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2021 Texas Photo Swing – The Epilogue

March 16, 2021

I feel like I’m working off of a Tarantino movie script as I am writing (and publishing) my epilogue prior to any of the pieces of the story.  I guess I’m entitled to that level of editorial discretion as the author.

I’m sitting this morning at San Antonio International Airport, two days after I had expected to be sleeping in my own bed after my 2021 Texas Photo Swing.  Mother Nature, as she is prone to doing, has won again and has set my schedule for me.  Denver is still mostly digging out from two feet of snow as I write this.  Our flight Sunday afternoon was cancelled, so my traveling companion and I chose to stay an extra couple of days in San Antonio.  Our flight today has been delayed twice, giving me a chance to write this and proofread it.

This trip has been a good one.  A little more spaced out photographically than previous photographic adventures.  The weather has been good, but not great.  I shot a ton at Crescent Bend Nature Park for a couple of reasons, biggest of which was the way the Texas landscape was crushed by the freeze a few weeks back.  By the end of the trip, the landscape was getting green and the butterflies were coming out. In retrospect moving the trip out a couple of weeks might have given a little more variety in terms of photo locations.  But I really can’t complain.  Nor will I.

The trip was unique for me as this is the first time that I’ve shot with my traveling companion.  With previous traveling companions, photography was simply a “me” thing rather than an “us” thing. This experience has been far more satisfying.

My companion had also never shot in bird blinds before, so there was some mentoring and guiding along the way to make sure she was getting the most out of the experience.

She also had never been to Texas, other than for a short and not very happy time in her life when a medical emergency had her flying in under the cover of darkness and the extent of her travels were from the hospital to where she was lodged and very little else.  She said it would take a very special person to ever get her to come back to San Antonio.  I seem to have met that requirement.

As a preview of coming attractions, our shooting took us to the Rocking R6 Ranch near Laredo, La Lomita Wildlife Photography Ranch near Uvalde, the beaches and the Leona Turnbull Birding Center of Port Aransas, and multiple trips to Crescent Bend Nature Park in Schertz.  At least 50 bird species were seen throughout the trip.  Effectively there will be some life list adds, but that will take a review of the photos once I get home.

And speaking of the photos, I have a ton of them.  Shooting in RAW mode, I filled three 64 Gb memory cards, a 32 Gb memory card, and part of another 32 Gb memory card.  My shooting companion, shooting JPG, filled a 32 Gb card and most of a 64 Gb card.  As we head back to Colorado, there is but two 32 Gb cards left in the card wallet that don’t have any images on it.  If measured in quantity only, this was an awful successful trip.

But how was the quality?  Not a clue.  As I did with last year’s trip through Kansas, Nebraska, and Wyoming, I only brought a Chromebook with me.  Enough to catch email, transfer images to an external hard drive, and figure out where I should go next.  It is a new Chromebook (the previous one I had purchased in 2013), but definitely not enough to do any serious photo processing.  That will wait until I return home.

As will the blog posts about the individual shooting days. That will take some time. No, a lot of time. Missing two days of work this week will mean my next eight days at work will be long days in order to minimize the impact of my time off. Hopefully these posts can trickle through over the next few weeks.

About the Image:
Random Texas highway sign in Zavala County, Texas. iPhone.
Shot as a piece of a scavenger hunt for a friend in San Antonio (that he didn’t realize he was on)

Gearing Up for Shooting Season

February 28, 2021

As the first couple of pages fall off this year’s calendar, I can feel it in my bones. Shooting season is on its way.

My first trip of the year will get me out of the cold of Colorado to a much warmer clime (and I will share that with y’all when it happens). But to get from here to there I’m going back to some of my lessons learned from last year.

One of those lessons: Trying to travel with my legacy camera bag was a nightmare.

The camera bag I was carrying was the same one that I’ve been carrying since I was stationed in Turkey. It has been a long term relationship of 20 years with a LowePro backpack that I bought to carry my Canon AE-1 and assorted second-hand and third-hand lenses. It has seen four countries (and nearly got lost in Germany), a dozen U.S. states, about a half dozen camera bodies, hundreds of rolls of film, and countless lenses. It has been with me for most of the photographic journey.

But last year, both in my January trip down to South Texas and my June trip out through Kansas, Nebraska, and Wyoming, I found that the old bag just wasn’t working for me any more. Really more so on my trip to Texas because I was flying and the backpack was awkward, yet I didn’t have all the tools I wanted to have. And I was limited to my small Chromebook for computing power because it was the only computer that would fit in the small front pocket of the bag.

