And suddenly, it’s different

Image credit and copyright: Rolf Geissinger

Or at least, it was for me.

This image has been sitting in my blog folder to feature even since I first happened across it, which was when it was posted to the Astronomy Picture of the Day back in October 2016 – I just never got around to doing the writeup for it. Which is a shame, because it represents this little “Aha!” moment, and I’m curious to know if others see it the same way. I’ll recap the basics here, but you’re encouraged to go the the original page for better details.

What you’re seeing here are two nebulae: Ou4 in blue, otherwise known as the Squid Nebula, and Sh2-129 in red, the Flying Bat Nebula. We have a tendency to see astronomy photos and, in our minds, consider such details as close together, the same distance from us, but nebulae are mostly transparent, often light reflected from vast gas or dust clouds, and so there’s no reason to assume that these have any proximity at all to each other – they could be light-years different in distance from us, and only seen along the same line of sight.

Nevertheless, our assumption in this case appears to be correct: these two nebulae really do lie the same distance from us, in close proximity and in fact intertwined – or at least, as near as we can presently tell. Which would mean that the bright spot in the center, a trio of powerful stars, is the source of the light that illuminates both of the nebulae, and Ou4 is likely gases and dust being blown off by that stellar wind.

And here’s where the optical ‘illusion’ (or sudden lack thereof) abruptly occurred for me. Because, as I absorbed this information, the red Sh2-129 nebula suddenly resolved into a large bowl or cave with Ou4 in the center, a massive cosmic geode – the shaping and depth of it just leapt to my eye and cannot be eradicated now. Do you see it?

Further, it’s likely not a cave, but a bubble instead, completely enclosing Ou4. We just don’t see the ‘wall’ between us and Ou4 because it’s illuminated from the opposite side, reflecting light back towards those stars and not in our direction. Which may mean that it would have been a lot brighter had it not occurred in the middle of the Flying Bat Nebula.

Anyway, I thought that moment of resolution, or whatever you want to call it, was kind of enlightening. The image itself was taken by Rolf Geissinger, undoubtedly with some long exposures and specific filtering to select very narrow wavelengths of the light being produced.

A little reality check

I come across things like this fairly frequently, and I realize that the chances of making a difference in this behavior is extraordinarily low, but it’s absolutely nil if I don’t, so…

One of the mindless time-wasting sites that I visit is The Meta Picture – I’ve linked to specific ‘posts’ there a couple of times – but it’s one of the many, many sites on the webbernets that routinely publishes content that the owner never created, and never provides attribution or even a source of who did create it; in short, it’s an example of the peculiar mentality of many users, who feel that if they can lift it, then it’s perfectly okay to do so.

Naturally, it gets seriously under my skin when it comes to examples such as this, a large collection of some of the most stunning scenic/travel/nature photography that you might come across. This is not, however, the way that it’s presented, oh no. Instead, it’s, “Here are all these great places to visit!”

I’ll be happy to burst anyone’s bubble: visit these all you want; you’re not going to see anything remotely like those images. In the majority of them, it took not only a significant set of skills and knowledge to obtain the shots, but very careful timing and attention to conditions. For a lot of them, it also took some significant efforts to even reach such locations. And I’m willing to bet, for at least half, it took more than a couple of tries (meaning, separate trips, even when trying to gauge the ideal conditions,) to achieve those photos. And then after all of that, the expense and efforts and time, perhaps extending into years, the photographer gets to have their work republished freely without even a, “Nice job!” coming back to them. Seriously, how shitty is that?

Now here’s part two: In a lot of cases, you wouldn’t have to travel all over the world to experience something captivating for yourself. Instead, you have to learn how to find such things. Does anyone really believe they have to travel to Slovenia to see a river cutting through a snowscape, or to a remote cave in Utah to watch a storm approach? It’s not even a secret of nature photographers to know where to find a good foreground or scene when the conditions are right – it’s a basic skill, even a knack if you will. But funny, as much as people seem to like exotic images, they’re conspicuously absent in the conditions that help to produce them. Sunrise out on a busy, touristy island with well-known driftwood stands? Not a freaking soul around. Thick fog on a lake nestled alongside three major cities? I saw three other people in over an hour, only one of them actually shooting anything. Hey, I’m not knocking it – I’d rather there be no one else around! But it’s funny to hear anyone express how much they’d love to see it for themselves. What the hell is stopping them?

