June on Film Roll #5 – 1974 Olympus Om-1n

I am attempting to shoot a roll of film a month this year – I’m about a month behind, but I’m catching up. My niece, Laura, came for a visit at the end of June. She is an avid shutterbug and has been interested in learning to operate a film camera. She picked up a Pentax kit and brought it with her on her trip. Once we got the pieces out and looked them over I found that my mother’s Vivitar Cosina from the late 70s was also a Pentax mount. Score! I was able to add a doubler, a fast 50, and a telephoto to her kit. More importantly, I was able to hook her up with a very cool vintage strap…

Couple of shutterbugs – Jasper, Arkansas

In preparation for her visit I had purchased us each a roll of T-Max 400 and a roll of 100 speed film. We covered the basics and she was off and shooting in no time. I started with the 400 – that’s what this roll is. Having Laura here got me out and about, so most of these shots are taken away from the house and I shot very few still lives. I actually only had a couple of chances to shoot indoors at all. I shot exclusively with the 50mm 1.4. This gave me a very shallow DOF, but also allowed some areas of sky to blow out.

Shooting outdoors I had a chance to play with sunlight – sometimes with better results than others. I’m finding that instead of seeking out high contrast subjects, that I need to make sure a black and white image has lots of mid tones.

Backlit Sunflower - Historic District - Eureka Springs, Arkansas

Backlit Sunflower – Historic District – Eureka Springs, Arkansas

While the shot above shot worked exactly as I imagined it – the next shot I’m not completely sold on – I like the bokeh and the light on the leaves – even the sunspots, but I wish I had more detail in the sky.

Soaking up the Sun - Historic DIstrict - Eureka Springs, Arkansas

Soaking up the Sun – Historic District – Eureka Springs, Arkansas

There is a spot I love to shoot – I’ve never really mastered it but I know that someday I will get the shot I’m imagining there. It’s an underground grotto that surrounds a natural spring. I want to get a shot from inside the grotto in the fall capturing all the color in the distant hills – these are not those shots, but I kind of like them. The feel historic to me.

The View from Inside the Grotto - Grotto Spring - Eureka Springs, Arkansas

The View from Inside the Grotto – Grotto Spring – Eureka Springs, Arkansas

The shot above is from the center of the grotto – on most days sunlight overwhelms this view, but the detail before you leave the stairs works fairly well. The blown out sky does give you the sense of sunlight pouring in.

Shooting into the Sunlight at Grotto Spring - Eureka Springs, Arkansas

Shooting into the Sunlight at Grotto Spring – Eureka Springs, Arkansas

Next I tried an angle – it lets the texture of the limestone stairwell come alive, this one feels more like the experience of being underground and looking up into the light.

While I was inside the grotto, a small circle on the ground caught my eye – it’s a perfectly round hole in the surface of the limestone step – a stair railing must have been here at some time…

Rail Base - Grotto Spring - Eureka Springs, Arkansas

Rail Base – Grotto Spring – Eureka Springs, Arkansas

The surface of the stone gave me some of those mid tones I have been searching for. The deep shadow and the highlight on the water give me the full tonal range I have been hoping to achieve with my black and whites.

I have been reading a lot about leading lines in hopes of improving my landscape skills – this historic bridge gave me some lines to work with…

The Beaver "Golden Gate" Bridge - Beaver, Arkansas

The Beaver “Golden Gate” Bridge – Beaver, Arkansas

This is the Ozarks very own “Golden Gate” bridge – the towers are actually painted yellow – it’s a one-lane bridge so you have to take turns crossing it. I have shot it many times in color and have a photo by a local artist in my home – I resisted the temptation to shoot it straight on and vertical – I see that done a lot here. For the second view I decided to make the diagonally striped sign the focal point – I have never known what that sign means…

Diagonal Stripes - Beaver Bridge - Beaver, Arkansas

Diagonal Stripes – Beaver Bridge – Beaver, Arkansas

The “fast fifty” lens lets me get sweet details in the foreground, like the bolts to the right of the signs – and lets the details in the distance soften.

Shooting the manual camera has been a challenge – you need longer exposures in many cases to capture detail, but it is very difficult to keep the camera still enough. In college I shot my moms Vivitar Cosina – the one I gave Laura. It has an Auto setting that is basically a primitive Aperture Mode. You set the aperture and the light meter tells you the shutter speed. I would adjust the aperture until the shutter speed was about 125. The Olympus is completely manual with a built-in light meter. You have to adjust both the shutter and the aperture until you get the needle centered on the light meter. In some cases there is just no room to shoot at 125 – there isn’t enough light.