So after two decades I’ve supplemented that backpack with a Think Tank Photo Airport Security V3.0.

Go big or go home.

To the outside world it looks like a run-of-the-mill rolling carry-on bag. But inside it carries both of my long lenses, my camera body, and the rest of my accessories. And the front of the bag can handle up to a 17″ laptop.

Granted, carrying this much gear is going to be a pain in the neck when I go through airport security–I will once again be a human rain delay for everybody who is behind me as I remove all the equipment from the bag, transfer it to bins, and then put all the equipment back. But it will be nice to have all of my toys with me.

The old LowePro bag isn’t going anywhere. For short day trips I will continue to use it. However, it is going to cause me to duplicate some of the supplies that I have in the accessory areas. Extra memory cards, lens cloths, and so on, because I don’t want to have to be continually transferring items from one bag to the other. That, I think, is the best way not to have something when you really need it.

So the journey with the new camera bag starts in just a couple of weeks. Expect an update soon.

Two Lost Voices – Rush & The King

February 19, 2021

In what feels like a lifetime ago, nearly thirty years ago, I worked at KPRL Radio in Paso Robles, California. I thought radio was going to be the way I made a living. After all, I was told more than once I had a face made for radio. As it turned out, I had a voice made for newspapers. But I digress…

KPRL Radio was a mixed format radio station at the time. News early in the morning. Talk from mid-morning to lunchtime. An hour of news. Another hour of talk, followed by a few hours of music. Evening drive-time news, a couple of hours of music, and then talk from early evening until the point when I would play the legal notices, the Star Spangled Banner, and then turn off the transmitter. California Angels baseball during the summer. High school football in the fall. Los Angeles Lakers basketball during the winter. It was a potpourri of programming designed to be a public service to the community.

During the course of the broadcast day (via the magic of satellite and syndication) four giants of the radio world contributed to the programming. Two of them have been gone for a long time: Paul Harvey, who was famous for his News & Comment and the Rest of the Story. And Chick Hearn, the long-time announcer for the Los Angeles Lakers who’s idioms are now common place in the vernacular.

But two of them have just recently left us. Larry King and Rush Limbaugh.

Rush Limbaugh was on in the morning so I rarely got to listen. And for the most part, that was okay. I didn’t agree with his politics. I didn’t agree with his intolerance. But he was a massively talented broadcaster. And like him or hate him, he forced you to have an opinion. He changed radio and may have been responsible for saving AM radio as a going concern.

Larry King was on during the evening when I was running the board. His talent as an interviewer has been trumpeted loudly since his passing. And he was incredibly talented. But what nobody talks about is the hour of open phones he had every night where he engaged with Americans from sea to shining sea. Every night was interesting. And I was getting paid to listen to four hours of it every night. Absolutely amazing.

Neither of these men were perfect. I’ve shared my opinion of Rush. Larry stretched the truth a bit. But their mark on radio was undeniable. To lose both of them less than 4 weeks apart is amazingly sad.

Rest in peace, Gentlemen.

We will return to our regularly scheduled blog posts after a brief message from our sponsor.

What a Tangled Web… The 2021 Edition

January 16, 2021

I try to do this post every couple of years, and now is as good a time as any.

A friendly reminder from your friendly neighborhood information security guy who is also a photographer…

When was the last time you backed up your photos? That includes your cell phones.

My standard phrase is (with apologies to Bill Shakespeare): What a tangled web we weave, when in backups we do not believe.

For the 2021 edition… a lesson learned.

Last spring I discovered that the image archive on my main machine was missing three days worth of shooting. As were my backup drives. How did I know they were missing? Mostly because I had the images in Lightroom (or snapshots of them), but I didn’t have the images on my primary hard drive. Nor on any of my backup drives.

Three shooting days gone.

I cursed a bit. No, I cursed a lot.

I always considered myself to be very disciplined when it came to doing backups, but obviously I wasn’t as good as I thought I was. Truth be told, I often have instances when I figure out I’m not as good as I thought I was.

While I was irritated, I had to let it go. Nothing I could do about it then and I had other things to do.

And then in early November I found them again. Short version of the story: They were on my last computer that I had used for image processing. Somehow during the copying process from old machine to new, something went awry.