And more than occasionally, it takes just a little thought while there. Take this image from last year.

long exposure from base of Looking Glass Falls in Brevard NC
Particularly hard to get to? No. There were, in fact, at least two dozen cars parked at the access point to this very popular tourist attraction in North Carolina, and the overlooks were crowded enough that we were dodging people both on the way in and the way out. So, a lot of skill involved in setting up the shot? Nope – a decent tripod, some basic knowledge of time exposures, and knowing what white-balance setting to use. I think I needed more skill in rock-hopping, to get to this particular vantage point – most of the people were milling along the rails of the overlook (out of the frame to the left,) and only a few had ventured as far down as I had. The biggest contribution was waiting until no one else was going to be in the damn shot, to provide the secluded and quiet ambience that makes the image work, an ambience that did not actually exist in reality. Oh, yeah, there’s that aspect of these exotic locations, too – there’s very often someone else around, even when they don’t appear to be in the carefully framed and timed images.

Or one from another trip.

time exposure showing multiple thunderstorms beyond Bodie Island lighthouse
Bodie Island Lighthouse is trivially easy to get to; in fact, it’s probably the most accessible on the Outer Banks, given its easy drive from the main route onto the strand and various places to stay out there. And the approaching storms were visible for kilometers. But while countless people were cycling through the entire time that I was out there myself (the lights at far left are evidence of some,) not one bothered to come anywhere near my vantage point to put the lighthouse together with the active thunderstorm. Meanwhile, to have more than just the bare silhouette of the lighthouse, I had to provide supplemental light of my own. More details in the original post here, but the animated gif (pronounced, “jive”) found here is pretty cool to watch too.

I provide these, by the way, not to imply that they compare favorably against the stunning images in question, but because they’re my own and thus I have full permission to use them, and they still illustrate that such photos are more often created than simply ‘taken.’ There are definitely some places that are more picturesque than others, but this in no way means that great photos are guaranteed or effortless – yes, even in New Zealand.

It’s funny – we pay millions of dollars to sports figures to run fast and throw balls around, for all that this accomplishes; we’re obsessed with the vicarious ‘competition’ that this entails. Yet when it comes to the few (far fewer in count than athletes) who can put together the truly stunning images that captivate and even motivate us, we can’t even give them the bare recognition of keeping their fucking names attached – in some cases they’re even cropped out of the republished versions (or, ahem, reduced to the point of illegibility.) So each time you see such photos on your social media feed or whatever, feel free to say, “Hey, who took this?” or, “Where did you get this from?” or even, “Don’t you think the photographer at least deserves some credit?” It’s fun to introduce a little perspective into people’s lives.

Of course, there’s a slight chance that I might be biased…

And now, the photographers that I could actually locate, because real content is more than copy-&-paste from other sites. You really should visit these.

Morondava, Madagascar – Marsel Van Oosten

Bridal Veil Falls, Yosemite – Mei Xu

Canyonlands, Utah – Dustin Farrell

Mysterious Hallway, Oregon – David Thompson

Soca, Slovenia – Luka Esenko

Lake Baikal ice – Alexey Trofimov

Maroon Bells, Aspen, Colorado – Roger N. Clark

Mt Thor, Baffin Island – Nestor Lewyckyj

Isle of Skye, Scotland – Robert White

Per the ancient lore, part 2

Remember when I said we were going back as far as 2004? I lied.

This one’s from November 2003, when I traveled up from Florida to NC for a job interview and Jim and I were kicking back for a bit. I won’t say this is the first of my uncomfortably close spider portraits, but it’s the first with this kind of detail.

common house spider Parasteatoda tepidariorum portrait
In the previous post I mentioned an exercise in shooting images to fit a topic, called the “Shoot-In,” and this was another produced for that (you may see more than a few, because my early digital work and the period that I was involved in the challenges largely coincide.) This topic was, “Bug’s Eye View,” so hopefully you get the idea.

This is likely a common house spider (Parasteatoda tepidariorum,) those bulbous pea-sized grey-brown suckers which should probably be called, “Under a chair in the basement” spiders since that’s where you will always find them. This particular one is dead, gassed with acetone to allow posing because I wanted this face shot; since then, my reputation has become so astounding that they pose willingly. Moreover, this is a macro technique that adapted fairly well to the Sony F717 fixed lens camera, something called, ‘lens stacking.’ Put a 50mm lens reversed onto the end of a telephoto, like 150 to 300mm, and you’ll get some wicked magnification, albeit with a good amount of distortion around the edges as seen here – I’ll probably provide another example in a later installment of the title topic. If you want to try it, determine the filter threads on the two lenses that you want to use and look for ‘double coupling ring’ on Ebay – should cost no more than a few bucks.

