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 will be present for the Visitors Bureau Open House on Tuesday, December 11th from 5-8 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 (like, 62) 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…”

A flash of light

Today, I have just now discovered, is Sudden Insight Day, which is kind of an odd holiday; what, are we supposed to provoke a sudden insight somehow? If it was that easy, we’d have a lot more scientific discoveries each November. So for my own part, I’m going to relate a recent insight that occurred to me, and we’ll consider that appropriate.

The flight up to Ohio last month was at night, and I settled into my window seat to enjoy the view, which was almost completely clear for the entire trip. I am a bit of a flying enthusiast, not getting anywhere near the opportunities that I’d like, so instead of playing on my phone or sleeping or thumbing through a catalog of overpriced and useless items, I’m generally looking out the window. The significant difference to the routine, this trip, was having a smutphone; I did not possess one the last time I flew. This addition allowed me to do some GPS tracking while in flight, even though I could not get a connection to any mapping service for complete plotting.

Looking down on rural West Virginia at one point, I caught a flash of light out of the corner of my eye, back behind and to the right of our aircraft. We were flying at better than 25,000 feet, so details on the ground tend to be broader rather than the fine details of cars or even parking lots, and this was a distinctive bright flash, growing and then receding in brightness quickly. I looked, but it did not repeat, making me more than a little curious. The effect was similar to a rotating beacon, reaching peak brightness as it faces directly towards you before diminishing rapidly again, and I’ve spotted plenty of airport beacons in this manner, but not at such an altitude and not without easily seeing the pattern. I might have put it down to an electrical storm, but I was seeing far too many ground details to believe there was even a small thunderhead in the area. After a few moments I looked away.

Perhaps fifteen seconds later, it came again, not quite as bright, and then as I zeroed in on it I saw it again, this time fully focused, yet no closer to knowing what it was – just that it was inordinately bright. Again, I could see the glows of nearby towns, so one light source would have to be overwhelming for it to appear that way. And all of a sudden, I had it.

It was the night of a full moon, which was just out of sight beyond the top of the plane window in that direction, and what I was seeing were the reflections of the moon itself on bodies of water, as the plane quickly passed through the narrow path of them. No sooner did I realize this than it became readily apparent, as we passed over a winding river that made the reflection trace a serpentine path along a stretch for a few seconds. Still freaky looking, but entirely recognizable once I knew what I was looking at. Not long after that, a lake gave me an unobstructed and undistorted view of the entire moon for a second.

Looking at the map just now, I might have been seeing reflections off of the meandering Little Kanawha River; I’m fairly certain I was looking at Parkersburg, West Virginia not long afterward, on a recognizable sharp bend in the Ohio River, and was wondering what one largish light source was. If I have the town correct, it was probably the well-lit parking lot of the medical center there. Next time, I’ll preload some maps into the phone.

Per the ancient lore, part 36

Atlantic bottlenose dolphins Tursiops truncatus being typical
Can you guess the category for today’s Ancient Lore image(s)? No, it’s not ‘Aquatic.’ No, it’s not ‘Beach.’ No, it’s not ‘Lakes/Streams/Waterfalls.’ We’re doing these in alphabetical order, and we last had ‘Leaves/Plants/Trees,’ so what must be next? You should have memorized the order of the folders by now.

That’s right, it’s ‘Mammals,’ a surprisingly underpopulated category among my stock images – you’d think a nature photographer would have a decent selection in there, but I guess I suck. Anyway, that image up there isn’t even the featured one, it just illustrates things slightly better, having been taken the same day and a minute or so before. “Before what?” you say, “Get to the freaking point, Al,” but you should have known by now that wouldn’t work. Anyway, we find ourselves once again atop the causeway, looking down into the Indian River, full name Indian River Lagoon, more specifically the sound behind the barrier islands on the Atlantic, mid-coast side of Florida. It was pretty much salt water, with access to the ocean many kilometers north and south of this region, but broad enough to make numerous ocean inhabitants happy enough, and among them were the Atlantic bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus.) However, one had to be sharp-eyed to even see them most times, and even faster on the draw with the camera to get any kind of photos, because the typical behavior of dolphins is to surface as if they were cresting the top of a very small hill, exposing their blowhole for about a second before disappearing beneath the surface again. Moreover, this is almost completely unpredictable, far less of a pattern than you might imagine. So even when in prime viewing conditions from the height of the causeway with excellent light, getting a decent shot was challenging, and in fact, after all these years I still don’t have anything that I would consider printable, even with the help of a dolphin tour.

