Yeah, nah

Earlier this evening but on a previous day, I was doing a bit of blog maintenance and checked the post count so far this year: 166 (not counting this one of course.) That not only beats out last year’s count already, by four posts, but places this year fourth out of eleven years so far, with six weeks to go. Am I gonna set a new record? Not likely, because that’s held by 2015 with 218 posts, so I’d have to get 51 more posts (over top of this one) done in that time frame, or something like 9 a week. Not holding my breath.

But enough worthless personal trivia. Finding myself with the inclination, not too tired, with it not too cold out, I decided I might give the Leonids an attempt, but on stepping outside to check conditions, I found a distinctive haze across the sky, lit up by the gibbous moon (which was not too high yet.) Better than overcast, but not by a lot – the dimmer meteors would be obscured by the haze, while the brighter ones rendered less distinct with a glow around them. Much worse would be the bare idea that even in a region with no light pollution, the light of the moon would throw too much residual glow to the haze, no matter where the camera was aimed, and thus longer exposures (which is what you want for meteors, just to have the shutter open when they occur,) would get too bright too fast. Here where the light pollution is terrible, it would mean a max 30-second exposure because the haze would be reflecting the ground lights as well. So, no.

But I took the camera out anyway, just to shoot an example of the moon to show the adverse affect of the humidity, and while I was setting in exposure, the skies cleared a bit – not completely, but not too shabby at all. Note the faint surrounding glow.

gibbous moon in hazy conditions
That’s – really not too bad detail for the Tamron 150-600 at manual focus (but indeed on a tripod, and with a remote release.)

By the way, Tycho, my semi-regular ‘sunrise’ target, is at the end of the longest and most distinct streak on the surface – not the very noticeable crater on the terminator, but directly beneath it by about 470 kilometers. That really distinct big crater, if I have my mapping down, is Maurolycus, and it’s that distinct largely because of the sun and shadow position – it’ll look different tomorrow. And we’re in the wrong moon phase to be considering sunrise on Tycho again, because it’s late in the lunar day there, but in a couple of (Earth) days I might be able to catch sunset on that central peak. We’ll see.

Meanwhile, I provide another shot of the conditions, this time over-exposing the moon to show the haze a bit better – it was pretty variable just in the short time that I was out there.

overexposed gibbous moon showing more surrounding haze
Pics like this drive home how much the camera increases contrast, because while out there, the mares of the moon were visible while the haze was much more distinct. These images were taken at ‘normal’ settings, but to get closer to what our eyes could capture, I’d have to drop the contrast way down. Or do a lot of creative editing, HDR and suchlike, but there’s too much of that stuff going around now, especially in regards to astronomy and night sky images.

By the way, does this count as black and white photography?

On composition, part 29: Captive animals

Florida panther Puma concolor coryi showing displeasure

On this particular day, a new Florida panther (Puma concolor coryi) had been introduced into an enclosure next to this one, out of sight but not out of scent, and my photo subject here was being very territorial by voicing its displeasure frequently and photogenically

An amusing (or maybe pathetic – I keep getting them confused) side note before I begin: damn near every time that I mention captive animal photography on the blog, I make some kind of defensive comment about it as if people are routinely, derisively pointing out that real nature photographers wouldn’t shoot captives, and all of their images are of wild specimens deep in the jungle, or something. First off, nobody even comments either way, but in my recollection I think one person made such a remark, like over a decade ago back on a newsgroup, and that person was obviously trying to be an ass anyway.

Still, while there is a better sense of accomplishment from capturing images in the wild, there remains plenty of reasons to pursue captive specimens, among them:

  • Simple stock shots (that sell for a few dollars and wouldn’t make good business sense to spend a few thousand getting)
  • Better portraits
  • Captives behave better and provide more ‘relaxed’ images
  • Details and traits that are near to completely impossible to capture from a distance
  • Amusing and/or expressive shots
  • Documenting facilities and attractions
  • Yes, of course it’s easier, but if we’re doing this to impress anyone with our prowess or globetrotteriness, we’re probably not too focused anyway. So have at it. And while you’re doing so, here are a few tips.

