Photography by J.D. Magers

Portfolio Book Image: Wood Duck Reflection

Added on by J.D. Magers.

Every October, Scott Kelby and his company organize a World Wide Photowalk.  I think last year there were over 30,000 participants world wide.  Pretty impressive.  I have done the photowalk once, although I have tried every year.  This image is from the 2012 walk that was held down in Littleton.  It seems like everything photographic in Denver is held down in the Littleton area, but oh well.  A good friend of mine had been showing an interest in getting into photography, and the walk was the perfect opportunity for us to go out and let him press the shutter a few times.  So I borrowed a camera from another friend at work, drove down through a really bad rainstorm, and went walking with about 30 others when the clouds parted.  This Wood Duck is now my favorite image from the walk.  It isn't what I submitted to the contest, but probably should have been.  Reflections are huge with me and my photography, and this image has a beautiful reflection.  I also like the feather floating in the water.  We'll see if I am able to participate in the walk this year.  I sure hope so.

Wood Duck swims in a park pond near Littleton, Colorado.

Portfolio Book Image: Swainson's Hawk

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Raptors are my favorite bird.  Especially Hawks.  And Kestrel's.  But before I saw my first Kestrel, I had always been trying to get an image of a hawk.  And not one sitting on a telephone pole either.  Those are boring.  I wanted one in a tree, with a nice clean background.  It took six years.

It is virtually impossible to sneak up on a hawk.  Even if you're behind it, they always seemingly fly off when you take your first step towards them.  So imaging my surprise when I saw this beautiful juvenile Swanson's Hawk sitting on a tree stump just off the side of the road on my way to Barr Lake.  He even stayed there when I hit the breaks and pulled over.  He was very patient with me as shot, but I didn't really move more than 10 feet away from the jeep so as not to scare him away.  As such, this is cropped pretty good, but I finally had my hawk image.  

I just love the way he (or she) is staring right into the camera.  Clearly I'm being assessed for a potential threat, but since I didn't even try to approach, I guess I was okay.  I can't wait to get close to one again.  So pretty.

Portfolio Book Image: Lake Snow

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As we go along with this book project (and yes I know it has been several months since there's been a new post, but I'm back!), one thing you'll notice is an intermittent black and white.  I've done this deliberately, because I do not have 20-30 images of my best work that are one cohesive theme.  I have plenty of great landscapes and nature images, plenty of great portraits and other images with people, but I don't have 20-30 that could fill the book.  So I will be separating out the best work with my best black and whites.  Each mini theme if you will, will be separated out in this manner.  For example, the first three images posted for the book were natural (the landscape opener, and then two nature images).  Now for the black and white.  The next subject will be my best avian images, and then another black and white.  We'll see what it looks like in the end.

As for this image, it was taken in the 2009-2010 timeframe while hiking along the Bear Lake Train in Rocky Mountain National Park.  I don't think it's Bear Lake, but it could be.  I don't remember.  I was drawn by how the melting snow has revealed all these exposed tree roots.  I knew when it saw it that the contrast between the snow and the forest would make a nice moody black and white.  There is a moody feel to this image, and it makes me want to go further and yet turn around at the same time.  I'm pretty sure I went further...

Melting snow reveals exposed tree roots high in Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado.

Portfolio Book Image: Bull Snake Love

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Ahh Spring.  Absolutely my favorite season.  The snow is gone.  Baseball is back and the Rockies are actually relevant for a couple of weeks.  Birds sing.  Flowers and the garden get planted.  Hiking is more enjoyable.  Unless you see this in the middle of the trail that is:

Two bull snakes mating in the middle of the trail at Barr Lake State Park, Adams County, Colorado.

My aunt and uncle were visiting from San Francisco.  They both have an interest in bird watching, and I am trying to learn so I figured I would take them to the south end of Barr Lake State Park to see what we could see.  We got a half mile or so down the trail, having seen plenty of birds, including my uncle's first Bullock's Oriole.  We saw a lady hurrying back towards the parking lot, and she warned us about a snake in the middle of the trail.  We thanked her and went on our merry way.  A couple of minutes later, with binoculars and camera to our eyes while looking at the trees, I heard my aunt yell out to Stop!!  My uncle almost stepped right in the middle of this pile of reptilian hanky panky.  

