Too cool, part 44: “Chopsy”

First off, I apologize for anyone who’s ever seen this before, but not that much, because chances are you can watch it again without being bored. As internet popularity goes it’s a little old, but I doubt it received as much attention as some woman j’accusing a white cat (yes that’s a word.) I’m still not going to have a lot to post in the foreseeable future, unless I actually go somewhere a little later on and, the crucial bit, find something while I’m at it. So as I’m sitting here tracking packages and wondering if our postal service has completely shit the bed, we have this.

I came across this a few years ago I think, and saved the link then promptly forgot about it, which is a shame because it’s damn cool. My original link was through Gizmodo (though I believe it was Sploid at that time,) but their post didn’t provide a lot of background so I’m just going to embed the video here. Basic premise: RicKy Syers (his spelling) is a puppeteer and musician, and from the looks of things an accomplished drummer on his own, who tricked out a puppet he calls “Chopsy” and then demonstrates just how good it looks by playing along to Rush’s ‘Tom Sawyer.’

I want you to note that the ensemble even has a working kick drum and high-hat cymbal, so just the model work is impressive. But this was only a little demo, with the song playing in an ambient room and the actual rattle of the puppet on the drumset carrying through, so it wasn’t long before he did another version, this time with a music track on its own, as well as multi-camera work and synced (!) stage lighting, to Rush’s ‘2112.’

I can’t help but think how almost surreal it might have looked had he shrouded himself and his manipulating sticks in black; I also wonder how many more times he pulled this off before the arms of the puppet simply disintegrated. But there was one thing missing, and had he been able to include it, the illusion might have been virtually (heh!) complete: the ability for the puppet to sweat copiously. I mean, c’mon!

Now I gotta go play some other music so I don’t have Rush going through my head incessantly…

On composition, part 30: Timing

brown pelican Pelecanus occidentalis banking with wingtips against sun
The moment someone talks about timing when discussing photography, most people immediately think of tripping the shutter, getting the photo at the key moment that ideal action or positioning occurs, and this is certainly one aspect that’s important, and thus, the first that I’ll discuss – which tells you there’s more coming along, too.

Timing the shutter trip is not just about reflexes. First off, recognize that the speed of the button press does not increase with exertion; we’re talking a movement of less than a millimeter on every camera made since 1985, so slamming, squeezing, or really, doing anything other than a gentle press will do nothing for your timing, and a whole lot towards moving the camera, changing your framing and/or inducing motion blur. Don’t get excited, don’t tense up. Just a subtle little touch – that’s all it takes.

More, timing relies on anticipating the moment, and occasionally, the minimal delay between that button press and the actual capture of the image – in this era of electromagnetic aperture controls, mirror actions, and shutter curtains, most cameras from the last ten to fifteen years have release delays so small they won’t affect anything except the most demanding of subjects, but older cameras may have noticeable delays, and really, the only thing to do about this is get used to it and compensate accordingly.

This is assuming that you’re ready to trip the shutter at that very millisecond, which requires that you’re paying close attention and prepared for the (perhaps unexpected) action. Generally, this should be the case the moment the camera is raised to your eye, but it’s startling how many people are simply ‘looking’ and not ‘ready to take the shot’ when they do this. Finger on shutter release, AF and metering active (usually this is done with the initial ‘half-press’ of the shutter release,) and subject aligned as desired. It’s more a mindset, really, the internal voice telling yourself, “I’m ready – show me what you got.”

A quick note about trusting frame rates. Current cameras can rip off a lot of frames quickly if you hold the shutter down (and have that option set in the first place) – as many as ten frames per second (fps) on the top-end models, but usually between 2.5 to 5. This means it’s tempting to just let the camera crank away when something interesting is happening, and hope that one of those frames captures the precise moment that you want. It’s a bad habit, one that I often warn against. Let’s say that you want to capture the contact of a foot with the ball in some sporting event, and to freeze action, you have a shutter speed of 1/250 second. With a rate of 10fps, you’ll still only capture 10/250 of of the action, or 1/25 of the action every second, or 4% if you like. And a typical kick takes place in about 1/4 second, so now we’re down to about a 1% chance. Granted, there’s probably a bracket of acceptable periods of contact, so let’s be extremely generous and say your chances are as high as 10% – is that enough? Better to simply wait for that particular action and trip the shutter right then.

