From the jaws of defeat

So, I’ve mentioned before that I’ve wanted (for reasons too sordid to go into here where anyone could see it) to catch sunrise on the central peak in Tycho. Tycho is a crater on the moon, one of those where the impact debris formed a pile of rubble directly in the center of the crater, because physics. And of course, this little mountain will see the rising sun before the crater floor, which will be visible from Earth with a high enough magnification.

This is an image of that peak taken from the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, but this is too late in the day – the crater floor is visible. That central peak is 1.6 kilometers (1 mile) in height, just so you know. There is a banana for scale at the base of the peak.

central peak of Tycho crater from Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter

Credit: NASA/GFC/Arizona State University

Now, the moon rotates a lot slower than Earth, each day there lasting 29.5 Earth days, so sunrise is a much slower affair. As a bit of trivia, each of the Apollo missions were timed for lunar morning, when they would have constant daylight but the moon’s surface would not have heated up too far to tax the equipment and astronauts – the temperature difference between day and night on the moon is hundreds of degrees (Celsius or Fahrenheit – doesn’t matter.) Anyway, capturing this sunrise event doesn’t quite require the exact timing of such an event on Earth, but it’s still a narrow window during one phase of the moon.

We’ve had some clear nights, and on February 23rd I observed the moon and thought, Maybe, and so set up the tripod and 170-500 lens to see what I could get. This is not quite enough magnification to see if the sun is touching that central peak, and in fact, pinning down Tycho itself is more than a little tricky. When you see the full moon it’s easy, because Tycho has that wonderful system of rays, a starburst of ‘ejecta’ (debris) from the impact, but they mostly extend towards the west side, which is not illuminated yet at the time I was aiming for. There are only two visible at Tycho sunrise, and they’re curving around enough that they can be hard to use as a guide; if it’s too early, even the crater walls of Tycho are shrouded in darkness, and with all of the craters in that region of the moon, it’s hard to know which one you’re actually looking at.

first quarter moon just before sunrise on Tycho
What happens is, I get the shot, trying hard both to nail the precise focus and to make out if that central peak is illuminated, then come back in, unload the card, and look at the full resolution image while trying to pin down enough landmarks to ensure I have the right crater.

By the way, Google Earth has a moon setting where you can see detailed photos of the moon, but it’s no help in the slightest: all of the images are taken during “high noon” for that region, throwing no shadows or shaping, so even telling certain craters apart is difficult. Like a lot of photographic subjects, the best results come from oblique light, the shadows providing the shapes and textures that make things interesting. So full moon shots are nice, but non-full phases like shown here have much more depth and relief.

Here’s a marked version. The blue arrow is Tycho, just a bit too soon so the central peak is still dark, while the yellow arrow is Eratosthenes, a crater at the end of the Apennine mountain range (Montes Apenninus,) that distinctive curved line of mountains easily visible with a long lens, decent binoculars, or a small telescope.

first quarter moon with Tycho and Eratosthenes marked
The reason that I mention the Apennines and Eratosthenes is that these are more visible and distinctive than Tycho, at this time of lunar day, and the appearance of Eratosthenes from the darkness indicates about the same happening for Tycho. And after getting this image and determining that I was a little too early, I wondered if the event might just occur in an hour or so. This is where I was unnecessarily stupid (like there’s a necessary level of stupidity,) because I neglected to check the time when the moon would disappear below the horizon and guesstimated it instead; when I went back out, I was too late.

The next day I did a couple of daylight shots of the moon (meaning our daylight, like late afternoon here) and followed up in the evening, confirming that I was too late.

first quarter phase of moon showing sunrise has passed Tycho crater
And the marked version; again, blue for Tycho, yellow for Eratosthenes.

version of same image with Tycho and Eratosthenes marked
There is the faintest indication of that central peak, from both a brighter spot of the light reflecting more directly to us from the sides, and a darker spot from the shadow it throws; you can imagine that, at this magnification, even if I get the precise moment the focus better be bang on or it won’t show at all.

The other crater now visible to the left of Eratosthenes is Copernicus; with its high and sharp walls it shows up pretty well with magnification, leading to the common saying, “If you can see Copernicus, it’s too late for breakfast on Tycho.” So, yeah, missed sunrise again.

Now, as you’re rolling your eyes at my incompetence and thinking of reading someone else’s blog, let me tell you the rest of the story. Again, pinning down Tycho when you’re seeing it at the terminator (edge of shadow) can be tricky if you’re not intimately familiar with all of the craters on the moon, and Google Moon is no help; neither are most of the moon maps in existence, for much the same reasons. So one of my tricks is to take a full moon photo from my own stock, where Tycho is obvious, and overlay it onto the current image. This isn’t as simple as it sounds. Not only do both the size and the orientation have to be precise, requiring a lot of playing around in an editing program, the moon wobbles, and doesn’t show us the exact same face each night, so any chosen full moon shot might not match the face I just got, and no editing trick is going to fix that.

But as I was going through my folder seeing what pics might help, I came across a set of images taken back in 2009 when I had an 8″ Galilean telescope, experimental shots holding the camera without lens up the the empty eyepiece of the scope – much larger and more detailed than anything the 170-500 could manage. The orientation was different so maybe that’s why it escaped my attention then, but I stopped dead now and looked stupidly at the photo (orientation changed closer to other photos here.)

first quarter moon showing sunrise on Tycho's central peak
See it? I admit, it’s hard to make out at this resolution, meaning that in the viewfinder of the camera at the lower magnification of the 170-500, it would be impossible, but here’s a full resolution inset of the telescope image, with handy blue pointer again.

full resolution inset of previous image with Tycho marked
Yeah, that’s sunrise on Tycho’s central peak all right. And there are even some indications that I caught it almost as it occurred; I shot four images over seventeen minutes, and it appears to be getting brighter in each. So, for years I’ve had this as a goal, unaware that I’d captured it without intending to back during some experimental shots in the early days of the blog – in fact, ten days before what presently counts as the first post, but not really. It even got posted seven weeks later.

I ended up selling that telescope back when I needed the money, and in all honesty this isn’t a good area for astronomical observations, between the light pollution and humidity, but I still might get a smaller scope to use when the mood strikes – I like astronomy too much not to.

First mud, part 2

I’ve had a small handful of posts (how many is that? What do posts mass? How many fit in an average hand?) in the works for several days, trying to get enough time to sit down and work on them, so this is evidence of them to some extent – there’s going to be a lot of photos in this one. But some of that is due to conditions, too.

common chickweed Stellaria media blossomIt is perfectly expected to be mired in the lingering pall of winter at this point, the time when I am struggling to find something, anything, to photograph, and we had a couple of hard snows which would have seemed to indicate that spring might be slow in coming. At left, a common chickweed (Stellaria media) flower, perhaps 8mm across at best, makes an initial appearance in one of the dormant planters in front of the house. I had to make two attempts at this, because when I first spotted the flowers I didn’t have time to photograph them, and that time arrived after dark. This is a flower that closes up at night, so you understand how that went. Eventually, I got out during the day to capture this bare little indication of the better photography season.

Yet we had a spate of remarkably warm weather, and abruptly things were happening. The daffodils emerged, many of the plants in the yard started to bud out, and the rose bush that I had just trimmed back threw out hundreds of new branches. One could easily be convinced that spring had arrived, and while I’d love to believe that, I’m wary of the time of year and suspect that we have another cold snap due at some point.

