Now through December at least…

I presently have a public exhibit of my images at the Chapel Hill/Orange County Visitors Bureau at 501 West Franklin Street in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, to run for an indeterminate time but probably through December at least. You are welcome and invited to stop by during any open hours (M-F 8:30-5, Sat 10-3,) but I should be present for the 2nd Friday Art Walk on Friday, January 11th from 6-9 PM. Come on by and say “Hi,” tell me my work sucks, whatever you like. This is my first serious exhibit of more than a few pieces (reduced, now down to 32) with a pretty good variety and public appeal, at least if I’m any judge, but we all know how that goes…
Continue reading “Now through December at least…”

Could be better, could be worse

Lunar eclipse at totality 01/21/19
So, if I had to pick something dramatic to get back into taking photos, the total lunar eclipse of 2019 really isn’t a bad choice. And it was certainly better than most of my other options, which are bare trees, overcast skies, and mud. We’ve really had too damn much rain lately.

The title has a double meaning. In part, it refers to the conditions: we had reasonably clear skies for this eclipse, which is rare enough because waaayyy too many astronomical events that I might have tackled in the past were clouded out (or on occasion ruined by a too-full moon.) A couple of very thin patches of clouds passed through, but very quickly, so I had mostly had a good view overall. That “very quickly” part is a hint at the down side of the conditions, which I mentioned in the previous post: markedly low temperatures with some gusty winds, making wind chill to be absolutely bitter – as I type this less than an hour after wrapping up photography for the evening/morning, it is -4°C (24°F) and dog only knows what the wind chill dropped it down to. All I can say is that, between brief sessions I was bringing the camera back into the house, and as I removed the memory card from the last session, the card itself was chilly. Touching any metal part of the tripod got painful in a hurry (yes, I was working without gloves because I needed the fine touch to keep making adjustments.)

The other meaning of the title refers, of course, to the images. The long lens I have is far from ideal and will be replaced eventually, but more of the impact came from the subject itself.

Total lunar eclipse of 1/21/19
What you’re seeing here is much brighter than what you’d see in person. The moon was so dim that I was having a devil of a time trying to get it within the viewfinder, and focus was strictly up for grabs – I did a lot of focus bracketing hoping to nail at least one in sharp focus. But there’s also the side-effects of all this, because a dim subject needs one of two things, if not both: a longer shutter speed, or a higher ISO. A longer shutter speed isn’t the best option, because the Earth is still turning, with the camera carried along, so there’s apparent motion from the moon at high magnification. But boosting the ISO doesn’t work all that well either, especially not with the Canon 30D, because its upper ranges are next to worthless – the grain and overall blotchiness at anything above ISO 400 doesn’t make for good images. The frame at top was shot at 1.3 seconds, f5.6, ISO 500, while the second one immediately above was 1.3 seconds, f5.6, ISO 320. I did a few at ISO 800, more towards the darkest phase (those above were very close to totality’s end,) and between that and the focus, they weren’t worth using.

The colors come from the sunlight filtered through the Earth’s atmosphere – the thicker, the redder; the top left portion of the moon was closest to the edge of the shadow cast by the Earth (the moon rarely gets centered in the shadow during an eclipse, and come to think of it, I’ll have to check to see if that’s even astronomically possible, given the inclination of the orbital planes.)

Twenty-some minutes later, I went back out to capture the emerging phase and demonstrate the huge difference in light levels.

moon leaving shadow, total lunar eclipse 1/21/19
At this point, by naked eye you can’t really make out much red in the shadowed portion at all, and you can see how badly I had to overexpose the sunlit portion to bring out the color in the shadow. This is .8 seconds, f5.6, ISO 320.

moon leaving shadow, total lunar eclipse 1/21/19
1/4 second, f5.6 at ISO 320. I will use this opportunity to point out how you can tell the difference between photos of an eclipse or simply a crescent moon: moon phases always describe a curve that touches the widest portion of the moon or, if you like, the centerline of the visible portion – call it the ‘poles’ if you like (rarely ever the actual poles, as in the axis of rotation, but the same basic idea.) Here, and especially in the photo from the previous post, you can see the tips of the curve are too far from the centerline.

moon leaving shadow, total lunar eclipse 1/21/19
1/5 second, f5.6 at ISO 320. Subtle difference, but 1/3 stop is noticeable in conditions like this.

moon leaving shadow, total lunar eclipse 1/21/19
We’ve dropped all the way to 1/80 second, f5.6 at ISO 320 now. The sunlit portion looks just about ‘normal’ while there is nothing to see from the shadowed portion. All four of these images were taken within 130 seconds of each other, so not a lot of motion from the shadow itself and the moon didn’t even leave my shooting frame (all of these are cropped, by the way.) To give you the translated numbers, there are six stops of exposure difference between the first and the fourth in the sequence, which means this last frame admitted 1/64th the light of the first in this series of four, and somewhere around 1/200th the first image in the post. A typical full-moon exposure would be around 1/640 second, f5.6 at ISO 320, but this exposure had to be longer because the sunlit portion is still is Earth’s shadow, the thinner penumbral one. I actually have an illustration I can use for this.

shadow showing umbra and penumbra
The sun is much bigger than the Earth of course, and while it’s distant enough to make the effect far subtler than this, it works the same. Notice the darkest shadow that gets narrower directly behind the lip balm, but the thinner ones spreading wider to either side of it. A total lunar eclipse occurs when the moon enters that darker shadow, called the umbra, but before and afterward it’s still passing through the lighter shadows to either side, the penumbras, which darken the moon a bit without being very obvious about it. Usually this can’t even be discerned by eye, but it does affect the exposure times for decent detail of the surface.

Anyway, that’s late enough – I’m going to bed.

We now go live to Walkabout Headquarters

Lunar eclipse in progression
I’m doing this mostly to thumb my nose at the Insouciant Mr Bugg, who likes to bray that he’s doing more than me and putting things up first. This was taken eight minutes ago as I type this, at 10:58 pm EDT, or 3:58 am Zulu (otherwise known as Greenwich Mean or Coordinated Universal Time, UTC.)

