Friday, April 30, 2021

May 2021: Perched Bald Eagle


Seeing these birds come back from the brink of extinction is thrilling for me, and can not help but give me a sense of hope for the future. It is inspirational. But then again, that is the purpose of our national symbols...not to claim that we have achieved our national ideals and values, but to remind us of what those ideals and values are, and to inspire us to continue to working toward them.

Wednesday, March 31, 2021

April 2021: Advice for the Future

 A divergence this month.

With skyrocketing COVID cases here in MI, the tendency toward worry and panic is going to be strong in the coming weeks. It is fitting then that I should spot this discarded piece of paper in a local parking lot. So rather than focusing on artistic merit, this month as an April Fool's fiat you get a legit high resolution (9 Mb) version of this photo, reminding you that no matter what life throws our way that humanity is one of the dominant species on the planet and that we will live through this. Not all of us, of course. And not as quickly as we would like, to be sure. But in the grand scheme of things, COVID is hardly even a blip on the radar as far as pandemics go. We have endured much, much worse! So the key to weathering this storm is maintaining a proper perspective....and exhibiting a great deal of prudence, which is something that our American society in particular is greatly lacking. 

To that end, I have posted this photo very large, so that you have to scroll across the pavement, looking at all the individual little stones that make up the parking lot surface, before you find the card. Most browsers and photo programs/apps automatically resize photos to fit your screen, so you may have to change your settings to view it in the original size. Please do so. It gives you a better perspective and encourages you to think about it differently. Hopefully you get it. If not, email me or post a comment and I will be glad to explain it in greater depth. In the meantime, keep calm. And breathe on.

*Realized this morning (4/1) that I had uploaded the wrong version of this shot last night. Fixed it now. :)

Saturday, March 6, 2021

March 2021: Asylum Door


Sorry this is late, I forgot all about posting it! That is what happens when winter loosens its grip, I just get all distracted and am thinking about all the outdoor things I will be doing instead of paying attention to what I am supposed to be doing now. 

This is another shot from the Asylum Series. This vault-like door is down in one of the steam tunnels. It is still quite functional, albeit rusty. Much like yours truly! :)

Sunday, January 31, 2021

February 2021: Excerpts from a UV Light Study

 Something different for you this month, a look into the studio to see what I have been getting up to while social distancing. :P

Here are a few shots from a light study I have been doing. Not ordinary light though, no. This is a UV light study. Ultraviolet light is at the very bottom end of the visible light spectrum, and is the light-wave frequency range responsible for things like sunburn and faded photographs, among other things. For my study however, I am using not the whole range of UV light, but rather very specific frequencies. My control subject is a group of objects which I know to react interestingly to UV light. A porcelain skull bookend, an antique glass bottle, a turkey wishbone, a pink agate slice, vitamin E capsules, and a purple agate. The setup and camera settings are identical for each shot, the room is completely dark, with no ambient light whatsoever. The control shot here is lit only by a standard strobe flash.

Pretty normal looking group of objects, with everything appearing as it does in "normal" light. Great! Let's have some fun with UV light!

This shot is a four second exposure using a 395 nm UV light wavelength. This is roughly the frequency commonly known as "blacklight". The light itself is a pretty purple color. The abbreviation "nm" stands for nanometers, btw. A nanometer is one billionth of a meter. At this frequency, there is not much change in the agates, just a bit of a glow. The bottle seems entirely unaffected, and the skull seems only to reflect the color of the UV light itself. The wishbone and Vitamin E capsules however, have taken on a bright blue glow. It is a very 1970s disco look, don't you think? :)  OK, let's try something a little more dramatic, shall we?

Oh yeah. Now we are cooking! Again, a four second exposure, but I dropped the frequency of the light wave in this shot down to 365nm and what a difference! The porcelain skull is glowing orange, as some unknown element in the porcelain material is reacting to the light at this frequency. The wishbone is still glowing its bright blue, as are the vitamin E capsules, although they are glowing significantly brighter. The agates are now also glowing yellow and orange quite intensely, again due to whatever unknown element in them responding to the UV light. Most interestingly, the glass bottle is now glowing bright green, which is also indicative of the presence of a UV reactive element, except in this case that element is is uranium. Additionally, at this wavelength extraneous matter like lint and dust particles that were previously invisible on the black cloth are glowing purple. 

One other interesting thing I noticed is that the shorter wavelength light produces much higher energy, and appears to be causing a weird blurring in some places. Could be visual distortion, could be that the sensor on the camera is freaking out at something it wasn't really made to handle. Hard to say, and I am not really worried about it at this point as this is just a light study. Anyway, fun stuff, hope you enjoyed this little peek into one of the things I do for fun. :)

Thursday, December 31, 2020

January 2021: Shadow


Shadows are interesting. They aren't objects, they have no mass, and so from a purely scientific standpoint they don't physically exist. Yet we can see them. Photograph them. And we can tell what object cast them.

This shadow was cast by citronella leaves.

The thing about shadows which makes it a good subject for this month is that shadows are only indications of an object.  You can experience them without experiencing the object itself directly, which is ultimately what photographs are...visual representations of reality, but not the actual objects represented by them.