But damn the practical pessimism – there might be things to take pichers of out there! The Unclean Mr Bugg thought so too, resulted in two outings within a week, making up (a little) for the fact that he’s been missing since christmastime. Okay, that’s not completely true; he tried to schedule an outing when it was grey and cold and I didn’t feel well, which I had to blow off, but that was the only one. And so, out we went!

The first was to Mason Farm Biological Reserve, and we were largely looking for birds at that point. They were more scarce than normal, but it was afternoon and not the ideal time to be chasing such subjects, even as we enter mating season. We still got inordinately lucky, right from the start. At the calls of two barred owls (Strix varia) pretty close by we froze, and a pair cut right across the path in plain sight, alighting in some trees roughly thirty meters away. By the way, I’ll take a moment to scold whatever ornithologist or naturalist that named the barred owl, or perhaps the barn owl – whichever was named second: it is perpetually tedious to keep orally explaining to someone the difference between the two names, which inevitably means I’m saying, “Barrrrred-duh. You know, with bars, the stripes across the plumage.” If some stupid sonofabitch names a new species the bard owl, I will hunt them down personally and kneecap them.

One of the owls was spotted (no, not with spots, you fool, but espied, discovered, arrested visually) on a branch in relatively plain sight – which demonstrated how good those bars are, because even then it was damn hard to see, but you know, this is what I’ve been doing for years, so no biggie [polish nails]. That’s, naturally, if I don’t tell you about the second owl, which was never seen again, yet still likely to be perched in another tree giggling at us. We crept closer, snapping off a few pics under the forest canopy in light overcast conditions – not the ideal time to be chasing photos with a long lens. Our subject, back to us, took off and flew to another tree not far away, and I watched it carefully to note its position as we crept still closer. Eventually, it turned fixed its gaze on us. I am under no illusions that it didn’t know we were there all along, since we were conversing quietly and owls have wicked sharp hearing, but I think it was more intent on its territoriality and/or courtship and was ignoring us as long as possible – it even craned its head around when the distant calls of a red-shouldered hawk were heard. But yeah, with patience we got some nice facial shots, and I think it’s pretty obvious that we see it here from the back.

barred owl Strix varia eyeing the camera warily
I was over-exposing (from what the camera suggested) by a full stop because of the lightness of the background, with boosted ISO and a monopod for the long lens, and this still isn’t as sharp as it could be – like I said, not ideal conditions, but snagging an owl pic in daylight is uncommon enough, so I’m not complaining. And you know me – I can complain about anything.

Others were making it clear that they believed spring was here too. The frogs were already calling, and in several places we found turtles basking. I usually consider the appearance of the frogs to herald the spring shooting season, so there were gratifying to see. Here, a painted turtle (Chrysemys picta) turned its head this way and that to watch us warily as we passed, which was quite curious; they usually don’t hesitate to dive into the water as soon as they know someone is near, but a jogger even passed as we stood there shooting, and the turtle turned to watch him go without even twitching from position.

painted turtle Chrysemys picta displaying remarkable patience
Mason Farm didn’t offer a lot else worth mentioning or displaying, so we’ll move on. A few days later, I was doing yard work before I had to meet Mr Bugg again, and casually plucked a few fallen leaves from where they had nestled over the winter within the branches of a small shrub. A flash of bright green had me thinking the shrub was also leafing out, but better focus revealed it to be a green treefrog (Hyla cinerea.)

green treefrog Hyla cinerea newly emerged  in spring
Notably, this was the exact same shrub (or its immediate neighbor) where I had photographed the one unearthed, literally a ha ha, from a bag of potting soil last year; I was trying to encourage it to use the bush’s soil for its winter hibernation, but suspected that it had rejected my suggestion. I’m still not sure this is the same one, since it has bigger yellow spots on the back than I see in the pics from last year, but it’s also thinner and less hydrated from hibernation, so… maybe?

[On an unrelated side note, did you see how the background details mimicked the curve of the frog’s back, actually framing it? How about the other twig that points right to the main focal point, the eye? That’s careful composition, that is, a master at work. Okay, I’m sorry, the truth is it’s wholly unintentional and serendipitous, and I’m only admitting it here because nobody reads anything on the internet, so this is my little inside joke. Also, I spit in your milk back in the third grade.]

After that, I picked up Mr Bugg at his place, and spotted/espied/discovered/arrested a green or Carolina anole (Anolis carolinensis) basking on a solar landscape light. I was able to go back to the car to get my camera, but as I worked my way in closer it started stirring warily, which I hopefully captured with this image.

green anole Carolina anole Anolis carolinensis not happy with photographer's presence
Stop arching your eyebrows; the ‘green’ in the name comes from the Latin root graein, meaning lizardlike, and isn’t a reference to color. Sheesh.

That’s another lie; it really does refer to color, usually just a hair less vivid green than the frog above, but anoles have the ability to change color due to mood, and this might have been a reflection of its new emergence.

We didn’t know what to expect at our next stop, which was West Point on the Eno River, but I announced my skepticism that the snakes would be out yet. Naturally, that was the first thing we spotted.

northern water snake Nerodia sipedon basking at Eno River edge
Really, immediately off a busy path, this northern water snake (Nerodia sipedon) was sitting motionless – I thought it could have picked a better place, since it was asking to be attacked by overreactive visitors or disrespectfully unleashed dogs, but there it was. Northern water snakes are quick to bite but utterly harmless, yet constantly mistaken for something with more consequences (i.e, venom,) like cottonmouths or copperheads. This one was almost certainly fast asleep, and we were able to go in quite close for portraits. The next shot is a tight crop of another image, still not full resolution, but certainly not the entire frame.

northern water snake Nerodia sipedon in tight closeup
Snakes don’t have eyelids so they don’t look asleep, but this one almost certainly was to allow this kind of approach. By the way, to help with identification: round pupil; venomous snakes have slitted pupils like cats. Dark portions of pattern on back is widest along spine, and heads are dark and patterned, unlike copperheads. Very thick body and neck; copperheads are more slender. Upper lip has vertical stripes, and no horizontal stripe through the eye, unlike cottonmouths (which do not live in the area anyway, despite rampant folklore.) Also, the broken band pattern towards the tail, seen further up, distinguishes the northern water snake from the banded water snake, which are otherwise virtually identical.

And more frogs were out.

small frog, possibly cricket frog, sitting amongst leaf litter at river edge
In most cases, however, you had to be sharp-eyed. The little chorus frogs were out in force in some ideal places, but usually not visible at all until we stepped close, whereupon they launched themselves into the water, or at least away from our feet. If you’re having trouble seeing the frog, good – that was the intention of this photo, though it sits immediately in the center of the frame. And at 20mm in length, even if you saw it move it might be hard to spot again. Slow and careful approaches would permit better photos, though.

likely southern cricket frog Acris gryllus sitting in shallow water
This is likely a cricket frog, but positive identification is a little tricky since the markings can vary so much, and there are northern and southern variants with subtle differences between. I suspect a southern cricket frog (Acris gryllus,) but feel free to crush my delusions of intelligence. I don’t mind. Really.

