The Great Journey in Photography

Posts tagged “Alaska

Post Up II

Bald Eagle Workflow

Last week we did the most basic editing by separating the subject from the back ground, balancing the exposures and making contrast, saturation, and shadow/highlight adjustments independent of each other. Today we are going to finish off the photo with some cloning. There are plenty of different ways to do cloning and none of them are wrong, so don’t think you need to do it the same as I do. Any way that accomplishes the result is just fine. Lets go back to that background layer that we just adjusted and duplicate it. We see an ugly black waterline from the river going right through the bird. This is going to be a lot easier to fix with the layer mask in place, we won’t have to worry about our bird at all. Select a soft brush with medium opacity in your clone brush tool and be sure that you are sampling only the current layer and the “aligned” box is checked. Here you have your choice, you could clone with the river bed rock, the foliage, or a combination of both. In this case I did both trying to make the water line slightly meandering so it is not a straight arrow shooting straight through our eagle. The log under the eagle could also be cloned out at this point but I think I will leave it in. The only big distraction it creates is the huge black spot behind the subject in the trunk. I am going to sample the area just below it and at a very low opacity tap the brush repeatedly until it looks ok.

beek

Yeah, that’s the ticket. Now lets look at the bird. Not much to do here, the beak has a white highlight on the tip, it is not a blown out highlight just a white area that is overexposed. All we need to do is put some color in it and that is easy to do. I could clone from the area around it but since the area is round and irregular shaped it is much easier to simply sample a nearby color and paint over it on new blank layer. At this point you could try different blending modes and the “color” mode is often a good choice but since the underlying layer is white just lowering the opacity until everything blends in works just fine. By the way, there is a lot of blood and dirt in this eagles head area, usually eagles clean up after eating but this guy must have forgotten. I could have cleaned that up but for me it is just part of nature so I left it in. On the strip of the tail that was too bright I did a little cloning lowered the opacity and changed the blend mode to multiply (I think!) to darken it up a bit. After that  Shift<Option<Command<E to make a complete layer, flatten the image if you need the performance. I now just need to clone out that branch in the lower left corner, healing brush will get it too, and send the image over to Lightroom for some final adjustment. I like to use Lightroom for sharpening, noise reduction, saturation, and selective exposure or gradient masking. There is no need to do it in Lightroom but for me it seems easier, probably because it is one step closer to a final output.

compare

I am sure you will agree that the final image is a vast improvement and I hope one or two of these methods finds its way into your workflow. Until next time Thank You for stopping by and Happy Shooting.

You can catch me on Twitter: @RonBoyd


Post Up

Bald-Eagle-Photoshop

I have been playing around with a few images this week. I have several thousand to work on and I figure it was time to pick out a couple of them and see how they process out. I have heard over the years a number of professional say that if it can’t be processed in 5 minutes an image is not good. Don’t believe that, especially in wildlife photography. There are many great images that took hours to process out and taking time to optimize an image makes it that much better so today and next week I am going take you through the process of optimizing one of my images in Photoshop CC and Lightroom 5. First, let me say that the $9.99 a month subscription Adobe offers for Photoshop and Lightroom is a great deal and any one who considers themselves a photographer should take advantage of it.

Photoshop Screenshot

One thing about these softwares though, since they are being updated on an almost daily basis sometimes things get reset to default settings. One issue I ran into took a while to figure out and it is essential to processing bird photos. You will most of the time need to create a layer mask to separate your subject from the background. The quick select tool in Photoshop is a great way to achieve that but if you are working with larger images the function may become too slow to be usable. There are settings in preferences that can adjust the performance. Just go into Preferences>Performance and look to the right side of the pane. There you will see History and Cache settings. Select “Big and Flat” with Cache Levels between 4-6 and Cache Tile size of around 1024k and you should see the performance you need for making selections on large images.

What you are going to want to do is make a careful selection around your subject(s) on a duplicate layer and then create a mask by selecting the “add mask” Screen Shot 2014-02-20 at 9.39.16 AMbutton at the bottom of the layers panel. Make a couple of copies of this layer, turn off the visibility and save them for later. In the topmost layer select the image (not the mask) and now you are ready to do some basic editing of just your subject(s). Most often I will start with the “Shadow/Highlights” tool. Important thing to remember about the shadows and highlights is more is less. Really what you want to do is balance things out. Recovering clipped areas is not something you want to do here just smooth out the balance, you will have to fix the extremes in Camera RAW or Lightroom with the recovery tools or better yet cloning. On this layer you can also make all the otter adjustments with masks making the adjustment layer mask specific to that layer. You can do that by creating the adjustment layer, at the bottom of the pane is a small button click thatScreen Shot 2014-02-21 at 7.41.01 AM and you will see an arrow pointing down. That means your adjustments will only be applied to that layer.

