Pack a One-Two Punch

Black-chinned Hummingbird and Autumn Sage bloom

Shooting Wildlife

When you’re shooting wildlife, you need all the help you can get.  You’re dealing with a moving subject that’s leery of humans, creatively composing your shot in your head and making sure all of the technical stuff like f-stop is right.  In addition to all of that, you need to pump some light into your subject to open up the dark areas around the face.  That means using a flash.

 

Visual Echoes Better Beamer Flash Extender | Beebower Productions

Most often when you’re shooting wildlife, you’re using a long lens between 300mm-600mm.  The light from your average flash isn’t going to travel that distance on it’s own.  As a result your picture often lacks any fill flash at all.  That can turn a potentially great shot into a terrible shot.  But the Visual Echoes Better Beamer Flash Extender pared with Canon’s Speedlite 580EX II packs a whopping one-two punch in getting light on your subject no matter the distance.

The Better Beamer gets the light to travel further by concentrating it through a fresnel lens held in place by two long black arms that are secured to the flash by Velcro.  The light travels right down the barrel of the lens and to the subject.  

Dad likes to attach his Speedlite to the Wimberley flash bracket that in turn is attached to his Wimberley head plus side kick on a Gitzo tripod.  He uses an off-camera flash cord to connect the flash and camera.

This has been a winning combination on Dad’s hummingbird shoots.  He can give the birds some room at the feeders or flowers, but still highlight the amazing colors of their feathers with his flash from a distance.  Of course he also uses multiple flashes at different angles on each side of the bird, but the Better Beamer is crucial to lighting up the front of the birds.

Beyond the obvious benefit of shedding light in dark areas, the Speedlite and Better Beamer combo have other advantages.  Because the light is concentrated, the flash uses less power than it would minus the Better Beamer.  This is a major plus when in the field shooting.  The flash refreshes faster between shots and requires fewer battery changes.  That means Dad has a better chance of nailing a great picture.  

Side Note:  Even though the flash is using less power, Dad doesn’t want to run out of juice in the field especially if he’s in a photo rich environment.  He uses a Canon battery pack with each flash.  It gives him more shooting time between battery changes.

Green Jay with Worm | Beebower Productions

The Beamer also allows you to get more f-stop and/or shutter speed than before because the light is concentrated on your subject.  This can be critical in capturing details like feather patterns on a bird or freezing a running elk.  Dad was able to capture feather and worm details on a green jay and its breakfast thanks to the extra f-stop from the Speedlite with the Better Beamer.  The light also filled in the facial details of the bird.

Another benefit with the Beamer is that the entire unit can be assembled in mere minutes.  Whip out the flash, attach the arms with Velcro and slide the lens in place.  You’re done.  Each component pulls apart and can be stored easily in a Ziploc bag.  

The entire Better Beamer weighs next to nothing.  Literally.  The flash weighs a lot more than the Better Beamer.  If you’re hiking a good distance to photograph rare birds, you’ll really appreciate this feature.  Really what photographer wouldn’t want less weight in his camera bag?

You may be wondering how the wildlife reacts to the intense light coming from the Better Beamer.  Dad’s been using the Beamer for about 8 years and he’s never had a problem with birds or other animals running away from the flash.  In fact, he says it’s almost as if nothing happened.  

How does he know?  Dad’s seen “repeat birds” after shooting in one location for a while.  If the bird has a distinct personality or unusual physical marking, he recognizes them.   He figures the duration of the flash is so short it must not upset them.  The camouflage ghillie suit he wears and the Lenscoat camera camouflage might play into that too.  After all, it’s what they don’t see that’s just as important as what they do see.  Nonetheless, the Speedlite/Beamer combo is great for the photographer and the wildlife.

The Details

Have we sold you yet on this extender and flash combo?  Then you’re really gonna love the price!  The Better Beamer sells for about $40 at places like Naturescapes.net and B&H Photo.  That’s a bargain considering how many options it gives you when shooting long distances.

The flash, on the other hand, will set you back about $550.  But the old saying “you get what you pay for” holds true here.  To capture stellar wildlife photos, you need stellar gear.

