Chasing the Sunset

I love a colorful sunset. I live about 15 miles west of my place of employment. It’s a winding country drive. On a few special evenings a year I spot some color and chase it down as I drive westward towards home.

Standard Time sure limits my opportunities though. Late last week – on October 31st – I got the chance to capture the last sunset of October. It will likely be the last one I catch on my drive home until spring.

I shot these with my fast 50 portrait lens. I end to close down the aperture a bit shooting sunsets – I am not looking for blur or bokeh. I want color. These were all shot between f4-f6.3. Shutter speeds are slowed down a bit for detail around 1/60 sec – ISO at 200 except for the shot of the Crescent – it was at 800 because I was losing light fast.

Country Roads – a Tilt-shift View of Autumn in the Ozarks

My bird lens is on the fritz, 9 days at Olympus for repairs and counting. Arrrrgh! Peak fall color hit about 10 days ago so I have not been able to get my leaf shots – it’s something I look forward to all year. The last two weeks have been rainy off and on so shooting days are few and far between anyway. Last weekend a kind of panic hit me – shoot now or miss the whole season. I started by taking a couple of snaps on local roads with my portrait lens – not my favorite for these kinds of shots – but serviceable.

Shooting down roads has always been a mixed bag for me. I tend to shoot things that I can isolate like birds or leaves or objects. A scene can take me in, but capturing it effectively can often elude me. I had been playing around with a tilt-shift set up and wondered if I could use it to look into the distance on these country roads – to use it in a way that would help the viewer to get a better sense of what I feel when I am driving down one of these roads – crisp air, crunching swirling leaves, filtered sunlight. Can I take a photo that makes you feel these things?

I know I have explained this before, but just in case – a tilt-shift lens lets you move the lens at an angle so that the plane of focus is not parallel to the camera’s sensor – it gives you a “slice of focus” and lets you hone in on certain objects that you want to highlight. It is often used to distort an image to give it the feel of miniaturization.

Shooting gear that you are not completely comfortable with is often a good thing – it gives you a new perspective – it pushes you to try new things. Sometimes the distortion is unsettling, sometimes it’s almost painterly. For me, many of these shots give a better sense of the feel of the roads in the autumn.

These shots were all taken in the last few days, some from the same locations as the earlier shots.

OK – so no skyward leaves or birds amidst the color for me this year. Not having my favorite lens should limit me – but instead it’s forcing me outside of my happy place – and that’s a good thing.

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.

Round and Round

I know my brain is not normal, and I’m OK with that.

Last week I went out to take care of my mushroom logs, and holy shiitake, I had tons of fungi to harvest. Before I could remove any shrooms from the logs I had to take some photos to mark the occasion. I crouched down on the ground and snapped this…

Holy Shiitake, Batman - I think it's ready to eat!

Holy Shiitake, Batman – I think it’s ready to eat!

I suppose most people would put down the camera and grab the butter and garlic, but not me. The sight of something round and smooth in the midst of the woods sent me off on a tangent. My right brain took over and I spent the next hour shooting round things. By the time I was finished it was dark and too late to harvest and sauté mushrooms. I had some Oreos and called it a night. What follows is my right-brained tangent – see if you can identify them all.

1. Ozark Treat

1. Ozark Treat

2. Happiness

2. Happiness

3. Pedal to the metal

3. Pedal to the Metal

4. Sparky

4. Sparky

5. It came before crossing the road

5. It came before crossing the road

6. Pogs went here

6. Pogs went here

7. Scratch

7. Scratch

8. The Source

8. The Source

9. Vrrrrom

9. Vrrrrom

10. Savor

10. Savor

11. Hammered

11. Hammered

12. Sweet

12. Sweet

13. Spirit

13. Spirit

14. Stang

14. Stang

15. Water

15. Water

15. Open

16. Open

17. Getting Warmer

17. Getting Warmer

18. Cellar

18. Cellar

19. Stumped

19. Stumped

19. Line

20. Line

21. Fair

21. Fair

22. Vintage

22. Vintage

23. Short Sighted

23. Short Sighted

OK – so some of them were pretty obvious – this should be pretty simple. Whoever gets them all right first in the comments wins an 8X10 print of their favorite (or if you don’t like any of them you can pick something from another post)

You guess – I’m gonna sauté some shrooms.

Ready. Set. Go!

 

 

Stuck in a Rut

Not me silly – I’m as busy and curious as ever. I honestly don’t have time to find a rut, let alone time to get stuck in one unless we are talking about “The Rut”. The Rut is the magical dance that male elk enter into each fall. Massive bull elk bugle and pose to attract or steal a harem from another massive bull. Sometimes there is a street fight with a clash of antlers – to the victor go the spoils.

The stages of the rut were described to be by wildlife photographer, Michael Dougherty, last week – it’s like a bell curve. The cows are not ready to mate yet, but the bulls are posturing so the bugling and fighting has begun. We are on the front side of the bell curve – rising but no final victors.

