Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Midnight confessions

Yesterday I posted a photo of a Snowy Egret that I had taken while in Florida last month.  Much to my surprise, this picture has garnered more "likes" on Google+ than any other picture that I have ever posted -- 273 after just one day on the Birds4All community.

Snowy Egret (Egretta thula) is preparing for takeoff: seat back and folding trays are in an upright position.

The thing that I hate to admit is that this is a PhotoShop retouch job.   Here's the original:


Try as I might, I couldn't do a motion de-blur well enough to fix the head around the eyes and beak.  So I did what any other art department flack would have done -- I pasted in a head shot of the same bird from a different photo.   Sue me.  At least it was the same bird.

In my continued effort to justify my re-touching, I recognized that it was a pretty nice picture.  The bird was in a springing position, about to take flight.  I had unfortunately missed getting the tips of the wings, but for the blurred head, the rest of this shot is quite nice.  I can get away with the blurred wings, as they impart the right bit of energy to the shot.  But a blurred head with two eyes is a no-no.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Little Wolf's Foot

On the 4th of July, I decided to give myself a heart attack by hiking the trail to Raven Rock at Coopers Rock State forest.  Sadly, I failed and survived.

The effort wasn't entirely wasted, as I managed to get a bunch of interesting photographs.   One of the first camera stops was to shot a stand of Lycopodium digitatum, otherwise known as groundcedar.

Here's a moody shot taken from low to the ground:


According to a Wikipedia page on Diphasiastrum digitatum,
Its common name is due to its resemblance to cedar boughs lying on the ground. Its leaves are scale-like and appressed, like a mature cedar, and it is glossy and evergreen. It normally grows to a height of about four inches (10 cm), with the spore-bearing strobili held higher.
More interesting, at least to me,  is that this species was once the principal clubmoss species used for collection of Lycopodium powder, used as a primitive flash powder.
Lycopodium has been used in fireworks and explosives, fingerprint powders, as a covering for pills, and as an ice cream stabilizer. Today, the principal use of the powder is to create flashes or flames that are large and impressive but relatively easy to manage safely in magic acts and for cinema and theatrical special effects. Lycopodium powder is also sometimes used as a lubricating dust on skin-contacting latex (natural rubber) goods, such as condoms and medical gloves.
Here's a very interesting Youtube video, Lycopodium Powder - How to get / make it!   I'm really going to have to try this.

Friday, June 30, 2017

Canon FD 50mm f/3.5 MACRO

Some months ago, I purchased a Canon FD 50mm f/3.5 Macro lens from the ShopGoodwill.com auction site.  It was part of a package, which also contained an old FD telephoto lens and a set of three macro adapters in a nice case.

Everything that I'd read about this lens indicated that you got a lot of bang for your buck with it.  This is a typical blurb that you see for it on auction sites:

"Optically excellent Canon Macro lens. This lens is believed by many enthusiasts to be among the sharpest macro lenses ever made for the Canon camera."

Here are a couple of shots that I took last evening:


The hardest thing with this lens is having to manually focus.  As you can see above, however, it can be done.

I'm keeping the 1x macro adapter on this lens to protect it and keep it clean, so these two shots aren't simply with the "pure" lens.  It's weird as far as lenses I've had.  The front has a deeply recessed cavity, so protecting the lens itself really shouldn't be an issue.

I've been thinking of selling this lens and the adapters on eBay, but I think that I want to play with it for a while longer.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

More Bird Watching

Last weekend, I went back to the little pavilion at the Coopers Rock trout pond, and this time I brought along a flash unit for the camera.

Results are a little better, I think:


This one is my favorite, as it captures a barn swallow with a fly in its mouth.

Here's where the bugs go:


Thank goodness for telephoto lenses... and for tripods.  For without those, I never would have gotten this distant shot of a cedar waxwing.


Monday, June 5, 2017

Bird Watching

I went to the trout pond near Coopers Rock State Forest the other day and spent a little time stalking the wily Red-Winged Blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus).  This is supposedly one of the most abundant living land bird in North America.  I had to think about that statement for a moment.  Are there abundant dead land birds?   Perhaps they meant zombie passenger pigeons.

Anyway, red-winged blackbirds are not at all common for me, so I was happy to catch a few good shots.



The next on is also a red-winged blackbird, but it doesn't have the red wings.  From what I've read, that indicates that it's an immature male.


I don't speak blackbirdese, so I couldn't tell off-hand that his tweets were immature.

Finally, there's a little pavilion by the pond, where there must have been at least half a dozen barn swallows nesting.  After waiting for several minutes, a few of them began returning to their nesting area.


They're actually pretty colorful birds.  Unfortunately, this shot doesn't show off the blue upper back.

