Vermilion Monday

No, this isn’t going to be a regular thing – I don’t think. I just had a couple of photos to upload and needed an appropriate title, and the callback to last week just happened…

But, the backstory. My mom was always found of houseplants, even though her cats didn’t approve of keeping them in pristine condition, and one of her long-term succulents was a jade plant. Sometime after her death almost six years ago, my brother gave away the jade plant because someone wanted it and he knew he wasn’t as inclined to maintain it. A week after that, he moved a bit of furniture near the window and discovered a branch that had broken off of the plant when it had been moved. It still seemed viable, so he popped it in water and, many days later when it was sprouting roots, into its own pot.

This past summer when The Girlfriend and I were at his place in New York, we saw the sprawling and abundant plant that had grown from this single branch (so it appears he was better at its care than he suspected,) and he suggested we take a couple of cuttings home with us, since they’re that easy to cultivate and transplant. And they were; all three rooted immediately, and when transplanted into their own pots, simply exploded. And just a few days back, I noticed that they were starting to bloom. I would have done some photos last night, only I discovered that these were the type of flowers that close at night, so the session waited until this morning.

flower cluster of neverdie Kalanchoe crenata
Only, as The Girlfriend repeatedly told me, this isn’t a jade plant, though it’s related; it’s a neverdie (Kalanchoe crenata,) with thinner but broader leaves. It took a plant ID app on the smutphone to pin this down. But it’s winter, and they’re flowering, so one of the three came down from an upstairs window for a short session, including some applications of the misting bottle.

misted flowers of neverdie Kalanchoe crenata
Given our sporadic luck with plants, including countless seedlings that started and faltered, and several purchased plants that thrived for a couple of weeks after transplanting then simply died, these three have scoffed at their finicky and sensitive brethren, now threatening to get huge and make us look for a bigger house. Seriously, if you have bad luck with plants, get one of these – they’re like therapy.

We also received a small cactus for christmas from a neighbor, and while we were told that the red flower it sported was simply a fake for appearance, I had brought the cactus down for some ‘dew’ sessions as well, and it was this fake flower that produced the best images at extreme magnification.

misted artificial flower on cactus
Nothing exciting, but we’ll call it a month-beginning abstract, and thematic for this Monday.

There are more things in the works, including the standard retrospective jazz, but I’m moving slow right now so I opted to go with a little color for the winter, to start the year off. Even though I’m not fond of red, myself, and calling it by another name doesn’t change that.

Not done yet

You think I could let the end-of-mear/yonth abstract go by like that? Not hardly!

closeup of pair of American or Caribbean flamingos Phoenicopterus ruber napping
Moreover, this is quite current, having been taken today, so deal with that! You know you can’t! And we gots that color in winter thing going on too, practically assaulting your eyes.

profile of Indian peafowl or peacock Pavo cristatus from Greensboro Science Center
A handful of us (if you’re missing a finger on that hand, anyway, and if you consider a ‘handful’ to be defined by how many fingers and not how many could actually be held in that hand, which would be ‘none’ unless you count only portions that we’re not even going to examine,) paid a visit to the Greensboro Science Center in, of all places, Greensboro, NC. Curiously, I ended up shooting a lot more video than still photos, so while you’re getting a selection here, the more interesting captures will come later on after a bunch of editing, which will include deciding how much of the esoteric background noises (mostly kids saying the damnedest things) will be retained.

