Monday, December 29, 2014

Olloclip Macro 3-in-1

The Olloclip Macro 3-in-1 lens kit is something that Santa gave me this year.  I haven't had a lot of time to explore its capabilities, but it looks like something that I can have fun with.

Here's something that I shot with it last night:

My best guess is that this is a male Nursery web spider (Pisaurina mira), lurking on my basement wall.

The Olloclip Macro 3-in-1 comes with a clip that mounts on a bare iPhone 5s.  The clip is reversible,  sporting a 7x lens and a doubler on one side, and a 21x lens on the other side.  They give you a little cone that fits over the 21x lens so that you can quickly focus by laying the cone against your target.

The kit also comes with an extra cone, a couple of lens caps, and a little black sack in which to carry everything.

As I mentioned, the Olloclip only fits on a bare iPhone, so you need to remove your phone from any case that you're using.  For me, this was a Pelican Pro Gear Protector case, which fortunately is easily removable.  Right now, I'm going without the case, but I think that I'll be using the case again soon and will just carry the clip with me for when I'll need it.

Another feature of the Olloclip is that it covers the flash.  This isn't too big a problem, because the camera works pretty well with natural light.

Something else that I have only begun to explore is the Olloclip iPhone app, which
provides features such as a Mesh Editor, Macro Mode, Slo-Mo video, and many others. Our Photo Stabilizer Mode and Macro viewfinder will help you refine your focus to get the best shot with less effort.
I hope to be making more use of the Olloclip 3-in-1 in the coming year.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Late bloomers

The backyard flower garden held a surprise yesterday.  Despite the hard frost on Monday morning, a fair number of Marsh Gentians (Gentiana pneumonanthe) were blooming their collective hearts out on Tuesday afternoon.

These are both focus stacks, courtesy of Magic Lantern.  The flower in the upper image was much closer to the ground, so it wasn't affected by the occasional breeze.  The bottom flower was much more exposed, and I had to go through the stack several times to eliminate probably half of the layers where the flower had been blown to one side or the other. 

Monday, November 3, 2014

Forks of Cheat

Sunday, November 2nd, turned out to be a crisp fall day with minimum cloud cover.  It was late afternoon by the time that I got to the Forks of Cheat, a place I hadn't visited for a couple of years.

By then, the sun was fairly low, casting long shadows across the field behind the Forks of Cheat Baptist church.  This shot was at 17mm, my wide-angle max.

The following shot is from the same location, but at 55mm.   It's a shame that I have a lens hood, but I seldom remember to pack it.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Crash Course

I read today that they're going to make fatter crash test dummies in the U.S. in order to keep up with  increasing obesity trends.

Not to let a stupid idea pass, I figured that it was time for another book:

I can't believe how much I've forgotten about using Adobe Illustrator.  It's a wonder that I could do this much.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

The Long View

Looking down on Star City, W.Va..  I took this shot from behind the University Town Centre (sic), which sits atop an abandoned mine site (PDF).  That's the Monongahela River winding its way north towards Pittsburgh, where it joins the Allegheny River to form the Ohio River.  A conveyor in the middle-left transports coal directly to barges on the river.  Behind the hill is a smoke stack for the Longview coal-burning power plant.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Falling Water

No, this has nothing to do with the Frank Lloyd Wright house in southwestern Pennsylvania.  This is a small waterfall at Valley Falls State Park, east of Fairmont.

As usual, it was a clear, sunny day that turned cloudy as soon as I arrived with my camera and tripod.  I was experimenting with bracketing exposures and cranking back the density of my variable neutral density filter.  Apparently (make note of this!), the best results seem to be with the smallest aperture.  This shot was at f/18, and it took a full eight seconds.

A lot of the photos where I used the neutral density filter have noticeable "noise."  This one doesn't have much at all.  There wasn't too much exposure correction needed in the Lightroom version, either.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Swamp thing

Meet the Swamp smartweed (Polygonum hydropiperoides) growing in a hollow stump at Valley Falls park:

Friday, October 10, 2014


Meet the Water Horsetail (Equisetum fluviatile).

This one was growing along side the rail trail near Masontown, WV.

I've been fascinated by these plants because they are considered living fossils, related to plants from the Carboniferous age 300 million years ago.  When I was a kid living in Bath, NY, I discovered a bed of  fossil Calamites in the cliff face of Mossy Bank, where I lived.

