Archive for the 'Technique' Category

Prescribed Burn

Wednesday, November 2nd, 2016

The Fire Crew Leader cautioned that the prescribed burn at the Wickiup Outdoor Learning Center last night was not going to be as spectacular as they hoped. The crowd thought it was spectacular enough, in spite of not being as dry as it usually is in early November.

We enjoyed making some images and video of the burn. The burn was started by staff walking around the 5 acre plot with drip torches like the one above carried by a crew member in fire resistant clothing.

The crew started at the southwest corner of the restored prairie plot and walked along the edge of the area toward the east because there was a light breeze coming from the northeast. The viewers mostly were on the road along the east edge so they could see the flames as they were driven back to the southwest by the breeze. Smoke did not get in their eyes.

We stationed ourselves along the road close to the southeast corner of the field. That let us make silhouette images of backlit grasses and dried flower heads as the fire moved back to the west and south.

Cameras have a difficult time capturing subjects that include very black and very bright elements. We decided to focus on the edges of the backlit plants. That seemed to help balance out the dark and light portions so that we had few “blinkies” (potential blown out highlights) on the backs of the cameras. Because the images are Raw files the “blinkies” that were there could be rescued in Lightroom or Photoshop.

Puffball Puffing

Saturday, October 8th, 2016

This morning we went to the woods in a nearby state park with friends on a fungi foray. Among the finds were some brown puffballs. We both tried to get them to puff and then capture a photo of the action. The puffs were faster than our shutters.

It then occurred to Linda to try videoing a puff. Then we could use frame captures to show the puffs even though frame capture jpgs are of lesser quality than a still photo would be. The frame captures are less than 1 megabyte each while still photos of the same scene are 25 to 26 mgs each.

She had to tap the puffball to get it to send spores into the air. That meant her hand was in the video. So two frame captures from the video were made in Lightroom’s Quick Develop function. The top image shows the puffball just before it was tapped. Then that image was composited with the puff frame capture layer in Photoshop. Using a Photoshop layer mask, she was able to hide her hand while letting the puff of spores be visible.

The light changed slightly between the two frame captures. A diffuser (white reflector) or white umbrella behind the log would have kept the light from changing very much. Next time we try this work-around to show something like a puffball puffing, we will try to remember the light and that we should control it. After all, that is what photography is; controlling light.

Early (Winter) Visitor

Thursday, September 22nd, 2016

There have been several reports of Red-breasted Nuthatches (Sitta Canadensis) here in Iowa in what seems early this year, even if it is not. They are usually short distance migrants but may inrupt when conifer seeds are reduced in their year round and nesting habitats further north and west.

Late yesterday we stopped at a near-by nature center to see who might be at the feeders next to the large bird blind. The first bird we saw was this handsome male Red-breasted Nuthatch. Females usually have paler red breasts.

We hurried back to the parking lot to get our cameras and tripods in hopes that he would stay. Just as we returned to the bird blind he flew off. So we entertained ourselves by photographing three quarrelsome White-breasted Nuthatches and two cheeky Tufted Titmice who came in to the peanut feeder while we waited for him to return.

The sun was setting so the ISO needed to be increased more than we like and the aperture opened to keep the shutter speed fast enough to get some sharp images. It was not convenient to use flash. We prefer to use ambient light whenever feasible.

We both had many variations of this head pose to select among because he stared at the two viewing openings for almost four minutes. Our cameras were well back in the blind so were not readily visible. The sound of the high speed shutters clicking was puzzling but not frightening. He finally decided to ignore the sound and eat peanuts.

It was fun photographing him in warm weather on the first day of Autumn. Usually we find them up north in mid-winter.


Tuesday, September 6th, 2016

The Monarch caterpillar has taken its time maturing. It was 13 days old, plump and pretty, and still devouring leaves on last Friday.The number of days for each instar is said to be temperature dependent. It is usually 1 to 3 days for the first four instars and 3 to 5 for the last. That is a range of 7 to 17 days.  It pupated on the 16th day.

We had put several branches near the milkweed stalk and it did not like them. It crawled up and down the sticks and milkweed for several hours. The branches and milkweed were in glass bottles which it could not walk down so it let itself fall. Linda put it back several times and finally decided it and the sticks would need to be put in one of our wire insect cages covered by a 12 inch pot saucer.

The caterpillar crawled round the fine wire mesh wall and then went to the top where it made its cromaster (the little white pad on which it will hang). It attached, and hung in a J. Since it had chosen a place that was inconvenient for photography, we had to figure another way to hold the pot lid up high enough to photograph and make some video when it started to pupate. The wire mesh cage was not going to work.

