The First Rule of Photography

Always take your camera!

I know I say this a lot. I take my camera everywhere. It is in my car when I go to the store. I carry it to work everyday. It is always by my side.

The case has been made that the best camera is the one that you have with you. In this day when there is an iPhone or Galaxy in almost every pocket, most of us always have a camera for those spontaneous shots. But if you have a good camera, a real camera, why settle for serviceable when you can have amazing. Your iPhone can’t stop a hummingbird in mid-flight or reveal the inverted image in a water drop. It can’t show you the structure of a snowflake. There are a few rare shutterbugs (like Allan) that squeeze every once of performance out of that phone, but the truth is that what most of us capture with our iPhones could best be classified as “snapshots”. You spent good money on that camera – why let it gather dust waiting for that next excursion. If you don’t shoot it often you are likely to miss the big shot because you are trying to remember how to use it.

Sometimes it’s not the rare creature or amazing sunset, sometimes the beauty in the mundane calls out to me. When you see something that clicks, you need to be ready to click.

I was ready to click earlier this week at the car wash…

As I sat in the carwash, I was frustrated that I had lost the connection to my satellite radio. I started to check my Facebook feed and looked up to see a sea of foam rubber orange and yellow sponges with soap engulfing me. I took a shot with my iPhone – it was in my hand after all, but the shot was noisy and couldn’t capture what I was seeing. I grabbed my fast 50 and started shooting. I did no color correction on these shots – you are seeing what I saw. The color of a sunset out my driver’s side window.

Shutterbug Notes:

For a split second I considered getting out the flash, but decided that the window would just bounce the light back at me. I shot in aperture mode and opened the shutter all the way. I had to turn off the focus assist to keep from getting a red reflection on the glass. I focused on the bubbles and hoped for the best. I only took 7 shots. All but one were keepers. Because I was very familiar with my camera I could make quick changes to capture something spontaneous without having to pay for a second run through the car wash.  

Woody at the Feeder

In my post from yesterday I mentioned a woodpecker feeder. A friend told me about this feeder and it’s pretty simple and ingenious –
1. Take an old log, I used a downed cedar from my woods – drill 1 1/4″ holes about an inch deep around the surface. I specifically drilled the holes on a side that would face the spot where I shoot photos.
2. Attach it to something that will let it stand vertical like a tree – a fence post will do, I attached mine to the large cedar that holds up my pergola.
3. Fill the holes with suet. I also filled the cracks in the log.

My friend says it’s like a social program where you are giving a handout and making the little buggers work for it.

Here’s one of my feeders – nice and rustic…

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Tonight Woody stopped by – first he landed on the top of the pergola .

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He takes a look around to make sure the coast is clear – today he must have been really hungry because my Goldendoodle was sitting about 6 feet away from the feeder watching him.

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He lands and takes another look around…

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Scopes out the situation…

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And digs into that suet.

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He stays vigilant…

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And digs into the suet again.

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See the look of satisfaction on his face?

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He looks like he could use a napkin.

Rat-a-tat-tat – Woody’s Back

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Woodpeckers are shy. This is a red-bellied woodpecker who hangs out in my yard. My suet feeders were up for over 3 months before he dared get close. Here he sits on top of my pergola, deciding whether or not to go for the feeder

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He stayed up there for about 30 minutes checking to see if it was safe. He did this several times before he decided it was safe to try out the suet.

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Eventually his appetite overcame his fear and he made the leap. It was clear right away that he was too much bird for a feeder like this.

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I’ve built him a feeder out of an old dead cedar tree – I have seen him using it, but haven’t managed to catch him with my camera – yet. I drilled 1 1/4″ holes into the log and filled the holes with suet. The little guy loves it, its like his own personal suet tree.

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By far his favorite place is my black walnut tree just off my patio. He paces along the limbs, scouting the feeders and tapping on the old tree.

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He has a distinctive call, it’s really more of a cry. It sounds mournful, sad – in contrast to his chipper face.