By the way, I won’t leave you hanging: I didn’t get the job, though I did get a different position with the same place a few months later on, which prompted my move back to NC. The job, at least, turned out to be a complete waste of time and mental effort, but I met The Girlfriend there, so there’s that…

Yo, I’m all over this one

As intimated in the previous post, spring is indeed being difficult this year, behaving like a child saying, “green light red light!” then giggling maniacally. Which means yes, it’s snowing out there. I didn’t sleep well last night and the sinuses are bothering me this morning, so this is a perfect time to start posting, right? Ah, but today is another holiday – no, not the vernal equinox, that was yesterday – way to be on top of things, there. No, silly, today is Relate An Obscenity-filled Story Day. Now, if you know me, you know this pretty much means every anecdote that I might have at my disposal – I will never be hired to speak at a day-care or pre-school, that’s for shit sure. But, perversely, the particular story that I’ve chosen is not really filled with obscenities – there’s a few, but less than, for instance, some posts. However, you know that they were there all the same; you can just hear them ring out frequently throughout the tale, and can imagine the air was deep blue by the end.

I recently re-discovered this one as I was doing site updates, since I’d posted it on a webpage for the benefit (or whatever) of others. To set the scene, back in 2004 I was participating in an exercise among regulars of the newsgroup (ask your father,) where each week or so we’d be given a challenge to fulfill, usually something simple, and we’d have to present a photo that illustrated or exemplified the challenge topic. At the time I was sharing a crowded apartment in Florida, and decided to do a ‘studio’ photo to squeeze as many examples as I could into just one frame. So, this is where we pick up, with some slight editing for clarity:

How to spend way too much time fucking up a shot: The trials and tribulations (okay, only trials) of an elaborate “studio” photo.

Hmmmm. “Tension.” Surface tension, spoke tension, chain tension, guitar strings, and emotional tension. One frame left on film roll in the Olympus. I can do this…

Stand up mattress to have room against only blank wall in entire apartment that has access to it. Roll in bike. Position carefully. Clean noticeable areas of grime off spokes and frame. Try to clean spokes with old steel wool pad from kitchen – too rusty, making things worse with rust dust. Nice patch on carpet now. Ignore, carpet not in view. Clean bike again.

Prop guitar against it. Shift umpteen times. Keeps sliding down. Brace with boxes.

Bring in glass, play with reflection. Stick boxes and book to bring to correct height. Shift guitar twelve more times to reflect in water surface.

Angle halogen light to illuminate guitar and bike, get good highlights, reflect in water. Tricky. Eventually realize glass is refracting and distorting image through it. Block back with white paper cut to shape of glass. Good, but too bright with light angle. Light cannot move or reflection will go away. Kick over measuring cup with extra water to raise level in glass. Fetch towel to prevent 1/2 cup of water from soaking into carpet.

Cut black plastic instead of white paper to go behind glass. No good – plastic adheres to damp glass and creates patches of deep black where it touches. Stuff plastic inside glass. Perfect! But it floats and tends to lift above edge of water, becoming visible. No prob – it takes a moment to shift, so I can push it down and get the shot before it rises again.

Place mirror in background. It reflects window light into lens. Not good. Hang black sheet from ceiling as backdrop. Takes several tries with pushpins.

Float needle on water. Plunks straight to bottom. Water level too high to stick anything in there to get it. Carry glass into bathroom, dump out. Use tape to hold plastic down in glass. No good. Use camera filter in glass to pin down plastic, catch needle closer to top. Play with needle until it floats (requires coating it with wax and lowering it onto surface with toothbrush). Go back into room, refill glass. Float needle. Remove cat hair (which also floats) from water for sixth time.

Set up camera. Olympus lenses only go down to f16. Want more; tough shit. Adjust focus meticulously. DOF Preview does not work in split-image portion of viewfinder, very dark and indistinct in other portions. Play for a couple of minutes until I’m as sure as I can be. Camera height too low for cheesy tripod, stuff too tight together for versatile Bogen. Get out micro tripod and stack on books and boxes. Leg spread keeps slipping over edges. Finally get it right. Exposure under halogen at f16 is going to be 1 second, must use cable release.

