On Wildlife Ethics

This photo of a Pileated Woodpecker in a nest cavity was taken with a 600mm focal length. Far away enough that I cropped the photo during post processing, I would rather crop the image before overtaking the birds’ well-being.

Throughout all of my work, there is an underlying tinge of conservation. Allow me to quote some sentences from my website’s bio and artist statement..

“Call it experiential photography: documenting the living things around us and delivering that moment to you, the viewer, is my purpose. Reflected in my work is a deep ecological concern for the fragile and precious environments on our planet. However, I tend to focus on what beauty is already there rather than the harrowing consequences of humanity’s actions that affect tomorrow.

“The intentions of my work are to inspire people to feel more connected with the natural world. To challenge the viewer to see that nature is an important part of our world we must appreciate every day, and not take for granted. To sit in quiet contemplation of a grand vista or landscape in the evening glow of light or in silent observance of an animal carrying out daily life is unlike any other mindful experience. With my weapon of choice, the camera, armed in hand and ready to squeeze the shutter. I approach my craft two-fold: as fine art that can be appreciated being framed and hung from a wall in a pleasant space, and as photojournalism to document the ever-evolving nature around us. The images I create are meticulously printed, matted, and framed to preserve the real look of what I saw and what I want to share. As seasons change and species grow or disappear, I hope to bring awareness to conserve and learn about these bygones of a forgotten era. If my images make prospective viewers want to learn more and “get out there” then I’ve done my job.


Acknowledging the past, recording the present, and preserving the future.”

The only times I have spooked wildlife are when they see me before I see them. This is bound to happen often and I want to discern it from intentional harming or danger.

Therefore, in order to facilitate some discussion. I wanted to share my personal ethos on the matter.

Simply put, do no harm.

But first I will play devil’s advocate for a bit, I understand the sentiment of most budding wildlife photographers. Daily we are flooded with jaw-dropping images of a bird or mammal that take up the entire frame. So naturally our first inclination is to emulate the masters and or inspirations.

Good intentions? Maybe. Harmful? Possibly.

Consider this a lesson learned. As I waded through the water, the geese started cackling as a warning before taking off. Now I know when to not push their boundaries.

The professionals certainly have learned a way to ethically approach wildlife without disturbing or harming their way of life. Depending on the species you’re going for, you will have to do your research quite a bit. Learn how the animal reacts to humans in their presence, learn about their nest placement (if it is mating season.) Knowledge is the best approach to avoiding harm.

If you are a wildlife photographer and feel as though you have to move in close enough to scare away the animal, you are doing it wrong!

Putting a bird through distress just so they fly away and you get your “in flight shot” is the worst way to photograph them.

During mating and nesting season, birds are on high alert to protect their hatchlings and nestlings. The problem is that when they are disturbed, the parents of a lot of species will retreat and never return if their nest is threatened.

Ring Billed Gulls at Sunset

Thoughts or opinions? What do you believe is ethical in terms of wildlife? I wanna hear what you have to say.

Take care and get out there.

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Creative States and “Flow”

I am alone in the forest. Focused on the task at hand. A cascading waterfall flows into a stream. I use all of my senses to gauge the situation and potential photographic opportunity. Next I go through my mental checklist to set up the shot.

Leveling the tripod, using the live view, dialing the settings and exposure just right.

Checking the frame’s corners, fine tuning the lens focus, and..

A dog barks, a child yells, a breakaway from focus.

You were 110% sucked into your craft, time felt as though it would cease to exist or matter. Your eyes began to have “tunnel vision.” Then there was a simple noise or distraction and your attention was violently pulled back into reality. Did it ever feel the same after that lapse in focus? Probably not.

I study the light like a sniper trains his crosshairs on the target. Personally for me, being a maldaptive daydreamer quite possibly perpetuates the flow state.

As defined in this article by Psychology Today, flow is “an optimal state of consciousness where feel our best and perform our best.”

While I am just mentioning photography here, any artist or athlete can enter the “flow state,” whether they knew it or not.

This is a strange mix of being hyper-focused and yet seemingly detached from surroundings that are around you.

Typically tense or stressful events can cause our brains to become laser-focused, awareness grows and our performance of that which we do becomes paramount.