Solar Lanterns - Sweet Spring - Eureka Springs, Arkansas

Solar Lanterns – Sweet Spring – Eureka Springs, Arkansas

More good mid tones – I shot this with the aperture close mid way down – this let me capture details in the balloons and in the limestone behind them – it was bright enough to still get a decent shutter speed at about f/11.

Laura Focusing her Pentax - Eureka Springs, Arkansas

Laura Focusing her Pentax – Eureka Springs, Arkansas

This shot of Laura was taken with the aperture wide open – I focused on her camera. The DOF is very shallow. I love the bokeh created by the picket fence behind her.

Lavender flowers at Sweet Spring - Eureka Springs, Arkansas

Lavender flowers at Sweet Spring – Eureka Springs, Arkansas

I used the same setting to capture these flowers, Laura was actually shooting these when I was shooting her.

Log Cabin with Cedar Log Rails - Eureka Springs, Arkansas

Log Cabin with Cedar Log Rails – Eureka Springs, Arkansas

This log cabin is on Spring Street in Eureka Springs. It hangs out over a hollow in the middle of town. There are trees near the sidewalk, so you have to find a way to peek through them to get a shot of it with the hollow visible. My first instinct was to shoot it straight on from the street – but I thought about the leading lines and decided to get a view at an angle.

Crystal Spring Seen Through a Curved Window - Crystal Bridges - Bentonville, Arkansas

Crystal Spring Seen Through a Curved Window – Crystal Bridges – Bentonville, Arkansas

Now for something a bit more modern – this is a view of the Spring at Crystal Bridges Museum – through a curved glass window. I was curious to see how the curved reflections would play on the image. I close the aperture down to about f/11 in this shot – the DOF is pretty deep.

Brushes at the Norberta Filbert Gallery - Bentonville, Arkansas

Brushes at the Norberta Philbert Gallery – Bentonville, Arkansas

When I had a chance to shoot still life, I tried to shoot with the aperture wide open – aiming for a very shallow DOF.

Steampunk Balloons by Tangled Metal - Norberta Philbrook Gallery - Bentonville, Arkansas

Steampunk Balloons by Tangled Metal – Norberta Philbrook Gallery – Bentonville, Arkansas

I loved these – I also like the shallow DOF – but think I could have closed the aperture down a stop. A local artist creates these from repurposed lightbulbs and clock parts. I shot several of these shots at a great gallery in Bentonville Arkansas located very close to Crystal Bridges.

Rademacher Leaf Vase - Norberta Philbrook Gallery - Bentonville, Arkansas

Rademacher Leaf Vase – Norberta Philbrook Gallery – Bentonville, Arkansas

This vase is by a local artist – he fires pieces with leaves pressed into the clay – I have one of his bird feeders and love the look of it.

Rockwell's Rosie - Crystal Bridges - Bentonville, Arkansas

Rockwell’s Rosie – Crystal Bridges – Bentonville, Arkansas

I can’t go to Bentonville without checking in with Rosie – my goal with this shot was to capture a bit of the sheen of the paint on the canvas – it’s subtle but it’s there. It’s very interesting to look at something known for its color in black and white.

Newspaper Machines - Jasper, Arkansas

Newspaper Machines – Jasper, Arkansas

These old newspaper machines gave me another chance to play with leading lines – the diagonals draw you into the image. I like the surfaces on these – they were a vivid blue.

Kayaks Loaded - The Stone House - Oak Hill, Arkansas

Kayaks Loaded – The Stone House – Oak Hill, Arkansas

I shot this image of the jeep with the aperture fairly wide – the DOF is shallow enough to isolate the subject, but not so shallow that you lose the depth of the image.

So – my thoughts on this project 5 rolls in? Well, I’m getting more keepers per roll and I’m taking a lot fewer shots of each subject – on this roll I only shot a few subjects more than once. Showing Laura the area kept me moving so I shot lots of variety. I also took my film camera everywhere except kayaking. Having it with me gave me lots of opportunities. I stared the next roll at Crystal Bridges in the gardens – I am anxious to see how those worked out. I’m shooting 100 speed now, so maybe I’ll get some sharper images in the mix.

If you would like to catch up with my project, here are the links for the other posts in the series:

Roll #1

Roll #2

Roll #4

Where is Roll 3? Well, it’s in the trash because I didn’t pay attention to the light meter.