Though I've never dabbled with it, the Water Horsetail has a long history as a medicinal herb. Ancient Greeks and Romans used Horsetails to stop bleeding and treat kidney ailments, ulcers, and tuberculosis, and the ancient Chinese use it to treat superficial visual obstructions. 

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Shut Up Siri

A Read/WriteWeb article today, 'Shut Up Siri, I'm Driving!' AAA Issue Apple iDevice Warning, hit a nerve for me.  It cites a AAA article (PDF), which gives Siri a high rating for "mental distraction while driving."

Since upgrading to iOS 8 on my iPhone, I've taken advantage of one of its new features that lets you open a conversation with Siri when the phone is tethered to a power supply.

The phone in my car is already linked to a third-party bluetooth device that gives me hands-free voice capability.  But that capability only extended to my being able to answer the phone with the click of a button on my steering wheel.  The new iOS 8 feature lets me activate Siri by saying "Hey Siri."  When Siri wakes up, I can then say "Dial SoAndSo, Home (or Mobile)" and initiate a call.

That's a nice new feature, but it does have its frustrations.  Maybe its because of sporadic net lag, but sometimes Siri is just slow and dumb.  Like last night, while I was driving, I took my eyes off the road for a moment to confirm that Siri was indeed engaged.  The phone is mounted on top of my dashboard, so it's not like I'm totally distracted.   I got frustrated that Siri was being slow to respond to my voice command, and I called Siri impolite names.

According to the article,
The study measured drivers’ reaction time with equipment such as instrumented test vehicles and heart-rate monitors. Although Siri is hands-free and eyes-free, drivers using the Apple function to perform a number of tasks experienced some of the most elevated levels of distraction.

Yes, that's it. My interaction with Siri was indeed providing me an elevated level of distraction.  Luckily I don't use Siri frequently and when I do, "she" is not always that dumb and slow.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

View from the "Rock"

The weather on Sunday morning looked like the promising beginning of a nice day.  By the time I drove to Coopers Rock state forest at 11:00 a.m. however, the sky was starting to turn cloudy.  Still, there was a surprising number of people there, trying to capitalize on the short-lived sunshine.

I like the following for composition.  It's a nice play on triangles, with a short rectangle for the horizon and sky.  A few patches of sunlight illuminate the hill on the other side of the Cheat river.

Most of my pictures that day were pretty mediocre.  The foliage wasn't as vivid as I'd hoped it would be.  Perhaps it's too early.

Monday, October 6, 2014


Meet Gaultheria procumbens,  a native to northeastern North America.  Its common name is eastern teaberry or American wintergreen.


Friday, October 3, 2014

Late season blooms

The same evening that I captured the fern bottom, I shot a less ambitious focus stack of what I think might be a delphinium.  I didn't have any direct sun hitting this at six, p.m., but the lighting is decent.

The delphinium  required a bit of post-processing by hand to correct for some areas that PhotoShop's focus stacking algorithm couldn't seem to handle.  In addition, there were several ants traipsing about the flower.  The moved haltingly enough to leave ghosts here and there about the bloom.  I left one (at about 8 o'clock).

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Tiny sliders on my fern

There was  hardly a breeze yesterday evening, so I attempted my most ambitious focus stack to date. With more than 100 shots of the bottom part of a fern, I had to skip every other shot in order to lessen the amount of computer processing that would be required.

Here is a 52-shot stack:

I didn't time how long it took for each processing step, but it took PhotoShop something on the order of ten minutes to align the shots and another ten minutes to create the focus stack.  The resulting file was huge -- approximately 5.3 GB.  Thank goodness that the primary Adobe swap file resided on the solid state drive!

A Growing Ferns from Spores web page helps to define some of the plant anatomy.  Each large, dark pod is called a sorus.  The individual spores are packed inside each sorus.  The covering of the sorus is called the indusium.

Close-up, they look like little spore sliders.

SYTL to The Slider, by T-Rex.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Friday, September 19, 2014

Silly Goose

These Canadian geese were sitting on a log in the Monongahela river.  I imagine they're on their way south, but I wonder if the silly geese know this river is flowing north.

If they stuck it out, they'd eventually be going down the Mississippi.   Wonder how long *that* would take?

Some Googling tells me that it's 102 miles from Morgantown to Pittsburgh.
It's 981 miles from Pittsburgh to Cairo, Illinois.
From Cairo, it's another 871 miles to the Gulf Intercoastal Waterway -- assuming we're going all the way south.

