Study Group 2

Bruce Finocchio

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Title: Leopard Surveys The Savannah From A Fork Of A Tree
Goal:  To Capture a leopard from the tree top

Equipment / Source:  Canon 7D Camera, 600 mm f4.0 lens

Technique:  In the Serengeti, we would follow these tree line valleys, looking in the trees for leopards. I really like that the terrain was very open, and the trees here were next to each other in a line down the along the river course, and not one among many as in a forest. I waited until the leopard turn to look out at the savanna from his perch, striking a tense body position.

Processing:     Used a bean bag on the top of the Land Rover, could not use my 1.4 tele-converter do to an accident early in the trip where my 600 mm lens when out the window, and the lens connection ring was damaged, so I cropped this image a bit. I still like the graphic quality of the leopard frame against the trunk and thick branches of the tree. If anyone knows the type of tree, I would appreciate some help identifying the type of tree. Post processing some color enhancement using vibrance and saturation in the raw processing. Lighten the face of the leopard a bit, no other significant changes other than the cropping.

Comments/Scores (N, T, P, E, Total)

Critique Image (only members of Study Group Two may critique this image)

Review by Butch S., 8-24-2015
A very sharp well exposed image. Nice Bokeh. A 600 mm prime is expensive but definitely has its pluses. I haven't been to leopard country so it is hard for me to say definitively that there is a good or average Nature Story here. But I have seen photographs of leopards sleeping in trees or in trees with a fresh kill. So I will use that as my touchstone for a good Nature Story. The Nature Story of this image is thus average. Pictorial quality of the image is good in that it makes you pause to confirm just what you are seeing.
N-2, T-3, P-3, E-0, Total-8
Review by Mike P., 8-24-2015
I love this shot. Although the cat is almost a bull's eye, it works here. The trunk of the tree leads directly to the animal, and then its leg draws the eye to the head. The tail hanging out the other side of the trunk makes it an interesting touch. The blurring of the background also removes any distractions and focuses on the cat. The only suggestion I would make for improvement is to crop off a little more from the left side. The open space on the left is nice but perhaps too much. More of a crop would help focus even more on the beautiful animal.
N-3, T-3, P-3, E-1, Total-10
Review by Andy H., 8-24-2015
I like this image. The strong tree and DOF chosen gives the image composition impact. The leopard is strong and I feel I'm able to see the leopard on his terms. Well seen, well worked one of those images that I would say 'wish I'd taken that'.
N-2, T-3, P-3, E-0, Total-8
Review by Jerry S., 8-24-2015
The texture of the tree and the spots on the leopard are a great combination in this photo. Unless the leopard is stalking or hunting then the nature aspect is not fully developed. The exposure and colors appear excellent to me and the light green grass makes an interesting background. The weakness in the image is the framing or cropping. If the leopard is the primary story, he/she needs to be a larger portion of the frame. A vertical aspect ratio with the crop just below the fork in the tree and just to the left of the leopard head would highlight the leopard and maintain a sufficient portion of the tree to see the beautiful texture.
N-2, T-3, P-1, E-0, Total-6
Review by Manu R., 8-24-2015
My first impression was that the tree is over powering the leopard. But then then, striking pose of the animal with the concentrated gaze took over.Good image with a nature story, rare subject, and good composition. Only disadvantage, I feel the primary focus is on the tree rather than the animal.
N-3, T-2, P-3, E-0, Total-8
Review by Dan C., 8-25-2015

Title is way too long.  While the image tells a story, I feel you place too much emphasis on the tree and not on the leopard.  I cropped it down and put the leopard’s face at the upper left 1/3 intersection.  This makes the leopard a more significant element in the story you appear to be trying to tell.

Without seeing leaves as well as trunk I can only guess.  Most savannah trees are various species of acacia.  If it had a more or less flattened top, that may be the case here.  If you had indicated South Africa instead of Tanzania the other best guess would have been a marula tree.