    Nobody wants to see the walls, fences, other visitors, and so on in the background, nor reflections from the glass in the foreground. Eliminating these can be a challenge, though. We’ll start with glass.

    chimpanzee with glass reflectionsWear a plain black shirt and/or pants – This won’t completely eliminate the reflections that you yourself will make, but it helps.

    Shoot from the shadows, or a darker corner, etc – Helps to reduce the same.

    Shoot close to the glass – For preference, with a rubber lenshood pressed directly against the glass to eliminate all reflections from your side.

    Pick the cleanest spot you can find – Again, this is often the corners, but can occur up higher too. A soft cloth can help with finger smudges on your side, but most times it’s the other side that’s the filthiest. I’ve tried pantomiming to get a chimp to clean their side, but it didn’t work.

    Shoot straight on through the glass – Perpendicular to the surface, as much as possible. Glass bends all light that comes through at an angle – that’s what a lens does, after all – so angles always distort, to some degree, and they’re made much worse by the nature of camera lens, which capture light from a broader field than our eyes do. Just forget about curved glass. Seriously.

    Get the flash off angle – To prevent it bouncing straight back into the lens, but also keeps it from bouncing off any back walls/glass. This usually means a separate strobe unit and an off-camera cord, and can often require someone else to hold and aim it.

    Have a black blocking cloth – Only if you have an assistant (and this usually means you’re dedicated to getting some particular shots,) but a thin piece of black cloth can be held up to block stray reflections, or behind the back side of the aquarium. etc. Also useful when doing studio work.

    arctic fox Vulpes lagopus too close to fence
    And then there are fences.

    Shoot where there isn’t any – Well, duh, but look around carefully – sometimes there’s a small gap or a higher vantage that can be exploited.

    arctic fox Vulpes lagopus with fence almost entirely blurred

    The fence is still there, but almost blurred out of existence – note the back of the arctic fox (Vulpes lagopus)

    Shoot with a low depth-of-field – So, larger aperture. This explains how it works, but briefly, things can be blurred almost out of existence. And to help,

    Shoot close to the fence – Like, right against it if you can, but definitely centered in the opening.

    arctic fox Vulpes lagopus without visible fence lines

    The fence is still present, but now it’s so subtle that it won’t ever be noticed

    Longer focal lengths – This assists both of those efforts above.

    If you have a choice between light and dark fences, choose dark. Very Sithy. Light exposes the image, so the lack thereof is easier to overwhelm with the other things in the frame. I wouldn’t recommend bringing a can of black spray paint though.

    Then we have walls. First off, if you have the classic red brick walls with grey mortar, forget about it – you’ll never get them to disappear entirely.

    Get them in shadow – Especially mottled shadow, which helps disguise any patterns.

    Get them further off – Basic rule of depth-of-field: You will blur the background better if the focused subject is closer to the camera than it is to the background.

    Again, longer focal length – Just helps reduce depth.

    Find a spot where the wall is partially obscured – By plants or branches, other animals, etc. Small changes in position can make a huge difference.

    So, on to some general pointers.

    Framing becomes much more key with captives, and paying strict attention to the background – don’t remain too tightly focused on the subject. Be especially aware of situations where, for instance, other visitors in bright colors may appear in the shot. But you have a huge advantage in many cases, in that you can easily shift position to change your background, something impossible to do from a blind in the wild. When you can, pick a complementary background color or detail, or at the very least get something smoother and lower contrast.

    Do the same thing with light. When you can, pick the angle that gives the best shadow rendition and shaping, and when using an external flash, think carefully of your subject, the details that you’re trying to show, where shadows might fall, and so on. This is where the otherwise horrible practice of “chimping” comes in handy, which is looking at the LCD afterward to see what you took. The LCD will tell you virtually nothing about an image, except how the flash worked for you. And even then it won’t tell you if shadow or highlight details were captured or lost. On-camera LCDs suck, really.

