Archive for the 'Color' Category

Flaming Autumn

Monday, October 31st, 2016

An overcast day in autumn contributes to the flaming red of a Red Maple (Acer rubrus) wherever it may be found in North America. This specimen was glowing like a lamp in an open area near a small river. It demanded a full standing portrait.

It also invited shifting the cameras and tripod a bit to the left and right and zooming in to make a series of images from which to select. Bob almost always uses a tripod after he has walked about a potential subject. Linda sometimes likes to walk around subjects with her short zoom lens even after scouting without a camera to select subjects, angles and what to include or exclude..

The middle image’s tight crop invites the viewer close enough to hug the tree. The bottom one is still welcoming but has a bit more personal space.. Compositions do communicate a variety of information.

Canada Warbler

Saturday, May 21st, 2016

Today at the Spring bird banding at Wickiup Outdoor Learning Center, the banders and spectators were surprised and delighted by the capture of a handsome male Canada Warbler (Cardellina canadensis or Wilsonia canadensis depending on which source one uses).

Photographing at a bird banding event is sometimes a hit or miss affair. We do not want to get in the banders and recorders way and the other spectators want to see both the common and uncommon birds. Sometimes birds are held briefly against acceptable backgrounds and we make a few images.

The banders said that they rarely find Canada Warblers in their mist nets. This one may be one of the few that claims a territory here in Iowa or may still be headed to the northwoods of Minnesota and Wisconsin or on to Canada. One of their common names of this boreal bird is the Necklaced Warbler. The band of black splotches against his yellow throat and breast are distinctive as is the black flecks outlined in gray on his head.

The white eye ring around his large eyes and the yellow streak above his beak are also identifiers. In the top image his nostrils are apparent as are his rictal bristles. This warbler often catches insects like flycatchers do. The rictal bristles are thought to help protect his eyes from insect legs and antennas when he is catching them in the air.

The image of the top of his head was made in the tent canopy where the banding, measuring and recording occurred. The image is a good example of why color correction is sometimes needed to represent colors accurately. In the sunlight his back feathers are a blue-gray.

Here the colors were corrected in Lightroom so that the feathers appear more closely to how they would have been in sunlight, though they were photographed in the shade. The light is softer in the shade but the colors are truer. Compare to the color to the image of the bird in bright sunlight.

Under the banders’ tent canopy the light was filtered and had a much warmer cast. Color is so often affected by the colors around it and what the light on the subject is travelling through. Both images were processed the same but with and without color correction of an original raw file.

We were surprised by how warm the photos under the tent were. Human eyes and brains make all sorts of corrections that cameras cannot yet do.


Friday, February 26th, 2016

Chickadees and Titmice are in the family Paridae and are among the most inquisitive and cheerful appearing small birds. We enjoy photographing the Black-capped Chickadees (Poecile atricapillia) in our backyard. The one above we encountered last weekend while in search of Boreal Chickadees (Poecile hudsonica) in northeastern Minnesota.  There are 7 chickadee species  and 4 titmice species in North America. Black-capped Chickadees have the largest range through the upper half of the United States and up into Canada.

Boreal Chickadees are found mostly in Canada and Alaska while dipping down into the lower 48 states, especially in winter. These two species are of similar size and behaviors and are sometimes found together as we found these birds coming to feeding stations.

The Boreal Chickadees were really enjoying the peanut butter which had been slathered on stout branches. We could hear their more buzzy, slurred chick-a-dee call in the woods before they came in. The Black-capped Chickadee’s call is crisper and clearer. The Black-capped birds seem to prefer sunflower seeds and were seldom at the peanut butter. The little Red Squirrels also liked peanut butter. We saw one Red Squirrel pick up a chunk of peanut butter and try to carry it on its front legs while walking on just its back legs.

The lower Boreal Chickadee’s coloring was more vibrant and contrasty than the one above. Some writers describe Chickadees as fluffy brown and gray birds with a few markings. They live in cold climates and fluffiness is a necessary attribute. We think the colors are quite lovely. Of course, these branches were far enough from the background woods so that the birds stand out rather than blend in with their surroundings.

Last winter we only saw one Boreal Chickadee late in the day at the Saz-Zim Bog and hoped for better luck this trip. This year we were pleased to see them at several locations.

Frequent Visitors

Thursday, December 10th, 2015

A pair of Northern Cardinals are frequent visitors to the hanging tray feeder that we enjoy out one of the kitchen windows.

We refer to the male above as our blue cardinal. His feathers are edged in blue by our camera sensors when the garage shades the tray feeder. Bird information states that some male cardinals’ back and tail feathers may appear gray on their edges. The reasons are not known. We think of the color as a lovely Williamsburg blue.

Here he is seen cracking a sunflower seed while checking on the long lens poking through a curtain at the open window because a clicking sound also emanates from behind the curtain. Since nothing has come out the window he usually continues his meal.

The female that appears to be his mate is an imposing lady.

She is anything but drab. Her crest is often raised and her beak is a very bright red-orange. Rather than being the dull brown often described, her chest is a soft russet and her black mask contrasts with her beak almost as much as a male’s.