Here’s a view of another specimen, that I include just for giggles.

likely southern cricket frog Acris gryllus waiting patiently on close approach
I had the macro lighting rig with me, but lazily had not taken it out for these shots, so we’re looking at f4 just to prevent a slow shutter speed in the shade under the trees. But there was a bit of indirect light from the sky, as we can see when we examine that reflection in the eye.

inset of likely southern cricket frog Acris gryllus photo showing eye detailYou can see the semi-cloudy sky, and the silhouette of my head slightly to the left, while Mr Bugg is standing upright a bit more distant to the right. This is full resolution, by the way, and to get this I was flat on my belly on the ground, elbows starting to sink into the soft peat at the river edge. Believe it or not, it’s slightly easier to get the portrait images rather than profile, because you’re cutting off the frog’s intended direction of retreat and they have to reposition themselves to hop in another direction – for some reason they seem reluctant to do this, at least if you move slowly enough.

A little further on in much softer conditions, I saw a rock which didn’t look right.

suspiciously frog-shapped rock
I thought this looked a bit too frog-like in shape, and the 80mm focal length seemed to confirm it, but the additional detail of the dark eyes told me that it was probably a dead specimen. Then I saw it move, and went back to thinking it was a new emergent from the mud of hibernation.

There’s more detail to be seen in that image, though, so look closely. Because it becomes more obvious with the next shot.

American toad Anaxyrus americanus emerging from hibernation mud behind dead specimen
Yes, that primary one is dead, and noticeably swollen, but the one immediately behind it isn’t. That’s an American toad (Anaxyrus americanus) back there, responsible for the movement of the corpse that I saw, but what exactly is going on here I cannot say for sure and don’t want to speculate on. It’s possible the dead one was exposed during the winter while the live one was deep enough to escape that fate, but that’s just a wild guess. Other than that all bets are off.

While out there, we heard more barred owl calls, one from across the river but one contesting it from our side, clearly a territorial display. With a few repeats I pinned down the rough location and, having a little familiarity with the quality of barred owl calls, I knew it wasn’t too distant, and just off the path we were on. There were two trees that seemed likely, between 80 and 100 meters away, and so we started creeping closer, stopping frequently to examine the trees for the camouflaging patterns of the owl. The first tree yielded nothing, but within the second I soon noted what looked like a tail as I rounded the trunk. Another two steps confirmed it.

barred owl Strix varia watching our approach with distinct wariness
This was a nice little vindication of my nature photographer skills – well, partially, anyway. There was no way we were going to approach an owl undetected, but my estimate of location was perfectly accurate and I was ready with the camera as it hove into view, peering at us with intent suspicion. I got off only two frames before it flew off, and should have had exposure compensation ready, but didn’t – that’s why I said “partially.” This is tweaked slightly brighter in post-production.

decrepit stump with nest openingThere’s also less vindication of nature photography skills from this one, and commensurately less to show for it. We’d already passed this stump when I heard the soft tapping, presumably of a distant woodpecker, but as I turned back to examine the trees across the river I thought my triangulation seemed a little off. Another couple of steps confirmed it, and with the 100-300 lens I spotted the nest opening at the base of the branch, on a stump on this side of the river; someone was busy within shaping their nest hollow. Flushed with my success from capturing the brown-headed nuthatch, I waited patiently for the bird to appear in the opening. I don’t hold my arms up over my head for much, and though the camera wasn’t heavy, it soon became fatiguing to keep it to my eye, so I did a lot of spot-checks as I waited, pretty much every time there was a pause in the tapping. Going from the timestamps on the photos, I waited at least fifteen minutes, standing there at the base of the stump, before I gave up on seeing the builder emerge, even when I knew I would never get the shot unless I was more patient than that. Now, if I’d brought the tripod and could sit beneath it with the remote-release in my hand, that might have been a different story.

Overall, it was a pretty successful outing, even when I’d gotten a few decent images before we’d arrived. The weather was exceptionally comfortable, not hot and not at all cold (we were both in shorts and wading sandals.) By no rights should I have pics like this from late February, so I’m pleased. And yet, still pulled off a bonus shot too.

Later that same evening, I went out back to check on the backyard pond to see if the frogs there were stirring, and as I passed one of the rain barrels, another green treefrog was found perched on top – obviously this is a different specimen than earlier, and allowed me several shooting positions. And I spotted a little blip of something submerging within the pond, too, so I’m comfortable that pics of the green (not tree) frogs from the pond will be along before too long. Plus, I still have at least one other topic awaiting my attentions, so I should get another post in before February ends, on top of the end-of-month abstract.

second green treefrog Hyla cinerea of 2018 sitting on rain barrel

Too cool, part 37

Enceladus and Saturn's rings from Cassini courtesy Cassini Imaging Team

Courtesy: Cassini Imaging Team, SSI, JPL, ESA, NASA

Okay, okay, it’s cheating, I know, since I’ve featured this very same moon before, taken by the very same probe as well. Of course, for the time being, there’s not a lot of choices in the latter department, since the Cassini probe was the only one doing detailed images of Saturn and its moons, but last September it boldly went down into the thickening atmosphere of Saturn and either got rendered inoperable by the pressure, or Bowmaned off into a new realm someplace – I’m fairly certain NASA is maintaining the former, but you know, they still maintain that we’ve actually been to our moon…

Anyway this is, once again, Saturn’s moon Enceladus, still showing off its fancy plumes, backlit by the sun, backgrounded by Saturn’s rings, and accompanied in the frame (though not in proximity) by another of Saturn’s moons, Pandora. Astronomy Picture Of the Day from February 15th has the details, and a larger version of the image. This one looks like a digitally created abstract; add in a base color of blue fading into pink and you’d have a great representation of cosmic artwork from the eighties.

Enceladus is known for being composed of a thick ice crust over what seems to be an underlying, global, liquid ocean, which vents out into space through cracks in the ice crust; that’s actually what you’re seeing at the bottom of the moon. You might be thinking, How does a liquid ocean exist under the ice crust way out there around Saturn? Enceladus is close enough to Saturn’s strong gravity that the constant tidal forces on the solid core – the same kind of thing that gives Earth its ocean tides, but a hell of a lot stronger – actually keep it in flux and generate a fair amount of heat and friction, which appears to be enough to maintain the ‘mid-level’ water in liquid form – and it’s this same state that makes Enceladus one of the biggest candidates for life to form within our solar system. Determining this could be tricky, since that ice crust is kilometers thick – right now we have the information we do about it through penetrating radar and gravitational measurements. One of the things that I hope we accomplish within my lifetime is actually getting some kind of probe down to the water level of that moon.

Now an examination from the photographic standpoint. You may have noticed that Enceladus is entirely silhouetted except for the barest edge, but Pandora has its face illuminated by sunlight reflected from Saturn. Why not Enceladus? Because we’re looking at the ‘double-night’ side of Enceladus – it’s closer to Cassini (and our viewing position) than Saturn is, while Pandora is on the opposite side of the orbit; the sun itself is directly behind Enceladus, thus the glowing ring lines across the image, while Saturn is out of the frame to the left. Sunlight reflected from Saturn can illuminate Pandora, and it illuminates Enceladus too, making it much brighter than Pandora – but on the side opposite us.