Today is January 1st, 2021. The year 2020 is now behind us. In the past. Only the shadow remains. We can not directly experience 2020 again. For some, perhaps many, that is a relief. Whatever the case, the shadow of 2020 will remain with us for quite some time. The key is to remember that even though you can see it, even though you can tell what it is, and even though you can look at photos and news articles and statistics about is now nothing but a shadow, and no longer exists.  It is a photograph, which will lose its sharpness and focus as it gets farther and farther away just as the leaf shadows do.

Have a great 2021, everyone!

Monday, November 30, 2020

December 2020: Morning Sheep


The subject this month is "challenges". Something that everyone can relate to these days. The key to overcoming challenges is flexibility. You have to be able to adapt. To change. Sometimes in ways that feel pretty major, and which take you out of your comfort zone and into places you have never been before. While that can be scary, it can also be thrilling and enjoyable. If you focus on those more enjoyable aspects and keep your eyes on the goal, odds are your challenge will be met successfully, even if it turns out less than optimally for you personally.

I pulled this photo out of the archives to use as an illustration. The light was very challenging. It was a very clear morning, the sun was setting directly in my face and back-lighting the sheep severely. In such low light, color can go all wonky. The challenge here was to preserve enough detail in the shadowed fur without washing out the detail in the corn and grass, while preventing the colors from washing out or sliding toward the blue end of things. As you can see, the end result was not 100% successful in any of those areas, BUT...I had a really good time using my knowledge and experience to meet such a challenging shot and addressing as much of each element as possible even though I knew ahead of time that such circumstances meant that it couldn't ever be a stellar photograph.  I was happy as heck to end up with it being as close to a usable shot as this! 

The lesson is the same for us as we all spend the holiday season dealing with the necessary realities of a pandemic. The isolation, the uncertainty, and the accompanying challenges may seem very daunting and oppressive. But they, like all challenges, present the opportunity to extend yourself as well. To discover new ways of doing things which bring adventure and growth along with the challenge. And in the end, if you embrace these challenges and focus on making things as good as you possibly can within those limitations, you will look back on it and realize that you have accomplished something better than you thought possible, even if it isn't what you would consider to be ideal. 

Tuesday, November 3, 2020

November 2020: Green-striped Darner

 This is a type of dragonfly called a green-striped darner. One of the larger and most visually striking dragonflies in Michigan. It is interesting that I spent a good 20 minutes inching in slowly to get this shot without spooking it, but never noticed the tiny bit of what appears to be gravel half embedded in the creature's eye. It wasn't until I viewed the image on my PC that I noticed it. I imagine that such a thing is fairly common to the darners which live in close proximity to a dirt road, as this one does. Vehicles throw up all sorts of tiny stones such as this one as they drive, and the open areas of a dirt road provide good hunting spaces for the dragonflies. Inevitable that this should happen I would think, and probably much more common than I realize.

In the fall, these beauties reach the end of their life cycle, and their metabolism slows way down, making them approachable if you are patient. Otherwise they are constantly in motion and very intolerant of being approached, even very slowly.

Hope you are all staying healthy and happy, and are remaining focused on the things in life for which you are thankful rather than the things that you wish were different. That is one of the keys to happiness, I have found. That and having the right ethicist. ;)

Addenda Nov.5

So the question is being asked how one gets a macro like this, specifically how one gets this close to a dragonfly without it flying off.

Like every wildlife shot, if you want to get a good one you have to begin by knowing a lot about the specific animal you are trying to capture, including how it relates to its environment. In short, research.
Yes, you can luck into shots, but even reading a wikipedia page on an animal will give you an edge that will make the job easier and more productive. The more you know, the better off you will be. In some cases (not dragonflies, obviously) this research and knowledge can even keep you from being killed. 

With dragonflies, and most other cold-blooded creatures, the colder it is the less active they are. So on a cold fall morning you will find most flying insects rather sedate and approachable. Too cold and they will no longer be alive, too warm and they will flee at your approach. So you have to time it right with the temperature, for a start. In the fall, many insects are near the end of their life as well, which will also make them easier to approach if they have not kicked off during the cold of the night. 

Secondly, you have to approach very, very slowly. Insects process visual signals exponentially faster than humans, partly as a result of having compound eyes. So you really have to move incredibly slowly if you don't want to alert a bug. Painfully slowly, if like me you are arthritic. :)  It took me about 20 minutes to move the last 5 feet to get into position for this shot, and about half of that time was spent on the last foot or so. 

For those of you who have expressed interest, this shot was done from a distance of about 4 inches, using a maxed 18-70mm zoom and a 2x macro. With the depth of field a scant 1.5mm, focusing was done by moving the camera itself rather than by using the focusing ring. (Auto-focus is right out on a shot like this, as the technology is simply not advanced enough...yet.) That enabled me to use both hands fully on the camera body to maintain maximum steadiness and stability. (Yes, this was a handheld shot. Not bad for an arthritic old man!) With such a shallow focal depth, this focusing method can be done simply by controlled breathing, which is necessary for stability with handheld macros shots anyway. At that point it becomes a matter of timing the shutter release to coincide with the point of exhalation where your desired focus is achieved.