Archive for April, 2010

Lily of the Valley – Part 4

They’re really coming into a beautiful phase right now.  The leaves are almost fully unfurled and are still delicate and pale in color.  VERY photogenic.  When I shot this last session I was struck by how like a stage it all seemed and thus the titles.

Stagefright (OM 90mm alone)

Understudy (OM 90mm alone)

That one just cried out for black and white.  I use Lightroom for all my post processing and managed the sliders very carefully for this one.  I didn’t want it too harsh, but had to have enough drama to make it compelling.  The shallow depth of field lends itself to the softness, but the shapes themselves hold the drama.  I like.

For this next one I wanted to show how that once the bud is released from it’s papery wrapper it turns downwards in preparation for blooming.

In the Wings (OM 90mm alone)

Overall I like how this series is going and how much I’ve learned about a plant I’ve spent so much time with, but hardly knew.  I will probably head out again today since they’ve changed some more.

Falling Water

Someday I will get to the famous Frank Lloyd Wright house, but until then this kind of falling water will have to do.  I revisited Cold Brook in Mont Vernon which has falls locally called Senter.  Strangely there hasn’t been much seasonal change from the time I shot it in mid-December.  Other than the absence of snow and ice and some new green growth there isn’t much difference.   But the light was good – strong overcast and I had leisure to explore.  Until the rain came in earnest that is.  I got back to my car just in time.

For this first one I had to go behind some safety ropes set up in winter to keep people off the icy boulders.  I figured it was safe now.  Love the view and the color of the rocks and how the brook just drops and curves away.  I really need to get a neutral density filter for this lens, but for now I only use a polarizer; 5 second exposure.

At the top, before the main falls

I was on the lookout for some greenery I could use in an image.  There wasn’t a whole lot of it, but I found some at the main falls.  They waved in the breeze while I took a second 5 second exposure.  I really like the solidity of the tree and the rock and the fluidity of the water.  It’s like a dance.

main cascade at Senter falls

While I was standing up there with the water rushing past me, I couldn’t resist getting a detail shot.  I panned around a bit trying things on before deciding on this one.  I’m still not sure how I feel about that stick, but there was no way to go get it.

water falling like veils over rocks at Senter Falls

Further down the brook widens out.  Back in December I tried for a shot like this one, but it didn’t work out.  I was in almost the exact spot, but not far enough into the brook itself.  The stream bed slopes up slightly here, enough for a dramatic view of the whole thing.  I really like this one and didn’t even get that wet.

The River Relaxes

While scanning the bank for a good location, I found a leaf from last year.  Even though the rocks have some rich color in them, the leaf itself was depleted and pale, so I decided on a sepia treatment and a bit of a crop and rotation.  The water was flowing by and adds silky contrast.


As I worked my way downstream and back to my car, I found a little tributary coming into the main brook.  It was pretty bare and strewn with debris from a recent flood, but I found this little arrangement.  I like the color contrasts.

new ferns on the banks of a tributary to Cold Brook

And I have a fascination with ferns.  I always have and only now have begun to photograph them seriously.  Here’s another species in another location –


I was captivated by the arrangement and even though I had to crouch in the muck, handhold this shot while the breeze refused to cooperate, I’m glad I stuck with it.  Of about 10 shots, this is the only one that was worth a damn.

Lily of the Valley – Part 3

Eeek!  I’ve been taking photos, but not posting about them.  Things are progressing out there.  Leaves are unfurling and tiny buds are showing now.  I’ll probably get out there again today, especially if it rains.  Raindrops on the leaves will be really pretty if it happens.

April 8 - Lily of the Valley - OM 90mm f2 macro

April 15 - Lily of the Valley - OM 90mm f2 macro

I really like this next shot.  The sun  had just gone behind the house, but it was still bright enough to light up the leaves.

April 21 - Lily of the Valley - OM 90mm f2 macro

And here are the buds…future blossoms waiting for their time in the sun.

April 21 - Lily of the Valley - OM 90mm f2 macro, 25mm ext. tube, T10 ring flash

Getting Down

One of my favorite ground covers, vinca minor (aka Periwinkle) –

Vinca Minor


Both these images were shot using the OM 90mm macro lens and the T10 ring flash.  This time I actually mounted the flash where it belongs – on the end of the lens.  Through trial and error I established a baseline that works pretty well – flash at 1/2 power, f8 and a working distance of about 10 inches.  Using a 125 – 200/sec shutter speed means I can hand hold this rig.  Its size and weight work to advantage and help to steady my hands.  Overall it works pretty well.

