At Tom Bol Photo Workshops, we celebrate great images created on our workshops by selecting a Photo of the Month. For April we chose an image from our Tucson Workshop created by Suzy Onysko. Suzy is a wildlife and portrait photographer. Her work is wonderfully creative and she often carries an infrared camera in addition to her regular gear. We hope you enjoy Suzy’s images as much as we do!
Congratulations to April 2023 ‘s featured photographer – Susan Onysko
Well, this never, ever happens… at least to me anyway. This photograph was taken the first morning of our workshop at Gates Pass. I started out using a wide-angle lens to photograph the yellow brittle bush in the foreground and the stunning rocks, cacti, and clouds in the background. I love color and that was a pop of color in the desert that I didn’t expect. It was pretty windy out, though, and I worried about the flowers ghosting too much in the foreground. I looked for another foreground element and found this stunning barrel cactus.
I took a few shots in color first. They looked nice but with the clouds in the scene and yellow flowers not being an important element anymore, I ran back to the car. I got my infrared camera to see how that would look. I quickly changed my preview screen to show the image in black and white instead of the out of camera red preview. I shot a frame and the infrared image took my breath away.
I will be the first to admit that wide angle landscape photography is not my forte, so when I get an image I like I am quick to analyze why I like it. Hopefully in the future I come to “see” that image a bit quicker in the field. Why do we like the desert? The textures of the prickly cactus is what we are drawn to and what it’s known for. By taking away the color I enhanced all the desert textures and shapes. The clouds enhanced it by adding a bit more mood.
Did I click once and be done? Oh no… I took two hundred images of this scene (no judging, it’s free!) by changing my position mere inches up, down, left, and right until the cactus was just big enough in the foreground but not too big to overwhelm the rest of the scene. I liked how the barrel cactus was the focal point, but by showing some mid-ground I also included some prickly pear cactus which led to some Saguaro Cactus and an impressive rock formation and then those incredible clouds!
Camera: Nikon Z9
Lens: Nikon NIKKOR Z 14-30mm f/4 S Lens
ISO: 2000 (did I denoise it? Nope – I like the grainy effect for a western black and white image)
Shutter Speed: 1/100 sec
Shooting Mode: Aperture Priority
Shot at 15mm, handheld
About Photographing in Saguaro National Park
I am from the Midwest and love unusual landscapes that I do not get to see at home. Death Valley is another place that I love. I find that the desert and Death Valley both give an other-worldly vibe that I adore. We were fortunate enough to have the yellow brittle bush blooming while we were there which for me added an unexpected element. What a happy surprise!
This trip truly has something for everyone, and the variety helped me and my ADD brain! It offered wide landscape desert views, macro photography, bird photography, and at Old Tucson we photographed some very dashing cowboys. Check on the portrait photography also!
One of my favorite things we worked on was long lens landscape shooting. I often have a hard time seeing the wide angle shot that are right in front of me, sun stars included. It’s like all clutter to me since there is so much going on. Many times in the past I have used a 70-200mm or 100-400 mm to isolate more intimate scenes in a landscape. Tom encouraged me to try using my 600mm to do this and I have to say that I am hooked. I look insane carrying the beast of a lens for a landscape shot, but the images created using this lens have such mood. Cacti framed by yellow flowers look so mysterious and I feel like a spectator viewing and interpreting the relationships between desert subjects as opposed to just pointing and shooting at them.
About the Quail Image
I love shooting from bird blinds – I was hooked after going on the Texas Bird trip. I will be the first to admit I struggle when finding/seeing/shooting birds in the wild handheld. I get too spastic and excited when I see them. Animal eye tracking on the Nikon Z9 is slowly helping with that issue, but being able to slow down on a tripod with a gimbal to help stabilize the camera makes all the difference in the world. If you know me, I am not normally a tripod fan so when I say that it means a lot!
This Gambel’s Quail is probably like a pigeon to those who live out West but for me this little guy had so much spunk and personality. He was my favorite bird I photographed on the trip. I was determined to get a shot that showed more of his personality than just him strutting across a log, which he did a lot! When he paused for a split second on the log and pondered what his next move would be I saw my chance and shot away. I loved the curve of his head and how the log swirl underneath him mimicked his body position. I looked for a photo that didn’t have his tail merging into the log and was fortunate to have one. This image will be hanging in my house and hopefully others.
Suzy’s Tips for Photographing in the Desert with Infrared
Tip #1) IR works beautifully: it gives an Old West feel to the images. If you ever play with IR, do more than just make a preset for it and call it done. I love playing with all the different LR black and white presets. By doing just that with my multiple infrared images here they all take on a different look. Ethereal, contrasty, ghostlike… you have all the control and can change the mood of the image with one click. I recently converted one of my Z9s to a Deep BW IR conversion through Lifepixel.
For at least ten years I have been converting my oldest camera to infrared through Lifepixel and I am always thrilled with the results. I went mirrorless last year and had to upgrade all my gear. Instead of using my oldest camera (that didn’t exist) I purchased an already converted Nikon Zfc through Lifepixel. I chose the Zfc because it was only ½ lb. It worked well, but it ended up being the only camera in my bag with completely different controls. To make things easier on myself last month I decided to convert a Nikon Z9 body so that all my controls were the same on all my camera bodies. I was thrilled with the results. My fingers knew the controls by heart and I was no longer fumbling, trying to learn a new camera body. As an added bonus the 45 megapixel infrared files are stunning compared the 20 megapixel images of the Zfc!
Tip #2) Bring every focal length: 14-840mm. I did for this trip (my family thought I was insane) and used every one of them!
Tip #3) Mind your body in the field. Jumping Cholla (look them up) are not to be messed with. A week later and I still have bruises where I was nailed by two little balls.
On Suzy’s Horizon:
Botswana, Tanzania and Kenya in June
Hummingbirds in Madera Canyon, Arizona and Ecuador in July
Eagles at Chilkat in Alaska
Cypress trees in the Texas Bayous
Cosplayers at conventions in Vermont, Indiana, Wyoming, New Hampshire, South Dakota, and Maine for my personal project – Cosplay 50: The United States of Cosplay.
Want to join us in Tucson in 2025? Click here
Last minute openings on 2023 workshops:
Bears at Lake Clark, June 18-23 – 1 space available. Photograph grizzly bears with cubs in Alaska Click here
Where are Tom and Cree?
We are headed to the Lone Star State for our annual Texas Birds in Spring (space available). If we are lucky, we will see Painted Buntings all over the ponds.
We hope spring has finally arrived in your area of the world. We’d love to see what you are photographing. Post your spring images on our Photos for Inspiration TBPW Facebook Page.
Thanks for reading our posts!
Tom and Cree