Next is the part that I call magic because I spent many years doing things a different way and it took a very long time. Here’s the magic. Grab one of the layers you saved earlier, drag it to the top of the stack and turn on the visibility. Oops! All those edits you just made suddenly disappeared. To get that back click the layer mask on the layer you just put on the top of the stack and in the controls for that mask you will see a button that says “Invert”, click that and the mask inverts showing the edits on the layer below and effecting all the background area. Click the image in that layer and now you are ready to edit the background. Typically I would lower the exposure a little and do saturation and contrast adjustments, you can also apply some blur if the need arises.

OK folks I think that will do it for today. Thanks for stopping by and and be sure to come back next week when I finish processing the photo with some cloning and cleaning up the background.


Thinning Crowds

Bald Eagle coming around the bend.

The past few months I have had the time and pleasure to talk with a number of photographers, some professional, some not, some for wildlife, some not and it seems to me that things have changed a bit. It could just be the crowd I run around with these days is a little older maybe a little more sophisticated but I feel there has been a change overall. Different from the past is the fact that a number of folks I encountered were now using Nikon products. Almost irrelevant beyond a data point, for many years I felt as an outsider in the gear department. As far as nature and wildlife were concerned almost everyone was in full Cannon gear. Cannon had been a little cheaper with a few more choices but some how Nikon made up some ground. That could still be repercussions from the tsunami in Japan a few years ago.

More important to me is that it seems as though the photography frenzy has begun to calm down. A year ago a lot of people were aspiring to be professionals, there seemed to be no middle of the road, one was either a struggling professional or desperately seeking ways to make money to become one. As it turns out a lot of these folks were doing nothing more than marketing to each other and that fuels an air of frustration and despair. I have run into a number of people who have no desire to sell their work or even show their images. On one excursion the leader told me that only about half of the participants volunteer to show their work and that indicates to me those people are making photographs for some reason other than selling them to the public. I was not able to make it to Bosque Del Apache last Fall so I thought I could enjoy the sights from the internet perusing the thousands of pictures posted. There was a very small number compared to previous years. Though I didn’t make it a major ambition, I really could not find much participation and what I did find was professional. It is possible that the sharp increase in the price of entry for many photography genres, in particular bird, helped slow things down. Maybe photography is not as cool as it once was. Maybe it is just me. In any case I like what I see.


Mightiest of the Mighty

Bald Eagle Along the Mountains in Alaska

420mm f6.3 400iso 1/1,600sec

Many of you will already know that I used the Nikon D800 camera body extensively a couple of months ago. I think it is a remarkable piece of gear but I also wonder just how good it is for bird photography. As a bit of background, when I first started shooting birds one of my goals was to be the person using medium format cameras with long lenses. Physics and money made that an impossibility until the D800 came along. Needless to say I was one of the anxious ones wanting to see just what the mighty body can do and I would rather be a fanboy of the camera rather than a critic but there are times when the D800 falls short for bird photography. Twice now I have held back from running out and buying one.

Huge file size and good low light sensitivity are the two big draws for the Nikon camera, along with the professional build it is more than enough for almost everyone and probably the very best camera made in the $3,000 price range. Intellectually, it is a sheer pleasure having all those pixels to play with, you can make prints large enough for the Grand Hall or crop for days and still have a usable, publishable image. In real life huge images are a pain in the ass. Everything needs an upgrade across the board, memory, computer ram, data transfer technology, storage, drive read and write, buffer sizes, and software all have to be at cutting edge standards to have an enjoyable workflow when processing these large images. If you want to shoot 36 megapixels you have to be sure that every single supporting technology, everything you use after the shutter button clicks is up to snuff. In many cases that is going to cost more than the camera its self. In the process of upgrading my supporting hardware I lost something that was very near and dear to my heart Nik Color Effects Pro 3 Tonal Contrast. You see I converted over to the Photoshop cc plan and in that version none of the older Nik products can be used. I tried the latest version and it sucks to be blunt and even at the super low price is not worth the money to me. The D800 has great dynamic range, the best I have seen to date and the low light sensitivity is very good but not the best I have seen. One unusual trait I have noticed with the camera is the way the bokeh renders out in certain images. I think it has to do with how the images interact with anti-noise software and anti-aliasing. It is hard to put my finger on it but backgrounds that would render out a nice creamy bokeh are just a little bit different. Plastic like is the best description I can think of.

