Stephen Kirkpatrick

Friday, July 29, 2011

Old Habits Die Hard

It's a hard thing to get past the barriers you have unknowingly put in your own path. One thing I’ve discovered during this On A Roll photographic challenge is that trying to do something "new" is a bit of a chore. We all have a comfort zone. For me, it’s a set way of pursuing and capturing images, especially when it comes to looking for subjects in a certain way and in familiar places. This project has been very revealing to me. I often tell people the hardest thing to teach is how to "see." Now, I am struggling myself with how to "see" anew, to find a new perspective from what I routinely do. Breaking my own rules, patterns, and habits has brought a new awareness to my search. It’s forcing me to stretch and to hold back from what I would normally shoot as an “acceptable” image (is this really the time to be trying something new). Maybe that is why since I loaded the film for this roll on June 26, I have only taken seven shots. I’m hoping this new awareness brings a freshness to this generation of photos. We'll see.

A stretch for me that almost worked.
June 2010 

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Murphy Go Away

Last week was yet another adventure dominated by Murphy. (You know, Murphy’s Law?).

I spent Wednesday afternoon scouting some shots that I thought had promise.  I headed out to shoot in the “magic hour,” late afternoon when the light is best. Daydreaming of the shots ahead and failing to pay attention to the very narrow road upon which I was traveling, I was jarred back to reality by the lurch of my Suburban running partially off of the road. I came to a stop with the passenger side of the vehicle (the same side that still bears a dent from an earlier photographic misadventure) tilting precariously toward a catfish pond. Instead of capturing the shots I’d spent all day scouting, I called a friend for assistance and was “rescued” from a catfish pond by a tractor. (At this point in writing the blog, my wife is asking while reading over my shoulder, “Should you
 really be telling people you did that?”)

Fast forward to Friday. I was working out of a friend’s camp in South Mississippi. I set up for a shot for On A Roll, only to have my depth of field preview lock up, which I have never had happen in 30 years. It shut down the camera. The batteries were low, but not out so I didn't think this was a problem. I always have extra batteries in my bag. ALWAYS. But not today. After 30 minutes of trying to get the camera to work, I gave up, and we headed back to the camp. Later when I replaced the batteries, everything worked just fine. But as I reloaded, I heard the dreaded
 click of the shutter, exposing a frame to...blackness. It seems while putting the batteries back into the camera, the vertical shutter release switch on the camera released and I hit it. The Nikon F5 has a second shutter release on the bottom of the camera and it does not lock!  It’s a feature I never used...until that accidental usage on Friday.
I'm starting to wonder if this On A Roll project is going to end my career.

# 6) Bullfrog  in Lilies - (H)
Stone County
July 21, 2011, 7:11 am
Sunny, 80 degrees
500mm w/2xTC, 1/125@f8, Tripod 

# 7) Pied-billed Grebe on Nest - (V)
Stone County
July 21, 2011, 7:46 am
Sunny, 81 degrees
500mm, 1/125@f8, Tripod
# 8) BLANK !
Greene County
July 22, 2011, 7:38 am
Cloudy, 78 degrees
  putting in batteries


Tuesday, July 19, 2011


Five hours out, four of it paddling a kayak in the Pearl River swamp. Guess what I got?

You got and sweaty. 

Update, five shots so far.

#3)  Long-jawed Orb Weaver Spider at Sunrise - (V)
Madison County, MS
July 8, 2011 - 6:17 am
Partly Cloudy, 82 degrees
180mm w/ET, 1/2500@f2.8, Tripod 
#4)  Passionflowers - (H)
Madison County, MS
July 15, 2011 - 4:34 pm
Cloudy, 83 degrees
60mm, 1/400@f5.6, Tripod  
#5)  Alligator Resting in Swamp - (H)
 Rankin County, MS
July 18, 2011, 3:48 pm
Cloudy/Sprinkling, 87 degrees
500mm, 1/80@f4, Tripod 

Tuesday, July 12, 2011


Some days in wildlife photography are blessed, marked by perfect light and animals that actually seem to pose for the camera. Other days are unrewarding, with no activity no matter how many hours or how patiently you wait.