Additionally, periodic things like a bird flapping its wings can actually coincide with the frame rate, so while you might be hoping to capture the bird with its wings raised high, you may get a sequence of frames with them in the exact same position; I’ve done this several different times. At the very least, insert slight pauses in the sequences, lifting off the shutter release for a fraction of a second to try and break this pattern – because, yeah, trying to time the flapping wings is exceptionally hard.

Anticipation is a very big thing that applies to countless subjects, the readiness that something will suddenly become a lot more photogenic, that some behavior or action or emotional response appears that makes the photo many times better than without. In some cases, this is a knowledge of the subject. In my present pursuits, I can often spot when a bird is about to take flight, because they physically prepare for it. When I was shooting weddings in the past, it was recognizing people, the earnest storyteller who would eventually reach a punchline, the sudden delight when someone new walks up. Behavior is more predictable than we often believe, but it takes observation and recognition of trends and tendencies.

wedding bouquet a hair too low
… just a fraction later than ideal
Some of it, too, is planning and awareness of conditions. Again, presently, it’s knowing there’s a patch of clear blue sky that the flying bird will eventually pass into, or the head angle that will give a sparkle to the eye. With the past weddings, it was knowing the happy couple would reach an ideal spot in the entryway arch, or that the falling bouquet would appear best a meter or less above the heads/hands of the wedding party. This position means this will appear in the background, or the light subject will pass in front of a darker background (thus delineating it better) when it gets to this point. Not seeing this until it happens will often mean it’s too late to take advantage of.

Much of my macro work is done at very high magnification with a very short depth of field, handheld because setting up a tripod is both too slow and far too difficult in most situations. The flash takes care of motion blur, but not camera motion, the trivial wobbles and shifts in my position that cause the subject to wander in and out of that short depth-of-field, so crucial to these photos is the ability to trip the shutter as I lean back into the range of sharp focus. The same may be said for action shots in natural light, especially with a wide aperture that, again, shortens the depth-of-field, let’s say the sports doofus (I really couldn’t care less about sports) approaching the camera. Rather than relying on autofocus to try and tack a subject that continually changes distance, which sometimes works and sometimes doesn’t, you can set focus manually at the range that the subject will enter and trip the shutter as they hit this sweet spot. Some camera bodies, with Nikon notably, have this built in, usually called ‘trap focus,’ but I have never had the opportunity to try this out. If you’ve developed the skill on your own, you can do this with any camera, without having to switch settings.

fishing boat against sun on horizonTiming of conditions is another important aspect. Sure, it’s easy to know that sunrises and sets are ideal times (sometimes, anyway,) but it helps to know that the light and sky conditions will change noticeably within minutes or even seconds, as well as the chance that something photogenic will enter the frame; the sailboat may have only a moment or three when it turns at the right angle to throw a reflection from the hull or catch light through the sail, as well as when it passes across the glitter trail, the reflections of the sun on the water. Yet, changes can occur at any time of the day, such as when the breeze moves the leaves or stalks in the right direction, or tosses the fur of your subject just right. And the light can change, sometimes suddenly on partly-cloudy days, which changes the reflections, the color cast, the contrast, and the shadows, all factors in how the photo looks. Colorful subjects look better in lower-contrast light, like hazy or partly-cloudy, while textures look better with higher contrast and sharper shadows, so turning towards those subjects as the light changes can give you much better results.

I often tell my students that those fluffy white cumulus clouds that we all drew in grade school are very short-lived, especially around here; within the hour, they typically either vanish or thicken up towards overcast. And their position in the frame makes a difference too, filling in a bare patch of sky or appearing alongside (but not behind) our chosen subjects. The sun angle makes a difference on how blue the sky appears as well, tending to be deepest exactly opposite the sun, so midday is often not the best time to be out shooting.