Life Lessons From Mary Jane

Today is my friend’s birthday – it’s not just any birthday, today Mary Jane turns 100! I have known her for over a decade, and have learned so much from her about life and what really matters. Today I thought I would share some of the things I have learned from her with you.
This is Mary Jane on the last day of her first century.

This is Mary Jane on the last day of her first century.

The land matters.
One of the first things I learned about Mary Jane was that her family had once owned a great deal of land. She inherited land from her parents, and in the 1950s sold a section to a developer. Today that section is a golf course community with over 1500 residents. Listening to her talk about the land, I don’t hear regret in her voice, I hear astonishment that those who purchased it did not value the caves, the dogwood forests, the springs. One day we were driving on that land and she asked what I thought it would take to buy it all back and tear it all down. She said she liked it better when it was wild.
Mary Jane - queen of the woods - seated on her throne with her scepter.

Mary Jane – queen of the woods – seated on her throne with her scepter.

It’s easy to talk about land preservation, but Mary Jane has actually done it. She has placed the entire hollow between her home and the development into a land trust -157 acres that will never be developed, land rich with springs, and caves, and wildlife. A hollow that has never seen a permanent structure apart from the rock formations it contains, the land is filled with amazing creatures like flying squirrels, tortoises, deer, and even the occasional big cat. This land is an amazing gift to her community and to the future.
A 93-year-old Mary Jane blazes a path through the hollow.

A 93-year-old Mary Jane blazes a path through the hollow.

Recently a major electric company announced plans to take a high voltage line across the southern end of the hollow. They want to cut a swath 156 feet wide, install 150 foot tall towers, and permanently treat the land with dangerous herbicides. Our small county has been pulling together to oppose the project. Mary Jane was one of the first in line to speak at a public hearing about the project. Although she is not comfortable speaking to a crowd and didn’t have sufficient light to read her notes she told the judge about rare cave fish, springs, and wonders at risk. It was moving to hear her, and to know that her greatest wish is for that land to forever stay as it is today, wild.
Here Mary Jane reviews the scope of the Oak Hill Wildlife Preserve Land Trust with a surveyor.

Here Mary Jane reviews the scope of the Oak Hill Wildlife Preserve Land Trust with a surveyor.

Take care with water.
When I first moved into my house, Mary Jane dropped by while I was having a new dishwasher installed. She saw that and asked me why I would ever want one. To her this was like throwing water over the side of the hollow. You see, when she lived in this house they had a “windless” pump, basically it’s a pump that you crank by hand to bring water up the mountain from the spring below in the hollow. There was no tap to turn on, water was work. Until a few years ago Mary Jane still carried her drinking and washing water from a cistern at a local Grange hall. She was the last resident still using it when they suspended the water testing. Last year she finally installed a cistern and a pump at her home so she can use rainwater for non-drinking uses. She still carries her drinking water each week from a neighbor’s well. She’s spent a century knowing the value of water. Throwing it down the drain seems such a waste.
Mary Jane on the land above her springs.

Mary Jane on the land above her springs.

Enjoy the flowers.
You should never mow down flowers, not even wildflowers. Mary Jane’s lawn is not a lawn at all, it’s a field of wildflowers that she selectively mows after the blossoms are gone. It’s been a challenge for those who help with the lawn to know what is a flower and what is a weed. In the back she lets the sweet rocket grow so that the swallowtails can feed on the nectar. It creates a solid field of color about four feet tall. Recently she had the area alongside her driveway mowed, but she made sure that they left the blackberry lilies – she told me that she knew I would want to take pictures of them. For the last few years I have had a “garden fairy” – mysteriously flowers show up in places where Mary Jane has told me that they would grow well. Irises, daffodils, hyacinths, lilies – all planted in areas like the dip where a cistern used to be or along the patio. I’ve got a 100-year-old friend with a green thumb, so I’m pretty sure the mystery is solved.
A tiger swallowtail lights on the sweet rocket behind Mary Jane's house.

A tiger swallowtail lights on the sweet rocket behind Mary Jane’s house.

Several years ago Mary Jane asked if I would like to go on a hike with her. She told me she’d like to go into the hollow to show me something – she took me down to the bottom where there was a horseshoe-shaped waterfall. I thought that was the destination, but it was just a stop along the way. We bushwhacked up the other side of the hollow, she climbed up that hillside so nimbly – and she took me to a barren spot. The power company had clear-cut a 30-foot-wide power line easement and she had been able to see the bare spot from the other side of the hollow. She took several envelopes out of her pocket and told me to open them – they were filled with seeds that she had gathered from wildflowers. We scattered them all over the right-of-way. Thistles, sweet rocket, matrimonial vine – she envisioned that spot alive and brimming with color again. All it took was an afternoon and a few miles up and down the hollow to reclaim a spot in the woods that only she knew about.
Mary Jane is a firm believer in flower power.