The last visit that The Girlfriend and I paid to the Science Center was long ago, pretty close to this time of year, but it was in relation to their hosting of Bodies: The Exhibition (which was fascinating, and in fact, the second place we’d seen it,) and I don’t think I’d lugged the camera along because they didn’t permit it within the show. Our briefer visit to the animal exhibits afterwards were thus photo-free, which is a small shame – worse, however, was not returning in well over a decade. Greensboro is not that far away, so we will be rectifying this long lapse more often, I believe.

profile of Aldabran tortoise Aldabrachelys gigantea at Greensboro Science Center
While we saw activity from plenty of species, many of them weren’t displaying or even visible, which is typical of zoos, and so return trips are necessary if you wish to get good examples of most of the residents. The Science Center has many indoor exhibits and a decent aquarium, so plenty more to see than the sample that I’m showing here, but most of the indoor stuff I didn’t even bother opening the camera bag for, knowing the anemically low light would only introduce slow shutter speeds and thus plenty of blur. I also have to point out that most of the aquarium exhibits featured rounded glass, and there’s no way to get decent photos without horrendous distortion through that; some of them were even faced with giant magnifying lenses, which was great if the subject in question decided to be centered, but otherwise was easily capable of inducing motion sickness just in passing. Cylindrical tanks are fine to let a large number of people view species at once, but distortion is omnipresent, and hexagonal, flat-sided tanks would be far better.

portrait of Komodo dragon monitor Varanus komodoensis
They have a few species there that are hard to find in other places (like, hundreds of kilometers away,) so we really should have been visiting more often. I’m just nagging myself now.

Anyway, that’s four more images to add to the year’s total, which isn’t going to beat last year’s (exhorbitant) number, but takes a firm second and isn’t a bad showing for all that – 971, I believe, so, yeah.

Happy New Year, all, and enjoy yourselves, but responsibly! (I sound like a mother, don’t I? That’s what getting old does to you, but I’m this old by being responsible, so I’m living proof of the benefits. Probably not the best way to convince people, come to think of it…)

*     *     *

Species seen above, in order:

American or Caribbean flamingo, Phoenicopterus ruber
Indian peafowl (commonly just called, ‘peacock,’) Pavo cristatus
Aldabran tortoise, Aldabrachelys gigantea
Komodo dragon or monitor, Varanus komodoensis

Out at the same time

Checking the cupboards over carefully, it appears that we have not only used up all of our December, we finally made it through the family-sized box of 2021 as well – don’t you love it when they both run out together? So to celebrate, we have our end-of-month/end-of-year abstract.

freaky LED paths of christmas toy in mirror
I really should let you figure this one out on your own, because you look like you’re getting overconfident again and need something to take you down a peg. There are at least a couple of clues visible within (plus you can check the description tags to cheat, if you’re that pathetic.) Pause here, if you like, and examine the photo carefully to see what you come up with.

When you’ve given up, or alternately think you’ve got it locked, you can use this link to explain it; this was a christmas gift from The Girlfriend, because she knows the kind of simple little things that can nevertheless be a blast to mess about with. This was shot intentionally for the month end, part of some idle experiments with time exposures. If you did look closely, you likely saw the evidence of the bathroom faucets in there, since I bounced this off of the mirror while the room was dark – this was probably the coolest path out of a handful of exposures. The large mirror and the limited space to disappear into helped a bit – I thought of doing this outside, but knew it would be easy to have the gizmo get too far away and appear very small in the frame.

I have to say, the cats are not fond of this – too noisy and unpredictable. Perhaps we’ll see if an owl is less threatened by it.

Anyway, celebrate safely, and not what Republicans consider “safe” either, but real, sensible safety, the kind that you won’t regret later on. Have good eats, enjoy good company, achieve good mellow. If you’re in Florida, watch out for fireworks – honestly, it’s like, any excuse at all down there. Happy New Year, to all those that celebrate it, and Happy Saturday to everyone else!

time exposure of fireworks in neighbor's yard in Florida

Getting out of the projects

I’ve mentioned, ad nauseum, being involved in several projects, and most of those had a deadline of either christmas or The Girlfriend’s birthday, which means that most of them are done now, so I can devote a little more attention to other things. Among these have been installing three new sets of lights – actually four, but one was more for my use – and doing some custom-framed mirrors. But I’m going to show off one of them here, because what else is a blog for? Current events? Philosophical insights? Random humor? Pfagh!

