I tried, I really did

park trail in NC winterThere are a handful of benefits to maintaining a blog, especially if you do something “professionally” (leave the comments be,) among them providing backstories or amusing anecdotes, passing along tips, and just the general reassurance to everyone that you’re remaining active, and of course this bit requires regular content (which in and of itself provides writing exercise and a quest for new topics.) The rot sets in when there’s too little to write about, even when you make the effort. You might take that to mean this post will be less long-winded than my normal fare, and you’d be wrong.

I set out today (today being Friday and not whatever date this actually posts, but it’s still 11:57 PM right this second,) to check out one of four potential areas for nature photography – new to me, and in some cases not known very well among the public at large. The goal, besides just getting out to chase pics, was to discover some hidden gem that would provide plenty of opportunities for photos without, you know, beach trips and all that. This was not to be, but in all fairness, it’s still freaking winter, despite some warmer temperatures for a small portion of the day, and nothing is really growing yet. My destination is remaining nameless for the time being; as unimpressed as I was, there remains a chance of it getting much better in true spring. If it doesn’t, I’ll trash it in a post then.

It was sunny when I walked out the door, but I drove into mixed clouds in the ten-minute trip, and most of the excursion was spent in near-overcast. In scattered locations were trout lilies, an early bloomer in the region, and a handful of Virginia spring beauty (Claytonia virginica) blossoms peeking through here and there.

Virginia spring beauty Claytonia virginica
Green was barely visible anywhere, the ground was littered with fallen trees by the dozens, and there wasn’t a living thing to be seen. Worse, however, was the constant background whine of I-40, not far enough in the distance – not exactly the kind of mood you hope to evoke when hiking in a ‘remote’ area.

The sun finally did make an appearance after I’d made it down to the creekside, at least. I had hoped this was for good, because it had been chillier than I liked, and I’d dressed a little too lightly for the wind (I know better.)

creekside in scattered sunlight
Near the water, I could hear a red-shouldered hawk, a downy woodpecker, and a handful of songbirds, but got just the barest glimpse of the latter. The water was the most visibly moving thing, and that wasn’t notable.

Not ten minutes later, the sky clouded over with vigor and the wind started to almost howl, setting all the trees swaying and convincing me, despite the weather reports, that a storm was blowing in fast.

creek in overcast
fallen trees in park areaI’d checked the trail map before setting out and knew I wasn’t quite halfway along it, so I backtracked to take the shortest route back to the car. The entire way I listened to the wind whoosh and roar among the trees and, taking a hint from the voluminous fallen trunks, paid close attention to any sign of cracks or rumbles that might signify a tree falling – I did indeed hear one, far off to the side, but luckily saw nothing fall while I was out there. And it did start raining, but in a halfhearted manner that by itself wouldn’t have been enough to end my photographic efforts; coupled with the wind and overcast though, there was a threat of it getting much worse, plus the lack of anything interesting to be found, so I cut the trip short. I will return again in a month or so when things really start growing here, to see if the region gets a bit better, but overall, the conditions weren’t impressing me at all, and about the only thing I could hope for is that it’s a haven for deer or something; nothing that I saw pegged it as being a good habitat for much else, at least during the day. It might be a great spot for raccoons, skunks, opossums, foxes, and snakes, but they’re generally active at night and the area closes at dusk, like virtually every place within driving distance.

There’s one more aspect that gives it potential, however: while this region is literally overrun with hateful and ugly longneedle pines, just about every tree that I saw here was deciduous, and the guide says that it’s home to maples, oaks, and hickories. That means the spring and summer months may be fairly picturesque, but the fall might be among the best views within easy reach. The only other area that features a nice blend of trees is open to hunters as soon as it gets colorful, except for the weekends when then you have to contend with too many hikers, that don’t feel their dogs should be leashed. So a relatively unknown public area with a variety of trees is promising, at least.

The entry drive bordered an old farm meadow that was lined with blossoming trees (that I’m not going to bother identifying,) so I shot a couple of quick compositions on the way out, just because I didn’t want to ignore the meager evidence of spring that could be seen.

unidentified blossoming tree probably cherry
Okay, they’re probably cherries – looks about right for them, anyway.