I said ‘double-night’ above to reflect the light dynamics around other planets. On Saturn’s moons, the sun can be very bright, but it’s so distant as to be quite small in the sky, while the vast bulk of Saturn itself – and Jupiter, and Neptune, and so on – will dominate the sky, and throw a lot of reflected light. So Pandora, between the sun and Saturn, is lit from two sides, and only a narrow sliver of the moon might be experiencing darkness. But as it moves around to the night side of Saturn, the far side can experience true night, like this face of Enceladus is now. The ‘day-night’ cycle of the moons is distinctly different from our own, where our little and somewhat distant moon can brighten the night at times, but not as badly as something taking up literally half of the entire sky as Saturn might.

And yes, Earth throws reflected sunlight onto the ‘dark side’ of our own moon as well, but a) it mostly does it during our local day so the light scattered from our atmosphere obscures most of it, and b) it’s weak in comparison to Saturn – consider how small the Earth looks in those photos taken from the moon. But in the right conditions it can still be captured – check out ‘Earthshine’ sometime.

It seems you’ve never met

This was originally going to be included in an earlier post, but it never fit in well with it and needed its own dedication, so let’s start with another frequently-seen internet meme that illustrates an all-too-common perspective:

internet idiocy meme

And what if I told you that you should stick to subjects you have the faintest knowledge of, and stop spreading your idiocy around like herpes?

Let’s face it: the anti-vaccination fuckheads are too stupid to be allowed out in public alone. The moon-conspiracy chuzzlewits imagine they’re clever when they haven’t the faintest grasp of basic physics. And the dog breed champions really, really need to sit down and think for a whole ten seconds.

Seriously, if dog behavior was entirely up to the owner, then there would be almost no point at all to actually breeding dogs, would there? I mean, physical appearance, right? That’s it? Behavior and traits and tendencies – they all have to be written on that ‘blank slate’ of the brain, just like birds have to be shown by their parents how to build their intricate and specific nests, and snakes have to learn through trial and error how to constrict, and how all animals have to sample a bunch of different things in order to determine what food works best for them. Sure, you can manipulate genes to produce body shapes and fur color, blood types and resistance to diseases, even temperature hardiness and homing abilities. But the brain? Not a chance – that’s always exactly the same because the brain isn’t developed through genes. I mean, duh!

Hopefully my sarcasm is elaborate enough, but if not, let me know because I can still ramp it up a bit. We’ve only been breeding dogs for millennia because no one has yet noticed that it doesn’t have much effect. And seriously, anyone can train any breed of dog to be attack dogs – we’re just conditioned to believe that pitbulls are overreactive, and rottweilers are badasses.

Anyway, let me introduce you to common sense.

In a long history of breeding animals – we’re talking literally thousands of years – it’s only been in the last century or so that we did so for appearance (theirs, not ours.) All of the remaining time, it’s been for functionality. And yes, a large portion of that functionality comes through behavior, attitude, and even ‘personality.’ We have dog breeds that are good with kids, or better at home protection, or good at herding, and on and on and on because when they showed any such tendencies, we selected for those and enhanced those traits, just as we were able to enhance physical traits that make any given breed fail to look like the wolves they originated from. The original line of bulldogs was bred for the ‘sport’ of bullbaiting: seizing onto the nose of a bull and hanging on as long as they could, and as such they have powerful jaws, neck muscles, and shoulders. Later on, pitting the dogs against one another became more popular, and the breeds began to reflect that – including very limited tolerance of being ‘challenged’ and a fierce desire to establish dominance. This is a standard behavioral factor in all pack animals anyway, the origin of the phrase “alpha male,” so breeders weren’t even producing the behavior, just exaggerating it.

[As a trivial sideline, this is also the reason behind cropping ears and docking tails. Dogs usually establish dominance through body language such as dropping the tail and laying the ears flat to communicate their reluctance to challenge authority, their ‘submission.’ Removing these meant that, even if the dog wanted to submit, it never displayed the language that said so. And now we consider it a “breed trait” and insist on surgically altering these breeds to pay homage to their idiotic past.]

Worse, in breeds such as the Staffordshire Bull Terrier, or American Staffordshire Terrier, or Pitbull (pick whichever name you consider proper – we made them all up anyway, so who cares?) the practice of dog-fighting had to go underground but continues to this day, meaning the enhancement of these stubborn, dominant, and violent tendencies is still going on, unlike most of the other former working breeds that have now become ‘show’ dogs and may be bred away from unnecessary and dangerous behavior. In other words, pitbulls are the least removed from nasty traits – even if you specifically refer to those produced by breeders that are trying to establish a nonviolent aspect of the breed.

Now, there are thousands of arguments about the whole subject, and I’ll address some of those in a moment. But for the opening (and oft-repeated) assertion that dog behavior is learned, well, bullshit, and rather obvious bullshit at that. Some behavior is learned, or trained into a dog – and some of it is inherent, sometimes in the species as a whole, and sometimes as an aspect of that particular breed. And of course, it is the inherent aspects that are causing the problems.

There are countless arguments and claims and oral diarrheas that come up, time and again, mostly in the service of utter denial that some dogs are, on average, a lot more dangerous than others: “They were provoked,” and, “they weren’t socialized properly,” “people overreact to media attention,” and, “every dog can bite,” and on and on and on. They all have a kernel of truth to them – but we need more than a kernel, and the bare statistics make it abundantly clear. For instance, what a dog might consider provocation can be as simple as maintained eye-contact (pits are especially sensitive to this because, again, it’s how dogs communicate challenges and attempts to establish dominance) or failing to heed their keep-away signals, something that children are remarkably prone to doing, and even a lot of adults can be abysmally bad about reading signs. And yes, every dog can bite – but those that are compiling statistics aren’t counting the bites, they’re looking at the numbers and types of dog attacks that result in hospitalizations and even deaths, something that chihuahuas somehow manage not to score highly on, despite their propensity for biting. And no, those attacks are not all coming from dogs from disreputable sources either, or dogs with improper socialization or exercise room. These can certainly contribute, but this would mean that all species that were in such conditions should show the same number of injuries dealt, and they don’t. Not by a long shot.

What has to be the most pernicious and annoying argument that arises, every fucking time the subject is discussed, is the hoary old, “I know someone with that breed and it couldn’t be a nicer dog!” Well, shit, why did we spend all this time compiling statistics and talking to animal behavior experts and interviewing victims when we could have just asked you? I’m sure that your singular personal experience countermands all other evidence that we could possibly examine! Seriously, anecdotes of this nature should be grounds for getting smacked upside the head, especially among anyone that’s had to view the videos of dog attacks, the photos of the injuries, or talk to the parents of the young victims. Every dog has their own personality, and there are a lot of variations – none can be considered so representative of the breed that all others must conform to it, and this goes for any personality you want to assign. But on average, any given species often has a distinct tendency towards certain traits, which is what the numbers tell us. And for a bit of amusement, note that the very argument of a nice example of the breed directly implies that behavior is an inherent trait – otherwise such an anecdote would be completely worthless. Like I said, people often don’t even sit down and think for ten seconds about what they’re saying.

