Last year we had a pair of American Bald Eagles make a nest in a Redwood tree which is located in the front yard of an Elementary School right here in Silicon Valley. It was very exciting news. We hoped they’d return this year. Not only did they return to their nest they’ve had two chicks!
Myself and several friends had made a couple of trips over to see and photograph them, 2 weeks ago we met there again. When I pulled up there were many photographers there, and they were quickly changing positions, and pointing up, one friend already there motioned me to hurry. There was something exciting happening. I quickly parked, got out of the car then went to get my camera out of the back of my car. The Female was coming in and she had dinner! I had to act fast she was flying low, fast, and being dogged by crows who squawked at her the whole time.
There was a row of trees blocking my view, so I ducked down, and sans tripod got her in my viewfinder and fired off three rapid shots then I lost her in the trees. Since I was hand-holding my 200-500mm lens I wobble all over the place and my position of ducking and shooting wasn’t stable. I didn’t have much hope for having a decent shot. My rig weighs just a smidge under 8 pounds (4kg). I’ve never had any arm strength. 😥 Two of the images were nothing but a blurry blob in the frame, but one was worth saving for myself. It’s not print quality, but I thought I show you it anyway because you can tell what birds they are, and what’s happening.
Mama Eagle scored a whole duck for dinner. A whole duck! There were 3 crows dogging her, but I only got one in the frame with her. See the duck?
Mama stayed near the nest watching the Eaglets eat for sometime, and the Eaglets would pop their heads up from time to time looking for their parents.
Mama decided it was time for another flight. I photographed her just as she left the branch she was on. I love this shot! Her wings are enormous! I barely fit all of her in my frame.
Dad was nearby on a branch higher up keeping watch, but after Mama left and the chicks were fed he thought it was safe for him to come down and clean off his beak.
He cleaned it by rubbing and wiping it on that branch. Under his back end below the branch is the nest. You can just make out a chick in there. Dad has lost all his beautiful white tail feathers! I hope they grow back.
We stayed watching and photographing them until sundown when we lost the good light. I have more images I want to share of the adults, but again I’ll wait for a rainy day, by then I may a few of the Chicks as Fledglings.
Pets Update: I finally took a photo of Box, and someone cough! (Dan) reminded me that I haven’t shared a photo of Diva Dog in sometime. Imagonna fix that for ya. 🙂 I had Yosemite Sam pop into my head when I heard that last sentence in my head. 😜
Box is still shy: He loves to hide in the back corners, and he loves his hay bag. I got him at a good time munching on hay.
…and for Dan, Diva Dog- Yesterday was in the 80’s and today is supposed to be 89°F. Early summer? When it’s hot she likes to lay on the cool wood floor in the entry hall, or on our bathroom floor’s Travertine tiles. She wouldn’t pose for me. Too hot! I’m sorry you can’t see her cute neckerchief.
It’s supposed to cool down mid week. I hope you’re not too hot or cold, and I hope you’re all having a good week, and great day!
Nikon D810| Nikkor 200-500mm @500mm| SanDisk Digital Film| PS CC 2018
In this edition of “Just Be There” Pet Photographer Penny Wills shares with us an emotional story of how she captured this gorgeous portrait of Abby.
CR. Tell us about this location.
Penny: This was taken in my home office, on a dark brown leather chair.
CR. How difficult was this to capture?
Penny: It’s interesting that you should ask me to talk about this particular photo. This is one of those emotional photos that I love taking. Unfortunately, this time, it’s my emotional photo.
Abby was sick. Intermittently she was throwing up foamy yellow bile. Not any food in it, just the foamy yellow stuff. Not all the time, and not just after eating, or playing and not every day. Sometimes she would go days without throwing up, and then she would throw up every couple of hours a day. After 2 weeks of this, I took her to the vet. He was thinking she got into something she should not have, and it irritated her stomach. She was admitted to the hospital and put on an IV and no food, just fluids, and a special medicine that coats the stomach, like for an ulcer. After 3 days of her behaving, he was about to call and say, she’s better, when she promptly threw up. We decided to do an X-Ray just to be sure and about an hour later, the vet called back. He said, “You have to come in and take a look at her X-Rays.” That is never a good sign, but I have been going to this vet for years, and with all my pets, you never know what they can pick up and eat. We have had a good laugh over another dog’s X-Rays, so I did not put too much gloom into his words.