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I can hear him in the woods near the house. He flies in long sweeping arcs from tree to tree.

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I hear his tap and I know he’s back.

A Fungus Among Us

Issac came along and pretty much ended a summer of drought in the Ozarks. We didn’t get a lot of rain, but it was a nice slow soaking – 3 inches over a couple of days. My grass came back to life and I considered mowing it for the first time since mid May. I noticed some large white blobs over by my cedar tree while I was clearing limbs while getting ready to mow.

I saw several odd round turban-shaped mushrooms underneath the cedar tree. They were growing in a circle about 6 feet across. A friend told me that this was called a fairy circle, for me it was an excuse to put off mowing another week while I waited to see its progress. It was also an excuse to take some photos of something living. Drought = no wildflowers, no lawn, no color. Imagine my excitement at seeing white blobs!

This shot is misleading – they are not actually larger than my terrier Velcro in the background, but they were quite large. Baseball-sized fungi…

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The fungi surface looked like flan that had been stretched to reveal a plush and fuzzy sub-layer.

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Over the course of the next 24 hours the ball opened and flattened into a disk the size of a salad plate. Perfectly round like one of those parasols you get in a fancy drink, only not so fun and colorful…

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All-in-all they were kind of boring, but you gotta work with what nature gives you. I thought I would try to impose some artsy angles on them to make them appear more dramatic. I got very dirty doing this.

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The details of their gills were pretty amazing – there are spider webs in there, or maybe tiny cob webs – a tiny microcosm…

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This is the view a field mouse or packrat might have as they approach one of these babies – reaching for the sky. I got very dirty getting this shot. I also was bitten by chiggers. There’s nothing I won’t do for art…

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Eye level to a rabbit, if my dogs would let a rabbit get this close.

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Enough already, I’m putting on some calamine and getting out the mower!

Chrome Sweet Chrome

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I’m a car nut – have been since I was a little girl. It’s all my Grandpa’s fault.

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When I was about a year old my Grandpa bought a new car for to celebrate his and Grandma’s 25th wedding anniversary. It was a 1963 Impala Super Sport.

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It’s the very first car I remember riding in.

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I went almost everyplace with my Grandpa when I was young. He was pretty crazy about me and I was crazy about him as well.

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While we would drive along he would play this game with me – I would point out an old car and he would tell me the make, model, and year.

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I could never stump him. He knew the differences in the small bits of trim and chrome that separated a ’49 from a ’50 Chevy or what defined a Pontiac from a Buick made in the same year.

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I learned about Buick portholes, Pontiac chevrons, and Caddy V-crests.

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I learned which hood ornaments were on which models…

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Which models had a Continental Kit…

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I began to look at the details of a car as well as the sweeping lines of the whole.

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My grandfather left his family farm as a young man and got his first job in town painting cars.

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He knew how to care for a car’s paint and I learned to wax a car by watching him wax that Impala nearly every Sunday.

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The miles we spent in that Impala – around town, around the state, all over California, and to Nebraska and back…

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When I was very small I was sure the chrome jockey box in between the front seats was built just for me. Later on trips I thought the indentation of the speaker in the back seat was made as a place for me to rest my head.

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In the mid 60s my grandparents opened an upholstery shop. I learned the meaning of tuck-and-roll and grew to love diamond-tufting.

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Grandpa did a lot of furniture but he specialized in car and airplane upholstery. He told me once that a new convertible top would tighten right up when left up in the desert sun for a few hours…

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That the details of the interior were just as important as those on the outside…

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That a perfect interior was the sign of a well cared for automobile.

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As I entered my teens he planned to pass that lovely Impala on to me, it was finally time for him to buy a new car.

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My folks were having none of it so he reluctantly sold it for twice the price be paid for it.

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I learned to drive the family sedan and the first car I ever owned was the LTD he replaced the Impala with. I bought the car from my Pop who Grandpa had passed it onto a few years earlier. It had not been cared for so well after leaving Grandpa’s driveway so my time with it was short.