She usually faces the window and lens while the male turns his back or sits behind the ropes that hold the corners of the tray.

Since we hung the tray, this pair comes more often than they did when feeding on the ground. There is a very dark Dark-eyed Junco male that sometimes uses the tray rather than eating from the ground in typical junco fashion. A Red-bellied Woodpecker and a female Northern Flicker also seem to prefer it to other feeders.

It also brings more species up to camera-eye level. Now we need to encourage them to land on more interesting perches near-by before coming to the feeder.

RBG plus Y and White

Friday, August 28th, 2015

One of the signs of the coming autumn is that many late summer flowers and some seeds seem to be more vividly colored than those from spring and early summer. Among the most colorful is the Cardinal-flower (Lobelia cardinalis) whose brilliant red is difficult to reproduce digitally or on film. It sometimes is out of gamut or beyond what the camera sensor can record. Shade helps along with setting the flash at a minus 2 flash exposure.

These image shows the buds at three stages of development on their way to opening. As buds the color is easier to capture. Open petals reflect light differently than closed buds.

Groundnut (Apios americana) blossoms are usually a pale rose. This cluster is a deep rose, almost wine colored. Sometimes this color is called red-brown. As pretty as they are, this legume in our garden are very aggressive winding themselves around the other native plants. Bob pulls them in the spring but they still entwine other plants like the goldenrod in this image. Their tubers are considered quite nutritious and were used by Native Americans and settlers.

The yellow of many Goldenrod species with their delicate blossoms in plumes or flat-topped composites invites closer inspection of the little star-like flowers or little tufts. This one has little starbursts.

Cream Gentians (Gentiana alba) are uncommon and open in late summer as do the blue and purple gentian species. The contrast of their white blossoms and dark green foliage is a handsome contrast whether in a prairie or native garden. These look as if several flowers have already been pried open by bumble bees that come to gather nectar and pollinate them.

In the spring Solomon Seals (Polygonatum biflorum) have pale yellow-green bell-shaped flowers hanging beneath an arching stem. In late summer the seed fruits are blue. There are a dozen clusters hanging like small weights. Several other native flowers have blue or purple berries – Blue Cohosh, Corn Lily, Indian Cucumber-root - and add accents to a native woodland garden.

Now is the time to enjoy and photograph the deep rich colors of flowers while getting ready for tree foliage and native grasses in a month’s time.

Back View

Sunday, October 12th, 2014

It is not often that photographers hope that the bird is facing away when trying to make an image. The Violet-tailed Sylph (Aglaiocecus coelestis)  is one of those species which is absolutely dazzling when seen from behind in good light. We saw both the Violet-tailed and the Long-tailed Sylphs last month in Ecuador. The Violet-tailed was on the Western slopes of the Andes and the Long-tailed on the eastern ones. They look very much alike and we relied on local staff for identification.

The Violet-tailed Sylph is said to have more intense coloration in its tail than the Long-tailed. The top image certainly shows that brilliance. When seen from the side, its colors are more subdued.

The bird in the lower image is sharing a drink with a bee. Both came into the setup to sip from the tube hidden among the flowers. Sometimes the hummingbirds would grasp the bees and take them away from the tube or the flowers into which sugar water had been squirted.

The hummingbirds seemed to have a behavior pattern associated with the feeders in the area, the tube or flower setup with flashes, and the surrounding vegetation. Some of a group would visit the feeders and setup alternately while others used only the feeders and then most would rest in the nearby vegetation. Then that group would leave, perhaps to go to another feeder area or to flowers. Soon another group would arrive in the area around the setup and the activities would repeat.

When one of us was taking a turn using Ralph Paonessa’s flash setup, the other was usually photographing birds feeding or perched in the area or along nearby trails. Photographing in setups and in the wild (top image) combines the most opportunities to show species at their best.

Achemon Sphinx Caterpillar Colors

Thursday, July 24th, 2014

We were invited to see and photograph some of the batch of Achemon Sphinx (Eumorpha achemon) caterpillars that are in their last instar and getting ready to pupate. The containers of peat moss are waiting for them to start looking for a place to go to ground. In the mean time they are still eating voraciously the grape and other vines being provided.

The literature states they come in a green form or a brown form. These came in a range of colors. One was lime green. A few were tan. Then there were some that were sorrel or nutmeg colored and others shaded into dark brown. All are from the same batch of eggs. Our friend, the Moth Whisperer, caught a female some weeks ago and she laid more than 90 eggs all over the cage and grapevines before he released her.

These images show what differences in flash and background can do, sometimes with a bit of help from software. The vines were twined on two columns of wire hardware cloth set on tables in a small screened porch. We worked to minimize wire’s effect on the images. The faintly checkerboard appearance in the top image is the out of focus wire which has been softened a bit more in a software layer.

The background was further away from the vine where the lime green caterpillar munched. The manual exposure for the caterpillar with the flash made the background go black. Ordinarily we do not use black backgrounds but for this one it is effective.

This pale tan one has its head partially pulled in. By kneeling on the floor the camera could be positioned to get a bit of sky in the background. Fill flash (reducing the flash setting) on the caterpillar allowed the natural light on the distant sky to be captured in this exposure.