And it’s worse, believe it or not, with autofocus, which needs a certain amount of contrast to lock onto a subject, something that doesn’t often spring up with subjects beneath the surface. Add in the shutter lag for the older digital cameras, and the aforementioned brevity in appearance, and you end up with a very frustrating shooting session – generally, the discarding of numerous shots of blank water, a blurry subject, or if you’re lucky a disappearing tail. Expect to cuss a lot.

The notable aspect of this particular session was, one of the dolphins had been progressing steadily closer, starting to come in right underneath my position (I may have shifted along the bridge to accommodate this, of course,) when it spotted prey, likely a ladyfish or tarpon. Immediately, the placid, ‘strolling’ nature of the dolphin’s progress changed to hot pursuit, and it bulleted through the water after the fleeing fish, easily three times as fast as it had been going. Dolphins, however, are still massive creatures, many times more than its intended prey, so the fish had a distinct edge in maneuverability and used this to good advantage. The dolphin was likely faster, but the fish could turn a lot better, and the chase was something to watch.

At one point, just as the dolphin was almost within seizing range, the fish snapped off to one side and the dolphin attempted to emulate it, twisting so hard during its frenetic chase that it completely overturned, rolling all the way over from its own momentum and utterly destroying any concept of the grace of these sea creatures, and that might be what I captured here.

Atlantic bottlenose dolphins Tursiops truncatus rolling over during pursuit of prey
First off, the intended meal is that dark streak towards the center of the image – the dolphin had indeed been very close. And the wandering autofocus has made its effect known. But you’re seeing the side of the dolphin here; that distinct fin is not the the dorsal (back) fin that we’re all familiar with, but a pectoral, since the dorsal points towards the lower right corner here. You can just make out a hint of the paler underside pointing away from us. The odd shapes up towards the head of the dolphin, to the left, are likely air expelled during the desperate maneuver.

It might well have been more impressive with video, and the camera had the capability, but bear in mind that the chase started abruptly and lasted perhaps eight to ten seconds (the dolphin effectively lost its prey when it rolled over,) so even if I’d been instantly ready to switch, the very act of doing so might have meant capturing nothing, especially with trying to regain focus again on rapidly twisting subjects under the surface. It’s a shame, because I’d love to snag clips like this, but between the demands of the conditions and the sporadic, fleeting nature of such behavior, the chances remain very low – we’ll just have to see what happens. But in the meantime, here’s another story of a hungry dolphin, one that was absolutely breathtaking to see.

Book review: Dinosaurs for Kids

It’s been a while since the last, mostly because I haven’t been reading that many new books, but I just had to put this one in here. When we did that “All Hallows Read” thing for Halloween, The Girlfriend had procured a fine selection of books, for all age groups, by shopping through the secondhand book and thrift stores. But as we were setting them out, one in particular caught my eye, or more specifically, the author of one caught my eye.

cover of Dinosaurs for Kids by Ken HamIf you’re not familiar with the name, Ken Ham is a notorious Young-Earth Creationist, known for his debates with Bill Nye and his cute-as-buttons ark park in Kentucky, where he espouses his ideas about biblical literalism – essentially, the [christian] bible is absolutely true in all regards, even when blatantly contradicting itself. And of course, one of those absolutes is the timeline of creation, establishing that the Earth is only around six thousand years old because that’s all the generations that have been outlined therein. We know this because… because. It says so right there in the bible, and unlike every other book in the world, the bible cannot contain prevarications, myths, or self-serving fables. You may think I’m being snarky, but Ham says as much himself right in his book.

Naturally, I removed the book from the collection of stuff that we were handing out after bringing it to the attention of The Girlfriend, who was grateful – she was unfamiliar with the author and had not skimmed the content, but was horrified at the potential reaction of any recipients: whether or not they were in line with this vapid concept of YEC, they still would have thought we were. Such an impression probably wouldn’t have lasted long anyway, because I have great fun chasing away all of the religious recruiters that come to the door and with no attempt to hide my derision, but still…

As I was taking the photos to illustrate this post, I decided to go ahead and do a full review – it was a children’s book, after all, and wouldn’t take long to read the entire thing; probably about as long as to type the review, really. Did I come up against anything unexpected? Not really. It was as disappointing as you might imagine.