More will be coming, but it’s wickedly cold out there right now with a stiff wind, so no sequence shots or stacked multiple exposures or anything like that – I’m going to be lucky to keep the vibration out of the tripod. But I simply had to post this, because I’m evil.

Storytime 3

least tern Sternula antillarum
North Topsail Island is turning into a regular haunt for us, but years ago, I made a brief visit at the direction of a friend, since we were in the vicinity, and spent some time chasing the seabirds along the New River Inlet (and let me take this opportunity to chide people for ever using the name “New” for anything – what, do you think it’s never gonna get old or something? Hell, try to be a little creative at least.) The sky was clear, the sun was getting low but still bright and mostly behind me, and the birds were coming reasonably close – good conditions to do avian photography. One least tern (Sternula antillarum) in particular allowed me a nice sequence as it cruised along a predictable flight path. I don’t see terns very often, so I was happy to add it to my stock.

But now, take a look at the image below, shot in the same location and conditions not fifty seconds later, at only a slightly different angle.

unidentified tern showing catchlight
I could challenge you to find the difference, but there are far too many. I can’t even be sure what species this is because many of them sport these same basic characteristics, with subtle differences visible only in areas that I didn’t capture, for instance the upper body and wing edges. It could even be a juvenile of the same species above it. What I’m drawing attention to, however, is the eye, specifically the bright reflection therein that’s called a catchlight. I’ve mentioned this multiple times before, but this is a goal of nature photographers quite often, because it gives a bit of distinction and ‘life’ to the eye, and in species where the iris is dark against dark plumage or fur, it lets you know where the eye even is. If you go back to the first photo, you will notice that it’s missing.

I just don’t know why. The sun angle should have been more than adequate, in fact ideal. There’s no reason to believe the eye is not actually reflective, especially since one of the frames in the sequence shows a catchlight. The only thing I can think of is that the shape of the skull is such that it flared just enough behind the eye to shield it from the sun, but that seems farfetched considering that the spot almost immediately ahead of the eye, where that little white bump is, is a highlight area, bleached out to pure white. Believe me, I’ve looked at that image at high magnification and even then the eye is almost impossible to distinguish.

It’s very easy to be in conditions that don’t contribute to a catchlight – many animals endeavor not to be in direct sunlight, and even when they are, it doesn’t take much of an angle to prevent it. And I imagine that this is intentional at least some of the time, since it means the sun is glaring into one of their eyes, which can’t help them with predator or prey. But I’d have every reason to believe those were optimum conditions up there and still didn’t get it. I feel cheated.

It’s all behind us now

As I said, I have a handful of photos from 2018 that never made it to posts, plus I might add a couple more from even earlier that have just been sitting in that folder – dunno yet, we’re still in the first sentence. And yes, I know you’ve probably had it up to here with all of the “Let’s look back” shit that’s all over the place, but what do you want me to do in the slow season? “Let’s look forward to some of the photos that I’ll be taking later on this year:

.

.

Doesn’t work, does it? Okay then.

Now, I can tell you that another trip to North Topsail Beach is in the planning stages, so there’s a good chance some of those will appear around late May to early June. Beyond that, there’s nothing specifically planned, though a mountain trip is in discussion. It’s been ten years since The Girlfriend and I hit Florida, which is too long, but I’m not sure if such a trip is viable this year or not. Get out your Ouija board and see if you can figure it out before we do.

snow piled on unidentified berriesJanuary

Let’s start with the big winter storm that struck a year ago, and an image that never fit into the post-storm post – too similar to another, and nothing in particular to say about it. There’s still nothing in particular to say about it, really – I don’t even know what kind of plant this is, but the little indigo berries stood out nicely. I still suspect we’re due for another big winter storm at some point, though nothing is forecast as of yet. We’ll just have to see.

yellow trout lilies Erythronium americanum with sun raysFebruary

Three weeks further on brought us some remarkably warm weather, for a short while anyway, and during a froggy outing I sprawled on the ground to get this trio of yellow trout lilies (Erythronium americanum) that were venturing up through the ubiquitous pine needles – the sun not only added a little backlight glow, but some accent rays. It would be easy to get the impression that we had an early spring, and that impression would be ever so wrong – the season consisted of warm spells interspersed with more freezes that lasted through the normal spring season for North Carolina, which stunted a lot of plants that were just as fooled as everyone else, but did at least kill off the normal hatching of ‘inchworms’ that tended to decimate one of our rose bushes, so that did well this past year. But yeah, even as we approached our beach trip in May we were wondering if spring had truly settled in – it had, finally, but that’s pretty late for us. My first year in NC after moving down from central New York, I was waiting for the apartment complex to open the pool, and it was a month late as far as I was concerned; it was scheduled for the first of May, and the weather had been so warm that I was hoping it’d be the first of April. Just so you know, on a good year in NY you might be able to go swimming by mid-May, but generally the water wasn’t pleasant until June. I don’t miss that.

But while we’re at it, here’s another photo from the same outing, another where I went down low for the personal perspective. The conditions were incredibly muddy, so I was propped on my elbows with the rest of my body raised out of contact with the muck. One of these days I’ll start my own line of nature photographers’ outerwear, with waterproof reinforced knees, elbows, and seats. And lots of pockets.

unidentified small frog, likely cricket frog, in debris at water's edge
Can’t tell you what species this is (because you don’t have clearance) – I’m leaning towards cricket frog, one of the Acris genus, but northern or southern variant is beyond my ability to determine from the photos I got. Only about 20mm in length, this one was exceedingly well-camouflaged against the debris at the water’s edge, and I only spotted it because I’d seen it hop there at my approach.

fruit developing on yoshino weeping cherry treeApril

Wait a second, what happened to March? Well, in March the weather was still being spastic, and I published everything that passed muster back then, so nothing was sitting unused in the blog folder. Thus we’re jumping to April. It’s not the only time it’s gonna happen either.

Despite the conditions, most of the plants still kept largely to schedule, and in April The Girlfriend’s weeping cherry tree even started producing fruit, as seen here – I wasn’t even sure there was anything around to pollinate it, but there’s the evidence. The birds, however, were not at all taken by surprise, and the cherries (tiny little ornamental things, no use for any decent sundae) vanished virtually overnight.

