Snowy Owl Hallucinations… « Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

Snowy Owl Hallucinations...

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Quasi-Snowy Owl. The base image was created at Jones Beach State Park, Long Island, New York this week with the Gitzo 3532 LS carbon fiber tripod, Mongoose M3.6 head, the Canon EF 600mm f/4L IS II USM lens, the Canon 2x EF Extender III (Teleconverter), and the Canon EOS-1D X. ISO 800. Evaluative metering +1/3 stop: 1/1600 sec. at f/9 in Manual mode confirmed via histogram/blinkies check.

Central sensor (by necessity) Expand/AI Servo Rear Focus AF on the ice column and re-compose. Click here if you missed the latest version of the Rear Focus Tutorial. Click on the image to see a larger version.

Snowy Owl Hallucinations…

The afternoon after getting to Long Island was sunny and bright so I made the 45 minute drive to Jones Beach after getting dressed properly for the bitter cold. In search of a Snowy Owl I walked south and then west to the jetty, about a mile or so. Searching for a Snowy Owl in the white dunes can be frustrating. You see a white plastic pipe or a Clorox bottle and your mind begins to play tricks on you…. So when I saw a column of ice on the jetty a good distance away my heart began to race; a Snowy Owl Owl on an ice-encased jetty? You’ve got to be kidding me…. As it turned out, you were :). But as I got closer to my Ice Owl I came up with an Out-of-the Box idea for creating a quasi-Snowy Owl in Photoshop. You can see the eye-donor Snowy Owl–my favorite ever of this species–by clicking here.

After creating the base image I headed north and then east and continued looking for a white owl. My cell phone rang. It was good friend Tom Pfeifer. He met a guy with a lens in the parking lot. The guy told him that there were several owls to the east…. Bummer. I had followed the ageold advice: go west young man. So I hustled my way another mile plus down the beach until I hooked up with Tom and old freind Jimmy G. They were watching a photographer and an owl yet another mile down the beach, another mile farther from the car. As the owl kept flying east as the guy approached it, we all decided to pass as it was getting late in the day.

On the way back to the car I decided to take a short cut, angling towards the parking lot. I became trapped in acres of very tall phragmites. The going was touch and slow. I came upon a small frozen pond. I made my way around the edge even though I was sure that it was frozen solid. BTW, did I tell you that had I found an owl I would have had to hand hold my 600 II? Why? When I got to Jones I realized that I had left my tripod in the back of Mike Lotito’s truck that morning…. I relaxed a bit when I got to the northern shore of the pond. I could see my car in the lot just on the other side of a smaller stand of the difficult-to-traverse phragmites. On the next step I broke through the ice into about a foot of water and lost my balance. By sheer luck and determination, I regained my balance after a few crashing and uncontrolled steps. I am pretty sure that I was motivated by the thought of my 600 II/1.4X III/!D X winding up in a foot of water.

By the time that I got back to my car I had walked a good three miles. I was exhausted as I headed back to Mom’s photographically empty-handed. That’s the way it often is with Snowy Owls; here one day, gone the next….


The original bait bucket image was created on a December trip to Long Island several years ago at Jones Beach State Park with the predecessor of the Gitzo 3532 LS carbon fiber tripod, the Mongoose M3.6 head, the Canon EF 800mm f/5.6L IS USM Autofocus lens and EOS-1D Mark IV (now replaced for me by the Canon EOS-1D X digital SLR ). ISO 400. Evaluative metering + 1 stop as framed: 1/500 sec. at f/8 in Av mode.

Different Year: Same Story

The year was 2008. The story was quite similar only on that day I wound up walking almost 5 owl-less miles. When you search too long for Bubo scandiacus everything start to look like a white owl. Bubo is Latin for owl. If anyone can come up with the Latin translation of scandiacus please do share. I think that it might be related to the word “arctic” but was not able to verify that despite a long web search.