Glass is tilted. Stuff folded paper under one corner so water level doesn’t look stupid. Guitar shifts yet again. Fucker. Float needle, carefully. Unless aligned a certain way, it disappears against dark plastic backdrop. Tap gently. It tends to rotate slightly back into position. Goddamn thing’s mildly magnetized, I just made myself a compass. Now I know what to do if I get lost in my bedroom.

Go sit in position, cable release in hand. Tap needle gently, grimace and grab hair (not an act by this point). Trip shutter. Can see needle moving.

RESULT: Total shit. Too busy, too damn many reflections, needle moving and indistinct, should have shot it vertical, framing bad, spokes out of DOF, too much of bike visible, not enough of guitar, and I look like I’m smiling.

elaborately staged and still pathetic 'studio' shot
I learned a fuckload about studio photography doing this, but the primary lesson is that I don’t want to do it again. Ya gotta admit the black plastic trick worked like a fucking charm, though. And I can see the merits of light tents and movable black backdrops.

But I went archive for “Tension”…

… which means that, having blown the one frame on the roll that I had to devote to this, I wasn’t going to load and shoot another whole roll of film to meet the deadline, and instead went with a photo I already had in my stock. The digital camera that I’d had on loan, just a few months before, had been shipped off to its new owner by this point.

Note that you can also see the rust dust still present on the bike frame, and one of the boxes peeking in at lower right. And of course, the scratches on the negative that I wasn’t going to bother with by this point. Also, my appearance in the frame came courtesy of that aforementioned mirror, since I didn’t have the room nor a long enough cable release to be in that position in the background.

It’s easy to believe that studio photography is fairly simple, since everything is controlled and set up just how you like it. The reality is often something different – and I don’t even do this routinely (obviously.) Reflections (look at how complicated the guitar seems just because it reflects everything around it,) backgrounds, light angles and hues and intensities, to say nothing of the one angle that illustrates what you need it to – which I even had to play with in the previous post, so the softbox and focusing light addition are clear. Sometimes we don’t realize that our perception of something comes from our ability to see it three-dimensionally. I was approached by a glass artist who wanted her artworks photographed for advertisements, who stipulated that she wanted it clear (heh!) that the pieces were glass – it wasn’t always evident in the photos that she’d had done previously. I knew it would be a tough job, because most of the impression that we get of depth and transparency comes from seeing such a piece from multiple perspectives, noticing how the different layers and surfaces shift separately as we turn our head or walk around it – something that obviously wasn’t going to be demonstrated in a still photo. Truth be told, I wasn’t really qualified to tackle it, but she was looking for a bargain rate, so I quoted her a price with the stipulation that she would only pay if both she and I were happy with the results. The price I quoted was probably one-third or less what a professional studio would have charged, and it was still too much for her tastes, so yeah, best of luck with that…

Macro photography part 12: Refinement

I have been meaning to do this for a while now, and have no real excuse for how long it took to get to it. It took no time at all once I sat down to work on it.

This is a combination of two projects, really. The first is the macro softbox, which is still in routine use because it works extremely well. The second is the focusing light, which needed a little work – partially to stabilize the light beam more than that gooseneck USB extension was allowing (despite my initial confidence in it, it tended to wobble a bit and realign the light,) but also to make the system more efficient.

center of beam of macro softboxStudio strobes often have what’s called a modeling light – a single light bulb in addition to the xenon flash tube, which can be turned on and off at will. The idea is, the bulb shines light from the same direction as the flash tube, so you know what kind of shadows the strobe will throw when it goes off (there are also constant light sources, not quite as bright as most strobes, much hotter, but especially, hard to use for people because it makes them squint and causes their pupils to contract.) Anyway, I wanted to carry the idea of the modeling light into my macro work; since I often had to have the focusing light anyway, it might as well be coming from the same direction as the strobe when it went off, right?

The first part was, determining the ‘sweet spot’ of the strobe and softbox. I had always assumed that the focus of the strongest light was not quite perpendicular to the face of the diffusing panel, due to the position of the reflector behind it and the incoming light from the strobe itself, but I was never sure how far off this angle might be. So I attached the strobe and softbox to a light stand, with the panel aimed straight down, and set a measuring stick on the floor underneath with the zero end directly under the center of the diffuser, but about a meter below. I then triggered the strobe a couple of times while shooting the results with a wide angle lens, to see just how far up the measuring stick the brightest portion of the light fell. Curiously, I was all wrong (hard to believe I know): the brightest spot was directly in front of the diffuser, perpendicular to its face. Okay then.

