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…

On the negative side 9

long exposure of night sky over Indian River Lagoon
It’s been a while since the last dedicated negative post – just hadn’t found too much to scan and/or comment about, but then I ran across this old scan and decided to post it. Of course, if you’re seeing this in the slow winter months, that means I realized I’d need more post fodder for then/now and shelved it until then (it’s August as I type this initial bit.)

Obviously, what we have here is a long exposure of the night sky, but this dates from back about 2003-2004, the Florida days, and some cheap-ass film that someone unloaded on me for experiments, so this was one of them. Lots of negative films don’t handle night exposures very well, and this was no exception, as can be ascertained by the grainy appearance, but there’s an overriding reason behind that. Night exposures tend to be mostly blue in tone, and weakly at that, but negative films capture things in inverse colors – thus, “negative” (it does not mean they’re pessimistic, necessarily.) So when the primary light is blue, this is being captured in the yellow layer of the film emulsion, the inverse of blue, and largely not at all in the other color layers.

But wait, there’s more. Light is, of course, not perfectly ‘blue,’ and there really is no such thing. There’s also no such thing as emulsions that will only capture a specific wavelength; mostly, it’s silver halide that’s sensitive to any light, embedded in a gelatin layer that filters out everything but blue (but then, when developed into a negative, will be rendered yellow anyway.) Below this on the film sits a layer that blocks blue light, so it will not try to expose the green or red layers beneath. The exact color registers of each of these (as well as sometimes, the number of each) is what gives each film its inherent color registers.

And since this yellow layer sits on top, it is the one most easily damaged by handling, not at all helped by commercial film processing which, more often than not, doesn’t bother with any hardeners that will make the negatives tougher. I could easily have taken this particular roll to a pro lab in town, which probably would have done a better job than the local drugstore, but the local drugstore charged $1.98 to develop into negatives without prints, and as I said this was an experimental roll.

Overall, the experiment came out worse than intended. The humidity was just a little too high, the haze blocking out the stars near the horizon and reflecting too much of the city lights – actually, multiple cities, or at least mid-size towns. A couple of stray aircraft left extraneous trails in the sky. And the ghost on the bench was barely captured on film at all.

Oh, you didn’t see it? Yeah, it’s there, just barely, if you look close. Legend has it that the ghost appeared only on certain nights near midnight, so I locked open the shutter and let the camera sit there recording.

Okay, you know that’s me on the bench – I just didn’t stay put long enough for the exposure time. This was, in fact, one of the experiments that helped me pin down how long it really should be, to leave a distinct but still transparent human-shaped shadow. Rough guideline: about 3/4 of the exposure time. It’s admittedly a lot easier to experiment in digital – just, not exactly accurately, because the LCD on the back of the camera won’t give you a viable idea of the relative exposure, especially when viewed in the dark.

By the way, the string of lights on the left side is the causeway bridge across the Indian River Lagoon, which is the body of water in the foreground, the sound between the barrier islands (background) and the mainland (where the bench is.) The bright rectangle to the right is some hotel.

Were I more motivated, I’d use those star trails to get a rough idea of what season it was, or at least determine what constellations are visible; I don’t know what time the photo was taken, so I could only get a rough idea from the constellations, even though I know what direction I was aiming. The planes were still active, so I’m supposing not too late (likely before ten PM, certainly before eleven,) but it was dark enough so I’m pretty certain it wasn’t summer. Hmmm…

On this date 48

unidentified shield bug in extreme closeup
As the harddrive woes continue, with even less progress than reported last time (yes, I backslid a bit – don’t ask,) we still have our weekly post of photos taken on this very date in years past, sure to engender those warm fuzzy feelings, especially with subjects like this. Last week opened with an image taken while visiting North Carolina in 2003, and this one is the same, the tail-end of the same trip. I was experimenting freely and had attached an Olympus 50mm f1.2 lens backwards onto the fixed lens of the Sony F-717, which when zoomed out to ‘telephoto’ lengths (i.e., notably longer than a ‘normal’ view) would produce some serious macro magnification – albeit with some serious shortcomings too, like the egregious distortion seen around the edges. I haven’t bothered to identify this variety of shield bug/stinkbug, but this was among the first images where I was doing compound eye detail. A few months later on in Florida, same camera and lens setup, I expanded on this a little (a lot.)