Friday, May 26, 2017

Oh Happy Day

The majority of my "social" activity is doubtlessly my posting photographs to Google Plus.  One of the communities to which I like to post is the Landscape Photography Community, which has periodic themes for their submissions.   Their current theme, event #105, is "Oh Happy Day."  The theme is supposed to be a landscape photo that evokes that emotion (for the photographer, at least).

I had to go all the way back to December 1, 2014, for my Happy DayTM, and that's probably a stretch.


On that day, I was at Englewood Beach on Florida's Gulf Coast.  I had recently bought a Canon EF 70-200 f/4L telephoto lens, and I had been trying to get shots of the various birds and things at the beach.

To the uninitiated, the "L" (Canon Luxury Lenses) series of Canon lenses is their professional line of SLR photography lenses.  Ever the poor boy, I got the bottom end of the best -- a 200 mm lens with no image stabilization (IS), which would have added a couple hundred more dollars to the price tag.

Even when I was just laying on the beach sunbathing, I couldn't keep from futzing with the camera.  I rolled over on my blanket and saw this group of Royal Terns congregating between me and another sunbather.

It was so bright out on the beach that I was able to shoot at the lowest ISO (100) and stopped down to f/16 at 1/100 of a second, hoping to get the best depth of field beyond the birds.  I didn't exactly succeed in that regard, but the results are still nice, maybe even more aesthetic by virtue of keeping the bikini-clad sunbather slightly out of focus.

Still, after all this time, I can appreciate the quality of the lens.  I went back to the camera raw image file and gave it minimum adjustments for brightness and color balance.  The rest is straight out of the camera.   Those are some sharp looking birds in that picture.

So, that's my happy place:  wildlife, a sunny beach on the ocean, a nice lens, and a little incidental eye candy.  That's a nice place to be.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Happy Fascination of Plants Day

Fascination of Plants Day is today!

And I have so little prepared in the way of remarks on this solemn day.

Let me introduce you to Jack-in-the-Pulpit then. Jack-in-the-Pulpit (Arisaema triphyllum) is a native to eastern North American woodlands.







The bloom consists of a green and reddish-brown striped hood, which conceals a spadix.

It's probably hard to see it in this picture, but there's a tiny little crank down on the right-hand side of the base of the hood.   When you turn the crank for several revolutions, out pops "Jack," or the spadix.




Later in the summer, the spadix turns into a cluster of bright red berries, which often get eaten by birds and mammals.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Ferny

Another Sunday afternoon on the rail trail, at my favorite section above Little Falls.  I was on foot once again, being afraid to cause more damage to the bumper of my Mazda CX-5 by wrestling a bike in and out of the back.

I saw a nice stand of ferns, which look somewhat different from the rest of the ferns along the rail trail.  These look more like some form of maidenhair:


I took this shot with the idea that it would make an interesting screen texture.  This is an Enfused shot composed of three bracketed exposures:  1/25, 1/50, and 1/100 sec at f/13,  The Enfusion is similar to an HDR shot, but I think it gives a more faithful mixing of the high and low ends of the exposure spectrum.  Honestly, I find it hard to see a difference between the Enfused and the HDR versions, but I'm discounting the fact that I had done a bit of laborious darkening of some of the foliage in the HDR version.

Here is the Enfused version (left) next to the HDR version (right).  See if you can tell the difference:

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Going Retro

Late last year, I got the itch to go retro and started looking at old film cameras.  On the ShopGoodwill.com site, I took a chance on an untested Zeiss Icon Nettar 515/16.  It's the second one on this page.  What I got for about $22 was a NICE old camera that takes 6x6 cm pictures on 120 film.

Although I wasted no time in getting some black & white film and trying it out, I was slow in finally getting the film processed.  TheDarkRoom.com was a site that came recommended to me, and they are one of the few places that handle 210 film.  Part of the process includes scanning the negatives and posting the images online for you to download.  Price determines the resolution of the scan.  

This camera is seriously manual.   You have to remember to wind it every time you shoot, ergo:


That's the old Morgantown Ordinance Works on the other side of the Monongahela River.   They used to make heavy water there as part of the Manhattan Project during World War II.

Here's one that came out a little better:


Other than a little spot removal, this is pretty much straight out of the camera.  I used Ilford HP5 black & white film at 400 ISO.  I'm sort of familiar with that film, because the Ilford preset is one of my favorite settings in the Silver Efex Pro suite by Nik.  I'm probably being snobbish here, but the real thing is so much better than the simulation.

Now that I've broken the ice, I can't wait to try this camera out some more!

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

After the Storm

Queue music. Peer Gynt - Suite No. 1, Op. 46 - I. Morning Mood.


Last night was filled with winds and torrential rains.  Temperatures dropped significantly from yesterday.