The wretched and hateful longneedle pines were not at all hampered by the weather, and produced copious amounts of pollen that got all over everything, even wafting through the screens and coating everything on our back porch. Below, a smallish wolf spider (genus Lycosidae) sports what passes for spring fashion around here.

wolf spider Lycosidae with pine pollen dusting
But wait! Let’s not forget the American five-lined skink (Plestiodon fasciatus) that sought shelter within a log crevice, then peeked out again a couple of minutes later while I waited patiently. Had I been able to hold still long enough, it may have ventured out farther, since reptiles are not terribly high on the reasoning scale; the skink was more attuned to my motion than my appearance, and stillness spells safety to them no matter how close I might have been. With a rarer species, or a more compelling setting at least, I might have exercised my patience more, but I have enough photos of skinks and simply moved on before I passed the lizard’s test.

American five-lined skink Plestiodon fasciatus peering from log crevice

May
Copes grey treefrog Hyla chrysoscelis pausing during calling
So with these, a little story – just never got around to posting this at the time. During the frenetic Cinco de Mayo celebrations around here, I ventured over to the pond and was chasing a few calling Copes grey treefrogs (Hyla chrysoscelis,) including this one which paused at my close approach and sat there with flaccid throat pouch, probably not impressing any females in the area. Remembering that another pond not far off usually played host to the green treefrogs (Hyla cinerea,) I drove over there and started chasing subjects therein – not quite as active as other times that I’ve visited, but I still found a few models.

green treefrog Hyla cinerea perched on limb
In fact, during this session I took the 50,000th image with the Canon 30D, but did not realize this until much later.

green treefrog Hyla cinerea sitting precariously on thin branch

damselfly, possibly female Eastern forktail Ischnura verticalis, sleeping on dried flower
A small damselfly, possibly a female Eastern forktail (Ischnura verticalis,) was asleep on a dried flower, so I was able to lean in close without spooking it off. Overall length was probably around 25mm if I remember correctly. Tiny, anyway. What gets me now is, what the hell is that in the background? It certainly looks funky at this level of defocus, but I never took note of it while there.

By this point the weather was normal and I was in my typical shorts and water sandals, with the headlamp for night work. I was being careful where I walked, partially because of the possibility of snakes, but mostly due to the wild nature of the undergrowth bordering the pond. Nonetheless, I missed a thick dried stalk of a raspberry bush, and raked it along my leg. I’m out in such conditions often enough that I’m kind of used to this, and felt the stinging but shrugged it off.

raspberry thorns embedded in author's calfA few minutes later, the stinging was still going on, and I glanced down to notice more than the expected thin lines of scratches on my calf – there were, in fact, several trickles of blood. Nothing I could do about it at the time, and I didn’t bend down to see it in detail, but I made a mental note not to wade too deeply and chance infecting the wounds with whatever might be in the water. On arriving home a bit later on, the plethora of embedded thorns became a bit more obvious, and I had to go into the bathroom for an extraction session.

raspberry thorns removed from author's calfIt turned out to be a nice little collection, not counting those which might have been brushed off earlier as I continued to walk around, or got into the car. This just goes to show you how dedicated I am to bringing you these wonderful photos and narratives (which, naturally, I then didn’t even bother with.)

July

Chinese mantis Tenodera sinensis clearing mist from eyes
Yep, no June stuff, but we have a leftover from July, a juvenile Chinese mantis (Tenodera sinensis) clearing water from its eyes after I misted it. Notice the nicely interlaced spines on the forelegs, providing an inescapable grip, which makes this habit all the more disturbing; mantids will clear moisture from their eyes and drink it in parched conditions (which by then we had reached,) but doing so with those wickedly-barbed forelegs seems to be just asking for eye damage.

But I still like the water drops. Someday, I’ll ‘shop in a smutphone for giggles…

September

Tybeee Island lighthouse Georgia from below
I had plenty of images from the Georgia trip, so I skipped these, but what the hell. Here we have the Tybee Island lighthouse from below, trying to make the most of the very wide 10mm focal length, but shooting up with such a wide angle is simply asking for sun flare – I just didn’t really expect it to be so distinct.

While below, a shot of what I believe was a sunset dolphin tour – I would have greatly preferred the roof line to have fallen either above or below the horizon instead of blending in like this. However, the crowded conditions and moody silhouette make me think irresistibly of something like a refugee boat – not quite the effect I was after. And I can’t imagine any reason why people would be fleeing America, either. Can you?

Nothing to do with Trump of course

May 2017

pink-stained pre-sunrise breakers and sky at North Topsail Beach
Wait, hold on – 19 months ago? But yeah, it’s my blog and I’ll do what I want. This one from the first North Topsail Beach trip never made it into a post, but I like it a lot due to the color register and have been waiting for the right opportunity to use it – maybe this isn’t ‘right,’ but here it is anyway. The sun was just beyond the horizon yet turning the high-altitude clouds red, and this cast a pink glow across the entire landscape. The scattered clouds contributed a lot to the effect, since I have images from similar conditions without the clouds and they’re far less dynamic.

July 2016

katydid nymph consuming molted exoskeleton
I have this one marked as a composite though I don’t recall doing it, but then again it was two-and-a-half years ago and we’re lucky I can remember my house number. I figure I combined two for maximum sharpness to help illustrate what I considered a curious action. This is a katydid nymph, and katydids are vegetarian – or at least I thought they were. Yet this one is consuming a molted exoskeleton, which I suspect is its own. So does it count as cannibalism if you’re only eating a discarded skin? How about if it’s your own? Is this a particularly ‘green’ form of recycling? Please remit answers to the address below.

October 2015

unidentified mushroom with tatters
Okay, you’re welcome to accuse me of reaching now, but I still like this image and just never took an opportunity to post it. But one chilly fall morning I found a patch of larger mushrooms and chose one for a low angle approach; the little tatter is a great focal point in my opinion. Most mushrooms (that I’ve seen, anyway) erupt as kind of a sphere first, before this unfolds like an umbrella into the top shield (there are likely proper terms for these that I’m not going to bother looking up,) and this was a remaining fragment of that past state, like a poorly-cut pastry crust. The dappled sunlight communicates the conditions fairly well, I believe.