The Photoshop Creation Process

The Photoshop creation process for each of the images above took only a few moments. For each I painted a Quick Mask of the owl’s eye and bill from two different images and placed that on it’s own Layer. I moved that layer with the Move Tool (V) onto the base image, added a Regular Layer Mask, and fine-tuned the selection. Just basic Layer Masking composite technique.

All of the above of course as detailed in my Digital Basics File, an instructional PDF that is sent via e-mail. It includes my complete digital workflow, dozens of great Photoshop tips, several different ways to expand canvas, all of my time-saving Keyboard Shortcuts, Quick Masking, Layer Masking, and NIK Color Efex Pro basics, my killer image clean-up techniques, Digital Eye Doctor, and tons more. Learn the details of advanced Quick Masking techniques in APTATS I. Mention this blog post and apply a $5 discount with phone orders only.


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Click on the image to enjoy a larger version.

The Southern Ocean…

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Last Year’s Grand Prize winning image by Lou Coetzer


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13 comments to Snowy Owl Hallucinations…

  • Art…I’ve made four unsuccessful trips to Jones Beach for Snowy Owls this season. The walks are becoming tedious! I’m thinking of trying Floyd Bennett since I’ve heard there are two or three at that location. Beyond that I’ll go to the Bronx Zoo where the Snow Leopards are almost always accessible!


  • avatar Dave Kerr

    Art, four-five Snowy Owls have been see in the New Holland, Lancaster County, area, here in PA, for the past several weeks.

  • avatar Marvin Falk

    Snowy owls exist in the Arctic, not that far from where I live as well as much further south, such as Minnesota and even New York state. But not here, hardly ever. I have heard several explanations, but still don’t quite understand. It is a joy to see them photographed wherever they might be.

  • avatar Bill Richardson

    Reminded me of today’s Peanuts strip where Snoopy is covered in snow!

  • Here’s another question: The species was reassigned to the Genus Bubo (from Nyctea) based on mtDNA evidence for that reassignment, but reassigning the Genus shouldn’t change the species epithet, which was originally scandiaca (not scandiacus). Right now bot get about equal numbers of hits on Google, but unless I’m mistaken the correct species name should be Bubo scandiaca?

  • avatar Raymond MacDonald

    I would hope that you remind your readers that continuing to approach an “owl [that] kept flying east as the guy approached it”… is textbook definition of wildlife harassment.

    Too many photographers disregard the precept of harassment. If the bird continues to take evasive action upon approach, the photographer must stop. I have seen too many instances of repeated, continual encroachment on these birds by photographers that ignore what the bird is demonstrating. “I’m uncomfortable with you being this close”
    This is not emphasized enough. Too many photographers violate this concept, dismissing concern for the animal, while being preoccupied with the image.

    • avatar Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

      Hi Ray, You are of course correct to a large degree but do understand that drawing the line can be difficult. And far too many folks are quick to hang all photographers as criminals. Home many times is it OK to walk up to a Snowy Owl? Who decides that. Does it matter how the bird acts or how far the bird flies? Is once too much? Does a Snowy Owl deserve more to be left alone than a cardinal or a House Sparrow? The questions involving the ethics of nature photography are many and complex, ones that I have explored at length over the years. artie

  • avatar Sarah Mayhew

    And the Snowy Owl was first classified in 1758 by Carolus Linnaeus, the Swedish naturalist so that makes sense. 🙂

  • avatar David Policansky

    Artie: Great blog. Yes, you’re right about scandiacus. I love the photos; perhaps you can use those eyes as some kind of BAA logo….A sense of humor (yours) is a wonderful thing. As for the bait bucket, when I was taken fishing as a kid I used to eat the clams, much to the consternation of the adult anglers who had taken me. I hope you also have had some good seafood there.

  • avatar Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

    Diffangle out-researched me and came up with this: scandiacus is a Latinised word referring to Scandinavia. Ask and ye shall learn :). artie

  • A lovely and relatable story! With regularity in winter I look for snowy owls also. I am sometimes lucky and sometimes not, and of course I am well-familiar with the white thing/snowy owl transformation which happens easily in the expectant mind! Good beans to you and all the best…