    Patience is, naturally, a virtue. Captives will not always be photogenic, but if you’re really after a decent frame or three, this can mean waiting a while until the specimen does something interesting – I shouldn’t have to say this because it’s a standard part of nature photography anyway. Just be prepared to chill out, or occasionally return when the chances are better.

    Many species, especially birds and mammals, are well aware of how many people are gawking at them, and the noisier the people, the worse it is – this often minimizes the behavior that you might see, or drives the animals further off. Avoid crowds (and especially crowded days,) and when possible, wait for people to move on. Generally, when the animals are behaving this way, it doesn’t take long for the crowds to get bored. Once it’s quiet, you may start to see much more interesting opportunities.

    A few species seem to like the attention, however, and becoming familiar with them can help. Then you can stake out a prime shooting position before the passel of schoolkids comes by and provokes this kind of showoff behavior.

    First thing in the morning is best. Most places where you can photograph captives, there’s only so early you can arrive, and it’s often after feeding time and the ‘first wakening’ behavior, but beating the crowds, the heat, and the midday naps works a whole lot better no matter what. Animals are usually more active and playful, more expressive and investigative, and less likely to shun the areas where you can shoot from. In zoos, for instance, get there at opening and make a beeline for the farthest exhibits where it takes more time for the crowds to arrive.

    Also, pick good days. Spring is almost universally mating time for species, and so coats and plumage are often the most vibrant, the behavior more distinctive. Days that won’t get too hot are better, and a little chill in the air can make animals more active. Overall, slightly hazy conditions control sharp shadows and contrast better than brilliantly sunny days. And then, picking days that see the fewest visitors often helps; it varies a lot by locations, but Tuesdays and Thursdays often see the fewest school groups and families, with Saturdays being the worst of course.

    Be considerate. I can’t count the number of times that I’ve seen photographers, especially as a group, ‘dressed the part’ and blocking others from the viewing areas, taking up a lot of space with tripods, and generally being snobby. If you’re in a zoo or whatever, get over yourself – it’s a public place and everyone else has just as much right to be there, regardless of how important you might think your pursuits are. No one cares, and no one’s impressed by your photo vest. If you’re any good at all, you’ll get the shots you’re after despite the other visitors, and without interfering with them – that’s part of the challenge. Or you can pay for an exclusive visit. I’m sure your sales will support that.

    Yes, I’ve seen plenty of other visitors ruining shots and being obnoxious, and find it annoying. But a) that’s what comes with a public place, and b) why emulate them? We should be bigger than that.

    Familiarity with the species and exhibits may mean multiple visits, and let’s face it: not every day is going to be productive. We can accept that easily in ‘the wild,’ but have a harder time when it comes to places where we believe that shooting should be easy. The best shots rarely are, and are very often a mix of luck and perseverance. But knowing our subjects and conditions helps a lot too, and even a little bit of behavior. Pay attention – do some of the bird species perk up when particular calls can be heard? Do the otters not like eye contact? Do cooler days make the giraffes more active? Does the plumage or coat change? (Like the arctic fox above, which looks dirty brown in the summer months.) All this knowledge can give you an edge.

    tiger Pantherus tigris in poor shooting conditions
    Some places simply aren’t designed with photographers in mind, and it will be impossible to eradicate all evidence of captive photos. Sad but true, and a little research ahead of time can save you a wasted trip. One place near me offers an expensive ‘photo tour’ which allows you to shoot through special photo ports in the fence on your side, but does nothing about the fences and walls in the background, and so isn’t worth the money in the slightest. Very clever positioning and angles may still net you some usable images, but a lot fewer than from places designed with more natural-looking enclosures.