My first hint that things were not good was the front office staff. They were quite somber instead of the joking that I am normally greeted with. I meet the Dr., and he pulls out her X-Ray. There is a large mass showing in her stomach. It’s not metal or wood (like some others I won’t mention!) because it does not have a distinct outline, it’s fuzzy. He gives me the bad news, “there’s not much I can do, I believe it’s a tumor, and that large, it can’t be good.” We discuss options, such as an ultrasound, and an exploratory. I settle on exploratory surgery, and we schedule it for the next morning first thing.
He looks at me, and says, “There’s no reason that she can’t go home tonight, so why don’t you take her?” What he didn’t say, but was understood, that if he found a tumor that large, her prognosis was not good. Dan & I had decided that if the vet did find something, and he didn’t think it was treatable, we would have her euthanized then. So, I brought her home for her last night, or so I thought. I took her out in the back yard to play with the other dogs and darned if I could not get a good photo of her. I had to give up when I lost the light.
CR. How did you expose for this shot?
Penny: The next morning, as I was setting one of our cats up for my photography class in front of the window, I noticed just how lovely the light was. Bells went off in my head, “Put Abby on the brown leather chair and take her photo there!” Eureka! So I popped her on the chair, swiveled the chair until I got the lighting just right, and took the shot. Fortunately, the neighbor was walking their dog down the road, so Abby’s attention was fixed on that dog.
Hand-held, I metered off her face, allowing the rest of the photo to be naturally dark. The camera settings were: 52mm, ISO 200, f/8, 1/20s,
There was absolutely no processing done on this photo, with the exception of adding my logo.
CR. What camera and lens did you use for this shot?
Penny: Natural light out of a north window, 6:18 a.m. just as the sun was rising.
I loved the soft light and the color of the light as the sun was rising. The color was just perfect, you cannot tell by the photo that her face is almost completely gray; the sun hid the gray behind the almost too saturated color.
On a happy note, after the surgery, the vet called. He found out what the problem was. Was it a tumor the size of his fist? Well it ended up being a stuffed mouse cat toy. How she managed to swallow it whole is beyond us. It was too large to pass into her stomach, so it just floated around in her stomach. Her throwing up was from the occasions that the toy blocked food and water from passing the stomach and into her intestines. So, after surgery, I brought her home and for about 12 hours she was fine. Then she started throwing up again. NOW WHAT? She was confined to her crate except for the trip from work to the car. Once again I call the vet and ask him to do a quick X-Ray, she is throwing up again. I wait in the waiting room and a couple of minutes later he comes out with the X-Ray. We look at it, look at each other and say, “What in the world?” There, big as life, is a piece of razor blade! UGH! This dog is going to give me a heart attack. So, for the 2nd time in less than 24 hours she heads to surgery. Thankfully, he removed it without any complications.
I think I got at least 1/2 a head of gray hair from her that week. Silly girl! She is now almost 12 and still going strong.
When I met Penny in 2008 she had just moved from a Pentax camera system to Nikon, and was on the threshold of opening a Pet Photography business. Penny knows pets!
Penny is the proud owner/parent of 5 dogs and 14 cats. In addition to this she has fostered abused and abandoned pets for her local Breed, and All Breed rescue groups. She has competed with her dogs in Agility, Obedience, and Conformation competitions for years and photographed her pets throughout their competitive lives. This is where she honed her keen sense of timing to get the perfect action shot. Through the years friends would ask her if she would take photographs of their dogs and Penny loved it. Over time it evolved into a small business.
The last 3 years she’s worked hard at building her business into a full-time career. Her warmth, love for animals, and her skill as a photographer have taken her from being on the threshold to crossing it.
Q. Give us a little bit about your background, a mini biography where you were born or grew up. Where are you living now? I grew up in Windsor Locks, Ct. I went to a Vocational Agricultural High school with a major that started in Animal Sciences, but switched to Plant sciences instead. I went to Springfield Technical Community College with an Associate’s Degree in Landscape Architecture. After spending a few years in that field, I moved inside where it was warm and dry! My husband and I own a hardware store in a lovely little town in the northwest corner of Connecticut. We live about 3 miles from where I grew up.
Q. How would you describe yourself as a photographer, and what sparked your interest in photography?
I have always been interested in photography. My first camera was a Kodak Instamatic camera. The kind with the square flash cubes that clicked into the top of the camera. I took some great pictures, but film in the 70’s was horrible at turning orange from aging. My first “recent” camera was a Pentax K1000 film camera. I loved that little camera, it went everywhere with me. As a photographer, I’m still learning. I will probably be always learning. There is so much to learn study and work on.