None of those thing is a good excuse for not using the mighty 800 as far as I am concerned but there is one and that is the painfully slow frame rate speed of 4fps (can be upgraded to 6). It is almost impossible to quantify the damage this does without doing a side by side comparison for thousands of images but I am sure there are a number of missed shots in my work simply because of the amount of time between the frames. One remedy to this problem is to be extremely methodical and selective of the time you attempt a burst of images and that is all a function of knowing the basics. Just like always, you have to know what you want and when you want it, you need to predict behavior and know the direction of light and in general be on top of your game. It is a pro level device.


Four Down

Immature Bald Eagles

420mm f6.3 640iso 1/1,000sec

This week the Diary of a Birdshooter blog starts its 5th year. If it were a Bald Eagle it would become an adult. Four complete years of writing  every week about my adventures and sharing the things I have learned along the way. I am looking forward to continuing through out 2014 and into the foreseeable future however things are going to change some too. As things continue to grow time becomes more limited and I am rapidly seeing the need to make more money to help pay the bills. At some point in 2014 the site is going to get an overhaul, there may be some advertising or donation buttons but I plan to make everything available for free. It is hard to believe that there has been 4 years worth of material devoted to bird photography but I still have plans for much, much more.

For every one who stopped inane commented the last 4 years I extend a big thank you and hope to see you again in the future. I look forward to bringing you more photos, more videos, news, reviews, and related applications so please come by again next week and see what is new. For today please enjoy this image of 2 immature Bald Eagles fighting for the last of the salmon scraps.


The Alaska Experience (Pt 2)

Eagle-on-the-Salmon

It is not that I could not figure it out myself, I had most of it rattling around in my head anyhow. It is more about the fact that I would not have done it. Only a few hours into the workshop Matt asked me if  I was shooting manual mode. After a puzzled look from me he ran it down. It was a remarkably easy thing to learn and I shot in manual mode the rest of the trip. Because Bald Eagles are such high contrast it is particularly helpful to shoot in manual mode, especially for in flight shots. Over exposing the bright white head of the Eagles is the most common problem when photographing these birds, so if you set a manual exposure to protect those highlights you are good to go. Your Eagle is properly exposed. If the body is under exposed, well that is a dynamic range and intensity of light issue, don’t confuse that with a proper exposure. Cameras in auto modes will rarely produce a properly exposed Bald Eagle on its own. typically, you need to set exposure compensation. With a manual exposure as long as the light does not change the exposure will always be correct regardless of the scene or background. Going from a dark brown tree line to pure white snow-covered mountain peaks is going to make a camera in any automatic mode do drastic changes and the exposure of the subject may or may not be correct. In manual it will always have that original correct exposure. The caveat to all of that is now the rest of the scene may or may not have a correct exposure. In the example of the treelike and snow caps one of them will be way off but remember you subject will still have a proper exposure. That is when you drill down a tad further setting the scene you want to photograph. Be selective, work the scene you have properly exposed and you will make your best shots. Like I said at the beginning it is not that I could not have figured it out on my own it, but rather the fact that I did not appreciate the need to shoot manual and would not have tried it till late or not at all. That is where expert instruction becomes the game changer. That little pivot point marks my greatest accomplishment of the entire trip.

Bald-Eagle-Portrait

Regrets, I have a few. No, I am not going to break out in song and actually there is only one. One day we came upon a rather picturesque scene of a Bald Eagle sitting on a huge boulder  in a stream. I rushed up on the bird and scared it away. You have heard my in the past write about taking the position away from those who are not making the most of or not themselves taking the best position. You can read that here. Everything I wrote still goes but this was a different situation. First, I was indeed too close for the distance I had. Even though there was running water between us and that usually calms the bird I was too close and should have been using a soft step circling approach at that point. Second, I did not have the lens I needed. I was sporting an old 28-85 lens for landscape shots so I could never make the shot I wanted anyhow. If you can’t make the shot, you can’t make the shot and there is no need to be fighting for a place and making things harder for others. I know better than to do that and it was stupid and thoughtless. Don’t be a Bozo kids, think about what you are doing.