If you do decide to purchase the Better Beamer Dad recommends running tests at home before heading into the field.  Use a door or a wall as your subject.  Shoot pictures using the flash extender with different lenses.  Study how the circle of illumination on the door changes with the different lenses and distances from the wall.  This will give you a good idea of what to expect when shooting real subjects.

Dad also suggests taking lots of batteries and a back up flash plus another extender.  You never know when a bear might dig through your camera gear looking for the granola bar you stashed inside.  The gear might not survive.  Of course, you might drop the flash and have similar results.  Dad’s motto:  Always be prepared so you don’t miss the perfect photo opportunity.

So to sum it all up:  You can’t go wrong with the Visual Echoes Better Beamer and Canon Speedlite 580 EX II combo.  They pack a hefty one-two punch that will have you singing their praises for a long time to come.

A Blue Ribbon Day

The Great Horse Chase | Beebower Productions

Festival Fun

The morning started off with a bang.  Square, an on-the-go payment system we use at art festivals, wasn’t working.  The folks had just an hour before customers would show up at the 43rd Annual Ruidoso Art Festival in Ruidoso, New Mexico.  Stress.  Major stress.

After rushing out to buy a new Square part at a local store, the folks were in for a nice surprise when they returned to their booth.  Dad had won first place in the photography category with his picture “The Great Horse Chase”.

We’re new to the art festival scene.  In fact the Ruidoso festival was just our third show.  So the blue ribbon was a wonderful affirmation of Dad’s photography in this new venue. 

 

First Place in Photography | Beebower Productions

Quite A Surprise

“It was quite a surprise,” he said.  “You know you’ve got good stuff, but will the jury recognize it?  There were eight other really great photographers at the festival.  You never know what a jury will think.  It was very nice to be recognized.”

Prior to the festivals, Dad and his brother Gordon ran a corporate advertising photography studio for 35 years in Dallas, Texas.  It was during the later years of the corporate business that Dad first began taking Western photos.  

The timing was perfect.  Western pictures were in high demand.  As Dad’s unique photos got more exposure, he began to get clients looking for a bit of the Old West.  The work was pouring in as fast as Dad could shoot.  

Dad built up a sizable collection of Western and wildlife photos because he loved what he was doing.   In 2012 Dad and Uncle Gordon closed the corporate side of the business.  We reorganized Beebower Productions, Inc. to showcase Dad’s Western and wildlife photography through our website and at juried art festivals around the country.  

“Retirement” has been anything but sedate for Dad.  In addition to traveling to shows, Dad continues to shoot new Western and wildlife photos around the country.

So what is a juried art festival and how did Dad get interested in them?  As the name suggests, a juried art festival requires each applicant to submit a portfolio, images of his booth, a resume of his work and a fee to a jury of art critics or peers connected to that fair.  The jury evaluates the artist for originality, creativity, technical expertise and also the appearance of the booth.   Then selected individuals are offered a spot at the festival for a set booth fee.  Going the jury route ensures that the highest quality of artistic items are offered at a festival.  To be selected as an exhibitor is an honor in itself.

In addition to the entry judging, each show usually awards ribbons for the best artists in categories such as photography, pottery, jewelry, sculpture, etc.  Again, the artist must submit 2-3 three pieces of his best work for the jury to review.  The prize may be a ribbon or sometimes a cash award.  Dad submitted The Great Horse Chase and Horse Stampede at the Ruidoso festival.

Many festivals also award “Best in Show”.  The top artists in each category advance to the “Best in Show” competition.  This person must not only have outstanding pieces of art, they also must have a snappy booth to showcase their work.   

Dad first considered the art festival route after visiting me in southeastern Arizona.  I took him to Sierra Vista’s Art in the Park festival.  We saw several photographers selling their prints successfully and I knew Dad’s work would sell too.

After taking some time to reorganize the company, Dad jumped into the art festival circuit and hasn’t looked back.  His first festival, of course, was the infamous Art in the Park.   

