Magnificent Ballerina – 19 years later.


This post is a story about one of my all-time favorite photographs.  I say that because it has special meaning.  It was this photo that completely made me start believing in myself; believe that I could actually be successful in marketing my photography.  Oh, sure, I had been selling a few prints before that, but I wasn’t really convinced that I could get much better than what I was at that time.

It was a Sunday afternoon in the fall of 1998 when I decided to visit the Water Lily Collection here in downtown San Angelo.  Ann was with me.  I had my camera and tripod and a 35mm film camera.  Digital photography was in it’s infancy as far as I was concerned.  I didn’t, at that time, believe that the digital cameras could produce the quality prints that I wanted.  Of course, that is now all changed.  I now shoot with high end Canon digital equipment.

But I digress.  Back to 1998.  I browsed around all of the five ponds of water lilies.  I was searching, not really knowing what for.  Just something that would stop me in my tracks, and say to me, this is the one.  Then it happened.  A solo blossom, a muted pink, juxtaposed next to a large lily pad, with brilliant colors in the water.  I had a 200-400mm Tamron zoom lens mounted on my old Canon.  I maneuvered the setup into position, then rearranged it several times until I had the composition that I wanted.  I called Ann over.  She had been sitting on a bench, just taking in the beautiful surroundings.  I told her to look through the viewfinder.  I told her, “have a look at a winner”.    I knew in my heart that it was destined to be one of my best ever.  Because of it being film, instead of digital, I was limited on how manyshots I could take. I took three shots.  Three different exposures, bracketed.  (Click the image to see it enlarged.)

Magnificent Ballerina - a water lily from the San Angelo Water Lily collection.

Magnificent Ballerina – a water lily from the San Angelo Water Lily collection.

I took the film to a local photo lab to have it developed.  I chose the photo that had the little ripples in the water at the left part of the picture.  I then sent it to a custom lab and had a 20×30 inch print made.  I framed it and entered it in a show at the San Angelo Art Club.  It won first place.  I then entered it in three other local competions and won all three.  At an exibition at Angelo State University, an art professor looked over, and said I should name it, “LaPrima Donna Magnifico”.  Translated into “Magnificent Ballerina”.

Later, in 1999, Photography Forum Magazine and Canon, combined to have an international photo competition.  I thought, this is a chance to see just how good the photo was.  There was 29, 193 entries.  Two categories:  color or black and white.  So you would assume there were approximately 15,000 color entries.  Well, lo and behold, my photo didn’t win first place.  It did win fourth place.  I was elated, because not only did it carry a large cash prize, but it was also published in their magazine and their annual book.  That was the first time, actually the first of many, published credits that I have received in the last 18 years.

I have sold many framed editions of this image for amounts in the upper hundreds.  Enough said about that.  I will just say that it was a very successful photograph that jump-started my career as a professional photographer.  Since then I have been featured in dozens of magazines (including two covers), periodicals, books (including two covers), murals, and even a huge billboard.  I since started specializing in bird photography and am now considered one of the best at that.  I have also published a book of my bird photographs.  I also had a DVD produced with my images.

Well, that’s about that for this post.  I hope you didn’t mind me “blowing my own horn” so to speak.  If you will click on the link at the left, below Bob Zeller Galleries, you can buy prints of this image and other home decor featuring that photo and others.

Until next time, happy shooting. 🙂

Flashes from My Past


As I mentioned in my last post, it is getting into the summer doldrums.  The summer birds are here but they feel like I do.  Just a bit lazy about getting out in the warm afternoons.  So, to break up my routine a bit, I think I will veer away from birds only, in this post.  After all, this blog is also about photography, not only birding.

As a longtime professional outdoor and nature photographer, I have encountered some very interesting and exciting photo opportunities.  In the past fifteen years or so, I have amassed thousands of images, some great, some not so good.  But I have been published in over a dozen publications or books, including many covers.  My work has appeared on a billboard, murals and various websites, and in homes and offices across the country.  Like any photographer, I have several favorites that that I have secreted back in my files.  I thought it would be nice to share a few with you.  If you like them, I may publish a few more in a later post.

Let’s start with this photograph that I took earlier this year down in Big Bend National Park.  That area was created millions of years ago by exploding geological formations.  Canyons were created.  Mountains were created.  Wow!  It must have been something to see!  This photograph shows some of the geodes that were tossed around by some kind of volcanic upheaval.  In the back ground are hills of volcanic ash, called tuff.  Those boulders are really just a bit larger than bowling balls, but with my 10x16mm wide angle lens they appear bigger.  I actually got down on the ground to capture this.  Fortunately, my dear friend and fellow professional photographer, Deb, was nearby and she and her husband helped me up.  It’s hell to get old.  Anyway,it turned out to be one of many favorite photos from my travels to Big Bend National Park.