And some days, like last Thursday, are downright disastrous.

I had wandered for a few minutes in a swamp that I visit from time to time, but the water was so low, it didn’t even look like the same place. The drought we’re having had really taken its toll, and the end result was zero activity in an area that’s usually teeming with life. Covered with spider webs, mosquitoes, and a number of ticks and with nothing to show for it, I decided to go elsewhere.

I drove 20 miles to a cypress swamp that was still holding water, where I quickly spotted two alligators on a log. This scene, I thought, had possibilities. I pulled out my 500mm lens with a Nikon F100 attached and set it on the tripod. This is not the camera I’m using to shoot the On A Roll project. That’s my F5, and while I thought the alligator shot had potential, I wasn’t sure it warranted that special roll – a decision for which I am now very grateful.

As I lifted the tripod with the camera and lens mounted and then set it down into position, the latch connecting the camera to the lens failed, and I heard a sound I’ve come to dread.

The camera sank to the bottom of the duckweed-infested water. I immediately fished it out and began shaking out the slimy, green-tinged water, all while simultaneously talking to myself in not-so-complimentary terms. I opened the camera back and ripped out a roll of soggy film, gave it a few more shakes, then sighed, realizing I was now holding a $2,000 paperweight. 

I hiked back out to my truck and sat for a few moments in reflection. Suffice it to say that I was not in a good mood. Should I head back to the house or continue on? I was so uninspired and dejected that capturing an interesting image that afternoon seemed improbable. I drove for awhile, then pulled over when I spotted a small pond. I walked to the water’s edge, where something caught my eye. A small snag was sticking out of the calm water, creating an interesting reflection. At closer look, there was a small sawback turtle sunning on a branch that looked too small for the turtle to have climbed out on. It was unclear how he had gotten into such a precarious position, but there was only one way out.

#2) Sawback Turtle on Snag and Reflection - (H)
Leake County, MS
July 7, 2011 - 5:27 pm
Partly Cloudy, 93 degrees
500mm, 1/200@f4, Tripod  

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Once Again With Feeling

Yesterday morning, July 6, I pressed the shutter for the first time on my second attempt at a “Mississippi” roll. As I mentioned in an earlier entry, limiting myself to one roll of film requires planning what I’d like the opening and closing shots to be (and everything in between). I had been waiting for a dramatic sunrise, and finally, Mother Nature delivered in the form of a giant, red ball rising slowly over the misty Pearl River swamp.

I spent the rest of the morning roaming the swamp in search of another shot, hoping for an image featuring some type of wildife. I did find three different alligators covered in duckweed and lounging on logs. I studied one for about 30 minutes debating whether or not to shoot, but ultimately passed. One roll should ideally include only one shot of an alligator, so I’d definitely need to capture his best side. I think another day might give me a better ‘gator shot, possibly from my kayak.

Yesterday afternoon looked interesting as storms rolled in late, but nothing developed that blew me away.

So, one day equals one shot. That’s plenty. I’m just glad to be back underway and hope I get On A Roll.

  On A Roll - "My Backyard"

#1) Pearl River Swamp Sunrise  - (H)
Madison County, MS
July 6, 2011 - 6:01 am
Clear, 75 degrees
500mm w/2xTC, 1/40@f8, Two Tripods

Saturday, July 2, 2011

False Start

The idea for On A Roll came to me on March 30, 2011 at 10:00 a.m.

Inspired by the challenge, I immediately laid out the parameters for the book. Three rolls of film, three totally different ideas to capture on each roll.

One of the first thoughts that struck me was that capturing 108 interesting, well-executed shots on an unlimited number of rolls would be an impressive feat. To do it in three rolls would require working at another level altogether.

As I wanted each roll to have a good flow from shot to shot, I’d need to be very aware of the order of the images – what kind of shot I’d start with, what kind of shot I’d ideally like to finish with, and the variety of shots in between. Other considerations would be creating a pleasing mix of flora, fauna, and scenics, not to mention colors, lighting, and the placement of vertical and horizontal shots on the roll.