What an awesome sight to see.  You can definitely see how much bigger the male is than the female by the size of their heads.  At first we thought he was eating her, but it became evident after a couple of minutes what was going on.  All of us watched for a few minutes, I took some snaps, and we continued on down the trail.  Thirty or so minutes later, on the way back, they were still at.  As we approached to go around them, they finished their business and split up, both heading in opposite directions.  Typical breakup…she went her way, and he his.  There's a joke in there somewhere...

Portfolio Book Image: American Bison

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Luck favors the prepared.  That's really what it boils down to, but I still consider this shot to be pretty lucky.  

Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge is 15000 acres of reclaimed land in the middle of Denver, where the U.S. Army used to make chemical weapons and private industry used to make pesticides.  After a massive clean up effort, the land today is home to over 300 species of birds and mammals.  This includes a herd of 60-80 bison that live behind a double enclosure of approximately 2200 acres.  

The bison enclosure is drivable, with the road extending for a half mile or so.  This guy and his buddy were no more than ten feet from the road grazing.  There were four cars watching them and taking photographs (you're not allowed to get out of your vehicle for obvious safety reasons.  These are wild animals.).  Anyway, the four of us were all parked on the side of the road doing our thing, and then when one or the other bison moved, somebody would choose to drive up the road a little ways, turn around and come back for more.  There isn't a whole lot of traffic.  We did this for maybe 20 minutes or so.  

For this shot, I was the only one watching this particular bison.  The other three cars were with the other guy.  I was experimenting with different crops on my lens, when all of a sudden he lifted up one of those massive hooves and started scratching his face like a dog.  As I had the camera on burst mode, I hit the shutter and fired off as many shots as I could, praying that in my excitement one of them would be in focus with a tack-sharp eye.  None of the other cars saw him do it, I was alone.  Like any good itch, it lasted for maybe ten seconds.  Pure awesomeness.  After that, I left to race home and see what I had.  Yep, I got lucky…It was a great day.  And this is one of my very favorite images I have ever made.

American Bison taking care of an itch at Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge.  Commerce City, Colorado.  March 2014.

Portfolio Book Image: Flatirons Sunrise

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A few months back, I mentioned that I was going to take Zack Arias' advice from his Photography Q & A book and figure out what my 20-30 best images are and get a book printed.  Well, I have completed the task of looking at over 14,000 images captured since 2006.  I have gotten impartial feedback from trusted confidants (Thanks Brett, and Uncle Jack and Aunt Debi, I appreciate your help!).  I have narrowed the images down to 23 of my best work.  

Over the next few weeks, I am going to upload them 1 or 2 at a time, depending on when the toddler goes to sleep.  Once complete, I will post about why I selected each image.  I will then send the book off to printing to keep on my desk at work and to have here at home.  If you have feedback on any image as the portfolio evolves, or feel a picture just doesn't fit, please let me know.  I enjoy feedback.

Here is the first picture, taken back in 2009 when I was first learning HDR.  I've reworked it several times over the years as I get more comfortable with processing.  Enjoy.

Sunrise on the Flatirons.  Boulder, Colorado.

What a Pretty Lady

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A couple weeks back I mentioned going to visit my Grandmother in her new apartment.  My Grandma is awesome.  After she moved in, I was talking to her on the phone.  I asked if she was running the place yet.  Without hesitation she said, "Not yet, but we have a mandatory meeting tomorrow so I'll let them know then."  Ha!  What a dry sense of humor.  Like I said, she's awesome.  


Anyway, I wanted to try and get a really nice portrait of her to surprise my Dad with. Portraits are not my strength, but I'm working on them.  What's the best way to get a somewhat candid portrait of your Grandparent?  Easy, stick your three year old on their lap and take some pictures of the both of them.  Then zoom in.  I think this is a pretty nice portrait of my Grandmother, but it isn't the image I was hoping to get.  My daughter has incredible curly hair and a fondness for the iPhone.  Unfortunately you can see both here in the portrait.  Cropping isn't really an option because there isn't enough space on the left.  I'm going to have to chalk this one up to an experiment that I can learn from.  I just need to go visit, take the camera, take the flash and tell her I want to make some beautiful portraits of a very beautiful lady.  I think she'd be game for that.  Especially if her beloved Broncos are on while I'm there...

