The camera’s getting rusty

early evening fog over pond
Yeah, that title’s a reference, not to the humidity as you might expect from the opening photo here, but to the general lack of use that my photo equipment has been seeing of late. However, I still managed to get a few pics recently, and a trip to the butterfly house is on the agenda this month.

So, jumping in the car the other evening, I looked out at the pond across the street and saw that it was entirely socked in with fog, due to the sudden change in temperatures. I trotted back in and grabbed my camera, and even in that brief delay some of the fog had dissipated, but there was still enough for a few hurried shots before I had to be someplace, and that’s one of them above.

mist and rain drops on cedar leaves against foggy pondThe next morning the fog came in again, so I did a little bit longer session then. The conditions were a little misty and there was even a brief and very light rain, nothing that would penetrate the camera bag much less force me back indoors, but it added some more humidity to the shots that I was taking, so, good! I won’t include a lot of exposition here, since I’m still busy with two big projects (both of which you’ll hear about when I finish them,) so I’ll throw them up here just to prove that I’m still alive, my version of holding a current newspaper I suppose. Ask you grandmother what a newspaper was…

heavy mist drops on unidentified leaves
dew and spiderwebs on unidentified berriesI was shooting handheld with no flash in some fairly low light, so doing the extreme macro stuff was going to be difficult, but I still managed to capture a little bit of the scene in one of the hanging drops, above. I had to be very careful when doing some of these, because going in close to the subject meant a high likelihood of bumping a branch, and even if it wasn’t a branch on the same plant as the subject, the two plants might still be in contact and could thus share the vibrations, which would likely dislodge any nice hanging drops. This happened more than once, despite my efforts, so you will just have to imagine the breathtaking images that I never captured due to my clumsiness.

Meanwhile, I find it interesting how quickly the spiders can rally from the bitter cold that we had recently and have new webs out as soon as it gets warmer. And it got quite warm, like no-jacket-at-all weather, before the temperature began dropping again (it’s hovering just above freezing as I type this mid-morning.)

I still have no idea what kind of berries these are, but it’s the same plant as the leaves above, so if you know what they are, feel free to laugh at me derisively. Or you can just tell me – that works too. Meanwhile, you did catch the splash of color that another branch added into the background, didn’t you? I framed it that way on purpose so I’m hoping it helped the composition.

a pair of mallards Anas platyrhynchos and a male hooded merganser Lophodytes cucullatus cruising through fog
This pair of mallards (Anas platyrhynchos) and a male hooded merganser (Lophodytes cucullatus, in the rear) were on the opposite side of the pond from me, shot through the fog with the 100-300 L, so this was as good as it was getting in those conditions. Still, I was pleased to see a pair of mergansers – the female was trailing too far back for good framing – and here’s hoping they decide to nest there this spring.

The ice still hadn’t quite completely cleared, so I lowered the camera with the 10-24 lens set to 10mm just above the ice and shot a few frames blindly, finding that I have no feel whatsoever for holding a camera level while vertical and out at arm’s reach. Yeah, I have dared to call myself an experienced photographer…

remaining ice on foggy pond

Eventually, something happens

I remarked in the podcast yesterday that we’d had some cold but boring weather recently, which is fairly typical for central North Carolina – it’s not a region that sees a lot of snow, but too far north for foliage to remain growing and green throughout the year. This means most of the winter sees grey and brown grasses and bare trees, and not a lot to photograph.

Only hours after that, however, the threatened winter storm finally rolled in and deposited roughly 5 cm of snow within about an hour. One small upshot of this was, with the bitter temperatures that we’d had leading up to it, the snow didn’t melt in contact with surfaces; this meant it swept off of cars effortlessly, and didn’t get that underlying layer of slush on the roads that makes them so slippery. I had to drive that evening but didn’t have to face either a long session clearing the car nor any real difficulty on the roads. Granted, I was still taking it slow.

So yesterday morning The Girlfriend and I got a brief chance to do some photos before a busy day, and checked out the nearby pond. We hadn’t seen it earlier, when I imagine the ice was nearly complete but clear; by this time, it had a healthy coating of snow, and the geese that were flying in seemed more than a little put-out that there was no water to be seen.

ice and snow on local pond
unidentified finch and bare limbs silhouetted against skyI’ve mentioned before, I’m not much of a songbird person, but there isn’t a lot else to photograph right now, and they were notably active around the pond. Most of them were reluctant to let me approach very closely, but I took what opportunities I could. Most of them were also trying their damnedest to remain within the thicket of branches at every opportunity, so nice portraits were difficult to obtain.

