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. 

The Little Bighorns of Boulder City

I love to see wildlife in unusual circumstances. I recently entertained a chickadee in my house for several hours while it decided to avoid the bitter cold. Of course that lead to a photo-op and possibly a future blog post.

Over the holidays I went to Las Vegas to see family. My brother Max has moved to the Fruity Chicken full-time and I often find photo ops with his menagerie, but his wife Karen and I took a run out to Boulder City one afternoon. We went in search of the bighorn sheep that live along the canyons that make up the shoreline of Lake Mead. In my mind I thought we would be headed out to the wilds to capture those amazing beasts out in the desert where I had spotted them in my youth. No, we went to a local park where the bighorns have taken over the baseball field. They come out each day to graze and on the day we visited only the smaller sheep came out from the mesquite thicket. I framed my shots carefully to avoid the playground equipment and the tennis courts.

When we first arrived they were below us in the field, over the course of about 45 minutes they walked right past us and into the playgrounds. I actually shot some of these shots with my portrait lens!

Bighorns fascinated me as a child. I used to draw them and worked really hard to get the horns just right. There was something about seeing them so near the playground that was pretty sentimental to me.

Shutterbug Notes:

I always carry at least three lenses. You never know what you will need, even when the plan is to shoot wildlife. My zoom would never have let me get those panoramic shots with the lake and mountains in the background – I was so glad to have my portrait lens in my bag. For me I need to have a minimum of a portrait lens, a macro, and a long zoom. When I travel I throw in a wide-angle. The variety gives me options and lets me make sure I get the shot I want. 

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. 

Better Late than Never…

When I first started this blog I began to notice comments from a Honie Briggs. On my second post I was Freshly Pressed and she was among the very first commenters. Sadly, I was not well versed in blogging etiquette at this early stage, so I failed to reply. What an insensitive oaf I was…

Today I remedied my oversight.

Today I remedied my oversight. Whew! I feel so much better now.

I had no idea who or what a Honie was, but the avatar was always smiling nicely. Even after I failed to respond Honie kept showing up, she was always encouraging and thoughtful. Sometimes she was wicked funny, sometimes our comment threads had more words than my blog posts. As soon as I came to understand the Reader, hers was one of the first blogs I followed and we continued the conversation back and forth.

From Steph’s (Honie’s) blog I have learned so much about writing – about voice, and pacing and rhythm. Whether it’s a rant, a poem, flash fiction, or just an observation Steph’s work is engaging and fun to read. You see, I’m no wordsmith, I’m a photog who fakes it and makes the best of a run-on sentence.  As the kid who grew up being able to draw anything, it used to puzzle me when people would say that they didn’t understand how I could make something look so real. Reading blogs written by writers with actual talent has given me that same sense of wonder about syntax. The simplicity and complexity amaze me. I have no idea how to do it, but I know that I like it. Steph does it better than most and she makes me laugh out loud sometimes.

Last year, my company sent me to Dallas to attend the Gift Mart. I had driven down from Arkansas and was reading blogs in my hotel after my drive. Steph posted a blog that had a rant about freeway on ramps and off ramps. I commented and mentioned I had just driven over a couple of them – soon we were emailing and texting back and forth with plans to get together after my work was done.

Here's Steph - shooting me shooting her at the Italian Deli about 15 freeways away from the Gift Mart

Here’s Steph (Honie) – shooting me shooting her at the Italian Deli about 15 freeways away from the Gift Mart

Standing on a corner in a strange city waiting to meet someone you have only met online is an odd thing. You wonder if this is a smart idea, will they show up or think better of it, will you have anything to talk about in real life. So I waited beside a stoplight outside the mart scanning the oncoming cars for one that fit the description she gave me – soon I heard a woman’s voice with a soft drawl call out “Arkansas!” – Steph and her Loyal Follower pulled up beside me and I hopped into their car. I had nothing to worry about – she was warm and we talked like we had known each other our whole lives.

Wait, this photo has nothing to do with Honiebriggs.com ...

Wait, this photo has nothing to do with Honiebriggs.com …

When I started blogging I knew exactly one blogger IRL (in real life) – my brother Max. He writes The Fruity Chicken and I thought blogging would be a good way to share photos with family. Jumping at the chance to meet someone like Steph was a real treat (they bought me dinner!) – but it was more than that, I have heard the voice behind the keyboard and I was right about her – she’s the real deal. Since then I have had a chance to meet Paula from Stuff I Tell My Sister, she’s even sweeter in person.

You are correct, this isn't about Honiebriggs.com ...

You are correct, this isn’t about Honiebriggs.com …

The bottom line is that I have found that meeting someone IRL has made my interactions with those I follow and who follow me more real – there is a real person responding on the other side, someone who may be profound, kind, struggling, challenging. I hope it’s made my interactions more authentic, because now I know that they mean something.

Steph is celebrating her blogging anniversary this week and this post is a part of that celebration. She kicked things off Friday with this post.  This year she got the chance to meet a few of her followers and is looking forward to meeting more this year. She is going to select from those who write about why they follow her blog to schedule a meet up for next year. Tomorrow Allan from Ohm Sweet Ohm will be posting about his experience meeting Steph. His blog is a wonderful mix of photography, poetry, and history centered around his life and the Golden Gate Bridge – one of my favorite follows as well. I highly recommend this sparky.

But I can't write a post with no bird photos - can I?

But I can’t write a post with no bird photos – can I?

Kudo’s to you Steph – your work is wonderful – keep making me smile, and think, and grow. Next time you need to bring your Alabama self to the Ozarks!

Shutterbug notes:

I shot these birds through my 100 year old wavy glass windows. Ordinarily I don’t shoot through windows but there was really no other way to capture this scene as the icicles were hanging like curtains over my view. Shooting through windows, no matter how clean leaves you with an under exposed look, so I adjusted the exposure compensation a bit. Since flash would only bounce off the glass, I chose aperture mode and shot with the aperture wide open. I was about 3-4 feet from the birds. 

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