And then, nothing at all on this date until 2008.

Cooper's hawk Accipiter cooperii looking chagrined
While working for a wildlife center, we had an outdoor cage for acclimating rehabilitated birds to the outdoors pending release (back when the place actually maintained a rehab program before the idiotic director shitcanned it,) and this Cooper’s hawk (Accipiter cooperii) believed it was getting an easy meal. Accipiters are bird eaters, and the dove we had in the cage was a sitting duck, as it were – except that the hawk hadn’t really registered the wire cage sides. After bouncing off of this abruptly right as it should by all rights have been seizing a slow fat dove in its talons, the hawk retired to an overhanging branch and debriefed itself on what went wrong, giving me a little time to get the camera out. While a few other frames are sharper, I chose this one for the blurred tail, evidence of the hawk settling its feathers, yet giving me the distinct impression of fidgeting in frustration as it peered down at the cage and the unfazed dove. Of course that’s because I was there and witnessing the drama; a viewer seeing this image without exposition is more likely to feel the hawk just spotted its favorite chew toy.

Another four years passes in a flash.

unidentified lady beetle Coccinellidae restrained with petroleum jelly on toothpick and exuding defensive hemolymph
No fartistic merit in this one – this is strictly illustrative, and I took a buttload of frames for the details. I’ve said before, 2012 was a banner year for arthropod photos, and this is some of the reason why: I was illustrating as much as I could of the subjects that I was finding. When studying anything biological, you come across the term aposematic coloration fairly quickly, the bright hues and distinctive contrast that makes a species recognizable and memorable, and this is almost always coupled with some kind of defensive mechanism (or on occasion, to mimic another species that has such.) The bright-orange-with-spots traits of the various lady beetles (Coccinellidae) are no exception, but I had to research whether this actually was aposematic coloration, because I’d never heard of nor encountered any such defense. But it’s visible here, and what I was illustrating: lady beetles can exude their own blood (technically hemolymph) from their joints, and apparently this is pretty distasteful stuff. That’s the yellow blog you see here to the left, out on the end of a foreleg and at the tip of the lady beetle’s mouthparts; the harsher lighting (before I was using the softboxes) and the odd angle make the details a little hard to discern, but if it helps, there’s a white triangle on the beetle’s head with a compound eye shining just below it. Since they never seemed to use this defensive action when I was handling them, I got to see it when doing underside detail with the method of putting a small blob of petroleum jelly on the tip of a toothpick and touching this to the beetle’s back (elytra, the wing covers.) This effectively and harmlessly restrained the beetle while allowing me to photograph the underside, and it showed its displeasure by squeezing out some hemolymph for me. And actually, this is showing a curious action that macro video would have illustrated better: when the blood-squirting wasn’t working, the beetle began mouthing the drops, which turned darker and more viscous and eventually fell off, no longer sticky. What, exactly, happened I have yet to determine – mostly because I forget all about such things until I find the photos again.

But never mind that. What does 2013 hold?

dired basil flowers against sky
Not much, actually; the only photos I shot were of these dried basil flowers. We’d had a huge crop of sweet basil, all grown in the garden from a single seed packet, that had been used all summer long for sandwiches and soups and our own pesto, and in the fall I did a few photos of the dried flowers before harvesting them for their seeds, which are remarkably aromatic (but only reminiscent of basil leaves themselves.) These were dutifully planted at the new house the next spring, and produced not one single plant; perhaps we had a hybrid variety or something. Maybe the bees at the old house sucked. Whatever – seed packets are cheap, and while I’ve had very mixed luck with a lot of them, basil seems to be dependable, and we like it, so it’s a regular planting here, and appears in enough of my photos too. I was hoping to actually see the seeds within from this angle, with the help of the flash, but failed. So I have a handful of dried basil flower photos in my stock for anyone that needs them. Spread the word.