After that, I cut a hole in the reflector back of the softbox, just big enough for the LED light’s beam, and rigged a small adapter to hold the light at the right angle, since the back of the diffuser was sloped to reflect the output from the strobe. I set aside the gooseneck USB extension and simply used a standard USB extension cord since the light was now affixed to the softbox itself. The other change was having a battery pack with a switch, making it much easier to turn the light on or off as needed.

focusing/modeling light attached to macro softbox

light shining through macro softboxThe battery pack, by the way, is now attached directly to the strobe unit with Velcro, especially since I’ve switched to a smaller, lighter flash bracket that doesn’t provide as much room to carry it.

Now, when the focusing light is on, I know that the softbox is aimed precisely where I need it to be, as well as seeing how the shadows will be falling across my subject; there is an added element as well, since a lot of my subjects are near or within foliage, and the focusing light coming directly through the softbox tells me if it will be blocked by branches or leaves.

So how’s it work? Just the way it was intended, and with remarkably predictable results; what I see in the viewfinder is largely how it will appear in the final image. The final results are slightly better, due to the fact that the focusing light is small and like a spotlight, but the strobe is diffused by that panel into a much broader area, so shadows are lessened and coverage improved. The almond blossom from the previous post is one of the initial experiments, but there’s really nothing that shows in the final image – it’s all about how well it works to nail focus and predict the shadows, and for that, it does a great job.

Yesterday had been quite warm and this was still carrying over into last night as the rains rolled in, so in my search for experimental subjects, I once again found three green treefrogs (Hyla cinerea) to work with. There’s a chance of snow again tonight, so they’re probably getting a bit exasperated by now.

green treefrog Hyla cinerea perched on vinyl cover
Each one gave me slightly different conditions to work with, so I was able to do a couple different tests in the brief time I spent out there last night. This one was pretty straightforward, and not posing too enigmatically. The next one was more photogenic.

green treefrog Hyla cinerea looking placid
Both of these were sitting on a vinyl cover, but this one was slightly under an overhang, so the modeling light gave a good indication of when the light from the strobe was going to be blocked. While the fade into darkness isn’t ideal in an illustrative, identification style photo, I like the effect from a portraiture/fartistic approach. You can’t even see that overhang, can you? Believe me, it was practically right over the frog’s head.

For both of these, I should have switched the macro light from the left side of the camera to the right for better facial lighting, though in this case it likely wouldn’t have worked, given the constraints. And again, this was a quick test of the focusing light more than anything.

The next one was even more of a challenge, and vindication of the project.

green treefrog Hyla cinerea shot through the branches
This is the same shrub where I photographed the first emergent a couple of weeks ago, but this frog has a deeper color and different spot pattern. This one was also fairly deep among the fallen leaves suspended in the branches, so getting a better portrait angle was the challenge. Luckily it held still as I maneuvered around to poke the lens through the leaves, and the macro light suspended on the arm alongside the camera told me when I would effectively illuminate the amphibian; I have several frames, all successful, so there you go. I should have done this long ago.

And there was one more challenge, though the new lighting method was only going to be of trivial use there. During the afternoon I had noticed activity in the backyard pond, and twice saw a small frog surface, but it was incredibly spooky and the slightest motion that I made to line up the camera sent it back into the depths of the water again. At night, however, frogs are confused by bright lights, and as long as nothing passes in front of the light source, or gets illuminated by it (such as a headlamp shining onto the camera itself as you lean close,) frogs will usually sit still. This one submerged as I drew close, but then immediately resurfaced a short distance away and floated there patiently, and I was able to get in very close. However, the light angle wasn’t ideal for penetrating the water, and this image was a little dark – it’s been brightened slightly in post.

green frog Lithobates clamitans not spooked enough to submerge
Yes, the reflection of the softbox is a bit distracting, and there’s little that can be done about that – the water is going to curve in odd ways along the frog’s body, and no light source is going to escape the effect. The best that could be achieved is weaker, indirect light, like from an overcast sky or tree canopy, so daylight conditions, and then of course the frog wouldn’t be holding still. The best thing to do is to switch positions and see what reduces the reflections the most.

reflection of softbox from raindropsBut that image above, and the tight crop to the right, illustrated something else for me. I was vaguely concerned that the hole I cut in the back of the softbox would show in the resulting images, given the right conditions, and I’d have a distracting darker ‘pupil’ in any distinct reflections, which happen often enough among my various subjects. The even round spot is fine, more or less normal looking, and much better than the window-pane rectangle from an earlier lighting rig, but a dark spot in the middle is hardly natural-looking. So it’s pleasing to see no sign of it at all. I was fairly certain that the strength of the strobe would overpower the LED light itself in the photos.