Big Bend Moonscape

Big Bend Moonscape

This bobcat was in the woods out near Spring Creek Park here in San Angelo a couple of years ago.  Ann was with me, and we were creeping along a boundary fence next to a wooded area.  Ann spoke up and said she saw a shadowy figure moving up ahead.  We both then saw it as we got closer, and realized it was a bobcat.  It was starting to get deeper into the woods.  As we got parallel to it I hesitated. thinking that it was too far away to get a usable photo.  But then, it stopped and turned facing us.  I grabbed my Canon 70D and Tamron 150-600mm lens and settled it on the window sill of our car.  By then there was a lot of brush between me and the animal, but I was using only my center focusing spot of the camera, and I was able to “thread” it through the twigs and branches to focus on the animal’s eyes, at a distance of about 75 yards.

Bobcat

Bobcat

This next photo of a Vermilion Flycatcher was created during another trip to Big Bend National Park.  There are many great birding areas there, and we always try to visit each one.  One of our favorite places to see a good variety is the Rio Grande Village campground.  We were there late in the spring of one year and the snowbirds, i.e. visitors from the north that come south for the winter, had mostly vacated the area to return home.  By driving thru the area, we see a good collection of birds and an occasional bobcat.  Anyway, this photo is one of my favories of the flycatacher species.

Vermilion Flycatcher

Vermilion Flycatcher

Oh, yes, I must tell you about my photo life before birds.  I was really into photographing flowers and landscapes.  In San Angelo we have one of world’s largest and best water lily collections.  For photographing flowers this is a must place to visit.  For this photo I was down there late in the afternoon.  Skies were partly cloudy with those nice puffy white clouds floating around.  I browsed around the five pools of lilies, looking for the right shot.  I came upon this particular lily, and I liked the way the lily was juxtaposed near the lily pads.  The white clouds reflecting in the water look gold, because of a treatment in the water.  I had and old film camera, I believe it was a Canon EOS3, and a Tamron 200-400mm lens on a tripod.  I worked for around 30 minutes getting set up, as the cloud movement and light changed every few minutes.  I finally was satisfied.  I clicked three bracked exposures.  Ann looked through the viewfinder while it was still on the tripod and remarked, “Bob, you have a real winner here.”   This was the one of the three that I picked.

"Prima Donna Magnifico" (Magnificent Ballerina"

“La Prima Donna Magnifico” (Magnificent Ballerina”

Later, I was showing it at an art show, and an art professor from Angelo State University saw it and proclaimed it to be “La Prima Donna Magnifico”, meaning Magnificent Ballerina.  I liked that name and went with it.  The photo won me first place in three local art shows, and in an international competion sponsored by Photographers Forum Magazine it took 4th place out of about 18,000 color entries.  It went on to be my most profitable image for several years.

I also love photographing golf courses.  We have some beautiful courses here in San Angelo.  I have done work for Quicksand Golf Course, and framed photos of all of their holes hang on the walls there.  At least they were there the last time I played there several years ago.  But one of my favorite golf images is one of the first hole at San Angelo Country Club.  When I was photographing the course, I was trying to pick out a feature of the hole that was memorable.  In this photo, I positioned myself behind a water pond short and to the right of the green and took the shot through the trees.  You can see the flag there if you look close.

Hole #1 - San Angelo Country Club

Hole #1 – San Angelo Country Club

Several years ago, a new Visitor’s Center for the San Angelo Chamber of commerce was constructed along the Concho River.  Hailed as one of the most beautiful such visitors’ centers in the state, I decided to try and get a nice photo of it.  To do so, I picked a morning when the water was dead calm and I could get a nice reflection.  I chose a position directly across from the building so I could get the entire structure in the image.  The exact spot that I needed was precisely where a tree was growing.  I sat down on the ground with my back to the tree and composed the picture.  Here is the result.  For a short period it was on a billboard, north of the city, welcoming visitors to the area.

San Angelo Visitors Center

San Angelo Visitors Center

San Angelo Billboard

San Angelo Billboard

One spring Ann and I took a little tour in the hill country of Texas to see the Texas Bluebonnets in bloom.  One image I particularly liked.  We had come across this little knoll, and right before us was some bluebonnets in the foreground.  Then right across a low water crossing there was a meadow with whitefaces, (Hereford cattle), grazing.  I crouched low so as to get the bluebonnets in the photo.