I made a trip to the Boxley Valley early last week hoping to see the big bulls and to hear some bugling. The elk are most active an hour before sunset or an hour after sunrise – this was an evening visit, so I was loosing light as time passed. What I saw was a massive harem with a single bull lording over them.

This low field was filled with 35 cows that we could count plus all their calves and some adolescents.

This low field was filled with 35 cows that we could count plus all their calves and some adolescents. I didn’t have a wide enough lens to capture the whole harem. The bull, known as Pretty Boy moves about the harem keeping his girls together.

This is Pretty Boy - he is a 6X6 Bull - about 6-7 years old.

This is Pretty Boy – he is a 6X6 Bull – 6 spikes on each antler. He’s about 6-7 years old.

Pretty Boy defends his harem from intruders…

Pretty Boy sees a threat and moves into action.

Pretty Boy sees a threat and moves into action.

Pretty Boy is serious about his harem - he is chasing off a young male yearling. This young bull is possibly his offspring. It's like telling your teen that it's time to pay his own car insurance and do his own laundry. Soon the youngster will be kicked out and will join a bachelor herd for the rest of the season.

Pretty Boy is serious about his harem – he is chasing off a young male yearling. This young bull is possibly his offspring. It’s like telling your teen that it’s time to pay his own car insurance and do his own laundry. Soon the youngster will be kicked out and will join a bachelor herd for the rest of the season.

Once the threat is addressed Pretty Boy will make is move on the ladies. They express no interest.

Once the threat is addressed Pretty Boy will make is move on the ladies. They express no interest.

With the threat passed, Pretty Boy will sit down for dinner with his leading ladies.

With the threat passed, Pretty Boy will sit down for dinner with his leading ladies. Note that our teenager is eating clearly outside the family circle.

After watching Pretty Boy I made a run down to the other end of the valley and noticed that most of the other bulls were doing their own thing or hanging out with the boys…

This Big Boy is a 6X7 and was hanging out alone in a pasture. He's not wasting his energy waiting on 35 ladies.

This Big Boy is a 6X7 and was hanging out alone in a pasture. He’s not wasting his energy waiting on 35 ladies.

This big fella is killing two birds with one stone. He is eating and polishing his antlers by digging into the grass and brush. He's gearing up for a fight.

This big fella is killing two birds with one stone. He is eating and polishing his antlers by digging into the grass and brush. He’s gearing up for a fight.

Before I left the valley I spotted at least 4 bulls larger than Pretty Boy. None of them were taking care of a harem. There was a lot of bugling away from the harem – boys calling each other across the highway – it was like they were calling each other out, staking their claims.

I returned to the valley on Saturday at dawn with some friends. We saw a few adolescents as we checked out both ends of the valley. As we headed north we saw a lot of parked cars alongside the highway – always a good sign. We parked just in time to see Pretty Boy moving his harem into the river cane. The size of his group was markedly smaller – maybe 20 cows. We saw him at the corner of the meadow, he bugled and all those cows bolted and followed him behind the curtain.

This line of river cane separates the elk's public and private spaces. After feeding they bed down on the other side for the day.

This line of river cane separates the elk’s public and private spaces. After feeding they bed down on the other side for the day. Pretty Boy guides them to a more secure area.

Michael, the photographer I mentioned earlier, told me that he moved the harem because he knew there was a rival in the area.

We cruised the valley hoping for another siting and were about to call it a day when we saw the same harem emerge in another meadow downstream.

Pretty Boy positioned himself between the cows and the line of river cane - clearly he was concerned about a rival beyond the cane.

Pretty Boy positioned himself between the cows and the line of river cane – clearly he was concerned about a rival beyond the cane.

He gradually moved the cows away from the river and they came very close to the road where we were watching.

He gradually moved the cows away from the river and they came very close to the road where we were watching.

We were standing along a treeline - shooting through it - when the cows started checking us out.

We were standing along a treeline – shooting through it – when the cows started checking us out.

The harem was getting restless - wanting to move away from the road...

The harem was getting restless – wanting to move away from the road…

But Pretty Boy was holding his ground - barring them from the cane.

But Pretty Boy was holding his ground – barring them from the cane.

20130930-175419.jpg

Even our young teenager is moved along with the cows.

Pretty Boy moves even closer to the road - barring the harem from the cane.

Pretty Boy moves even closer to the road – barring the harem from the cane. He bugles to let the girls know that he is the man in charge.

In chaos, the cows turn as they hear another voice in the distance...

In chaos, the cows turn as they hear another voice in the distance…

Pretty Boy looks on as the cows start to move.

Pretty Boy looks on as the cows start to move.

Pretty Boy Bugles in an attempt to stop the cows from running towards the cane.

Pretty Boy Bugles in an attempt to stop the cows from running towards the cane.

The cows break for it and run to the cane. They hear a new voice calling from the river.

The cows break for it and run to the cane. They hear a new voice calling from the river.

Pretty boy sings his heart out as the girls run for the river.

Pretty boy sings his heart out as the girls run for the river.

Calling the cows is not working, Pretty Boy heads for the river.