The sky was inordinately clear, the wind was gusty, and the snow could be dislodged instantly, so there was still a lot blowing around, and on occasion it would whip off of the ice in curling waves or even tiny tornadoes, ‘snow devils’ if you will, very cool to watch but too brief for me to capture with the camera. Because of these conditions, the scenic images of snow on branches or berries or pine cones weren’t really available, it all having blown off long before. And since the snow had rolled in during the night, I wasn’t going to get them when it was coming down, either. So it goes.

The sparrow below was one of many, but the only one out in the open enough to make a semi-decent image from. Like all of those that we saw, its feathers were fluffed out against the cold, creating nice insulating layers of air beneath. I’m tentatively identifying this as a chipping sparrow (Spizella passerina,) but there are several species that have similar markings and can at least pass through the area, so I’m not putting it in writing.

sparrow, possibly chipping sparrow Spizella passerina, on bare branches looking suspicious
Northern cardinal Cardinalis cardinalis  feeding on dried berriesMeanwhile, this Northern cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis) absolutely refused to adopt a striking pose or even peek out from behind the branches, but it wasn’t until I downloaded the pics and had a nice close look that I realized this was because it was feeding on some diminutive unidentified berries. Like I said, the patches of snow on branches were virtually gone, so no opportunity for a nice composition with the red cardinal, blue sky, white snow, and perhaps deep green pine needles (about the only use they can be put to.) But at least the light angle was decent. That’s not really enough to save the image, is it? Fine – be that way.

The best luck I had was with a northern mockingbird (Mimus polyglottos, which is perhaps the most expressive scientific name I’ve come across.) Clearly not concerned about my stealthy approach and more than accommodating about letting the sun hit its eye, I got a wide variety of shots and a few different poses, but settled on the one below both for the catchlight in the eye and for the flakes of blowing snow that can be seen in the air behind it. And yes, those are some really early buds on the branches back there – the weeping cherry in our yard has them too, don’t ask me why.

Northern mockingbird Mimus polyglottos giving nice profile with blowing snow behind
Examining this photo, I was struck by the negligible grip the feet seemed to have on the branch, not at all in tune with what I’d expect from such a gusty day. But as I was writing this post, a potential reason behind this occurred to me: the bird just might be minimizing its contact with the branch because the branch is so cold, and it’s thus conserving the heat in its toes. Someone with a greater knowledge of bird habits can tell me how (im)plausible this is…

And finally, a splash of brilliant color, with the barest hint of retained snow. I have no idea what kind of remarkably fecund berries these are, and they were in a neighbor’s yard so I was shooting from the road with a long lens, but I like the color and the shine. What I didn’t like was the telephone line cutting across the sky, out of focus in the background, so I crassly edited it out. Really, those damn things need to go.

unidentified brilliant red-orange berries against rich blue sky

Podcast: But anyway…

And so, things finally come to a culmination, or at least most things. I’ve been deeply involved in several projects, some of them offshoots of others, some of them needlessly, but here we are. I’ll let myself explain it orally. Or aurally. One of those is correct.

Walkabout podcast – But anyway…

The first and foremost thing that I have to include is the link to the new page that I added on cropping images. And the reason that this took so long is that it’s a video, and not a casual one at that. I mean, music and dissolves and everything! Now I can add Producer and Director to my résumé.

crop example of ruby-throated hummingbird Archilochus colubris at salvia blossom
The other major project, which I completed just a couple of days before my deadline, was re-recording the first generation of podcasts, dating from 2012 and 2013. Those had just been audio versions of posts and not off-the-cuff like the current versions, but they had also been done with shitty equipment and I personally found them painful to listen to anymore, so just out of this frustration/embarrassment (frustrassment?) I redid them with the setup I’m using now, and they sound so much better. You can find them at the ‘Podcast’ link just beneath the banner image above, or by clicking here. I will note that the first few ‘casts from the new format, started in mid 2016, still suffer from bad equipment – they’re kind of stream-of-consciousness and not really conducive to being redone, so they’re gonna stay that way.

I cannot recommend Audacity enough for audio work – a wonderfully versatile and easy to use program, and it’s open-source so it’s free.