paragraph from Dinosaurs for Kids by Ken Ham, in case you had any questions about approachFirst off, no one is going to mistake this for a book on dinosaurs, despite Ham’s best efforts to list a lot of them. This is evangelical indoctrination, pure and simple, a hamfisted (a ha ha) attempt to use a subject that kids find popular to try and instill his own concept of biblical literalism. We’re not even talking the hoary old ‘Teach the Controversy’ idea, because he does not present controversies, only the idea that scientists are wrong, because bible. When he is presenting the fossil evidence of body types and habitats, for instance, he is content to simply refer to “scientists,” but when it comes to ages and diet, he begins to make the distinctions of “secular scientists” and “creation scientists,” a division to be found among evangelists and nowhere else, since science is not built around ideology, but around the strength of the research. This research is openly dismissed within the book whenever it fails to support any biblical passages, regardless of how much evidence and interconnectedness it demonstrates; Ham even goes so far as to say, multiple times, that secular scientists “guess” at how old things are, completely failing to address the huge body of work that supports the consensus of a 4.5 billion-year-old Earth.

Most noticeable, of course, are the gymnastics he goes through to present the adorable idea that all animals were vegetarian until they left the garden of eden, so those long sharp teeth of so many species? Yep, for plants; carnivorousness came about after all that sinning from adam and eve and the expulsion from paradise. Why did the animals receive god’s wrath over the actions of two humans? Like all others who find this story worth repeating, he never says, though he did try passing off the chestnut that every last person in the world, save for the eight people in noah’s family, were all sinners again, thus the flood. And yes, dinosaurs were on the ark, dying out sometime in the last four thousand years after this occurred.

Ham, as expected, repeats the curious concept of ‘kinds’ to try and explain away how this was supposed to take place. Even though it’s abundantly obvious from the biblical passages that the word “kinds” is interchangeable with “species,” Ham assumes that the bible was written in modern English and “kinds” instead refers to much broader groups; thus, noah only needed a representative pair of, say, horned dinosaurs to breed every last species of them that we have evidence of. Yes, he completely ignores the bare fact that he has just espoused evolution with this idea.

inside cover of Dinosaurs for Kids by Ken HamThis is why I never feel particularly threatened by books of this ilk. It is very easy for a questioning child to find all of the flaws in his desperate flailing, and even if their childhood was fully immersed in such selective ‘education,’ interactions with the broader world will soon start to show the myriad problems. As will the progress of (real) science, as his comment that we have never found a dinosaur fossil with feathers was overturned just a few years after publication. It won’t matter to Ham and his fellow YECs; if it has feathers, it must be a ‘bird kind,’ despite the fact that it doesn’t have wings, despite the fact that its skeleton is structured only for running, despite the fact that the feathers could never support any kind of flight. Dinosaurs are “beasts of the earth,” separate from “birds of the air.” It says so right there in the same passages that speak of a flat earth with four corners…

Mostly, however, I find such tactics to be deplorable because of two things. The first, that religious folk so often target children for their efforts because they know that such horseshit won’t fly with adults; mold the impressionable minds early on, and forcefully at that. Ham uses the words “true” or “truth” no less than 24 times within, always while contradicting the knowledge established through thousands of points of evidence, and never really explaining why he feels the bible overrides everything else – blind faith despite the countless issues. This is why, in fact, the concept of ‘faith’ even exists, because ‘confidence’ in a religious viewpoint cannot be established with any modicum of applied reason. Reason, however, and demonstrations and bodies of evidence and predictive abilities, are the boogeymen of religious indoctrination, which relies instead primarily on repetitive assertion. If you say it enough times it must be true, a word I find nearly always as self-contradictory as “professional” is when applied to equipment and tools.

The second reason that I dislike such indoctrination tactics is that it sets the child up for interactions that simply cannot come out well, and there’s no way I can believe that the majority of evangelists who promote such tactics do not know this. They seem to feel that arming a child with glib little sayings such as, “Were you there?” (in response to every last bit of evidence disproving creation) is making good little soldiers out of them, and not embroiling them in an (at best) embarrassing situation, but much more likely something that seriously impedes their social interactions for years to come. Fostering a smug and arrogant attitude coupled with so much overwhelming ignorance is a fantastic way to see that your warriors get their asses handed to them rather than simply corrected; eventually, it’ll establish that ‘humility’ that seems to be a byword of so many religions, but it’s a much harder path that starting off with it in the first place.

This says nothing whatsoever of the child’s ability to pursue any kind of serious education later on; when you think about it, evangelists really are trying to establish a community of uneducated, unquestioning, and well-nigh useless drones. That’s good for them, I suppose, as long as there are enough donations on the plate, but I can’t imagine how this could be considered progressive or good for any society. And of course, we have countless demonstrations around the world right now of exactly what kind of society this produces; theocracies are not among the major movers and highest standards of living in the world – quite the opposite, in fact.