Bald Eagle Art

No account of the Alaska experience would be complete without mentioning the co-leader of the group, best of the best, a kind man named Bill. Yes, I do know his last name but I will not mention it today because I did not ask permission to write about him today but I am sure if you are really interested you can figure it out. Bill is a wonderful guide, he is a local to the area and knows the terrain, wildlife, and people like the back of his hand. He is also a very accomplished photographer and artist. You can see some of his work here. I can’t think of a moment when Bill was not lending a hand, answering a question, or just trying to make the whole Alaska Experience a once in a lifetime experience.

I hesitate to use the term “once in a lifetime” when writing about the Alaska Experience, I could do it again, again…

Thanks for stopping by everyone I shared 3 of my favorite images. They are quality publishable images so I apologize for the big ugly watermarks but I hope you enjoy them and I hope you enjoyed the whole series about Alaska. You can see more of my Alaska photos here. If you are thinking about planning your own Alaska Experience, I suggest you give Matt Shetzer a look see.

Oh, by the way, those images I thought were the best I had ever seen. Do I still think the same now that I have my own Eagle photos? Yup!


The Alaska Experience

Alaska Experience

420mm f6.3 640iso 1/1,600sec

It all started a few years ago while perusing the forums on DP Review for  information about long lenses when I found the best Bald eagle images I had ever seen. About a half a million bird photos later I saw some of  those images again and felt the same way. They were inspiring, crystal clear, and in a setting like I had not seen before. Back in the day there was no chance of making those kind of images on my own but now with a bunch more experience and some travel time under my belt, yeah, maybe I could pull it off. Cost was an issue but I was beginning to learn that saving money can be over rated anyhow. There was a workshop to go along with those images and one thing important to me was that I was able to reserve a spot more than a year in advance. That gave me the time I really needed to save and prepare. As far as I know there is only one legitimate photography workshop shooting out of the Chilkat and that is run by Matt Shetzer, the creator of those images I so admire.

Turns out that workshop was everything it claimed to be, in fact, it was much more and that is why I named todays story “The Alaska Experience”. The shooting was superb but we were also given a good dose of Alaska life. We toured around between sessions and saw some of the most beautiful places in my life. I made some landscape images that I cherish just as much as the Eagles. We also had a couple of evenings talking about using Photoshop. Now, I have used Photoshop every single day, a few hours a day, for about a dozen years but I picked up several advanced techniques that I incorporated into my workflow. We went to the American Bald Eagle Foundation every evening and learned about and saw other Raptors and Alaskan wildlife in general. We spent some time talking about and exploring the Native American Tlingit culture. That was kind of important because in a lot of respects that is the framework from which the whole Alaskan experience builds out. I met other professional level photographers. The Chilkat tends to attract the best of the best as it really does take a considerable commitment to get up there with good gear. I have been on other photography workshops, all of them great experiences but this Alaska trip was really first class. Most of you probably will not relate sitting in frozen mud surrounded by half eaten salmon heads and tails with the term first class but yeah for this bird shooter it was.

If you were a novice you would for sure come home with the best images you have ever made. Intermediate, well you are going to improve to the point of making publishable images. Great images, ones you will cherish for life. Very advanced, pro level shooters are going to see and pick up those little things that you catch only when interacting with other top-level photographers. I have my own way of doing things and I have spent a lot of time tailoring them to bird photography. Things that I don’t ever see other people doing, we all do I suppose but I picked up on things that I never thought of before and to be short, I made images I will cherish the rest of my life.

I am a big fan of people who always do what they say they are going to do. I figure at some points that person has to go the extra mile to deliver. Very rarely do we give them credit for doing what they are “supposed to do” but when someone gets everything right all the time it is something to be applauded, no excuses, it just works. Everything just worked this time around.

But wait! There’s more. Indeed there is and I invite you to come back next week when I close out the Alaska experience. I will tell you about the biggest accomplishment, biggest regret, my favorite Alaska image and possibly the very best bird photo I have ever made and much more for the low, low, price of free.

Thanks so much for stopping by and always remember when using the term “bird shooter”, take a moment to explain yourself.