Mary Jane is a firm believer in flower power.

Be kind to animals.
Mary Jane keeps a photo of a raccoon pinned up on her living room wall. It’s one of the many coons she has fed over the years. I’ve seen her feed them peanut butter sandwiches by hand. Most evenings they come to her door looking for dinner. Before she stopped driving I saw her parked on a pull-out next to a creek. I pulled over to see if she was ok, she was fine, she was just relocating a king snake that made its way into her house. She didn’t want her cats to harm it. Recently she called me, terribly concerned over a wren that had been hurt at her house. We wrapped it up and put it in a kennel cage and headed out to meet a wildlife rehabber. It didn’t survive the trip, and Mary Jane couldn’t bring herself to speak on the ride home. I sometimes look on her in awe for the childlike way she approaches and treasures wildlife, whether it’s a bug, or a snake, or a rabbit.
One of Mary Jane's many forest friends.

One of Mary Jane’s many forest friends.

When Mary Jane’s last car threw a rod I offered to help her find a replacement. She told me that she was pretty sure that this was a sign from God that it was time for her to stop driving. She could be seen walking the mile between her house and the grocery a couple of times a week – even in the heat of summer she would rarely accept a ride. She would make a day of it – walking, visiting, shopping, and walking back home. She told me once that she believed the secret to staying flexible and strong was walking. The first time I hiked with her she was 89 and we did 5 miles in the hollow. Today her vision keeps her from walking as much, but she recently told me her greatest pleasure in life has been to walk upon the earth. I think she’s on to something.
On this day we set out to find Mary Jane's great uncle's homestead in a neighboring hollow. Her memory was amazing - we put in several miles that day and she was able to crawl over logs to cross the creek.

On this day we set out to find Mary Jane’s great uncle’s homestead in a neighboring hollow. Her memory was amazing – we put in several miles that day and she was able to crawl over logs to cross the creek.

Stay connected.
Mary Jane has a network of caring cousins and a couple of grown great-grandchildren. Sadly, she lost her only child a few years ago. She has lots of friends and continues to make new ones. At 100, most of her friends are younger than she is! In the 1970s a group of young people settled into the hollow – she allowed many of them to stay in what is now my house, others camped deep in the hollow or slept on her porch as payment for helping out around the place. This area is filled with people who came to the Ozarks in that era and stayed – many of whom bought or traded for land from her. As twenty-somethings she was the one older person who put a roof over their heads and was a part of their circle. I have seen photos of her at weddings at my place, in a field filled with flower children, Mary Jane could be seen in a smart polyester dress she made herself holding her patent leather pocket-book. Today the tables are turned and they take care of her. They drive her to the laundromat or grocery store, they help with her water, they care for her animals if she is sick. Mary Jane has a family – but she also has this family, her “Hippie Family” as she described them to me once. She looks at them as the children and grandchildren she never had. They are integral to her daily life. Thinking in those terms, Mary Jane is like family to me too.
Last years birthday celebration took up over half the restaurant - people who stay connected to Mary Jane.

Last years birthday celebration took up over half the restaurant – people who stay connected to Mary Jane.

Time matters.
I never manage to just pop in to Mary Jane’s place, I’m always there a minimum of an hour or two – we have spent hours listening to bird calls on my iPhone or looking at old photos. She tells me the most amazing stories and I get a bit more of a window into her life. She listens to my life stories with wonder about the lands west of the Rockies. Sometimes we will spend a whole day out on an adventure – a trip to a museum or just a country drive. She has a goal to drive on every road in Carroll County, I think she may have already covered them all, but she enjoys showing me the hidden treasures that you often find down a dirt road.
A conversation with Mary Jane

A conversation with Mary Jane

Yesterday I stopped by to see Mary Jane, we almost always connect on the weekends. If I haven’t heard from her I will pop by in the afternoons. We are having a big celebration for her next week, but I wondered what her plans were for today – THE day.  She told me she had no plans and that she would love to have dinner with me, but more importantly she would like to spend time with me – she wants me to stay and visit. You know, I want that too.
Mary Jane blows out the candles on her 99th birthday surrounded by family and friends.

Mary Jane blows out the candles on her 99th birthday surrounded by family and friends.