This was the view from the University Towne (sic on the pretentious spelling) Center this morning at 7:30.  You can see the swollen, muddy Monongahela River slashing through the foreground.

One of the Google Plus groups to which I belong has a periodic landscape challenge.  The current theme is "The Changing Seasons."   I thought I would stick with the current season, but this is something different -- no Spring blossoms here.  Just a bit of greenery and ominous clouds giving way the the morning sun.

Friday, April 28, 2017

Quaker Ladies - Nothing is better for thee

One of my favorite spring flowers to photograph is the Bluet flower (Hustonia caerulea).


Another name for them is Quaker ladies, apparently so named because the shape of the flower is similar to the white bonnets once worn by women of the Quaker faith.   I tried googling for an image of such a hat, and I think that's quite a stretch.  A better explanation is that they're named for the shade of fabric used in making dresses worn by Quaker ladies.

Here is a macro of an individual flower, which is a pretty little thing:



Thursday, April 27, 2017

Buddy Guy at the CAC

Saw blues musician Buddy Guy perform at the WVU Creative Arts Center last night. I'm sorry to admit that I haven't heard much of his work before, at least nothing that I can recall.  I must correct this oversight.

A Wikipedia article on Buddy says that he is ranked 30th in Rolling Stone magazine's 100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time.  Last night, he showed how that was earned.


Up towards almost the end of the concert, I had respected the signs that said "No photographs or recordings."   Seeing that it was widely flouted, however, I grabbed a few shots on my old iPhone 5s.


I only wished that I'd had it together to start recording when he took his guitar playing up into the audience, wandering up and down the aisles and interacting with the audience.

He's a seasoned entertainer, chatty and full of quips and anecdotes.

I read that his latest album, Born to Play Guitar (2015) has won the 2016 Grammy for best blues album.   I plan to vote with my wallet and pick that album up sometime soon.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Mighty Mitey

Meet the Red Velvet Mite (Trombidiidae), at least I think it is -- there are thousands of different species.


It looks like a red russet potato with legs. Looking around at Google Images, I've seen a mite like this also identified as a chigger, but I suspect that it's a mistake. They are classified as arachnids, but they are not spiders.

I'm not going to go into a lot of detail about these mites. If you want to get a lot of factoids about them, I recommend What Are Mites? The Red Velvet Mite (Trombidiidae) that's part of Owlcation.com.

Interestingly, one Indian (the sub-continent) species of velvet mite (rombidium grandissimum) has some unusual medicinal properties. Check out Indian Viagra in Siddha Medicine also used for limb paralysis and to improve spermatogenesis

For something a little more whimsical, TheOatmeal goes into great depth on the subject of Red Velvet Mite Love. Enjoy!

Monday, April 24, 2017

Alien Egg?

I was walking  along the rail trail, south of Little Falls, looking for Spring flowers and sundry wild life.  Now that I recognize what the Wild Ginger (Asarum canadense) plant looks like, I'm seeing tons of it.   This North American native perennial is large and lush, somewhat reminiscent to a violet, though much bigger.   The trick is in finding the flower, which is low to the ground and well hidden by the leaves.


I had to pull a couple of its leaves out of the way to get this shot.    For all the world, it reminds me of an egg from the Alien movie franchise.  See the facehugger ready to pop out?

The flowers are supposed to bloom from April through June, so I'll probably have more opportunities to photograph them.

According to Wikipedia, the pollinated flowers develop into a pod that later splits open and is eaten by ants.

I also learned that this plant has aromatic properties similar to real ginger.  But although it was used by native Americans as a medicinal herb, the plant contains aristolochic acid and asarone, both of which are carcinogens.

One group of early American settlers (witch hunters) called Wild Ginger (wartchase) and believed witches used it to rid themselves of warts so they would not be recognized.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Ohwha Tagoo Siam

This kōan from my deformative Boy Scout years, circa 1969, has stayed with me.  Recite the mantra:
O-wha Ta-goo Siam!

Say it over and over again, and you will be enlightened.

This week, I've been packing my telephoto lens every morning in the hope of catching the WVU Rowing Team at practice on the river, near where I work.   Luck has not smiled on me.

What I did manage to get is nothing worthy of Nat-Geo, but it will have to do.  Here is a Canada goose (Branta canadensis) proclaiming its stand-on vessel status.


The next shot is less crisp, but it spoke to me:


What is said is "Don't paddle away from me when I'm talking to you!"

Where to Begin?

Where to begin?  Or where to continue?  It's been since October of 2015 that I've posted anything here.  You may have thought that I was dead.  In a way, you were close.

But I don't want to use this as a forum for personal demons.  It would be far better for me to use this space as a blog for my imagination and as an outlet for creativity.

'Nuff said.   Let's do it.