a page of merganser photos from Mia McPherson, who’s one of the best for bird IDs. If you want to compare, she also has a page dedicated to loons and grebes that you can access from the main gallery page.


        October 25, 2017 at 8:31 AM

        • At your link I see the statement that female mergansers have “gray bodies with cinnamon colored heads with shaggy crests.”

          Steve Schwartzman

          October 25, 2017 at 8:40 AM

      • One fun note: mergansers are categorized as “ducks,” so in that sense your initial description was right.


        October 25, 2017 at 8:32 AM

        • I thought about that. It’s like switching checkout lines at the supermarket. Usually the line first chosen turns out to be the fastest.

          Steve Schwartzman

          October 25, 2017 at 8:42 AM

  4. very cool shot, like a Japanese screen.

    Robert Parker

    October 25, 2017 at 8:10 AM

    • I hadn’t thought about that. I’m just finishing a book about Monet’s grand water lily paintings. The book makes clear that Japanese prints had a strong influence on Monet.

      Steve Schwartzman

      October 25, 2017 at 8:19 AM

      • I didn’t know that, but that relationship makes sense. I like Japanese woodblock prints, too, I’ve only seen one exhibit, but they’re wonderful. An incredibly labor-intensive process.

        Robert Parker

        October 25, 2017 at 8:30 AM

        • Coincidentally, we saw an exhibit of Japanese woodblock prints in a museum on one of our trips this year. It is indeed a labor-intensive process.

          Steve Schwartzman

          October 25, 2017 at 8:35 AM

  5. I love the way they are cutting across the reflection. Lovely photo!


    October 25, 2017 at 8:19 AM

    • Everything conspired here to make for a good picture. Would that it always happened that way.

      Steve Schwartzman

      October 25, 2017 at 8:22 AM

  6. I really like the composition of that shot, especially the vertical [reeds] vs. the horizontal [ducks] lines. Thanks for the link. I really should follow these 2 points more. For me, way too often it’s like “the more colour the better”. And I also am way too much taken with the 4:3 ratio. Maybe I can change that some time. Thanks for pointing that out to me.
    Have a wonderful day, and enjoy the cool sunshine,


    October 25, 2017 at 10:59 AM

    • We did enjoy the cool sunshine by spending a couple of hours at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, which we hadn’t visited for some time even though we’re members.

      I’m pretty enamored of color, too, but there are times and places when strong color just won’t appear. Then there’s no choice but to play up the lack of color. A lot of the pictures I took in Montana and Alberta fell into that category because of the smoke in the air from persistent forest fires.

      Cropping to a long, narrow rectangle can whether a picture is bright or subdued, as you saw in the samples I linked to in About My Techniques. It certainly helps to have enough pixels that I can afford to throw some away.

      Steve Schwartzman

      October 25, 2017 at 3:56 PM

      • Lately, I have taken to converting some of my pictures to b&w, and am quite happy with the results. One is here: http://tinyurl.com/yc8rqtoh


        October 25, 2017 at 5:56 PM

        • I can see why you like it. I compared the original, which I noticed was already rather low-key. In producing the version of the color image that you posted, did you lower the contrast or clarity to make a softer effect? I got the idea that you might have softened the color version because I see more contrast and detail in the black-and-white conversion.

          Steve Schwartzman

          October 25, 2017 at 6:24 PM

          • Steve,
            I’m sorry it took me so long to answer, but somehow this got pushed down and down in my inbox. I did not do anything with the original. That’s just as the camera [Nikon D70s] with “normal” settings did at that time. For the colour version with LDR as well as for the B&W version I simply used the default settings of EasyHDR. That programme, whatever setting you choose, usually produces higher contrast and sharper pictures with more details.
            Have a wonderful Sunday,


            November 5, 2017 at 12:03 PM

            • Thanks for your explanation. I hadn’t heard of EasyHDR but looked at its website. Years ago I experimented a little with Photomatix, which was one of the first such programs, but haven’t done any HDR in quite a while.

              Steve Schwartzman

              November 5, 2017 at 12:37 PM

              • I’ve tried Photomatix, too, but the results quite frequently look too unnatural to me. I prefer EasyHDR. But one needs to be critical with all the results: sometimes the originals are better.


                November 5, 2017 at 12:44 PM

                • Right. A lot of the HDR I’ve seen looks unnatural.

                  Steve Schwartzman

                  November 5, 2017 at 4:20 PM

                • One really has to compare original and edited picture and decide.


                  November 6, 2017 at 10:42 AM

  7. I laughed as I saw this image. The other day I was doing a clockwise circular movement with my eyes on an image you posted, but this one had me zigzagging back and forth! I do not think I’ve had this much eye exercise watching a live basketball game! What a beautiful job you’ve done here, Steve. I really love this image.


    October 25, 2017 at 1:22 PM

    • I appreciate your enthusiasm, Lori. I remember that clockwise motion from the other day, and now you’ve added zigzagging. Better watch out, though, or I might have to send you a bill as an ophthalmologist.

      Steve Schwartzman

      October 25, 2017 at 4:01 PM

      • Now if you could just correct these aging eyes, I would gladly accept the bill!


        October 25, 2017 at 4:03 PM

        • If only I could, alas. This morning I finished a book about the huge water lily paintings Monet made in the last decade or so of his life. I learned that his eyesight failed him to the point that he reluctantly underwent a couple of operations and managed to intermittently regain enough sight in his right eye to keep working.

          Steve Schwartzman

          October 25, 2017 at 4:09 PM

  8. Love the photo, and yes, Mergansers, definitely. Reminds me of our trips to Elk Lake in the Adirondacks, where we followed along in a canoe endlessly snapping photos. Very hard to get a nice photo like yours of a long line of them.

    Susan Scheid

    October 25, 2017 at 9:44 PM

    • Thanks for another corroboration. I was fortunate that I had a long lens and that the line of mergansers was perpendicular to my line of sight, which allowed me to keep all 12 birds in focus. I was also fortunate that they were swimming roughly parallel to the reeds beyond them, so all the reeds stayed sharp as well. Serendipity strikes again.

      Steve Schwartzman

      October 25, 2017 at 10:47 PM

  9. You did well ‘to get all your ducks in a row’ with this photo.


    October 25, 2017 at 11:53 PM

  10. Nice catch! I also enjoyed this scene with the dark reeds reflected on the water and the row of mergansers sailing by. Timing often seems to be everything.

    Lavinia Ross

    October 26, 2017 at 11:43 AM

    • One reason I’ve put myself out there in nature so often in Austin over the last 18 years is to increase the likelihood of stumbling on picturesque scenes. At times I’ve felt frustrated at not being able to simultaneously be in all the places where I’ve found good things in the past. For each place I visit on a given day, I must have missed other good things elsewhere on that same day.

      Steve Schwartzman

      October 26, 2017 at 11:54 AM

  11. I guess I never left a message for this image, although I remember enjoying it at the time. It has such strong design elements, I really like it.


    November 27, 2017 at 5:26 PM

    • You’re the right person to appreciate the elements of design. Thanks.
      I was fortunate to arrive with just enough time to put on my long lens and get some photographs before the ducks moved into a less interesting area for pictures.

      Steve Schwartzman

      November 27, 2017 at 5:30 PM

      • You’re welcome. I’m impressed that you were able to do it~I usually can’t even manage to fumble my point-and-shoot into position in time.


        November 28, 2017 at 8:29 AM

  12. […] Wildlife Refuge on October 6th. A quintet that I watched placidly gliding by reminded me of a longer single file I’d seen two years earlier in Alberta. (Click each picture to […]

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