    However, nearly all such places run on donations and visitor income, so even a handful of useful images (or none at all) may still provide benefit to conservation or rescue efforts, and if we have the audience to draw greater attention to them, even our shots with fences in the background are useful to them. It doesn’t have to be all about us.

    Captive Macro – I almost forgot this important aspect, but having a little more control over macro subjects can help a tremendous amount. Such efforts may run from a simple sprig of plant life in a clamp that can be positioned, up to a full aquarium or terrarium under a bank of lights with a custom background. But having an insect or smaller reptile (or even mammal) where it cannot escape, and/or may be positioned a little better than it might pose in the wild, can be a huge help, especially if there are particular details that you’re trying to illustrate. A simple tabletop setting of surface (plant, leaves, soil, etc,) a background – which might be just an appropriate photo print, and flexible lighting options is worlds better than trying to accomplish the same thing in situ.

    With arthropods that have a tendency to fly off, for example, doing this within a bathroom, or in a small aquarium with good glass sides, can mean recapturing the specimen is a lot easier. Some insects will immediately land when the lights go off, and can be found by flashlight for recapture, but either way, a bathroom generally has much less space and fewer hiding places when something does escape.

    Backswimmer Notonecta portrait with swimming hairs
    I’ve harped on this countless times in the past, but an aquarium is hugely beneficial when it comes to small aquatic subjects, and is damn near the only way to shoot them. Even a cheapo plastic tank from a department store becomes perfectly useful when one side is replaced by a sheet of higher-quality glass, and the transparent sides allow both a choice of background (at such magnifications, the only thing needed is an appropriate color, because details will probably not show at all,) and a wide range of lighting angles.

    Additional lights become much easier to manage, as well. A bright LED desk lamp can serve as a focusing and modeling light (to see how the shadows will fall,) while secondary strobes can be made from any flash unit that has a slave foot attached, and light strength can be managed with inexpensive fixed units by distance and positioning – a ten-degree or so turn will cut the light by a full stop. Plus you have the ability to use AC-powered light units – there are plenty of inexpensive AC slaves available. You will also have the options of light tents and wide diffusers without having to create your own portable units.

    So with all that said, jump in, and good luck!

    From the lair of the Lion came the Fire

    Boy, a couple of capital letters makes everything dramatic, doesn’t it? But all I’m referring to is the Leonids meteor shower, which should be peaking tomorrow night or thereabouts.

    I have reminders set up on my calendar for about a week in advance, because you can start seeing activity well before a peak, and the Leonids has, at times, been a pretty damn good shower. And I’ve had a background goal to show off some nice meteor streaks here some time. That would require catching some, though, and it hasn’t happened yet. I’ve seen some doozies, but never captured any in camera, for various reasons which I am forbidden by various international conventions to talk about. Naturally, we’re still in a pretty bright moon phase, especially towards the early hours of the morning when viewing is better – and yet, the moon hasn’t been an issue at all the past several nights! No light at all shining down! Which is because we’ve been in rainy, overcast conditions all that time, while still keeping the temperatures down pretty far.

    So if you’re doing better, have at it, and show me up. Meteorologists are predicting partly cloudy conditions for the next few nights, up until Wednesday when it’s supposed to be clear, but from long experience I know that, for NC at least, that’s too far off to trust. One day, however, I will surprise you all, and post some brilliant meteor trails and fireballs flares, and then you’ll all immediately apologize for all the bad things you even thought about me. Because that’s how people work.

    Cytotoxin & Euphoria

    Let’s be honest: there aren’t any webcomics that I’ve come across that fit in with the theme of this blog, whatever that may be, and don’t ask me why because I’m sure this is a huge untapped market, judging from the visit stats and comments. But I still find the occasional conjunction, a chance tangency that gives me confidence that someone gets it, if only once in a while. Today’s example (well, okay, this is from the 13th, and don’t think I didn’t note the ramifications of that date,) comes from Cyanide & Happiness, a truly warped comic written by three different rotating artists – this one in particular is done by Kris Wilson.

