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

20130917-122612.jpg

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. 

Out on a Limb

Winter Storm Cleon has moved east and it’s finally possible to get out of the Stone House and get back to work. It’s still unseasonably cold, and today I got my first mail delivery in almost a week. During the storm I worked from home and stayed warm and mostly dry by the fire. By day two the symptoms of cabin fever were starting to set in. I was getting up every thirty minutes and walking up and down my hallway several times. I constantly stocked the indoor firewood pile. I starting to feel restless and cooped up. I decided that to clear my head that I would take a walk outside over my “lunch hour”.

I put on my Carharts and tucked my weatherproof camera and lens inside my jacket. The activity around the house was extraordinary. Cardinals were hanging onto the branches of the crepe myrtle for dear life. A fallen tree limb over the pergola was a lifeline to a small woodpecker as winds blew snow almost sideways. Birds that typically dart away held fast in hopes of spotting fallen seed below on the patio.

I came in almost soaked through and freezing, but invigorated and ready to focus – on work.

Shutterbug notes:

Shooting birds in the snow can be tricky. Your camera’s autofocus wants to focus on the nearest object in your field of view – I found that if I made my focus point as small as possible and tried to get it to lock onto a bird’s eyes or beak that I could eventually get a focus between flakes. I took all of these shots in shutter mode at 1/400 second and an ISO of 1000. The white of the snow added ambient light that made a moderate ISO setting sufficient. A slower shutter speed would make the flakes look more like streaks – a faster one would require a higher ISO and would create unnecessary noise in a limited light situation.

You are my Sunshine

I live in that wide swath of the country that was hit by arctic storm Cleon. Funny, I didn’t know that they named winter storms, but I guess they do. Anyway, I have been housebound since prepping Wednesday night. I worked from home as a layer of ice blanketed the roads on Thursday. By the end of the day I thought the storm might be a bust – just some sleet and freezing rain. I felt silly for getting out the Carharts and putting the survival kit in the Jeep so early – after all it is still autumn. Cleon raged on Friday and by noon there was a foot of snow over that ice. I would work at my computer for a few hours and then I would have to get up and pace up and down the hallway – the signs of cabin fever were beginning to show. I was out of bread, apple cider, and chocolate. I stepped outside over my lunch hour and shot some birds during the flurries (I’ll save those for another time) but as I passed the 48 hour mark my mind was on all the things I didn’t have. A trip out to the firewood pile to restock was about as much fresh air as I had gotten and I was feeling a bit stir crazy.

Well, this post isn’t really about me (although it sounds like it so far – right?). You see, I live in the Stone House with 4 dogs – 4 very active dogs. Three terriers – Kirby, Velcro, and Squeegee – and a lovely Goldendoodle named Sunshine. I have written posts about all the terriers and their journey to the Stone House, but I’ve only written a dog shaming piece on Sunshine and that is a shame. You see, Sunshine is a very special dog and deserves his own story.

Sunshine is the last dog to be added to my pack. I never imagined that I would own more than two dogs, but then I saw sad Velcro at and adoption fair. After one of my pups was killed by uncontrolled dogs and Kirby came to live with us I began to think about the safety of my terriers. They say that a terrier is a big dog in a small body, but the truth is that when a big dog approaches aggressively these small dogs are scrappy but no match. I started thinking about what kind of dog would blend in with my pack, have a significant size, and would be gentle enough not to harm the smaller pups. I began to research Labradoodles and Goldendoodles. I had made a few calls to breeders and was considering a drive north to look at some dogs. The reputation of the doodles – crosses of Labs or Golden Retrievers with poodles – is one of gentleness, playfulness, loyalty, and they are supposed to be hypo allergic to boot.

I was talking one day with some friends when I mentioned that I was interested in looking at some doodles, but that I was hesitant to buy a dog from a breeder. I really prefer to rescue pets if possible. Someone told me about a group of Goldendoodles that she was fostering. The story was that their owner had died and they had been left unattended to when they were still nursing puppies. He was shy, tall, easily frightened, and had been unsuccessfully placed more than once. He sounded perfect!

When I met Sunshine he was going by the name Duke. I sat down on the couch and he immediately approached me – a good sign. I took him home and he was a little tentative getting out of the car. He walked behind me, hiding behind me as I moved towards the other dogs. As they approached he just laid down on the ground and looked them in the eye. Before the first evening was over he was fast friends with all three terriers. I saw his long blonde mustache and beard and thought he reminded me of an old mellow hippie named Sunshine – so Duke became Sunshine.

Sunshine is the complete opposite of a terrier. He is mild-mannered, gentle, careful, protective – he is a tiny dog in a tall body. He likes to try to hide under tables, even though he just doesn’t fit. When he plays. you can see the poodle in him – he gets his body low behind his outstretched front legs, ready to pounce. He has only two fears, thunder and gunfire – both of which are not uncommon in the woods. Beyond that he will defend me from any danger. He hikes with me, camps with me, and just hangs out with me. I probably neglected to write about him because he is easy. He isn’t pushy or demanding, although he does like his hand held at least once a day.