It’s easy to claim that Ham, and the audience that he targets with such books, are among the minority even of religious folk within the US; the majority don’t believe in a young earth or biblical literalism or dinosaurs on the ark, even if they buy the asinine ark story in the first place. I’ve even heard the protest personally, on top of countless times online. My frank response is, “Don’t tell me; tell him.” I don’t care what your personal standpoint is, and it isn’t going to change my opinion of religion. But it shouldn’t ever be solely up to the outspoken atheists to promote solid science and following the evidence, and recognizing how beneficial these are to us all; if we’re concerned about doing something good, well, the targets and goals should be clear.

*     *     *     *

I’m going to add a little of the discussion that took place between The Girlfriend and I regarding the eventual fate of this book. She’s loathe to discard any book, which is fine, but I obviously felt that re-donating it to any thrift store wasn’t in anyone’s best interests. I can understand her feelings about destroying books, and recognize that it’s almost a form of censorship, even though this is one copy that we own, and not an attempt to stop it from appearing anywhere else. She did not, however, acquiesce to donating it back with a lot of notes added in, which I felt would have been the most fun overall ;-)

Looking back while time is scarce

Just so you know, today is the 4th anniversary of Philae touching down (bouncing repeatedly off of) comet C67/P Churyumov-Gerasimenko – I say this so you have time to make dinner plans.

I keep thinking that I’m past the busy spell and can finally start posting a bit more regularly, but this has yet to be proven. Still, I’ve got a little time today, even if I have no recent photographs to pass along, so while my gut is playing games, I’ll try to tackle one that’s been sitting in the background for a little while now. In fact, during a quiet spell I actually attempted a little work on this while in Ohio, but didn’t get very far. At the same time, Halloween produced another post idea, and here we are twelve days past that and no closer to it than before.

I’ll use this opportunity to briefly touch on the initial reactions to the photo exhibit. First off, the staff at the Visitors Bureau seemed to approve, and at least one person there mentioned their favorites. When the 2nd Friday Art Walk arrived, we had a small collection of visitors – more than normal, I’m told – but the night was chilly and drizzly, so not conducive to prowling around downtown for the sake of art. But overall, the response was pretty positive, I have to admit; there were the typical and expected responses of, “Very nice,” which I usually take to mean, “Ehhhh,” but that came from two couples, while everyone else seemed quite enthusiastic and complimentary, and honestly so (if I’m any judge, anyway – we all know how weird I am.) People seemed quite taken with many of the images, and I have a couple of new potential students that may arise from the show, which has only been up a week so far. Most curious were the comments, multiple times, that the ‘creepier’ subjects were the favorites; two people admitted to being big herpetology fans (so, lizards and frogs,) while another would have liked to have seen my spider photos. This is amusing to me, because The Girlfriend and I specifically chose to limit such photos, concentrating more on scenic and Carolina-themed images to fit in with the Visitor Bureau vibe, as well as avoiding the kind of subjects that people might find icky. Me being me, I was not about to eradicate all of the creepy subjects (and I did pick the more fartistic compositions of such,) but I’m entertained by the idea that I might have gotten away with more.

Anyway, on to the main subject.

The author testing out a macro periscope, by Paul Denelsbeck
I had a project that went through multiple stages over a period of many years, from idle conception to working model, which you see here (that’s me without the beard, right there in my old haunt of the Indian River Lagoon in Florida, with the causeway in the background.) Basically, it was a reverse-periscope for photographing aquatic subjects right in their own front yard, or, uh, whatever. The body of it is that green portion with the black collar, attached to a monopod that also supported the camera in a precise position in relation to the periscope. It was all carefully planned to use the Sigma 105mm macro lens, between the shape of the lenshood and the view angle of the lens itself.

display view of reverse periscopeThe key portion that promoted the whole thing from an idea to a work-in-progress was a front-silvered mirror, and let me explain. Most mirrors are back-silvered, the reflective surface being on the back side of the glass because it’s delicate and easy to scratch. But doing any photography, especially high-magnification photography, with one of those means there are always secondary ‘ghost’ reflections from the front surface of the glass, so the goal is the make the front surface the most reflective. I thought this was going to be a tricky thing to purchase until I came across replacement side-mirror panels in an auto parts store; the unfinished back was exactly what I was looking for, and it was available in larger pieces for truck mirrors. The remainder is all PVC pipe and a piece of clear acrylic for the viewing window. The elbow is actually a T-joint cut on a precise diagonal and sanded flat for the mirror to mount to, and I painted it all green both the reduce its obvious contrast to any undersea denizens that I got close to, and to cut the glow from reflected light onto the photo subjects and surroundings. On the black collar (a simple reducer) was mounted a 1/4-20 threaded insert for a standard tripod screw, as well as a 3/8-16 threaded stud for a mini ballhead to hold a flash unit, which could be aimed to fire into the water just ahead of the scope. Seen behind the camera is a Manfrotto 3028 head, which as far as I’m concerned is a necessary tripod head for anyone into esoteric photography experiments, since it can get into countless different angles, and was the only one that would accommodate the needs here. All submerged seams were sealed with silicone, and the inside of the whole assembly was painted deep matt black to eradicate internal reflections – before the mirror and viewport were attached, of course. Planning ahead a little can make things much easier.