Which brings us to the hour of the day. Mornings are the time for fog, dew, frost, and the first bird activities of course, so even without the performance of a nice sunrise sky, there are often subjects to be exploited. Evenings see the last bird activities as they forage before finding a place to roost, as well as returning boats or, if you’re into that kind of thing, the emergence of human nightlife. Dusk will occasionally reveal the early forays of the nocturnal species, but if you’re willing to go looking by flashlight (or ideally headlamp,) you can find the night dwellers, often species you will never see by day.

black-capped chickadee Poecile atricapillus fledgling leaving nest boxAnd then there are events, which may be as specific as an astronomical event or even just a flash at sunrise, or something particular in the lifecycle of a species, like the moment a fledgling leaves the nest box. For these, adequate preparations are necessary, such as knowing the exact times as well as being in a good location to witness the event, or it might take staking out a particular subject with the knowledge that it’s going to happen sometime soon; patience and readiness are the bywords here, perhaps testing your dedication to the pursuit because some of these things are only slightly predictable. For the black-capped chickadee (Poecile atricapillus) here, it had hung around the opening of the nest box for perhaps ten minutes, chattering excitedly for parents that were resolutely refusing to come by or answer (because that’s the way they convince the fledgling to commit,) before it abruptly bailed the box and started figuring out how controlled flight works from ground level. Its sibling, on the same day, took better than 40 minutes to get up its nerve, even though it was all alone in the nest box now. And while I captured this one (barely, and not very impressively,) after the long delay, the latter still leapt from the box while my hand was away from the shutter release.

It doesn’t matter how practiced you are, it doesn’t matter how ready you are – you will miss shots. These aren’t failures, they’re practice, the development of the skills necessary to improve your chances and your percentage of keepers. No pursuit is improved over dwelling on the missed opportunities – you just learn what you can, recognize that the dice didn’t roll your way this time, and keep your goals in mind for that next opportunity. But if you can give yourself an edge, that can only help.

Good luck!

USAF Air Demonstration Squadron Thunderbirds mirror pass

A correction: Not even a whisker

Back on November 18th, I posted about going out early that morning to try and snag some of the Leonids meteor shower that was peaking then, and successfully capturing a couple. But a few days after that post as I was sorting the images, I looked closely at a few of them and realized that I was incorrect, in fact dead wrong, at least about a pair of them. They were pretty aligned, but not consecutive frames, and the frame in between didn’t show anything. Or so I initially thought.

faintest trace of satellite passage during time exposureVery close examination of the frame between those two (this is full resolution here) revealed the faint trace of a passage, right in line with the two on either side. In other words, I didn’t catch a pair of meteors, I caught three frames of a much slower satellite passing along in a polar orbit. The change in brightness indicates that it was rotating or tumbling, catching the sunlight from its high altitude off of a variably reflective surface or angle. In fact, it even appears in the next two frames as well, but extremely faintly as it exits the frame.

That’s not enough for me to illustrate effectively, of course, so I took the three frames and made an animated gif (pronounced, “zed”) from them. They had to be fairly large to even see the faint trace of the middle frame, and you’ll have to look closely.

three-frame animation showing passage of satellite during time exposures
It appears right in line with the others, though it seems I had a certain delay between the end of the first and the start of the second frame, much less so between the second and third. If it helps, look near the double star a little left and below center (these are HIP 34724 and HIP 34769, in the constellation Monoceros, while the bright star in the frame is Procyon.)

The movement of the stars isn’t evidence of my poorly aligning the frames, but their actual movement during that time, because the camera was on a tripod and firmly fixed, and I overlaid the complete frames before cropping. But unlike the first post, I can’t actually tell you which satellite this is, or even if it is one. Stellarium plots an awful lot of them, and you can even see them moving across the frame during the real-time displays, but this one hasn’t the faintest indication of being there.

There are a couple of reasons for this. One is that it’s actually some orbital debris, an unplotted bit of schmutz that split off from a launch or deployment. The other, more likely, is that it’s an Iridium satellite. Astronomers and enthusiasts from a decade or more ago know the Iridium series of defunct communication satellites, because they would produce brief and occasionally brilliant flares, even visible during the day, from their solar panels catching the right angle of the sun. The Iridium satellites are decaying in orbit now and are unpredictable due to atmospheric drag, so they’re no longer plotted – they’ll still be visible at times, but those times are variable and not tracked by astronomical software or websites. Most likely, they are tracked by military radar, keeping tabs on both any spy satellites and any debris that might pose a danger to other bodies in orbit, but that information isn’t readily available, if at all.