HitFilm is the package that I used for this particular video, and it seems to work pretty damn well, though so far I only have the one project that I’ve done with it – we’ll have to see if it holds up as well over time.

By the way, I mention early on that the weather “wasn’t even producing snow” and was thus too boring to be shooting in. That changed only eight hours later, so there might be something to show for it soon. Which is my way of obligating myself to get out, shoot something, and post about it. We’ll see how well this works shortly, I guess.

P.S. Oh, yeah – I mentioned the previous collection of podcast fuckups in there, and they can be found here. I imagine it’s pretty clear that I have no lineage to Puritans in any way whatsoever…

Now just a moment…

bridge to Haw River island by James L Kramer
Jim Kramer dropped me an email yesterday when I couldn’t act on it (which I’ll expand upon shortly) with a bunch of photos, and as he noted, they had been taken exactly 12 years earlier on December 31st, 2005. You might recognize the one above, or at least the bridge therein, as the same one I featured a couple weeks back as a Sunday slide entry. Had I known which date I’d taken that one, I could have posted it as yesterday’s Sunday slide and done a little “12 years ago today” thing because we all know how fascinating and meaningful such things are.

Except– … wait. Something isn’t right here. If you use that link [why aren’t you clicking on these right away dammit? Why do you think I go through all the effort to provide them?] you’ll notice that they’re definitely different times of the year. Which confuses me, because I was positive, up until only minutes ago (of course, everything is ‘only minutes ago’ unless it’s ‘only seconds ago,’) that we’d only made one trip out there. I’m pretty proud of my ability to remember trips and shooting locales, and this is certainly a distinct area, but Jim has managed to collapse this whole worldview and make me question my sanity. So yeah, happy new year to you too you little bastard.

Now, I know I’d gone back once since then without him, only to find the entire area closed off and posted with signs long before the bridge – or so I remember, but who the hell knows now? Someone’s probably going to show up with pics from last year showing me partying out on the island with Tom Cruise or something…

Meanwhile, have a few more of his images.

small torrent in Haw River by James L Kramer
During this trip, I was doing a little B&W work, and have not only those negatives, I have a few scans of them on my computer. And yes, unlike the slides and negatives, those scans have an origin date like the timestamps on Jim’s digital images – but those origin dates only reflect when I did the scan, which could have been some time after I actually took the frames. I know (I think?) I scanned a few of the monochrome images very soon afterward because I had an immediate use for them, but I had no reason then to check the date, because of course I took them all at the same time. Shit anyway.

sweeping, sharp-edged rocks in Haw River by James L Kramer
leaf in tiny reflecting pool in hollow of rock, Haw RiverOne of the more notable traits of some of the rocks in the river, southeast of the bridge, was their curious nature: sharp-edged and quite hard, apparently, but seemingly shaped by the water with some very fluid curves to them. I remember (or not) being suspicious of their shapes, not really believing the water had done that, yet not being sure what was responsible for it. But while there, I got the fartistic image (I believe) at right that I’ve used here before. And I’m almost positive that the very spot was virtually right behind me in the pic below that Jim took without my express permission or knowledge. I’m pretty sure that the camera (a Canon Pro 90 IS, my first digital) is braced against my knee for a slow exposure to capture the running water, and is one of at least two bodies that I had with me, another being the Elan IIe loaded with monochrome film. I would have believed that I had one more with me, the EOS 3 loaded with slide film, but of course that’s a huge question now isn’t it?

Al Denelsbeck hunched over a photo in the making in the Haw River
James L Kramer taking photo of mushroom, seen from below the capI could recognize the viewfinder of the Pro 90 IS in the image above, but also have the photo at left of Jim himself taken during that outing, where I used the flip-out LCD panel to do a very low angle shot from beneath a mushroom, aiming up at Jim. Whether he actually snapped a frame during this time or just posed obligingly I’m not sure, naturally. I am, in fact, including this photo just to get back at Jim a little bit because of what he did to me here. Ha! Didn’t remember me taking this photo, did you Jim? Ha!

And yes, we both tended to look a little eccentric while out shooting – Jim in camo, and me with my beltpacks. Neither one of us gives a shit; it’s about functionality and comfort, not style. Suck it, Taylor Swift.