So with all that, did it work? Well, kinda…

kings crown conch Melongena corona in persicope view
It was constructed around the 105mm macro, since that could focus closest and sharpest, but also had to have a certain length to be of any use at all – bear in mind that the longer focal length ‘true’ macro lenses hadn’t been released when I started the project, nor were they within my budget range at any point during construction, but I had the ability to use a 2x teleconverter to produce an effective focal length of 210mm, too (not used for the test shots here.) Essentially, it did work as intended, but the conditions that would permit it were pretty narrow, and at the same time I was doing aquarium photography, which was several times easier and more versatile. Obviously, one had to either cope with a circularly vignetted image, or have enough magnification to completely overlap the rectangular photo frame.

[By the way, that’s a king’s crown conch, Melongena corona, in that shot, not a true conch but a sizable carnivorous snail instead, and not something that you want to step on, because their shells are fairly sharp and incredibly durable. This specimen is probably 5-6 cm in length, and this image was taken with the Sony F-717 instead of the Canon Elan IIe seen at top.]

More noticeable were the vagaries of use. It still had to be pretty close to a subject, so one that wouldn’t spook too easily. Often, this meant something resting on the bottom, thus angles became an issue (especially since I was trying not to drive the scope down into the sand and shells.) And within these parameters, even a flash unit was going to provide more top light than frontal. So it didn’t see much use. I did make a straight unit though, just a tube with a port on the end, for shooting more-or-less straight down into the water, and this might eventually see some use again (though I’ll have to rebuild it, since I discarded both during a move, being the worse for wear in the intervening years.)

minnows in front of periscope
This was the first of the tests, and an amusing one at that. I was using the pond behind the apartment complex, first just for water tightness and methods of stabilizing – I will note that any such device will be buoyant, trying to push back to the surface, enough to potentially tip over a tripod, which is why I switched to a monopod that I could actively press down, and also move a lot easier. But once everything seemed kosher, I needed something to photograph, within a very short distance of the viewport, and so I cheated a bit. I made up a collection of tiny breadballs and began dropping them in front of the periscope to coax the minnows within range, which worked pretty damn well – there are roughly thirty within the narrow field of view here. This was before the scope was painted so I think some of the light is sunlight reflected from the white surfaces.

But as I was working on the support rig and the depths and all that, I was out there barefoot sprawled by the water’s edge, and eventually stretched one foot out into the water for better bracing. After a moment or so I felt a curious tickling, and looked down at my foot to see what was happening…

author's foot being viciously attacked by piranhas
As you can see, I’m lucky to still be here, and walking unassisted to boot. The hazards of nature photography abound…

[Yes, that’s a fanny pack in the topmost photo – calm down. It worked a hell of a lot better for wading and biking than anything else, including a backpack that has to be taken off to access.]

Per the ancient lore, part 35

cattail bullrush Typha reflection in drainage channel
This week we return to the Leaves/Plants/Trees folder, a little abstract reflective image taken in the drainage channel behind the apartment complex where I lived while in Florida. I have to note that drainage channels in Florida are the size of some shipping canals in other countries, primarily because Florida decided very early on that it held nothing but disdain for the drizzly, off-and-on rain showers that many other states practiced. When it rains in The Sunshine State (which is nearly every afternoon in the summer,) it does so with a demonstration of efficiency that is breathtaking. Water has to be delivered and there’s no time to waste, so the goal is to be done with it all within seven minutes, and often it only takes three. The dam bursts and it hammers down, then stops and the sun comes back out again in moments, and if you happen to have gotten caught in it, relax, because you’ll be dry again in 20 minutes or so. And I say this knowing that you think I’m exaggerating…

But anyway, to accommodate such deluges, the ‘ditches’ that are provided are usually deep and voluminous – so much so that the one in front of the complex, by the roadside, was two meters deep and housed non-too-small turtles all year round. Mind you, the water wasn’t that deep, more along the lines of 10-20 centimeters, but the capacity was there. Out back, the channel was even larger, easily capable of handling a small boat, and I never did determine how deep it was.