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Somewhere along the line I bought an old Jeep, just like one my grandparents had owned when I was a kid. Grandpa insisted on taking me out into the desert to learn to drive it off-road safely.

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I went through a couple of odd cars until I was almost through college. I became obsessed with first generation Mustangs.

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I found one I felt I could not live without, the owner said it was 99% restored – I guess if you didn’t count the engine or interior that he was pretty accurate. My Grandpa gave me a loan to buy it and together we restored it. His arrangement with me was that as long as I graduated from college, the restoration was his gift to me.

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The real gift was much more that parts and paint. It was the time we spent each week and the satisfaction we felt as we saw it come closer and closer to a completed project.

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We scoured junkyards looking for elusive parts. He bought me a buffer to keep the paint looking showroom perfect.

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Every Friday for a year and a half we started a new project. Paint, chrome, AC, carburetor, upholstery – the day we had the carpet installed he sat down next to me in the passenger seat and beamed as he told me it smelled just like a new car.

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It may not have been our beloved Impala, but it was a car we both loved. Each time I drove it I could see him in it.

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I could see his hands in the details. One time after our drive he was concerned about a rattle. When we got home he took a screwdriver and disassembled the dash looking for the source of the noise. He did the same thing on his own car.

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When the time came for me to move on to a new town in a new state I packed up that Mustang. I wept upon leaving him, but took comfort in taking a part of him with me in the car we restored together.

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I kept the Mustang for several years until the snows of the Cascades made it impractical. It was Grandpa who urged me to sell it and buy something safer.

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In the 90s I was restoring a 1967 Buick Riviera. Grandpa gave me some good advice and helped me solve a few technical problems. He also told me when it was time to let it go and move on.

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He advised me on all matters automotive for the rest of his life. He advised me on all matters non-automotive as well. His wisdom and belief in me gave me the courage to try new things – to pursue my dreams, even if they lead me away from him.

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I took these photos yesterday. I was at an annual antique car festival in Eureka Springs, Arkansas.

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As I saw the parking lots in our tiny Victorian village filled to overflowing with so many gorgeous old cars that had been lovingly cared for, I thought of the details that Grandpa taught me about…

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I found myself identifying so many of them based just on these details.

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The owners patiently listened as people like me shared our memories of cars gone by.

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There’s something about an old car that brings these memories to the forefront. We all remember the cars of our childhood or the great times we had in cars with friends and loved ones.

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These days I live out in the woods where a classic car is just too impractical – even as a hobby. I miss working on one like I miss my Grandpa.

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When I see an old car that’s been lovingly cared for, no matter what the make or model I think of him.

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But when I see an Impala, it all its splendor, I gasp and am taken back to that place where I sat in the passenger seat alongside the most noble man I ever knew…

Growing up at the Elk’s Lodge

I live about a mile from the local Elk’s Lodge. The lodge sits across the road from a wide open meadow that ends in thick woods. To the east a subdivision runs almost across the meadow. It’s a spot that local white tail deer like to feed. I started taking snaps of the herd about 3 years ago. The first year there were 3 fawns – triplets. I would drive through the meadow on the way home hoping to see them. I noticed on fawn with a small white band just above her nose – she seemed more laid back than the others. She looked me in the eye, she kept grazing if I started to walk towards her with the camera. I named her Doe.

The next year she was back – all grown up. I could recognize her by her calm demeanor and that fine white line just above the black of her nose. When the other deer would turn and run into the woods, she would stay behind and watch me. I made sure to give her some space. I got a few nice snaps, but the distance was just too great.