Not a reflection

green iguana Iguana iguana plotting something dastardlyThe blog posts have been slower than intended for the past few days, but this is not a reflection of reality – you know, meatspace – because that’s been far busier than I would have liked. You certainly recall when I mentioned my chagrin with working on computers a few weeks back, and that has continued, since I have three harddrives on my workhorse computer and I have now gotten to the third, which in Windows terms would actually be the first, or the boot drive. Linux doesn’t assign any order to drives, but this does mean that manually identifying them is almost necessary, especially when multiple drives are the same size.

I’ll spare you the history, which spans several days, and simply say that using an older motherboard put up a lot more problems than I anticipated, since it required a different format for the drive partitions and that single stumbling block took a hell of a long time to detect – not to mention that I then had to split the boot drive because of it (which means make the computer think that one harddrive was actually multiple drives.) At present, I have installed an updated version of Linux on the new boot drive, which is indeed working and booting as intended, but now am in the process of ensuring I have all of the software and accoutrements necessary. This takes time, because the old drive is/was also a boot drive, so they both can’t be connected at the same time.

To that end, I’ve been avoiding any tasks that would require copying information over between the old and new boot drive, photo work and blog posts among them. I have some more post ideas in the queue, but they’re shelved until the system is working more-or-less properly – so we have this ancient photo from the depths of time that’s been sitting in the blog folder waiting for the right moment to utilize that expression. This isn’t that time, but you’re reading an, “I’m still here,” throwaway post so it got elected. Without dispute, even. It was one of several iguanas that lived in my office (mostly at different times) back when I worked at an animal shelter, so 2005-ish? Whatever. She’s actually propped on a branch to be closer to the heating lamp, but the toes (and of course the reptilian expression) spelled out something else to me, which is why the image is named, “Exxxcellent.” Don’t make me explain that reference. Putting in the HTML image description also allowed me to use the word, “dastardly,” and that makes me a little happier this morning.

Regardless of my peculiar pleasures, more is on the way. Patience.

On this day (a whisker of success)

In the previous post, I mentioned attempting in vain to capture any of the Leonid meteors nine years ago, ending with, “Leave it to me to chase meteors on the colder nights…” And since it was 4°C at 4 AM this morning, guess what I decided to attempt again?

The primary difference being, this time I was moderately successful!

But first off, the false alarm.

a satellite passing through during Leonids meteor storm
I saw a small handful of meteors this morning, mostly where the camera wasn’t aimed, but noticed one that might have made it into the frame. As I closed the shutter, I took a quick chimp at the LCD preview and saw this lovely stripe across the photo, notably not where I’d seen the meteor, yet pleased that I at least caught this one, if not two. Except, on returning home and examining the images that I’d captured, I realized that this and the following frame had matching lines across them, meaning I hadn’t captured a meteor (which will typically last less than a second and will never exist across multiple frames,) but a satellite instead. In this case, it was the Cosmos 2058, a Russian spy satellite – Stellarium will allow you to determine a lot of these, so if you haven’t downloaded it yet, why the hell not?

But I said I was successful, and I was. Not hugely, but this is a bona fide meteor.

meteor near Orion during Leonids meteor shower
That’s Sirius at lower left, with Orion showing at lower right, just to help orient you. I never saw this one, but during exposures I may often be looking around at other portions of the sky, seeing if any areas appear more active. I was experimenting with high ISOs on the 7D to shorten the exposure times and thus the star trails, but this means a) a hell of a lot more noise and blotchiness from the sky, and b) a lot more frames to maximize the chance of capturing a meteor. Nonetheless we have a classic meteor, showing the ‘tapered’ appearance that indicates that it flared to a peak brightness and faded – twice, it seems.

And then again, while the camera was still aimed in the same direction (which was the darkest sky direction in this region, the farthest from any cities that throw up too much light pollution.)