American Bald Eagle Foundation

Bald Eagle at Klukwan

420mm f5 1200iso 1/800sec

I was very fortunate in my travels in Alaska to meet the people connected with the American Bald Eagle Foundation in Haines AK. The name is a little misleading because it covers far more than Bald Eagles. It is a live raptor center with the Eagles, hawks, and owls, hundreds of real wildlife figures and thousands of photographs, artwork, and souvenirs to see. They do good work there promoting awareness and conservation of the Eagles and all of Alaska in general. Although I missed it by a couple of days this year the foundation has a week-long Bald Eagle Festival every year in November with rehabilitated Eagles released to the wild, Indian wood carving, culture tours and much more. The American Bald Eagle Foundation is a registered 501 c3 charity so if you are the sort who needs to lighten your tax burden I suggest you give them a look. They are a worthwhile cause.

Eurasain Eagle Owl flys the halls of the Bald Eagle Foundation

Eurasain Eagle Owl flys the halls of the Bald Eagle Foundation

While in Alaska I was also lucky enough to take a brief tour of the nearby Tlingit Native village of Klukwan. I was told that the residents prefer to be left alone and would prefer not to have photographs made of their village. Sometimes there is tension between the natives and other people in the area. I can appreciate that, I am sure I would feel the same if I were in their shoes. The Tlingit live in an extremely modest village. Coming from a land where a Native American casino can be found in all four directions it is easy to forget that there are still Native Americans in the country who do not benefit from the gaming revenue. It is obvious to me that the Tlingit Natives get little or none of that money. The Tlingit Natives are important to us because they are closely intertwined with the Bald Eagle in their culture and their history gives them the Chilkat lands. It is their domain and they should get the respect for keeping a pure reserve for literally centuries.

The photo you see above is one of my favorites because it shows just a hint of the Klukwan village meeting hall in the background. I had better photos in that series but I chose that one specifically because it tells the story of the close relationship the village of Klukwan has with the Eagles. Telling a story is one of the keys to a great photograph. A picture is worth a thousand words. Nuff said!


One, Two, Three, Four, Adult

1st year Bald Eagle

420mm f4 1250iso 1/1000sec

Just a couple of tips about photographing Bald Eagles and a couple of lesser known facts about these great birds and their behavior. At the Chilkat Preserve the best and most dramatic photographs you can make are of the Eagles fighting for a piece of salmon. It is not uncommon to have three or more birds competing for one piece of fish. The salmon are so large that it can last for more than a half an hour before it disappears entirely, so if you see a fish being dragged out of the water you’ll have a fair amount of time to set up and choose your settings. First, let’s think about what the ground is like around that feast. If it is wet, rocky area you may have an issue with secular highlights, the annoying blown out highlight spots. Sandy soil is going to produce a darker more even background. You may find a sandbar with rushing water around it. While this could be challenging, deeper running water around the action will add a different color to the scene like blue, aqua, or even green and that can really let the subject stand out. The fourth look you might encounter is the snow and ice scenario. In overcast (snowing) conditions this is great because the white snow and ice will reflect light back up under the birds and help illuminate those usual dark places under the wings. The exposure is very similar to the adult Bald Eagles head and tail so you will have very even images. Remember that adult Bald Eagles are a high contrast subject, essentially black and white, so be careful to not blow out the highlights. Much more about that in a couple of weeks, suffice to say for now, compensate accordingly. In most cases you are best served to focus on the piece of salmon and stop down some and give yourself a wider field of view as the action will spill out of a tight shot and you are much better off cropping in a bit than trying to chase the action. Just as a loose reference I found 420mm, f6-7, at about 10-20 yards out to be a very good combination. Adjust the sensitivity to keep the shutter speed around 1/1,000sec. If you can’t get the shutter speed above 1/800sec you probably are not going to be happy with the results.

4th year Bald Eagle

420mm f4 1000iso 1/1,000sec

The photo at the top is an immature Bald Eagle, around a year old. It is often mistaken for a Golden Eagle. All the cool kids know there aren’t any Golden Eagles on the Chilkat River. Be a cool kid. The photo below is also a picture of an immature Bald Eagle, it is about 4 years old. It takes 5 years for one to become an adult and as you can see they gradually lose the darkness in the head, geek, and tail over that period of time. Bald Eagles can live to be well over 40 years old but in the wild tend to live for about 30 to 35 years.

This is the second part of a series of stories about photographing Bald Eagles in Alaska. Thanks for stopping by and be sure to come by next week for more photos and info. Meanwhile you can see more of my images here.