[I will also note that many of these channels were created to actually maintain large patches of dry land, since Florida is prone to swamps and wetlands and marshes, not the most inviting of geography for housing developments. The solution is the cut deep drains for the water and use the soil from those cuts to raise and level out the land more, and it largely works.]

On the same day that this was taken, I happened across a Florida gar (Lepisosteus platyrhincus) lying in the grass near the channel – rather curiously, when I thought about it.

Florida gar Lepisosteus platyrhincus lying in grass alongside drainage channel
Somewhere around 50-60 cm in length, it was still alive, and not far from the water but not immediately alongside it either, with the surface being some 2 meters away laterally and one beneath it. I initially suspected that it had been caught by a fisherman and left there, but there was no visible hook injury and it seemed odd that, if an unwanted catch, it would be discarded there and not simply tossed back in. But it also seemed like a good distance to have jumped on its own accord. We had otters that foraged in the area, and of course countless wading birds, but again, no visible injuries. Eyeing those teeth warily, I picked it up and tossed it back into the channel.

And I have to note, when I remembered this image and had to go back and find it in the Aquatic folder, that I had to go much further down in the list than I had for the cattails that were taken on the same day, because between the river visits and the aquarium that I maintained, I have a disproportionate number of aquatic subjects over the vegetational, at least during that period in my life. I suppose I should try to maintain a more balanced diet of photographic subjects…

Have a nice trip, see your first fall

patch of fall colors in Ohio
I mentioned in the most recent podcast about going to Ohio for a few days, and I’d gotten back just over a week ago as I type this. It was a “help out friends” type of trip, but we ended up doing more than just the planned tasks. We had intended to do a small side trip, but the weather wasn’t cooperative, so (to indulge me a bit,) we hit a small local park instead, where I could take advantage of the autumn colors that were developing apace up there. They were actually running late this year, since they usually peaked third week in October or so and hadn’t yet during my trip, but I could still do the selective thing and fired off a few frames in the overcast conditions.

I’ve mentioned before that this is how I often pursue them, and the truth is, it can be very hard to find a broad landscape where the colors are all ‘popping’ – different species of tree all tend to change colors at different times, so it takes finding a collection of species about on the same schedule, yet different enough to provide a variety of color, and this really doesn’t occur in many places at all. Just to illustrate, I include this image across a small valley, showing how sporadic the bursts of color often are.

broad shot showing selective fall colors
So, you go in closer and choose the bits that dominate the frame and give everyone the impression that the whole region is colorful (unless you’re dumb enough to tell them that it isn’t or, much worse, actually show them.) Overall, however, there were more of the species of trees that do get pretty colorful than I normally see around here, and the colors were notably vibrant, so this brief trip was enough to provide a pleasant little selection of images, more than I believed I was likely to get.

layers of same autumn colors
It’s long been my suspicion that one of the secondary appeals of falls colors (following distantly behind the vividness of course) is the depth that they provide, the distinction between different species of trees and different distances, which often disappear in two-dimensional photos – see the third photo on this page for my prime example of this, because you can imagine that, when everything is the same general shade of green, you have far less of a distance and depth effect. So when the leaves are all the same color, no matter how bright, the depth can still be lost. To combat this, I went in close to some low-level branches and used a short depth-of-field to blur out the more distant portions of the same tree, creating some subtle distinctions between them. And of course, showed the range of colors even within individual leaves.

selection of fall leaf colors on stump
At times you might get lucky and have a wide enough variety of species close together to produce a little pastiche on the ground (places where the wind eddies can help a lot,) so even when the trees turn and then drop their leaves at differing times, you can still capture their colors together. And my friend will vouch for this being exactly how they were found, because he was noting how selective I was being when composing.

patch of yellow ground cover leaves
I don’t know what kind of plant this is – it looks a lot like something that we have here in central NC, but I’ve never seen such colors from it, so either it’s different, or my timing normally sucks. Either way, they were brilliant yellow, a nice patch of sunshine on the cloudy day (“My girl, my girl, my girl, talking ’bout…”) and the red leaf was included just as an accent. Had it fallen and draped across any of the yellow leaves, I would have been all over that natural composition.

changing colors on banks of stream overlook
There was a little brook down there and, as can be seen here, we were well above it on the trails, and never found the way down to it. Well, the easy way, since a ‘path’ can be seen right here in the shot, but one we weren’t inclined to take. Sure, yeah, go ahead, harp about how a real nature photographer would have tackled that slope, feel free. I was game, but I was with a normie. I was being considerate. Get bent.