Next week Mary Jane will show up at her favorite restaurant filled to overflowing with her family, friends and neighbors. Tonight we’ll have dinner and good conversation. Maybe I’ll learn something new.

Kirby’s Story

Several years ago there was a tragedy at the Stone House. I had three terriers – Velcro, Squeegee, and Zipper. Terriers are like no other dogs – stubborn, brave, fiercely loyal, and affectionate. Zipper was the only male and was the sweetest of the bunch. He camped and kayaked with me and had an weird habit of picking up bricks in his mouth and running away with them. He was odd and was very high energy, but was completely gentle around other animals. Once I spotted him out in my back field laying down in the grass watching a deer graze a couple of feet away from him. One day I heard the girls wail, it wasn’t a bark – it was very different and alarming. I ran outside to see that some roaming dogs had killed my sweet boy. The girls were inconsolable. I was inconsolable.

I’m not the kind of pet owner who heads out to replace a lost pup. I don’t think you can replace one, they are unique and each hold a special place in our hearts, but as the weeks wore on I could visibly see that the girls were mourning and I missed my cuddly adventure dog. I put up a post on a local BBS asking if anyone knew of a Jack Russell Terrier rescue or breeder in the area. It was time to move on.

Someone recommended a breeder and although I have typically rescued dogs, after a talk with her on the phone I decided to go look at some puppies. The kennel was quite remote – up a series of dirt roads about 20 miles off the pavement. They had a racing and training facility there, so I knew their dogs were not vanity terriers, they were working dogs. She showed me a couple of puppies and my heart melted – that baby animal serotonin thing kicked in. As I looked the two available pups the owners pointed out a dog to me in a large  training area. They told me his name was Cloud, and that they had bred him to compete for Confirmation. He was a gorgeous dog, I had never seen a terrier so perfectly proportioned. There was just one problem – he was terribly shy, so shy that he would bolt when touched by a judge in the ring. Worse still, his behavior was affecting the other dogs. He had been trained to race and to go to ground, but as a show dog he was useless. He needed a new home. He was 18 months old and had not been housebroken because he was a working dog. I sat with him for about a half hour, feeding him from my hand. The owners offered to let me just take him home with me. He had been adopted out once already and they were desperate to place him. They gave me his papers and I loaded him into the car for the two-hour ride home.

Cloud (Kirby's) first day at the Stone House

Cloud (Kirby’s) first day at the Stone House

Once we got back to my place I put him in a dog run that used to be on the property. My other dogs were on radio collars so they were free to run in a large circular area around the house. Cloud would have to stay in the run until he got used to me and could be trained on the fence. The run was attached to my shop building so he had an indoor outdoor area and I filled it with a new bed and lots of toys and blankets that smelled like me. The next day after work I went into the run to spend some time with my new boy and found that he was not at all open to letting me touch or even approach him. I decided that I needed him to bond with me in some way every day, so I fed him all of his meals out of my hands. He would grab a bite of kibble then bolt so that I had no chance to pet him. One day I thought I would try to walk him on a leash – after an hour of chasing him in the dog run I cornered him and he fought me so hard that I worried that he could be injured if I tried to force him to let me catch him – I needed to try something different.

I decided to put one of those old metal porch rockers in the dog run. I would sit in it each morning and evening for an hour or more feeding and talking to my new pup. Days passed, weeks passed – nothing. He seemed happy to see me, he wagged his tail each time I approached the run – but he was not going to let me touch him. This went on for 28 days. On day 29 I had an idea.

I brought Velcro into the run with me and I fed them both by hand. Each time I fed Velcro I would pet her and give her lots of affection. Cloud would watch and I could see that he was just a little jealous. After about 45 minutes of feeding both dogs he finally decided to let me touch him. I petted him under his ear and he pushed into my hands. He wanted to be petted! It was like a floodgate opened. He would not let me stop – it was like he had a skin hunger. I renamed him Kirby that night, because he was sucking up all the affection he could get. That night he moved into the house with us and the next evening I started training him on the invisible fence. He took right to it, and in a couple of days he was running with the girls.

That was in the summer of 2007. Today Kirby is very affectionate, but only when he chooses to be. He doesn’t make friends with everyone, but if he chooses you it means you must be pretty special. He protects the girls, who have reasonably become wary of any strange or unwelcome animal entering the yard. He and Velcro love to eat persimmons in the winter when they fall from the trees. He kayaks, he camps, he kills snakes – he is sweet, shy, and brave. He’s not Zipper, but he filled that hole in our hearts after we lost him – he filled it by choosing to love us on his own terms.