Not the Same as LOL Cat

Bald Eagle on a Salmon

420mm f6.3 1600iso 1/800sec

Those of you who follow regular know that I spent some time in Alaska a couple of weeks ago photographing Bald Eagles. It was South East Alaska based out of the town of Haines AK and most of the time we were shooting about 20 miles away on the Chilkat Bald Eagle Preserve which is along the Chilkat River. It is a special place because every year around this time when Alaska and Canada begins to freeze over a bit to the North thousands of Eagles head to the Chilkat to feed on an overabundance of salmon. The Chilkat meanders along the valley and at some points the bed or “flats” as they are called look to be about a mile or two across. In all the State Park is 48,000 acres and it is estimated that about 3,200 pair of eagles migrate there every year. Waters that run through the Chilkat include glacial runoff that contain a lot of minerals and other sediment that can leave the river bank ranging from sandy beach to rocks with driftwood looking logs for the birds to perch. The outer banks are lined with tall trees where the Eagles prefer to eat their food. As an added bonus when the Chilkat freezes most of the birds congregate at the spots with deepest waters and it is not unusual to have hundreds of Eagles in your field of view. One unique thing about the Chilkat River is that it has warmer water constantly percolating through the rocky river bed so it never completely freezes over thus insuring a food supply for the Eagles and Gulls.

The Eagles come to the Chilkat to feed on the spawned out salmon that seem to be everywhere in the river at that time. The 4-year-old fish are huge in size, far to big for an Eagle to bring up to a safe tree branch so the best they can do is drag it up on the bank of the river and pick at it. That is where all the action happens. Bald Eagles have a fairly loose family unit, true that the do mate for life in most cases but when the young are able to leave the nest they are done and on their own. Fighting for a share of the fish is a common occurrence and makes for the best Eagle photography. The birds tend to not be distracted by humans at that point either so getting close is only a matter of logistics.

The preserve seems to have its own weather too. It is almost always different from the water’s edge just 20 miles away and can change fast so it is best to be prepared for any conditions. As you can see in the photo above it can have grey low light conditions at times that result in muddy images that need a lot of help to make viewable but if you hang out for more than an afternoon you most likely see some really soft pleasing light at some point. When that happens, make the most of it because it won’t last long!

Thanks for stopping by everyone. Please come back next week, this is only the first in a series of stories about photographing Bald Eagles in Alaska and I would hate for you to miss any of it.

You can see more of my Eagle photos here at my SmugMug site.


Trouble in Paradise

Bald Eagles in Alaska

Hi gang I didn’t want to give exact dates for security but I am now back from shooting in Alaska. It was fantastic trip and I have tons of photos and info to share,  but today I want to start off with just one photo and a long off topic story. I felt it is well worth telling and I hope you find it worth reading. I will pick up as usual next time. There’s  great stuff to go over, ins and outs of shooting Eagles, the Chilkat Reserve, cold weather shooting, the Bald Eagle foundation, and much more so please stay tuned. Today please enjoy “Trouble in Paradise”.

Thanks so much for stoping by. Hope you can make it a regular thing.

More than a dozen years ago there were two dogs named Trouble. One, an aged female Doberman/Shepard mix that looked and acted more like a Doberman. The second a child of the first with a similar mix but appeared to be for the most part German Shepard. The second Trouble was pregnant with her first litter. It was a horrible day when the Troubles owner decided it would be best for the eldest to be put down for the safety of the soon to be born pups, but things didn’t end well for either of the Troubles. In the span of a day the elder was gone, the younger gave birth and died from complications as did almost all of the new born. One survivor soon became known as the one and only Trouble. Her owner, a friend of mine, wanted her to have a companion to grow up with so he went to the pound and picked up her new friend Boomer. Within the year Boomer was injured and died. Unrelenting, another companion entered the fray, a pup named Rocky. As a youngster, Rocky looked just like Boomer but in no time he grew to an enormous size. Far larger than his predecessor he out weighed Trouble by at least 40 pounds. In a year Rocky grew to become one of the most loveable canines I had ever known. Never with malice he could easily push Trouble aside in any competition for affection. People gravitated to him and everyone loved him. Trouble was always in the background.