Anyway, this one was started some years ago, and I never got back to it, partially because of work spaces as well as keeping it a secret, partially because I was semi-convinced that I’d screw it up, because it was a far more detailed undertaking than any previous efforts. I’d done some soapstone carvings before, so this was simply an extension of those, and soapstone isn’t hard to work with, slightly more resistant than wood, but not a lot. That makes it easier, and in some respects harder, because it’s easy to make mistakes and/or break a piece. Once I got into the nitty-gritty, though, it went smoother than expected and I managed not to commit any major screwups. I know, right?

It’s simpler to just show this as a video, so…

That’s probably a little larger than life size, but not a lot. Rough work done with a flex-shaft motor tool (a “Dremel,” only it’s not made by Dremel,) and the remainder done entirely with an Xacto knife and #11 blade (well, and sandpaper.) I had a complete set of woodcarving tools in hand and they probably would’ve worked fine, but I have decades of experience with Xactos and so I stuck with what was familiar. I’m pleased with it, and so is she. Probably more than pleased, to be honest…

The vertical lines across the white piece, by the way, are natural striations, possibly weak areas though they presented no problems – they’re even faintly visible in the previous work, done from the same master block. I’m considering whether or not to coat these in clear acrylic, which will darken the turtle but make the egg almost translucent while bringing out more of the natural color variations in both. I’m not sure if the slick, wet look will work, though, and it would be a bear to remove if she doesn’t like it.

One serious flaw: the nostrils are definitely not aligned in the same plane as the eyes, but I generally distract people before they look too closely. Often by ‘accidentally’ stomping on their foot. Think about that before you decide to replay the video…

A further project might show up here as well, once that’s completed to my satisfaction, and I have another carving to get back into that’s for both The Girlfriend and I. But this was the detailed one, and as I said, what’s a blog for?

Profiles of Nature 52

52?! Really? Does this mean…?

[We ain’t saying nothing.]

ring-tailed lemurs Lemur catta Riantsoa and Barguy
This week we find Riantsoa, breaking the fourth wall while her partner Barguy judges the window treatments. We wonder now why it’s referred to as the ‘fourth’ wall, since in most cases there are, technically and theoretically, no others; it should be the first or only wall, the main wall, the two-way mirror – something more appropriate. Anyway, Riantsoa and Barguy are stock models and the occasional “real person – not an actor” for advertising requiring generic and unmemorable yet still pleasant-seeming couples, the ones you see easily installing their own backsplashes or enjoying a diarrhea-free life. Seems simple, but it’s a product of years of work and practice; everyone believes they can effortlessly look as though they haven’t had the trots for days, until they try it and find that it’s much harder than it seems. Okay, the phrasing could definitely have been better there, sorry. This makes Barguy and Riantsoa in such high demand that they don’t even have family photos printed anymore because their pictures are already in all the frames in the stores. They also like walking around Hollywood a lot just to watch tourists look excited, then frown, unable to recall where they know the faces from (their autographs are purposefully illegible, so that trick never works.) They enjoy their work, but still intend to devote less time to it so they can pursue their goal of finding which, if any, of the 117 people who claimed to be the one who taught John Travolta how to dance is actually telling the truth; they’ve mentally prepared themselves for the ugly secrets that may be revealed, but the question remains: is the world prepared? Meanwhile, Barguy surreptitiously campaigns to prevent face-painters from appropriating their culture, which may be why Riantsoa is giving us the stinkeye here; we probably should have been more careful about letting that slip. Riantsoa is quick to aver that the best Cats dancer was ‘Rumpleteaser’ from the 1994 season, while Barguy controversially insists that there are lots of businesses like show business, and a couple places like home at least; maybe even two Highlanders.

You know what we’re enjoying right now? That you’re virtually guaranteed to check back next week, just to be certain. Though we’re pretty sure, based on the packages that we’ve been receiving, that that whole ‘Stockholm Syndrome’ thing is utter bullshit.