Now another bit of interest. Go back to that gif and look at the top left of the frame to see another satellite cruising across, right to left; this one isn’t plotted either. It starts to drive home how many things we have up there in orbit, because I was out there for just under an hour and caught an untold number of them, and right at the moment can’t even be sure that any streak that I captured is actually a meteor. I saw a pair, both outside of the camera’s angle of view, but do I have images of any? It seems more and more doubtful. And annoying.

But here’s something I didn’t post with the first, a satellite that I knew was there because I could see it moving, tracking slowly but perceptibly against the background stars, and I re-aimed the camera to capture part of its path.

time exposure of Hubble Space Telescope passing over during the Leonids meteor shower
Turns out this was the Hubble Space Telescope, which I’d made a couple of attempts to photograph before and failed because of conditions. The bright star nearby is Sirius, the brightest star in the sky (but still dimmer than several of the planets.)

Anyway, we can scratch this success off of my accomplishments, so maybe I’ll be out during the upcoming Geminids (peaking around the 13th) to try again. Sheesh.

On this date 50

While not as bad as last week, we’re still talking about the winter season here, so I only have two years that have photos to work with this week – but I’m gonna present three photos, because I’m greedy. Or something.

holiday lights during time exposure and camera tracking
I know what I was doing here in 2012, but not exactly. Meaning, I was experimenting with the holiday lights strung on the bushes out front, doing time exposures while moving the camera, but I don’t know for sure if this image should be vertical or horizontal – I’m leaning towards the latter, because the tripod pans a lot easier and smoother than it traverses vertically, and these lines look too straight to be handheld. But it looks better vertical anyway. The streaks are dotted, not because the lights are blinking, but because, well, the lights are blinking. I mean, to our eyes, they’re on constantly, but all lights running on AC power blink – that’s from the alternating current – yet it happens quite a few times per second and we just can’t see it. The camera can catch it, though, when panned fast enough. Meanwhile, there are solid little circles at the ends because the camera was held still for a moment before the panning started. And they’re circles because the camera was intentionally defocused for the effect.

So if you have the holiday lights strung up, play around a bit. Meanwhile we’ll leap ahead a bare year.

angular spittlebug Lepyronia angulifera with raindrops adhering
Featured in a post back then (but without this particular image,) this angular spittlebug (Lepyronia angulifera) demonstrates the water-repellent properties of its exoskeleton, or perhaps a chemical coating thereon. I’m curious about the color of it, though, since it shouldn’t be that brown, and I don’t know if this was the rain running off of some other surface first, or stained by the oils of the rosemary leaves the bug is perched upon, or coloration from the spittlebug itself. Notably, one droplet isn’t colored, the one at the corner of its eye and quite possibly mistaken for its eye by at least some of the viewers – I know you weren’t fooled. And I could easily believe this was moisture exuded by the spittlebug, except I know that it was immediately following a decent rain at that point, from the post itself and from one other indicator, shown in the next pic.

raindrop on flower tassel of dogfennel Eupatorium capillifolium
The dog fennel plants (Eupatorium capillifolium) had provided plenty of arthropod photos that year and the previous, and after the rains that evening I saw this droplet dancing on the hanging tip of the flowers. Going in close with the macro lens and an aiming light, I attempted to focus on the drop bobbing in the breeze, but gave it up after one frame because I knew the timing would be impossible – it was going not just out of focus, but completely out of the frame. So I was stunned to see what that one frame looked like, though happy enough to put it in the photo galleries.

Too cool, part 43: Something for the solstice

fairly close conjunction of moon, Jupiter and Venus from December 1, 2008
Not only are we going to cross the line on December 21st with the winter solstice, so the days start getting longer thereafter, but we’re going to have an interesting conjunction visible in the early evening sky. Courtesy of Astronomy Picture of the Day (among numerous other sources of course,) we have word that Jupiter and Saturn are going to be unusually close that evening soon after sunset. Much closer, in fact, than their photo, or mine above, shows – much closer than any photo shows, because this is the first time they will be this close since the year 1623. I suppose if you dug around a little you might find a woodcut, but it wouldn’t illustrate much, because they’re going to be that close. Or if you like, let’s go to Stellarium to illustrate it.