Total = 1,954 miles.    For everything else, there's MasterCard.

One thing for sure, it has to be a lot shorter as the bird flies!

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Morning on the Mon

Went to work a little earlier today in the hopes of catching rowers on the river.  No luck; they don't start until next week.   And I'll have to arrive even earlier.

So, here's the scenery without the rowers.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

A story with legs

Last Sunday, I took a brief stroll around White Park in the First Ward.  Thought I'd find some mushrooms to photograph, but I was disappointed.  I did got off this one shot of something strange sitting on a burdock burr.

It's kind of hard to see, but this "thing" has legs.  I posted the photo on Google+, guessing that it might be some sort of leafhopper.  By the end of the day, another person on the Macro Photography group that I haunt had identified it:  meet Helia bimaculata, the Two-spotted Locust Treehopper.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Super Moonday

Last night (a Monday) was the night before the official full moon.  This one is the third and last so-called Super Moon of the year.

The first go-round of photographs was a dud.  I'd forgotten the exposure tips for shooting the moon.  Got nice, dramatic clouds but a completely washed out moon.  The trick is to use a tight aperture, like f/16.  It's one of those few times where a manual exposure comes in really handy.

Post-processing is Black & White, using Nik Silver Efex Pro.

Monday, September 8, 2014

No need to die sitting

In the past few years, I've seen several people at work take to using the standing desk.  It was with some relief that I read a EurekAlert posting today, which says that taking a few 5-minute walks can reverse the harm caused to leg arteries during three hours of prolonged sitting.
Sitting for long periods of time, like many people do daily at their jobs, is associated with risk factors such as higher cholesterol levels and greater waist circumference that can lead to cardiovascular and metabolic disease. When people sit, slack muscles do not contract to effectively pump blood to the heart. Blood can pool in the legs and affect the endothelial function of arteries, or the ability of blood vessels to expand from increased blood flow.
Study participants who walked for 5 minutes each hour of sitting saw their arterial function stay the same -- it did not drop throughout the three-hour period. Saurabh Thosar says it is likely that the increase in muscle activity and blood flow accounts for this.

Knock-kneed goats and bow-legged sheep

Meet the White Snakeroot (Ageratina altissima), which is native to eastern North America. Snakeroot contains the toxin tremetol.

According to Wikipedia, when cattle eat the plant "the meat and milk become contaminated with the toxin. When milk or meat containing the toxin is consumed, the poison is passed on to humans. If consumed in large enough quantities, it can cause tremetol poisoning (milk sickness) in humans." During the early 19th century, large numbers of European immigrants were killed by milk sickness.

The plants are also poisonous to horses, goats, and sheep. Signs of poisoning in these animals include depression and lethargy, placement of hind feet close together (horses, goats, cattle) or held far apart (sheep), nasal discharge, excessive salivation, arched body posture, and rapid or difficult breathing.
So, if you're a farmer,watch out for knock-kneed goats and bow-legged sheep.  It could be a sign.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

A Short Life

Last night, I stood guard by the butterfly bush, hoping to catch a feeder.  It was a qualified success.

The Eastern tiger swallowtail (Papilio glaucus) lives only about two weeks as an adult, and it looks as if this one has already slipped past his due date.  What a sad little butterfly.

So, when nature gives you beat up lemons, you take closeups and crop to avoid the sorry blemishes.

Close up, you don't see the sorry state this butterfly is in.

Here's a song to go with the two shots above (SYTL).

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Mini Rose

A solitary miniature rose is growing low to the ground in my backyard.  At first, I thought it was an unknown flower because the stem looked grass-like.  After shooting a focus stack and studying the result, however, it's pretty apparent that it's a rose.

Shot was taken during what passes and the golden hour:  6:45 p.m.  1/50 sec; f/3.2; ISO 100

Monday, August 25, 2014

Toad Lily

Meet the Toad lily (Tricyrtis sp.), which grows in my back yard.  This is a 27-shot focus stack captured this evening at a slow, 1/13 sec;   f/3.2;   ISO 100.  God bless the inventor of the tripod.

There were originally about 36 shots, but at 1/13th of a second exposure, a slight breeze caused a number of shots to have too much movement blur, and I had to reject them.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Silver-bordered fritillary

A silver-bordered fritillary (Boloria selene), I think:

Saturday, August 9, 2014


It's pleasing to come across a new wildflower.  Meet the Turk's cap lily (Lilium superbum), found growing beside Decker's Creek near Masontown, WV.   It is native to the eastern and central regions of North America.  