The topic itself arises primarily because of the myriad ways people are proposing or implementing methods of reducing the attacks and injuries: breed-specific legislation, housing/socialization requirements, special registrations, and so on. And there are two primary factors that arise during such discussions, the first being, exactly how effective is the proposed method at curbing or halting the negative consequences? And this is certainly a worthwhile question. Unfortunately, it is often overshadowed by the other factor, which is, “I’ve got a blind spot about animals (especially this breed.)” And I’m going to put this very very bluntly, but I want a real answer: How many instances of people being maimed or killed are allowable in order not to impinge on some dog-owners’ personal preference?

While we’re waiting on that answer, I’ll point out that dog ‘breeds’ are arbitrary distinctions that we make up out of pure ego – we created all of them, from the original wolves (whose DNA is so similar that it’s next to impossible to distinguish from any dog.) Try to determine any reason whatsoever to even maintain these distinctions, much less a reason why anyone would have to own one. “Purebred” actually means “inbred,” and carries a burden of genetic disadvantages and detriments with alarming frequency – feel free to look up the tendencies towards specific medical problems (and adverse behavior) for any given breed. And once again, from the sheltering standpoint, there are millions of animals already seeking homes – what fucking reason does anyone have for breeding, or even desiring, a “special” animal in the face of those numbers?

*     *     *     *     *

My days in the animal shelters, and compiling reports, and working as an animal cruelty investigator, produced more than a little direct experience pertinent to the topic itself, and so here are a couple of examples. I have more if you want them.

At one point in time, we actually had a group of fighting pitbulls in the shelter, over twenty dogs impounded during an investigation, and this introduced a lot of changes to our routines. To begin with, we added a lot of safety equipment to the kennels in handy locations, things like pepper spray and parting sticks. If you’re not familiar with the dog-fighting world, parting sticks are tools used to convince the dog to let go; they’re made to pry open a dog’s jaws in the frequent-enough event that the dog refuses to do so on its own or on command. Which pretty much puts the lie to the idea that dogs have to be trained to be aggressive; they’re trained to obey commands, but in the thick of things it doesn’t always work. The fighting bit is a lot more instinctual, and is a reflection of the pack behavior that is the primary social structure among canids (and birds, and plenty of other species as well – these dynamics helped the animals survive, and were honed over millennia by nature itself.)

In general, dogs determine on their own where they stand among others of their kind – one will become the pack leader, with a reducing hierarchy of deference. In the event the leader isn’t immediately available, the next in line takes its place. Even all by itself in a family of humans, dogs still view things in terms of the pack, which occasionally leads to obedience problems, as well as other adverse interactions. Some dogs, for instance, recognize the human father as the dominant male, but fit themselves into the ‘pack’ elsewhere, perhaps occasionally obeying the commands of the mother, and completely ignoring the kids. Others may view the kids as pups or lessers in the pack, and may react strongly when they feel the children are acting out of line; this is often kids running around wildly, especially if the kids are squealing a lot – I don’t have to give you examples of this, do I?

No matter how dogs consider humans in their ‘pack’ hierarchy, there are other aspects of their behavior that easily override this introduced concept. This is why, every time someone tells me their dog doesn’t need to be on a leash because it is “voice-trained,” I smile indulgently and, I hope, a little condescendingly; it’s better than guffawing loudly into their face and calling them ignorant buffoons. Any dog can take off after a squirrel if they consider squirrels food or intruders, because the millions of years of evolved behavior kinda blows a few dozen hours of training out of the water. Your dog always stays in the yard? Yeah, until another dog happens along, and then this idea gets left behind as the pack interaction dominates their behavior – we used to call it ‘partners in crime’ because a pair or more of dogs will do things that no individual gets itself into, like chasing neighborhood cats or kids and tearing up stuff. They’re competing against each other. You can shout, “Here Fido!” until you’re blue in the face; the training to obey falls way below the drive to survive, behavior evolved into them long before we came along.

Fighting dogs are selectively bred to be pack leaders, and maintain this status when challenged – this is what a dog fight is to them: the other dog must yield, or it remains a challenge to their own authority. Yes, it’s just as stupid as any bar fight. But as I said, there’s a lot of emphasis on obeying commands – owners want the dogs to release when told, not to fight to the death, and the fight belongs among other dogs, not among humans; no owner wants to feel threatened themselves. But after breeding these traits in for decades – traits that are mere extensions of behavior established thousands to millions of years back in the wolf ancestors – a couple of generations isn’t going to make it go away dependably. Believe me, I’m not going to dispute that there are reputable pitbull breeders out there, ones that are ensuring in every way possible that they are not producing aggressive dogs, but there’s several key factors to consider:

1) There is no absolutely no way of determining if the aggressiveness if actually bred out of a dog – again, it’s an extension of deeply ingrained behavior. The only thing that can be done is to observe a dog for a lack of indicators, a failure to respond to typical triggers – which doesn’t mean that there’s not a trigger that no one’s found yet. And this says nothing of genetic latency, especially since we have no idea what genes are actually involved (much less the ability to do the intricate and expensive tests necessary to find them);

2) For every reputable breeder, there are at least five ‘backyard breeders’ who haven’t the faintest idea that they should be looking for indicators in the first place, and are only in it for the buck. Good luck determining where any particular dog comes from. The last I heard, the average authenticity of any given American Kennel Club certification (you know, “he gots papers“) was less than 30%. And that only tells bloodline, which is a near-meaningless factor anyway;

3) There are certainly nice pitbulls out there, as there are for any breed – but for a very large percentage of the people that want them, that’s not the trait or ‘aura’ they’re after. They want the reputation, and as long as the breed exists, there will be that market;

4) There are, really, an unknown percentage of breeders specifically for fighting dogs. The dogs that don’t quite pass muster all go somewhere – I’ll let you figure out where. Are you going to be surprised if you find out that most fighting breeders are also ‘reputable’ breeders? Let’s face it, it’s not easy to completely conceal a kennel full of dogs.

So with all of that, perhaps it’s a little more obvious now why there are no easy solutions – and in fact, no one’s quite sure what they’re trying to accomplish, since too many people are at cross purposes. For my own part, I find that even bothering with a distinguished ‘breed’ is pointless – when we do it with people it’s considered racism.

That situation with the fighting dogs in our kennels was entirely uneventful, by the way – I wish I could say the same for others. In a neighboring county, a particular pitbull was placed on quarantine following a bite situation (this is a requirement of North Carolina law, as the animal is observed for signs of rabies,) while Animal Control tried to determine if the dog should be maintained under vicious confinement as a potentially dangerous dog, due to the circumstances under which the bite occurred, primarily unprovoked. Eventually, with the testimony of a neighbor who knew the dog and maintained that he was not aggressive, the dog was released back to the owner with no restrictions. The neighbor, an elderly woman, would stop by the yard to visit the dog and give it treats from time to time.

Less than ten days after being released, the dog attacked her early one morning, and ripped her arm off.

Anyone may want to ask a lot of questions – it’s natural to want to know what happened. I never heard myself, but you know, it doesn’t matter. There is nothing, no circumstance, that could warrant such a response from the dog, ‘provoked’ or not (and while any given dog might have a different idea of what constitutes provocation, it’s not their standards we should concern ourselves about; any pet dog lives in a world of humans and needs to conform to our minimal standards. Full stop.) Hey, this is one anecdote – I don’t blame anyone for treating this as an isolated incident, though granted, it’s often the exact same people who think their anecdote of a nice dog should be a pertinent example. Except – it’s not an isolated incident; it’s a pattern of behavior that’s occurred far too many times. The personal feelings horseshit and feeble attempts at thinking need to go away entirely while we seek real solutions.