Anyway, I think that’ll do it for the year-end retrospective. There remains nothing to shoot around here, but if someone gives me a photo challenge or assignment I’ll be happy to tackle it in my free time – I would suggest the Caribbean or Belize or something, and I’ll let you know where you can send the tickets. Won’t even charge you for meals.

Do not read tag under penalty of law

It’s January, and that day you’ve been dreading is nigh – really, I don’t know why you keep reading this blog when you know what’s going to happen. Yes, I’m talking about the annual tag roundup, the time when we look back over the post tags that had only one use within the 1500-plus posts to see just why this might be.

On most blogs and suchlike phenomena, it’s because the topic has only been tackled once, and I have plenty of those; species names, mostly, but the names of articles that have been lambasted also get in there, and some topics that simply never came up again. But in these cases, it’s because the tag serves as additional commentary, usually something snarky from the little guy sitting on one of my shoulders, who has plenty of space up there because angels and devils are mythological and ludicrous. Unlike, you know, a sardonic alter-ego… can it be an alter-ego if my regular personality is snippish to begin with?

Pointless introspection aside, let’s dig to the bottom of the barrel and see what kind of muck has accumulated down there. Clicking on any of the tags will, naturally, take you to the post in question, probably making these the least-clicked links on the blog. I’ve said before that I’ll never have advertising on this site, but funny, I’ve never been asked either…

yeegads it doesn’t even have pincers or spikes or nothin’ – And you know how rare that is for this site.

stay on your side of the fence boah – Nature photography does have its hazards.

don’t roll your eyes at me – Also, “fitty towsen” and, really, every tag on that post.

boy that Turing – what a smart guy! – Too clever for my own good. Don’t make me explain this.

and that was the last we saw of Al – No such luck. But additionally, “I used to bullseye wharf roaches in my T-16 back home.” A case where the remainder of the movie quote is commentary on its own. Except I didn’t directly quote the movie, so if you don’t recognize how I altered it, good luck finding it…

the bitch hit me with a toaster – While I’m on the subject of movie quotes. That post has a fine selection of pop culture references that probably reflect my age too well. Also, “ya got any cornbread?”

uncooperative distant pedestrians – And how many times have we all thought exactly the same thing?

The little dickens – I was particularly proud of this one – don’t know why I never included it before.

tell me dammit – Didn’t work anyway.

that’s just you know my opinion man – It would work better if I could put commas in tags, but commas separate tags, so it’d come up as multiple tags of sentence fragments. But this post, a hugely important event in history, also includes “maybe I’d retire if this had helped pay for it” and more!

that’s how Maude bought it you know – Bet you’ve forgotten about this already. And if you have to ask what I’m talking about, I’m just going to tell you that you need to be on the webbernets more.

no it’s not a fucking ‘beanie’ jesus christ – Does it make you feel old when you use the same term that you’ve used for years and suddenly no one knows what the hell it means? But we go to the very next post for,

no combovers there either – Which is kind of a dirty trick, because it might take a bit of reading to get the reference, but I’m evil that way.

I didn’t want to see it in motion thank you very much – Also, “phlegm zeppelin,” which is an even better term than trash panda. With video!

of course I want cheese with it – Subtle, perhaps.

Hey I’m biking here! – Also “fly much Ten-Thousand-Eyes?” and “OMG I just hit somebody LOL Im such a klutz!”

bug photographers definitely gonna die out – I have no illusions.

butthole pachinko – Which also features “snotty chinos,” so you can see my dilemma in determining which should lead off. However, neither of these are actually mine, so there! Blame zefrank on this one (and go to that link.)

oh go ahead if you must – You’ll make me blush.

maybe “bugs and spiders” isn’t as much of a draw as I thought – Also, “first off stop whining.” But I said we were setting the pointless introspection aside…

how many horses ya got under that hood? – I can still see the car driving off…

Beau Blass or some shit – Also, “eradicate neckties now.” Join the movement!

Penultimately, we have “made you look!” and “now tell me if I missed any,” both tags on last year’s tag post, buried in among all of the others which I put in there partially to keep them from reappearing each year. Plus some other stuff. But I’d missed one: “spellcheck doesn’t like “Batlizard””… and nobody told me! Was this a practical joke, or do you mean to tell me no one checks all those tags at the bottom to ensure that I haven’t snuck in something?

Finally, “not to be confused with National S’More Time Day which is a fake holiday started by Hersheys” and “I myself follow the booby calendar” are both from the list of 2018 holidays, and that’s my segue, so let’s take a look at the holidays we all celebrated in the past year:

Find Something Hidden In The Shadows Day, January 29th

Ignore An Utterly Pointless Holiday Day, February 2nd

Relate An Obscenity-filled Story Day, March 21st

Put Something Off Until The Last Minute Day, April 26th

Relate Something That Happened Last Night That Has Nothing To Do With Alcohol Day, May 27th

Do Additional Research for a Blog Post Day, June 22nd… which some people might have found to be a load of fun, but I was working, so no time for levity. Even when it appeared so, I was just playing the part. Not done yet either, so the post is still is the works.

National Pointless Podcast Day, July 20th. No, I only celebrate this once a year – what’re you getting at?

Highly Debatable Humor Day, August 27th

International Look Back and Wonder What Happened Day, September 24th.

International I Need Some More Time Day, October 31st

Sudden Insight Day, November 17th

And of course, Forget Something Important Day, December 13th.