Later the same day as the sun was setting, the wind was still gusting excitedly but the clouds were scattered, and I didn’t want to ignore the potential of a decent sunset, so I scampered over to the pond to see what was happening. This time I included my light jacket, but the temperature had dropped further than I thought and the wind made it pretty bitter out there – as The Girlfriend noted, it was easy to believe that it might snow, even though the temperatures weren’t predicted to come anywhere close. In the meantime, I watched the sky to see what would brew up.

low clouds near sunset
sun peeking through trees at sunsetThe scattered clouds were clearing fast, as it is wont to do at sunset around here, for some reason – my recent trip to New York reminded me that not every place is like this. I knew the low clouds might catch any kind of light as the sun rolled off over the horizon, so I kept watching. Meanwhile, as an illustration, the image at left shows the sun just barely peeking through the trees surrounding the pond, not yet technically “set” though having been out of sight for several minutes by this point. It was this kind of thing that prevented me from getting sunset pics for so long, because the close trees limit what can be seen throughout the area. Wide open spaces tend to work better, with of course some foreground interest, and this generally means open fields or lakeshores or beaches, none of which have been within easy reach where I’ve lived for the past, oh, sixteen years or so? I’ve done a few quick trips to local vistas for sunsets, and the wild variability of sunsets in general thwarted those attempts more often than not – that’s why I take advantage of the beach trips.

That one cloud up there wasn’t moving much, and no others were blowing through or developing, but at least it produced some light wisps at one point. This might have been a light rain shower, one that may not have even reached the ground, or it could only have been wisps too low to catch the sunlight anymore.

cloud with stray wisps at sunset
I remembered my own advice about watching all of the sky, in every direction, and could seem some thin scattered clouds hanging out near a bright moon. I was hoping that the sun would throw some nice color on them, knowing the moon would remain bright white in contrast, but as the light was reaching the right angle the clouds were vanishing, so all I got was the faintest hint of pink in the sky.

fain vestiges of pink clouds at sunset with gibbous moon
Meanwhile, that sole cloud in the west was disappearing itself, remaining around long enough to catch just a little more color from the evening – by itself pretty lackluster, but it served as a backdrop for the withering spring blossoms of a (still unidentified) tree on the pond edge.

withering blossoms against sunset clouds
Yeah, too similar to what I’ve done before, but the pond itself doesn’t have a lot to work with either, and only gets strong when a large portion of the western sky turns colors and reflects in the water. Even the geese remained put, and a lone cormorant wheeled against the blank sky as the last of the light was fading. Not a lot to add to the folders, and I’m glad I didn’t make a lot of effort reaching either of these places.

Even the moon phase doesn’t show a lot, being too close to full, but the details around the edges intrigued me, so not long before starting this post, I ventured out in full night and did a couple more frames at four times the focal length, just to try and feel like I got some keepers from the day. At the very least, the details from those were sharp, so I got that going for me. Which is nice.

waxing gibbous moon
But yeah, things aren’t going to be too exciting on this blog until the season changes a lot more. Perhaps not even then, but right now I can blame it on the winter.

On this date 10

unidentified insect trapped in tree resin
On this date, fourteen years ago (that makes it 2006, just so you don’t have to do the math,) I came across a future fossil, an insect recently trapped in tree resin. Okay, probably not. Probably not a future fossil, I mean, since to make amber, the resin then has to be preserved in certain conditions, and this particular situation did not have them – what you’re seeing here is almost certainly long gone. For the shot, I was using the Canon Pro-90 IS with a reversed Olympus 50mm attached for high magnification – if this frame wasn’t tightly cropped you’d see the vignetting it caused in the corners. And you probably already got this impression from the short depth of field, but this was a tiny subject, hard to pin focus upon, but I liked this frame because it focused instead on the lensing properties of the air bubbles within the resin. From the length of the legs and the habits of the species, this is quite possibly a mosquito.

I never backed off and shot a wider, more establishing view, a bad habit that I’m prone to, but I also wasn’t blogging then and didn’t have the habit of seeing any story potential in such shots. Still, I seem to recall this was in the yard of Jim Kramer, and subsequent frames in the folder lend weight to this. And no, I don’t know what you’re seeing magnified within that bubble. Looks like a tiny terrarium.