Calling the cows is not working, Pretty Boy heads for the river.

As the cows leave, we hear chirping from the cows, calling to their calves. This youngster ran with the lead pack of cows only to discover his mother wasn't there - he seemed caught in no-man's-land, not sure which group he belonged with.

As the cows leave, we hear them chirping, calling their calves. This youngster ran with the lead pack of cows only to discover his mother wasn’t there – he seemed caught in no-man’s-land, not sure which group he belonged with.

Pretty Boy drops his head and moves towards the cane. We hear bugling from him and from the river as the cows leave him.

Pretty Boy drops his head and moves towards the cane. We hear bugling from him and from the river as the cows leave him.

Pretty Boy looks crestfallen as he moves towards the cane - but he has a plan...

Pretty Boy looks crestfallen as he moves towards the cane – but he has a plan…

Pretty Boy shows his stuff - he digs those antlers into the ground and calls to the girls...

Pretty Boy shows his stuff – he digs those antlers into the ground and calls to the girls…

They are not impressed. He loses all but 4 cows in less than 5 minutes.

“Don’t go!” They are not impressed. He loses all but 4 cows in less than 5 minutes.

Michael told us to watch for a potential fight, but the rival beyond the cane never appeared. Pretty Boy had put in so much work and lost it all in moments. According to Micheal, this is the third year he has lost his harem – he’s had his pocket picked three times now. He’s just not big enough to take on the big boys yet. His strategy was to start with a large harem and try his best to hang onto them, meanwhile his rivals rest and eat and wait for their opportunity to steal the cows. The good news for Pretty Boy is that the big boys will tire out before the rut is over. There are 4 cycles of mating and by the end of the third they are spent. That’s when the fellas like Pretty Boy take over. Between now and then he will likely spar as he tries for a piece of the harem, but the truth is that he only really has a shot at the last cycle.

Until next year, Pretty Boy really is stuck in a rut.

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?

A Celebration of Familial Facial Hair

Have you ever looked at a set of photos and imagined another reality? Well I do that sometimes. This is the story of a beard and the people who love it…

The King of Isabelle Avenue

I come from a long line of ancestors with prodigious facial hair. I don’t have any myself with the exception of my out-of-control eyebrows. Seriously, I could have them waxed on Tuesday, pluck them on Wednesday, and need to wax them again on Thursday – but this is not about me or my eyebrows. It’s about a long heritage of facial hair, mostly on men, and our celebration of this heritage as a family.

Let’s start at the beginning of the age of photography.

Of course, my brothers are no exception – they are fine examples of hirsuteness.

As I was saying earlier – my Pop had an amazing beard, a rich beard, one without rival, that is until now…

The big day arrives, family comes in from all over the country. Tommy prepares:

OK – I’m just kidding.

Congrats to Tommy and Shanda on their big day. It was…

View original post 53 more words

How to Photograph an OCD Dog Swimming in Your Pool

I recently made a visit to my hometown. I traveled to Vegas for a convention and got to spend the weekend with my family. My brother and his wife have been remodeling a house out on Sunrise Mountain – right now it’s a work in progress, but there is one part that is ready to go. Right off the patio there is an oasis in the desert – a practically perfect pool.

Growing up we were never “pool people”. On our block there were two families that had pools – one was at a white house with white carpet – they were a fancy-schmancy family with wrought iron and sparkly stucco. I was always too grubby to even pass through their door, let alone be invited to play in their pool. The other was a doughboy pool that the kids a couple of years older hung out at  – it was like swimming in a balloon, not my cup of tea.

The only pool I have ever owned was one of those kiddie pools you buy at Stuff-mart, I bought it for my dog. He loved it and I have always gotten a kick out of seeing a dog enjoy the water. I kayak with my terrier and my goldendoodle loves to play in the lake, so when I heard that we were taking my brother’s dog over to the new house to play in the pool, I was super excited to get a chance to capture her in action in the water.

A word about the dog – Cammie Lou (Cambria Louise) is an english pointer. She is an avid hunter and borders on being OCD when it comes to birds, or toys, or sitting in the passenger seat in the jeep. She cannot rest when these things are in play, she obsesses and pushes and works herself into a frenzy. It makes for a spectacular hunter. Apparently she also obsesses about swimming.

We let Cammie out into the backyard and she leapt into the pool and immediately began swimming laps non stop. She also made an excited crying sound. After about a dozen laps we would have to stand on the steps at the end and urge her to get out for a rest. She was so excited that she would jump right back in and start swimming again. This dog adores the water. Her joy is palpable. She was amazing to shoot.

To capture Cammie I started with a fairly high ISO – 2000. In the bright sunlight you could push it a lot higher if you needed to. I started with a shutter speed of 1/640 second and pushed up to 1/1000 after about 20 shots. In 10 minutes I shot about 150 frames and with these shutter speeds I only had about 4 that were out of focus or where I lost her in the frame. I focused on her eyes. Click through to get a sense of the motion of Cammie swimming.

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.

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.