I believe this behavioral trait goes back to Darwinism and early homo sapian times, when hunting animals meant that our attention had to be fully given to our actions, lest we become eaten.

Essentially, life or death.

Some studies suggest that people are more creative during flow, and that they feel more creative the day after a flow state.

First, what is one thing you like to do? I mean, love to do.

An activity or hobby that requires intense visual coordination. In a nature photographer’s case, maybe tracking a bird in flight through the viewfinder, or how the evening light plays out as it changes every minute before sunset.

Flow is the reason I spend 8 to 10 hours a day out in nature. I have found some of my best work comes out of creative states of mind such as this.

While all of this may make it sound like I believe Flow is the best thing to ever happen to my creativity, this isn’t always the case. To be honest, Flow can be quite maddening. While I cannot personally recall a time, Flow can divert your attention from nearby dangers and put your safety at risk. All of this single-minded attention may just steer you away from other obligations like a day job, family, friends, and relationships.

Despite this, the creative state known as “Flow” is a fascinating way of mind that most creatives will have to live with. Enjoy its’ presence, as it is quite possibly what keeps you staying energetic and passionate about what you love to do.

How does Flow affect your creativity? Love it? Hate it? Feel free to chime in down below in the comments.

Thanks for reading.

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Music That Inspires The Creative Process

This will be a very off topic blog entry. Photography will be mentioned but not be discussed in this one-off post.

Consider this your warning.

Am I overstepping boundaries? Maybe. But hey, this is my blog after all. One single post won’t hurt anyone.

I would consider myself a very private person, something of a recluse by nature. After socializing for too long at a time, I devote myself to three things: either in front of the computer or on the trails..

..and the third thing has been music. Time and time again, I find music to satisfy that creative itch when I need to escape or reflect. Music stirs up as many emotions as would a compelling photograph, mine or otherwise. Daily music listening of any kind helps me function as a person.

Without it, life would be duller and photography would be harder.

Fortunately, I am always on the lookout for new sounds to grace my ears and inspire the entire creative process. While this isn’t the only music genres I listen to, this is perhaps a fine representation of auditory compositions that remind me of nature and art in general.

I am not a trained musician so bear with my descriptions of these songs.

The majority of these are instrumental tracks from soundtracks and other soundscapes, ranging from ambient, pop, electronica, indie and rock. In no particular order, here is the curated compilation. Enjoy the listening!

Color Therapy – The Dusk Mother

For very warbling and moody electronica, look no further. Color Therapy is from the mastermind of Adam Young, a man with countless side projects. You may have heard of Owl City, as well as Sky Sailing, Port Blue, Windsor Airlift, etc. I am a big fan of just about everything Young has created, but the Color Therapy’s lone debut album Mr. Wolf is Dead is perhaps one of the finest single works he has put out to date. Like the above video, I am instantly teleported to nature and exploration. If music is therapeutic, then this is it. For more recommendations, check out “Drive vs. Fly” and “Yachats.”

Connor Youngblood – Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge

This track has nature written all over it. The song was literally created for Sustain Music and Nature. The music video features footage of the refuge itself and the song is intermixed with the bird calls of various waterfowl from the refuge. Echoing piano and soothing lyrics mixed with gorgeous cinematography. This indie song pays incredible homage to the song’s namesake refuge in Utah and to nature in general.

Ulrich Schnauss – Between Us and Them

The key to Ulrich Schnauss is crescendos and progression. Over this seven minutes sweeping electronic romp, we are given a hypnotic drum loop over light and airy synth lines. Halfway through right at the seemingly climax is happening, the track dials back only to pick up right where it left off before truly sounding off. For other favorites of mine, listen to “Knuddelmaus” and “Suddenly the Trees Are Giving Way.”

deadmau5 – Snowcone

While well known for his dance-influenced club music, Joel Zimmerman can create some very ambient experimental music. I fondly remember walking through Autumn woods while listening to “I Forget” as leaves fell all around me. “Snowcone” to me inspires the awe of visiting someplace new. Like the snow-drifted mau5head in the video and the cold-tone synths suggest. This track reminds me of cabin fever and finally emerging out into the cold world we inhabit.