And another, even though I featured a similar frame back at that time.

long exposure of creek ripples by moonlight
This came from 2015, a spot that I’d frequented when I lived about three kilometers away, even though I’d moved much further off the year before – the conditions made it worth the return trip. We had a wonderfully warm evening with a bright full moon, which was an invitation for long moonlight exposures, and so Buggato and I did a late-night session by the creekside. Not a lot of ripples and no rapids at all, but it was within easy reach, and I’d never heard a banjo while there.

You might have expected this to look more blue, but that’s only because our own low-light vision lacks color reception – moonlight is sunlight reflected from a neutral grey surface and is pretty much the same color as sunlight. And yet, this still looks a tad yellowish to me, so I suspected that I might have had the white balance set for something other than full sunlight (which means neutral and uncorrected.) The EXIF info wasn’t a lot of help: it said white balance was ‘Manual (1),’ which is meaningless to me – I’ve used actual manual white balance, set by a card reading, I think once in my life, so I suspect it really means Sunlight.

Okay, I had to confirm this, and checked some recent images that I know were shot in that setting; yep, ‘Manual (1)’ really means Sunlight, no compensation or automatic correction by the camera. So the light then really did have a yellow cast to it, either from humidity or stray ambient light from other sources.

And in fact, we will revisit this idea of neutrality with next week’s episode. I know you can hardly wait.

I would have posted something new, but…

Man, you know how it is at that time of the year, where you’re getting out the holiday decorations while simultaneously putting away the decorations from the previous holiday? Yeah, of course you do, especially right now, because after yesterday’s holiday, today’s is Revisit Old Content Day. Back before the webbernets, this day was spent poking through unused recipes or overturning the screw-and-bolt jar, and before that, it’s rumored, shoveling the bones from the back of the cave to examine the charcoal drawings on the walls again – it’s a pretty damn ancient holiday, truth be told. But now that we have vast electrons and, I dunno, magnetic thingies dedicated to archiving our efforts without yellowing, we can simply go back to random entries on the blog to see things that we pretty much ignored the first time around, because doing it again is somehow less of a waste of time. Don’t ask me to explain it; it’s physics, I think.

But who cares about the history and mechanics of it? For the holiday, I present the Southwest Florida Eagle Cam, first featured here (well, not here, but you know, about 61 pages down that way) on December 29, 2016. It’s a live cam feed focused on a bald eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) nest that is used every year.


This holiday actually highlights something curious, because normally, the young eagles would have hatched and perhaps fledged by now, since the first time I linked to the cam, the eagle parents already had eggs on the nest in December. But for reasons unknown (to me at least,) the first brood wasn’t viable – one egg never hatched, while the other did but the chick died at 26 days. The parents started a second brood, and the eggs are incubating at this point, due to hatch around the end of March. There is a countdown clock at the top of the page, as well as a chat window and a blog for further information. I’ll try to remember to post a reminder as we get closer to the hatching period – I could have saved this post for then but, you know, the holidays are imperative. And March does not have a Revisit Newer Revists of Older Content holiday – that’d be stupid.

But that isn’t exactly my content, so as an added holiday bonus, I link back to this post, which features an image that I still consider one of my best – and that tells you more than you ever wanted to know about me, I’m sure. At the very least, though, I do know that there are limited places where such a thing should be displayed, few contests that this even stands a chance within.

All right, fine. These are in the running too, and a little more socially acceptable. Okay?

It’s that time again!

Of course, I’m referring to February 29th being Annual Contest Submission Day, and you know me – I wouldn’t miss this one. But I’m having a little trouble deciding, so this time around, I’m soliciting some help in choosing. Since the intertubes is not very supportive of, you know, allowing people to express their opinions, I’m going to be magnanimous in opening this post up for such.