We’ll go back to the tags for a moment. To do these lists, I do a SQL query in the blog database that not only lists the tags, but how often they’ve appeared, so I can sort by the ones that have only appeared once (over 3300 at this point, when I’ve only done a little over 1500 posts.) On occasion, I spot a single-use tag that I’m almost positive should have been used more often – then I realize what happened. The spreadsheet that I use to do the sort has a spellcheck function, as does the blog – but this doesn’t apply to the tag window. Which is kind of small, and I’m often throwing them in there, and they can even scroll out of sight, so misspellings get in there from time to time. The spreadsheet can spot these of course, but it also picks up lots of proper names and scientific names that are spelled correctly, and things that I purposefully don’t capitalize like “christian,” as well as words that somehow never made it into the computer’s dictionary like “clickbait” and “fartsy” and “asshat.” But here are a small handful of the single-use tags that I wasn’t paying close enough attention to:

  • Amercian dream
  • Dayight Saving Time
  • Gerogia Sea Turtle Center (this is the one that caught me, since I’ve featured the place numerous times.)
  • healh
  • NC Musuem of Life & Science
  • not exactly photojurnalism
  • one goddman thing after another
  • pattern recogniton
  • praire kingsnake
  • resiving images
  • stablity
  • won’t somebody please think of the chidlren?
  • And now for some meaningless statistics. Last year contained 162 posts, which is about average among a fairly wide range (1 post in 2008, but c’mon, I started the blog December 27th, to 215 posts in 2017,) while I uploaded 496 photos, tied with last year – well above average, but still a far cry from 2017’s count of 706 photos. However, in July of 2018 alone I uploaded 103 images, which topped all other months to date – that’s largely due to this post with 29 photos alone, but this one and this one and this one had 14, 15, and 14 respectively. So I can’t feel too bad about the end of the year getting kinda slow.

    There will be a small handful of photos from last year that never made it into posts coming along, but this one is long enough for now – plus the more I stretch it out, the higher the post count goes, right? Get that headstart on a new record. So check back shortly – I’m still plugging away here despite the crummy weather.

    Almost had to get ugly there

    Last night I was planning on doing a few housekeeping chores on the blog structure, so I performed the standard database backup (to ensure that I could always restore back to an older version as needed,) then set to work. As is my habit now, I check the functionality after each change, confirming that nothing bad happened.

    Or, so I thought. Among the changes was catching up with updates, both with the current version of WordPress and with the installed plugins. Everything seemed fine until I went to create a new post this morning, and found some utter horseshit sitting where my normal post editor was. WordPress had been toying with a new editor function, something called Gutenberg, and finally decided to roll it out with version 5.0. I always wait for a couple of revisions following a whole new version, because bugs are virtually guaranteed, so I was updating to version 5.0.3 when I got greeted by this monstrosity.

    Plenty of software developers get involved in the, “let’s revamp the whole structure to make it cooler,” nonsense, which is one of the reasons that I never started doing web development on my own; I’m very much of the, “If it ain’t broke,” school, and usually couldn’t care less about the stupid-user-interface changes. That’s not referring to a stupid interface (though that’s usually the result anyway,) but instead an interface for stupid users, often icon-based, and with most of the useful editing tools buried someplace so all the options don’t scare the timid touch-screen crowd. And that’s exactly where Gutenberg is aimed. It took me a few minutes to figure out how to insert a goddamn image! Trying to activate either the old editor or simply some more complete toolbars failed. After a few obscenity-laden Google searches (noticing how many negative comments Gutenberg was getting in the process,) I found that there is a plugin to permit/reinstall the classic editor. I loaded that, and thankfully it worked perfectly, allowing both the previous post and this one to be done back the way that I always had.

    Meanwhile, the Impetuous Mr Bugg had changed his blog over to a new address, without warning or forwarding pages, making all of my links to him obsolete. This is no small number, and I was brainstorming how to go about updating these without a major headache, when I came across another plugin, Better Search Replace by Delicious Brains (I’m fairly certain that is not their birth name.) This allowed me to find all instances of his original URL and change them to the new one, including those to specific pages without needing to know each of them. Within a couple of minutes, all 41 links had been updated. Very smooth – I highly recommend this plugin if you find yourself in need. I should probably use it to correct all of my older references to Chinese mantises (there are several dozen) to reflect the new scientific name.

    I have found no plugin to get Mr Bugg to put his name and info on his site yet, though…

    Storytime 2

    cribellate orb weaver, possibly Uloborus glomosus, at buffet
    This is a spider from the family of cribellate orb weavers – near as I can tell, this is a genus Uloborus, and from the active range I’m leaning towards a U. glomosus. Curious body structure, to be certain, but this image from August 2010 marked the first time (and so far, the most detailed) that I captured a specimen from this family. They’re distinctive in that they’re the only spider family that has no venom.

    Now, the first thing I have to point out is that the reddish-brown thing is not its head, but its current meal, or what’s left of it – the arachnid was apparently loathe to relinquish the morsel even while it trussed up a brand spanking new leafhopper. Which is faintly amusing to me, because most monkey species will drop whatever food is in their hand if they have the opportunity to grab some more. This misshapen meal was blocking the spider’s eyes, so you’d think that was reason enough to at the very least set it aside, perhaps anchored someplace if the spider could determine some method of doing this, while putting its new meal in the to-go box, but here we are.

    Curiously, from the series of photos that I got at this time, it would appear that the species actually has fangs (chelicerae,) and so we come to the part that I’m wondering about, because as I said, they have no venom so they need nothing to administer this lack. Perhaps they have the fangs just as a prank, like those little spring-loaded fake stage knives, so they can scare their prey species:Ha ha!” they say right after they have plunged their fangs into a cringing caterpillar, “You thought you were going to start dissolving from the inside! That’s two for flinching!”

    This is the hazard of getting information in little chunklets, often from unreliable sources, because I’ve been slowly revising my understanding of arthropod habits over the years and (patently) don’t have an adequate understanding of them yet. Having been told that spider venom liquefies the organs of their prey so they spider can simply suck out this milkshake, I assumed that these handy little piercing bits also worked as straws. But no, the chelicerae are only venom-injectors; not all that long ago, I learned that spiders actually have mouths, hiding underneath behind the chelicerae, and that some of them simply chew up their prey (or what passes for such with their anatomy, anyway.) So, why does this species have them fangs? And two things occur to me: 1) because this family evolved from another which did have venom, and have the leftover fangs; or 2) that the chelicerae are functional holding/manipulating digits in their own right, which this photo would seem to attest to. Though I suppose there’s always a third option, which is that they obtained the fangs with the intention of developing venom, but just never got around to it. I know where I’d be putting my money…

    Back in my day…

    … we ate every bit of the mammoth!