Fire and Ice

Added on by J.D. Magers.

It sure feels like winter is coming.  Lots of cold air and rain expected this week.  But then again, this is Colorado and I'll believe it when I see it.  Anyway, here is an image I've been experimenting on for a couple of weeks.  I shot this back in January, but never tried to process it .  Thought I would now…you know, since winter is coming and all.

January Sunrise at Barr Lake State Park, Adams County, Colorado.

January Sunrise at Barr Lake State Park, Adams County, Colorado.

Upcoming Shooting Schedule

Added on by J.D. Magers.
  • Saturday 9/13: We're going over to my Grandma's new apartment to see how she is doing after selling the house she's lived in for 50+ years.  I want to put my daughter on her lap and do some portraits of the both of them.  Should be fun.  Only caveat of this one is my buddy might need to borrow my camera body.  I'm eternally grateful for all the times he's lent me equipment, and I am happy to return the favor.
  • Saturday 9/20:  Said buddy might be coming over to our house to help me with the book project I mentioned awhile ago.  If he does, he's bringing the strobes he uses for his work with the Longmont Humane Society.  
  • Sunday 9/21:  Colorado Pug Rescue is having their annual fundraiser.  If you ever wanted to see 200 pugs out running around snorting all over the place, then come on down.  It's a good time, and a great cause.  More information here:
  • I also need to find a way to get up to RMNP again and shoot the fall color.  Sounds like a vacation day from the real job might be in order.

American Rivers Project

Added on by J.D. Magers.

This last weekend I read a fascinating article on regarding a 417 mile kayaking trip down the most endangered river in the United States.  California's San Joaquin river runs from the Sierra Nevada to the Pacific via the Central Valley.  It empties into the ocean under the Golden Gate Bridge.  The article's author wanted to experience the entire river (including the 40 plus mile stretch where there is no water, just a dry river bed) with the purpose of raising awareness and trying to reconnect himself to the idea of exploring and interacting with a river.

What I read shocked me, and yet it didn't.  I consider myself to be somewhat of a river nut as well, having grown up at the confluence of the Colorado and Gunnison rivers.  I usually spent my summers floating in Lake Powell, which was pure bliss (I have different opinions of Lake Powell now, but I digress).  Anyway, I love rivers.

I welcomed the New Year with a sunrise shoot on the banks of the South Platte River, Adams County Regional Park, Thornton, Colorado.  It was 20 degrees as the sun came up, and I had the park to myself.

I welcomed the New Year with a sunrise shoot on the banks of the South Platte River, Adams County Regional Park, Thornton, Colorado.  It was 20 degrees as the sun came up, and I had the park to myself.

These photos are the South Platte river near my house at Adams County Regional Park.  I like to go for my longer runs over to the river too, so I can check out the flow of the water.  Most of the time it just meanders right on by, which I guess is what a river is supposed to do.  What bothers me though, and this is the connection to the dead zone of the San Joaquin mentioned above, is this:

Discarded chunks of concrete sit right on the West bank of the South Platte River, Adams County Regional Park, Thornton, Colorado.

Discarded chunks of concrete sit right on the West bank of the South Platte River, Adams County Regional Park, Thornton, Colorado.

These discarded cement chucks from a messed up section of side walk just sit right on the river bank.  The park itself has a gigantic grass field bordering a golf course.  It also has a "natural area" that is nothing but rocks and weeds and a couple of prairie dogs.  I hardly ever see birds in the trees that border the river, which makes me wonder about the overall health and quality of the water that flows by here.  I know we are down stream of the industrial Commerce City and this worries me.  The fact that there are these discarded pieces of concrete right on the river bank is also part of the problem.  It's like the contractors that built the park screwed up a section of side walk, so they dug it up to re-pour it and left the chunks sitting there.  I know there are leachables and extractables from this concrete seeping into the river every day, destroying the quality of the water.  I wish Adams County would take accountability for the mess and come clean it up, as well as that flea infested Natural Area.

There are also a lot of sand bars in the immediate area where there isn't enough flow.  The water usage of the Colorado Front Range is ridiculous.  I see businesses all the time with their sprinklers on when it's raining.  It occurred to me that the manager probably doesn't know how to shut them off.  The business just turns them on at the beginning of Spring, then blows em out in Fall.  Empowering the business manager or someone to take responsibility for sprinklers would not only save water, but save money too. It just makes too much sense.  Somebody (or maybe me if I can learn how) needs to develop an app to do that for them. Then they can pay me to do it.