N2, T3, P2, E0 – Total 7

Response by Bruce F., 8-26-2015
Dan, I think the tree is the Umbrella Thorn Acacia Tree, because of the grey/black bark. I read that all the umbrella thorn trees in the Serengeti are either one hundred or two hundred years old. I think this very big one is two hundred year old variety. The reason they gave is their seeds cannot survive fires.
Regarding the cropping of my image, I think your version puts more emphasis on the tree trunk and the forks of the tree, not less. In your version 70% of the image is the tree trunk and large branches itself. Even with the leopard larger, the focus in this version is the massive tree trunk and branches.
Where in my version with inclusion of more of the savanna in gives the image a more open and airy feel. The story is more about all three: the openness of the savanna, the leopard using these umbrella thorn trees as places to see and view from, and the leopard’s life up in the trees. My crop is more graphic; there is more branches and space, more striking arrangement.
I did include the story about my 600 mm lens mount damaged in the write up, and not be able to use my 1.4 x tele-converter with it. Since I could not use it and didn’t have that option available, I did the best I could with the composition. I already cropped also some from the top and the left sides. More crop as you did I think changes the character and message of the image. From the all three subjects with the leopard centered, to more importance on the tree itself.
In addition, I think it’s the look and position of the leopard that intrigues the viewer, so that you have to look a little closer is which is actually good in this case.
Usually, my style and voice is to get closer, but again I think the trunk overwhelms the leopard as you get closer. Small birds look better on small perches, here the massive tree trunk overshadows even leopard, covering most of his body.
The way I visually and emotional see it, you’ll need to convince me otherwise.

Review by Dawn C., 8-28-2015
Love the engagement with the viewer and tension of the pose, indicating how brief a moment you've captured. The exposure and depth of field are spot-on. Strong diagonal lines in the composition add to the overall strength of the image.
N-3, T-3, P-3, E-1, Total-10

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Title:   Bald Eagle Pauses On Its Feeding Of A Salmon

Goal:   My goal is to portray an intimate view of a Bald Eagle that contains the essential elements that speak and say Bald Eagle. Here you have their powerful and huge claws; you can see that this eagle is firmly holding down the salmon as it eats. You have the food source, the salmon, not a minor point, because salmon are the key species that brings life to this area of Alaska. Without salmon, without the special soils of the Chilkat River Valley that allow for upwelling of warmer waters, the great concentration of eagles would not be possible.

You don’t have to show all of the habitat to have a nature story. Here you do see the stream waters in the background, and the round stones in the foreground tell you that it is along a river. Personally, the images that have so much habitat that the main subject the animal is very small in the frame, don’t get me excited. These images lack being able to show the spirituality of the animal and the sacredness of life.

What I love in this image is the light, for here the low side lighting lights up the orbit of the eagle eye, making it glow—glow white, whiter than normal.

Equipment / Source:   This image was taken with my Canon D40; the camera I was using in 2010. Along with my 600 mm f4.0 IS lens with a 1.4 tele-converter attached, effective length of 840mm. 1/800 sec. shutter speed, at aperture f7.1 and ISO 640. If I remember correctly, the capture was late in the afternoon, in Mid-November so the angle of the sun was pretty low, just before it set below the mountains to the west of the Chilkat River valley.

Technique:   My lens was on a tripod, you just cannot hand hold this lens, with my Wimberley gimbal type tripod head. I think also I moved down river farther than most, so that my angle was good for when the eagle bend down and started feeding—an angle with the eagle was parallel to the film plane.

Processing:   I used Nik’s Viveza (Google’s now) for a couple things. 1) I lighten the Eagle’s dark feathers so you could see some detail. 2) I also made the eagles white feathers a bit whiter. 3) I used levels to lighten the exposure of image as well. 4) I also used Viveza to darken and tone down some of the bright red spots in the meat of the salmon carcass 5) I also used a technique with the RGB channel to enhance mid-tone contrast.

Comments/Scores (N, T, P, E, Total)

Critique Image (only members of Study Group Two may critique this image)

Review by Butch S., 7-21-2015
This is a strong nature image. The composition is good and it is clear that you intended to focus only the head and talons of the eagle. To my eye the image is mostly under exposed, thus begging for a dodge of the bird's head and shoulder. This comment also applies to the fish head and body. The water, if left as is, would then give a nice contrast in tonal values. I also would like to see what a greater depth of field would look like to put the red fish flesh in focus. Could your D40 tolerated a higher ISO so you could have used a smaller aperture?
N-3, T-2, P-3, E-0, Total=8
Review by Rick C., 7-23-2015
The nature story in this image is excellent. I like the poised position of the Eagle’s head. I do not need to see it tearing at the salmon as the open fish behind the head already tells me what is going on. Primary focus and DOF look fine to me. The tight composition also works well here. As you have it, the lighting looks totally natural, which isn’t a bad thing, but which also lets the water in the BG have more influence than it needs to. In one of your comments you mentioned Viveza. I think you could have taken those adjustments even further. I would be inclined to open the facial area of the Eagle up even more and then darken down the water BG to shift the emphasis even more to the Eagle’s face (see what I did with Viveza). N-3, T-3, P-3 = 9 (can be even stronger)

I noticed that your image was saved in ProPhoto RGB. Remember that Windows (and the internet) are sRGB color spaces and as a result your image colors and brightness may not look as they did one your system. You will need to convert to sRGB to keep thing looking the same.