Tycho – Receiver

Tycho is the brainchild of Scott Hansen. Under the name ISO50, he was a photographer and digital artist at first before expanding into music. The brilliant visuals often accompany all the branding and artwork for Tycho’s music. “Receiver” helps me recall a time when I was listening to it while walking through a small patch of woods near my house. Leaves blowing all around and the sunlight hitting my face.

Nine Inch Nails – 02 Ghosts I

Trent Reznor is at the helm of all things NIN, and Ghosts I-IV is no slouch to being its’ own instrumental album. Tracks like the above “02 Ghosts I” really embody a style that I find endearing to listen to. Some of my first YouTube videos featured intros and outros of music from this album.

Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross – Hand Covers Bruise

Picture this: a cold rainy day or night. Time seems to slow. The Social Network Soundtrack always held such a feeling of strange darkness. The opener, “Hand Covers Bruise,” transport you to the grim world. A world where a person is trying to make something big happen, all the while conquering his inner turmoil and winning/losing friends. Who else can relate? Powerful music coming from Mr. Reznor and Ross.

Angels & Airwaves – Reel 1 (Diary)

Angels & Airwaves is a band that has a timeless, positive vibe to their sound. While more or less inactive at the time of this writing. They are a main reason I got out exploring with photography. I would ride my bike to local nature reserves as often as possible during the spring and summer while listening to AVA. If you want to conquer anything, listen to “The Adventure” or “Heaven.” In the case of “Diary,” feel how beautiful and fragile life is, like birth to death in eight minutes. You write your own story when you hear it.

In regards to when I am doing computer work, i.e. post processing or writing on the blog like this, I may listen to a mix of bossa nova jazz or lofi hip hop music. Either one is useful to study and focus on thinking-intensive tasks.

This has helped me relax and focus at the same time.
Less upbeat than jazz, yet all the more relaxing to create work to.

I hope you found some new music to enjoy. Art to me has always been a universal creative endeavor. This is why I use many types of media and mediums to express my love of nature and the outdoors. Art has the power to transcend labels and inspire everyone around us.

Do you have any music that inspires your creativity?

Drop a link down in the comments. Have a great day.

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What Was Your First Camera?

Six years and counting, me and this camera have been through a lot.

My first DSLR camera body was a Canon EOS Rebel T3. With a “whopping” 12.2 megapixel CMOS sensor, this is where I got my start with photography (megapixels don’t mean a whole lot). I had the choice between the Rebel T3 and a comparable Nikon model, I stuck with the Canon and have ever since. Nikon’s don’t feel comfortable in my hands.

The reason I wanted a DSLR of my own was from recently taking photography classes in high school. We were allowed to check out Nikon DSLR’s which I did as much as I can. While this wasn’t my first encounter with photography itself, this sealed the deal for me. I was suddenly very interested in creating with a camera whenever I could.

Here comes Christmas 2013, my only gift that year was this Rebel T3. Rightfully so, as the bundle it was in costed $500. My parents only allowed for a $500 limit.

Little did I know this would be one of the most important gifts I would ever get.

By the time I got my hands on this wonderful piece of tech, there were already new editions in the Rebel EOS line that surpassed this one in performance. None of that mattered to me anyways, I was glad to have a real camera.

This came in a B&H Photo bundle with a standard 18-55mm kit lens, a pretty common beginners’ lens, which I sold a couple of years ago. Kit lenses are great for beginners but I “outgrew” it and began to see all the limitations. Plus, they’re practically worth nothing as they are mass produced for almost every entry-level camera. Also included was a small Ruggard sling bag which fit all the gear.

The ISO levels are pitiful, anything above 1000 will introduce noise. Regardless, this camera sparked my creativity in the earliest days.

The Adventure       

After photographing myself in the mirror, the family dog, and household objects for a week. It was about time and I was itching to get out of the house into the freezing cold to take pictures.

Here comes New Years Eve, and my first venue of choice was Rotary Park, a fairly large and popular spot a few minutes away from my house. I bundled up in layers of clothes and biked down there on an overcast and chilly day. Just about no one was in sight.