But anyway, since it’s pretty clear at this point that I’m not going to get to the upcoming post while it’s still the first of the year, have a happy and prosperous and joyful and whatever-the-hell new year, which is distinctly different from yesterday because Julius Caesar, who couldn’t put things on the astronomical solstice or anything where it would make sense. Regardless, I encourage good things to happen in a completely worthless but perhaps still emotionally meaningful manner. Cheers!

End of Sunday slide month… something

empty windows paired up in abandoned building
And so we come to Sunday slide 53, which we could only accomplish because Sunday was the first day of the year and, accordingly, the last too. But that meant we’d also have to do an end-of-the-month abstract, and I thought about this as I scanned this slide a few months back. Was there a Sunday that also fell on the last day of the month, to use this abstract? Yes, there was just one opportunity remaining. And here we are.

The photo came from a spot near the Haw River, where a channel had been diverted to feed a mill, now long abandoned because, hell, who needs easy natural power when you can use petroleum products!? But I suppose the reduced demand for ground wheat and flour and such played a part, what with all the vegan granola fruitdaddy people eating their grains straight off the stalk in the fields anymore. Regardless, the two windows lining up attracted my attention, with a subtle nod to the curious juxtaposition of weathered bricks and the smooth facade way in the back there. It’s not my normal subject matter, but I’ll grab shots like this when they strike me.

But wait! Today, believe it or not, is Kill Three Birds With One Stone Day. So of course I’ve got my last Sunday Slide in, and the end-of-month abstract, but what else should I do with this post? The answer should be obvious, naturally: we’ll also observe Kill Three Birds With One Stone Day. I love it when it all comes together like this, not contrived or anything.

Spot the six differences

two versions of sapling reflecting in still lake
The image on the right, at least, you may have seen before – I believe I’ve used it twice on the blog. I stumbled across the version on the left while searching for some images for a present project, and it’s only two frames previous to the right one. Both of these are not cropped, by the way – I’m impressed that I managed to frame the two of them so closely together while clearly having moved the camera significantly in between. But we all know how easily impressed I am with myself (otherwise this site wouldn’t even exist.)

Okay, if you’re trying to find five more differences, don’t bother – there was only one. Or one that I know of; if you found more, tell me, because there was only one change that I made intentionally between frames, and if there’s more then I’m really curious who else was screwing around out there. Not that it’s going to do me any good now, since it’s been twelve-and-a-half years since these were shot.

But yes, that rock – I decided the composition would be stronger without that lower rock in there, and removed it carefully so as not to stir up too much silt – if I remember right, I waited a short while for the water to clear, and the time stamp tells me there was about 90 seconds between the frames, so no evidence of age-related incompetence yet (I thought I should qualify that.)

I realize that a large number of viewers might react in horror over the prospect of interrupting the natural order in this way, and believe me, I debated about even posting this – there’s a distinct chance that it will make me a pariah in the community. Okay, more of a pariah. Okay, I don’t really belong to any community to begin with. Okay, the words you’re reading constitute the sum-total of my social interactions, period. But I can still agree how terrible it is that I interfered in this way, and I truly feel ashamed about it. If you’re reading these words, it means someone else came along and posted a draft that I had sitting in my blog folders because I never could admit to this on my own.

As for the frame in between? I can find no sign of it, so apparently it didn’t pass muster and was discarded – I know, I know, I’m sorry, but it happens sometimes, even to me. Even seasoned professionals find events occur outside of their control, once in a great while.

[Just because my conscience is making me, I feel obligated to point out that the ‘average’ keeper rate among professional photographers seems to fall around 25-33%, meaning they throw out two to three times as many photos as they keep. There’s a lot of variation, of course, but the message to anyone is, there is no such thing as always taking the photo that you wanted or intended.]

While looking to see if I had that intervening frame someplace, I stirred up another set of images from the same trip, taken within a few dozen meters. On at least one occasion, I thought one might make an appropriate “greenery” image, until I realized that the thick and vibrant plants in this frame are almost entirely poison ivy (Toxicodendron radicans.) Not the message I wanted to send at the time, at least.

lush and enthusiastic thicket of poison ivy Toxicodendron radicans

Sunday slides 52

macro photo of variety of fungi and lichens
In 2006 I had just returned to the state again, after spending time in Florida, Georgia, and even briefly in Texas, and near the little duplex townhome in the woods that I was renting, I came across a marvelous landscape of fungi and lichens, all only millimeters in height. In fact, this entire frame could easily have been obscured by a leaf. I loved the alien nature of it, grounded in reality only by the foreground plant, and sprawled on the ground to get as much detail as I could in the shot.