It’s only been recently that he has allowed me to take his photo. Perhaps he is a bit jealous of the birds.

Didn’t Your Mama Ever Teach You Any Table Manners?

Mid summer is a time when the Bird Buffet is inundated with fledglings – last week I wrote about a titmouse who was unwilling to cut the apron strings. I’m glad to report that I witnessed him opening and eating his own sunflower seeds today. Still, his screeching for his mama continues unabated. I have the feeling he’ll be living at home until his student loans are paid off.

Todays subject on Fledglings Behaving Badly, is not a mischievous titmouse, it’s a youngster from a fine upstanding family, known for their fine manners. They don’t screech, they don’t fight, they don’t hand upside down from the chandeliers. The Downy Woodpecker is the very picture of a well-mannered bird.

This is a Downy being a Downy - walking along a tree limb looking for bugs.

This is a Downy being a Downy – walking along a tree limb looking for bugs.

Downies are sweet birds, they become accustomed to humans very quickly and even share their feeders easily. They are likable little birds – the kind who grow up to be upright citizens. Every once in a while there’s a bad apple, a bird that no amount of parenting and discipline can manage – a hellion that upsets the whole neighborhood.

This kind of behavior cannot be tolerated at the Buffet! I suppose she thinks that if it’s alright for the hummers to dive bomb each other over this feeder that she can do whatever she likes, well she’s wrong – dead wrong (not really, I could never hurt her).

Click through this next gallery to see our stop action surveillance of the perpetrator.

After this incident, the youth in question was seen hanging upside down on the woodpecker feeder. She was last seen leaving the Buffet on a motorcycle with a sketchy looking bluejay.

She's gonna have one heck of a hangover in the morning.

She’s gonna have one heck of a hangover in the morning.

Parents – tell your fledglings about nectar. There’s nothing sadder than a young woody throwing her life away for a sugar high.

It’s a boy! An Update on the Friendly Fawn

Earlier this year I had an encounter with a yearling in the woods – it was an old friend, a friendly fawn. Last night I ran into the fawn again, but he’s all grown up!

These aren’t the best photos – I was not very close and was loosing light, but it is my fawn! I think I’ll just call him “Friendly”. He’s sporting velvet now.

His white mustache shaped marking is there - but I knew it was him because of that look!

Friendly’s white mustache shaped marking is there – but I knew it was him because of that look!

His eyes are unmistakable and the white mark on his nose is there – but that’s not what clued me in at this distance. It was his manner. He was with three other deer. The doe with him in this shot is his aunt – I have several shots of her over they years and she is not very friendly.

Here you can see the posture of the doe - she is not approachable and is not friendly. Her sister is the friendly guy's mom.

Here you can see the posture of the doe – she is not approachable and is not friendly. Her sister is the Friendly’s mom.

Looking at her in this shot she is getting ready to snort and bolt. But not Friendly – he’s watching me, tail down and calm. This was actually the first photo and you can see that his position is unchanged as I got closer. Here’s a shot of his mother with his newest younger sibling.

Doe is pretty calm as always but this baby was not - no white mark either.

Doe is pretty calm as always but this baby was not – no white mark either.

Doe typically has twins or triplets so this is a light year for her. Both her and Friendly stayed put as I got closer.

Not a great shot - but this is Friendly's new sibling, Spot

Not a great shot – but this is Friendly’s new sibling, Spot

On this evening Spot made the call and bolted, the others followed.

See Spot Run! A raised tail is a sign of danger, Spot doesn't know I'm harmless...yet.

See Spot Run! A raised tail is a sign of danger, Spot doesn’t know I’m harmless…yet.

They all bolted into the woods…except for one…

Friendly stayed behind to watch me turn and head back to the Jeep

Friendly stayed behind to watch me turn and head back to the Jeep

I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship – I think that “friendliness gene” does exist.

The Celebration of the Pre-Bicentennial

It’s been a while since I have posted over at the King of Isabelle Avenue – Come with me on a trip back to the Pre-Bicentennial!

