Archive for the 'Backgrounds' Category

Home Coming

Sunday, July 3rd, 2016

We returned home from a 3 week trip to photograph several bird species in eastern Canada and New England to find a wonderful surprise in our back garden – a Queen-of-the-Prairie in bloom.

The Queen-of-the-Prairie (Filipendula rubra) is a tall plant preferring wet prairies. The pink buds and flowers are lacey and fluffy. It is considered threatened here in Iowa.

It is a delight and we hope multiplies. It appeared in the area we call “The Swamp.” Many years ago we buried a child’s large wading pool in which we put a mixture of sand and soil. There are irises and sometimes cardinal flowers and other plants that move about the yard at their own volition.

Like the Michigan Lily (Lilium michiganese) that surprised us several years ago and now has four long stems each fitted with a candelabra of lovely orange blossoms, it is in our small urban garden because Linda sprinkles seeds from the packets offered by seed  nurseries at prairie and environmental meetings. She also collects seeds in prairies where we photograph but has never knowingly seen the Queen-of-the-Prairie in the wild. Sometimes we purchase mixed seed packets from reputable native plant nurseries and sprinkle them about and hope for the best. The only seeds that became a problem are the Groundnuts that tangle in all the plants in our front yard. Neither of us has a particularly green thumb and take a casual approach to gardening.

Bob spent time with the Michigan Lilies yesterday while Linda unpacked the pickup camper. When he came in, he asked if she knew the name of a new flower in The Swamp. Early this morning, when the soft light was just over the trees, the edges of the yard were still in shade. The Queen-of-the-Prairie was lit by the sky reflecting down into the area. This separated the blossom from the dark background along with using a fairly shallow depth of field. This is one of Linda’s favorite light conditions for photographing native flowers.

We will be posting about some of the birds we saw – a pair of nesting Piping Plovers in Ontario, over 100,000 Northern Gannets on Quebec’s Bonaventure Island, Harlequin Ducks in Perce, Quebec, Atlantic Puffins and Razorbills and Murres in Maine, and Eider Duck females teaching their ducklings in the surf in Massachusetts. And there was the thrush that sang to us along Lake Michigan at the beginning of the trip.

And then we came home to find the Queen-of-the-Prairie. And there is a bird “soap opera” going on the Althea R. Sherman Chimney Swifts’ Tower that we must follow.

To Bee

Friday, January 16th, 2015

While applying additional keywords to the image files we made in 2014, several bee photos caught our attention. They were made on a drab cool day with occasional sprinkles.  We were in the truck cab deciding where to go next when a bee landed on the passenger side window sheltered from the wind and stayed. So this became a photo op to try to represent a bee from both sides.

We both changed our lenses to macros. Linda uses a 100mm f/2.8 macro and Bob uses a 180mm f/3.5 macro. He likes having the extra working distance, especially for insects. Because the light was a bit dull both cameras were set to ISO 800 with plus 1 stop exposure biases.

Linda made the ventral side image above  from inside the pickup. The bee was backlit by the hazy sky. A raindrop on the window is just below the bee. The light was a pale gray. The window must have a pale green cast which the white balance correction in Photoshop did not completely eliminate. While processing we decided we liked it so did not do more to eliminate the color cast.

While Linda held a card near the window inside the truck to block the interior and provide a plain background, Bob made this dorsal image outside. The raindrop is visible at the lower right of the image. No flash was used but there is a double shadow probably caused by diffraction and the angled light coming from above and behind Bob’s head. One shadow seems to be on the window and the other is on the card. The glass probably contributed to the diffraction. Light bending around edges usually it objectionable but this seems to add a third dimension to a two dimensional image.

The interesting parts of the ventral image are the pollen gathering combs and pollen basket (corbicula) on the right hind leg. Backlighting was the reason we can see it. Usually the basket is seen when full of yellow pollen.

As we wait for Spring, we think we will try to find and make pairs of images (ventral and dorsal) of other insects. This will mean making a small box of optical glass to temporarily hold subjects so we can photograph both sides, if they choose to hold still. While the color cast is not objectionable for these two images we would prefer a more neutral glass to see as much detail as we can.

By the Sword

Saturday, October 4th, 2014

One of the amazing hummingbird species we saw in Ecuador was the Sword-billed Hummingbird (Ensifera ensifera). Their extraordinarily long bills make them a specialist for the long bell shaped flowers of plants such as the Angel’s Trumpet (Brugmansia sanguinea).

A female came to the feeder in the set-up of several flashes and an unbusy background, provided by Ralph Paonessa. One of her favorite branch perches was near by. Bob was able to make a few images of her coming into the setup. The male did not come to the setup when we were photographing but did come to another feeder in the garden briefly when Linda was working in that area.

Here one can see the end of her tongue protruding from her 10 cm. (4 inch) bill as she backed up from the feeder. Her bill is as long (or longer) than her body. Sword-billeds are one of the heavier hummingbirds weighing 12-15 grams (1/2 ounce). They are also the bird species with the longest bills in relation to their bodies.

Without the multi-flash setup, the single flash did not stop his wings as this handsome male came to a feeder in the garden. The natural background of densely spaced trees was far enough away to provide a darker out of focus background than the one hung behind the multi-flash setup so he is not as separated from the background as is the female.  We thought it would be interesting to post this image showing him feeding.

When he came in Linda and her tripod and long lens were too close to capture him when he backed away between sips. He took several sips and then disappeared. She waited an hour hoping he would return. There were other feeders in the garden and Angel Trumpets and other flowers with long corollas in the trees so he had other places to feed. Of course, when other small hummingbirds came in she was further away from the feeders and they are smaller in the image frames.

Each species we saw and photographed was a new adventure, as it always is. We enjoyed working with Ralph Paonessa’s flash set-up for both hummingbirds and one night with the bats that came to empty the hummingbird feeders.

Backgrounds in the Field

Monday, April 21st, 2014

Birders and photographers have been flocking to a nearby recreation area where a Scissor-tailed Flycatcher (Tyrannus forficatus) spent several days last week hawking insects over the lake. The STFC lives mostly in Texas and Oklahoma and is the Oklahoma state bird. Some sources state that its range is expanding. It is unusual and a treat to see this species here. STFC are known to occasionally visit all of the lower 48 states and southern Canada.

We were able to make a few images during the several hours we spent hoping he would sit and/or fly to display his beautiful coral underwing coverts. He did sit for portraits but when he took off to hunt would fly away from the light and us, so our flight images were not very interesting.

When we compared our images we decided that he provided a reminder about how colors are affected by surrounding colors. In this case, the color or the background.

Scissor-tailed Flycatcher

Scissor-tailed Flycatcher

Both portraits are the classic ‘bird on a stick’ variety. In this case, different sticks. We were both on a gentle slope facing east toward the water. Both sticks were about the same height and were lit by the late afternoon sun. One of us was a bit higher on the slope and our tripods are different heights. Therefore sometimes some images have a blue sky background and others have the brown and tan vegetation across the lake with just a bit of sky peeking through the out of focus trees.

Both raw images were converted in ACR (Adobe Camera Raw) using similar settings. The soft coral belly is much brighter against the contrasting blue sky – almost opposite across a color wheel. The brown and tan background contrasts less with the coral color so it is not as vivid. The tan on his back is also more in contrast with the blue sky and less so against the brown.  This individual is not as pale gray as the bird guide books usually portray the species.

As well as being a handsome fellow, he is a good example of how the color we see or capture on a camera sensor changes in differing circumstances.