    Cyanide & Happiness panel "Violin" copyright 2019 by Cyanide & Happiness/Kris Wilson

    Now, I am hoping that the subtler aspect of the comic is not lost here, but I’m afraid there will be a few people who didn’t register the distinctive artwork. So, at the risk of belaboring the point, I’ll explain, because the third panel holds more detail (not too badly done at that) than they normally provide with their ‘efficient’ characters. The markings on the cephalothorax (“back” for our purposes here) of the spider resemble a violin, which identifies this as a brown recluse spider (Loxosceles reclusa,) the most venomous in North America and not exactly something you want to rub between your fingers.

    The comic really needs a sound file to hear the tune that our androgynous greenshirt must be playing, but to do it right, they’re gonna need a few more spiders.

    [This post was far more work than was warranted by the joke…]

    Storytime 46

    clover growing within discarded glass bottle
    Today’s image comes from a few years back, on the trail leading towards one of my old photographic haunts. Like most of the US, trash can often be found anywhere, but especially so alongside roads, because the overbearing inconvenience of waiting until a garbage can is handy far outweighs any concern about environment, or appearance, or responsibility, and so on – advanced species my ass. But on a steep slope of the trail I found this little terrarium, a reflection of how life can thrive if conditions are right.

    First off, I’m almost positive this bottle was intact, and the soil had gotten in there through washing in down the slope during the rains; I suspect there remained a small air gap in the neck. Almost nothing else grew on the trail, partially because of the passage of feet, but more because of the lack of topsoil – what you’re seeing is the ubiquitous NC red clay – and the slope itself which formed significant runoff. But we’d also already had some cold weather that was knocking down the seasonal plants, of which the clover seen here counts, yet within its own little greenhouse, this patch remained unaffected. Contrast it with those seen just outside the mouth (which may or may not be the same species, dunno.)

    I regret not doing regular checks throughout the winter to see how this little garden fared. While not too insulated from the temperatures that the surrounding soil would drop to during the winter months, at the same time there was the greenhouse effect that could keep the air within the bottle much warmer with adequate sunlight, which isn’t too hard in NC even during the winter; would the latter outweigh the former? Should I have pushed a few tropical plant seeds into the neck of the bottle? Ah, the thoughts that will vex me in my advanced decrepitude…

    Just because, part 33

    yoshino cherry blossoms in spring against blue sky
    The weather across much of the continent has turned cold and ugly, and I think we need a reminder of the spring that will come, so here are some cherry blossoms on the ornamental tree in the front yard.

    But to be honest, these are not from the spring to come, but this past spring, because I’ve never dumped the money on a camera that advanced. There’s no way to prove that we will even get a spring in a few months – maybe we’ve had the last that we’ll ever see. We might have used them all up, or perhaps the planet will be destroyed by a rogue asteroid (you know, one of the rebellious and disobedient ones) before that occurs. Maybe “spring” is just the aliens dumping a dopamine rush into the simulation we reside within every time we get to close to realizing what reality even is.

    Anyway, cheer up!

    Podcast: Motivation

    It’s been a while since the last podcast, and in fact, this year has been notably thin on that front, this only being the fifth for the year – just haven’t had either the subjects or the time. So perhaps today’s topic is a little ironic, even if it’s timely with the season slowing down, because we’re going to talk about motivation.