Friday, August 8, 2014

Evening Primrose

Meet the Evening Primrose (Oenothera biennis).  This time of year, it's growing like a weed wherever it can take root.  This one was on the edge of a dirt lot across from a nearby plumbing supply company.

The Evening Primrose normally opens more towards evening (duh), but at noon, this bloom decided to avoid the rush and open early.   Maybe because it was fairly overcast.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Down in the Mouth

Tried a more ambitious 36-shot focus stack last night.  At a shutter speed of 1/10 even a slight breeze was problematic.  Not to mention the occasional bee that worked its way through.

Meet the trumpet vine (Campsis radicans) rendered with a combination of SnapArt and Topaz watercolor filters:

Campsis radicans is a native to the Southeast, but I suspect that it has become quite domesticated and hybridized.  The lower flower petals have a very fleshy color to them... almost like tongues.

SYTL to title song.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Four Eyes (what you gonna do now?)

Meet the Red milkweed beetle (Tetraopes tetrophthalmus).

The binomial genus and species names are both derived from the Latin for "four eyes."

Presenting "Four Eyes" by the Lovin' Spoonful (SYTL).

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Roll Away the Dew

Dragged the macro lens and tripod into the backyard this morning at 7:30.  Meet a dewy Yarrow (Achillea millefolium):

Light wasn't too great at this hour, but a slow speed (and no breeze) made up for it.  Shot at 1/25 sec;   f/3.2;   ISO 100.

SYTL for the title (godawful wide aspect ratio; better to just close your eyes and listen).

Shopping the Allium

Although I was happy with the focus stacking results on the Allium picture  that I posted yesterday, there were things that didn't look right on second glance.  The stack was from a series of 25 shots, and a slight breeze had caused some problems with the automatic alignment. Some of the stems were wonky, the background blooms were too fuzzy, and there were some "ghost" flowers on broken stalks.

Last night, I went back and fixed most of those problems.  Going back to the original stack layers, I located one layer that had the best sharpness for the back row blooms, and I layered it over the top.  Same for a couple of stems and sections of flowers.

The results speak for themselves:

I hate to put up a picture and then have to change it because I got the Photoshop editing bug.  Sometimes you just have to do it.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

The Color Purple

A couple of new focus stacks from the back yard garden.

Meet the Stokes' aster (Stokesia laevis):

Alliums with no name:

The allium shot is composed of 25 separate shots.  A slight breeze wafted through while I was shooting, so the background blooms have a more pronounced blur to them, as do some of the stalks.  C'est la vie.

The season is working its way towards purple flowers.

Monday, July 21, 2014


At one point yesterday the breeze was light enough to allow me to pull off a 20-shot focus stack of some Gaillaria flowers.  MagicLantern software comes through again!

There's no way that I could previously have gotten all three blooms in such sharp focus.

Here's the right-most flower zoomed in:

I know these colors look too vivid, but I didn't pull any tricks on this shot.

Monday, July 14, 2014

If you could touch but the hem of my garment...

Who'd have thought that I could be the cure the cancer?
Scientists from the University of Exeter say that a compound found in the smell of rotten eggs and human flatulence might some day be useful in mitigating the cell damage responsible in part for certain diseases.
Does this mean that I've been wasting my time having colonoscopic exams?

Friday, July 11, 2014

Another Warhol Moment

I know this is just plain wrong, but I had to do it.  Or at least try it.  Obviously, I don't have the Warhol touch, and my model isn't quite Marilyn Monroe.

Yes, it's another Warhol moment.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Lock 'n Dam

Took a walk in the other direction on the Rail Trail at lunch today, toward the Morgantown Lock & Dam.  I wanted to give the HDR Bracketing feature of Magic Lantern a try.  Here's a quick and dirty:

Unlike many of the features in Magic Lantern, HDR Bracketing isn't rocket science.  You can use the basic Canon menu setting for Exposure Compensation/AEB in aperture priority mode, and fire off three shots.  Magic Lantern's HDR Bracketing just presets an exposure bracket and then automatically fires off the three shots for you.

Here's a different group of shots and a different HDR setting:

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Canas in the Park

At lunch today, I shot this Orange Cana Lily at McQuian park.

I didn't eat it.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Magic Lantern

It was a stroke of luck that my Canon 550D/T2i is one of the supported platforms for Magic Lantern, a firmware add-on.  Although initially created for shooting video, a broad array of features have been added for photographers.