It wasn’t long after that the two dogs owner fell ill and was facing his final days. For the third time in as many years Trouble was going to be abandoned by one of the most important entities in her life. It was generally thought that I should take them in. Generally thought by everyone but me. It was true that I had a nice big yard and that I knew the pair better than any one else but I really didn’t want to be the one. I had my own dog, I had things to do and the two canine clans did not get along. Rocky would be OK but two more dogs? Fudge! I could do just fine without Trouble, she was stand off-ish and looked funny. As an adult Trouble was rewarded with a growth on the side of her face. Not a big deal physically, it was one of those things that would make strangers shy away and everyone else hesitate to pet her. As much as I really didn’t want her I thought it  unconscionable to separate the two and in the end I built a fence across the width of the yard to keep the peace. In an amazingly short period of time the household became as busy as Grand Central Station. Days of anxiety followed.

Almost as quickly as it happened it all went away. In the year that followed the other dogs died and all the people wandered off. Had better things to do I suppose. Trouble and I were the only ones left. I was fine with that. In the more than half decade that followed she would almost always emerge from one of her strategic hiding spots to meet me at the backyard gate every day when I made it home. I would pet her for as long as she would allow and give her a cursory exam to be sure she was in as good condition as when I left her, then she would go about her business and me mine.

During the last hour of her last day the veterinarian gently touched Trouble’s paw while she slept. True to form she recoiled, awoke and quickly raised her head to asses the situation. Trouble didn’t like to be touched. There was no obvious explanation but she never liked to be touched by strangers and only to be petted for a few moments by friends. She was an incredible  busy-body and snoop though, always needing to be in the middle of every little thing but rubbing her belly or inspecting her private parts was completely out of the question, even for me. The day Rocky died I reached out to pet and console her and she growled in return. I smacked her with the back of my hand. We were both in a bad mood that day. Neither of those things ever happened again. Toward the end I made a concerted effort to hug and pet her a little bit longer from day to day and eventually at the end she could allow the unthinkable when necessary. I was able to rub her belly twice. The first time she reacted with joy. Imagine waiting your entire life to experience one of its simple pleasures!

Trouble had her annoyances. Strange quirks I had never seen in a dog before. She was quite clever and a bit devious there was no doubt about that but she really didn’t attempt to communicate, rather I think she would prefer to solve problems on her own. Eventually I learned that almost every time she acted different it was connected to some issue she encountered. She  wanted things to her liking and usually found a way to accomplish just that. She was a clever little mutt, that was for sure.

One day the annoyance on the side of her face became out of control and in just a couple of months grew double, then triple in size. When she decided enough was enough Trouble decided to remove it herself. She did it! Well at least a portion of it. Unfortunately she managed to nick a vein. Old girl had surgery on a rush. She did just fine with that but living with that damn cone on her neck was agonizing for the both of us. The first 48 hours she beat and banged, knocked things over and got herself stuck endlessly. She adapted quickly but it was the first time I sensed that she doubted her own abilities. She needed me. She was fragile and that changed everything. Trouble was free of her curse though, and that was a suitable consolation. It was about that time that I started calling her “Old Girl”. It just seemed to roll off the tongue and I think it was bit more soothing to the ear.

To the best of my memory she never winced or cried in pain through her entire life. In fact, she very seldom complained about anything. I am sure she had pain just like any other animal would.

Of course she did!

It was easy to just ignore it and think to myself there was no discomfort but that was wrong and I knew it. I always tried to moderate my view and my expectations. Sometimes I would give her part of an aspirin tablet and she changed. Sometimes a little more active sometimes a deeper more comfortable sleep. Trouble could snore up a storm and when she did I knew she was a happy camper. She snored from time to time.

It was a short several months until the hideous curse came back and there was no chance of fixing it this time. She wouldn’t make it through another surgery according to the doctor. It was the beginning of the end. Old girl was a fighter though and she had her clever ways of adapting. She seldom made the same mistake twice. She depended on me too. I was happy to do whatever she needed, some things I would never record to print.

Final days became months but eventually time was up. As much as anything I wanted her to know that she would not be abandoned or left alone yet another time. Somehow I think she appreciated that.Photo Nov 14, 8 08 41

In the end Trouble died in my arms. I held her to her last breath and cried when she was gone. She had a long life, not always good but plenty of it mixed in. I keep her collar strapped to my camera bag as a reminder for all the days she watched over and protected my home while I was away and how I would rush home from shooting to see her and give her a nice meal.

Here’s to you old girl, here is to you.