About a year ago, I began thinking about how much I love to photograph the rocky mountain elk.  That lead to me begin wondering how I could best convey my love for photographing these beautiful animals to you.  Maybe, I could do a special blog post, or maybe just pick a few of my best photographs and speak about them.  Or...   How about all of the above!

This week is all about the elk.  First, there will be a post every day on social media highlighting one of my elk images with a long description to go with each image. Secondly, a video will be posted and sent via email showing this years small trip to Cataloochee, NC and also highlight a few images from this years trip.  Finally, I will have a special email this week talking about the behavior of the elk.  I hope this all meets with your approval.  If so, let's kick this off with the image below that started it all for me!

In 2016, I began to photograph the elk of Cataloochee Valley.  This elk, only a young bull, that was pushed around and ran off, would one day take over a large herd.  So it is with the elk.  The strongest bulls become the king of the harem and rule, even if it is only for a season or two.  It is his time in the sun.

 You have read in the past about special encounters I have had with a particular animal.  It is a time where everything seems to be blessed by God and there is nothing to stop it from happening.  On this day, in an undisclosed location, I was walking a trail along a wooded area when to my front, I see a huge bird break from a perch and fly deeper into the woods. 

I knew there were barred owls here, but the blur looked more like a great horned to me.  I scanned the trees, but saw nothing.  It was a dense canopy, full of summertime leaves and branches.

Well, I decided to keep going as my main goal was photographing white-tailed fawns.  I walked a good mile with no luck and I turned back the opposite direction toward my vehicle.  I began to get closer to where I had seen the blur of feathers only 30 or so minutes before.

As I neared the area, I heard the distinctive call "who cooks for you" in the distance.  I have no idea why people think it sounds like "who cooks for you", but it has become forever ingrained into bird watching.  It is one of those strange things in birding.

I texted my brother, who is up in PA, that I thought I might be onto a barred owl and he was about 100 yards away at this point.  This is where my adrenaline starts to peak slightly and I become much more focused on the task at hand.  

The barred owl call had stopped, but I kept going back to the cut through path.  As I rounded the corner, once again a large shape was moving in the canopy, it then flew back to another tree.  I knew that it was not breeding season, so I got out my barred owl call and just hit it one time.

All at once, the barred owl, dropped down, seemingly out of no where, and headed straight toward the call.  They have incredible sound locating capability and he was literally aligned perfectly with me, but then he flew straight up and landed on a branch only 20 feet from my frozen body.

At this point, it should be noted, that humans have terrible reflexes in this type of situation.  We often have a moment of being frozen when confronted by something unexpected.

Once I recovered from that shock, I pulled my camera to my eye and began to shoot away.  The owl just sat there as calm and has happy as he could be.  He would occasionally look at me then survey the are and then just relax.   I got the feeling this was his favorite perch and probably where he flew from before.  Now, understand that in this area, they probably see people fairly often.  Hikers and so forth.

So, to make a long story shorter, I continued to shoot for about 20 minutes and he/she just posed.  Finally, I walked away and left her to continue her day and she stayed perched right there.  I'll have to tell you another time, what happened another 10 minutes after that, because that was almost as good. 

Link to Full Size Image:

Use the Software I Use to Make my Images Sing:
15% Off Topaz Software (Click link and enter FRIEND15 on checkout) https://topazlabs.com/ref/1396/

Consider donating to my Work! 
Facebook :

Instagram: @mattcuda

My Website: 
My Books:

Reflections of the Creator (Volume 1):

Last year was a real challenge for me as I have finally realized that there is almost no market for my images in the consumer space.  I spent about three years selling actively and marketing actively.  I am not going to lie, it caused me a lot of frustration and in the end a bit of depression.  From December of 2021 to almost March 2022, I have remained silent.  No images  posted, no marketing and no photography adventures.  In that time, only one person asked where I was and shew wasn't even a follower of my work. I think, deep down,  I wanted this to be more of a career and it just never happened.  

This period of time has been a great period of reflection.  Were the last several years of my life a waste of time?  Do I continue doing something I love to do, without a solid market to sell my images so I can afford doing the work?  Does anyone really care about my work?  As one person said, "I just want to look at pretty pictures."  That was the painful reality.  That really is what most want to do.  Buying imagery is just not what they want to do!

Looking back over 2021, however, did have some amazing moments (especially early on).  It is hard to not see my trip to Saint Augustine as a vey memorable and great time!  Being around great birds and great people.  What else can I ask for?  Anyway, without further mourning, here is my top 10 of 2021.  I hope you enjoy looking at pretty pictures, because that is all I have :)

#1 -   Roseate Spoonbill Takeoff

I like this image first, because of the great pink and blue contrast between the bird and the background.  Secondly, I like it because of the great wing position and general position of the bird.

#2 -   Mother Egret and Chick

There is nothing more sweet than a mother and her child.  Here a mother great egret is preparing to feed the chick.

#3 -   Hummingbird with Beebalm 

Beebalm is a flower that hummingbirds can't resist and here we see a male hummingbird coming in to check it out.  I went with a little different style in 2021 with stronger flash and a black background.  

#4 -   Great Egret Flyover

There are times where I just capture something unusual and that makes for an interesting photograph.  Here, a great egret is flying over my position.  I love the backlighting through his wings and the juxtaposition of the tree as a diagonal from him.

#5 -   Red-winged Blackbird Singing

A day excursion to Merritt Island in the spring, I came across this beautifully lit and perched female red-winged blackbird.  A common subject in uncommon lighting.

#6 -   Great Egret with Chick

Sometimes an image actually tells a lie and that is one of the beauties of still photography.  In this image, the female is performing a wing stretch, but it looks like she is trying to shade her chick from the hot sun.  

