Paper or Ice? Maybe We Got it Right in Kindergarten.

I grew up in the desert. I saw snow in a measurable amount about once a decade. Even so, making paper snowflakes was one of my favorite projects in school. Over the years I made them out of various types of paper – tissue paper, construction paper, my report card…you get the idea. I still love to make them – here’s one I made with my power bill that just arrived…

Seems pretty appropriate, given the winter we have had so far. I think I will only pay the parts I can read...

Seems pretty appropriate, given the winter we have had so far. I think I will only pay the portions I can read.

I still love to make snowflakes and have taught dozens of children how to get the open and airy feel over the years. What never occurred to me was the idea that my desert-born imaginings of snowflakes might not be so far off the mark.

A couple of weeks ago we were pummeled with about a foot of show on a Sunday afternoon. People were stranded getting home from church, the grocery store was out of milk and bread, and I had been busy shooting cardinals and other birds as they flocked to the feeders.

I stepped outside and noticed that the snow was really fluffy and wondered what it would look like shot through my macro lens. I knew I needed contrast so I looked for the smoothest flat black objects I could find to capture the flakes. I tried a microfiber cloth, a crock pot, a frying pan – ultimately I ended up turning a black t-shirt inside out. In the weather at the angles I was trying to focus at, a tripod was out of the question, so all of these images are handheld shots. Click through for your very own micro snowstorm:

So, I guess my power bill really doesn’t compare to the complexity and beauty of something so delicate and perfect, but I think that my classmates and I got closer than we could have imagined.

Shutterbug Notes:

Shooting macro handheld is easier if you use some breathing techniques. It’s kind of like firing a rifle – take aim, exhale, fire the shutter. Exhaling eliminates some movement. It also helps to pull your elbows into your body to make yourself into a tripod.  I prefer to shoot macro from a tripod because it’s easier to focus and play with aperture and shutter settings. the challenge is always to get the depth of field right. When snow is falling you have to move fairly quickly because the flakes you are shooting are covered pretty quickly. 

2013 – Ten shots that I love

Editing is crucial for me and I often put myself through the process of narrowing my shots to find the ones that really work – my blog helps with that. I take about 10,000 photos every year. I shared about a thousand with you in 2013.  As the old year closes, I thought I would take a minute to post the shots that stood out for me.

10. Orange Stairs Orange Stairs

I shot this in an architectural salvage store in Chicago. The color captivated me. It was a great day of shooting and shopping, but this is my favorite shot of my time in the Windy City.

9. One Way20130513-163959.jpgI actually shot this on my last evening in Chicago. I used my fast 50 and it let me get lots of detail even late at night. This year I challenged myself to try things to find the limits of my equipment.

8. The Friendly Yearling20130324-103214.jpgThis is probably not one of my better photos, but it was an amazing moment for me. As I looked at this young buck looking back at me I realized he was the friendly fawn I had met the year before. I was Freshly Pressed for that post, and while that was great, the moment I recognized him was something I will never forget.

7. The Fly In20130119-111408.jpgThis was one of those shots I didn’t know I captured until I reviewed the shots. I thought there was no shot with the chickadee flying in – but it is one that I just love. This shot is one that encouraged me to keep shooting even when the scene looks pretty boring. After all, if I had decided to put my camera away because all I saw was a couple of finches eating, I would have missed this shot.

6. A Frosty Windshield

The payoff, sunrise out my driver's side window.

I took this shot waiting for my jeep to warm up one morning. I was so glad to have my macro lens with me. Macro shooting makes you look deeper into an unexplored world.

5. The Dancing Elk

Blitzen

I love shooting the elk during the rut, but this day was magical. The ground was frosty and there was a full on bull-fight. This bull was the victor and danced his way across the valley letting everyone know.

4. Stop Action Hummer

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After trying every shutter speed and lighting combination to try to capture a shot of a hummer in flight I decided to try a flash. This was taken right before sunset and I was running out of light – the flash was a gamble, but it worked so well that I began to use it in the daylight to stop action.

3. Tilt Shift Ben

This is my friend Ben. He lives across the road from me and sometimes visits with me while I get my mail. I never noticed how close in color he is to the road before. I shot him as he moved towards me and lucked out on the focus.

This is an experimental shot I took with a tilt shift set up. It was manually focused right after sunset. I was pleased with how it turned out, but this really feels like Ben to me – he is a neighbor dog that drops by to make sure I make it home OK.

2. The Swimming Dog

Speed

This shot of my brother’s dog in the swimming pool took a grand champion ribbon at the county fair – but even if no one appreciated the technical process of stopping the action, I love how that spit second of bliss shows in her expression. The color of the pool in the sunlight made for a great setting.

1. The Blue Jay

Eat and glare

This is my favorite photo I took this year – the attitude of the blue jay, the color of the bokeh, the late afternoon lighting. The funny thing is that I was trying to stop action and this guy just stopped to pose for me.