The King of Isabelle Avenue

The rockets red glare, bombs bursting in mid-air, showers of sparks falling from heaven through the thick sulphurous smoke – below it was carnage. The fallen lay strewn in every direction as far as the eye could see. As the smoke cleared, a single figure becomes visible downfield. She’s clothed in red, a rifle in her hand, and she’s running for the end zone for all she’s worth. Behind her a large bearded man yells, “Die already!”
My Pop never did anything half way – he was all-in or he was out. When we started going to black powder gun shoots at the local range, it wasn’t long before he was getting Mom to make him some “leathers” so that he could play the part of a real mountain man. Almost immediately we were neck-deep in a local club called the Nevada Frontloaders – I know, it sounds like a group…

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Shutter Speed – A Month of Hummers

Over the course of the last month I have been experimenting with shooting in Shutter Mode – a departure from my beloved and comfortable Aperture Mode style of shooting. You can read about my progress here, here, here, and here.

If you don’t want to bother with clicking all those blue words – here’s my journey in a nutshell:

1. I like to shoot birds and wish I could capture more action shots.

2. Shooting in Aperture Mode focuses on light and not speed, so while I can easily control the depth of field, I miss a lot of that action.

3. Most wildlife photogs shoot in Shutter Mode, because controlling the speed gives you a better chance at stopping motion – this prompted me to get out of my comfort zone and give it a try.

What I have learned in the last month is that great light increases your camera’s ability to get you great results, and that you need to know the limits of your camera’s ability to handle lower light with higher ISO settings. ISO is crucial in allowing more light in when you increase shutter speeds even in sunlight.  I was pleasantly surprised to find that my camera can push these settings pretty far and still yield good results. I would encourage you to find a review that assesses your camera’s capabilities to see where the experts draw the line on ISO performance. For my camera, the line seems to be at 6400 with the experts in a controlled lighting situation – in the field I find I prefer the results at 3200 and lower. That’s twice the limit I have ever been comfortable trying, and reading up on my camera convinced me that my thinking on ISO and grain was stuck somewhere in past with my first Canon Elph (circa 2002).

When starting down this road my goal was to try to get shots of hummingbirds with definition in their wings. I have hundreds of shots from the last year with eyes in focus and wings that are barely discernible – now I love some of these shots, but getting wings with actual feathers defined was a rarity. Now I am not at the point where I am completely stopping motion on a hummingbird – honestly, I think that to do that dependably would require the use of a flash, and that is way outside my comfort zone. What follows are my favorite shots from a month of shooting in Shutter Mode.

Click on any image to start the slide show!

Now I know that last shot is not really an action shot. That girl worked her heart out for me – she’s out there on the front lines everyday defending that red bottle feeder, and her exhaustion is starting to show. She’s the acrobat diving into frame in so many of these shots. Well done, my little friend, well done.

It’s Time to Leave the Nest Already

Titmice are pretty much identical. I can pick out two that I have had at the feeder for a couple of years because of scars they have. Recently I have been watching a young titmouse – he stood out from the cool grey crowd. I was pretty sure it was a youngster because it’s plumage was a bit rough and it still had the yellow edging on its beak that baby birds had. It’s about the same size as the other birds so it seemed like it should be more confident. It looked to me like it was having a hard time mastering basic titmouse routines.

A couple of days ago I witnessed an altercation. The young bird would vocalize and make lots of screeching sounds whenever a mature bird got close – I assumed that this was about a young bird proving himself. He seemed to be incapable of holding his own.

I started to notice this bird regularly. In this screen door weather it’s clear when he is on one of my pergolas. He seems to be able to screech even with his mouth full. He also puffs out his feathers – this has made him an attractive subject as I study capturing movement through setting changes.

Last night, just before sunset I saw the following interaction – as I watched I assumed it was a tussle over a peanut, but as I looked at the next to last shot I wondered if I had been looking at this all wrong…

As I watched the scene above I was sure that there was a fight over a peanut, but as I looked at the photos afterward, I wasn’t so sure.

Today I saw the two birds again and it became clear that my impressions were wrong.

Once I saw this play out I had to revisit the other photos and look at them through a different lens. I have never seen this type of behavior before, was this youngster just not ready to leave the nest? Does he just want to live beyond his means and eat peanuts all day instead of sunflower seeds? Was he the oldest child who wishes he got more time with mom and dad? Was he the middle child who grew up believing that he didn’t get enough attention? Was he the youngest who like to play the baby card to keep from having to fix his own supper? EIther way, he’s got his parents snowed.

