By Henry Kartarik
Please Note: This article was originally published in the Barnack and Berek Newsletter in November of 1980, but we think it is of as much interest today as it was then. The publication was a forerunner of this blog. It was published in black and white only, which explains that all photographs in the article are in black and white only.
It has been several years since I have retired my shotguns and rifles and replaced them with cameras and lenses. Hunting with a camera is more difficult, more challenging, and more diversified, and more rewarding; there are more open seasons, far more open areas, and more opportunities for shooting, no license fees, no bag limit.
Photographing nature and wildlife in particular, has become an increasingly popular endeavor for novice, amateur, and professional alike; especially since the advent of the SLR with through the lens metering and more recently and specifically the Leica R3 Mot.
The true sportsman spends a great deal of time becoming thoroughly proficient in the handling of his equipment, and finds enjoyment in becoming better skilled in its use, and takes great pride in possessing the finest equipment that he can possibly afford… So it is with the true nature photographer.
In the following paragraphs I would like to share with you some of the experiences, the successes and the frustrations experienced encountered in the pursuit of my hobby: nature photography with long lenses.
Let us take a day-long photographic excursion to one of our favorite hunting locations, with headquarters at our farm near Grantsburg, Wisconsin. It is early morning on November 8, a partially overcast and unusually warm day. We are about to pack our gear in the car.
Each excursion is a unique adventure; there is no way to anticipate the specific equipment which might be required. As you might assume from the title of this article, I prefer above all to use long lenses in my pursuit of nature photography: the 400mm f/6.8 Telyt and my “one and only” 560mm f/5.6 Telyt with Televit pistol grip.
Fritillary (Silver Spotted Flambeau)
Kodachrome 25, Leitz Telyt 400mm f/6.8
Along with these lenses I need a set of extension tubes, a Leica R3 Mot, a bean bag, a tripod and film.
For this type of photography it is very important to use camera equipment that is very quiet in order not to frighten your subjects off with the cranking motion of the human hand. I have found that the soft whirr of the self-winder does not frighten the subjects, but often elicits more interesting, alert poses, indicating curiosity or inquisitiveness on their part.
Continuing our tour we see a rough-legged hawk swaying in a treetop and eying us apprehensively as we approach. Here I wish I had the 1.4x extender, so we go on…
The Eastern Hognose Snake, the only natural enemy of the American Toad
Kodachrome 25, Leitz 400mm f/6.8 Telyt
Farther on we see an animal in the midst of an open field. As we come nearer we recognize a coyote sitting on his haunches, probably hunting meadow mice. The fact that he is out in the open indicates that he is a very hungry coyote. Here again I wish I had the 1.4x extender, but I can’t resist one parting shot as we go by. I know that if I were to stop, he would run for the brush cover.
As we are slowly driving along this trail road, I notice a sudden commotion in the tall grass along the roadside ditch. We come to a stop approximately twenty feet from the action. It appears to be a bird wounded by a gunshot or automobile, attempting to escape our view.
Suddenly the bird turns and I recognize a great-horned owl, who fixes us with his intense golden stare. He does not appear to be injured, but something is thrashing in the grass below him. It is gray. Is it a rabbit, a favorite prey of the owl? The crows and blue-jays who were harassing him depart. The owl tries to lift off dragging his prey along the ditch, but he is unable to do so. It becomes clear that the prey is a large bird, most likely a sharp-tailed grouse.
Kodachrome 25, Leitz 400mm f/6.8 Telyt
Of course we are busy photographing the sequence of events. A large van of hunters passing by is too much for him; he reluctantly releases his hard-earned meal, and flies to a nearby tree, keeping his prey in sight. The blue-jays return, irritating him; he flies deeper into the woods.
Now we have an opportunity to identify the bird in the ditch. It is a beautiful male marsh hawk, still limp and warm with closed eyelids. Himself in search of prey, he became the victim of the eight deadly talons of the owl. His momentary struggle only ensured a quicker death as the talons locked into his body. We now place the elegant bird on a nearby low tree stump, hoping the owl will find it and not need to make another kill.
Resuming our journey we come to the south end of the refuge, where we watch watch hundreds and hundreds of Canada geese returning to the march from their feeding areas. We cannot resist a few shots of the tremendous gathering of these stately birds.
The 560 enables me to reach out over the cold waters of the march and select and photograph some scenic hammocks and grass formations.
It has been an unusually exciting and rewarding day. At this writing moment we are anxiously awaiting the results of this photographic foray. What a great 560mm day!
Another day, another season, another lens.
It is spring in our back yard at Whiter Bear Lake, Minnesota. The tulips are blooming, the plum and cherry shrubs are in full bloom, the apple trees are just coming into bloom; it is early may, a beautiful calm, cool, sunny day. The yard is filled with dozens of migrating warblers and a variety of other songbirds.
I select a secluded spot from which I have an excellent view of a particularly busy area. I wear a camouflaged-printed windbreaker; take a heavy tripod on which I have mounted a bellows-R with my 400mm f/5.6 Telyt attached to my Leica R3 MOT with the remote release. I will also take along the air release to finish the last on or two frames. I find cable releases unsatisfactory in they cannot be conveniently located for being held for extended periods of time.
The Eastern Bluebird
Kodachrome 64, Leitz Telyt 250mm f/5.6 with extension tubes
I check out my minimum and maximum field by extending and retracting both the bellows and the lens. I now prefocus the lens, and for fine focusing rely on the bellows.