After a search of the house, Linda spotted three heavy empty wine bottles. She put slender dowels poked into corks and had a scaffold for the pot saucer. Sometimes a need is really the mother of invention. The 3 light reflectors have cool white 1150 lumen LED bulbs and are attached to light stands. The lights were aimed up into the saucer and we were ready. Or so we hoped.

When checked on frequently, the caterpillar was still in a J so we thought it was taking its time to extend down and let its tentacles go limp. An hour later when we checked it, we found it doing the Monarch caterpillar hula as it turns into a chrysalis.  So it was lights, camera, action. Both stills and several short videos were made.

The chrysalis and the setup are to stay where they are on a table in the basement until the butterfly hatches. We have put a small lamp nearby to turn on in daylight hours so it has a somewhat normal light regimen. Other caterpillars we have raised have hatched in about 13 days. We wonder what this one will do.

More Than Half Grown

Saturday, September 3rd, 2016

For the last several days we have been photographing birds in a local city park. Egrets, Great Blue Herons, as well as the usual Mallards and Canada Geese, were possible subjects. The Wood Ducks (Aix sponsa) have been a particular pleasure.

These 3 juveniles were seen with their mother two days ago. This painterly photograph happened as they were swimming along a bank in light shade causing the sandy bank to be reflected and their reflections to be very sharp on the flat water. The water was very still in this protected spot. Yesterday there were only two with her.

We watched the mother of these three (now two) planning a strategy to cross the park road at a narrow spot between two pond-like backwaters. Traffic late in the afternoon was quite busy. She brought her children to where some grass hid them in the water along the road bank. She did this several times before making a dash across to the other side with her mostly grown children close behind. She ignored all the Mallards and Canada Geese, who were gathering where people sometimes feed them, and made a bee-line across to some branches in the water, where we lost sight of them. She obviously knew where she was going.

In this portrait, the water is green with reflected trees and her reflection is blurred because of the moving water. Most of our images of the ducks have various colors (mostly greens) from the reflected vegetation along the far bank.

Earlier this week there had been another female with 3 younger ducklings. Sometimes they intermingled. We did not find her yesterday. We did get glimpses of two male Wood Ducks who stayed in the little coves along the far bank. We hope to see and photograph them in open water when we go again later this afternoon.

Symbolic Bird

Saturday, August 27th, 2016

Egrets were once prized for their plumes. The plunder of Great and Snowy Egret breeding colonies was part of the incentive for Harriet Hemenway and Mina Hall to organize The Massachusetts Audubon Society in 1896. Other state societies were formed and became loosely organized a few years later. In 1905 the National Audubon Society was incorporated. Because of its success in changing the culture that used egret plumes on hats, the Great Egret (Ardus alba) is the symbol of The Audubon Society.

This afternoon we stopped along a road near a wildlife management area to watch this Great Egret stand along a pond while waiting for fish to spear. It would sometimes stretch its long neck forward as if ready to stab a fish and then bring it back. It looked in our direction several times and then went back to staring at the water.

We watched and made a few photographs of its vigil while moving the vehicle closer. Vehicles make good blinds or hides. Finally a vehicle came along the road which flushed the bird.

It had been facing east but pivoted to the west to take off across the road. While panning from left to right to follow the egret, the shutter speed was very fast and kept the bird in focus but was too fast to blur the background very much. Many photographers like to pan at a slow shutter speed, just keeping the head or eye of the animal in focus while blurring other parts of the image. Often legs are blurred.

Now that migration is started we will be looking for other opportunities like this one.

New Foster Child

Sunday, August 21st, 2016

For the last several years Monarch Butterflies have been scarce in our yard and along roadsides where we sometimes encounter females laying eggs. On Thursday we saw a Monarch fluttering around some Common Milkweed and investigated to see if any eggs had been laid. We found one and brought it home in hopes of raising one to release in our yard.

Late last night the tiny caterpillar’s head was visible through the translucent egg.

This morning the egg was empty. Usually the egg shell is eaten by the newly hatched caterpillar. Since the leaf was very dry we paperclipped it at the top of a fresh milkweed stalk last night. When it hatched we hoped it could have a more tender leaf to munch. It must have figured that out for this morning we found it at the tip of one of the small leaves near where we had put the dry leaf.

Since making this photo early this morning, the tiny caterpillar has made a pinhead size hole in the leaf so it is starting to eat. We still are looking at it using a magnifying glass. Its bands are starting to color.

The camera used has a 1.6 magnification factor. Along with a 180mm macro lens and a 2x tele-converter, that makes the combination function like a 576mm lens. The tripod head has a macro slider attached so by using the camera’s Live View,  fine close-up adjustments could be made. The files were cropped slightly to show the tiny subjects in blog format.

If it survives, there will more installments.