Dad’s really enjoyed meeting folks and talking photography during the multi-day events.  It’s been a steep learning curve, though.  Dad knew the advertising industry inside out, but trying to figure out what will sell at art festivals has been a challenge. 

“The trick is discovering what people like and how much they’re willing to pay for it,” he said.  “Obviously advertising folks deal in big bucks, so you have to adjust your expectations.  That and figure out how to get all the stuff you need (like booth walls and photo inventory) from point A to point B smoothly.  You don’t know what’s going to work, so each time you just try to get better and better.”

In that spirit, Mom and Dad will be heading out to their next festival in Oklahoma City over Labor Day weekend, armed with a new lighting system for the booth and a new product line—notecards of Dad’s most popular images.  Oh, and the confidence drummed up by winning the blue ribbon at the last festival.  

Virtual Photo Scouting

Float Plane | Beebower Productions

Back in the Day

The Valdez oil spill made a challenging situation even more so.  The year—1989.  Dad had landed the Red Man Chewing Tobacco ad campaign.  He needed to find the perfect lake for his photo and to make the advertising director a happy camper.  Dad’s research led him to Alaska and a red float plane.  He jetted off to “The Last Frontier” in search of picturesque lakes, tools and props for his photo.

Upon arrival, Dad discovered the oil spill made acquiring some of that necessary equipment difficult.  He not only needed a great location, his scouting trip also provided the opportunity to lock in the float plane, pilot and tools like a hale pump that would be used to create a rain storm.  Unfortunately all of the pumps were being used to clean up Prince William Sound.  Dad spent a lot more time and money tracking down the pump he’d use on this multi-photo expedition.

Location scouting used to be an expensive and time-consuming event for photographers.  How did a photographer even begin to find the perfect spot for his photo much less the props and tools for the shoot?

Back in the old days, Dad started by looking at coffee table books on travel photography.  In the case of the Red Man ad, Dad knew Alaska would have the lake plus the mountains necessary to make the float plane photo pop.  The photo books gave him ideas of where to start looking for the lake in Alaska. 

From there Dad would make oodles of phone calls trying to determine if the area was accessible to the public, if permits were needed and how to reach the lake.  He would talk to national park rangers, the state’s film commission, float plane companies and hotels.  He would try to nail down as much information as he could before leaving Dallas.

Sometimes those phone calls worked, assuming the recipients answered and knew enough to help Dad.  Eventually, though, he’d have to fly to Alaska.  He needed to look through the lens at the location and make sure it would work.  He also had to find that pesky Hale pump in person because phone calls weren’t cutting it.

Today the Internet and other technology make virtual photo scouting much more successful, cheaper and easier.  Let’s take a look at some of the tools Dad uses now.

 

Today’s Tools

Magazine websites

Dad doesn’t do corporate advertising photography any longer.  He’s into the Western, wildlife and landscape photos.  He’s found great information about bird locations at Bird Watching magazine’s website.  Outdoor Photographer’s site has a whole section titled “locations” complete with pictures and detailed information on landscape locations.  Surfing magazines on the web can provide some excellent leads for locations.

Industry websites

If you want expertise, go to the experts.  Dad uses websites like NatureScapes.net because it’s put together by photographers for photographers.  Under the “articles” section you can choose “travel”.  A plethora of wildlife and landscape articles appear, each containing photographs and reports on that location.

In addition to organizations, photographers today usually have blogs on their websites, many with detailed information on shooting locations.  Often their images also have captions that give the locations.  If professional photographers are spending time in a certain area it’s a pretty good bet there’s something really exciting there.  Dad can quickly get a visual of the location and information about the area from his fellow photographers.

E-books

You can purchase and instantly download all sorts of e-books written by photographers, outdoor adventurers, travel writers, etc. These books give you photographs and information about locations around the world.  Often they give you the nitty gritty of visiting the area, too.  Simply use Google to search for key words on the type of location you’re looking for and all sorts of e-book possibilities pop up.