Reflections of cottonwood trees in the water of the South Platte River in early fall when water levels are at their lowest.

Reflections of cottonwood trees in the water of the South Platte River in early fall when water levels are at their lowest.

The water problem in the West is only going to get worse.  Too much water sits in Lake Powell and Lake Mead evaporating away.  Too much water gets pumped uphill and over the mountain to feed the metro area.  If things don't change, all rivers are going to look like the San Joaquin, and then what will we do?  Instead of ice bucketing for ALS, I'll be sending my charitable contributions to the American Rivers Project or the Nature Conservancy.  I encourage you to do the same.  

If interested, the CNN article is here.

Thanks for listening.


Added on by J.D. Magers.

I bet photographer's have been wrestling with the question of what their vision is since the craft was invented.  I've been struggling with it a lot lately, but I have stuff going on in the real job that is really forcing me to think about what I want to do going forward.  Like BIG stuff, stuff that isn't fair in a lot of ways, but stuff that I understand.  Doesn't mean I have to agree with it.  

Nonetheless, as I said, I'm being forced to think about long term stuff.  This has naturally been geared towards trying to figure out if I want to go forward with photography full time.  At this point, I still like the industry that I work in.  I find it to be rewarding and generally worth while.  Plus it provides very well for my family, which is more important to me at this point.  I'm pretty convinced I can still go to work everyday and make images in my spare time, and be absolutely okay with that.

My muse is calling though.  I have this nagging feeling pretty much at all times both at work and at home where I think about photography.  I have a strong desire to go shoot, but I always procrastinate and end up going to bed empty handed.  This also applies to this blog by the way.  I'm convinced on a day in, day out basis that I don't know what I want to shoot.  This is the part where vision comes in.  I've realized my vision for my photography is undefined at the moment.  So what to do about it?  That's the real question.

I've been thinking about vision quite a bit lately.  I have a few ideas that I am going to try and focus on here in the next few months.  Here's the list:

  • To make compelling/visually impactful images of whatever interest me.
  • To utilize my landscape/nature photography for scientific/conservation purposes.
  • As a means to communicate global diversity, whether it be societal or natural.
  • To communicate my inner voice.
  • To utilize my talent to advance charitable causes.

In my notes, I have that third one starred.  But as I typed this, I noticed the word communicate a couple of times.  Maybe that is what my overall vision is?  A means to communicate what I'm feeling when I press the shutter to whomever wants to view my images.  If my images can evoke feeling and emotion in the viewer, then that is enough for me.  If they want to pay me for the image as well, even better.  I can use the money to make bullet number five happen.

So I guess that's the challenge.  You read it all the time, but I think it really boils down to just shooting.  It is important though that everyone who has an interest in making compelling images has to spend at least a little bit of time thinking about how and what they want to shoot.  For me, it has taken eight years to realize if I want to go forward with the craft as a profession sometime in the future, then I have some serious work to do to get there.  I have issued myself a challenge.  What are you going to do to move yourself and your photography forward?

Getting a Photobook Printed

Added on by J.D. Magers.

The last few months have been crazy busy.  Photographically, I have really been busy with a project that I read about in Zack Arias' book Q & A.  Awesome book by the way.  Anyway, one of the Questions that Zack Answered was about doing what is necessary to define your best work. The object is to get down to your 20-30 best images and then actually going through with getting them printed into a book.

I am two thirds of the way done with this effort.  It started with going through every photograph I have ever made.  I have been shooting since 2006, so you can image this took awhile.  Every image with potential for making it into the book gets thrown into a folder.  I went from around 14,000 images down to 450 or so.  From here, the process gets a little more difficult.  These 450 are further culled to around 100.  These 100 are printed and the process for figuring out your book layout begins.  

This is the part where I am at.  In these 109 images that I had printed, there are some things that immediately jump out.  I am totally a generalist when it comes to shooting, which sucks when it comes to this kind of project.  There are four photos from various baseball activities.  That's not enough for a story.  Same thing with cityscapes (three images), portraits (two images), and lighthouses (sorry Jupiter, Florida, you know I love you).  What I was able to find are 24 images that might work to tell my story.  None of them have a man-made object in them.  That's awesome, they tell a Natural story.  That story starts with a sunrise, goes into my wildlife images, then birds, then Utah, etc, ending with a sunset.  Each subject if you will is broken up with a black and white image.  