Another meteor near Orion during Leonids meteor shower
This one was almost nicely aligned with the previous, except these weren’t consecutive frames, so I’m confident that I captured two meteors here. According to science boffins, most meteors are about the size of a grain of sand, and most of the light they produce isn’t the meteor itself melting as it hits the atmosphere, but instead the air reacting to the velocity of the particle. Still, there are occasional color changes from meteors of different types, though I have yet to see one myself, much less capture one in camera.

By the way, the regularly-scheduled meteor storms are all the result of Earth passing through the stream of debris left behind by the passage of comets; in the case of the Leonids, it’s comet 55P/Tempel-Tuttle. They get their name from the apparent point of origin for most of the meteors, which is the ‘leading edge’ of the Earth as it enters the debris cloud, so the larger percentage of meteors seems to emanate from that portion of sky (radiant.) Thus the Leonids indicate that the radiant is the constellation Leo. However, they can appear in all directions, pulled by Earth’s gravity or simply catching the atmosphere as the planet passes alongside, and I’ve seen them traveling all over the place during busy storms, including almost directly into the radiant, so concentrating on just one portion of the sky might mean missing some cool ones.

I caught one satellite actually crossing the sky, trundling along with barely visible progress, and re-aimed the camera for a specific exposure. In a couple other cases, what I took to be meteors when examining the photos back home turned out to have paths in consecutive frames. The one below almost fooled me, because it shows a flare, but it took too long to cross the sky.

satellite ALOS Daichi crossing sky near Sirius, showing faint flare
See that brighter middle? Yeah, that should indicate a meteor, but it doesn’t. Instead, this is likely the satellite rotating and catching an angle to reflect the sun, given some weight when I used Stellarium to plot the satellite itself.

screen capture from Stellarium showing satellite identified  as ALOS/Daichi
It’s pretty easy: open Stellarium, and use the progress arrows to reverse the Earth’s rotational effect until the clock approaches the time stamp of the photo (provided that you remembered to reset the camera’s clock for DST, which I’d forgotten.) Watch for a ‘star’ moving too fast or in the wrong direction, and click on it to see what it is. ALOS stands for Advanced Land Observation Satellite, and as you can see from the photo at that link, it’s covered in reflective foil; easy enough to catch the sun as the sunrise approached.

Through the small patch of trees to the east (this being a boat launch area on Jordan Lake,) I could see an inordinatley bright spot, and since the airport lies in that direction I suspected a plane, but it had no strobes and wasn’t apparently moving. After a minute, I’d confirmed it was Venus rising, and a bit later I re-aimed the camera and did a time exposure through the trees, flooded with the rains from a recent tropical storm.

Venus rising behind flooded trees
The sky was already lightening with the coming dawn, and I was starting to lose sight of some of the stars overhead, so after a few more frames I packed it up. Maybe I’ll return again tonight to give it another go, but for now, I can bask ever-so-slightly in the success of finally capturing a few (admittedly unimpressive) meteors.

On this date 47

Just four (well, four-ish) this time – could have had a lot more, because I’ve shot plenty on this date, but some were repetitive, and some have already been featured in posts. We’ll start with 2003.

extreme closeup od dandelion blossom and ant
At this point in time, I was living in Florida but up visiting with Jim Kramer for a week, while he still lived in North Carolina. This was playing around with the macro settings on the Sony F-717 camera of his, some months before he mailed it down to me to use for a bit before it was sold off (he’d purchased the upgraded model.) I don’t think I knew the ant was actually in the photo – I was concentrating on keeping the center in focus.

The we jump eight years forward to 2011.

time exposure of starfield around Polaris
Ten years previous to this, I’d witnessed the fabulous Leonids meteor shower but captured no photos due to using the wrong film for such an endeavor, and this was the first time that I’d tried it in digital, this being with the Canon Digital Rebel, or 300D, or DReb as I called it. I remember it being a cold night and the batteries gave way after about an hour, during which I’d only tripped five frames with the digital camera, capturing nothing; I was also out there with the Mamiya 645 medium format (film) camera with Fuji Provia 100, which did a much better job that the film from a decade earlier yet revealed no meteors itself. This is a six-minute exposure (at f5.6, ISO 100) with Polaris in the frame, the focal point of the star trails since it sits directly above Earth’s north pole and so the rotation of the planet causes all of the stars to track in a circle, except for one.