An e-book about photographing Big Sur actually saved our bacon this spring.  We’d heard about the fabled Keyhole Arch in California.  Dad and I wanted to check it out, but after two fruitless trips down the coast we came up empty.  We had directions from a website, but many roads in the area weren’t marked with a sign.  We had zero success until we got the GPS coordinates from the aforementioned e-book. 

Keyhole Arch | Beebower Productions

Google

Google’s powerful search engine can provide a plethora of tips for location scouting.  For example, if you search for Mendoza Canyon, Arizona you’ll quickly learn about the landscape from rock climbing and hiking websites, YouTube videos and Bureau of Land Management websites.  Google even pulls up photos of the area under the “images” section.

Dad’s photograph of a duck hunter at Lake Pontchartrain would have been much easier if he’d had Google at his disposal, but he had to location scout the 630 square miles of lake old-school style.  It turned out to be quite an adventure.  (You can read about that photo shoot here.)

Duck Hunt | Beebower Productions

Google Maps

Another great feature of Google that helps Dad is the map.  He can calculate drive time from his hotel to the photo set, determine the best way to reach the set and even get a satellite view of the area.  All of this helps him plan a successful photo shoot by clearly showing him how to allot his time for driving, what hotels are closest, and what the area looks like.

GPS coordinates

No matter how much research you do on a location, eventually you have to actually visit the spot to see if it will really work for your photo.  Dad’s found that even with the best directions, there’s one piece of modern equipment that can save you hours of frustration—a GPS unit.

Some locations can be buggers to find.  Take for example, the Keyhole Arch adventure I mentioned earlier.  We didn’t find Pfeiffer Beach in Big Sur, CA until we returned with GPS coordinates.  We wasted a lot of time and gas driving back and forth.  This little piece of technology can save photographers some major headaches when location scouting.  

Photoshop

We have one other piece of technology that gives Dad an advantage when trying to find the perfect setting for a photograph.  While Dad fully embraces the Internet for location scouting, Photoshop allows Dad to take images in multiple locations and merge them together into one image.  That means Dad doesn’t have to find the perfect location, he can make it in Photoshop.  That gives him great freedom compared to the old days where one photo had to have all the elements the advertising director wanted.

These tools have provided great information to Dad and allowed him to spend more time taking the photo rather than scouting the photo. 

What modern tools have helped you find the perfect location for your photos?

 

Working for a Living…On Vacation

Delicate Arch Runner | Beebower Productions

I found myself in the most miserable place on earth and it was my Dad’s fault.  Gnats swarmed so fiercely I took refuge under a canopy of towels.  That made a very hot summer day in a desolate stretch of Utah even hotter. And the dust.  Dust crept under the towels, into my sleeping bag and clung to every inch of my clothing.  And it was all my Dad’s fault.

When I was a child we spent almost every summer camping out West while Dad scouted photo locations.  He called it a vacation.  But my “What I did on my Summer Vacation” paper at school never sounded remotely like my friends who went to the beach or the Big Apple on their summer vacations.  My paper recounted camping with mountain lions, dealing with gnats and hiking trails in 100 degree heat.

I sort of blamed my Mom for some of this.  After all, she went along with the “working vacation” idea.  I did, however, realize she was my one hope of vacationing in a city with air conditioning.  So I laid most of the blame at Dad’s feet.

 

Canon EOS-ID Mark IV camera, Canon 400mm/f5.6 lens

Why, Dad?

A couple of days ago I asked Dad why he pursued the working vacation idea all those years ago. He said, “I knew it wasn’t a good idea, but we had limited resources so I thought it might pan out.  Look at it this way.  We kept going on these things.  I don’t know if that was good or bad.  Maybe both.”

Over the years we’ve wandered around Big Bend National Park, the Guadalupe Mountains, Carlsbad Caverns, Canyon de Chelley, the Hubble Trading Post, Mesa Verde, El Morro, Newspaper Rock, Chaco Canyon, the Cumbres and Toltec Scenic Railroad, Yellowstone, the Grand Tetons, White Sands, Arches and Canyonlands National Park to name a few.  I think Dad would have gotten along famously with Lewis and Clark.  All three have a penchant for discovering the unexpected out West. 