#8 -   Male Great Egret Displaying

This is a ubiquitous shot that I have never captured, so it pretty much had to make the top 10.  Here I have photographed a great egret displaying for a female about 8 feet away.

#9 -   Tri-colored Heron Portrait

I love the detail in this portrait.

#10 -  Pine Warbler in Snow

Warblers in the snow.  What is not to like?


"Wild Mare"
This photograph is from my "Wild Horses" Collection. 

Every once in a while there is an image that surprises me when it reaches the highest level of engagement by folks like you during the week.  When this happens it causes me to examine the image more carefully to determine why.  What did I miss?

There are several possibilities, that after reviewing the image, might explain the wild (pun intended)  engagement that this one received.  Here are some thoughts, but let me know what you think.

1.  A universally loved subject.  There isn't much about horses that people don't like. For thousands of years, humans have been in love with this amazing beast.  So, it has that going for it.
2.  A universally loved location.  Although not everyone's favorite, the beach is a place that many frequent.  It is a place of serenity for many.  An escape from the daily grind.  I think this piece speaks to that.
3.  Technically, the lighting is near perfect here as we have the setting sun lighting this mare who is slowly walking across the beach.  As is often the case, the setting sun emphasizes the color layers between the beach and the surf.

OK, all this is fine, but what about the mare herself.  The mare is doing nothing incredibly special here.  She is moving very slowly and dipping her head as she walks.  She does seem to have a sad look, but horses often show this when it is hot like it was that day.  

Psychologically, I think the horse may have represented freedom to many.  It congers up images of a wild and free stallion running along the beaches of a deserted island.  It represents the freedom that we all want to enjoy.  Freedom from the woes life.

I think, in the end, it is one of those images that doesn't have any single point of interest, but there is enough spread throughout it, that it wins the hearts of the viewer, and that is what this is all about.  It isn't about creating images for you that might win prizes or show up on the front page of a magazine.  It is about telling a story that invokes imagination or some lost thoughts you had from long ago.  There is something to be said for imagination and beauty.  Maybe that is all there is to it.

You keep looking at your empty walls, and you wonder when you are going to actually do something about it.  We have all had that thought, but how do you proceed?  Maybe you put some filler art on a wall just to keep it from being stark.  Again, I have done that.

What you really need is something that describes you!  Something that tells others what you care about.  You love nature and you love animals, but how do you work that into your decor?  How can you find something to match all your decor?  That really is a tough question, and only you can answer that fully, but I have outlined several ideas that I use and experts recommend for your living space.

What Describes You the Most

First, I want you to think about what you love the most about the natural world, and what defines you as a lover of nature. This is the first step in realizing what will fit your needs.  I see this as the most important.  For me, it is being face to face with animals that really gets my creative juices flowing.  That is where I choose to live.  I want the impact, and I want people to see that impact in my living space and my art.  The image below, describes me the most as a image maker, and this seems effective in my living area.  The face to face engagement of this bear really fits my style. 

View Full Size Image:  https://matt-cuda.pixels.com/featured/portrait-of-a-black-bear-bw-matt-cuda.html

What Reinforces Your Living Areas Colors

Notice, I did not say what matches your colors.  Matching color for color is not the most important aspect to consider.  Does it compliment your living area?  Nate Burkus, a professional designer, has this to say, "I prefer mixing and matching in order to achieve a coherent result." (www.mydomaine.com, 2019).  For example, maybe you stick to similar wooden frames or modern frames to complement each other, your walls and your furniture. 

You can customize the image with a layered look and use web site tools to see how it would look.  Click the link below and play with the color matching.

View Full Size Image:

View Full Size Image: https://matt-cuda.pixels.com/featured/morning-glow-matt-cuda.html?product=framed-print

Did you Forget the Bathroom and Kitchen?

I can't drive this point home enough.  The bathroom is the place where many visitors will need to retreat to at some point during their visit.  Personally, I like to see upbeat colors in both the bathroom and kitchen. For the nature lovers, I think bird photographs make a great compliment to these rooms.  Every room in your home should be decorated with artwork.  Each room can be themed and I think should. 

View Full Size Image

Consider decorating with a metal print.  These prints have depth and are high gloss.  They are very popular right now and can really add to an existing room's presence, as well as be a great conversation starter.

Metal print of a cardinal on a plum branch

Lastly, when you can't figure out what single piece can make or break a room, consider a photo wall.  This is where you take several smaller pieces built around a theme to make a cohesive arrangement.  These can take a bit for thought, but what a way to express yourself with many images.

I hope you can see where adding nature images to your home decor can make a difference.  So often, I visit nature and animals lover's homes and yet the decor does not show such an important aspect of their lives. Use the online tools that are available in the above links to visualize what it will look like in your home!  You can even use the cell phone tools to show the art on YOUR wall.  https://matt-cuda.pixels.com/featured/pine-forest-matt-cuda.html?product=framed-print



"Roseate Spoonbills"
This photograph is from my "Avian Florida" Collection. 

I have often explained that my photographic style is up close and personal.  That is because that is how I like to experience nature.  When I can't get close because the animal will not allow it, I use as long of a lens as possible.

There are times, however, where I want to see the subject in its environment or as a group.  I only do this, if I feel like it supports the story I am trying to convey.  In the image above, I am telling the story of how they fly in formation and how each bird has its own head turn and personality.  

So, how do I make such a quick decision while the birds are flying?  The answer is, I don't.  The shots are visualized before I actually bring the camera to my eye.  It is in essence what we call the photographer's eye.  It comes with experience, confidence and of course, creativity.