Shooting the whole day in full automatic mode and saving as .jpgs, I walked around the various trails in awe, pointing the camera at anything that caught my eye (no wildlife if I remember, this was before I had patience.)

The trails are rather muddy yet that didn’t stop me, this day was like I never skipped a beat from high school photography class. The muscle-memory of point-click-review that digital photography holds became ingrained through brain.

A Lesson Learned

Due to a memory card failure a couple of years ago (that was totally my fault – back up all of your data!!) I no longer have those first batch of photos or some of my other earliest non-nature related work.

I can assure you they were nothing to be proud of, if anything they showed how far I’ve progressed in the past few years.

Everyone Started With Something

What was your first camera? Do you still own or use it? Any fond memories with it? Do you remember or still have the first picture you took with it?

Share it down in the comments. Thank you for reading.

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Oakes Quarry: Walking Through an Ohio Desert

Always obey the signs.

Here is a link to the trail map if you would to follow along as I retell my story. Feel free to download and print it out as well for your own use. Enjoy!

Note: All photos are from the October 2017 trip unless otherwise captioned. I have made a handful of repeat visits since then.

My first trip to Oakes Quarry Park was in October 2017. Located in Fairborn, Ohio. This is a stunning location for Southwest Ohio. Filled with natural history and wonderful hiking trails.

You may be wondering why I chose to blog about this nature place in particular compared to all the others I’ve been to, and it is simply because of the emotions and feelings felt were a little different. This place is unique for what it is.

Simply put, the first trip was quite a revelation for me. Oakes Quarry is unlike most other natural and scenic spots in the Dayton area. I was so used the wetlands, prairies, meadows and woods. This location has a dry and sparse, almost “desert” feel to the landscape and topography that I cannot resist enjoying.

In contrast, Oakes Quarry is the second largest park in Fairborn. Features include horseback trails and footpaths that take you around limestone fossils and fairly steep cliff faces. You may also fish here without a license. There is also a loop trail near the parking lot. The perimeter trail is 2 miles long and worth the repeat hikes.

A back trail at the northern side of the perimeter loop takes you through a densely wooded area with a stream crossing along the footpath. Eventually this leads to an opening at the neighborhood connected to Oakes Quarry.

A variety of bird and other wildlife are present there. Many woodland and grassland birds are found here along with white tailed deer, cottontail, red fox, coyote, raccoon, and red tailed hawk. Below is a small selection of birds I have been able to observe and photograph.

Invasive species removal and reforestation efforts have taken place over time to conserve and protect park developments. I hope this 190 acre park is preserved for decades to come.

Next let’s go back in history..

In 1929, the entire area was surface mined for limestone to make cement, eventually the land was sold to the Oakes family in the 1990’s. Then the family donated the land to the City of Fairborn in 2003.

So I made my way up north on a warm Autumn day. A sunny day with a gentle breeze.

This is the first real view of the park as you make your way through a narrow and (mostly) muddy trail. Soon you will make it to a clearing where you can diverge to the left, right, or straight ahead. I first chose to go forward where you make it to the edge of this lake.

Just stand there and take in the sights and views. Imagine stepping back in time 440 million years ago. Oakes Quarry was a coral reef in a shallow sea. It is simply amazing.

Next I took the way right down the middle to really feel the scale and size of this area. You can see from the image above in the center past the pond, there is a smallish hill that takes you towards the right of the perimeter trail. The rocks are where I stopped and took these photos.

Choosing to press on down the middle of the park, I made it to the far side where tall limestone cliffs are met with crinoid fossil piles. You can spend hours searching the fossil piles and discovering new ones underneath.

This crooked sign warns visitors that rocks may fall and hit you, and that you shouldn’t be climbing or scaling the walls, although I’ve never seen either happen.

A few small hills lead you up to the grand view and spectacle seen below..

It is from this perch where I sat and read a National Geographic Traveler magazine as the sun went down. I spent the majority of that day hiking in awe of this place. Every subsequent visit has been met with this same feeling. Nature is a powerful force to experience!

Graffiti on the rocks is fairly common at Oakes Quarry, December 2018

Oakes Quarry Park is the northernmost section of the Beaver Creek Wetland Corridor and presents unique habitat and green space. Lovers of geology will find the crinoid-era fossils at this site to be one of the best to study in the U.S.