I think this story flows, but the next step in the project is to get outside people to look at it and give me feedback.  My aunt and uncle are going to come over in a couple weeks.  My buddy from work is willing to chip in his advice too.  I'm going to put the images on a table or a wall, along with the other prints and tell them to go to work.  They're gonna have free reign to add or remove as they see fit.  I want feedback on all of them. Together we're going to craft an awesome photo book that I can print and confidently show people my best work. The real gift is the critiques of these images.  I expect harsh opinion, and I hope I get it.  It's the only way I'll get better.    

I'll be posting some of these images here over the next few days and weeks, so please check back.  This has been fun, but it will be even more fun if I can get additional eyes to look at my work.

More later...

No Snow This Time

Added on by J.D. Magers.

On Saturday, my lovely wife informed me that since the prior weekend was so crappy with the snow, and Sunday was supposed to be 70 degrees, that she was kicking me out of the house.  She told me to go back to the Arsenal.  You don't have to tell me twice.

Rocky Mountain Arsenal is home to around 60 Bison.  I'd been there a handful of times previously without ever having seen one.  Well, I learned today that they are behind a fence on the Northern side of the refuge.  I didn't know there are two distinct sides to the area.  I guess that makes sense given that the area is right by Dick Sporting Goods Park.  Wouldn't want a 2000 lb wild bison interrupting a Rapids game.  I found the enclosure by turning right instead of left at a stop sign.  Lucky me.

Back to the photograph, I love the contrast here between the natural world and the industrial one.  It's nice that we are able to enjoy these areas so close to the city.  Hopefully people will continue to realize the importance of the refuge areas and get away from the city.  Even for a little bit.  We're supposed to go outside.  We just need to do more of it.

More later...


An American Bison rests at Rocky Mountain Arsenal Wildlife Refuge with Commerce City, Colorado in the background.

An American Bison rests at Rocky Mountain Arsenal Wildlife Refuge with Commerce City, Colorado in the background.

Rocky Mountain Arsenal Snow

Added on by J.D. Magers.

As was mentioned previously, last Saturday I was invited to go shoot at Rocky Mountain Arsenal Wildlife Refuge with the Front Range Wildlife Photographer's group.  Well, Mother Nature herself decided that she wanted to partake as well, and decided to drop in with some good old fashion Arctic weather.  To say it was cold would be a mild understatement.  It was cold!  I did make it though, as did 10-12 others.  Mostly we huddled together up by the visitor center and introduced ourselves.  We took a group photo to prove we were stupid enough to be out in that weather, then everyone retreated to their cars and drove around by themselves.  I didn't see a single bird or animal, but I did try to shoot some cattails with the intent to turn the photo into a black and white.  I was kind of disappointed though when I got them home and realized I forgot rule number one of landscape photography:  gotta have a foreground element.  Guess I was more interested in staying warm in the jeep.  Chalk this one up to a lesson learned.  More later...


Just Another Photograph

Added on by J.D. Magers.

This photo was taken at the Palm Beach Zoo in West Palm Beach, Florida over my Christmas Vacation.  Sadly, I forgot to write down what it is.  I would love to know, so if you are a botanist, or a gardner, or just plain recognize what it is, please leave a comment.  This flower deserves to be recognized.  Thanks!

More later...

Palm Beach Flower

What Happened?

Added on by J.D. Magers.

Yep, I missed posting something over the last two nights.  Tuesday, I spent an hour trying to marry up my two Google + accounts so I can have gmail for people that want to contact me, while still having all my Google + activity in one spot.  It took awhile to figure out, but I did get it. Now I'm happy.

Last night I had to work a little bit for the day job.  That's not so happy, but it had to be done.

I was invited to shoot at Rocky Mountain Arsenal this Saturday with the Front Range Wildlife Photographer's group from Facebook.  I'm hoping that I get to meet some more really great shooters, while meeting some new friends who might have insight into where the buffalo roam.  Check back later this week for some (hopefully) really cool images.

More later...