    Okay, this is way before “my day,” whatever that may be; the camera I’m about illustrate was produced from 1949 to 1955 or so, a solid decade or more before I was even born. The camera that the family had while I was growing up was a Kodak Brownie Super 27, while my first camera, aside from yard-sale finds, was a Palmatic 110 from an unremembered manufacturer (I suspect whoever first used the word “palmatic” failed to register it and so several manufacturers ended up using the same name.) That camera had the option for an electronic flash, but I didn’t receive it and couldn’t afford it myself (I was twelve at the time, I think,) so I used Flip-Flashes for it, a plastic bar of eight flash bulbs, purposefully raised above the lens to prevent red-eye; fire off four shots, then flip the bar over to plug in the opposite end and fire off four more. No other options or controls, and even the film loading was via drop-in cassette, so hardly a challenging camera. When I later moved up to a true 35mm film camera, my mother happily took over the 110 camera and used it until the film could no longer be found, even after I bought her two 35mm cameras of her own.

    Eventually, I acquired a Graflex Graphic View II, which is a classic full-motion large format rail camera. I haven’t done a lot with it, for several different reasons which we’ll be coming to. But first, let’s examine the concept that is “large format.”

    Graflex Graphic View II large format camera
    What this refers to is the film size, which in this case is 4×5 inches, or 100×125 mm if you like – much bigger than a 35mm film frame (24×36 mm,) which itself is larger than the vast majority of DSLR digital sensors (15×23 mm, give or take – it varies by manufacturer.) Rather than making a huge roll of film to crank through some apparatus, the film comes instead in single sheets, reflecting its origin in chemically-treated metal plates, and later on glass panes, both of these well over a century old now. 4×5 film was the ‘portable’ version, reduced from the old standard of 8×10 inches. Roll film first appeared in the late 1800s, but couldn’t compete with the clarity and detail of sheet films, especially glass plates, for a long time.

    So with large format, this large piece of film pretty much takes up the entire back of the camera, and instead of putting a shutter curtain in front of the film itself (what’s called a focal plane shutter,) the shutter was built into the lenses, generally as an iris diaphragm that doubled as the aperture – in other words, it would slap open to a fixed point, the ‘f-stop’ setting of the camera, when the shutter was tripped. Most LF lenses come bundled complete with the shutter mechanism, though variations exist. This does, of course, make them expensive in their own right.

    Now, to throw an image over such a large area, the lens usually has to be further away from the film. Moreover, there was no such thing as ‘zoom’ (variable focal-length) lenses during the heyday of LF, so each lens was a fixed focal length. Thus, let’s say an object six meters from the lens would only be in sharp focus if the lens was 30 cm from the film (I’m making these up for brevity’s sake.) To focus, you moved the lens, mounted on its own board, the correct distance from the film.

    Which is where those bellows and rail and all that come in. The front of the camera, with lens board and lens attached, could slide forward and back as needed, usually on a small crank wheel attached to the rail, but sometimes on a track beneath the lens board (you’ll see these on the old pocketable rollfilm cameras.) To keep this heavy apparatus balanced on a tripod, usually both the front (lens) and back (film) portions of the camera could move independently.

    Achieving sharp focus was much more fun, and now you’ll know what those guys were doing under the dark sheet (usually, anyway – I won’t say they never took the opportunity to fish out a booger or anything.) Before the film was even put into place, a ground glass back was affixed to the exact same location that the film would be, and this would allow the photographer to see the image that would eventually make it to the film, since it acted as a see-through projector screen. But it had to be pretty dark to make it out clearly, so hiding under a blackout cloth was necessary. The photographer would put their head underneath, then open the shutter to throw the image onto the glass, and focus and compose the image as they desired. Once it was all set, they would lock down the settings and close the shutter.

    Graphic View II showing ground glass focusing screen and hood
    [You can see the ground glass focus screen here, the grey area within than pop-up hood, etched with grid markings to make composing images easier.]

    4x5 film holder

    Film holder with darkslide partially removed – note the dot pattern on the white edge of the reversible slide, used to tell if the film on that side has been exposed or not

    Then, they would remove or flip away the ground glass back, and insert a film cassette. With the old style glass pane film, this cassette was often wood and pretty bulky, but as acetate film came into common use, the film cassette could become slimmer and lighter, made of plastic and light metals. These, by the way, were preloaded in a darkroom, because of course the film couldn’t be exposed to light before the photo was taken. The 4×5 cassettes that I used are double-sided, one sheet of film per side, with a thin plate over top to seal out the light. By the way, large format film comes with a notch pattern along one edge, because film has to face a certain way, so loading it in complete darkness would be haphazard without this – the notch also tells the type of film you’re handling, a kind of photographers’ Braille. Which makes me wonder why cameras don’t have Braille markings on their controls. It’s discrimination…

    Once the film cassette is in place and the shutter has been confirmed closed, the cover plate over the film, called a darkslide, can be removed. At this point the film is ready for exposure, and the shutter can be safely tripped. Once the film has been exposed, the darkslide is reinserted and the cassette can be flipped over to use the second sheet of film therein.

    Let’s go over that again, right from the start, just so you get the entire idea. Get out on location and set up the tripod – this is typically very heavy, because the camera is heavy and the weight will make it more prone to tipping, plus it needs stronger materials just to be held motionless. Open up the camera case and take out the bellows and rails, and affix to tripod. Crank out both lens and film standards (the bellows end frames attached to the rail that hold their respective components) to rough working distances and to maintain balance. Select a lens, already attached to a lens board, and slot it into the lens standard. If necessary, affix the ground glass back, then drape the blackout cloth over top of the back of the camera.

    The *cough* author using a large format cameraGet underneath the cloth, and lock open the shutter (most shutters have separate controls to lock open, for focusing, or trip the shutter for exposing the film, more often in the fractions-of-a-second realm.) Adjust the standards and the tripod until the subject is framed as desired and in tight focus, and adjust aperture until desired depth-of-field is achieved. Lock down all controls. Close the shutter.

    Get out a film cassette and slot it into place – the Graphic View II has a spring-loaded glass back (‘Graflok’ back) that simply lifts up out of the way and lets the film cassette slide in underneath, so it doesn’t have to be swapped. Take out exposure meter and determine the proper exposure for the scene at hand and the already-selected aperture – no, there is no auto-exposure meter built anywhere into this assembly, so light readings have to be done with a handheld meter.