Nope – not even close

I asked a question in the last post title, and answered it in this one. The temperature actually got a tad warmer, held up by a front that brought rain with it, and the green treefrogs (Hyla cinerea) happily took advantage of this brief spring. I’m still a little surprised, thinking they’d be in deep enough cover to prevent freezing and thus not venture out casually, but I’m no herpetologist. I am a nature photographer, so…

adult green treefrog Hyla cinerea clasping Japanese maple trunk
There were no less than three in the greenhouse; this wasn’t shocking at all, and in fact, I’d been expecting to see some earlier, since we moved several plants in there before the cold weather set in and I’d suspected somebody had come along for the ride, but I hadn’t seen any until tonight. This is the only adult that I saw this evening, and it was tucked in tight to the trunk of one of the Japanese maples. I’ll include another version just for a minor observation.

adult green treefrog Hyla cinerea showing reflections in eyes
If you look closely at the eyes, you’ll see the large round reflection of the flash softbox of course, with an intervening branch in there, but then the two little yellow lights are from my headlamp. They’re actually horizontal, but I was leaning over from above, trying to get a view past numerous small branches, and rotated this image to represent more of the natural perspective.

Two others soon became apparent, being right out in the open.

juvenile green treefrog Hyla cinerea on the 'glass' of the greenhouse
Now, I can’t say that all three had been in there since we moved the plants within, because last night I apparently didn’t slide the door closed all the way and it was open a crack, enough for their ingress. During the summer I occasionally had to remove one, afraid they’d get cooked in there since they never seemed capable of going out the same way they’d come in, but right now I’m inclined to leave them be.

juvenile green treefrog Hyla cinerea on 'glass' of greenhouse
The greenhouse is a lightweight affair, using plastic panels instead of glass, and so it’s not very well insulated. After some experiments as it got colder at night, we installed a radiant oil heater with its own thermostat, so the temperature never drops below about 12°c, keeping things from freezing while still allowing for dormancy. So the frogs should be all right for the winter, given how they handle a few months without eating or drinking anyway.

And then there were two outside the greenhouse as well.

juvenile green treefrog Hyla cinerea on side of planter
This one was perhaps the smallest, about 25mm in body length, and a nice bronze color. Over the course of my perambulations around Walkabout Estates, it moved along a decent amount from where I’d initially seen it.

juvenile green treefrog Hyla cinerea on the fence - about what, I don't know
This one was on the fence, and as so often happens, it decided it didn’t like the bright light and turned away as I was trying for a nice portrait angle. Perhaps one day I’ll try a red headlamp and see if they react the same way, but I need a certain amount of light to focus by, so this might not even work.

The treefrogs weren’t the only critters to be found, in about 45 minutes of poking around.

unidentified 'inchworm' larva suspended by silk
I have no idea what species this ‘inchworm’ larva is, nor am I even going to try. But it’s awful late in the year to be in this instar, and I doubt it’s going to survive the winter. However, I’m not an entomologist either, so take what I say with – okay, with a whole lot more faith than with any anti-vaxxer, because even my wild guesses are far more accurate than their “truths,” while still perhaps a ways from dependable.

I spotted this tiny fly on the tip of the happily-budding burning bush.

unidentified wet fly on bud
It seems rather obvious that it had been sitting there through at least some of the rains, which had stopped hours before I ventured out, but it wasn’t inclined to wait for me to install the extension tube for greater magnification. Because of that, I’m not going to try to identify the species, and just call it a doodyhead.

And one final one, because this post doesn’t have enough photos. Hey, I went a long period without shooting anything, so I’m allowed a little catchup for the end of the year, especially when presented with so many unexpected subjects.

unidentified spider on azalea bush
I initially believed this to be a slender crab spider, and I’m not absolutely sure it isn’t, but the markings seem not to match closely; I didn’t get any other perspectives to make a better identification. Spiders are remarkably adapted to the cold, not usually visible when it’s frigid but venturing out immediately as soon as the day gets even slightly warm, ready for any early insects that might appear. So this one wasn’t the least surprising, and a decent size too, running at least 15mm in body length. There were no frogs nor flies visible in the immediate vicinity, so no apparent dangers nor dining, but I also didn’t do a thorough examination; it may have done quite well for itself, or alternately became a frog’s meal.