Although my concern is mostly with small and close-up subjects, there are occasions when the ability to infinity focus would be highly desirable; for instance, in a flowering apple tree, just out of range, is a flock of cedar waxwings gorging themselves on apple blossom petals while basking in the sun.
We have a variety of apple trees in out yard; after watching the cedar waxwings for several years it is my observation that they eat only the petals of the Fireside apple blossoms. It is either that they prefer the location of the tree or the flower of that particular blossom.
Now back to the small migrants. These little birds are most difficult targets because they are constantly in motion searching for insects. They take no note of my presence as long as I remain quiet and move slowly, if at all; in fact, they have on occasion tried to perch on the lens.
A rock with a dish-shaped surface filled with water provides a magnetic attraction to the little travelers for a drink or a bath; this is an appreciated convenience for which they show their gratitude by momentarily posing in my prearranged location.
Canada Geese, with mother and father at front and rear. Brood size is normally 4 or 5, so it seems
likely the other youngsters were pirated away from others.
Kodachrome 64, Leitz 560mm f/5.6 Telyt
A tree hole provides a similar opportunity for drinking and bathing and may also be a picturesque setting for bird portraits.
Almost without exception, it is essential that the eye of the subject be in sharp focus, glinting. The serious photographer will wait for the moment when the highlights of the eye are picked up. This cannot be overstressed.
Should the sun be unaccommodating, we have an alternative: the electronic flash, which must be used with certain conditions in mind. These conditions are:
1 Maximum shutter speed of 1/100 sec (for the Leica R3 MOT).
2 The flash should be used as a highlight source, or for light painting.
The use of full flash as a main source of light will result in a harsh and/or artificial picture. Flash is, of course, required in photographing any nocturnal wildlife.
The American Toad is found in all states of the Union
Kodachrome 25, Leitz 400mm f/6.8 Telyt with Leica Bellows-R
The 400mm and Bellows-R combination is also ideal for photographing reptiles and amphibian in their environment without disturbing them. An excellent time to photograph these creatures is in the early spring, on a sunny morning when they are warming themselves on the rocks, sand banks, or pond edges. At this time they are extremely lethargic and most cooperative.
The capture on film any of the lovely butterflies, dragonflies, or other skittish insects, I frequently use the same equipment. These insects are approachable on chilly autumn mornings, and I may then prefer to use macro lenses for extreme closeups.
NATURE IN SUBURBIA
The possibilities for nature photography in suburban areas are excellent. The observing nature photographer will see birds, animals, and scenic views on his way to and from work that an untrained eye would not notice. Some of my best shore bird pictures have been taken in a location adjacent to a busy four-lane highway that runs between White Bear Lake and ST. Paul. Abandoned railroad right-of-way, drainage diches, city and county parks, roadside ponds, and game management areas provide excellent places to observe and photograph nature and wildlife.
Birds and animals who have adapted to suburbia are less wary and more easily photographed than their rural cousins. But it is important to avoid with debris and other distracting backgrounds.
Having pointed out several of the basic rules essential to successful nature photography, I must emphasize that rules and equipment alone do not produce outstanding photographs. We must remember that pictures are judged by individuals whose backgrounds and tastes vary widely. Let us be creative, let us violate some of the basic concepts; shoot:
1 Against the sun for silhouettes
2 In the fog for “mystical” effects
3 Using slow shutter speeds to record motion
4 Early morning, late evening, or even moonlit night shots without flash
Try photographing waterfowl in the rain, animals in snowstorms. Don’t be put off by adverse weather conditions. It is just such difficult environments which may help to produce the unusual, dramatic, or impressionistic photograph.
Successful hunts can be relived on the screen and enjoyed by many others. Dinner guests make no comments about my stuffed ducks or old elk antlers, they are simply disinterested, bored or possibly envious.
Not so with nature slides or prints. Viewers are highly interested in the subject matter, eager and curious to learn how one is able to get such pictures, and personally interested in how they themselves might become involved in such a hobby.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Henry Kartarik is a retired army officer who served during WWII in the Pacific campaign, at Aberdeen Proving Ground, and at the Pentagon.
A mechanical engineer, he ran his own machine and tool business, enjoyed flying his own land and sea planes, and held a commercial pilot’s license until his retirement because of a physical disability.
He has had an intense interest in nature from early childhood, and in photography since adolescence. He is fortunate now to have time to devote to both interests. One of his color portfolios was in an issue of “Minnesota Volunteer”, a publication of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.
Obviously, photographic equipment has substantially changed since the Leica R3. The development of the SLR Leica line finished with the Leica R9 and owners of Leica R cameras and lenses for a long time looked for a digital alternative. The Leica S line is not an option for wildlife photography because there are no long lenses available. Even though Leica does not offer a DSLR, it is not necessary to look to other camera manufacturers. The Leica M (type 240) takes that place. Especially when equipped with the electronic Visoflex, the camera can be used in place of a DSLR. As a matter of fact, it has the advantage of being substantially smaller. While Leica is not making any lenses longer than 135mm at the moment, the Leica R adapter, or similar units from other manufacturers, allows the use of virtually any of the Leica R lenses and accessories that utilize the Leica R lens mount, like tele extenders, bellows and extension tubes.
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