The contest is, “The Nature of Orange,” and the theme is, “Parks, Farms, and Trails of Orange County,” sponsored by the Department of Environment, Agriculture, Parks, and Recreations. This narrowed down my choices considerably, since most of what I consider my strong stuff (you know, like ammonia and forgotten cheese strong,) are either from outside the county, or were taken in my yard – since 2014, this hasn’t even been in Orange County because we moved (granted, the county line is literally within throwing distance even for me, but it still doesn’t contain the yard.) So right now, we have the possibilities below, though I have until the end of May to submit and may get some other options before then.

bluet Houstonia caerulea blossoms against sparkle reflection bokeh
I’m counting this one as a ‘trail,’ since it technically was, but not necessarily an approved or recognized Orange County trail – I’ll have to check. This unintentionally served as the first month-end abstract, several years ago; I noticed that two successive months featured abstract images on the last day, and a feature was born.

Contemplative Carolina anole Anolis carolinensis
Taken in the NC Botanical Gardens, I’ve always liked the anole’s expressive position, the defocus, and the colors.

tree in fog, red channel monochrome
From Mason Farm Biological Reserve, and it’s a ‘shopped version since it’s only the red channel converted to monochrome, but I see nothing restricting that in the rules. And since this is one of the nature areas that they’re encouraging people to visit (like the one above,) perhaps it has an edge in that regard.

bizarre fungus on treetrunk
Fond on the trunk of a tree in Anderson Park, I’ve always liked the textures of this one.

I could submit all four, since they allow up to five, and I’m going to sit on this for a little while to see if I get something stronger in the interim. Granted, I don’t think any of the images that I find the strongest were ones that I set out to do, that I intended to be compelling – they usually just happen that way, even though I may know it as I find it. Serendipity more than planning, is what I’m saying. So going out with the intention of getting something for a contest isn’t likely to work for me.

Here are a couple of initial Orange County selections that missed out due to the parks, farms, and trails criteria.

dewdrop on morning glory petal

dewdrops in spider webs with short focus

cryogenic aconite
And of course, anything not taken within Orange County, which is the bulk of my stock I think.

“Now, Al,” you say in that schoolmarmish way, “I distinctly recall you saying that you didn’t like contests.” Which is true enough; far too often, I’ve seen what’s won and wonder just what they were thinking. But I’m also trying to build more attention, and have seen the past winners and feel that the judges have some taste, and in fact, they’re looking for judges and I may apply to be one – if I decide to enter this year, then I’ll put off the judging option until next.

Anyway, feel free to comment at will, make comments about day jobs, and all that – I’m a big boy. No, wait, how did that go? I’m a big baby. That’s it.

Safari salama, February

wispy cirrus clouds with seagulls
Yeah, I’m not impressed with it either, but I have very few images from February that make good abstracts, and the better ones I’ve already posted. And this is with an extra day in the month to shoot in, too! Some of us just can’t work with deadlines.

Anyway, this is… I don’t have to explain this, do I? It is what it is. Better luck next month.

Something from yesterday

crescent moon with Earthshine and neighboring star
The images in this post are going to reflect more of my casual shooting stance last night, and I apologize. I went out solely to see if I could capture something in the few minutes that it might be visible, and I did, but didn’t have my heart set on astrophotography and it shows.

Above, a crescent moon was showing notable earthshine on the ‘shadowed’ portion while I was out, so I fired off a few frames to capture this, which overexposed the hell out of the sunlit crescent, and this is typical – the difference in light levels far exceeds the range of any camera out there, including the best slides films, so you pick one or the other to expose for. Or, like far too many people out there today, you get separate exposures for both and then Photoshop them together, like this is some reflection of skill or something. Is the snark showing? Gosh I hope not. Anyway, I also captured a neighboring star while I was at it, and was fretting that I missed an occlusion, but it turns out the two only passed close together – the closest pass was a little closer than this, but not by a lot.

[Pedantry on for a second: Technically, I probably did capture an occlusion, perhaps even a lot, because that means that a star would be behind the moon out of sight. What I thought I might have missed was the very beginning or end of an occlusion, when the star was right smack at the edge of the moon but visible, which was not going to be the case with the star seen here anyway.]