Looking at it now, I kind of wish I’d done a lot more experiments with the position and framing, something that digital has encouraged at least – as slides, each frame cost me a little bit, and there’s only so much marketability of such subjects. If I come across such a scene again, I’ll be tackling it with better lighting and higher magnification options, so maybe one day we’ll see how different it could look.

Funny, I was thinking that I’d used a slide from my stay in Georgia sometime during this past year, but I’m not seeing any (as I search for a pertinent link to include up there with the others,) so I guess it’s incumbent on me to provide one. Lucky me, I already have something scanned.

suspended drop of tree resin
My time in Georgia was brief, less than a year, and not really brimming with opportunities to do much shooting. It was, however, the time period when the structure for this very website was first produced. This was back in 2002, and I’ve only done small updates in the structure since then – I’ll let you decide whether that’s a good thing or not.

But at one point, wandering in a local park, I spotted this long dangling drop of tree resin catching the sun, which is perhaps more rare than you might think – usually such things occur in deep shadow, or at least, close enough to the trunk that getting a decent angle on it is next to impossible. Therefore I was pleased with this one and took advantage of the opportunity, and liked that I got a little glimmer out of the sunlight along the bead at least.

Up in the air

herring gull Larus argentatus winter plumage preparing to dive
Ha! Another title pun! This one not only deals with aerial subjects in the photos, but refers to further developments on the site that haven’t yet come to fruition. Such depths to the humor!

[Ahem] So, I did manage to get out for a shooting session recently, though mostly what it did was emphasize how little there is to shoot right now. This was a student outing again, and we mostly concentrated on practice with long lenses and semi-unpredictable subjects, in this case birds. I’ve said before, I don’t pursue birds as subjects too much, especially not songbirds – just not my thing. Which isn’t to say that I’ve never done it, nor specifically avoid it, and there’s a skillset involved in two particular aspects: following bird movements, and predicting their behavior. These are true enough for any wildlife really, but with birds, opportunities can appear and disappear in fractions of a second.

Above, we see a trait that can be telling all by itself: the abrupt “backpedal,” the slowing, pause, or even hover in midair that can signify something interesting is about to happen. For herring gulls (Larus argentatus,) as well as any diving bird like terns, eagles, or osprey, this often indicates that they’ve seen something interesting below and may be about to dive for a meal.

By the way, the image above is cropped a little bit, partially to reduce the distractions of the background, but also because it’s usually not a good idea to be shooting too zoomed in or tight on birds. Tracking their movements is a lot easier when you have some wiggle room in the frame around them, space to compensate for their changes, as well as some forewarning of what is about to happen in the background – panning past something particularly photogenic, or exactly the opposite. Staying “back” a little bit helps keep from cutting them off, makes it less likely to drop them from the focus area (causing the autofocus to wander,) and lets you time shots for ideal backgrounds – you can always crop in tighter later on, and can also use this opportunity to frame the subject more appropriately, something that can be hard to do on the fly.

Being back too far, however, and making the bird too small in the frame can also be bad for autofocus, as well as for exposure – the camera reads too much of the bright sky with the bird being too small to affect the meter, and the exposure gets set for the sky and not the subject. Very often, it helps to overexpose such shots by a few thirds or half-stops to keep the subject from becoming a silhouette.

If you’re on your game, you can occasionally capture moments of drama exactly as they occur. Catching them every time requires skills more advanced than my own.

herring gull Larus argentatus almost completely submerged
The same gull seen at top did indeed go in for the kill, and I tracked it down but missed the crucial moment of contact. However, I’m cool with this shot only a fraction of a second later; by itself, it might have been a bit too confusing, but following behind the descending gull above it’s pretty clear what’s going on, and it illustrates how deep this one went (unsuccessfully, I might add – I don’t think we saw any fish consumed that day.)

A quick word about timing. It can be very hard to time something in particular with birds, especially something like catching the wings in an optimum position. Many people believe the solution to this is to set the frame rate for continuous, where the camera keeps firing off shots as long as the shutter is held down; they imagine that one of the frames is bound to capture the action. This isn’t often the case, however, and continuous shooting should not be mistaken for, like, video. Most video rates are 24, 30, or 60 frames a second, while the fastest frame rates for still photos might run as high as 10 frames a second, but more often in the realm of three or four. This can actually miss a lot of action, and can even synchronize with wingbeats so that, even if you fire off 30 frames, each one captures the wings in the wrong position. Sometimes it’s worth the try, but don’t count on it to capture the shot.