Later, the people that owned the local McDonald’s Franchise contacted me to buy the rights to one of my images for a mural in one of their restaurants.  I showed them my portfolio and they decided on that particular photo, as they liked the bluebonnets.  They in turn had another compny make the mural, which turned out to be in a wall covering form.  They installed it on a large wall.  But, would you know, they positioned furniture in place that covers the bluebonnets.  It still looks very nice.

McDonald's Mural

McDonald’s Mural

Well, I think I will end this post here.  I don’t want to bore you with to many of these memories.  But I promise I will be back with some more soon.  Please click on any image to see some very nice enlargements.  I also feel obliged to mention, prints of any of my photographs are available for sale.  If interested, contact me at bobzeller@pobox.com.

Bison, a bird and more…….


We have been going out to the San Angelo State Park more recently, mainly because we are so excited to see the lake actually having water in it.  While we are there we also like to do a little birding and watch for other photo ops.

As we were driving out towards the boat ramp on a a recent afternoon, we passed a few of the park’s bison herd up near the fence.  I couldn’t resist trying to get a nice photograph.  Here is what I decided to come up with.  I hope you enjoy.  Prints are available, of course, as all of my photographs are.  Just contact me.

Portrait of a Bison

Portrait of a Bison

Also, we got a chance to see this female Blue Grosbeak.

Blue Grosbeak - female

Blue Grosbeak – female

I have been digging into my archives again.  I usually get in trouble when I start messing with my old stuff, but I came across some of my old water lily photos that I took at the International Water Lily Collection here in San Angelo.  I probably have posted them a few years ago, but most of you haven’t seen them.

Water Lilies

Water Lilies

Lady in Red

Lady in Red

"Prima Donna Magnifico" (Magnificent Ballerina"

“Prima Donna Magnifico” (Magnificent Ballerina”

So you see, I am also able to produce some fine photos other than birds when I have a mind to.  That last photo has won several art competions and contests.  It was one of my last photos in which I used film.  An art professor at San Angelo State University saw the photo at one of my shows and suggested that name.

Click on the photos to see some beautiful enlargements.

Flora and Fauna, etc.


I woke up this morning and said to myself, “Self, (that is what I call myself at times), you need to write a post”.  I haven’t written one in several days.  It has just been one of those periods where it seems that I haven’t accomplished anything.  We had lots of rain, really gully-washers, here and the lakes have received much water.  The lake where I spend most of my time with my photography was literally over the banks, where previously it had almost dried up.  The gates were opened to bring the depth back to the normal.  That water will flow downstream to replenish yet another reservoir a few miles south.

So when I finally got out a few days ago, decided to go to several venues where I like to photograph.  First, here is a photo that I got in my own backyard, where we received seven and a half inches of the wet stuff.   A very wet, not dried off yet, immature female Bullock’s Oriole.

A very wet immature female Blullock's Oriole.

A very wet immature female Blullock’s Oriole.

We headed to San Angelo State Park.  We noticed that O. C. Fisher Lake there had received some water also.  Reportedly it rose from a dry bed to nine feet of water.  Should help the overall wildlife of the area.  Even the Prairie Dogs are happy, judging from this mother frolicing with an  off-spring.

PLayful Prairie Dogs

Playful Prairie Dogs

This photo was taken in the north part of the park at the prairie dog village there.  Also,while in that area we spotted a couple of Mississippi Kites in a tree.

Mississippi Kite

Mississippi Kite

Killdeer sheltering a young one.

Killdeer sheltering a young one.

Look close at the above picture.  No, it is not a four-legged Killdeer, nor are those training wheels.  When we first spotted the adult Killdeer, the chick was several yard away.  As we approached, it sensed danger and ran for it’s mother and hid under a wing.  I snapped a few photos, then left, as I don’t like to stress the wildlife for the sake of a photograph.

More images from the park included the following.

Bullock's Oriole

Bullock’s Oriole

Bewick's Wren

Bewick’s Wren

Scissor-tailed Flycatcher

Scissor-tailed Flycatcher

Prickly Pear Cactus

Prickly Pear Cactus

Leaving the park, we decided to venture downtown.  San Angelo is the home to one of  just a handful of International Water Lily Collections in the world.  Ken Landon, the curator and owner, collects specimens from all over the world.  He is just now putting out the plants for the summer, but several of them were in bloom already.  The five pools, (soon to be six) are each about half full, but will be completely filled with gorgeous blossoms of all shapes and sizes very soon.  Here are a couple of images that I captured.  As you can see from the water droplets, the rains had just recently finished.