The edge of the world has a dock

dock on foggy lake
It is perhaps best not to ask what actually moors to it…

The night and thus the morning was foggy and I was up early with nothing pressing to do, so I headed down to Jordan Lake to do something interesting with the conditions. I was down there for about two hours I think (I don’t really look at my watch when I’m shooting,) and captured something like 175 images. But, this post could be better – I know, that goes without saying, but I mean, better than normal for me – because of an uncommon but probably unavoidable occurrence. A large number of the images from the memory card simply disappeared.

I unloaded that 175 count of files from the card. Checked the folders, ensured that the beginning and end images were there, then deleted them from the card. There’s several aspects of reasoning to this. First, I make sure that I got everything from the card (which I didn’t quite do – I knew I had the first and last dozen or so images, but never confirmed all the ones in the middle were intact.) That way if any were missed, they could still be retrieved from the card. But I soon delete the images from the card, because if I forget, I end up trying to download them again later on, and then playing around with determining the most recent files. There’s a small factor in keeping the most amount of space available on the card, but with 8Gb and jpeg files, it would take a long time to fill it – like a week of heavy shooting.

Anyway, something happened – I suspect with the card reader, which as I type this still thinks that the card is present though it’s been formatted and returned to the camera (and formatted again, but I think I’m going to make it an emergency backup instead.) This is a relatively new compact flash card too.

foggy flooded region in woods
I’ve run into this before – it’s something you just have to be prepared for when shooting digital. It happened with film too, only with bad batches, accidentally exposed film, or errors in processing. Sometimes you simply lose images. However, there is a program called Zero Assumption Recovery that does a pretty nifty job of recovering images from memory cards – even after you deleted them and/or formatted the card; it’s the nature of how files are actually stored and retrieved in digital memory. I’ve used it quite a few times, sometimes on my own cards, sometimes for other people, and while it usually doesn’t get everything, it can recover a lot of stuff that was believed gone forever.

Sometimes, a lot of stuff. Computer (and thus camera) memory isn’t actually deleted when you hit delete, it is simply marked as usable space, and ZAR ignores those markings and finds all the files. You may end up recovering things from months to years ago, though the present versions allow you to set date parameters. However, if you deleted files, used the card for more shooting, and then want to go back and find old files, you may not – that space may have been overwritten by the new files. Also, sometimes the files just become corrupt, and even ZAR can’t repair them. Sometimes you get incomplete images or, like in this case, a bunch of files with corrupt headers that simply cannot be read. I had to recover just shy of a hundred missing files, and ended up with 37 of them. So it goes. Naturally, the ones that I felt were the most fartistic were among the missing.

drops acting as lenses
A quick note about this image. The trees in many cases were dripping with water, which became almost like a light rain under the horrid longneedle pines, and I made several attempts to go in close with the macro lens and tripod to do this kind of drop lens effect. I talked about the difficulties of doing this before, and it played out this morning. I would place the tripod carefully, find I was a little too far away for maximum magnification, and try to scootch closer. This was all on small trees and saplings, by the way, the ones where the branches were at the right height to be photographed. Which also means the branches were at the right height to be bumped, and three separate times I disturbed the tree as I tried to get in closer. It doesn’t matter how insignificant the contact is, because such useful drops are on the fine edge of giving up the fight with gravity, and that tiny vibration on a branch well away from the one I had chosen was still enough to dislodge the drop. You know how trees are wider on the bottom, right? So are tripods. Feel free to try it if you don’t believe me.

odd-shaped web with dew and occupant
I have shot this kind of web many times before, once here, but this time, I actually captured the builder in the pic – except I didn’t see this at the time and so didn’t focus on it; it’s that grey spot at the bottom of the bowl in the center. I hate noticing details when I get back home that I wish I’d seen when shooting. This was just a casual grab-shot, and I could have done some nice detail and discovered what species of spider makes it. Foggy and dewy mornings, by the way, make it abundantly clear just how many spiders there are in any given location – the webs are always there, you just can’t see most of them.

And I close with another dock shot, as a morning fisherman headed off into the mist – this gives a fairly good idea how thick the fog was. It also distinctly shows the effect of an aspherical very-wide lens, in this case the Tamron 10-24 at 10mm – look at the dock.

fishing boat disappearing into foggy lake
Wide-angle lenses are going to distort – it’s necessary to fit the broad view angle into the narrower aspect of the frame. Old spherical lenses used to distort the edges so badly there would be a ‘fisheye’ effect, which the newer lenses largely correct – but this situation demonstrates that it can’t be perfect. But this image also, originally, gave a fairly good idea how much dust was on the sensor again! I just fucking cleaned the bastard not two weeks ago! Granted, doing multiple lens changes in such conditions certainly doesn’t help, but shit, I’d hoped it could stay clean for a month or so. Anyway, that all got edited out for display here, before I go back and clean the goddamn thing again…

Not all at once

Hmmmm, I have a choice between a rant semi-continued from another post, or a kinda-long exposition that explains some curious traits. What to do, what to do?

strange lightning picture not mineI would like to give credit for this photo, but it’s one of the millions on the internet that were lifted from somewhere and make the rounds without attribution – oh, you internet! Anyway, it looks pretty bizarre and definitely puzzles a lot of people, but it’s actually not hard to determine how it came about, provided you know a simple trait about some cameras.

Despite the teeny tiny little lens and digital sensors on most smutphone cameras, they don’t operate in the same manner as DSLRs or film cameras, and don’t take the entire image at once. Instead, they have a ‘scanning’ method of recording the scene, very much like those old flatbed scanners, or a photocopy machine, or robots in cheesy science fiction depictions: the image is recorded a section at a time, generally running from one side of the scene to the other. It goes pretty fast, but if something is moving pretty fast (like a propeller) or happens very briefly, it gets captured in different portions of the action – this is worse if the light is low and the sensor is trying to get the most light from the scene. So what we actually see here is just a photo of the car, but during the exposure time, a very brief flash of lightning occurred right in the center of the frame – bright enough to illuminate the sky and, very slightly, the tree in midground, but short enough to only get captured during a portion of the recording scan. If you look very close, you can see that one arm of the lightning bolt to the right side persisted into the next block of the scan after the brightest light from the sky had faded. It’s simple, really.

Except that what I said earlier is a little bit of a misnomer, because even the better SLR cameras, digital and film, do this too, and have been for quite a while – anything with a focal-plane shutter does, which means anything with a shutter that sits over the film or sensor itself, rather than within the lens assembly (which is a fairly rare subset of camera types anymore, usually large-format cameras.) There is a physical limit to how fast a shutter can move aside to expose the sensor/film behind it, and this limit provides a certain set of restraints in photography – and some clever bits of engineering.

So let’s start with, there are actually two shutters (or to be more pedantic, two shutter curtains) within SLR cameras: one that moves out of the way from one side to the other to expose the media, and another that follows it in the same direction to close the opening. Nowadays with electromagnetic activation and very light materials, it takes roughly 1/300 second to completely cross the entire exposure area, but not too long ago it was about 1/100 second, and for medium-format cameras with much larger film frames and exposure areas, 1/40 to 1/50 second, give or take. And yet, for a long time, cameras have been able to get photos at much higher shutter speeds, 1/1,000 to 1/8,000 second. What sorcery is this?