The moon was also appearing very close to Venus in the sky (which is not the star seen here,) and at twilight they were the only two things visible in a perfectly clear sky with some nice fading colors, but at that point we were leaving a restaurant and I did not have the camera with me. Yes, I admitted that, because my therapist suggested that I do, but I suspect he’s kind of a sadist to be honest, and just likes humiliating me. By the time we got home the colors had faded almost entirely, and I only looked at Stellarium to confirm that it was Venus in the sky near the moon, but realized I had ten minutes to get out and capture something else. This was a narrow time frame to get the tripod and trek to a spot where I’d have a clear view, but in that, I was successful at least.

streak of Hubble Space Telescope passing against background stars
The streak seen in this nine-second exposure is the Hubble Space Telescope passing by fairly low on the horizon, the first time I’ve captured it, largely because it always runs fairly low on the horizon for us here in NC – it is in an equatorial orbit and will never pass overhead, or even close to it. I’ve been out a few times before and never spotted it, or just caught the barest glimpse because it doesn’t reflect a lot of light. Which is faintly amusing in that, just a few moments after I closed the shutter on this exposure, it flared brightly, likely from its solar panels throwing back a more distinct reflection from the sun.

[More exposition: the sun can easily be out of sight to us around the curve of the planet, presenting a perfectly dark sky, but satellites are high enough to still be sunlit and visible, many times, and Heavens Above will let you know about all of them if you input your location. The app, only for Android users, will even pinpoint the spot against the sky when you hold your phone/tablet up, provided it has the necessary hardware, which nearly all do anymore.]

Now if you look at that image above, you’ll see some faint little crescents all through the image, and these are the background stars. You could take this to mean that my camera/tripod combination wasn’t perfectly steady, and you’d be right, but perhaps not to the extent that you think – in nine seconds, there should be streaks from the stars as the Earth rotates; there just shouldn’t be curves. That little bit of lateral displacement (in this case, upper right to lower left) was the unwanted movement, and I can’t explain why it occurs so evenly during the time of the exposure, but perhaps I was tugging gently on the cable release. It could also be a bad bearing on the Earth’s axle, I suppose…

While out there, I revisited another quick experiment from years past.

streak of Sirius during panning, showing scintillation
This is Sirius, the brightest star in the sky (still surpassed by at least three planets, though,) during a long exposure as I panned the camera on the tripod. The rainbow effect is from scintillation, kinda, and is responsible for the ‘twinkle’ that so many people see from the brighter stars. I did not expect this one to be steady at all, because the tripod and ballhead are not made for butterly-smooth pans of this nature – the squiggle at the right side is the start of the exposure as I began the pan. You can even see a hint of scintillation from another star higher in the frame, one so dim that it was probably barely visible, naked-eye (this was at 600mm focal length.)

[Yet another aside: my framing is terrible because the angles I was working at were uncomfortable, and again, I wasn’t being too seriousha! Get it? The tripod was raised fairly high because I wanted to stand more-or-less upright, bad news for stability really, but even then I had to stoop a lot just to see the viewfinder for a lot of my subjects, and this meant unclear oblique views through the eyepiece. Had I been doing this properly, I would have had the tripod as low as possible, myself seated on a ground pad for a more comfortable view angle, and would have tightened down as many weak points as possible: tripod legs and center column, ballhead pan and ball knobs, mounting plate to lens, switched to mirror lock-up to reduce vibrations, ensure that I was on firm ground, and so on. Really sharp astrophotography images require a lot of prep, among them a tracking motor to counteract the Earth’s rotation. I was being lazy, but admittedly, I didn’t have a lot of time to capture the Hubble pass that I was originally after, and as it was my knees got extremely muddy for a few of the frames.]

Okay, one more little detail and then we’re done. This comes from a very tight crop of the image above, magnified more than 100%.

stray light source, probably a bad pixel, in long star exposure
I noticed a couple of these while doing the edits, and highlighted this one for commentary. The little spot centered in the frame is not a star, because I was panning, and if it had been an actual light source it would have had to have been extremely momentary, mere milliseconds to not become stretched or attenuated by the camera’s motion like Sirius’ streak beneath it. While it remains possible that I caught something like a gamma ray burst, I am almost certain this is simply a bad pixel on the sensor, and because I shoot in jpeg rather than RAW, it got interpolated as this curious X-shape. I know, I know, “Why are you not shooting star images, or indeed everything, in RAW mode?!” Mostly, because RAW both takes a serious increase in memory usage and slows the camera down a bit in sequential shots, while providing a fractional increase in quality for only a handful of uses. I am against popular opinion in this regard, but I know my own demands too. Astrophotography does indeed benefit from RAW mode at times, and yes I should switch, at least when I’m doing this right. But, you know, some other time.