By the way, do you see two eyes looking down to the left? Well, you do now…

Preparing for the feast

first blossom on almond tree Prunus amygdalus
Do you know what this is? Seriously, do you? Yes, yes, it’s a flower, very good Quickdraw, but what kind of flower?

All right, never mind, stop guessing wildly, you’re embarrassing us both. This… is the very first blossom on my almond tree! Six years ago I found a little sapling emerging from our mulch pile, and as I uprooted it I realized it was growing from what looked like an almond. A little research into the shapes of their leaves confirmed it, and I transplanted it into the yard, where it took hold and started growing. That was at the old place, and it got transplanted again to come with us to the new house, and uprooted again, but only briefly, when some tree work was being done in the yard and we didn’t want it damaged. It now stands just under a meter tall, and is sporting two blossoms and a bud of another. That means we’ve got, potentially, three almonds to look forward to in the harvest season!

Can you imagine that? Almonds, fresh from the tree! Okay, not really; raw almonds aren’t a wise thing to eat – they should be roasted first. But our own almonds! The anticipation is killing me. And the number is perfect too, since there’s three of us.

All foolishness aside, I am pleased to see it actually flowering – we’ve had so much difficulty with the soil here and getting things to thrive that it’s nice to see this little accident still plugging away. Moreover, this image is a bit of proof that another project of mine is working pretty well, but that’ll be a later post, because there are some illustrating photos that I still need to obtain. Bear with me.

Per the ancient lore, part 1

Herewith I begin another semi-regular topic, though I haven’t yet decided if I’m going to aim for weekly or not. But for each of these, I will be featuring one of my earlier digital images, thus the ‘ancient lore’ bit – we’ll be stirring deep into history here, going as far back as 2004! That was actually before I’d purchased a digital camera of my own, but Jim Kramer (an obscure name, I know) had gone into digital before I, and when he’d upgraded to a later model, he loaned me his old one before it sold off to another friend of mine. This was when I lived in Florida, and I made the most of the time that I had it.

A word about the history. Digital cameras had been available since the mid 90s, though the first offerings were massive models and quite expensive, like 10 grand or better. By the time I was in Florida, Canon had a couple of DSLR models out, but mostly only the high-end professionals had adopted them – one wedding photographer that I knew had jumped in with a Canon 10D, though everyone else was still shooting film. The camera that I was using, a Sony DSC F717, was known by titles such as “prosumer” and “bridge” – a little better than the touristy point-and-shoot styles and possessing solid image quality, but still with a fixed zoom lens and not aimed towards the professional markets. Like most digital cameras of that time and years afterward, there was a noticeable delay between pressing the shutter button and actually capturing the image, and so crucial timing was difficult – as I would later gain a lot of experience in.

But right now, let’s go back to the second or third day that I had the camera, when I was maintaining a saltwater aquarium with residents of the local lagoon. There is actually a structure to my choices here, since I’m going in category order, followed by chronological – this comes from my ‘Aquatic’ folder.

juvenile Atlantic blue crab Callinectes sapidus posing with dislodged barnacle
Keep in mind, the webbernets wasn’t what it is now; there were a lot fewer resources available even though it had been active for close to two decades at that point, so it took a bit of time to identify this particular specimen – photo galleries of crab species really didn’t exist. And this was a much smaller example than what I was used to; measuring only about 5cm across the width of the carapace, this was a juvenile Atlantic blue crab (Callinectes sapidus,) lacking the deeper green coloring, with blue highlights, of the adults. It didn’t stay in my small aquarium for very long, since it required more food than would be available and it likely would have consumed many of the other species that I had in there, but I shot a few sessions while I had it. The shell fragment it seems to be displaying to us is actually a detached barnacle seen from the underside (which is the top of the head – no I’m not kidding.)

previous image without color correctionThis was before I got into serious macro work, and so my light sources were a bit eclectic. While I had two flash units at hand, a lot of my aquarium photography was done under the main light source for the tank, which was a halogen reading lamp on a swing arm. This prevented any bright reflections that a flash unit might have thrown from the glass of the tank, and provided a reasonably normal angle of light, but it was much dimmer than a strobe. And not white-balanced, so it cast an overall color shift that was worsened by the sediment in the water. The image to the left is the original, uncorrected color, while I tweaked the one above to be more of a neutral, ‘true’ white.