But yeah, notice how some of the trees are just starting to turn, like the milk in the fridge a couple days past the date on the carton. We were lucky to have a variety to work with, barely interspersed at all with spindly threadbare longneedle pines like, you know, some states…

rich colors with sweeping boughs through
This is probably my favorite from the trip, because of the nice lines of the boughs and the colors. And I’ve said this many times before too, but it’s worth repeating: bright sunlight would not have helped this at all, and likely would have made it far less impressive, because color subtleties come up much better with low-contrast, muted light like haze to overcast. Now, early morning with a clear blue sky might have been an improvement over this, but generally, sunlight isn’t always a friend to colorful photos.

Now, I will diverge from topic for a bit just to include a couple of other photos. One rainy evening, I noticed one of their cats staring intently out the front window, and I suspected it was doing the whole “cats staring at ghosts” routine (though this was still a few days before Halloween.) But on glancing out myself, a shape in the front yard just a few meters from their door could easily be seen, and I spent a moment or so of, “What the hell is that?” before it became apparent. This was partially because I haven’t seen one in years – for some reason, there are very few to be found in this neck of the woods. They probably hate longneedle pines. And I need to point out that this was in a crowded suburb of Cleveland – not exactly a deepwoods environment.

skunk, possibly striped skunk Mephitis mephitis, foraging in yard
This is a skunk, despite the odd coloration – most people expect one of two stripes running longitudinally, but there is a very wide variety of patterns that can be found within species, and a surprising number of species. As such, I’m going to tentatively identify this as a striped skunk (Mephitis mephitis,) mostly because they’re the most common in the region, but don’t go alerting Wikipedia. There was just the one patch of white on the head, with a tiny stripe between the eyes, and no markings on the tail whatsoever; since it was facing away from me when I first saw it, this made it a little more confusing. Plus it was dark. Dark enough, in fact, that the image is a little out of focus because I was focusing manually and didn’t have anything to lock onto easily.

Due to its proximity to the house, I was initially reluctant to fire off the flash (which was the rinky-dink on-camera flash tube of the Canon T2i) because of the chance that I’d startle it. Skunks, on the whole, are pretty mellow cusses, confident in the knowledge that most things will avoid them, but if I was wrong and it fired off a blast, their house would be rather… aromatic for days. But then one of my friends, viewing the forager while we both stood in the open doorway, banged loudly on the doorframe and only provoked a momentary lift of the tail, without even a pause in the skunk’s industrious digging for grubs, so I figured the camera wouldn’t bother it. And indeed, it twitched a little at the first flash and ignored all subsequent ones. Lots of people will tell you that flash photography will startle animals, but they see lightning and the sudden appearance of cars over the hill – camera flashes really don’t register much at all with them.

As we watched, a juvenile Virginia opossum (Didelphis virginiana, and yes I’m confident in that one) also appeared in the yard, between the skunk and us in the doorway, so I fired off a couple of shots of that, too. It wandered more in the skunk’s direction and received its own tail-lift in warning, which sent it scurrying off in another direction, unwilling to contest territory. Meanwhile, our quiet conversing in the open door was having no effect on either of them, so yeah, urbanized wildlife.

juvenile Virginia opossum Didelphis virginiana

Too cool, part 38: “All Hallows Read”

First off, I’m a little behind where I want to be in posting, but that’s because of the exhibit that I was trying to finish and it’s done now (if that ‘sticky’ post up there isn’t enough of a clue.) So this is a follow-up post to Halloween, and a practice that we were alerted to by Jenny Lawson over at The Bloggess (and you should definitely check out her books.)

The practice is All Hallows Read, and it’s pretty simple: offer scary books for Halloween. Not instead of candy, unless you really want to, but in addition to. We found out about this in time last year and managed to procure a small selection of books by Halloween, mostly through secondhand book sources. Having more time to prepare this year, we had a larger selection, which was good, because we had more kids this year. And they all took a book, and all of them seemed absolutely delighted. So were the parents. The best, I think, was the little preschool-age girl last year that hesitantly took her book, but on the way back down the walk her dad (I’m assuming) offered to hold the book for her so she could handle her candy bucket better; she adamantly refused to relinquish it.