Water Lily blossom

Water Lily blossom

Water Lilies

Water Lilies

I hope you enjoyed this diverse collection of images.  Click on any or all of them to see enlargements.

San Angelo Water Lily Fest – 2011


As I have mentioned in previous posts, San Angelo, Texas is home to the largest international water lily collection in the world.  Fans of the beautiful water plants and blossoms come here from all over the world to see and study our flowers.  Ken Landon, the curator is the man behind all of this, obtaining the plants from other countries so San Angelo can keep on having the best and the biggest.

The Chamber of Commerce presents an annual festival to show off the gardens and today was the day.  A new species that was developed and bred by Mr. Landon, was presented to the city, and by proclaiming through the state judicial system, it has been named the Texas State Water Lily.  Our State Representative Mr. Drew Darby was the man behind that effort.  The species’ name is Texas Dawn.  It is pictured below.

"Texas Dawn" - State Water Lily of Texas

While I was at the water lily gardens I strolled around and got these images of some of the other water lilies.

Blossom from San Angelo Water Lily Collection

Blossom from San Angelo Water Lily Collection

Blossom from San Angelo Water Lily Collection

Blossom from San Angelo Water Lily Collection

So is not to take up a lot of space with EXIF data, suffice it to say that I shot all images with my Canon EOS 7D.  I used my Canon f4-5.6 IS 100-400mm zoom lens.  Basic exposures were with Aperture priority, at  ISO 400.  I processed bottom four images with PhotoMatix HDR pro, then fine tuned in Photoshop.

Also while there I met a young budding photographer Amanda Berrie.   David Tarver, another local wildlife photographer was there, as were my old friends from the San Angelo Visitors Center.

I hope you enjoy the images.  Click on any of them to see enlargements.

San Angelo’s International Water Lily Collection


San Angelo, Texas, is proud to own one of about only five certified International Water Lily Collections.  It contains four separate large pools of Water Lily specimens from all over the world.  I hadn’t been down to see them in several months, so Sunday morning I decided it was time to make a visit.  We weren’t disappointed, as even though the temperatures were approaching the 100 mark again, the blossoms looked beautiful.

We had to wait until late morning to see the blossoms.  Most of these blossoms close up at night, so we had to wait until late morning to get these photographs.  By then, the sun was high and bright.  Consequently, I had to adjust the EV quite a bit.  I hope you enjoy the images.  Click on any one of them for an enlargement.

  • Canon EOS 7D
  • Canon 100-400mm zoom lens
  • 1/250 sec. @ f11 – minus 1.3 EV adjustment
  • ISO 100
  • Lens focal distance – 200mm
  • Metering – Partial
  • Aperture priority

  • Canon EOS 7D
  • Canon 100-400mm zoom lens
  • 1/800 sec. @ f11 – minus 1.3 EV adjustment
  • ISO 100
  • Lens focal distance – 190mm
  • Metering – partial
  • Aperture priority

  • Canon EOS 7D
  • Canon 100-400mm zoom lens
  • 1/800 sec. @ f11 – minus 1.3 EV adjustment
  • ISO 100
  • Lens focal distance – 340mm
  • Metering – Partial
  • Aperture priority

  • Canon EOS 7D
  • Canon 100-400mm zoom lens
  • 1/800 sec. @ f11 – minus 1.3 EV adjustment
  • ISO 100
  • Lens focal distance – 200mm
  • Metering – partial
  • Aperture priority

San Angelo Water Lily Fest


Today was the final day of the Water Lily Fest here in San Angelo.  Most of the festivities wound up yesterday but that didn’t stop the beautiful water lilies from opening today for all to see.  I didn’t get down to see the main event yesterday, so I took advantage of the smaller crowd today.  The skies were a bit overcast,  making the lighting perfect.

The San Angelo Internationl Water Lily Collection is the premier such garden in the world.  Ken Landon the owner and curator, has collected specimens from countries of both hemispheres.  This brought water lily esperts from the Unites States, Australia, Far East and Europe for the 4-day symposium.

Some of the lily pads are five feet in diamater, such as the third photo.  That blossom is nearly twelve inches across.

Here are four images that I photographed this morning.  I hope you enjoy.  Click on any of them to see an enlargement.