As I look at the image, the orangish spot in the background has me curious, because I didn’t see any flower buds on the azalea, but it sure looks like that, doesn’t it?

And as I finish this, I hear the rain starting up again, which means it’s pretty heavy since the windows in the office mask the sounds of the lighter, quieter rains very well. Hope they’re all happy with this.

Last one?

Coming back from dropping some stuff off at the shed, very early this morning (like, two AM, because I’m me,) I caught a movement out of the corner of my eye (because I’m me,) and stopped to investigate. Which of course, made me go up and get the camera. No, I do not carry it everywhere, and don’t try implying that real photographers always do. It’s creepy to take it into the bathroom, for instance.

Anyway, my unexpected find.

juvenile green treefrog Hyla cinerea partaking of a warm evening
Okay, not entirely unexpected, since this has happened before, and it’s 18°c out there right now, hardly dire conditions, so the possibility remained in the back of my mind even though I gave it a low likelihood. But yeah, typically the green treefrogs (Hyla cinerea) have found a place to snuggle in and conserve energy until spring, long before now. This juvenile wasn’t looking at all groggy, honestly, and soon hopped further off, multiple times, to get away from the glaring light of the headlamp and the old man grunts and joint-clicking that accompanied my getting down to this angle.

Will this be the last one for the year? Well, given that we have less than two days left, it seems likely, but it’s also unseasonably warm, so I’ll only place a small bet on it. And when I say, “last one,” I mean ‘treefrog’ and not ‘posts,’ because there are at least two more posts coming up. But you knew that already, because you know the schedule – sorry, it didn’t need explaining. However, another project has been finished and I intend to show it off here soon, and we’ll see if that happens before the close of the year. Isn’t the suspense thrilling?

Xanthic Monday

Yes, it’s the thirteenth anniversary of the very first post here on the ol’ Walkabout Public Display of Narcissism, and I thought to myself (because who else am I gonna think to?) How do I make this special? And then it occurred to me that I should do something I’ve never done before.

I noticed some time back that I’ve never had a post that began with “X,” out of (presently) 2,228 posts. I even managed a “Z,” not even halfway to this point, but no “X.” So it was time to correct that.

rising yellow full moon with reflection in lake
Of course, it helps a little if you know what “xanthic” means.

yellow azaleas, maybe
Contrived? Well, naturally. Listen; you try even listing six words that begin with “X,” and then see how to work them into a blog post. I’ve been considering this endeavor for a while now, and this is the best I came up with, because I couldn’t think of anything interesting to say about xylophones. But now I can cross this goal off my list.

yellow jagged ambush bug
This particular image was in the running for a Profiles of Nature post, but seeing as how there’s only one left in the year…

bright yellow fungus on well-worn stump
This one’s a slide, over twenty years old now, but the contrast was nice.

yellow sky and clouds over beach at sunrise
If you don’t know what “xanthic” means and you never bothered to click on the link provided, you’ve probably still figured it out by now.

goldfinch - okay, this is a reach
Okay, yes, I was busy today, and you’ll see at least a portion of that a little later on, but hey – I posted, so throw me a cookie at least. Even better, I kept it under 300 words, which is less than most Profiles, so that should be worth another cookie. Don’t be stingy. Or just congratulate me on my accomplishment, at least. We all like recognition.