Stellarium plot of Jupiter-Saturn conjunction to take place on December 21, 2020
If you’ve ever used a pair of binoculars or a long lens to actually see Jupiter’s moons or Saturn’s rings, you’ll know that this image is magnified significantly – by naked eye, it’s likely you’d mistake the two planets for one bright object unless you were paying attention. In astronomical terms, they’ll be 6 arcminutes apart, which translates to about .1 degrees – the moon is roughly 32 arcminutes or .5 degrees in width, for comparison.

Note that both planets set not too long after sunset, so there’s a narrow window to see them – Stellarium is a great resource (I’ve probably said that before) to allow you to know exactly where and when they will be visible for your area. You also have plenty of time to find someone with a telescope, or get one yourself, or (in my case) get it tricked out decently for photography, but at the very least, have a good set of binoculars handy.

The reason that this hasn’t happened since 1623 is simply orbital mechanics. First off, the two planets are quite far out there and have orbits that take them much longer than a year to complete. More or less, anyway, since the definition of ‘year’ really means one orbit of the sun, so they both take exactly a year to complete, but a Jovian year is 11.8 Earth years, while a Saturnian one is 29.4 Earth years. At the same time, their orbits are inclined like ours is, so we not only need a point when both moons are in the same relative direction from us, but their orbits are intersecting at the same rough point. And that would be December 21st.

‘Close’ is relative, of course; as much as they appear right next to each other, they’ll be about 733,226,000 kilometers apart. For reference, at the same time we (Earth, unless you’re one of dem lizard people) will be only 147,157,000 km from the sun. So, you know, we probably don’t have to worry about Jupiter’s and Saturn’s moons colliding or anything. And just for the sake of it, the orbits really will align so close that Jupiter will pass directly in front of Saturn, from our viewpoint here on Earth – in the year 7541. So yeah, mark that on your calendars…

This also takes place slowly, so go ahead and check them out both before and after that date, when they’ll be pretty damn close but not the absolute closest – just in case the weather doesn’t cooperate in your area. Again, Stellarium will help you see what this may be like, as well as helping you locate them in the sky (which really shouldn’t be necessary – they’ll be pretty obvious.)

The photo at top, by the way, is one of mine, from December 1st, 2008 – I ran across it and thought it might serve for an ‘On this Date’ post, but December 1st wasn’t a Wednesday this year. And it doesn’t show Jupiter and Saturn (plus the moon,) but Jupiter and Venus instead – it’s easy to be pretty sure they’re planets because no stars are that bright. I had to drive around a little before I could get all three in the pic, with the tree cover in my area, and you can see that one of them was almost lost in the leaves. They’re not particularly close – as indicated above, on the 21st they’ll be well within the width of the moon (though not actually near the moon.)

So have at it, and good luck!

K? K

As promised in the last post, this one now ties the record for the most posts made in a year, so everything after this is gravy, and whatever photo I put here will be the 1,000th picture uploaded for the year. Which is pretty damn good, I have to admit, but it has a few caveats. As always, there’s a small handful that were other peoples’ images, and some odds-and-ends stolen from the webbernets and so on, so it won’t be the 1,000th photo of my own – but we will likely still reach that point before the end of the year. Secondly, part of the credit/blame goes to doing the ‘On This Date’ posts; this isn’t the first time that I’ve done a weekly exercise, but I quickly ended up doing more than a single photo for each, so that added up. Still, I took all of those, and had to edit and upload them and even explain them, so they count.

I wanted to do something extra-special (because all of my posts are special, though we won’t examine the various definitions of that word,) but this is not the time of year to actually tackle something like that, and certainly not right now: it’s cold, grey, and rainy out there, with a dearth of subjects because winter donchaknow. And thoughtlessly, I didn’t save any whoppers to post for this event.

So here’s what I have. One from today, because I really did get something in these conditions, and it’s fairly representative of the year.

green teefrog Hyla cinerea nestled in behind downspout
This has been the year for green treefrogs (Hyla cinerea,) and this one in particular has been nestled in some nook by the front door for weeks on end now, apparently reluctant to bury itself like everyone else. It remained in the window sash groove for a while, then disappeared on a warmer night, but reappeared behind the downspout and has been there for several days – whether or not it will finally seek a spot with more stable temperature remains to be seen. I’m just hoping it doesn’t overextend itself and freeze to death during a cold spell.