[You won’t ever get a complete circle in a photo unless you’re very close to the poles themselves during local winter, when the sun never actually rises, but even then the horizon can brighten enough to ruin the 24-hour exposure needed, so…]

2015, be the year we be visitin’ now, and a bizarre composite to illustrate something.

two views of reflections in a frog's eye
I combined two nearly-consecutive images to show the different reflections visible in this green frog’s (Lithobates clamitans) eye. You see, I was testing out a new softbox option after I’d fried the old Sunpak FP38 flat panel flash doing something stupid (like hooking up a 12-volt power source to a system intended for 6.) One thing that I lacked with the old flash was portability, and I was experimenting with a folding reflector assembly on the Metz 40MZ-3i, so one of these images was with flash, one without, which should be clear enough. But both show the reflector, kinda. In the top image, you can see the round reflecting panel with a rectangular highlight, the distinct reflection of the flash head itself, but also the flash head off to the side, aimed indirectly so barely visible – and the matte black arms holding the reflector itself. All of this was acceptable, but could be improved, and mostly, I didn’t like the weight and horrible balance of the Metz. In the bottom photo, the shape of the arms and reflector are more obvious, silhouetted against the tree branches off to the side, while the camera itself sits more centered in the eye. These were taken in the backyard pond – well, the frog was in the pond; the camera and I were simply alongside it.

We’ll stay vaguely thematic as we advance a year to 2016.

four painted turtle Chrysemys picta basking on logs in November
Going through Mason Farm Biological Reserve that day, a quartet of painted turtles (Chrysemys picta) were posed fetchingly on a pair of logs in good light, so of course I had to photograph them. Notably, three of these photos show that November can be quite nice, climate-wise, and the fourth shows no indication of temperature at all, though I can tell you that the tripod had frost on it when I packed up for the night (we’re talking about the starfield shot now.) Leave it to me to chase meteors on the colder nights…

Tell me why…

… I get up to things like this.

So, okay, I got two different detailed photos of a gibbous moon, one waxing, one waning, taken 10 days apart. And of course, at different heights in the sky, so angled differently, as shown here in the original orientations.

waxing gibbous and waning gibbous moons
Now, some landmarks. If you look at the left version, there is a dark almost-circular, almost-centered spot in the visible face, which is Mare Serenitatis, the Sea of Serenity – directly beneath it is Mare Tranquillitatis, the Sea of Tranquility, where Apollo 11 landed. Now we turn to the right version, and those two Mares are both sitting on the terminator, the line of shadow, rotated quite a bit – Mare Tranquillitatis is half in shadow. We’ll come back to this in a sec.

One of the things that I wanted to show was that full moons are usually boring, while not-full moons are more dramatic, showing greater detail and geology. To that end, I chose a particular spot visible in both photos and overlapped them in an animated gif (pronounced, “MOO-vee”) that morphed between the two.

animated gif showing how shadows define detailsFor the most part, it works quite well, especially when you pay attention to that large crater with the prominent central peak (Theophilus.) With the light almost dead on to it, it appears as a faint circle, only revealed as a sharp crater by having some shadows to throw. This, by the way, shows the Apollo 11 landing site, just about centered in the frame. No, you’re not going to see anything (especially not with a 1000mm focal length) – Theophilus is 100km across, slightly less than the width of New Jersey.

You may notice that some of the craters don’t line up perfectly, and this is evidence of a particular trait of the moon, which is libration. The moon is in a synchronous orbit, mostly; it always has the same side facing Earth even as it orbits around Earth, trying to hide the flowers behind its back. But it’s not perfect, and thus ‘wobbles’ a little, which is called libration. It’s not really enough to notice from naked eye observations, and even detailed photos won’t illustrate it very well – until you do something silly like trying to overlap two photos of the moon in different phases.

