A few more

hickory blossoms against sky reflectionThese are just a few more images that I obtained in the past week, that I didn’t try to jam into the previous post. Instead, I’m jamming them in here!

I have photographed these peculiar blossom pods umpteen times in this state, and never figured out what they were. Finally, for this post, I started searching (try to imagine what kind of terms you put into a search engine for their appearance,) and now believe these are the flowers of a hickory tree. The disturbing thing about this is, we had a hickory tree in the back yard of the old place, and I never made the connection. And in thinking about it, I knew we had different flowers on that, but the explanation is, these are male flowers, while the female flowers are different (less prominent Adam’s apple.) The female flowers – naturally – produce the nuts. Makes perfect sense. Don’t use these to try and teach kids about sex.

Anyway, here they’re against the blue sky reflecting in a pond, which is a better way of producing background color than trying to frame against the sky. The sky is bright and often the difference in light levels will mean either turning your foreground subject into a silhouette, or exposing for that and bleaching out the sky, perhaps to pure white. But reflections are darker than the sky so become more manageable, and can be darkened further with a polarizing filter since reflections from water are polarized – turn the filter until you achieve the effect you desire.

Canada geese Branta canadensis with pine reflections in pondAt the same pond, a pair of ubiquitous Canada geese (Branta canadensis) paused among the reflections of the trees, and I zoomed out and shot vertically to use the reflections, doing that fartsy thing again in abject denial of my lack of artistic skills or reverence. It’s a more complicated shot than I prefer, but you take what you can get when you’re out chasing pics, and keep the concept of better conditions in mind so you can recognize them when they occur (or better, change position or timing to help produce them.)

In fact, all of these images depend on rather crucial positioning, sometimes in very subtle shifts. For the hickory penises blossoms at top, it was not just the use of the sky reflection in the background, but also the selective focus on the closer one, with a short depth-of-field, and the shift so that the two clusters sat in their own distinctive positions in the frame and weren’t touching or overlapping – the guys know what I’m talking about here. And with the geese, it helped to have them lined up with the trunks, but more important was the patch of blue sky that lent a little more color and defined the shape of the trees – without it, the reflection would have been ‘just foliage’ and less appealing, practically unnoticeable.

backswimmer bug Notonectidae out of water on leaf
It might not seem like positioning was all that difficult for this backswimmer (Notonectidae) perched on a floating leaf, but you weren’t there, were you? Taken in a raised pond at the botanical garden, the vague greyness at the left side is actually the wooden edge of the frame, since the leaf had drifted into a corner and I was endeavoring not to have artificial aspects in the photo. Worse, however, was the sun angle – any other position than this meant my own shadow was cast across the insect, which not only would have changed the shot significantly, it might have spooked the bug into the water and ruined the opportunity. I spend a lot of time aware of where my shadow is falling, so it doesn’t appear in my images and doesn’t frighten any living subjects, and I recommend developing this awareness for anyone pursuing nature shots.

Anyway, considering that several of the ponds right next to this one were still frozen over because they received less sunlight, I was surprised to find this guy out, and in fact I’ve seen very few of this type of insect around at all. The legs are vaguely flattened and serve as oars, and they are usually spotted just under the surface swimming along awkwardly and jerkily – as their name implies, on their back upside down, where they can see their prey easier. Check out this page for more characteristics, and this one for a close relative, especially the identification portion to see one of the reasons why arthropod photography can be challenging.

weeds against water sparkles bokehThis was one of the images taken on the River Walk, just trying to do something with the lack of compelling subjects in winter. The background is the river itself, crashing over a log and throwing reflections of the bright sun. Well out-of-focus with, again, that short depth-of-field (wide aperture, in this case f4,) the sparkles became soft balls to frame the simple subject of the dried weed. Only a very narrow angle would produce this effect, and I recommend taking several images with infinitesimal shifts, because the placement of those background globes will vary as the water dances, and cannot be predicted – some will produce a good frame, some will clash or just get messy. The sun is in a direct line with the camera though well above the angle of view, the only way the reflections will be seen, but also backlighting the weeds so they aren’t just silhouettes. A lens hood is a good idea in these circumstances.

daffodils spring from pine needles among snowAnd finally, an image from today, one that I shamelessly (and unrepentantly) staged. The snow had since melted before the emerging daffodils (I think – I could be wrong about the species) had gotten this high, so I got a few shovels of the iceberg mentioned in the previous post, left over from digging out the car, and dumped it into the frame in choice locations. This both broke up the background in a more appealing way than the monotonous pine needles, and expressed the time of year that such flowers appear. Thus, while it is not strictly ‘as found,’ it is still representative and expressive, not much of a gross manipulation – you can, of course, form your own opinion (no matter how wrong it might be.) By noon, the nearby trees cast the flowers into shadow for the remainder of the day, so this isn’t exactly crucial timing, but I missed my opportunity for this yesterday by being busy with other things.

It’s funny; most other forms of photography allow for varying degrees of staging and manipulation, people drawing or painting can put things any damn place they please, and I can even adjust lighting in numerous ways not at all representative of ‘natural’ – but to a lot of people, dumping the snow there is considered ‘faking’ it, and even I feel slightly chagrined that I’m setting up an image rather than shooting it as it is. It’s definitely cultural, and it’s weird. But if we get more snow as the blossoms open up, I’ll be sure to show you the authentic images.

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