Brief public appearance

I ventured out today, partially to get some exercise, partially to see what there might be to photograph, but mostly to see if I could find any mantis egg cases. I was completely foiled in that primary goal, not spotting even one, but I snagged a handful of photos, including some most unexpected, so not a total loss. But yes, the quest for egg cases goes on…

For now, we have what can be found around here in the winter, even though it peaked around 21°c today.

backlit puffy seed spire of unidentified weed
I don’t know what this is, but there were plenty of them around Mason Farm Biological Reserve, and this one was catching the right light. I was out fairly late in the afternoon, at least according to the height of the sun, which had to be blocked from the lens by my hat to prevent glare in the image, despite the lens hood. Granted, this was with the Canon 18-135 so the ‘tulip’ lens hood is of very limited use in such circumstances – better than nothing, but hardly adequate.

[The reasoning behind this is, at the widest/shortest focal length, any typical lens hood would intrude into the frame around the corners because of the wide field of view, so lens hoods for wide angle lenses are cut in such a way that they will not intrude. But this leaves a lot of room for the sun to intrude, which is what lens hoods are there to prevent, so in many cases they do nothing.]

Another backlit shot:

dried seed pod, possibly milkweed, still retaining fluffy seeds
I didn’t closely examine this seed pod to confirm that it was milkweed (genus Asclepias,) because I was being fartsy and not sciencey, but it looks like it to me, with some other weed photobombing the frame. Why the seeds haven’t dispersed yet, I don’t know, but I think they have this appearance from the rains a few days back, which may have stuck them together and hindered their wafting away. I liked the stark look anyway. By the way, the fluffy bit is often called floss, but also goes by the labels of silk, coma, or pappus, while some of the seeds themselves can be seen towards the bottom of the frame, faintly out of focus. This is the hard-hitting information that you come here for.

blue-grey seed pods flowers of unidentified weed
same image in more neutral lightOf course, immediately after saying that, I present a weed that I’m not bothering to look up, but it has a pretty cool slate blue color. This was enhanced a bit by the lighting conditions, since the camera was still set for sunlight though I was shooting in open shade by this point, so the original image is tinted by the blueish light that results. Thus I tweaked it, at right, to be closer to what the colors looked like in white light – still fairly blue, but a lot closer to grey – they remained distinctive because there wasn’t a hint of brown therein, unlike virtually every other dried flower or seed pod, or leaf or stem, in the landscape. Might have looked pretty cool in a dried flower arrangement, if you’re into that kind of thing. Notably, it was not a mantis egg case, which is what I’m into, so I did not collect any.

But then, while I was playing in the editing program, I took the color-corrected version and slammed the Saturation setting against the stops, which is rather abusive to such precision programming though there are times when it’s necessary. Or maybe not. But since the image wasn’t too saturated to begin with, the effect is not as cartoonish as it would be in many other images, and is actually kind of pleasant in color. Plus it gives me another image to upload for the year, which isn’t going to be anywhere near enough but it gets us less than a hundred away from last year’s mark.

What surprised me a little, on my return leg, was finding a bat enthusiastically circling one of the fields, definitely doing its little swoops and dives after insects – I would have thought the bats were all tucked in for the season, but this one, at least, proved how little I know. Smartass. So I endeavored to snag a decent photo, knowing this was going to be tricky because the bat was moving fast and semi-erratically, ranging between perhaps eight and eighty meters in distance in its perambulations, and far too small in the frame for autofocus to lock onto more than momentarily. Manual focus was necessary, though requiring constant correction, and zooming in too far to try and get the bat larger in the frame meant it was very hard to track its wild movements. I shot 65 frames in my attempts, to give you an idea, knowing that most of them would be worthless.

unconfirmed bat, probably little brown bat Myotis lucifugus, out of focus overhead
This is full frame on one of its closest approaches, nearly right overhead, at a focal length of 428mm, about the best that I could get away with – you can see that focus isn’t tight, and the motion didn’t help. There were too few features visible to pin down a species accurately, but the size and prevalence in the area suggest the little brown bat (Myotis lucifugus.) I could track its movement for a few seconds at a time at best, longer at greater distances of course – as it got close, this dropped to no more than a second, every time. Bats more intent on snagging food than maintaining predictable geometric accuracy in their flight paths, which is just selfish.