Which leads me to this year. I have every intention of replacing my current image processing computer with a new one. The current rig turns 5 years old in the spring and just in terms of reliability and operating system age, it is time for a new one. And this year, I will be much more careful about backing up everything.

So I’ll say again…

When was the last time you backed up your images?

When was the last time you made a backup of those images and put them somewhere safe outside of your house? Somewhere far enough away that if a major disaster hit your house that it would not also be affected.

And when was the last time you checked to make sure you really have what you thought you had?

The Obligatory 2020 Recap

December 18, 2020
tags: ,
© Jim Miller – American Bullfrog (Lithobates catesbeianus)

This has been one hell of a year.

I could probably end the blog entry just with that, you would nod your head in the affirmative, and I could save both of us a lot of time.

This year’s recap has been tough to write. This is my third attempt at writing this because I don’t know that I can truly do this year justice.

COVID-19 sucks. Too many deaths. Too many economic lives destroyed. Too many 2nd and 3rd order effects caused to people’s mental health and their relationships with others that will never be well-documented. Too much sadness. As this year comes to a close, two vaccines with great promise seem to be here or on in the wings. I pray that it helps return some degree of normalcy to our world and healing can begin in earnest.

This has been a rough year for me. I struggled with a new medical issue that I was diagnosed with in late 2019, yet was expected to somewhat maintain a stoic “Only a flesh wound” type façade. COVID-19, and the restrictions imposed from it, has not helped. Much collateral damage as I started to get better.

I have avoided COVID-19 (as best as I can tell), but people I’ve worked around have not. They have all recovered. Their exposure also gave me an opportunity to spend quality time at home, waiting out the potential that I might have gotten it. Thankfully I could work from home. Thankfully I have been able stay fully-employed.

I broke somebody’s heart this year. My heart was broken. Neither of us intended to. Neither heart has mended nine months later.

Photographically this year has been both very productive, yet very disappointing. I was really great at image processing up until about June. I got a good photo binge in this year, traveling in a socially distanced way through Kansas, Nebraska, and Wyoming (with brief brushes with Missouri, Iowa, and South Dakota). I also got a trip into South Texas before COVID-19 started to rear its ugly head. But life got in the way in July and my opportunities to make and process images slowed to a glacial crawl. Life is just now starting to return to normal now.

As the year ends, I’m somewhat starting over in a new city with a new job and a new perspective in terms of starting points for photography trips. I hope that as the snow melts that the grip of COVID-19 will be melting as well and that 2021 can be a year of recovery for us all.

To you and yours, a very happy holiday season in whatever manner you celebrate it. Come on back for 2021.

About the image:
American Bullfrog (Lithobates catesbeianus)
Stafford County, Kansas – June 2020
Canon 7D Mark II, Canon 300mm f4 L w/1.4x teleconverter
ISO 400, 1/250 sec at f/10 – No Flash
Portfolio Addition Pending


September 24, 2020
© Jim Miller – Calico Pennant (Celithemis elisa)

Calico Pennant (Celithemis elisa)
Boulder County, Colorado – June 2020
Canon 7D Mark II, Canon 300mm f4 L w/1.4x teleconverter
ISO 400, 1/250 sec at f/18 – No Flash
Portfolio Image #1030
Image Size in Portfolio: 3986×3189

Rest in Peace, Bob

September 16, 2020

My long absence from the blog is interrupted by a few words about my friend, Bob Zeller.

Bob passed away yesterday just a few weeks short of his 86th birthday. His health had been failing for a short period of time, complicated I’m sure by his lifelong struggles with Marfan Syndrome.

Bob was many things.

He was an Airman, having served in the Air Force from 1955-1962, when he was diagnosed with Marfan Syndrome. That diagnosis prompted a medical discharge from the Air Force after seven years of service. It also planted him firmly in San Angelo, Texas, where he spent most of his post-Air Force life.

He was a musician. A great saxophonist, he was inducted both in the West Texas Music Hall of Fame in the Pioneers & Sidemen category and as a member of the Cavaliers in the Rockabilly Hall of Fame. The Cavaliers are best known for their hit “Last Kiss”–later covered by Pearl Jam in 2000.

To me, he was all of those things. But he was also a mentor and a friend.

I met Bob and his bride, Ann, in the bird blind at San Angelo State Park, probably in 2007. His images coated the inside of the blind, giving new birders an idea of what they might find while sitting in what was nothing more than a converted shed with big windows.

As a bird photographer, I was very, very raw. My bird photography had been limited to some shooting in Iceland where I’d had some nice shots of puffins.