Back to the Gnats

That brings me back to the gnats.  Our campground at Arches National Park seemed to be infested with the gnats.  Our first clue should have been the campground’s name—Devils Garden.  We should have run in the opposite direction as fast as possible because those little gnats were devils in disguise.

Naturally none of the gnats were attracted to Dad, just Mom and me.  Even with bug spray the darn things wouldn’t leave us alone.  Apparently this is a well-known seasonal affliction at the park.  Lest you doubt me, the park even has a webpage describing the little buggers’ life cycle.   Of course back in the mid-80’s there wasn’t an Internet, so we walked into our camping spot none the wiser.

To escape the gnats and to help Dad find great photos, we spent a great deal of time hiking around the park.  We’d start off super early in the morning to avoid the heat.  Early morning.  Not a great time for a kid.  There may or may not have been some serious grumbling at the alarm clock (a.k.a. Dad).  Anyway we’d hunt for the perfect arch, landscape shot or whatever else Dad dreamed up.  

 

Mom and Dad | Beebower Productions

Even Troupers Have Limits

One morning we headed out on the appropriately named Devils Garden trail hoping to see all 8 arches.  Everything was hunky dory until we reached ankle deep sand, the heat skyrocketed and the breeze jerked to a halt.  So did Mom.  She’d been a trouper, but she calmly declared she was done and looked for a big rock with shade she could sit under it for a while.  I can’t really blame her.  It was a 7-mile, hot trail.  Dad and I forged ahead making it to the spots he wanted to see.  We picked Mom up on our return trip.

While Dad didn’t take too many pictures on this trip, he actively looked for locations.  He would return two years later to take his photos of Delicate Arch.  So despite the traumas, the trip to Arches was a success.

Naturally that success fueled more trips.  Mom always seemed to be game for the expeditions.  She enjoyed traveling and seeing new things.  She did, however, have her limits.  

“I hate trudging through sand and it seems like there’s a lot of it in the West.  I enjoy the outdoors and the scenery to a certain point but I wanted to see something else eventually.  My favorite places were historical spots, like the Native American sites,” she said.

Dad tried to accommodate her by visiting places like Chaco Canyon or the Cumbres and Toltec Railroad.  But Mom always came prepared to entertain herself while Dad was out exploring.

“Sometimes I went and other times I stayed at the campsite.  I always had music, a book to read and some sort of needlework.  If you went to a site to photograph, you could be with him for hours.  It just became boring,” she said.

In my young mind, I agreed with Mom.  These trips could be boring when waiting for Dad to finish a photo.  So I resorted to building rock houses for my doll, making up wildly imaginative stories about stuff that happened in the park we were visiting and reading a lot of books.

 

Dad at White Sands | Beebower Productions

Looking Back

Eventually the family vacations came to a close.  I headed off to college and Dad’s commercial photography business reached a point that he traveled extensively to exotic locations on fully funded business trips.  

Looking back, I can see the value of all of the “working vacations” that I so bemoaned as a child.  I love our great country from the bustling cities to the vast wilderness out West.  It’s hard to imagine the pristine ribbons of sand running through White Sands National Monument without seeing it in person.  I doubt I would appreciate the numerous Native American cultures in America had I not spent summers visiting Chaco Canyon, Canyon de Chelley and Mesa Verde.  I certainly wouldn’t have learned to enjoy the stillness and serenity of the sun rising over a herd of bugling elk at the foot of the Grand Teton Mountains.

So thanks, Dad.  Thanks for dragging me all over the West and making me get up super early to see sunrises.  Thanks for driving thousands of miles with a companion who constantly asked, “Are we there yet?”  Thanks for all of the great family stories we created.  And thanks for instilling in me a love for capturing the moment with my camera.  Those working vacations weren’t too bad after all.

P.S.  Thanks Mom for indulging me with that much coveted summer trip to the city.  The air conditioning was heavenly! 

Get Great Beebower Photos & More!

Receive our Photo of the Month Newsletter with tips, techniques, and more fun stories!
Plus be the first to know about events and special promotions!

You have Successfully Subscribed!