I’ll admit it, as soon as I got to 10, I wished I had made a top 20 list. Are there any you think should have made the cut? What did you post in 2013 that you are especially happy with? Happy New Year!

Shutterbug Notes:

If I could offer any advice, it would be to try new things. Your camera is capable of so much more than you imagine. Shoot the shots you want in Auto and then try the other modes. Push the ISO. Try that lens that is sitting around gathering dust. You’ll be a better photographer. 8 of these 10 shots would not have happened if I had stayed in my comfort zone. 

Naked Ladies in the Rain

Don’t be silly, I’m not THAT kind of photographer.

Naked ladies are a much-loved variety of Amaryllis that bloom in the first week of August. They have no leaves to cover them – hence, they are naked. Some people call them surprise lilies. My neighbor Mary Jane introduced them to me several years ago when she called me to come over to her place and to bring my camera. The lovely pink and yellow flowers stood towering over the dead leaves in her woods. I go back every year and take photos of them. I prefer to shoot macro and explore the parts of the flower. The stamens are really stunning and the buds are such a great color too.

This year I lucked out. We have been getting an unusual amount of rain so it was the perfect opportunity to indulge in my love of raindrops. I took my new weather sealed macro lens out into the woods and braved the storm.

It’s that color so late in the summer, I think that intrigues me. Without leaves to hide them, the naked ladies are all about color. Those, the blackberry lilies,  and the crepe myrtles are the last blast of summer color. The ladies will be here for a week or two, and then anticipation for fall color takes root in me. For now, I’ll just enjoy them while they linger.

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?

A Well Designed Weed

I am a fan of great design. When something has a beautiful aesthetic design that is also completely functional – for me that’s the pinnacle of design. I know that to most homeowners, this weed is the bane of their existence, requiring bags of chemicals and funny-looking tools to tame. I have come to appreciate their amazing design – to see that from not only follows function, but that functionality can be truly beautiful.

It begins like this…

I have always marveled at the intricate detail of it's flower's structure.

I have always marveled at the intricate detail of it’s flower’s structure. So much geometry.

…and transforms into this…

The symmetrical seed ball is also filled with structure and geometry,

The symmetrical seed ball is also filled with structure and geometry, a nearly perfect circle made mostly of air.

To really appreciate the beauty and the geometry of the dandelion, you must get closer…

As you get closer you can see the almost engineered structure that holds the whole seed system together.

As you get closer you can see the almost engineered structure that holds the whole seed system together. Dimples as perfectly spaced as any man-made golf ball.

As you get even closer the structure of the seeds themselves becomes much more intricate than you might imagine…

Here you can begin to make out the structure of the seeds - quite intricate with symmetrical barbs holding seeds to center.

Here you can begin to make out the structure of the seeds – quite intricate with symmetrical barbs holding seeds to center.

Getting still closer, the center is revealed to be less like a golf ball with dimples and more like the ports of a futuristic space station…

Now we see that the holes in the center actually have structure too - they have small "latches" that hold onto those seeds until just the right gust of wind comes along.

Now we see that the holes in the center actually have structure too – they have small “latches” that hold onto those seeds until just the right gust of wind comes along.

Of course the flower is just the opening act. The seed itself has an ingenious design…

The seed of the dandelion suspended from the center of a pinwheel of very fine parachute. It not only keeps the seed airborne to scatter in the wind - it makes for a perfect landing with the seed down.

The seed of the dandelion suspended from the center of a pin wheel of very fine parachute. It not only keeps the seed airborne to scatter in the wind – it makes for a perfect landing with the seed down.

When I lived in the city I fought the good fight with the weed. I would even treat my lazy next-door-neighbor’s lawn to prevent more from invading my little green space. After all, if I failed to take care of my lawn I would be bringing a pestilence upon my neighborhood. When I moved to the woods I recall that my neighbors chuckled when they saw me unloading a bag of “weed-n-feed”. They gently told me that what I was calling a lawn was really about 10% bluegrass filled in with wild clover, dandelions and any other ground cover that would grow out in the open. Over the course of the next few days I thought about the deer and birds and finally about my own well water and decided to embrace the idea of a wild lawn with no chemicals added. That first summer I learned to appreciate the dandelion and over the years I have explored it with better and better glass.

The dandelion in all it's glory.

The dandelion in all it’s glory.

I have come to see the majesty in that well designed weed.

Holy Macro!

I have been out taking a very close look and am happy to report that spring is springing. It’s not busting out all over yet, but if you look close, very close – it’s all there to see.

Yesterday after work I took a walk with my macro lens. It’s a Leica 45mm f2.8 so I can shoot in overcast conditions or in low light – that pretty much describes the conditions. I love the tonality of evening shots – past the golden hour, but early enough to keep the ISO and noise at low levels.

