Study Group 2

Bruce Finocchio

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Title:   Line of Wildebeest Cross Hidden Valley Lake Pan

Goal:   We visited Hidden Valley at the exact moment the majority of the migration arrived at this location. They were very thirsty at this noon time arrival. The issue was finding a good composition because there were so many animals. To create some kind of order out of the chaos of thousands and thousands of animals bunch together, was an extreme challenge. My eyes we always looking for situations where I could isolate individual animals from the masses. Here I found a small group crossing the water filled pan from the other side, coming directly at me. I did try to find patterns, but the isolation made this image successful. One zebra in the back, adds to the story, because it was a zebra and wildebeest migration.

Equipment / Source:   Canon 7D body, 400mm F4.0 DO IS lens, Exposure 1/2000 sec F10.0 ISO 1000

Technique:   Hand held on a bean bag from the top of the land rover. We park on a hill above the pan, so viewing and especially seeing the action was enhanced. Here to capture the line of wildebeest it was important to be above.

Processing:   In camera raw, I did pull back the blacks lightening them a bit, so more texture, and a truer tone and color, would show on the backs and bodies of the wildebeest

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

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

Review by Manu R.
Wild beast migration-river crossing- Nature story is evident. Nice approach with the isolated Beast moving away from the group. The splashing water makes the image dynamic. Isolated beast is moving out of the frame with hardly any space towards the direction of movement affecting the visual impact. Zeebra is hidden behind the beasts.
N-3, T-3, P-2, E-0, Total-8
Review by Les L.
Outstanding photo although I missed the Zebra in the back. I would suggest the photo definitely needs more room on the right hand side. The tight cropping leaves the leading Wildebeest without room to move forward and cuts off the churning water in front of him.
N-3, T-2, P-2, E-0, Total-7
Review by Dawn C
Strong compositional lines. Wish there was a touch more room in front of the one on the right, there isn't much room for him to move without going out of the frame (especially if this was matted and framed). The back group is soft - more depth of field and this would be perfect. I'm adding the point for exceptional due to your success in finding this composition among a mass migration. Well done
N-3, T-2, P-3, E-1, Total-9
Review by Andy H.
Nice image, great composition. Clean sharp Mage but wouldn't have expected anything else.
Heading to the same location on Tuesday!
N-3, T-3, P-3, E-0, Total-9
Review by Maria K-L
wow! very artistic image and in this same time technically excellent. great story too
N-3, T-3, P-3, E-1, Total-10
Review by Jerry S
An outstanding image that conveys the nature story through a compelling image. The water disturbances and the muddy water against the more blue background water conveys the action of the migration. Image is well executed technically and in presentation. I awarded an exceptional score because I think the subject and image is worthy of publication.
N-3, T-3, P-3, E-1, Total-10
Review by Mary W.
A great wildlife image! I really like the lines of running wild beets, shape images and perfect depth of field, very interesting!
N-3, T-3, P-3, E-1, Total-10
Review by Cindy M
I really like this image. The S shape of the Wildebeest draws the eye all the way through the image. You did a good job of singling out a few. The sharpness looks good until the end of the line, but from the distant you had to shoot I’m sure that cannot be helped. Besides there is an odd ball at the end of the line and it helps to hide him. I didn’t even notice that when I first looked at the photograph. Having a little more space in front of the leading Wildebeest would improve this image.
N-3, T-3, P-3, E-0, Total-9
Review by Rick C.
I think you saw the seen well and went a very long way toward capturing it successfully. Primary focus seems to be on the lead animal of the main body with the DOF extending in both directions from there. I think the splashing water and DOF fall of leave the face of the front most gnu (right side) appesaring just a touch soft. I think running the sharpening tool over the facial area once or twice (see Dawn’s settings for her image) would correct that. I like the composition with the caveat that I would like more room in front of our foremost animal. If you have any extra there, I would add it back in. I do not mind the fall off on the far animals at all. All in all an image with a strong nature story and nice detail.

N-3, T-3, P-2 = 8

Review by Bogdan B., 9-25-2015
You have catched a good composition at the right moment. I also miss more space on the left. I would prefere a landscape composition of the front animal and some behind, if you had enough zoom.
N-3, T-3, P-2, E-0, Total-8

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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.

Response by Rick Cloran, 8-28-2015
You are 100 percent on the mark with one of the true dilemmas that PSA faces. Each year several individuals are caught compositing or otherwise violating the rules for nature images. When it becomes a chronic thing with a specific individual it gets referred to the Ethics Committee, but as you note, when the individual’s skill level gets to a point it can be almost impossible to detect a manipulation. That people do it is a sadness. That they do it for the sake of an acceptance, ribbon or even a medal is an even bigger sadness. Part of it is “our” fault for not getting the judges to pick nature story over perfect pictures. This puts premium on perfection in many people’s minds. Sadly this type of thinking is encouraged by pro photographers like Art Morris who will actually advocate cloning the tail or wing tip of a bird onto a different image to show the complete bird if he failed to capture it in a single shot. Artie isn’t alone in this. Likewise the on-line nature groups want near perfect pictures and routinely suggest makers alter images to improve them pictorially.

In the end it comes down to the individual and their willingness to provide a true record of their nature observation rather than something that may be pictorially more pleasing but which is no longer accurate. As the software makers improve or add tools to make alterations easier and less detectable and as makers gain more skill in using those tools, we will ultimately become more and more cynical and suspicious that a near perfect image has been manipulated to that state rather than being a great capture made when someone was at the right place at the right time and able to record a moment for us all to share. - Rick

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

Review by Maria K., 8-29-2015
I love this image. composition of the image is great. Gaze of the leopard is so powerful that I do not mind he is smaller in the frame. His curly tail with lines of branches works fantastic.
N-3, T-3, P-3, E-1, Total-10

Review by Denise D., 9-5-2015
I like this image it shows the leopard in his natural state. Plus a nice nature shot. The exposure is where it's supposed to be. When I first look at the image my eyes are locked directly into his eyes. Their mesmerizing to say the least.
N-3, T-3, P-3, E-1, Total-10

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