Eureka Springs Through a 60mm Macro Lens

There are lots of reasons to move up to an interchangeable lens system camera. I say “interchangeable lens system”, because technically I do not shoot a DSLR. DSLR stands for Digital Single Lens Reflex – meaning that you look through the lens you shoot with and that is made possible by reflection, a mirror that rests below the viewfinder. I shoot “mirrorless” – specifically micro 4/3. Because there is no mirror the space between the sensor and the lens can be dramatically reduced, allowing for smaller cameras and lenses. I can carry a three to four lens kit in a messenger bag with all the bells and whistles. The smaller distance means that the focal equivalents are not the same as standard DSLRs which operate on the 35mm camera equivalents. My focal lengths offer twice the reach – so a fast 50mm portrait lens is only a 25mm lens in my system. My 75-300mm bird lens is equivalent to a 150-600mm zoom on a DSLR. It makes for a compact and somewhat inconspicuous kit.

One of the things I love is shooting with a dedicated macro lens. I have been using a 45mm Leica macro lens for the last year or so. The 35mm equivalent would be twice that – 90mm. It’s a great lens but often can’t get me as close as I would like. I have a vintage macro bellows set up that is fun to use with the right subject, but lacks portability. Recently I acquired a new 60mm (120mm equivalent) 1:1 ratio lens and I am loving it. I haven’t had the time to take it out with the tripod to go crazy with the details, but I did get a chance to take it out for a spin around the formal gardens of Eureka Springs, Arkansas last week.

Click along and walk with me up Spring Street and enjoy the gardens.

Coneflowers – there is something about the coneflower that draws me back every year – the shape, the color, the insects – all of this and its perfectly spaced center structures make it lovely from almost any angle.

Orange Petals – I am drawn to oranges in nature in any season. The macro lens allows me to focus close and then focus closer. I tend to shoot flowers in aperture mode, playing with the DOF.  New details emerge as the depth of field gets tighter and tighter. Light through petals reveals structure.

The Buzz – I love the challenge of capturing a bumble bee in action, and nothing is better than seeing the individual pollen grains. Shooting on a full-function camera lets you switch to shutter mode to try to freeze their constant motion.

Thistles – I know they are invasive weeds, but I love thistles. The thrive in places where nothing else does. A couple of years ago a springtime flood created a slide on one of the city’s mountainsides. To prevent future slides deep rooting grasses were planted and the hillside was slightly terraced. The following year the grass came up, but within it were thousands of thistles. They are on a spot where the late day sun isolates them against the sky. They make for a stunning horizon, but it’s their structure that draws me.

Nature’s Spirograph – on that same hillside I see daisies below the grass line. I love the geometry that you find when you get close to daisies and similar petalled flowers like brown-eyed susans. Often after shooting you find that there is more wildlife than you had bargained for in your frame.

Ready for their close-ups – as much as I love categories, not everything fits neatly into sets when I shoot. Sometimes something just catches my eye and I shoot one or two frames.

Not bad for a first outing. I made the choice to leave my camera bag in the car and shoot only with the new lens. I find that this is a great way to get to know a lens, to force yourself to depend on it for the shot. Personally, I love new gear, but often depend on the old favorites and it’s good to get out there and push yourself outside of your comfort zone.

If you are a photog, what lens do you have sitting around that you haven’t gotten to know as well as you should?

Shutter Speed Part 4 – My Blue Heron

I’m becoming more comfortable working in Shutter Mode. There are some times when it fails me, but that most often has to do with extreme light or shadow issues, the things that make getting a good shot almost impossible. As I discovered in Part 2, my camera can handle pretty high ISO settings. I did some research on some real world reviews and found that I could push the ISO up to 3200 with little or no noise and that as high as 6400 a clean image was still possible.

On July 4th, like most people, I like to watch fireworks. I prefer to do it from a kayak out on a lake or river if possible. Since last summer we were in a drought and had no fireworks we were set for a super-sized show this year. I like to get to the lake at around 7:30 and get out on the water before it gets dark to set my bearings and get in a short paddle before sunset. Right after dusk I spotted a great blue heron. They are one of my favorite birds – standing over 4 feet tall with a six-foot wingspan, they are a sight to behold. This was my chance to push that ISO and try to keep a reasonably fast shutter speed. To be sure, there is some grain in some of the shots, but keep in mind that this is dusk – a full half-hour after sunset. Pushing the ISO let me keep the shutter speeds between 1/320 and 1/400 second, not fast enough to stop most action, but enough to capture pretty sharp images given the conditions – low light shots from a kayak.

I have found that I can get closer to these birds later in the evening and have always looked at these encounters as pictures I take only with my eyes, because I didn’t think I could get decent quality with a camera without a tripod on dry land. Pushing the limits is teaching me otherwise.

Click on the gallery – all shots were taken at an ISO setting of 3200. There is definitely some grain, but considering that I needed a flashlight to see the buttons on my camera I am pretty happy with the results.