The camera that I used here stopped working a few years ago, and the friend that had purchased it suggested that I take it back home if I wanted to fiddle with it and perhaps get it working again, but I forgot to put it in my bags when I left his place. Meanwhile, I think Jim still has the Sony F828 that replaced it – I’ll try pestering him to break it out, charge the batteries (if they’ll take a charge) and do some images for nostalgia’s sake.


… those emerging reptiles, just two weeks ago?


snow on birdhouse on March 12
Despite such optimistic indications, on Monday afternoon the snow returned – not a lot, and nothing to improve the appearance of the landscape in the area, but certainly a kibosh on the concept of an early spring. Whoever might’ve gotten that impression. It was, in fact, snowing hard enough when I got this photo that the blurs from at least four falling snowflakes are visible in the tiny portion of the frame that shows any depth, off to the right. I’m glad I didn’t do any early plantings.

melted snowflakes (so, water drops) on weeping cherry blossomsThe air was cold enough, especially at altitude, to produce snowflakes, but at ground level the temperature largely remained warm enough to prevent it from sticking. The Girlfriend’s weeping cherry tree, enthusiastically pushing out blossoms for the past two weeks or so, refused to cradle any flakes artistically and instead melted them on contact, though the pale background indicates it was accumulating on the grasses. I had time only for a brief photo session, trying to find something that spoke of the conditions and not doing terribly well – the birdhouse up there did better than anything. I also didn’t affix the flash, wanting the natural light conditions, but it was dim enough that decent shutter speeds (at an ISO that wouldn’t look shitty, from the Canon 30D) just weren’t happening. One subject merited a return in the evening when I had a few more minutes, so this time I did it right and used the macro flash rig.

unidentified spider completely ignoring the freezing weather
I’ve remarked before how quickly the spiders seem to reappear as soon as the weather turns the slightest bit warm, but this is the first I’ve seen active during freezing conditions, and not very sluggishly at that. It’s curious, because it seems a waste of time to me – prey insects aren’t likely to be found anywhere, even though a small handful are cold-hardy and can even be found in arctic conditions. But I don’t see them around here, and generally the temperatures have to be up in the 10s (that’s celsius, or 50s fahrenheit) to start seeing insect activity. Perhaps this guy knew something I didn’t. Or maybe it’s just one of those evolutionary freaks that likes the snow – every species has a few.

While out there with the flash, I returned to the cherry tree to do another version, this time going low to capture more of the interior detail of the blossoms. It’s a shame I didn’t have snowflakes to work with, just to enhance the apparent clash of seasons.

more weeping cherry blossoms melting snow
The next day dawned bright and sunny, but I still had to clear the snow from my car at mid-morning, though it had never stuck to the roads and was quickly eradicated from lawns and such. I’d like to believe it was the last of the season, but the nights are still predicted to drop below freezing for a few more days at least, so it’s not time to plant anything yet. I have better plans this year than ever before, so here’s hoping at least some of them pan out into something interesting to post.

Okay, okay

sanderling Calidris alba running ahead of encroaching seafoam
Yeah, it’s been longer than intended, but once again, it’s been a period with too much going on that wouldn’t be the least bit interesting as a post, and otherwise shitty conditions to try and photograph within. Despite the early indications, spring has not arrived yet, so be patient – I’ll have more stuff coming when I have something more to work with.

And naturally, when I sit down to actually work on a post, the connection speed is abysmal…

So this image is from the North Topsail trip last year, but also one of the many potentials that I set aside for the gallery updates but never used. It’s the kind of image that I’m torn over – nothing exciting or compelling from the behavior or detail standpoint, faintly interesting in the body position, especially since the sanderling (Calidris alba) has more the appearance of stepping daintily in the seafoam gap rather than (in reality) running from the advancing tideline, but I still liked the color and the framing. In the end I decided on images that I felt were stronger, but didn’t want to completely reject it…

Now, another aspect of this work. If you’re a photographer and intend to have a website, hopefully you’ve flush enough to pay someone to make one for you, but I suspect that’s rarely the case – it certainly doesn’t apply on my end. So if you’re doing your own, a lot of factors regarding the design come into play: what screen-resolution and aspect ratio are you aiming for, and will you make it compatible with smutphones? How many scripts or dynamic doohickeys do you include, and how well do they play with different operating systems? How much time do you spend researching such things and how much impact do they have?