Or even worse, animating it.

animated gif showing waxing and waning gibbous phases of the moonIt took no small amount of playing around to line these up this way, believe me: first resizing the two photos by the same amount, then rotating a bit at a time to get the poles to match (near as can be determined by the shadows,) as well as shifting by small increments to get the overlap this good so the sphere, never actually visible, nonetheless appears complete – and realizing that, in ten days, the moon had also progressed enough along its elliptical orbit of Earth to change size a little, requiring re-scaling one of the images. The result looks pretty damn well like the progression of the shadow – except the details of the moon itself all shift enormously, well illustrated by the changing position of those two Mares. Or you can see someone else’s animation here.

This was, in fact, a major hurdle in doing that first gif above, because that spot was rotated further around the sphere from one photo to the other, warping and compressing the positions of the craters, and I had to do a lot of fiddling in the editor to get them as close as they are – not recommended to anyone who doesn’t have time and patience. It’s one thing to emulate the perspective change when you try to make text look like it’s on the oblique surface of a cooler, but another to cope with the shift along the surface of a sphere.

And to provide another illustration, we’ll take those two images and instead line them up with prominent surface features.

two gibbous moon phases overlapped and pinned on Plato crater
We already know the poles are pretty close, from the uniformity of the shadowed regions, so here’s what happens when you chose the crater Plato (indicated in yellow) as the anchor point. That’s not even close enough for government work.

How about if we use Mare Tranquillitatis and the landing site, the location and orientation of the first gif above?

two gibbous moon phases overlapped and pinned on Theophilus crater
That’s a hard nope, too. It should be clear that no amount of shifting or rotating will bring the two versions into a viable overlap.

I will note that some of the apparent shift is due to the tilted orbits of both Earth and moon, meaning the phase shadows will not line up perfectly because the sun isn’t dead on the moon’s equator; just like the seasonal changes in the angle of the sun on Earth, the moon undergoes a certain shift as well. Basically, all of this means that you shouldn’t really try to overlap different moon images and expect them to line up. But this is the kind of silly shit I do sometimes…

Showers and ‘shopping

Two things to mention here, real quick-like now.

First, we are approaching the peak of the Leonids meteor shower, in two days, but you may be able to go out at any time in the next week or so and see something – the moon will be dark, so if you have clear skies in your area, give it a shot. The worst that can happen is you get horribly slaughtered by the Meteor Shower Murderer, that psychopath that preys on innocent photographers that go to dark sky areas and sit around with their cameras on tripods, getting neckaches from craning to watch the stars for a couple of hours, because he’s got a grudge against people like that. Probably, anyway – I’ve never heard of any person or events even remotely fitting that description, and it’s pretty ludicrous, so the chance of it happening is decidedly slim, and the second worst thing that could happen is getting cold and not seeing anything. But if you’re, you know, out where the skies are dark and you have a great open sky view – the beach, say – and have time on your hands, go for it. I give some pointers for using your camera here, if needed. This page and this page will give you some more info. Stellarium and Heaven’s Above can also provide other objects to chase while you’re out there.

Second, I put together a new page on my own site to provide some pointers on combining images convincingly, otherwise known as editing two (or more) photos together, or pasting in something silly, or ‘Photoshopping’ (even though I’m personally talking about GIMPing.) In other words, if you want to make a fake photo for shits and giggles, this is my method, spurred by and illustrating this effort from a couple weeks back. If you want it to look good, don’t expect such tasks to be quick and easy, but it also gives great practice in editing skills that can produce something more useful than musical frogs. So if that sounds exciting to you (and it should,) have at it.

Best of luck with either or both, as the case may be.

A little demonstration

Branches across pond view
So this is just a series of photos that I set aside to illustrate something, waiting for a slower period, and since it will be raining steadily for the next two days it seems, now’s the time. It would be better illustrated ‘real-time,’ except to do that I’d have to have a documentary film crew following me around, which hasn’t come to fruition. Yet.