What made me think about writing about Sunshine today was the sunshine on that foot of snow in my yard. The dogs have been cooped up just like me – running outside for less than 5 minutes in the extreme cold. Today’s sunshine beckoned us all to come out and play. Sunshine hates it when it’s snowing, but the boy loves fresh snow. Here’s a gallery of him as he enjoys that virgin powder in the glorious sunshine – click through to get a sense of his movement:

Sunshine is that dog that watches you and anticipates your next move. He very gently inserts himself into your routine. He lies on a rug while I cook. He’s laying at my feet under my desk as I type this. He is always close by. He is not, however, hypo allergic. He sheds like a horse. I find blonde dust bunnies in ever corner on the floor and his addition to my home has necessitated another addition – a Dyson Animal. Speaking of the Dyson, I need to wrap this up and vacuum – it’s getting awfully fuzzy in the corners of the Stone House.

Because Sunshine doesn’t have as jealous bone in his body, I know he would not mind me including a slide show of his best pal in the snow. Snow is the one thing that Sunshine is the front-runner in their relationship. Kirby had to watch Sunshine run before he was sure he wanted to try it out. Again, click through for a sense of movement.

Everyone needs a little Sunshine in their life!

It’s hard to believe that this is my 200th post. I have been thinking about where I want to take theeffstop. I know I want to take good photos and share thoughtful or silly stories. I get a lot of comments about the camera settings I have shared, so I will continue to include those, but I will put them at the end of each post. I’m not really interested in writing a how-to blog, but I love sharing the knowledge I have picked up along the way. Thanks to all of you who have taken this journey with me. Your support and friendship have meant more to me than you will ever know.

Shutterbug Notes:

Both of these galleries were shot using Shutter Mode. On a bright sunny day you don’t have to push the ISO too high, especially in the snow. I set my ISO to 1000, Shutter Speed 1000. If you keep the focus point in the center of the frame you can focus on the face even as the running dog moves through the frame, in other words, give him room or you will cut his head off. 

Black Friday in Boxley Valley

When I moved to the Ozarks I imagined that I was leaving behind the pressures of city life, that I would be living at a slower and more manageable pace. I’ve always avoided the mall on Black Friday like the plague. People change under the pressure of the potential deals laid out before them. You won’t catch me camping out at Best Buy for a week or fighting off another shopper for the last bathrobe on sale. I’m not opposed to Black Friday at all, it’s just that for me the three dollar savings on an iPod is just not worth the stress. I have also found that with all those rabid shoppers occupied there are other places that are magically tranquil and serene – at least that was what I expected to find as some friends and I made our annual Black Friday pilgrimage to the Boxley Valley to visit the elk.

Now I have posted about Boxley several times, it’s not like I only visit on Black Friday – but it is a day that is typically quieter. Shoppers are otherwise occupied. It is the last half of the rut and action is often sparse. Personally, I find these creatures to be magnificent and love to see them any time – in velvet, during the rut, in the dead of winter – I’m game for the drive over.

The peaceful setting of Boxley Valley is no stranger to the pressures of Black Friday...

The peaceful setting of Boxley Valley is no stranger to the pressures of Black Friday…

Sadly, the consumerism and pressures of the outside world have intruded into my peaceful valley sanctuary.

It all begins with the crowds lining up to get a look at sales and specials.

It all begins with the crowds lining up to get a look at sales and specials.

They're opening the doors - I'm headed straight for that shiny new crock pot!

They’re opening the doors – I’m headed straight for that shiny new crock pot!

Listen up! Don't even think about heading to the crock pots - that new red Sunbeam is mine!

Listen up! Don’t even think about heading to the crock pots – that new red Sunbeam is mine!

I'm not kidding - I will fight you for that crock pot! Don't even think about it!

I’m not kidding – I will fight you for that crock pot! Don’t even think about it!

The doors are finally open - crock pot, today you are mine!

The doors are finally open – crock pot, today you are mine!

I told you buddy, that crock pot is mine!

I told you buddy, that crock pot is mine!

There is no way I'm losing out on this crock pot to a crack pot like you!

There is no way I’m losing out on this crock pot to a crack pot like you!

I'm gonna have to dig deep to hold onto this crock pout!

I’m gonna have to dig deep to hold onto this crock pout!

Can you believe these two are tussling over a crock pot when everything is half off at Old Navy?

Can you believe these two are tussling over a crock pot when everything is half off at Old Navy?

You messed with the wrong bull buddy - you are going down. No crock pot for you!

You messed with the wrong bull buddy – you are going down. No crock pot for you!