I spent many a morning in the blind with Bob and Ann. Without trying to teach or formally instruct, Bob taught me a ton about photography in general and bird photography in particular.

I am forever grateful to him for those informal lessons. I am the photographer I am today because of Bob.

In the years that followed, we continued our friendship. He’d always help with identification help or whatever else I needed.

Bob was a great photographer. He was an even better man.

Bob, it was a privilege and an honor to have known you. Rest in peace, my friend. Rest in peace.

Busy with Other Things…

May 17, 2020
© Jim Miller – Feeding Clouded Skipper (Lerema accius)

I’ve been taking a break from the blog. I wish it were good things. I’m glad it wasn’t for bad things. It has just been things.

I have been working in earnest at reducing my backlog with some significant success. As I wrote this post this Sunday morning I have now gone through and harvest images from 97 of my photo shoots. Leaving a mere 165 left to go.

I found in some cases I had previously finished harvesting the shoot, meaning it was just bad bookkeeping on my part. In some cases I had started to work on them at some point and then stopped, meaning that there wasn’t that much work to do. In other cases I had not touched the shoot, meaning that I had much work to do.

My goal for the year was getting my 1,000th image into the portfolio. I cleared that hurdle earlier this month. Which sounds like it is time to set a new goal.

I still have not been back in the field to shoot. Covid-19 restrictions have kept me at home for the most part. I’m hoping maybe next weekend I will go out for at least a little while. Colorado’s current Safer at Home restrictions end after next weekend and word is that Rocky Mountain National Park may be open for business the following week. I really need to get back into the field.

I hope that you remain safe and well.

About the image:
Clouded Skipper butterfly (Lerema accius)
Bexar County, Texas – December 2012
Canon 60D, Canon 300mm f4 L w/1.4x teleconverter
ISO 400, 1/160 sec at f/11 – No Flash
Portfolio Image #0159
Image Size in Portfolio: 2624×3280

Burning Down the Backlog…

March 19, 2020
© Jim Miller – Black-crested Titmouse (Baeolophus atricristatus)

In my day-to-day job we talk about burning down the backlog. Effectively, we have identified things that need to get done, but are not the highest priority when we discovered them. So they go into the backlog. Those items still have to be done. When things slow down we can go back and fix those issues. And in doing that we say we were successful in burning down the backlog.

Effectively I’ve created a huge backlog of processing to do over the years. For me, a day of shooting is a wonderful stress reliever. A bad day of shooting is better than a good day doing just about anything else.

And when I got those images home, I’d look at them. I’d share a few on Facebook. I’d edit a few and make them part of a blog post. I might even process a couple and put them in my portfolio. But the rest would sit on the virtual shelf in my hard drive, collecting virtual dust. They became my backlog.

Winter is still very much a reality here in Colorado. Some medical concerns keep me from traipsing out in the snow to do some shooting. And COVID-19 looms as its own threat.

I have completed processing my first three shoots of the year. So I am burning down my backlog of previous shoots and am being very productive at it.

Right now I am in one Lightroom library of shots from early 2016. It consists of five different days of shooting.
– One very productive day at the Rocking R6 Ranch near Laredo in Webb County, Texas.
– Three quick visits to Crescent Bend Nature park in Cibolo, Texas.
– And a day trip out to South Llano River State Park near Junction, Texas.

And when I get those five done, I will only have 215 additional shoots to harvest images from (out of a total of 262 total shoots from my Canon 60D and my Canon 7D Mark II).

I really need to do something about my backlog…

About the image:
Black-crested Titmouse (Baeolophus atricristatus)
Kimble County, Texas – February 2016
Canon 7D Mark II, Tamron 150-600 (Gen 1)
Tripod w/Wimberley gimbal head
ISO 400, 1/500 sec at f/10 – No Flash
Portfolio Image #0856
Image Size in Portfolio: 3198×2558


March 17, 2020
© Jim Miller – Black-throated Sparrow (Amphispiza bilineata)

Black-throated Sparrow (Amphispiza bilineata)
Webb County, Texas – February 2016
Canon 7D Mark II, Tamron 150-600 (Gen 1) at 500mm
Tripod w/Wimberley gimbal head
ISO 400, 1/640 sec at f/10 – No Flash
Portfolio Image #0850
Image Size in Portfolio: 3451×2761

Larger Size Posted At FlickrExplored March 15, 2020

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