Having that photo in hand (and that was the best I could possibly get given the constrained location of the frog,) I decided to figure out just how representative it was of the year, knowing that it was one of two species of which I took oodles of photographs; the other is the Chinese mantis (Tenodera sinensis.) So, since I keep all of the uploads in an archive folder (backup against web server failures,) I tallied them up. Except, it can be hard to differentiate the Chinese mantids from the Carolina mantids in thumbnails, especially when skimming through 999 photos, so I combined them and just counted mantids. But the green treefrogs were easier to differentiate, and I didn’t count tadpoles or anything, so the count is likely off and some nitwit will be wailing and moaning about a recount, like that’ll help in some way. Regardless, the mantids outweighed the green treefrogs, somewhere in the vicinity of 74 to 57, and even fudging those two numbers probably won’t bring the treefrogs out ahead. Notably, there are no mantids of any kind to be seen out there right now (and by rights I never should have seen the treefrog either,) but I do have an unused photo from earlier in the year.

Chinese mantis Tenodera sinensis sipping water from a foreleg
This was taken back in June, a surfeit for the post of the time, so it just sat in my folders waiting for another opportunity, and lo! here we are. It is drinking some of the water I provided by misting, because I take care of my subjects. More or less, anyway – I can’t make the treefrog bury itself, and I doubt it would be happy indoors.

But while I’m at it (and because one of those previous ‘image’ uploads was actually the blank space in this post,) I’ll throw down a couple others from within the same folder. Better safe than sorry, right?

a pair of sexually engaged robber flies family Asilidae, one with recent capture
I called this one, “Hedonism,” because yes, that’s intercourse for robber flies (family Asilidae) and yes, one of them has a hefty meal. Moderation, guys – get a grip.

newly emerged adult common looper Autographa precationis
Just to show you that this is not a throwaway post, I just did the webbernet research to determine that this is a common looper moth (Autographa precationis) from October. I’m pretty sure it had just emerged from that chrysalis underneath it, placed on the lemongrass plant out front. I look like that when I cut my own hair.

[No I don’t – I cut my own hair all the time, with a little assistance around the edges from The Girlfriend, and I look damn good. But less iridescent.]

painted skimmer dragonfly Libellula semifasciata perched on yellow flag iris Iris pseudacorus
And finally, I really liked the detail from the wings of this painted skimmer (Libellula semifasciata) that was taken back in July, but I distinctly recall that I had too many photos for the post then, and so left it off. Ha! Like that worked!

So there you have it: the 1,000th photo of the year, perhaps kinda, but at least the 1,000th upload, so close enough. And just so you know, that means better than 5,370 since the beginning of the blog. Meanwhile, I’m closing in on the 2,000th post, but that will still be a while yet, because presently this is the 1,924th – I figure about April or May next year. It’ll give you time to pick out an appropriate gift.

The anticipation is killing me!

No, not christmas, though I am looking forward to that, because we have this tradition of reenacting giving birth in a rickety food trough full of hay while curious sheep keep nosing around, and it’s hilarious – it takes talent to adequately produce Joseph’s expression of being cuckolded by a deity. No, not winter season, because fuck that. No, not even the eventual effective rebuilding of the Walkabout Studios computer suite – well, no, yes, I really am looking forward to that, if only for the cessation of time-consuming, headache-inducing actions (you try formatting drives and copying 800+Gb of information, repeatedly because there’s an intentional amount of redundancy among drives, only to find that something isn’t working again. Repeatedly.)

Instead, I’m referring to the next post, and let me tell you about that. Whatever follows will tie me for the record number of posts that I’ve made in a year, and the next photo you see here will be the 1,000th photo for the year (blowing the previous record so far out of the water it enters orbit.)

Now, this amazing coincidence could only take place if, uh, this interim post existed, which only demonstrates extremely bad planning on my part; next year I will endeavor to know exactly what will post and when, the photos I will obtain throughout the year and the topics that will present themselves. According to all scientific principles, there is nothing truly random so this is possible if I try hard enough. For instance, this year I was remiss in not investigating how many new parking lots were being produced across the country, so I wasn’t up-to-date on the air-mass heating this would produce and thus the affect on the rain storms and subsequent affect on the development of the autumn color change. Slack, I know.

This lack of foresight extends to not even knowing what that photo will be, though I have several candidates, but this means I can’t even drop hints if I wanted to. Will it be old? Will it be brand new? Will it even be mine? I can’t say! Isn’t it delicious?