[Stop shrieking and running around the room – it’s never gonna happen. Sheesh, you’d think this was election results or something…]

The photo above pretty much shows what I first saw when ambling around the pond back in October, and the detail that made me pause for a second. A lot of the photos that I capture are a result of seeing something that wasn’t quite right, the break in expected patterns, colors, shapes, and so on, and this has two of them. One of them, lower right, is just a leaf suspended temporarily among the branches, but the other, above it and slightly left, was not a leaf, and not a natural aspect of the branches. This was what made me stop, and move closer.

something on branch
Definitely on to something now, since the shapes are far from typical for even a diseased growth on the branch – one of those on the top left side even seems to show light shining through underneath. Most likely arthropodal in nature. Still closer.

some kind of arthropods on branch silhouetted against sky
Crouching a little lower to use the light from the sky to outline them better, it’s now obvious: we got bugs. All of this was in the shade under a tree, no direct light at all, and while the photos increase the contrast and thus deepen the shadows a tad, there was still too little light for a clean view. Some additional illumination is in order.

bark lice Cerastipsocus nymphs in cluster on branch
I hate using on-camera flash, but I hadn’t gone to the pond with the full macro rig, so here we are, looking at stripey little bastards of some kind. I initially thought, ‘aphids,’ but the bodies didn’t seem quite right, and they aren’t – BugGuide.net pegs them as nymphs within the genus Cerastipsocus, a category of bark lice; one of the two species in the area is colloquially named as tree cattle. Adorable.

bark lice Cerastipsocus nymphs dispersing
The mere act of leaning close caused them to unpile and begin to disperse along the branch, like naughty kids in the schoolyard when a teacher approaches, casually and elaborately unsuspiciuous. But breaking up in this manner also made them much harder to see from any distance at all, so spotting the initial cowpatty, or whatever, was what allowed me to see them in detail.

The thing is, I couldn’t tell you how to spot things of this nature, and I can only give occasional illustrations of it like this; to the best of my knowledge, it just comes from being out there and paying attention to details, knowing how things normally are so that the little shapes and the anachronisms become evident. I can assure you, there are plenty of false positives, things that I look at closer only to determine that they’re not interesting after all, and I have no way of logging everything that I miss, except for the occasions where someone that I’m with sees something themselves; when they do, it’s from the same habits anyway.

So if you’re pursuing natural subjects, it helps (a lot) to get used to the natural patterns and shapes and colors, so that the items that aren’t draw your attention immediately. It won’t always produce a subject, but it’s amazing how often it does.

There’s something familiar…

fall colors from a few years back
So on Monday I started selecting the photos that would appear in today’s On This Date post, and ended up with two distinct possibilities from back in 2014; this was the second. In the context of the others, I knew this was taken around the nearby pond, but I couldn’t place that path anywhere, and most especially not the spiky yucca-maybe plant down there in the corner, extremely common when I was in Florida but considerably less so here.

And then I had a thought, quickly followed by another (I know, right? Wonder of wonders): I had just been out at the pond shooting what I could of the fall colors only a couple hours earlier. I checked the Sort folder, and there it was:

same location this year
The lighting conditions certainly make a huge difference, though the foliage isn’t as well developed this year, and initially, I’d used the ‘standard’ color and contrast settings for the shot, though I should have been using the ones I’d preset for such light conditions, so I at least increased saturation for display here. More noticeable is the different perspective, so I checked the EXIF info, but the two photos were taken with focal lengths only 3mm apart. For the top one, I was apparently further back, crouching lower and aiming higher.

It would have made a truly stunning, eerie, and unfathomable occurrence (well, actually just a neat coincidence) had I taken the second photo today, exactly (more or less) six years later, but noooo, I had to go and ruin it all. And today is going to be drizzly, misty rain all day long, courtesy of yet another tropical storm, so little chance of doing such an exact comparison. Note that I just did a podcast about improvements and making the effort and all that, so we can see how dedicated to the concept I really am.

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