The remains of our glorious autumn are still around. I snapped this by accident, I was not even planning a shot - stupid trigger finger. Sometimes a great lens makes a decent shot out of a misfire.

The remains of our glorious autumn are still around. I snapped this by accident, I was not even planning a shot – stupid trigger finger. Sometimes a great lens makes a decent shot out of a misfire.

I was beginning to despair. The heat last year did so much damage and until yesterday I saw no buds. They are higher up, I'm hoping they fill in. These are edible and quite tasty in a salad.

I was beginning to despair. The heat last year did so much damage and until yesterday I saw no buds. They are higher up, I’m hoping they fill in. These are edible and quite tasty in a salad.

I don't know what these are called by my "lawn" is full of them. This shot focuses on the center of the plant.

I don’t know what these are called by my “lawn” is full of them. This shot focuses on the center of the plant…

...while this shot focuses on the outer blossoms.

…while this shot focuses on the outer blossoms.

These flowers appear to float in the woods. They are about a half-inch across...

These flowers appear to float in the woods. They are about a half-inch across…

...and resemble very tiny roses. These are tough to shoot because the are on very thin branches that move with any breeze.

…and resemble very tiny roses. These are tough to shoot because the are on very thin branches that move with any breeze.

This inch-long bundle of feathers is suspended over a limb on the lilacs...

This inch-long bundle of feathers is suspended over a limb on the lilacs…

...another view of the debris from the impact - the breeze makes the lower portion blend together.

…another view of the debris from the impact – the breeze makes the lower portion blend together.

This is a hole in a large rock I have on the patio - it fills with rainwater and the birds drink from this crystalline cavity.

This is a hole in a large rock I have on the patio – it fills with rainwater and the birds drink from this crystalline cavity.

Springtime is about exploration and discovery for me. It’s the perfect time to take that macro lens out for a walk.

It’s a Small, Small World

Early spring in the Ozarks is a mixed bag. Soon the hills will erupt in color, but not just yet. The trees are still bare but budding. Sometimes if you want to see what’s going on you have to get closer – much closer.

I have been getting up close and personal with nature – collecting shots with my Leica Macro lens. Sometimes when you get close you see beauty or complexity in the most mundane things. Color emerges, structure is revealed, discoveries are made.

The dandelion is far more complex that it appears from the seat of my mower deck. The center is almost crystalline

The dandelion is far more complex that it appears from the seat of my mower deck. The center is almost crystalline.

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These cover the fields all over this area – they look like a floating purple cloud from a distance. Up close they are more leaves than flowers, but those flowers are so delicate – less than an eighth of an inch across.

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I love johnny-jump-ups, and these remind me of those but much, much smaller. This tiny violet is less than a half-inch across.

From eye level this looks like moss on a rock. When you get down to ground level it is much more complex than expected.

From eye level this looks like moss on a rock. When you get down to ground level it is much more complex than expected.

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These hyacinths are at the end of their cycle. They mysteriously appeared a couple of years ago after my neighbor encouraged me to plant bulbs in the remains of an old cistern.

I don't know what these are, but they look a lot like some I have seen in my neighbor's flower beds. They are new this year. Thank you garden fairy!

I don’t know what these are, but they look a lot like some I have seen in my neighbor’s flower beds. They are new this year. Thank you garden fairy!

 

Here's a closer shot of that blue flower - there is so much structure to these flowers when you get close.

Here’s a closer shot of that blue flower – there is so much structure to these flowers when you get close.

I think this is some form of bluet - it measures about a quarter inch across.

I think this is some form of bluets – it measures about a quarter-inch across.

I'm pretty sure this is southern bluet. Tiny and white.

I’m pretty sure this is southern bluets. Tiny and white.

Is this the face of an owl? Nah, it's just the shell of a black walnut - it was probably a winter  meal for a squirrel

Is this the skull of an owl? Nah, it’s just the shell of a black walnut – it was probably a winter meal for a squirrel.

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The field around the Stone House is a mix of blue grass, clover, and low ground cover like this. An inch-long feather rests atop the ground cover.

I don't know what this is, but it is very tiny - smaller than a head of a pencil. It is so small that it's color is not even visible until you get very close to the ground.

I don’t know what this is, but it is very tiny – smaller than a head of a pencil. It is so small that its color is not even visible until you get very close to the ground.

I see these every year, they are low - under the grass. This one seems to have extra petals.

I see these every year, they are low – under the grass. This one seems to have extra petals. I love its star-shaped foliage.

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This is ice – water frozen in the bird bath.

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Daffodil buds emerging.

Water condensing inside the stalk of a daffodil.

Water condensing inside the stalk of a daffodil.

Getting these shots required me to get down in the dirt and undergrowth. Getting closer is not always easy, but is usually worth it.