The assortment of sorrel and brown colored ones varied as much as sorrel and chestnut horses do. For the one above the wire column was rotated so that a small evergreen tree near the porch provided the green background. The green was softened by the evening light bouncing through the screen.

This was one of darker brown ones. The pale porch wall with light bouncing off the opposite wall provided most of the light for this image. Fill flash was used but did not affect the exposure very much as seen in the very pale shadows.

Photographs are more than compelling subjects. Controlling the light is paramount. We submit that controlling the backgrounds are equally so.

B&W and Color

Thursday, July 17th, 2014

The August issue of Outdoor Photographer magazine arrived in today’s mail. It is an All B&W Special Issue. The examples are mostly lush landscapes – many including water in some form: rivers, fog, clouds, ice. Or people.  Also two zebras, who are already black and white. Among the missing subjects are the smaller plants and animals – our favorite subjects.

We used black & white films for many years before we started using mostly slide films. When we moved to digital photography almost ten years ago, it was natural to keep on making color images similar to our favorite slide films. Occasionally we process an image in black and white for a particular purpose.

The magazine prompted a personal challenge for today. It was to take this pretty damselfly and process it in Lightroom, both for color and B&W to see how they compare. And to demonstrate that color and B&W can work as well for small subjects as for grand landscapes.

Whether monochrome or color, the two images behave similarly. The first place that gets noticed is the blue segment in the color image. The same segment pulls ones eyes to it in the monochrome one. The body segments are more sharply defined in black and white while the green of the damselfly and reddish streaks on the grass are another type of contrast.

Even though we humans are attracted to color, it is helpful to look at subjects for the range of zones - levels of black and white that underlie the colors. The blacks are black or dark gray. The pale colors are shades of light gray and the midtones are probably close to the proverbial 18% gray that is used to balance the zones in standard exposures.

Simple subjects with uncluttered backgrounds can be as effective in monochrome as in color.


Thursday, August 22nd, 2013

Solomon's Seal

Solomon’s Seal (Polygonatum biflorum) is a subject for several seasons. In the spring it is hung with pairs of lovely little pale green bells. The bells turn to green fruit which darkens as summer progresses. It provides a number of studies in monochrome before the fruits finally turn a deep purple/black and the leaves yellow.

Monochrome is an image (photograph, drawing, painting) in shades and tints of all one color. Mono is one and chrome is color. If the shades and tints are variations of gray from black to white, the work is in gray-scale. Mix a single color to the gray scale from black to white and the work is a monochrome. Most definitions speak of only shades of a color or adding black to the color. Tints are when white is added to a color so when we prepare a monochrome image in one color we think of shades and tints.

In 2009 the University of Iowa Press published the second edition of Wildflowers of Iowa Woodlands and used  one of our images of the Solomon’s Seal blossoms to illustrate its beauty. When we saw the green fruits on this stem last week we were reminded that the blossom photograph is also a monochrome. It has a dark green background with light green bells.

Plants with green blossoms as sometimes overlooked as subjects. We think they are ideal for monochromatic studies. Monochrome is more than black/white or gray-scale.

Grant Wood’s Window

Tuesday, July 2nd, 2013

The Veterans Memorial Building in Cedar Rapids, Iowa is the home of a grand stained glass window designed by Grant Wood. It is a 20×24 foot masterwork that celebrates the common soldiers from The Revolutionary War, The War of 1812, The Mexican War, The Civil War, Spanish-American War, and World War I.

The building, which is slowly being renovated after the devastating Flood of 2008, allowed visitors in to see the restored window as part of the annual Cedar Rapids Freedom Festival. There are 57 panels, all of which were removed after the flood. They were restored by the Glass Heritage Company in Davenport, Iowa and returned to the building in 2010 where protective safety glass now protects this treasure.

The late morning sun shown through the approximately 9,000 pieces of glass in their leading in full glory. The angle of the light and shadow pattern on the floor shows the varying color translucence of the glass. There were other visitors so most of our images needed to be made quickly when individuals stepped back from admiring the details to view the entire window. Photographs may not do it full justice, but serve as enticements to bring others here to admire it.

The glass’s colors vary from deep greens and violets to pale cream and rose. The dynamic range of the luminosity and translucency was a challenge for the camera to capture. The varying tints and shades in Demeter’s dress were lost in the distant capture just as they are to the person standing back to see the whole huge window. Here is a section that shows the various colors producing the rosy gown.

We photographed the soldiers’ faces, their boots and other small sections of this immense work of art.

Since July 4th is approaching we decided to include the face of the Revolutionary War soldier. Grant Wood went to Germany to learn how to prepare the faces in the glass. The Frei Company in Munich made the glass with all its wonderful details. It is amazing how a stoic, determined face can emerge from a piece of glass.

This project happened betwen 1927 and 1929 when the Memorial opened. In 1932, Grant Wood and his collaborator on drawing a life size plan for the window, Arnold Pyle, along with several other regional artists started The Stone City Art Colony and School. It lasted for two years. Information about the colony and school and the artists who taught and studied there is an online publication: When Tillage Begins: The Stone City Art Colony and School.