Woodpecker as Art

Saturday, August 13th, 2016

Yesterday a juvenile Hairy Woodpecker (Picoides villosus) came to the feeders in our back yard several times. It was first seen at the peanut feeder. By the time a camera and tripod were set up at the kitchen window it had moved to the sunflower tray feeder that was obscured by tall flowers because of the storm the night before.

The youngster was not very wary, so the noise of trying to get the lens further out the kitchen window with the tripod bumping the cabinets did not distress it. There was no way to get a clear view of the bird so an artistic technique used by some flower photographers was tried.

The photographer focuses on a single flower with a shallow depth of field  to throw all the other flowers out of focus. This gives an unearthly glow around and over the subject. If the flowers are blowing and the subject is stabilized the effect is increased. These  flowers were about a meter before the bird so were definitely out of focus. The challenge was to use spot focus between the waving flowers to have the bird in relatively good focus. The young bird stopped for a few seconds to look in the camera’s direction. That was long enough to focus and make several images.

The object was to get some images (example above), even using a technique for another subject, because the bird might not return. Even if one does not ordinarily use some techniques, it is good to know about them, just in case they can be applied in other contexts. Fortunately, the youngster did return later and spent a long time on the peanut feeder (below).

Hairy Woodpeckers are not very common where we live. Before this summer we have only seen them a few times in our yard. We see their smaller look-alike Downy Woodpeckers (Picoides pubescens) almost daily. Hairys are about 2.5 inches longer than Downys and have much larger beaks.

This summer we have seen a Hairy Woodpecker female in the yard several times. We suspect that she nested in the area and this is one of her chicks. Its feathers still have the mussed up look of juvenile birds.

On some of the photos, while trying to extract bits of peanuts, it rotated its head back and forth as indicated by the blurs recorded in several images, as if it was drilling into the peanuts.

We hope it decides to live around here so it can get to know us and we, it.


In the Dark

Wednesday, August 3rd, 2016

The Althea R. Sherman Chimney Swifts’ Tower is very dimly lit by light coming down the chimney. Therefore we often use LiveView or small LED flashlights to focus and small flashes to make most images. When the on-camera flash is up, LiveView will expose the subject enough to focus. Sometimes we let the cameras use long shutter speeds in AV mode when photographing nests and eggs and when the birds are sitting very still.

This image was an accident but an interesting one, even though a bit spooky. After focusing with LiveView, Linda did not aim the flash into one of the peek holes before she pressed the shutter cable. The chimney was dark. She thought it would be deleted after download. It is a crop because the rest of the file was black and very underexposed.

The swift was on the wall below the nest looking up with its white throat pointing to catch the light coming down the chimney. This is the only part of the file that was artfully exposed. The beak is sharp against the white fluffed-out throat feathers. It was made in Manual mode at 1/125 second, f/16 aperture and ISO 1600.

One of the things we have learned while photographing in a dark false chimney is to increase the ISO much higher than we prefer. That way we can use f/11 and f/16 apertures and higher shutter speeds in Manual mode. If the flash is pointed at the subject and a minus 1 flash compensation is used, the subject will be well lit. Sometimes we point the flash at one of the false chimney walls to get light bounced onto the birds.

Photography is always a compromise among shutter speed, aperture and ISO.

Bumble Bee Tongue

Sunday, July 17th, 2016

There is a bumble bee whose common name is the Confusing Bumble Bee (Bombus plexipus). Sometimes, even when using  a graphic guide to Bombus species, they are often confusing. That is what we found while trying to determine the bumble bee above. We think it is either an American Bumble Bee (B. pensylvanicus) or a Yellow-banded Bumble Bee (B. terricola). Or one of the species similar to these two.

Both of these important pollinators are thought to becoming much less common in recent years. Pesticides and habitat loss are probable reasons for their decline. In fact the Yellow-banded Bumble Bee is under consideration for protection.

We were photographing large bumble bees foraging on Bee Balm or Wild Bergamot (Monarda fistulosa). Though there were many Bee Balm plants at two locations, there were very few insects collecting nectar and pollen on a sunny day.

The bumble bees we saw  were moving very fast around the flower clusters and between stems that we thought that nectar was in short supply. While reviewing images this morning we saw that that this bee had its long tongue sheath in one of the individual flowers in a cluster.

Here is a crop to see the tongue and its sheath in the corolla of a single blossom on a Bee Balm cluster. This long corolla suggests that it is a long-tongued bumble bee, probably the American Bumble Bee.

Even at 1/1250 second shutter speed, the wings are blurred. The rest of the bee is in sharp focus with individual hairs discernible. To stop the motion of its wings, Bob would have needed to use flash even at this high shutter speed.