Response to the above critique by Bruce F., 7-31-2015
I read your description and review of my eagle image and downloaded your adjusted image to compare to my image that I submitted for the study group. At first I disagreed with your adjustment comments, after I looked at the image on my computer. Yes, then, I can see your adjustments were subtle. Overall, yes, your image is slightly better pictorially.

But my question is how far do you go with adjustments like this? I would argue if you really look at your adjusted image, the light on the water really doesn’t match the bright light on the legs and claws of the eagle, nor the eye. Well you could say there is a break in the clouds for the light on the eagle, and the light on the water is filtered by some thin clouds.

Yet it doesn’t really match, the light. Yes, maybe, I could spend a little more time subtlety balancing out the light on the water and the eagle, so it appears more natural. Maybe, you also could say that it doesn’t really matter for who is going to notice this. Maybe, only me. Yet, if I can, someone else will too. That person is going to say or could say that it’s not real, and that I have been lied too.

Nature isn’t perfect, soon all the nature images that you see will be perfect. Nature imperfections will be sanitized out.

With the power of the digital darkroom now, photography, isn’t really truly photography anymore. If nature photography, now really becomes something created in the mind of the artist, and less and less about a moment in time, less about what the photographer saw and visualized at the moment of capture.

How far do you go before drawing the line? There is something true and sacred about nature. If I go and make the adjustments as you suggested, do I cross the line, and present something that’s false.
I am very careful about this, but the next nature photographer, trying distinguish him or herself from the crowd isn’t going to mind putting animals from the next day into the scene, or using a tame wolf to jump over the fence at night to win the BBC World Wildlife competition.

Pretty soon people are going to ask, did this really happen. Is this hummingbird pollenating this spectacular flower really real? Does this hummingbird really pollenate a flower that’s doesn’t live in its environment?

It becomes a question of believability! Soon everyone is going to look at nature images with a suspicious mind and with doubt and skepticism. Every photo is doctored to look and convey a certain meaning. Believability is lost, and certain degree of trust and truth to the viewer is gone.

Well, you can say that photography real never does portrait reality. Yes, that’s always been true, even Ansel Adams altered his photographs in the wet darkroom, to get the final print the way he wanted, even if it meant whiting the crosses, and increasing contrast on his Moonrise in Hernandez, New Mexico image.

Maybe, captioning is an answer or representing these perfect images as fine art?
Look at Nick Brandt’s work “On This Earth, A Shadow Falls”, is it art or nature photography? Or both?
There is no easy answer, but the power of the digital darkroom is so tremendous and growing by leaps and bounds. Sometime the best representation of nature isn’t the adjustment you can make, but the one you don’t.

By the way, I don’t think your adjustment to my image goes too far. Also, I would like to thank you for mentioning to me about the color space. Yes, I should be sending in my images under srbg color space, the color space of the Internet, and not with a Pro Photo color space.

Response to the above response by Rick - 7-31-2015

Hi Bruce
I’ll post this answer to your reply on the study group page so that the group can share it as well.

Basically, you are spot on in your thoughts. I wish there was a simple, straightforward answer, but there are an array of areas of interpretation. The issue comes down to remaining as true as possible to the moment captured. Hence all of the ND rules against adding or removing elements and “manipulation” of the image. That latter aspect is where the personal interpretation comes into play. We try to provide guidelines on what is allowed and what is not but there is always room for personal interpretation. You have a fine eye and so an alteration of the tonality such as I made may no longer look realistic to you while another viewer may not evaluate the relative brightness of the light on the legs versus that on the water. Burning in and dodging are (and always have been) allowed as valid adjustments to a nature image and that is effectively what we are doing in the changes I made, darkening one area and lightening another to shift the viewer’s interest slightly to what we want them to concentrate on. If that adjustment is over done, and no longer looks “realistic” to that viewer, the adjustment has failed. If the viewer is a knowledgeable judge, they will likely score down as a result.