I can fight on forever knowing that I will get 20% off that crock pot! Savings like that fuel my fire!

I can fight on forever knowing that I will get 20% off that crock pot! Savings like that fuel my fire!

I will never surrender my crock pot!

I will never surrender my crock pot!

Victory is within my grasp - I can see that crock pot and it has my name on it!

Victory is within my grasp – I can see that crock pot and it has my name on it!

Victory is mine! A red Sunbeam self timing crock pot with a thermometer and a locking lid - I'm living the dream baby!

Victory is mine! A red Sunbeam self timing crock pot with a thermometer and a locking lid – I’m living the dream baby!

You cows can't touch this! I got the crock pot! I got the crock pot!

You cows can’t touch this! I got the crock pot! I got the crock pot!

Doing my crock pot victory dance!!

Doing my crock pot victory dance!!

Victory is so sweet, but not as sweet as the deal I got on that crock pot!

Victory is so sweet, but not as sweet as the deal I got on that crock pot!

Maybe I should go over and check out the specials at Old Navy...

Maybe I should go over and check out the specials at Old Navy…

Meanwhile at the Food Court…

Family Dinner

Family Dinner

Girls night out

Girls night out

Open Seating

Open Seating

Frozen dinner

Frozen dinner

Kids Meal

Kids Meal

Meanwhile our victor is enjoying the spoils of his shopping day…

Wanna come to my place and check out my crock pot?

Wanna come to my place and check out my crock pot?

The holiday season is officially here and I am thinking that the madness of Black Friday will pass soon in Boxley Valley, although I hear that Cyber Monday is madness. Be careful out there, it’s not worth an antler in the ear to save a couple of bucks.

If you want to read more about the amazing Boxley Elk, check out these links:

The Boys are Back

Dancing Elk

Seeing Spots

Stuck in a Rut

Boys will be Boys

An Old Friend and a Camera Lens

I recently saw an impressive tilt-shift image posted by a friend on Facebook. It was a long shot of the autumn color here in the Ozarks. It made me think about my neglected tilt-shift set up. Languishing in the old camera bag, I hadn’t touched it in over a year. Frankly, it intimidated me. I used it a couple of times and got 2-3 images that I liked – but it took more work. It was less intuitive. Getting good color was not as easy since the set-up only works in manual – you can set your shutter speed and ISO – but the rest is all you. I wrote briefly about using it ages ago in one of my early posts, and I got one shot from that afternoon that I regularly sell prints of.

This is an image I took last year with the tilt-shift lens at a local lake. The tilt lets me focus on a small portion of the image and lets the rest blur. It takes a boring angled shot of a dock and makes it pretty interesting to investigate visually.

This is an image I took last year with the tilt-shift lens at a local lake. The tilt lets me focus on a small portion of the image and lets the rest blur. It takes a boring angled shot of a dock and makes it pretty interesting to investigate visually.

Here’s how tilt-shift works – the lens is offset at an angle from the sensor – so your plane of focus is not parallel. That angle lets you selectively focus on a single portion of the image and lets the rest blur. If you have seen images of city shots where the people and cars look like dioramas – those images are tilt shift. That plane of focus shifts the perspective creating the illusion that things are smaller than they really are in proportion to the overall image. The gear it takes to do this is pretty cool. It kind of looks like a mix between Frankenstein and Steampunk –

This is my tilt-shift set up - note the aperture ring in the center - its a coated metal disc held in place by magnets. To change the aperture you change out the ring. f22 is like a pinhole. f1.4 is no ring at all.

This is my tilt-shift set up – note the aperture ring in the center – its a coated metal disc held in place by magnets. To change the aperture you change out the ring. f22 is like a pinhole. f1.4 is no ring at all.

A side view of the tilt-shift set up on my tripod. Each of the threaded rods help you to fine tune the shift. For the shots in this post I went with a more casual approach - point, focus, shoot, try again.

A side view of the tilt-shift set up on my tripod. Each of the threaded rods help you to fine tune the shift. For the shots in this post I went with a more casual approach – point, focus, shoot, try again.

You compress the outer ring towards the camera body at an angle until you see something that you think is interesting. Once you get a sense of the image you lock that ring and then you can focus using a slide on the ring. I find that it works best to find a sweet spot and then look for things to focus on within your field of vision. At this point it becomes more intuitive.

I’ve been shooting some landscapes this way and will probably write a post about them soon, but last night on my way home from work I had a chance meeting on my road – an old friend approached me as I was checking my mail box. All of the shots that follow were taken shortly after sunset. I removed the aperture ring altogether to let in as much light as possible.

My road at sunset - by choosing that one spot of brighter color in the distance to bring into focus, I make your eye look down the road and into the photo.

My road at sunset – by choosing that one spot of brighter color in the distance to bring into focus, I make your eye look down the road and into the photo.