    Remove darkslide from film cassette. Ensure everything looks hunky-dory, and trip the shutter. Replace darkslide. Congratulations – you just took one frame of film!

    As you might imagine, large format isn’t used for anything except the most exacting of images – not sports, for instance. The benefit is the extremely fine detail that can be made into very large prints, because the film is so large and the grain commensurately smaller for the final print. But because so much time and effort is expended into just one frame, typically the photographer will ensure that everything is ideal, as perfect as possible, before tripping the shutter. This means a lot more time is spent picking the right location, the right conditions, and the right light – but it also means that nearly all images taken, once someone is familiar with the whole process anyway, are keepers. There is little to no experimentation – the photographer usually knows exactly what they’re going to get, and has paid attention to, for instance, how deep the shadows under the trees will render, and where the clouds are in the sky. Solely due to the effort involved, large format makes the photographer compose the image meticulously, ensuring that what they take will be captivating.

    In this way, it’s an interesting learning tool, but there are cheaper and easier ways to accomplish this too. One is the exercise of only shooting one frame a day, with the idea that it has to be a keeper, able to be displayed – I’ve done this a couple different times over the years, and it remains beholden to both conditions and available time. This can also be done by not limiting the number of shots per day, but still stipulating that at least one is meticulously planned and cannot be discarded. And then there’s simply the ‘checklist’ method, where you ensure that a list of factors has been checked or met before tripping the shutter – this can be as simple as ensuring the settings (like white balance and aperture) are optimal, or as complicated as following some specific composition rules like determining that every part of the frame contributes to the whole, or the subject maintains the proper framing and relationship to the background.

    But wait! We haven’t even touched on some of the unique reasons for using large format, or specifically one with full-motion standards. And for this, we’re going to have to illustrate some traits.

    First off, LF lenses are typically optimized for the flat plane. If you think about it, the center of any lens is closest to the center of the film plane, with the edges of the film plane being a smidgen further away, so LF lenses are ground to accommodate these slight differences – and well outside of the normal field of view too, because there’s a specific use for this.

    Let’s imagine shooting a tall building, for instance. To get it all in the frame, you’d have to tilt the camera back a bit and aim upward, and what this does is tilt the film plane too, with the end result that the film is no longer parallel to the front face of the building, with the top edge leaned away. Coupled with the lens distortion, this exaggerates the ‘taper’ of the top of the building and makes it seem to be leaning away from the camera/viewer (and in a way, it is.)

    Graphic View II with forward standard shift
    So instead of tilting the camera back, the film plane is maintained vertical and parallel to the building, and the front standard with the lens attached is raised vertically – itself still parallel to the building too, but much higher horizontally than the rear film standard. You might think that this means the image doesn’t even reach the film, but LF lenses are designed with this in mind, and throw a large enough image area that the film still falls within the circular image projected by the lens. Basically, the light path is not horizontal, but at a vertical diagonal, with the far end being the top of the building and the near end being the film itself. With film plane and lens held parallel to the building, the leaning distortion vanishes. They even make specialty lenses for SLRs that can do this same trick, called tilt-shift lenses, and they’re expensive as hell while having a limited application, largely because the mirror box (the space between the lens and film/sensor where the reflex mirror sits) is only so big and cannot accommodate much of a shift in the light path.

    A full-motion rig can also maximize depth-of-field, especially for closeup subjects where the depth often drops much shorter – the more you magnify something, the shorter the depth-of-field. So picture a scene with an insect or reptile or something. Typically, the top of the frame contains stuff that is further from the camera than the bottom of the frame, with the subject (the focused point) falling in the middle. This can mean that the top and bottom of the frame go out of focus, because they’re not at the right focal distance. But if we tilt the rear film standard to mimic this slope, leaning the top forwards while keeping the front lens standard vertical, we tilt the film closer to the focal distance for as much of the frame as possible, increasing the sharpness of those areas which are not at the focal distance, and making depth-of-field increase greatly.

    Except, we actually tilt the film backwards, because all lenses throw the image upside-down onto the film/sensor, so we have to move the bottom forwards, because that’s the top of the photo. And yes, this means that, when composing and focusing the image on the ground glass, it’s upside-down.

    This trick has also been used in reverse, usually on large scenic images, tilting the standards to minimize depth-of-field and throw everything but that at the correct focal distance well out of focus – there are even digital filters to do this now without needing a tilting film plane. When this is done, it gives the appearance of a macro photo with its very short depth-of-field, and can make a standard landscape suddenly appear to be a model, just because the focus seems to indicate this.

    I still have this camera, but haven’t dug it out in a while. Large format doesn’t lend itself very often to what I shoot, and I never developed the style and subject matter to take best advantage of it – this would typically be large size prints of elaborate landscapes (or, you know, big group portraits intended to fill a lobby or something.) I did a few experiments on B&W film, developed myself and contact printed, but did little more than that. Right now, the market for my own images isn’t what it should be, and I can’t imagine developing a market for specialty large format slides. Still, it remains in my possession until I either sell it to an enthusiast or decide to start working on a different aspect of photographic work.

    4x5 monochrome contact print

    8×10 inch contact print of 4 experimental negatives

    Confession time

    Three years ago on this very day, I wrote about a curious enigma, a potentially mystical path known as Squirrel Level Road. I’m going to encourage you to go read that post first, because it’s important to the thread. When I wrote it I was working from memory, which I pride myself on.

    Or used to. You see, since that time, I’ve had to drive through the area twice, or four times if you prefer, because it was two round-trips. The first pass, I saw no vestige of Squirrel Level Road and suspected that, having drawn so much attention to it with my voluminous readership, the otherworldly properties of that curious path caused it to vanish from sight, perhaps to reappear someplace deeper in the hills. But on the return trip, I spotted the signs, big and distinct and clear, “Squirrel Level Road,” indicating that I wasn’t imagining it after all.

    Except, this was not just a sign on an overpass, and not in rural Virginia, and even had its own exit. It was right at the edge of Petersburg which, while not a huge metropolis, cannot really be called “rural.” So much for my memory. And of course, with its own exit I could have stopped easily at any time to see this peculiarly-monikered footpath for myself.