I recently picked up a new (to me) monitor with a different aspect ratio, and thus changed my display resolution, which means the blog now shows differently to me, and if you’re the type to worry about how the ‘page’ is laid out (I am,) you start wondering about how to format things to appear right to the greatest number of users. I had fixed ‘full column’ and ‘partial column’ image sizes, and in my original screen resolution these worked well, but now less so as it’s increased, and so I wonder what the average is for most users, and if I boost these sizes, how many users now have images too big to work well? I actually increased the full column sizes just a trivial amount, more a sop to suspicions than any functionality, but it still remains less than the size I use for the horizontal image formats in the gallery itself, so the pic above was reduced from the one I had set aside for potential use therein (from 800 pixels wide down to 750, to be specific.)

It might seem frivolous or even paranoid, but presentation is a big part of the impression people get from your work – some more so than others. I personally am a ‘functionality over form’ kind of guy and passionately detest the current fads in webdesign, which change almost as frequently as clothing fashion and with the same utter pointlessness, but how much of this is safe to reflect in my site? Do I turn off new visitors if there’s too much blank space or awkward pagination? These kind of things don’t keep me awake at night, but ignoring them entirely might be detrimental to some unknown degree.

As for smutphones, well, too bad so sad – I’m not even going to bother. Not only do they change too often and have entirely different aspect ratios and typical layouts (most people use their screens vertically instead of horizontally, so formatting a site and blog to handle both is tricky,) I am far too wordy to appeal to the typical person who might be surfing on their phone, and the time spent choosing image sizes is completely thwarted by screens that can fit in your mouth, so they’re not a factor in my decisions, at least.

About the only accommodation I might make for phones is to offer a ‘background screen of the month’ option for a small yearly fee, if I think it’ll be popular enough – I’d probably have to avoid certain subjects. Naturally mentioning it way down in a wall of text is exactly what I shouldn’t be doing. But yeah, if you’re intrigued by the idea, make a comment or drop me a line.

Later on, there will be more gallery rejects, so you got that going for you. Which is nice.

Deadlines met and missed

coral growth on an old snail shellTo see February on its poorly-spelled way, we have a shot from the dead season earlier in the month when virtually nothing existed to photograph, and I pulled out this little find from the Wilmington trip last year. Wandering the beach, I had found a snail shell, weathered heavily by tidal action and boring worms, that had served as an anchor for a small coral colony, and recently came across it again when sorting odds and ends. It’s faintly curious because the coral out-masses the shell by at least 2 to 1, probably more, and makes it distinctly off-balance, but coral attaches to fixed surfaces. As you can see, the coral is opposite the shell opening, covering every smooth surface, so I surmise that the shell itself was attached to something on the side you see here; part of the shell edge that continues out of the frame to the right seems to have an unweathered, freshly broken appearance, so I suspect that’s where it all had been anchored at one time.

And as I was about to start on this post, I glanced at the sidebar where posts from years back on this date can be found, and noticed none at all for last year – which means I missed the end-of-month abstract for February in 2017. A wave of utter dread came over me, as well as firm denial: there’s no way that I could have disappointed my copious readers in that manner. And yet, it remains true; I missed the month end abstract a year ago. There must have been some extenuating circumstance then, some loss of internet service or thing of that nature, because not only is my post missing, I have no missives about this lack from my readers either! I’m sure your mind is boggling at this very idea as much as mine is. So to all of those who attempted to alert me to this apparent oversight, I apologize profusely, but your efforts never made it through the mysterious barrier to communication that existed then.

Better late than never, as the saying goes, which I believe was originally a reference to menstruation. I herewith rectify this egregious lack, and provide a month-end abstract for February 2017, indeed actually taken within that month – I strive for authenticity. This is a crop from a larger frame to enhance the abstractedness of the subject, and somehow spellcheck did not even blink on that word. I mean, it actually underlined “pre-existing” [again], and who hasn’t heard of that?

February 2017's abstract
I’m often unsure how obvious, or not, any given photo is, but I suspect this one is helped a little by the reflection of the clouds. Anyway, it’s an old pine limb extending from the water, doing its best impression of an angelfish, though perhaps one with a lot of tumors on its side. Being in deep shade the limbs came out silhouetted against the sunny sky reflection. Yeah, I’ve done better, but remember: February. Easily the least productive month for me, at least until I move to the southern hemisphere.