    Walkabout podcast – Motivation

    There isn’t a lot of supplementary information that I can provide here – there are plenty of resources to be found with a simple websearch, and most of it would have to be tailored to your own personal needs. Yet as I said in the ‘cast, it was a rainy and yucky day, and I still did a couple of images in those conditions just to put my money where my mouth is, so to speak; not award-winners (duh!) but making the effort.

    rain-soaked wind mobil
    rain on unidentified tree berriesMeanwhile, I’ll let you in on another method of motivation, which is to publicly proclaim what you’re up to so you’re obligated to follow through by your demanding audience. So, one of my projects, not exactly related to photography but still relevant to my pursuits here, is to compose my own music for the podcasts and videos – soon. Since as yet I don’t play any instruments, I wouldn’t expect to see something, like, next week, but I’m motivated to have my own work here and not use someone else’s. Feel free to pester me if you haven’t seen any progress (oh, yeah, I neglected to mention the value of a ‘nag,’ someone who knows your goals and is willing to remind you of them as needed.)

    On the trail of fall color

    faintest hint of autumn color
    The season for getting good conditions for nature and wildlife photos in North Carolina is winding down, as it does every fall, and like every fall, I find no nice colorful landscapes within easy reach to do broad scenic images. Partially, this is because of the trees themselves; this region of NC at least has far too many hateful longneedle pines, which are ugly any time of the year but often overbearing a good selection of deciduous trees that may actually show some color, while the deciduous trees that we do have are varied both in color response and times that they change. Which means at any given time, what’s visible are the sparse tops of the evergreens, some bare trees, some brown trees, and maybe a splash of color. Which is why I tend to find little abstracts rather than big scenes.

    backlit leaves against bright sky
    And part of the reason, this fall, is that we went through a two-month drought, which usually kills the rich colors. But a couple of rains just as the color season started might have helped a little – we’re still finding out. A recent outing netted a small handful of images – nothing exciting but, you know, proof that I’m still trying. The image above I happened to like because, unintentionally, the leaves largely fell into one plane and it almost appears as if it’s a branch resting on the water, with the reflection of the sky behind. The sky, at least, was pretty cooperative this day.

    bare tree with cedar too closeThe outing was to one of the parks on the Eno River, one of the few places that provides a variety of trees in a variety of conditions, and occasionally you can find a nice stark dead one – except in this case, the cedar next to it was a bit too close for the perspective and light angle and kinda intrudes into the frame. Different angles would have put the sunlight too much behind the tree, washing out the sky and mostly shadowing the trunk, or would have put even more trees in the frame and background; sometimes you simply can’t make it work ideally. I mean, without cutting down an intrusive cedar…

    The temperatures have dropped significantly, getting down close to freezing some nights and not terribly warm most days; while I was out in shorts and water sandals (well, I had a shirt on too,) some of the hikers that I encountered even had heavier jackets on. It sort of depended on when you actually left home, because by midday it had gotten reasonably warm, but the morning had been pretty crisp and I wouldn’t have been out in the sandals then. And the shallow water of the river itself, never balmy at the best of times, was frigid that day. These conditions precluded finding any snakes at large, and in fact, the only wildlife to be seen were just a few birds. With one exception.

    Wading at the water’s edge, I spooked a tiny cricket frog from cover, and it leapt into the water before appearing to immediately regret it and head towards shore again, pausing partially-submerged on a leaf.

    cricket frog, possibly southern variant, Acris gryllus
    I’m tentatively identifying this as a southern cricket frog (Acris gryllus,) only from the webbing on the hind feet – the northern variant has more, I believe, but they’re very close together in appearance. It was only my close presence that prevented the frog from regaining dry ground, which it likely desired (and achieved as soon as I passed,) because the sunlight was providing much-needed warmth while the water was taking it all away. Don’t blame me – had it held still I would have passed this minuscule specimen (less than 20mm in body length) without noticing, but nooooo, it had to panic and attract my attention by springing into the water. In doing so, it became the only wildlife to appear clearly in my photos from the day. Which means we’re going back to flora and foliage now.

    unidentified tree with wild-looking bark
    I keep doing this thing that I shouldn’t, which is take a photo of something with too few identifying characteristics. I’ll be thinking, Hey, maybe I’ll feature this image in a post, but not, So figure out what it is so you can tell your voluminous readers. Thus I don’t know what this tree is, but it’s damn cool nonetheless. Don’t hate on me, just savor the imagery. Or something.