Ben is a wonderful old friend. Every time I see him at the mail box I roll down the window and say hi. At first he was much more interested in some petting than in being the subject of a blog post, but he rolled with it. The wonderful thing about tilt-shift is that it lets you look at something you see all the time and see it with new eyes – a fresh perspective.As I shot I thought about his noble look, his curious and kind eyes, his friendly posture. It’s always good to look at an old friend with new eyes.

Trying Something a Bit Flashy

I’ve been working getting a good library of photos built for stock photography sites and it’s been a humbling experience. The sites critique your work and the issues are very plainly stated. The artistic quality of a photo is not considered. It’s all about fundamentals.

Here on this blog I have been talking about pushing my photography in order to accomplish tasks like stopping the motion of a hummingbird’s wings or capturing the joy of an OCD dog in swimming pool. These exercises have pushed me to capture things I never really thought my micro 4/3 system was capable of. This has been great for me as a technician and I feel more capable of shooting things that I had not even considered before. The down side is that it has pointed out the flaws in the give-and-take when you trade shutter speed for ISO – the end result is more noise. Although this might be great for a photo that I would publish here or even one that I would sell a print of, it doesn’t cut it in the stock photography world. Noise is a no-no.

I’m also finding that my artistic leaning towards a very shallow DOF is not what these sites are looking for either – so I have culled my archives to find the best shots where the focus on the main subject is deeper – all-in-all I am starting to find the right mix. My autumn leaves seem to be hitting the mark as well as some wildlife and some flowers.

This whole process got me thinking – is there a way to get a very sharp image of a hummingbird (or any bird) in less than perfect lighting conditions? In motion? Without a lot of noise? I recently attended a family wedding and I brought my portrait lens. As the ceremony moved from a lakeside sunlit venue to a rather dark reception hall I was forced to take out my least favorite piece of photographic equipment – my flash.

I have never liked shooting with a flash. I don’t like the way it can change skin tones and the shadows it can cast. I prefer a fast lens and available light, but as the days start to get shorter, that means I might have to shoot only on weekends with great weather. The hummingbirds are here now – and they’ll be headed south by mid October. Although I find the flash intimidating, the time has come for me to give it a try.

All of the shots that follow were shot in overcast conditions after 6:00pm. Some were shot on the west side of my home where the house casts shadows on my shooting area after 4:00pm.

I’ll start with a hummingbird on a limb. I was concerned that once I fired the flash that my subject would bolt, but my worries were unfounded. I shout about 10 frames of this fellow and he was unconcerned with me. He was in the shadow of the house, backed by a cedar beam.

There is the problem of the flash needing to recharge between shots – so I have to go back to my process of stalking and waiting for a good moment rather than firing off dozens of frames – but I kind of like that.

Of course, there is still the issue of hoping to stop the action of a hummingbird in flight. The flash certainly helps…

This shot was taken at about 6:00 in the evening - I had to get a focus on the bird and wait for it to flutter backwards from the feeder to make the capture. Since a bird does this about 5-6 times when feeding you are lucky to get two chances while a bird is at the feeder with the flash recharging between shots.

This shot was taken at about 6:00 in the evening – I had to get a focus on the bird and wait for it to flutter backwards from the feeder to make the capture. Since a bird does this about 5-6 times when feeding you are lucky to get two chances while a bird is at the feeder with the flash recharging between shots.

There is something else the flash does that I hadn’t really considered. All that extra light assists the camera in getting some pretty tight focus…

20130917-122612.jpg

I can see the veins of individual feathers in this shot, but the beak is what really got me. I have never gotten a shot this sharp of a hummer. The flash makes the wings transparent so that you can see her body through it. A shadow is cast of the wing on her left by the one in front.

This whole process has made me think about using a flash when I have plenty of sunlight. Can I get a really sharp image by adding just a bit more light into the mix? Or is that just too flashy?

Seeing Spots

There’s something about baby animals, they are almost irresistible. Puppies, kittens, bunnies, elklets – OK, I know they are not called “elklets”, but “elk calf” just doesn’t sound cute enough.

I made a trip over to the Boxley Valley this week. The Buffalo National River runs across the valley and its a wonderful place filled with bluffs and water and open meadows between the mountains. Last week I got a chance to see some adolescent elk play, this time I got a chance to see many young calves with their mothers.

The last half of the summer is the time when you can spot these spotted youngsters. Their coats make them almost invisible in the daylight in the woods, their spots mimicking the way that sunlight falls through the trees. The can lie down in the grass and nearly disappear until the movement of their huge bunny ears give them away. Their mothers stay close by, feeding in groups with other cows. Occasionally a calf pops up from the meadow and takes off on colt-like legs.

On this evening I spotted some brown in the grass – it began to move and I saw ears. Click though the gallery below to see the shots of the young calf in order as it looks for it’s mother.