At the core of this evolving frontier is the fact that digital provides even greater flexibility than film did. Changing the white balance on an image shifts the colors dramatically. If you shot it on AWB yet the conditions were actually backlit is the color on the shaded side of the eagle true or are the colors on the daylight side correct? If you shift between Shade and Daylight white balance they will render differently that AWB. Which is “true”? Similarly if you open a Raw image and see the default rendering in the Adobe Standard picture profile is that correct? You will get different tonality and color rendition if you shift to either Camera Standard or Camera Landscape. The difference may be subtle, but it is there. Which is “true”?

I could go on, but the fundamental issue is the fact that digital puts us back into the darkroom with a need to “develop” the image and that allows for a range of interpretations. With an understanding that we are not to alter the truth of the moment recorded, there is room for dodging and burning in, cropping , sharpening, and even adjusting color balance to remove a color cast. The nature rules have been adjusted to even allow for HDR and depth of field stacking even though these are truly composites and no longer a single image. These allowances are intended to address the potential technical limitations of the physical medium (digital capture) which has less ability to capture depth or contrast range that the human eye. We could never make these adjustments back in the film days. The digital age has brought them into play.

Try running an HDR tone mapping on your eagle shot and see what it does. Tone mapping will work even on a single image. You would have to pull back on settings such as saturation, but you may be surprised at the result.

In the end, however, it depends on whether the image remains realistic to the viewer. As the photographer we have the added responsibility of affirming that we have not altered the fundamental accuracy (truth) of the moment within the adjustments that are allowed to improve the visual quality of the image captured. If as the photographer you are not comfortable with an adjustment or the extent of an adjustment then you need to avoid it or back it off. If as a viewer you find an adjustment to be artificial (no longer realistic), then it fails. For example technically you could apply a vignette because that is only burning in the corners and edges of an image. Doing so very subtly may draw you viewer into the image. If the viewer can detect it, it will often feel artificial and they will react that this is not natural.

I hope this helps to add some context to the very valid points you made in your comment.


Review by Andy H., 7-24-2015
You certainly achieved what you set out to do,this is an intimate image.

Everything, technically, is on the money and the light in the eye is a bonus. I love the texture of the eagles feet and the light striking them.When I opened the image up I automatically tried to pull the image down looking for more of the head. For me I would like the DOF take in the salmon in the background.
N-3, T-3, P-2, E-0, Total=8

Review by Dawn C., 7-29-2015
Strong nature story in this intimate portrait. Light and action don't always cooperate when it comes to nature. You handled the back-lighting well and the tiny catch-light adds life to the eye.
N-3, T-3, P-3, E-0, Total-9

Review by Bogdan B., 8-1-2015
It's a perfect portrait of the eagle. Anyway, for me the crop is too tight. I would like to see the darker feathers of the bird more bright.
N-3, T-3, P-3, E-0, Total-9

Review by Les L., 8-4-2015
Excellent image of an eagle eating prey. I like the strong focus; bright eyes, clear, strong claws. I would prefer that the crop be less tight so I could see more eagle and salmon.
N-3, T-2, P-3, E-0, Total-8

I am a wildlife, nature, and scenic photographer. I now live in San Mateo, after spending most of my adult life in Millbrae. I previously worked full-time for Applied Biosystems and Life Technologies as a senior business analyst. I left this position a few years ago to concentrate on my true passion of nature photography. My Dad was a deer hunter and bought some property in Monterey County, so he could have a place of his own to go deer hunting. We have owned this property since 1946. I grew up spending my summers down there, following in my father's footsteps, hunting quail, dove, and black tailed deer--using a b-b gun, graduating up to a powerful hunting rifle. When I was eighteen I had to kill a black-tailed buck up close shooting him in the neck, since my first shot from afar had only wounded him. I saw death up close and personal, deciding from that moment on I didn't not want to be part of death, but to cherish life instead.

My friends and I do a lot of bird photography at my ranch in rural Monterey County, using photo blinds extensively; and recently we have built a few permanent ponds to attract wildlife.

I was a Minolta user, but switched to Canon in 2001. I used to shoot extensively with slide film; now I strictly use digital camera bodies, specifically the Canon 7D and 40D bodies, previously the Canon D1 Mark II and as backup the Canon 20D. I primarily use RAW capture, and process the images in Photoshop. I recently upgraded to CS5, and also have many external hard drives to store my raw files.

Check out Bruce's nature blog at and his website at