There’s only so much you can do with gulls, however, and since we were near the airport we did a short session of aircraft chasing. Now, I’m a flying enthusiast, but don’t chase plane photos any more than birds; even less, in fact. There’s only so much you can do or show with aircraft photos, outside of things like airshows or actually shooting from something airborne. So I managed a few shots, but didn’t see a lot of fartistic stuff happening.

NCDOT Sikorsky S76 seen against possibly undulatus asperatus clouds
I’m more a helicopter enthusiast than planes, especially over commercial airliners, and so fired off a number of frames as the NC DOT’s Sikorsky S76 banked in on final approach. There’s nothing remarkable about the shots, except that I captured a thin example of a cloud formation that I failed to notice while I was there – partially because it was so distant. To the best of my knowledge, this is a tiny formation of undulatus asperatus clouds, another example of which can be found here.

WTVD 11's AS-350 news helicopter against tumultuous sky
I captured a little more cloud and helicopter action as an Aerospatiale/Eurocopter AS350 cut across the sunset. This is most likely WTVD’s “Chopper 11,” because they’re one of the only two news helicopters to operate out of the region, the other being a Bell 407, and because I saw it sitting on the apron before it departed in the same direction that this one returned from. Plus the ENG camera and transmitter are in the same configuration so, you know, sticking my neck out here identifying a bare silhouette. The tiny section of sky captured in the shot makes it look stormy and dramatic, but in reality this was a small patch near the setting sun on an otherwise humdrum sky. Nonetheless, I started firing off the frames as it passed the colorful bits, and picked this one from among the collection.

Still working on scaring up more material and the time to post it. Bear with me.

Sunday slide 51

bridge to unnamed island on Haw River
So some years back, Jim Kramer (the Official Other Blog Image Contributor) drove us out to a small island in the middle of the Haw River outside of Burlington. At one point well in the past, the island had been occupied, with the remains of a house thereon, and at the time of this image access was still available on foot, though the road up to this bridge was closed to any vehicles. It was a neat little area, even though we visited on a pretty crisp day, and I would certainly like to return, but sometime in the intervening years access has been closed off by the property owner, so it’s not an option unless they happen to be reading this and realize what kind of fantastic images I can provide them. Yeah, anyway…

Now, my attempts to mess with the reader notwithstanding, I’m wondering if this image conveys the same thing to others as it does to me, so feel free to pause for a moment and suss out the ambience or whatever.

Because I like to think that the condition of the bridge gives a good idea of its age, and the feeling that this is not in regular use anymore – it’d be nice if the graffiti wasn’t there, but there are people everywhere whose minds are as small as their penises, it seems. Is there a hint of abandon and loneliness in the image? Does it seem to imply something long forgotten? I’m not sure how successful the image is in these regards, but at least I like the dramatic lines and angle. Looking at it now, I wish I’d done some more images with the dark shadows at the far end, making them more prominent and foreboding – a little contrast with the bright light and colors here where we stand, and the gloom that you will enter if you dare to cross the bridge. I constantly advise working with interesting subjects in as many ways as possible, to see how many different moods or perspectives can be portrayed, so I’m always a little irked when I think of something afterward, especially when I can’t return.

Blogging conditions: 2

Yeah, sorry, I really haven’t been posting much at all, and while I’m aware of it and trying, there really hasn’t been a lot to say. Photography has dropped down to almost nil, and I’ve been busy with countless projects (one of which, at least, will eventually be evident,) and also recovering from some walking difficulty which makes me understandably reluctant to go out looking for photo subjects. On top of that, the cold weather plays havoc with my sinuses and it can be literally painful to be outside at times. Things will pick up at some point, I promise, but for now there might not be a lot to see here.

large leaf cocoon, possibly polyphemus moth Antheraea polyphemus, hanging from treeOn the last photo outing a couple of weeks back, I didn’t get a whole lot of photos of interest, but did run across this large cocoon, approximately five centimeters in length and three in girth. Due to the appearance and size, I’m leaning towards this being the work of a polyphemus moth (Antheraea polyphemus,) but if questioned I will categorically deny any and all certainty. I could simply have collected it and kept an eye on it come springtime to see what hatched, but I tend to leave things where I find them unless I have a specific project or need in mind. If you’d like to see what an adult looks like, I have photos of one here, but I’m kind enough to warn you (it’s nearly christmas, after all, and I’m still hoping to get a Porsche) that they don’t show until after you scroll past a wickedly large and, uh, aesthetically-challenged spider.