    (I’m pretty sure that’s an American sycamore leaf in the foreground, but I’m not sure it originated from the same tree.)

    I was testing out a lens that I might buy from a friend, so I did a few shots to check out the image stabilization feature, which included doing some longer exposures handheld. I purposefully dropped the ISO down to 100 and the aperture to f16 to push the shutter speed down to 1/13 second, blurring the water while trying to keep the rocks sharp, and chose a shadowed area to do this within.

    small torrent on Eno River
    The results were acceptable, at least at blog resolution, but probably not quite up to snuff with my existing lenses, and certainly not exceeding them, so I probably won’t be purchasing this one (a Canon 18-200 IS, nosy.) The reach is of course better than my 17-85, but I don’t like sacrificing sharpness for that, and so later on I might give the 18-135 IS STM a shot, which may also be more useful for video work. But later on after wading across the river (which was an exercise in cold endurance in itself,) I shot the same torrent from the opposite side, this time framing some (also unidentified) leaves against it and getting a bit more fartsy.

    unidentified leaves against torrent on Eno River
    I said a bit, okay? Stop making those annoying little noises…

    At least the sun angle and the thinner trees permitted more chances for backlighting leaves, which I took advantage of because I’m that kind of opportunistic swine. One tree in the area turns a nice brilliant red, and I’d tell you what it is but I want you to find out on your own, since it’s good research practice.

    bright red backlit leaf against blue sky
    I will say that a ‘normal’ perspective from the trail would have placed these leaves against a grey-brown landscape of bare trees on a shaded riverbank, so this is an example of thinking about the frame a little. I had to slip down a small embankment and crawl under some low branches to get the leaves against the sky, but that added blue certainly helped, didn’t it?

    It was a lot easier to get the next one.

    unidentified multi-colored backlit leaves against blue sky
    This particular tree (do the research) was nicely placed right off the trail and was easy to walk around underneath to choose whatever framing one might desire, and I picked several, but this is the one I’m featuring. The mix of colors was nice, and it’s quite possible that in the four days since, half of these are gone now, but at least the almost-complete canopy didn’t actually shade too much of its own display and instead let the sunlight through. To me, the hues are particularly pleasing, and even though there’s no subject per se, it still might make a nice accent print.

    Two more.

    cedar needles and berries
    The clouds were slowly increasing and the sun would tend to get shaded for a short while at a time, so I never achieved quite the effect I was after with these cedar needles and berries, but this is what I have for now – unlike the others trees, this display may remain largely unchanged for days or weeks, so maybe I’ll revisit it later on. Cedars are one of the evergreens that I’m more than okay with, and even the dead trunks, standing or lying throughout the woods surrounding the river, have their own sharp charm. We need to breed a variant that can out-compete the loblolly pines.

    I’ll close with a lone American sweetgum leaf (Liquidambar styraciflua.) Sweetgums are one of the few that are reasonably abundant in the area and pretty photogenic by themselves, spring, summer, or fall – I just don’t want the damn gumballs in the yard. This one leaf, standing out in the lowering sunlight, not only had a mix of colors within just one leaf, but some radical textures as well, a juxtaposition of softness and harshness that I particularly like. You will, of course, want to buy a print yourself. Right?

    Backlit American sweetgum Liquidambar styraciflua leaf

    Storytime 45

    Jekyll Island dead tree with tidal wake
    It would be easy to miss a little detail in today’s image, and in fact I likely missed it when I was shooting the frame, three years ago, but there’s evidence of a curious effect to be found here. It’s subtle, and may be missed if your monitor’s gamma is set incorrectly, because we need the details in the shadows.

