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. 

Frozen Flora – the Season of the Frost Flower

The hills of the Ozarks are a wet place. Rain water becomes spring water or ground water as it passes through our limestone karst topography. As it gets colder out the bluffs leach out this water in the form of icicles. On the ground below the bluffs the water trapped inside the stalks of tall plants expands. This ice takes on amazing forms – frost flowers appear at the bases of these plants. They appear on mornings where the temps are below freezing and disappear as the temperature rises.

It’s been unseasonably cold for a few days. I have been lighting a fire most evenings to warm up the old Stonehouse. This kind of sustained cold is more common in January or February. This morning when I took a look at the forecast I thought that even though it’s a couple of months early, the conditions were right. I packed up my macro lens and hit the highway. I had to slog through some semi frozen mud, but is it was worth it. Fields and fields of frosty blossoms.

I used a macro light on the super close-ups and a flash on a couple of shots. I wish I had taken the tripod, but the white light of an overcast day let me shoot fast enough to get away without it.

Click through and get a sense of the flower and the intricate shapes that make them up. I’m off to the kitchen to make some hot apple cider. Stay warm.

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?

March on Film Roll #4 – 1974 Olympus OM-1n

If you are following my series on film photography you might wonder what happened to roll #3. Well, when I started this project I bought several rolls of film, all Kodak T-Max. The first two rolls were 100 speed, the last 2 were 400. I made the mistake of making adjustments to my shutter speed and aperture based on the results from Roll 2 and all of my outdoor shots were completely washed out. Seriously, I should have known better – it’s like ramping up the ISO on my digital and shooting towards the sun. The thing about film photography is that you need to slow down. I shoot almost intuitively when I see something that intrigues me. As I get reacquainted with film I have to plan more and shoot less. I knew I needed to make some changes.

Something I have learned is that when you have your negatives scanned, they are quite grainy – this is evident in Roll 2. For this and all future rolls I am having prints made and am scanning them myself – it gives a better sense of what a print looks like, the grain is smoother but still evident. Another change is that I acquired a new camera. I was able to get a whole Olympus OM-1 kit with several lenses and filters at a great price. The OM-1 is a professional grade camera. It has a locking mirror, interchangeable focus screens. It also has a lever on the lens that lets you see the effect of an aperture change – it shows you how the DOF will appear in print – while it’s certainly not Live View, it does give you a better sense of what you are shooting.

Small, efficient, and packed with features - the OM-1 was the coolest piece of camera tech you could buy in 1973.

Small, efficient, and packed with features – the OM-1 was the coolest piece of camera tech you could buy in 1973.

The OM-1 and the whole OM system were revolutionary in the 1970s. Full functioning SLRs in what seemed like impossibly small packages at the time. The OM is a fraction of the size of a modern Nikon or Canon DSLR – it is almost exactly the same size as my OM-D that I carry everyday. When you combine this with a dizzying array of high quality lens options – you get a system that stands up better than most over time. Most of the lenses us the same filter size, so you can carry one set in your bag and only need one lens hood – very smart. The lenses are surprisingly compact too – they were designed to sit a bit closer to the mirror than other systems so they needed less length to achieve the same focal distance. I started shooting Olympus Pen digital cameras when they were introduced a few years back because my OM system lenses were so adaptable – some of these lenses give amazing results still today. My post about luna moths features a few macro shots taken with my OM Macro Bellows set-up.

Having seen the disaster of Roll #3, I am glad that I chose to shoot the new camera in mostly indoor and low light situations. I paid closer attention to the light meter and made use of the DOF preview button – I had no idea what that button was until I acquired this camera kit complete with a users manual.

Sushi Roll

Sushi Roll – my first shot with the OM-1

It’s funny that I don’t think about focusing at the mid-point of an image very often on my digital camera – shooting film and seeing those focus screens has made me more aware of this option. This is one of the many things I have taken away from my film project.

Petals, Veins, Water, and Bokeh

Daffodil Opening – Petals, Veins, Water, and Bokeh

I took to a shady spot and watched the light meter closely, hoping that I could capture some water drops after the rain. Shooting in black and white is making me think a lot more about contrast. Color is what motivates me to shoot many things and stepping back has made me look more for tonality even in color images.

Grass, Furr, and Sunshine

A Timeless Kirby – Grass, Fur, and Sunshine

Understanding how the pieces – aperture, shutter speed, film speed – all work together made me look for lower light opportunities to shoot. This shot of Kirby was made with the aperture closed down in a shady spot. He rarely lets me get this close with a camera, especially one that takes time to get right. I like the tonality of his white fur in the sun against the darker greys of the tree bark.

Wooden Croquet Balls

Wooden Croquet Balls

The OM-1 kit I bought came with a “fast fifty” – a 50mm 1.4 lens. Sometimes I forget how shallow DOF can be when shooting a 35mm camera. My area of focus here is about 2 inches deep. I love the ability to focus on just the front of the croquet ball. In my digital world DOF is more isolating – there is less ability to make something just trail off into the bokeh. I also thought that a shot of something with such distinctive colors was fun to explore in black and white.

Mason Jars Full of Bird Nests

Mason Jars Full of Bird Nests

This last shot is my favorite – I shot it 5 times, each time placing my focus in a slightly different spot – risky when you have so few shots to work with. On this roll I did that with most of these subjects – working on getting one good shot rather than a wide variety of subjects. I think this will help me dial in my technique. This shot is taken on my kitchen counter – I have a skylight above that creates the light reflections on the upper right side of the jar. This is a row of different sized mason jars containing bird nests. In the foreground there are stone artifacts and arrowheads that I have picked up in my lawn over the years. The rubber ducky soap dish is the only element that pulls me back into this century when I look at it. I am pleased at how the reflections in the jars behind the first one become spheres of light. I like the detail in the nest and all the tones of grey in the whole thing. It’s not perfect, but it was the shot closest to what I imagined when I shot it.

I think I will continue with the OM-1 for my next couple of rolls. I like this camera and I want to hone my skills rather than switch around. I’m a couple of months behind – I need to start ordering film online – it’s just not available locally, but I am going to get some 100 speed and really get the hang of shooting in brighter light with it this summer.

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.