Well, that’s the point of having those two shutter curtains. For a shutter speed of 1/4,000 second, the first curtain opens up and moves across the sensor (which it will take about 1/300 second to fully cross,) while the second starts to close behind it 1/4,000 of a second after the first starts. This means there’s a narrow gap between the curtains that travels across the media – again, like a flatbed scanner, but a hell of a lot faster and with less grindy noises. Any given point on the media is exposed to the light for 1/4,000 second, but not all of the media is exposed at the same time, and there are no sound barrier explosions from within your camera body.

And this is why, if you’re using the built-in flash of the camera, it always sets itself to a particular shutter speed and no higher: the flash can only go off when both curtains are fully open, or you get an effect like the lightning here. For external flashes, generally they are set to synchronize and go off only when the first curtain has fully opened, and on older cameras there was often a special mark on a particular shutter speed, say 1/90 second; any shutter speed below that was guaranteed to have the frame completely exposed by the flash, while above it would not.

However, there are also dedicated flash units that can expose at higher shutter speeds, often called some variation of ‘FP flash.’ To operate properly, they must communicate with the camera body precisely, because they won’t fire off one flash burst, but a series of them like a strobe light. They’re going off for each section of the media uncovered by the two shutter curtains as they travel across the frame, so the faster the shutter speed (meaning the smaller the gap between the two curtains,) the more bursts are necessary to light up the whole frame. Flash units need a lot of power to fire off that xenon tube within that provides the light, and this means charging a capacitor, so when a lot of bursts are needed, less of the charge can be used for each and the light strength is commensurately weaker and carries less distance.

By the way, this strobing happens so quickly (you know, about 1/300 second give or take) that we don’t see it blinking with our eyes, but just register it as one flash. Yet it syncs up perfectly with the shutter curtains so there’s no gaps or overlaps. Isn’t technology cool?

So now let’s look at another aspect of this high-speed shutter fudging.

When things are moving fast, like propellers or race cars, their movement gets captured in different regions of the media as the shutter travels. So no, this isn’t an especially high wind, but the whirling blades and the sliding curtains coinciding in weird ways. The Republic P-47 has a propeller that rotates counter-clockwise, seen from this angle, so this means the shutter curtains were most likely traveling from bottom to top in this image – think about it and it’ll make sense. You can see, on the topmost blade for instance, how the shutter catches the root of the blade at one position, but as the curtains travel upwards the blade moves to the left and ‘bends’ in that direction. Meanwhile, the two blades on the left side are traveling against the shutter movement, getting compressed in size and spacing.

Except – this is backwards, because the lens always throws an inverted image onto the media, so the shutter was actually traveling from top to bottom of the camera; most camera manufacturers opt to have the curtains travel the shortest distance across the frame, for obvious reasons, so this means a top/bottom travel rather than left/right, though some older cameras do have shutters of this nature. With a little more research I could probably tell you the rough shutter speed that was used, given that engine’s idle RPM…

[Time out for a little warbird trivia. I get this “Mohican” impression from the shirtless crew chief there, though I think it’s just his hat hanging from a chin strap, but notice the difference in clothing between him and the pilot. Even in Burma, where this was taken, the temperatures at high altitudes are well below freezing and the cockpits were neither pressurized nor heated, so bundling up was necessary. Meanwhile, you can see the four .50 caliber machine guns in each wing, staggered so that the ammo belts could fit next to each other, and even the slots under the wing to expel the spent shell casings. The sleek P-51 gets a lot of attention, but the P-47 was an impressive aircraft that could absorb a tremendous amount of punishment and keep flying – check it out sometime.]

By the way, from time to time you might see a photo of a race car, often from when someone can get right down to the fences, that is skewed diagonally. Again, trying to use a high shutter speed that doesn’t actually freeze the car in place, so it’s moving horizontally as the shutter curtains travel vertically. This is why panning the camera works better.

ice cube and water droplets in midairAnd one last trick, another way to overcome the limitations of a focal-plane shutter. In dark conditions, you can actually lock the shutter open, and use a flash as the sole light source, so the brief duration of the flash is the actual exposure time of the image (this usually ranges from about 1/1,000 to 1/10,000 second.) This is a method pioneered by the guy that developed the xenon flash tube, the heart of nearly all standard flash and strobe units, in the first place: Harold “Doc” Edgerton. He’s the guy that did all of those classic photos of the milk drop and the bullet passing through the apple. That kind of jazz takes some engineering skills with microphone triggers and careful calculations for the latency of the electronics, every step of the way, but in most cases you can get by, like here, with some careful timing, a bit of luck, and a lot of tries.

I mentioned a different type of shutter earlier, and that’s the iris shutter – it sits within the lens assembly and often doubles in function as the lens aperture, opening to a preset size to expose the film. Because of its shape and position within the lens, there are no focal plane or shutter curtain effects, and it can flash-sync at any shutter speed, but generally the shutter speeds are limited (physically/mechanically) to a maximum of 1/500 second anyway, and often none too accurate at that. All this means is that each lens has to have its own shutter assembly, increasing expense and complication, and this practice is primarily limited to large-format cameras. I’ll go into the pros and cons of those someday…

UPDATE 02/16/18: So, I decided to attempt to calculate the shutter speed of that plane photo above, and began playing around with it after determining the idle speed of the P-47 is 900 RPM. After a lot of fiddling around, I realized I wasn’t mathematically-inclined enough to figure it out. I mentioned this, however, to Jim Kramer while I was speaking with him on the phone, and he provided the answer while we were in conversation: allowing for some slop given inexact measurements from blurry propellers, the camera had a shutter speed of ~1/360 second. Knowing that virtually all cameras at the time would have had only 1/250 and 1/500 second settings, and that the mechanical shutters typically fell a little on the slow end, I figure the photographer had likely set for 1/500 second. I had been trying to determine the distance the blades had covered while Jim went with angle instead, but Jim’s an engineer. He probably just asked one of the passengers on his train…

Be creative

Lower Cascade Falls Hanging Rock State Park by James L. Kramer
I had plans to put something up for Darwin Day, which is today, and was in the middle of a project to produce some photos, but life happens, as do family issues. You may have noticed that I discuss very few personal matters here, save for trivial frustrations – that kind of shit really isn’t for online dissemination, despite what some people seem to think social media is for. I’d like to vent sometimes, believe me, but it really doesn’t serve a purpose other than self-gratification, and not much of that. The result right now is that instead I’m going to feature some photos from the blog’s official Contributing Non-correspondent, Jim Kramer, that he sent me several days back. I will leave it up to you to tie this into Darwin Day in some manner, which explains the post title.

The above image is Lower Cascade Falls at Hanging Rock State Park, and is possibly the very image that Jim was taking when I snapped my own photo of him at work. You can see a significant color difference between his image and mine; most of this was due to me shooting slide film, which captured the color cast of the deep shade conditions, while Jim was shooting digital with some form of white balance in effect, though there’s a chance he tweaked the color in post-processing as well (I’m not making accusations, I just never asked before starting this post, and that pertinent bit is not recorded in the EXIF info of the image file.) I’m pretty sure that I had an appropriate warming filter at the time, which would have made the colors much better, but for some reason didn’t use it; it’s possible that I hadn’t purchased one yet, and images exactly like the one on that earlier post were what prompted me to get one.