Something for today

bald cypress Taxodium distichum in Jones Lake, NCI’ve got some current content that will be coming soon, but I’m a little tired right now and have to crash for a short while, and by the time I’m awake again it’ll be tomorrow, so I’m sneaking this in now, a trivial thing but it’s been on my mind for a couple of days.

At right is the context image, a bald cypress tree (Taxodium distichum) in the ‘middle’ (not really) of Jones Lake, near Elizabethtown NC. One of quite a few images that I got while we visited, this one in particular was a favorite of The Girlfriend’s and was framed in the hall at the old place. Presumably it’s still around somewhere after the move, but I’m not sure where, and I probably should reprint it and find a place for it.

All that aside, I did a variation of it at the time that I just came across again, and it’s been digging at my mind because I happen to like it, but I can’t really pin down why. Which might mean that it’s simply a quirk of my tastes, or alternately something that may appeal to a variety of people and I just don’t know exactly why yet. Thus, you’re welcome and invited to express an opinion on it (and, really, on any of the images here or in the gallery) so I can determine if I’m as weird as we all suspect. It’s not a question of whether or not I’m weird – I am – but how weird, like faintly eccentric at times or the guy that everyone knew was gonna start conversing with fire hydrants some day.

That’s an adequate introduction, I think. So here’s the variant:

bald cypress Taxodium distichum in Jones Lake bearing Spanish moss Tillandsia usneoides
The Spanish moss (Tillandsia usneoides) is what makes this framing so distinctive, and I haven’t yet decided if it’s better this way or if I should crop it right above the waterline and make the trunk and moss completely dominant, if a little more abstract. I definitely like those branches and the cypress leaves/needles, how they add a little color against the textures of the monochrome moss and bark. But does it pop? Does it have zazz? Does it have… it?

Let me know.

On this date 9

a pair of mating red-shouldered hawks Buteo lineatus in treetop
Nine years ago, early in the morning, I was watching a pair of red-shouldered hawks (Buteo lineatus) wheeling overhead and making a certain amount of noise – I was going to add, “as they often do,” but this is not necessarily true; we certainly tend to notice them when they are, because red-shouldered hawks have a distinctively plaintive and forlorn-sounding call, but when they’re not attracting our attention with these territorial or mating displays, we rarely ever look up to see who might be soaring up there silently.

Such was not the case on this date, and as I watched, the circling pair eventually both found perches fairly close to one another, which I believed was promising, as well as confirming that the calls were for courtship. Being prepared with the long lens and tripod, I was able to capture the moments when they reached their accord.

a pair of mating red-shouldered hawks Buteo lineatus in treetop
While they were cooperative to the extent that they played pattycake where I could see them, they hadn’t picked a spot that was clear of intervening branches, so award-winners these images are not. And there is something a bit… unconvincing, let’s say… about the total lack of differentiating expression or posture or anything from the female, who could have been dubbed in from any other photo of a perched hawk. I often say that we shouldn’t be expecting human reactions from any other species, because they have their own rules of interaction, but sheesh.

Since this occurred in a neighbor’s tree within easy sight of our yard, I had hoped this to meant the nest would be close by, but most avian species would already have the nest completed by this moment, it being one of the ways the male convinces the female that he is successful and worthy. True to form, I had no idea where the nest was in the neighborhood and could do no observations of rearing or fledging or anything; that would come several years later at the new place.

And speaking of that, we’ll include a photo from the same date in 2015, from the edge of the pond near that same new place.

nighttime long exposure of snow blanketed woods
Now here’s what’s faintly amusing about this: I had selected these photos last week right after preparing the last On This Date entry, and right after having done a photo outing without needing a jacket. So at that point, it was commentary on how different the weather could be in February. Just a few days after that, however, we had a winter storm for this year, kinda killing the commentary, and together with the On This Date entry from a few weeks back, I started to realize that perhaps February storms in North Carolina were not as uncommon or variable as I’d believed.