However, we’ll go in a bit closer to this cocoon to see the detail, which came up quite well at this particular light angle and revealed the actual construction material; from normal viewing distance, the cocoon appeared to be fairly uniform in color and texture, easy to believe it was entirely silk. Going in close with the Mamiya macro lens again (rather than, for instance, backing off a couple of meters to use a 150-600mm lens, which would be just silly,) we can see the true nature of the materials at hand. And going still closer, but showing a tighter crop at higher resolution, we get some almost-tactile textures from the shot:

detail of large leaf cocoon, possibly of polyphemus moth Antheraea polyphemus
What I like about this is how the leaf veins can almost put me in mind of, you know, veins that carry blood, which changes the impression from, “oh, yeah, leaves,” to, “oh god it’s got veins!” Leaf veins are fine, but fleshy veins are creepy, you know? Okay, never mind.

But if you want a challenge, so if you can discern when one leaf stops and another begins.

spiraled buds of phlox with raindrops
stray phlox blossom hanging from invisible web strandBut to just get something up here, we’ll go back earlier in the year (and perhaps further) for a few images that I never did post when I got them. There’s no theme here, or much reasoning behind guilt and obligation to actually maintain content and remind people that yes, the blog is still active.

Above, buds of a variety of phlox showed off their lovely spiraled nature, offset with a raindrop, while I was touring UNC Botanical Gardens again, mostly chasing anoles. Raindrops in flower gardens are a nice opportunity for extreme macro work, in that they can act as lenses and, if you live a clean life and get very lucky, you can get miniature images of the flowers in the background through them. It takes nice round drops (so, generally hanging,) and the right position of a blossom in the background, so it’s a lot trickier to arrange than it might seem at first, and did not come about this time around. I have more than a mild suspicion that, of the many times that I’ve seen examples, more than a few were artfully staged, the drops (and possibly even the flowers themselves) placed there by opportunistic photographers.

Not too far away on another plant, a conspicuously-dangling blossom alerted me to the possible presence of spiders, which you should know by now are routine subjects of mine. Some varieties of white crab spider can develop accent patches of color very close to these flowers and so I was keeping my eyes open, but it was not to be on this trip. Which isn’t to say that I’ve never seen them.

central detail of pond lily blossom
This one was taken at the same time as these, but didn’t fit my purposes then, so it appears now. This is a tighter crop of the center from the original, because I liked that detail and the contrasting colors. This is purely natural light, by the way, from a slightly hazy day, with saturation and contrast boosted slightly to compensate for the lack thereof from the light, a typical setting for such conditions.

cecropia moth Hyalophora cecropia caterpillar being bashful
I’ve had this one sitting in the blog images folder since this post, because it was too similar to others therein, but I liked it for the lighting and position and knew it would reappear someday – today’s the day! I’ll let you provide your own impressions of the image and what it says to you, and merely point out a curious detail: we’re seeing this cecropia moth caterpillar (Hyalophora cecropia) from the hind end – you can see the array of legs clutching the branch extending towards us at the bottom of the image. My subject was reacting to the perceived threat of a nature photographer (you know how we are) and curled up protectively, so I had to reposition myself to get the face shot. There’s just something about the deep shadows and the near-translucent skin…

And to close, we go back to last year, from a trip to Jekyll Island, Georgia. Out doing sunrise on the beach, I came across a couple of deceased sharks, just slightly longer than my foot; one of them bore a moderately-sized wound, but it was around the gills and appeared to be post-mortem to my untrained eye. I later found out that the inlet that the beach borders is a breeding ground for sharks, apparently because of its conditions, though what exactly those might be I cannot say (me and the sharks have a non-disclosure agreement.) I didn’t pass on the opportunity to do a couple of fartsy, supposedly poignant shots though, using the pristine sands scoured smooth by high tide and so-far-untouched by tourists. Except lone nature photographers. You can decide if you like it or not (the pic, I mean, not nature photographers or the habits thereof.)

washed-up juvenile shark on Driftwood Beach, Jekyll Island at sunrise.
Don’t give up on me yet – I’ve got more stuff in the works.