    I didn’t, however; a reflection of my driving habits. Even with the shortest leg of my journey ahead of me, I still had two hours of road time to go, with much, much longer on the outward portion, and couldn’t convince myself to take the time out of my trips to reassure myself that the road really existed. No, not even for the obvious excitement that a follow-up post about it would have generated. I did examine it on Google Maps, and determined that it probably wasn’t a highly traveled road after all, barely meriting its own exit, so there yet remains the idea that setting foot or tire on it might not be the wisest choice.

    While I’m at it, I’ll tell you that I also found the exit in West Virginia that I mentioned in the same post, the one where a weary traveler could pray all they want but couldn’t pee. That can be found off of Interstate 64/77 right at the town (and I use that word loosely) of Sharon, West Virginia. The town was as I recalled, but it was nowhere near as far south as I remembered being for that trip, so we can see that my memory, again, isn’t what I believed it was. Getting old – but we knew that already.

    Actually, I think I’m supposed to be at work right now…

    *    *    *    *

    I just have to note this. After finishing this post but before I published it, I checked my e-mail and had received a bit of spam entitled, “Have tinnitus and ringing ears? Your memory could be next.”

    At this point, it should go without saying that I have tinnitus, but at least I have something to blame now. Not my age at all. Nope.

    Let’s milk this subject some more

    This is going to be another observation about our visit to the North Carolina Museum of Art last month, and yes, it’s coming from one of the Great Unwashed, so feel free to skip ahead if that bothers you.

    We pretty much toured the entire museum, which included the multi-faceted European section; plenty of examples of the styles and techniques usually considered ‘classic’ and what most people think of when it comes to discussing art – you know, Rembrandt and Botticelli and so on. I admit we skipped past the Italian Medieval section, which mostly consisted of flat depictions of people with halos. Grouped together as they were, it was easy to see an overriding style, a popularity of approach within each of the periods, but there’s always the question of whether the majority of artists at those times tended to stay within those styles, or if only those that did were selected to represent the galleries (or even became popular because they stuck with a particular style.) Were there cubists during the Renaissance that people simply thought were talentless hacks?

    But then, in the Dutch section we came across a prominently-displayed still life, Banquet Piece by Jan Jansz. den Uyl, which was immediately impressive. After a very large number of drab-colored depictions of people with disturbing proportions in unrealistic poses, this one had an almost photographic quality to it, inordinate attention to detail and accuracy. Listen, I’m cool with impressionism and moods and such, but I personally find the real talent is depicting something as it is. There’s a part of me that believes too many artists, struggling to get the skin tones right, simply give up and claim it’s representative of some damn thing or another. But hey, you can see it for yourself because it’s public domain under Wikimedia Commons:

    Banquet Piece by Jan Jansz. den Uyl

    Banquet Piece – Jan Jansz. den Uyl, from the North Carolina Museum of Art collection, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons


    Clicking on this, by the way, will take you to the source page where you can see it in better detail than we even could in person. It took me a little while to find this, because I couldn’t remember the name (I was thinking Van Der Rijk,) but my webbernets expertise paid off.

    I will draw attention to the light quality overall, especially the reflections and shadows, but also the texture of the linen – exacting attention to detail. Moreover, the perspective on all these elaborately-shaped vessels is bang-on, something that can be hard to get right even when copying from real life or a photo – it’s easy to take the curve a little too much in the wrong direction (yes, I speak from a bare minimum of experience, because I still draw and paint a little.) Note the highlights on the golden centerpiece, and the reflection of the linen in the lid of the overturned pitcher to the left. It’s easy to believe that he was working from a staged scene in front of him rather than imagination, to be this accurate, and it’s still impressive for that.

    However…

    There’s one little aspect that was missed, something that didn’t quite ring true. If you like these kind of challenges, I’ll let you check out the image to see if you spot the same thing that I did.

    I’ll just add a few dead lines in here to carry the reveal down out of immediate sight.

    No peeking ahead now.

    Dum de dum de dum de dum…

    Found it? Okay, well, first off, I’ll mention the owl that can be seen at the top of the golden thing, because Uyl (the artist’s name) is Dutch for owl, and so he usually included an owl someplace in his paintings. That’s not what I was talking about, but a bit of trivia that was listed on the plaque in the museum, which would have made it much easier to find had I remembered it.

    What I’m referring to instead is the glass goblet right in the center. I suspect, actually, that this was not part of his original composition or the setting itself, but added later on, because the details seen through the glass have no distortion at all. From long experience shooting into aquariums and various glass containers, I know that even seeing at an angle through perfectly smooth and clear glass will distort what’s beyond it, and this will be enormously so when it comes to curved glass – that’s what defines a lens, after all. But the objects behind it in the painting haven’t the faintest indication of this, and having gone into the really big version available at the source, I can find no evidence that it was not painted over top of the finished painting, a later addition. In fact, there’s another bit of evidence for this, something that I didn’t notice until writing this post. Now that you know where to look, can you spot that?

    [I really am curious to know how many people find it with these clues – maybe it’s obvious, maybe not, I don’t know. I just know I missed the second one, even though I spotted the first in the museum within a minute or so of examining the painting.]

    There appears to be no reflection whatsoever of the glass goblet in that same pitcher that reflects the linen, though you can see the reflection of its own handle, as well as the centerpiece and possibly the candle holder. There might be a faint indication of it, the bright spots between the reflections of the gold/brass items, but that’s hardly as distinct as I would imagine it to be, seeing as how the goblet appears to be resting against the handle of the pitcher itself.

    It’s easy for me to believe that the goblet was added in, perhaps to provide a little more detail to the center of the scene, perhaps because the artist wanted to play around with glass and reflections some more (and except for the lack of distortion, it’s really well done.) So far, nothing that I’ve come across has made any mention of it, but I admit I haven’t looked very hard into the painting’s history. I know some artists often tinkered with their work, never really finding their favorite pieces to be ‘done,’ and I’ve been that way with model kits at times (not trying to make a direct comparison, just observing that I know the feeling,) so maybe this was the case here? Can’t say, but I felt like pointing it out. I have to admit that I appreciate the realism that the still life trend brought to paintings, and that I don’t even want to know how many hours this took.