I took the plunge this weekend, downloading Stable Release v2.3.  I  formatted a spare SD card and copied over to it a binary autoexec file and the FIR file for my camera model.  The first attempt to load the firmware failed.  Following instructions, I re-applied the Canon 1.0.9 firmware and tried again.  This time it took.

One of the amazing things about the Magic Lantern firmware is that it does not replace the stock Canon firmware.  It runs alongside it.

The hardest part was figuring out how to use the new features.  My killer app was the automated focus stack.  It probably took an hour of experimentation before I finally got it right.  With the camera on a tripod, I start in Live View, which seems to be an essential aspect for using Magic Lantern.  After focusing in on a starting point, you enter Magic Lantern by pressing the Trash button on the camera.  This brings up the Magic Lantern menu.  From there, I go to the Focus menu and select Focus End Point.  This takes me back to Live View, where I use manual focus buttons to set the final focus point for the stack.  Back once again to the Focus menu of Magic Lantern, and I start the Play mode for Focus Stack.  From there, the firmware takes over operation of the camera, shooting the series and changing the focus with each shot.

Here's one of my better results, taken with an eight-shot sequence:

This shot is actually a small portion of a much larger picture.  I just liked the composition of this little group.   I don't know what the flowers are, but they are quite tiny, somewhat resembling yarrow in size.

Magic Lantern is going to open up a lot of new possibilities for my photography!

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Back in Black

The old news is that I've got my macro lens back.  With no time to waste yesterday morning, I dragged the tripod out into the back yard and shot some bracketed exposures of garden flowers in the natural light of the golden hour.  Time for some high dynamic range (HDR) work.

Meet the Balloon Flower (Platycodon grandiflorus):

I think this is a Liatris spicata:

And of course, your basic lily:

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Pussy Magnet

Can't keep the cats off of my car.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Kudos to UnitedCamera

A few weeks ago, my Canon EF-S 60mm f/2.8 Macro USM lens bit the dust. After several years of service, being backpacked while I biked around, the focusing mechanism failed on me.

I went on the web and got a price quote from this repair place called UnitedCamera.  Their basic "Repair and Calibration" service was $94, which seemed to include the necessary repairs.  Return shipping was part of the fee.  I packed up the lens and shipped it to them in a small USPS Express Mail box.

Within days, they sent me an email, informing me that they received the lens.  They gave me a confirmation number and a URL at which I could track the status of the repair.  In a period of a day, the status went from going to a technicians desk to "repair parts on order."  That last part took most of a week, and then suddenly it was repaired an being shipped back to me.  Since return shipping was part of the repair fee, I fully expected snail mail.  What a surprise to see that it came 2-day USPS Priority.   I got it back this Saturday.

I'm a happy camper.  The lens is working like new.  I've resolved to treat it more kindly.  Don't know how I'll transport the camera and lens if/when I go biking again, but I'll have to come up with something better.

Need a lens repair?  I wholeheartedly recommend UnitedCamera.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Eye of the Beholder

What Matters Most is How You See Yourself

This idea came to me when I saw someone's Lync status read:  "The chicken is the closest living relative of Tyrannosaurus Rex."  I'm told the factoid came from underneath a Snapple lid.

List of Ingredients

  • Shot my son's old Jurassic Park T-Rex with my iPhone camera before I left work.  Yes, I keep Rex at work.
  • Used a rooster shot I took at Shields' Greenhouse this Spring.  He's a photogenic little cuss.  
  • Grass is from a recent picture of the Mountainlair.  
  • Table and mirror are basic Google stock images.

Lares and Penates

A lot of people I work with have decorations in their office space.  I like to think of them as descendents of Lares and Penates, household deities and guardians.  Is it something cultural or innate that makes us desire these mascots? 

Here are some of mine (a few more fish are sitting atop my monitors):

(A side note here:  the above picture is the first taken with the 8 megapixel camera that's built into my new iPhone 5s.)

I guess I have a thing for fish.  The Pink Panther is just an old friend from my first office job.  The penguins are, of course, the Linux mascot.  One incongruity is the absence of any duck figures, for I also have a "thing" about ducks.  Odd.  Ducks.

Now that I think of it, there is a cluster of peanuts sitting atop my CD cabinet.  I've kept them because they remind me of ducks.

Oh, look!  Another penguin!

This could be an interesting basis for a photo project:  shooting the various Lares and Penates of fellow cube dwellers.