Last year The Girlfriend’s Sprog noticed that kids were simply taking the first book she held out, apparently unwilling to make a selection, so this year we put a small bookcase out on the front walk and arranged what we had roughly by age range, letting the kids pick – this definitely seemed to work better. We did, of course, help them choose, or pick out a small selection for the parents with infants and toddlers in tow (well, in stroll I guess, or in push or whatever the hell.) And we got to hear from someone who had visited last year who was absolutely delighted at the idea, so here’s hoping that it’s going to get established a bit better.

It’s funny; I don’t get the impression that kids need to be encouraged to read, because they seem to do it just fine, given the opportunity. It just doesn’t occur to them to say, “Hey, can we go to the bookstore/library?” mostly because few kids know how to pronounce “/”. But with books in front of them, they’re generally pretty good about picking something that they’ll like. I can’t speak as a parent because I’m not, and the very thought is horrifying to be honest, but I’ll still suggest that the parental duty, or our adult responsibility if you will, is to ensure that the option is there without prompting from the kids. Set aside some time every month to hit the bookstore and let them browse, or the library. Pick out a few and pay attention to what strikes the child’s fancy. And let them see you doing it. Schools are, all too often, more willing to turn reading into a chore rather than entertainment or interest, so don’t leave it up to them.

And don’t be too guided by ‘suggested age’ ranges or reading levels or any of that horseshit – I’m sincerely glad that I wasn’t (though it occurs to me that using myself as an example might not be the best of moves.) Hey, I’m sitting here in my mid-fifties and reading stuff intended for 65 and up, which I’m pretty proud of…

Per the ancient lore, part 34

Atlantic blue crab Callinectes sapidus hunting among finger mullet anchovies minnows
This week we’re back to the Lakes/Streams/Waterfalls folders, about to be renamed Lakes/Streams/Waterfalls/Lagoons/Inland Sounds – okay, probably not, though for accuracy’s sake it should, because this once again is from the Indian River Lagoon which is more technically a sound. As a thumbnail it doesn’t do too well, and I tend to blow past it in the folder looking for items that catch my eye better, but when I looked at it close I suddenly remembered that fateful day fourteen years ago, and what was happening.

Well, not fateful for me, but likely fateful for somebody. For me it was just another day kicking around in Florida chasing those things that I generally only see in Florida. This is crapped a bit tighter than the original, which may draw more attention to the main subject now, but what I was after was not the minnows (anchovies, finger mullet, whatever,) but the guy on the bottom, waving his pincers desperately as the school wavered past overhead. That’s an Atlantic blue crab (Callinectes sapidus) down there, and as I’ve said before they’re the most aggressive crab species that I’ve encountered, always ready to put their pincers to good use rather than slinking away or seeking cover. And in this case, it was eagerly trying to catch one of those minnows as they temptingly passed just out of reach. This would, of course, have been much better on video, and the camera did have that capability, but I either didn’t think of it in time (I’m by nature a still photographer,) or the behavior stopped once I’d switched modes.

Here’s an enhanced version, boosting contrast to combat the reduction that the water caused, and tweaking the green tinge away towards more of a color that reflected the occupants than the water itself.

enhanced Atlantic blue crab Callinectes sapidus hunting among finger mullet anchovies minnows

Perhaps the first of the last

tiny mushrooms erupting from trunk
Given that October 31st is now twice as long, I actually have more time to post the end-of-the-month abstract, and so I might be back later on today to feature something else. But this is what I’m offering right now.

The image above came from my recent trip to Ohio, in a small park that constituted a brief indulgence of my propensities, which means I didn’t do much shooting while there, and even less of my normal subject matter – disturbingly, I shot more photos at a halftime show for some sport, it might have been chess, but those were of my hosts’ sprog and anyway we left before the second half or third trimester or whatever the hell it’s called. I did indeed travel with one of my macro lenses, the Mamiya 80mm, but did not take along a flash unit (airlines, you know,) so I was shooting handheld in natural light, which was pretty crummy overall. And in my defense, I will say that these mushrooms were tiny, barely discernible as bright specks on the trunk at ‘normal’ viewing distance, so they’re magnified quite a bit (more so because this image is cropped.) They really deserved to be tackled more seriously, but not with the rig that I had at the time.

More photos from that trip will be along shortly, but for now (and because I’m feeling a little guilty about the shot above,) I’ll throw in another from earlier this month, from right after I had repaired the Canon 17-85 IS USM and was out doing test frames. As tests go this isn’t really a good example, because I’d repaired the aperture so the goal would be to see if it worked at, like, f16 and not wide open as seen here (and it did,) but the shot looked a lot better wide open so I’m featuring that one. Don’t ask me what these are, they’re just orange berries along the nearby pond. I probably should work on my fartistic blather more…

unidentified little orange berries