But, I did get one frame that wasn’t completely unacceptable.

unconfirmed bat, probably little brown bat Myotis lucifugus, in dynamic pose
If I had to pick one angle to get sharp, it would be this one, so I’m satisfied – not ecstatic, but pleased that I got something to keep. This is a significantly tighter crop from the original frame, and just to let you know, if my species guess is correct, the wings are in the realm of 20cm across in this frame – the little brown bat averages more (22cm or so,) but they’re not fully extended here. And there’s even a little shaping from the fading light, instead of being a complete silhouette. I’m still looking to get better shots of a bat in flight, but this will do for now, especially given that it was taken in late December.

Tomorrow, by the way, marks the 13th anniversary of the first post, so it requires something, probably something related to thirteen. Well, it requires not a damn thing, but it’s an excuse to keep posting in the slow season, plus (maybe) making me get out again, so we’ll succumb to silly number recognition in this case. You know, for you.

Still works

I mentioned more photos, and I deliver! Before christmas, even.

First off, we continue the thread of finding things, with this little discovery:

egg case ootheca of Chinese mantis Tenodera sinensis
That’s the egg case (ootheca) of a Chinese mantis, definitely this year’s, so I have the first one to watch next spring – so far it’s been the only one found on the property, but I’m still watching. This is on the burning bush (Euonymus alatus) in the front garden that we call The Jungle, which is far less jungley so I may be able to keep an eye on it easier. It was less than two meters from the new bud in the previous post.

In the same region, I found this little scene, even though it rained two days ago – just goes to show you how these leaves are, I guess.

water drops from long past rain on unidentified plants
Yes, that’s white clover over to the left, so this is pretty small, and shielded from direct sunlight, which is probably how the drops remained as long as they have. Either that, or this is deer urine – I admit to not confirming, one way or another.

While I had the camera in hand, feeling guilty about neglecting it so much, I did a few experiments, then returned to them when conditions were better (i.e., darker.)

out-of-focus holiday lights and reflections
When putting up holiday lights this year, I ran a strand of white lights inside the glass cabinet of the grandfather clock (well, one of them,) which is actually a pretty cool effect and may get a more permanent installation later on. What you see here are a handful of the lights and their reflections in the brass pendulum, well out of focus and so rendered into diffuse circles. This technique will reveal every dust speck on your lens, so make sure it’s clean. Also make sure you’re shooting wide open at maximum aperture, to keep the little balls round.

And then, a purposefully staged shot.

fireplace and holiday lights
No special effects or editing here, this is all in-camera, like the previous image. Focus was on the fireplace, so the lights strewn across the coffee table in the foreground were all defocused again. I used the Mamiya 80mm macro at f4 (maximum,) though I did a few other experiments with the Sigma 24-60 f2.8 and the Canon 18-135, which could only manage f 4.5 at the focal length I used, and that wasn’t quite enough – the faster the lens, the better. I changed camera and light positions a few times to get the best effect, since it’s easy for the balls of light to overlap or cluster in less-than-ideal ways. But I do this partially so you can play around yourself while your own lights are up and handy.

Kaylee in the window with the lightsSo whatever you celebrate, or even if you don’t, take advantage of the holiday and kick back, be mellow and froody. By the way, I read somewhere that some people’s cats have been affected negatively by the lockdowns, not at all pleased with people being around the house all day, but Kaylee here is just the opposite; she’s quite happy with attention anytime she desires it, and gets a little antsy when The Girlfriend has to be away.

Happy holidays, everyone! Be courteous and generous. Or not, as you like it; I’m not your boss, I’m just making suggestions, but you do you. I’ll close with an image uploaded many years back, that’s… geez, it’s over fourteen years old now, featuring Ben, my first cat after moving out on my own, lived to be eighteen. If you were looking for what you imagine is the appropriate atheist response to the holidays, well, fine – here you go!


Ben on the author's backside, years ago

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