Lower Cascade Falls at Hanging Rock State Park by James L. KramerI really do need to get back to this park and do some more shots; I was originally going to take along the Impertinent Mr Bugg, but he’s trying to be obnoxious so I’ll just go alone and have a nice, relaxing day where I won’t have to remind anyone to use the appropriate lenses or fix their damn hat all the time.

There is only a small range of positions available to photograph the falls, but this is pretty typical of waterfalls to be honest; they tend to occur in geography with steep drops and narrow openings, so options are limited. Minnehaha Falls in north Georgia has been the one cascade that I know of with a fair amount of options, if one was careful and didn’t mind hiking up the rock ‘steps’ that the water crashed down.

The deep shade, by the way, helped with these very images, because to get that wispy, cottony water effect you have to use a long exposure, and low light helps. So does a small aperture, and a neutral density filter. Bright sunlight on the water has an unintended effect that’s impossible to correct for (at least if you’re skipping quite a lot of digital editing): individual water droplets and ripples in the falls will catch the sunlight momentarily, producing brilliant reflections that will appear in the image as white specks. I’ve got several examples from experiments and never managed to produce anything that didn’t look weird, so shade still remains the best conditions. Someday, I’ll do some serious moonlight exposures, much like these, but probably not at Hanging Rock or indeed any park, since they usually close by sunset (which is much safer and a very good idea – people tend to be stupid if you give them the chance.)

I will close with another image of Jim’s, of a (to my knowledge) unnamed little torrent almost hidden in a cleft in the rocks. The scale is nicely deceptive; while Lower Cascade Falls is about ten meters in drop, this one is less than two. I’d featured my own image of this before, to which was added a variation from Jim too – he did a much better job of capturing the falls during these trips than I did, the bastard. I’ll just have to console myself with eclipse pictures I guess…

unnamed small torrent at Hanging Rock State Park by James L. Kramer

Podcast: Nothing in particular 2

It is, inexplicably, still winter here, and so little to do except projects that really don’t result in photographs. I’m still working on some other possibilities, so hopefully something will be along shortly. And as I say out loud below, I’ve got several things planned for later on in the year, actually scheduling photo opportunities rather than taking them as they come, so we’ll see if this results in more and/or better content.

So for now, we got this:

Walkabout podcast – Nothing in particular 2

Some of the things I made reference to within:

George Hrab’s Geologic podcast. I shouldn’t link to this because mine will now seem even worse than you originally thought in comparison, but I can promise you that I will never talk about how great The Beatles were, so there’s that.

The program to block Windows Update Services can be found here. With Windows 10, the updating service has become obnoxious, intrusive, and uncontrollable, any one of which is an inexcusable trait for any software to have – having all three is fucking contemptible. This disables that completely, and greatly improves Windows performance to boot (at least in my experience.)

I thought I’d posted at greater length about what I call the ‘puzzle drive,’ but so far the only mention of it that I’ve turned up has been here. Maybe it was in comments on another site. But think about how satisfied you feel whenever you solve a puzzle, figure out a mystery, or even fix something. And alternately, how frustrated you feel when you can’t. It’s pretty compelling, isn’t it? I think there’s more to this than we typically give it credit for.

The site I used to learn how to clean digital sensors is here. Once again, and they stress this many times on their site, you only want to do this if you feel comfortable with doing delicate work. And yes, Eclipse is the name of the high-grade alcohol – I picked mine up off of Ebay. I also use a battery filler bulb instead of the ridiculously overpriced Giottos Rocket Blower – three to five bucks is about in line with a goddamn squeeze bulb air blower. A good artist’s brush for the first pass, cleaned in baby shampoo (doesn’t leave residues behind) and rinsed and dried thoroughly, and then a microfiber cloth also cleaned meticulously. A dust-free environment helps a lot, but that’s very hard to accomplish, though getting the bathroom a bit steamy can do a lot for controlling airborne stuff. And you can see below why this has to be done from time to time (or at least, why I have to do it…)

snow scene showing lots of sensor dust
And GIMP, a full-featured and completely free photo editing program can be found here. There are versions for Windows, Linux, and OS X.

The plethora of Jim’s pics which contributed to last year’s posts can be found here. And I might have a few others up within a week or so.

That’s all for now. But if you’re looking for more suggestions on how to handle the season, last year’s podcast may help. I already have a bunch of seeds and mantis egg cases for spring.

Addendum: Oh yeah, forgot this in the original post. While I make snarky comments about income, more often than I should really, I think that doing what you like to do is more important than chasing the “‘Murican Dream” or whatever.

A quick comparison

2017 total solar eclipse 'landscape'
Another one that I had kicking around in my blog images folder, waiting for a chance to sit down and explain it – there’s a couple more coming too, but they’ll take a little longer to write up, so we’ll go with this for now. This was my attempt at a landscape shot during the total solar eclipse last year, which came out even worse than expected – but not a lot.

Let’s put it this way: you can, naturally, take any kind of landscape photo with the sun in the shot – but you’re not going to get one that also shows any sunspots. In order to see those, you’d need to reduce the light from the sun by a lot, a tiny fraction of its actual light output, and then the landscape would drop into total darkness. And the same thing’s going to happen during a solar eclipse. Even though the sun itself is blocked and thus you can see the corona, the sun is, you know, blocked, and the corona itself isn’t throwing enough light to illuminate the landscape around you. Sure, you can do a long exposure to actually get a view in the dim light, because after all it’s like late twilight; you can see where you’re walking and all that. But if you do that, the corona itself is going to bleach out and likely completely obscure the dark hole that communicates “eclipse” in the first place.

2017 total solar eclipse landscape shot with curves tweakSo for giggles, I took that frame and brought up the shadow areas in an editing program, to see just how much of the landscape could actually be seen. Annnnddd you’re looking at it; not too impressive, is it? The sun corona is so small because it was high in the sky – the eclipse occurred in early afternoon in August, so to even get anything else in the frame, I had to shoot wide angle with a short focal length. I could have gone up underneath a tree and gotten a closer shot with some branches, but that was really the only choice, and it wouldn’t have been very illustrative (not that this is, but anyway…) The exposure settings were 1/40 second at f5.6, ISO 400 – pretty much the limit of handholding a camera and getting a sharp pic. And even at that, you can see how dark it came out. Think being several dozen meters away from a streetlight at night: you can see where you’re walking, but you ain’t reading any fine print, you know?

The most interesting part? I caught the barest hint of the curious eclipse effect that Jim Kramer got a shot of, because the brightest portion of the sky is not where the freaking sun is, but down low closer to the horizon – picking up the faintest hint of scattered light from those areas outside of totality that were still seeing direct sunlight. It seems normal until you actually think about it.

You got this

Today is a holiday that I’m sure you’re all set to celebrate. No, not that one – I’m talking about Ignore An Utterly Pointless Holiday Day. That’s right – today (by the most remarkable of coincidences) is a day that you’re encouraged to completely blow off whatever insipid and senseless holiday you like. Not that I’m, you know, pointing fingers or making suggestions…