Fossil-diggers, hikers, birders, nature photographers, a quiet spot for your loved one, the list goes on and on. You get the point, I adore this place, and you might too.

For more information and directions about the park, visit
(http://www.beavercreekwetlands.org/maplocations-oakes.html)

Sunset Landscape, December 2018

Have you been here before? What makes this an awesome location to hike and explore? What is your favorite part of the park?

Leave a comment down below, I can’t wait to hear from you!

Take care and get out there.

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My Time With NYIP

Disclaimer: I am not being paid or endorsed by NYIP to write this, I just really believe in the value and education they provided me. Think of this as more of a review or write-up. Find more information at http://www.nyip.edu – Enjoy.

Time Began in a Magazine… The New York Institute of Photography (referred to as NYIP henceforth) is a nationally-accredited online-based school. They host a myriad of photography-related classes ranging from portraiture, weddings, videomaking, business, and Adobe Photoshop. I first heard about NYIP while flipping through an issue of Popular Photography magazine at the local public library.

It was a neatly placed advertisement along a right-hand page margin. I try not to be swayed by simple ads, but this one stuck out to me. The bright and bold red-grey-black colors and letters caught my eye.

The ad touted having exclusively online photo courses for demanding schedules as well as affordably low tuition. At this time I was not enrolled in any sort of college or higher education.

NYIP describes itself as the oldest photography school still around, getting its’ start in 1910 teaching film photography, when obviously digital wasn’t around. Now having progressed to being an online-only school with only an office building located in New York City. Digital photography is their main focus, and they do it well.

All I had was a lot of (read: expensive) camera equipment I had bought and used extensively for many hours.

And free time, lots of it.

This was definitely a “why not?” situation…

…and so I did it.

I made the choice within a couple weeks, and soon I was enrolled and fully paid off; just over $1,200 for both courses. Very affordable compared to a traditional community college or university photography class.

At the time of this writing, there is ten different courses to choose from. While there is some overlap, each one presents a different genre or subject of digital photography. I settled upon the Complete Course in Professional Photography and the Intensive Course in Travel Photography.

In retrospect, the Nature & Landscape Photography course would’ve suited my portfolio and style a bit better. When discussing the school with my mother, she even agreed to that. Fortunately both the courses I took discussed nature photography to some degree.

The nice part is that NYIP alumni are always welcome back to take the other courses (at a discount too). I could always take the nature course in the future, however I feel actual in the field experience is what I need to devote myself to now.

This is How It Went..

I eagerly began the classes, and it was love at first sight. I could work and study on my own terms, going at my own pace through the wealth of material.

The assignments (which I am showing throughout this blog post) really challenged my creativity and typically involved getting out of the house to complete them, although some projects were more studio-based or required artificial lighting.

I bought some new equipment within that time, some of it needed to do the assignments.

The good news is you can invest in as much or in as little as you want or need. Meaning, you can go through the course with a point-and-shoot or “prosumer” camera or a full-framed one, or something in between. The choice is yours.

Despite taking a two month break in between, I somehow managed to push through and complete both courses in about 12 months to my surprise. That’s about half a year before the first deadline.

I completed the Professional Photography course in September 2017 and the Travel Course in October 2017, not too far off from what would be the 1 year mark in November.

The important thing was that it narrowed down my career path for me, which would be wildlife, nature, and landscape in a fine art and conservation perspective. That same SmugMug site I created for my final project portfolio (which I entitled “Living Things”) became the actual website I used thereafter (www.ryanltaylor.com)

I obviously kept the site and tweaked it after finishing both courses, with it being the platform to share and becoming the next stepping stone in my overall career.

How It Feels to Be an Alumni

I am proud of all my progress in that single year, as I have framed and hung my two certificates on the bedroom wall to remind me often. Display your achievements with pride!

I still try to contribute to the student forum whenever I can, a nice community of students trying to hone their craft.

If I ever travel to New York someday, I will surely make a stop to say hello.

To End On a Cliche

The takeaway for you is that some impulsive decisions can turn out good, and you may want to go with your gut feeling.