And I’m still writing this a day ahead, so if I go into the image folders and choose something like some sunny day as more commentary, I’m still liable to be thwarted by what the weather actually is when this posts, so screw it.

Why are these not online?

sunrise over Indialantic Beach, Florida
Some years back I created a collection of 5×7 prints in a matched boxed set, with mats and clear envelopes, so I had a portable gallery of images to show to publishers and art directors and all that – nicer presentation than a portfolio folder, easier to flip through. I selected a wide range of images, but concentrated on the fartsier ones instead of, you know, detail shots of cockroaches getting their insides sucked out, because I have the barest sense of aesthetics. And among them were these two frames from my time in Florida, nice beachy sunrises.

The fate of the boxed set was to sit on my shelves pretty much unmoving, because my meetings with publishers have been too few and far between, but more distinctly, the negotiations that I have had have taken place online or over the phone, with most of their exposure to my work coming through the website and through specific thumbnails that I sent over. I still like the boxed presentation, but no one gets to see it. Meanwhile, I have used these frames to illustrate something to my students, which I’ll get to shortly, so they’re in the instruction folder on my tablet.

As I was sorting through photos for another purpose recently, I started thinking that these two frames were not actually online anywhere, and double-checked the gallery to be sure: nope. A little surprising, but since we’re still in the slow season (the snow is now all gone and we’re back into rainy grey weather, bare trees, and brown grass,) they’re jumping in here for some color and content.

sunrise over breakers, Indialantic Beach, Florida
Both of these are slide film, by the way, and both from Indialantic Beach, Florida. In fact, from the exact same position, because they were taken only minutes apart, at radically different focal lengths – the bottom one was actually earlier than the top. It demonstrates how different something can look depending on how you frame it and what focal length is used, with a wide angle diminishing the details while giving a great impression of space, compared to the telephoto getting more color detail while enhancing those crepuscular rays. You can also see, if you look close at the clouds, that the exposures are slightly different because of the different areas of the sky and water that the meter was reading from (almost certainly the Evaluative Metering setting of Canon bodies, since these were definitely taken with the Elan IIe.)

What’s missing from the bottom one, however, while faintly visible in the top, is the layering of the clouds. In the bottom frame the clouds look more like flat pieces of lavender paper placed vertically in front of the sun, instead of thick blankets lying parallel to the earth’s surface, the light coming through at a very oblique angle. There was too little light underneath to show details or depth, so they’re largely silhouetted even though they have a decent color cast. Not a big deal of course, but it shows how easily the appearance can deviate from the reality.

Moreover, those little slots admitting the sunlight were remarkably narrow and selective. Go back up the the top one and notice that the sunlight, reaching me and the camera where I stood, did not touch the water more than a few dozen meters out, producing no shine at all beyond the breakers – it wasn’t actually visible from there. Might have been really interesting being aloft in a plane, looking down on the landscape and seeing how selectively the golden sunlight was touching it.

All that glitters is not cold

… except, for this post, it really is.

backlit snowpack ice
True to North Carolina form, the day after the snowstorm is remarkably clear, even if it’s a tad chillier than it was during the storm (by like a degree.) My sinuses were protesting and I’d already spent time clearing off The Girlfriend’s car, so I intended to keep my outing brief, but I couldn’t pass on the opportunity of course. The snow had all partially melted due to the air temperature as it fell, then refroze during the night, so what we had was actually ice clusters, which sparkle a lot more than snow does.

It’s this kind of thing that makes me regret how slow our technology in digital photography has progressed in certain areas. Manufacturers are concentrating on cramming ever more megapixels into sensors, but the dynamic range remains largely the same, and the display on these LCD monitors falls into a really dismal scale. The bright sparkles here should just about hurt your eyes for an accurate impact, but they’ll be nowhere near that bright no matter how you view them. Hey, all you techie people, let’s get on this!

refraction from melting ice droplets on pine needles
It’s also pretty challenging to capture the rainbow refraction that produces starbursts of intense color from the melting ice when viewed at the right angle, but that’s the fault of lenses and apertures more than digital sensors. The orange shows up well enough, but you only get a hint of the teal from the drop to the left. If you ever tackle this, a larger aperture helps, and do a lot of shots because luck plays a large part.