And of course, I milked a post out of an upcoming post, which demonstrates my amateur status as a blogger, but so does my not getting a goddamn cent for any of this, so…

The days of yore, part five

pond scene lacking fall colors
Admittedly, these photos are not from very long ago at all – slightly over a week, to be forthright – so this isn’t terribly yorey, but that’s the title I’m going with. Mostly, I’m doing a little catchup from the past few weeks of thin posts while I tackled numerous other things, but really, I wasn’t shooting then either, so we have just a representation from a single outing. I’m not impressed with the photo above, but that’s the point – I’m illustrating just how unscenic it’s been, and how few autumn colors were visible, which is why I named the image, “FallColorSingular.” And now I’ll demonstrate how I virtually always end up working with such, since the trees in the immediate area all turn colors at different times, and there is rarely any such thing as a ‘peak time’ for colors here. Sure, other places can boast of those, but not here.

So see that one itty bitty little red American sweetgum tree (Liquidambar styraciflua) there on the shore to the left? Let’s use that.

Canada geese Branta canadensis in front of fall foliage on American sweetgum Liquidambar styraciflua
Working from across the pond with the Canon 100-300L lens, I had the setting, but I needed the subject, and waited patiently for the Canada geese (Branta canadensis) to swim into the frame – which took longer than expected, because they were dilly-dallying, or maybe lollygagging, and taking their own sweet time about it. I suppose that makes this a lollygaggle of geese, but regardless, I was mentally coaxing them along, which I’ve long ago proven does not work at all, though what else was I gonna do? Even if I had a bunch of bread crumbs with me, my throwing arm isn’t that good. Eventually, they came across and I got the framing I was after, then cropped it tighter for its use here, highlighting those colors enough to make it seem like they were more prominent than they were, as well as putting a little color into the water from the reflection.

Technically, this is the latter composition, because I started my circuit of the pond from the other side and thus passed right alongside that tree initially, so this was the approach then.

muscovy ducks Cairina moschata passing behind backlit American sweetgum Liquidambar styraciflua
I didn’t have to wait on these muscovy ducks (Cairina moschata) because they were entering the frame on their own, possibly following me around the pond in the hopes of a handout, but that meant that this time, I was quickly positioning myself for the framing. Facing into the sun now, the leaves were backlit for a brilliant effect, but the ducks became near-silhouettes, and yes, I framed the sunburst reflection in there on purpose; regrettably, this showed the residues atop the water very distinctly, making it almost appear like ice, when really they were barely noticeable. But it certainly made the most of one tree.

Now, there’s been a great blue heron (Ardea herodias) hanging around for several weeks, and it’s a spooky one, rarely allowing any kind of close approach and not posing very well. But this particular day I had more luck than all previous, and managed a few compositions before it flew further off like a whiny little girl. We’ll start with the wider perspective.

great blue heron Ardea herodias perched on piling in front of trees
Not exactly a representative autumn shot, but ignoring that, it works okay as a scenic in my book. I tried not having the heron on the centerline of the frame, but that introduced other distractions, so we’ll cope.

And then, as I continued around the shoreline, the elements lined up differently and I had a new composition.

great blue heron Ardea herodias with smidgen of fall colors and reflections
First off, there are two trees contributing orange colors to this frame, and they’re both in the previous one too, but widely separated there. equidistant on either side of the heron; marching on a few dozen meters allowed them to line up and give an impression of more colors than were really visible, as well as putting a splash of color right alongside the heron. Cropping tighter enhanced this considerably, and then shamelessly, I darkened the frame a little and boosted saturation just a tad to really bring it home, but I had also been shooting with the settings for high contrast in the camera, trying to handle the bright sunlight, and those reduce contrast and saturation. If you’re worried about such wanton editing, go read this.

Then I rounded a small point, drawing closer and producing entirely different lighting and effects.

backlit great blue heron Ardea herodias with sunlight reflections from water
No fall colors now; not a lot of color at all, really, because of shooting almost directly into the sun. And I’ll tell you a little secret: I boosted saturation by the maximum amount it would go in GIMP, just to illustrate that there was virtually none to begin with. As a comparison, the previous shot was boosted by “9” on the slider (percentage, perhaps; who knows? It’s unlabeled,) but this one was boosted by “100,” right against the stops – there just wasn’t much to boost.