    In my defense, I did see at least a portion of what I’m referring to, since I specifically shot a few examples while out there waiting on sunrise, but I’m not sure I saw everything here. This is Jekyll Island off of the coast of Georgia, source of quite a few images on the blog now, and more specifically the northern tip of the island, often called Driftwood Beach even though the wood thereon doesn’t drift (or at least didn’t at the time – with a couple of hurricanes since this was taken, I suspect this particular stump isn’t even there anymore.) What I’m referring to isn’t the little blip of the St Simon’s Island lighthouse there in the fork (which was intentional,) but the properties of the sand at the base. It was clear that I was the only person to have walked out there since high tide had been through, sometime in the wee hours of the morning, and the sand was displaying the behavior of the advancing water. The stump itself caused a turbulent little eddy that dug out more sand directly from its base, but it was the manner of the waves that it broke that made the ripples in the wake of the stump – in two different directions. That’s the part that I can’t immediately explain. Which is not that say that I won’t make the attempt; we now enter Talking Out of My Ass mode.

    The stump itself seems to sit at the head of a slight rise, possibly self-caused through its effect on the wind coming off of the water, and this rise broke the smooth flow of incoming water, perhaps during a previous high tide – tides have different strengths throughout the day, and thus different names, and I’m reading (illiterately, most likely) a weaker flow that created the ripples to the center-right, running down the back side of the slope as the water just barely broke over top – so, down towards the lower right of the image (the ripples/ridges themselves would be perpendicular to the flow of the water.) But then came a later, stronger and higher tide, whirling around the base of the stump, and leaving a set of sand ripples more in line with the actual direction of the waves as they rolled up the beach, those to the left flowing towards the lower left corner of the image. Portions of the earlier tidal flow were scoured clear on the right side of the frame, but the rise was high enough to prevent their complete eradication.

    That’s my guess, anyway – I wasn’t there when this happened, and don’t know enough about waves to be sure, and didn’t crouch down to make careful comparisons of the height of the sand in different areas, so the value of this speculation is infinitesimal. But something happened there to make two different sets of sand ripples – it could always have been aliens, I suppose…

    “You paid money to do this”

    I mentioned earlier that there was some potential content coming, and lo and behold, here it is! We had friends visit last weekend, mostly to help us with a major project (which they achieved in exemplary fashion,) but also to kick around a bit, and one of the activities that I’ve been itching to do again since the first time during the Cleveland trip is to hit the canopy walk. We’d intended to have more people along, but for various reasons it didn’t work out, so it finally ended up with just my friend Wendy and I going. You undoubtedly remember Wendy and her S.O. Reg (“Strikes”) from such posts as Costa Rica or North Topsail Beach, but Reg and The Girlfriend opted to keep their feet on the ground. Nonetheless, we came prepared, and documented the outing from two different camcorders and two different smutphones, though I never did convince Wend to hold the phone horizontally when shooting video, so the format change shows in a few places.

    Worse is the quality, which is only the fault of my not spending money on a Vimeo account that I upload to twice a year or so; the free account only allows a 500mb per week upload, and most of my renderings came out larger than that, so to get it down to size, the quality took a hit.

    The website for Go Ape! Find a location, book your visit, marvel at how idiotic people are, whatever.

    The full tour takes about three hours or so, but that includes five portions or stretches or whatever; basically, you climb a rope ladder at the beginning of each station, then travel between treestands through various obstacles and crossings until taking a zipline down to the ground, then tackling the next. You can always opt out after any of them, but what’s the fun in that? Also, the time it takes will depend on the number of people in your group, the number of people just visiting that day (backing up the treestands, as it were,) and how quickly you can tackle the tougher crossings. But yeah, have comfortable and flexible clothing and expect to get a little dirty and probably a lot sweaty. I have to say that visiting during the fall was a lot more comfortable overall.

    And I rate Cleveland a little better, mostly because the ziplines were longer, but also the last station went pretty high. Which is not to say that Raleigh was a disappointment.

    So, am I gonna spring for a yearly membership? Hmmmm….