I’m not about to drive up to Gold Park, where we shot the early blossoming trees a couple of posts back, so we’re going for this right now as seasonal commentary.

red bud blossoms under topping of snow ice
I don’t recall which trees these were and can’t identify them by the blossoms – I was initially going to say sweetgum, but the gumballs are still visible on the branches of those, so no. Not a lot of chance of them getting pollinated today, anyway.

And another, altered to show a trait of the morning.

tree branches and visible blowing ice and water in the air
I boosted contrast and adjusted saturation on this to make a detail more visible, but getting it beyond the subtle aspect seen here made it look incredibly unrealistic. The sun was warm enough to be melting off the ice, with the occasional breezy gust, and the air was actually full of misty droplets and falling ice bits anywhere near a tree, so getting gently pelted with these was par for the day. If you look closely at the clear blue sky areas, you’ll see they’re full of white spots of the ice and water drops.

I had no intention of chasing bird pics, but they seemed galvanized by the snow or sunshine or something to be active, so even with casual shooting I netted a handful of different species.

male northern cardinal Cardinalis cardinalis in bare tree with snow tufts
The northern cardinals (Cardinalis cardinalis) adore this stuff, of course, and this one was patient enough to let me shift slightly for a clearer view and better framing, then posed momentarily for posterity before flying off into more of a thicket where it was nigh invisible.

As I walked along I spooked a northern flicker (Colaptes auratus) from a tree where I hadn’t seen it at all, its pale rump flashing during its swooping flight, but it landed not far off in good light and I snagged a couple of frames.

male northern flicker Colaptes auratus on pine trunk
I don’t see enough flickers around here, which is a shame because they’re cool birds, but it’s possible that I’m just not searching hard enough – the other woodpeckers tend to draw more attention to themselves, at least. The dark ‘mustache’ mark denotes this as a male, like the cardinal above (which is indicated by the bright red color for that species.) The black bib is also a distinctive trait of the flicker, but my angle here shows only the barest hint of it.

I’d been hearing the semi-distant calls of the next one, but caught it out of the corner of my eye as it silently flew to a new perch. It, too, gave me just a few moments for a couple of frames before it flew off again.

red-bellied woodpecker Melanerpes carolinus also perched on trunk
This is a red-bellied woodpecker (Melanerpes carolinus,) which I see a lot more of, and hear even more often, though they’re comparable in size and habits to the flickers. Again, a male – the females lack red on top of the head though they still have it on the neck. Neither ever seems to show a red belly, to be honest, though I believe there’s a hint of it on the males during breeding season and no other time. I think ornithologists could have tried harder to name them something appropriate.

And I’ve said the same for this next one, too.

double-crested cormorant Phalacrocorax auritus perched on piling in pond
Here we have a double-crested cormorant (Phalacrocorax auritus,) so-named because during breeding season the males have two narrow stripes of paler feathers on their crowns – as much as I’ve seen and photographed these birds, I’ve never seen this at all myself, so I think it’s all bullshit and the few photo examples out there have all been Photoshopped. I tend to consider these warmer weather birds, seen more often at the coast though the numbers may be increasing here inland, and I wasn’t expecting to see one in this weather; a couple years back one spent some months in the summer in this pond, perching on the same pilings in fact, so we’ll just have to see what happens.

By the way, these pilings are a matter of slight frustration, because their position means they’re always backlit and too many species seem to like them. Maybe I need to erect some big reflectors on the bank nearby.

And for our last pic, I’ll go slightly fartsy with one of the ubiquitous Canada geese (Branta canadensis,) which I have more than enough photos of (as does everyone, I guess,) but I liked the sun’s reflection in the water alongside it. Plus it brings my photo uploads this month to 49, not too shabby for the winter and the slow start. And I still have at least another ‘On This Date’ photo coming.

Canada goose Branta canadensis with sun's glare