Almost immediately afterward, the heron said, “Screw this” (or non-words to that effect) and flew off. I had been shooting at 300mm and the above image was slightly cropped, so it’s not like I was particularly close, but that’s how this specific heron behaves – not at all like the cooperative egret from a few weeks back. Back and forth goes the luck, which is profound, I know.

On this date 49

So, on December 2nd I’ve shot…

… nothing. Not a damn thing, at least in the digital era. I can’t account for the slides because they’re not dated for the day taken, and my database never carried that info, so maybe I’ve shot something on this date, in years past, but can’t prove it. I could easily have shot something in digital or film, too, but never thought they were worth keeping and discarded them. So I won’t definitively say that I’ve done no shooting on this date, but I can’t prove otherwise – I have no alibi, is what I’m saying. Do with that what you will.

But it’s the slow period, and I did shoot a tiny handful of images on both the 1st and the 3rd of the month, so we’ll take a quick peek at one of those, shamefully admitting that this is cheating and I’m disqualifying myself from whatever competition is taking place. Tough noogies.

unremembered spillway falls somewhere in North Carolina
old silo in middle of road in middle of town, somewhere in North CarolinaSo the image above was taken during a photo outing that Jim Kramer had planned, where he also did all of the driving and navigating, and because of this, I have no goddamn idea where it is. Well, that’s not entirely true, because I know it was within 75 klicks and at least westward from here, but not much more than that. And I’m not sure Jim would even recognize it from the photo above, so I included one of the few others that I got on the same day, not too far away, of a solitary silo right smack in the middle of the road, pretty much in the middle of town too, but even the one horse died because the silo no longer has a roof and the silage is all moldy now. Someone might recognize this, but seriously, this was in the boondocks, and North Carolina is good at boondocks – maybe not up to Alabama’s level (if “up” is the right word here,) but pretty boondocky all the same. I’m a little surprised the silo is still standing, because I imagine it’s a prime target for drunk drivers and drunk driving has to be, like, the only Friday night activity in the town, but as of 2005, there it was. Somewhere.

Just levels

November has been quite a frustrating month for me, so I’m more than happy to see the end of it – except, there’s absolutely no reason to believe a) that such circumstances are influenced by, well, anything; b) that the arbitrary demarcation of the ‘month end’ means anything more than a simplification of our mental categorizing; and c) that even if either of these weren’t true, that the last day of the month could influence those things that I find frustrating. Which means all of these are decidedly abstract impressions, whereupon we segue into our routine month-end post. You didn’t believe we could go this deep, didya?

Anyway, we have two today, shot nearby during two of the very-brief attempts at photographing anything in the past few weeks – aside from the late fall dearth of subject matter, we also have the other pursuits that I’ve been engaged with that sapped (uh, are sapping,) too much of my time, thus the dearth of posts as well. So it goes; I’m still riding the wave from October ;-)

old fencepost in water with reflection
It’s not exactly hard to determine what this is, but the water was nice and smooth and I wanted that subtle little spider in there – please don’t tell me you missed it. Actually, it’s only the reflection of the spider, though the spider itself is actually visible, it’s against the complicated background of the stump (actually I think it’s an old fencepost, which makes this a fencepostpost,) and very hard to make out at this resolution, but if you want to try, go for it.

Come to think of it, this is a fencepostpost squared, because that also serves as the setting for the next entry.

unidentified fungus atop signpost in tight macro
Whoops, no, I lie – this is a signpost instead. Well, it’s the weird fungus atop a signpost, which itself is not visible, that I shot wide open in natural light with the Mamiya 80mm macro and extension tube, because I hadn’t bothered to grab the macro lighting rig. Which would have made it better, to be sure, because depth of field at f4 isn’t exactly overwhelming. I could also have boosted contrast, but that would have been cheating. I mean, even more than the specific cropping and resizing that I did for this post. Listen, don’t ask me to explain my ethics, and you won’t get so confused.

I have a coupla fartsy shots from the same outings (or at least one of them) that will be along when I finally get a smidgen more free time that is not spent on other projects. Continue monitoring this particular radio frequency, as they say, which makes no sense at all but I didn’t make it up…

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