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. 

Thursday, October 1, 2020

October 2020: Sassafrass


Well, autumn is here as the sassafrass behind this maple tree can attest.
The season of preparation for the long winter, at least here in MI.
It has always been my favorite season, mainly because it is so ridiculously gorgeous here in MI in the fall.
Beauty is a thing that is unfortunately being overlooked a lot these days.
That is a shame, as there is still plenty of it about, as much as there ever was, if not more.

This October I am encouraging you all to make a point of finding something beautiful to notice.
Anything at all.
I guarantee you, if you do it will make your whole day better and it will make you want to keep seeking it out wherever you go.
It is hard to break out of the habit of seeing nothing but ugliness.
But life is too short and too precious to ignore the beauty that is all around us.
Especially in the fall.

Monday, August 31, 2020

September 2020: Polyphemus Caterpillar


While it may look like a florescent green crinkly cut french fry, this conspicuous caterpillar will soon become a polyphemus moth. With a wingspan of nearly 6 inches, it is one of the larger moths in Michigan.

We humans, behind our masks like a caterpillar in its cocoon, are in the process of being transformed. We will emerge from it as different beings than we were when we went in. Change is never easy, but without it there can not be growth. And without growth you can not call something truly alive. What we will be like when the masks come off remains to be seen, but one of the benefits of being human is that we have a certain degree of intentionality where growth and change are concerned. I would like to think that we will all emerge improved rather than just different. We have the capacity for truly wonderful and amazing things.

Tuesday, June 30, 2020

July 2020: Napping Sow, Hidden Dragon

Can you see the hidden dragon?
No, of course you can't. The pig ate it. :)

This shot was actually taken back in the spring, when the dear swine was basking in the sun to warm itself up. Now that it is in the 90's here it would be hiding in the shade somewhere or wallowing in a mud pit to keep cool.
Contrary to popular belief, pigs do have sweat glands.
Just not very many of them.
Too few to rely on them for cooling purposes, anyhow.
Yet they are still able to find different ways to cool down.

As a species, we humans could learn from pigs.

Saturday, May 30, 2020

June 2020: Patiently Waiting

Three male grosbeaks waiting for their turn on the bird feeder.
They are in line, they have a specific order, each patiently waits his turn, and each keeps properly "socially distanced" from the others. Usually. Should one get too close to another however, or try to go out of order, physical intervention by the others quickly restores social order and keeps the rules in force. For it is only by adhering to these rules that they can live peaceful lives. The key here for them, is the virtue of patience.

We can learn a lot by watching birds.

Thursday, April 30, 2020

May 2020: Life Goes On

Found this mallard's nest in the woods this week. A poignant reminder that despite how circumstances may appear to us at any given moment, life does continue on.
Will all 12 of these eggs end up as healthy adult ducks? Certainly not. Life's challenges do come with mortality, not just for ducks but for humans as well. But life goes on.
Here in Michigan things may seem to a lot of us that life has been put on pause. That is an illusion, just as the outwardly static appearance of the egg gives no indication of the life inside.
And like the egg, in a month or so the life inside will be revealed and we will be able to look at it and see that it had been going on all along.
Faces we have not seen since March will be seen again, some will appear older, some will appear hairier, some will appear bigger...and sadly maybe some won't appear again at all. But we will see then with the clarity we currently lack, that life goes on. So as long as we are here to live it, we should take a lesson from this duck, and keep giving it our best no matter what the circumstances are. It may not look or feel like doing so makes a difference today, but a little ways down the road it surely will.

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

April 2020: Isolation

Like most people, I have found myself contemplating the subject of isolation lately. In this regard I find myself lucky. I live in a remote area, spend a lot of time away from people, and so the adjustment to the "stay-at-home" order currently in force here has been easier for me than a lot of folks.

By the way, the woods is a great place to go if you are concerned about social distancing and still want to get out of the house for some fresh air. It is the perfect time of year to be in the woods here in MI as it is warm enough to be enjoyable, but still too cold for mosquitoes.

Today I was out in the woods in back of my house and came across this little mushroom growing right out of the end of a broken twig, about 4 feet off the ground.  Talk about isolated!

Hopefully you are all well, and dealing with this pandemic with grace and prudence, as well as no small amount of patience and consideration for others. Like that little mushroom, isolated, yet an integral and important part of the forest as a whole, we in our own isolation remain an integral part of  humanity, as well as the giant organism of life on this planet.

Tuesday, March 3, 2020

March 2020: Ice Crystals

Spring is on the way, but in the meantime here is a shot of some ice crystals. This formation occurs when the surface of a puddle starts to freeze as the water beneath slowly seeps into the ground. If the freeze rate and the drain rate match up just right, this is what you get. I love all the angles!

**Whoops! Uploaded the wrong version earlier...fixed now. (Minor color correction.)**

Tuesday, February 4, 2020

February 2020: Asylum Dutch Door

The asylum in Traverse City was an unusual place to shoot. Not just because of the history, but because of the physical environment. Specifically the lighting. Bear with me, as this is going to be geared more for the experienced photographers among you.
These are abandoned buildings. They have no electrical power, so the only light available  is via windows or what you bring with you. Conditions were in some cases total and complete darkness. This photo depicts conditions about as good as they got as fat as light goes. Plenty of ambient sunlight coming through (mostly broken) windows.
The fascinating thing for me in going through the asylum was not the challenge of light however.
It was the incredible variation in color.

We were in some rooms that were painted all blue, or orange, or peach. But even the rooms which were painted white, as this one was, reflected colors from the surrounding rooms, or from the outdoors.

This shot is interesting to me because you have the green in the background, which is light reflected off leaves in the trees outside the window, the blue in the foreground, which is reflected off a tarp hung over a window off to the right, and the red/yellow hue in between, which is the dingy, faded yellowing white paint of the actual walls. It is a surreal version of a color wheel, all in one photo.