This spring I upgraded my camera body and the AF is significantly better. My friend is also more comfortable with me. About a month ago I saw her with her own twins – as usual she was not disturbed by my presence…

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I got very close to the three of them and shot for about 20 minutes. I noticed that one twin, the one grazing, takes after mom. No concern for my presence. The other one is more vigilant. It trusts it’s mom, but is not comfortable grazing around me…

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Being respectful of the more cautious twin I stepped back a few feet. When I did the clam twin moved towards me…

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She gave me a nice pose and I noticed something about her – she has the same white stripe on her nose as her mother…

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After a few minutes she licked her chops and turned to leave, not in panic, but to look for a better spot to feed…

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Last week I cruised by the meadow and saw some deer over near the housing development. I drove over to an empty cul-de-sac and saw that it was Doe and her family. She was a ways off by the treeline, but the twins were pretty close to the road. Not wanting to block them from crossing the road to join their mother I got out of my Jeep and approached them from the far side. My laid back friend turned to check me out – she’s growing so fast…

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Her more cautious twin looks me over, but he seems to have a more worried expression.

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The worrywart crossed the road and joined mom. My chill girl shot me a profile shot.

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She’s not worried in the least because Daddy’s home!

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Meet Me at the Fair

Last week was the annual Carroll County Fair.

Before I moved to the Ozarks it had been 30 years since my last forray into fair participation. I had a $50 mustang filly when I was a kid and I rode gymkhana for a couple of years. I also entered my metal and wood shop projects. The ribbons and satisfaction of the fair were very distant memories.

A few years ago some friends mentioned entering paintings and photos in the fair. I didn’t even know that grown-ups could do such a thing. I checked the rules for participation – technically since I haven’t made diddly squat selling prints, I’m an amateur. I’m not sure how I feel about that in light of my zillion years of experience…

I checked out the categories and picked my best shots to print and enter and – voila – ribbons ensued. Did you know they pay you for the ribbons? That first year I made about 16 bucks in cold hard cash – nevermind that I have three times that in printing and mounting. I was a cash award winner! At this rate in about a hundred years I would be categorized as a professional by the Carroll County Fair Board of Trustees.

The very next year I got my first Pen system camera and tried a bunch of artsy things with old lenses from the 70s. I had a new tripod, a new camera, some old glass and a bellows – I shot this…

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Reserve Grand Champion – thank you very much…and I scored 75 bucks! Woooohoooo!

I gave my winnings to Mary Jane my neighbor, it was her flower after all.

For the first couple of years the judges apparently wanted everyone to feel good so they gave out tons of ribbons with no apparent system – the only reason that you might not get one was that you entered your photo in the wrong category. Last year they changed it up. Three places per category. 1st place in each category considered for Grand Champion. Fewer ribbons – less cash – actual judging and results. Some people took this really hard. No ribbon meant that no one liked their work. People took it all too personal. Me, I really could give a rip about the ribbons or the cash – for me it’s about whittling down a years worth of photos to 15-18 pieces that you think are your best. I shoot between 12,000-15,000 photos a year, that’s a lot of whittling.

This year I took home the blue ribbon in 4 of 9 categories, but who’s counting. I bet I make at least 8 bucks! Here’s a few of my shots from this year:

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Our county fair does not have legendary fair food, nothing on a stick. It also boasts no butter sculpture, no live bands, no wristband passes. It does have one room of exhibits that includes fine art, dioramas, cookies, jam, and vegetables – none of which are for public consumption. It’s so odd to see a plates of cookies under Saran wrap sitting on a shelf with a ribbons on them – I wonder if cookie bakers have to prove amateur status?

Anyway, I love going to the fair in spite of its deficiencies – I love going to the fair and taking photos. I’ve already posted my chickens, but I also got a chance to spend some lens time with the goats…

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Of course no fair is complete without carnival rides and for me the perfect time is right after the sun goes down. I actually brought the wrong lens with me, I thought I had my fast portrait lens, instead I had my macro. I think it worked out though. Zipper, Tilt-a-whirl, carousel – these rides never change…

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There’s something sweet and nostalgic about walking through a fair and seeing your neighbor’s best cookies, or watermelons, or chickens, or photos.