I was somewhat lost before enrolling, and by the end of my term I had carved my photographic niche.

Who would’ve thought that reading that magazine would turn into enrolling in photography school.

It just sort of happened.

Take the chance, will you?

Is Proper Education Necessary to Succeed?

Personally, I think online classes (or any in-person ones) are worthwhile if you are self-motivated enough to succeed. This is definitely a case of “you get what you put into it.” So make a conscious effort to do your best. Take the classwork seriously, read it, study it, but have fun! The photo assignment are where you creativity and special style can shine!

Do you have a formal education in photography? Where did you go to school at? Are you self-taught?

Everyone has a story of how they came to be, professional or amateur.

Tell me your story down in the comments below or drop me a note at my email.

Have a nice day.

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Creative Ruts & Breaking Free

Every person can relate.

Writers get the dreaded “writers block,” painters get the annoying “canvas shock,” and photographers (like me) just get burned out homogeneously shooting the same thing.

“The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over while expecting the same results.”

Knowing when to dial back your day-to-day operations is essential to well-being. Don’t feel guilty for resting! Creating takes a lot of energy and you should use that valuable resource conservatively and only when inspiration strikes.

Not surprisingly, I stared at this blank page waiting for the right words to come flowing out.

I tend to get inspired pretty easily, in turn making me become overly-motivated and being overworked. Obviously there is a fine line to dance along here, so here’s one take on the subject matter…

First you must ask yourself “am I being lazy or am I burned out?”

If laziness is occurring, you probably don’t have a strong desire to work on any creative project at all.

If acting lazy is the case, then you should reevaluate why you are creating in the first place.

The answer is for you to decide, and it probably will mean you should move on. Why do something you do not like?

However, burnout would be where you feel exhausted yet you feel compelled to continue working.

Big difference, right?

I have found that this is the case for me. My actions become robotic and frigid, like I have no control yet I cannot stop.

The work should feel (mostly) like play. But when your creative pursuit begins to feel like a creative hump… It becomes time to put a full stop on your time. For me, not knowing when to take a break becomes a trouble.

The life of a nature photographer isn’t exactly glamorous. Yes, we love what we do. But that is at the expense of being weeks or months away from family and friends (at least for some professionals.) We have to endure long hours or waiting and turbulent weather. Many miles of driving to and from locations. The list goes on..

This becomes apparent when having to do a lot of repetitious work.

In the case of art & craft fairs, I spend many days printing, matting, and preparing prints, greeting cards and the like. You essentially have to build up a moderately sized inventory of items to sell.

The payoff of time and dedication is priceless, but the process shouldn’t have to exhaust you either.

Let’s not forget the countless hours editing photo/video, the marketing/promotion on social media and elsewhere, all that time in front of a computer.

You get the point, there’s a lot of hard work.

The trick is to not swept up in being busy for the sake of busyness.

I have forced myself to work before, and the results can come out horrendous.

The three examples here are of what I am not quite sure was the goal. The matting choices and layout were just all “off” or uninteresting. The weird and uncommon sizes didn’t help either. OK ideas; bad execution. Safe to say I was stressed and burned out quite a lot when I made these prints.

You can produce your best work while under some pressure, yet forcing yourself to create often result in a total mistake you wish to forget.

Reading Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way has influenced the way I think about mental blocks. She draws conclusions about how most of our creative struggles come from within. Everyone is an artist in some way, and every one of us has an “inner self-critic.”

By journaling every day and writing down positive affirmations, we can let go of the stress of succeeding and pressures to work harder.

“Work smart, not hard.”

This the key takeaway from the book, by working less, we do more.

I can keep myself busy all day long, whether at the home office editing and printing, or hiking out massive state parks. It can feel like I’m being productive, but will the quality of the work even be halfway decent?

I would recommend a small daily walk, about half an hour, I find helps immensely to detach from all the commotion and ideas streaming through my head. No music, no phone, no distractions. Simply walk and take in the smells, sights and surroundings in the real world.

I am not ashamed to show and talk about my worst work right beside my best work, all of it make’s me who I am.

Have any burnout stories to share or tips that helped you break through? Leave a comment below or send me an email.

Thanks for reading.

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