Q. How did you get your start in the field of Pet photography?
I have white dogs. Nobody can seem to take decent shots of white dogs. I was bound and determined to get good shots of my dogs. I had professional photographers take their photos, and they were either over exposed with blown highlights, or they were out of focus. I do have two of those blown highlight/out of focus photos hanging on the wall, they are a reminder of what I do not want my photos looking like.
Q. What is your favorite kind of Pet photography, and what is it about that type that interests you so much?
My favorite type of Pet Photography is Studio work. I love formal portraits. I could spend hours in the studio shooting. There is something about portraits that speak to me. I lose all track of time in the studio. If I have a bad day at work, my husband can always tell. I grab the camera and head to the studio. I’ll emerge hours later, quite refreshed.
Q. Describe to us your first real “Event” that you shot professionally; where were you, what you were you feeling, what was it like etc.? The first real Event I shot was this past January. It was an Australian Shepherd Regional Agility Specialty. This was my first break into shooting events. I also brought my portable studio and did formal portraits in between the runs when the new courses were being built. I had a lot of fun, but those were very, very tiring days. I was not expecting to be at the trial site at 6:30 in the morning, and not leave until almost 10 pm that evening, just to return at 6 a.m. the next day. I shot over 2000 photos in 3 days. In comparison now, that was being very frugal. That agility trial got my foot in the door to shoot my first Conformation show (think Westminster Dog show) this past June and will be shooting in October.
Q. What is the most exciting thing about photographing Dogs in action?
The answer is the question. The most exciting thing about shooting events is capturing the dogs in action. The dogs’ expressions, their body language, they are just like people, you can empathize with them. The thrill of victory or, the agony of a dropped bar. Most of my action shots are Agility trials, so there is plenty of opportunity for great action shots. The best shots are the emotional shots. A novice dog’s first trial, a high award received, a dog’s last run before being retired, those are all events that have high emotional appeal to their owners. Those runs you go out of your way to make sure you capture some of the emotion in the photo. Usually somebody from the host club will give me a hint that something important is going to happen so I can prepare
Q. When you started what was your biggest dream? And have you accomplished that?
My biggest dream is to have my own studio. I’m still working on that one! I have not decided where we will be and where my studio will be located. We are considering moving from Ct to Arizona, so, we’ll see.
Q. Who’s your favorite Pet photographer, and who do you draw inspiration from?
That is a tough question. I have so many. I would have to say I’m honored to call some of the most famous pet photographers in the country (except Helmi, she’s world famous) as friends. Helmi Flick, Preston Smith, Julie Poole, Jill Flynn, Jim Garvie, just to name a few. They are all wonderful people, down to earth, answer my many questions, proof read contracts with me, and are fun to just chat with.
Q. What is it that you like the most about shooting Pets aside from other types of photography?
I love pets, all pets. In a Pet Photography workshop that I gave recently, the number one tip I gave was Patience. You must have patience when dealing with animals. I love interacting with the animals. They cannot speak, but if you are patient, they, through their body language, can tell you how they feel. That is not something that everybody gets, even their owners. That required a lot of study on body language, for cats and dogs, my main subjects. Does that cocked ear mean the dog is happy? Or that the cat is upset? There are very subtle tell-tale signs that are in plain sight if you take the time to read them.
Q. What has been your favorite shoot so far?
hmm, I’ll have to think about this one. I would have to say the lady who invited me to her home in Rhode Island to take photos of her dying dog because in her words “You’re the only photographer I trust with my dog.” It was a delightful drive to her house, we could not have asked for better weather, and she was an extremely gracious host. Her dog would not sit or lay still, so we scrapped the “formal” shots and went with the flow. I followed her dog around the yard and captured candid moments instead. Moments such as the cat washing the dog’s face, her lying in the damp grass with dew all over her nose. This goes back to one of the previous questions, about shooting the action shots. It’s not the action or the lack of that makes a good photo great, it’s the emotion behind the shot. I believe that to be true of all great photographs, not just pets.
Q. What’s on the horizon for Penny Wills?
That is a good question. I am broadening my horizons and moving into the category of Fine Art. I was recently approached to provide photos for a local doctor’s office. Reception room, waiting area, two exam rooms and offices. This is a huge jump for me, and one I am looking forward to. This will be a public gallery of my work and I’m very excited.
I plan on keeping the pet photography business going, but in addition to action/event, and portraits, I will be offering Fine Art Portraits and Prints.