My next thought, honestly, was, “This can't be done.”

Pushing that aside, I continued planning. I would keep a notebook on all the images shot, recording:
1) Subject
2) Specific location
3) Date and time
4) Weather conditions and temperature
5) Lens, exposure, and equipment used
6) Any pertinent information on what happened during the shot

But the question remained, what would the theme or loose subject of each of the three rolls be?

The first was easy. I’d start with the first section of the book called "My Backyard" shot entirely in Mississippi. This was an obvious starting point in light of my knowledge of the state and the availability I have to shooting here. Of course, that familiarity and easy access wouldn’t necessarily make it easy. Because the flora, fauna, and scenery of Mississippi is so familiar to me and to many of the followers of my work, these images would have to be truly outstanding.

The subject of the first roll determined, I could hardly wait to begin work, writing in my notebook, “Inspired, I’m ready to take on the challenge and complete the task, a task that lends enthusiasm and energy to my pursuit of the optimum moment. After all, there has to be a challenge or there is no reward.”
1) Cardinal in Shagbark Hickory Tree  
Madison County 
March 30, 2011 - 2:20 pm
Cloudy, 55 degrees
500mm, 1/80@f4, Tripod 

I shot my first image – a cardinal in a shagbark hickory tree – at 2:20 that afternoon. Nearly three months later on June 22, I shot the last image on the roll, a cottontail rabbit eating grass. Even though I knew somewhere in the back of my mind this would be a "practice" roll, my lazy side wanted it to be "the one."

35) Cottontail Rabbit Eating Grass
Madison County
June 22, 2011 - 7:17 pm
Clear, 85 degrees
500mm w/2xTC, 1/60@f8, Tripod

It was never meant to be.

First, I had planned on using the last shot, #36, to capture a dramatic sunset. Umm, that didn’t happen, primarily because there was no #36 on the roll. When I loaded the film, the camera advanced it too far in, loading past the first exposure. The entire time I was shooting that roll, dreaming of my #36 sunset, there were only 35 available exposures.  Normally, this would not even be an issue – 35, 36, you reload, who cares? But when every shot on a roll has to be planned out, the first thing you have to be sure of is exactly how many shots you have to work with.

Of the 35 images I did capture, I wasn’t happy with five of them. A couple of the "bad" shots were of animals that had moved exactly when the shutter exposed the film – can't do much about that, but it ruined the roll.

I also realized that some of the shots I’d been confident about were the very ones that I was not pleased with once I saw the developed film.

So, the first roll was a false start, but I did understand more fully just what I’d undertaken. For those three months, I had babied the camera with this “special" roll of film in it, constantly monitoring the temperatures I subjected the camera to, religiously turning the camera to "off" so as not to accidentally expose a blank frame (this really concerned me), and agonizing over whether or not I’d captured a shot, knowing it would be months before I knew for sure. I had known the photographic challenge in the field would be big, but I hadn’t counted on having my every waking moment dominated by thoughts of that
one roll of film.

25) Turtle Tracks on Leaf River Sandbar 
Greene County
June 3, 2011 - 7:23 am
Clear, 75 degrees
17-35mm, 1/40@f22, Tripod

30) Leaves, Vine & Dew at Sunrise
Madison County
June 14, 2011 - 6:21 am
Clear, 68 degrees
500mm, 1/125@f4, Tripod
2) White-tailed Deer in Late Afternoon  

Madison County 
March 30, 2011 - 6:18 pm
Cloudy, 49 degrees
500mm, 1/5@f4, Tripod

And of course, when I loaded the next roll of film Wednesday, June 29, I made absolutely sure that I would have 36 exposures to work with.

As I continue to shoot this roll in Mississippi, I’ll post more about my adventures working in my own backyard.

I’ll also post soon about my ideas for rolls two and three. If you have ideas about what you’d like to see on those rolls, please post them. I’d love to know what you’d like to see... 
On A Roll. 

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