I did run into a difficulty though.  It seems a failing of digital camera sensors is their inability to capture and render natural purple or violet.  All the RAW files show these flowers as a pale blue.  Totally off base.  I had to play with the color hue sliders in Lightroom to get them back to their purple selves.  I also noticed some chromatic aberration when a petal fell across a dark green leaf.  Not on every shot, but on many.  I don’t get CA with this lens in any other circumstance.  It must be something with the sensor’s interaction with the lens that gets confused somehow.  I couldn’t correct for all of it, so I had to ditch some otherwise decent shots.  Ah well, at least I got these.

Here’s one from the woods that took me many tries to get right.  It’s a fern frond unfurling (say that 10 times fast).  This is just after fiddlehead state and before it is a recognizable fern.  After a lot of maneuvering and waiting for the breeze to die down (even the slightest breeze looks like a monsoon at this magnification) I finally got what I wanted –

Mirror, Mirror

And the Mountain says…

Keep your spring down there.

Went hiking yesterday.  Mt. Cardigan is an easy climb in pretty much every sense of the word so we weren’t expecting anything approaching an adventure.  We hadn’t counted on snow.  What fell as rain down here landed as snow up there.  Temps meant that once again ice and snow on trees would be bombarding us from above.  Oh and the trail would be muddy and running with water.  Hooray for Goretex!!

Anyway, it wasn’t a total loss, these are all almost straight out of the camera, color adjustment (greens got totally blown) and clarity/sharpness –

Imagine There's No Summer

West Ridge Trail approach

They don’t call it The Granite State for nothing –


Approaching the summit tower –

Mt. Cardigan Summit

Up here it was windy as hell.  Looking at the snow on the cairn, it looks like it’s moving.  The trees below do an incredible job of sheltering the trail, but up here is a different story.  When we actually got to the tower the wind was blowing so hard it was difficult to walk against it.  Because I (stupidly) forgot my gloves in the car I got very cold very fast and didn’t have the dexterity to take more than a couple of lousy photos.  Damn it was cold.  So much for spring at the top of Mt. Cardigan.

To Bridge the Gap

One of the by-products of decades of photography is an excess of gear.  I’ve got stuff that I just HAD TO HAVE that I didn’t end up using much.  Yeah, photography isn’t the only hobby where this occurs, but it is one of the major ones.  Gear fetishists know what I’m talking about.  A spate of interest in a kind of shot makes you go out and buy all kinds of weird stuff.  Back in film days I bought a crap load of filters.  Didn’t use 3/4 of them, but I had them.  Ugh.

Then I decided to get into macro photography, but didn’t really research my needs very well and ended up with a ring flash when I really should have gotten a dual macro flash (one flash on either side of the lens, independently controlled and articulated).

Olympus T10 Ring flash and 90mm f2 macro lens

Needless to say, it didn’t get much use because while it provides great light, it doesn’t provide great definition in the form of shadows.  If I’d done a bit more research I’d have realized that to bring up detail in macro shots, hightlights and shadows are key.  The way to do that is to light one side of the object more than another.  Some do this by using a single flash and daylight, or sometimes a reflector and daylight, but another way is to use two flash units powered and angled differently.  Some ring flashes have controls to individually manage the flash bulbs within them and actually turn them up and down independently, but this flash doesn’t allow that.  So what’s a poor photographer to do?

Adapt.  Sure, I’d love to buy a new Olympus macro flash rig designed for the E System, but as I just said, I’m a poor photographer.  I need to find a way to use my old gear with my new gear.  I’d heard that some vintage film flash units can damage new digital SLRs with their high voltage output, so I was a more than leery of trying it.  Luckily the folks at Bifos exist to make the Olympus user’s life a little easier.  There’s even a tutorial on how to properly adapt this old flash to the E series cameras.  Rejoice!  After following the relatively simple directions, I’m taking it into the yard to experiment.

Quince blossoms in the rain

This is probably the best photo I’ve taken recently with the manual gear shown above.  Since the flash, lens and camera don’t communicate I have to assess everything in my head and try for the best settings with regard to shutter speed, aperture, flash output and focus.  I don’t actually mount the ring flash on the lens (although I could), instead I hold it to one side of the subject and aim it manually.  Literally.  It’s in my hand.  It’s a flexible way to work, but not very precise.  Sometimes things come out too dark or too light.  But over time I’m getting a feel for how each variable works with the others.  It’s not perfect, but it’s workable.  Next is a diffuser.  The direct light is too harsh for my liking, but a little DIY time should produce something useful.

So what the hell am I nattering on about?  What’s the point?  Well I guess in this era of reuse/recycle it’s appropriate.  A lot of old gear still has life in it if we’re willing to adapt.  I wouldn’t trade my old OM 90mm macro lens for anything, even a new Olympus macro lens.  And yeah, I’d love to have a new flash, but I’d feel so stupid and guilty for not using the one I have that it would be a hard purchase.  Using my old one gives me satisfaction in a couple of ways; I’m overcoming the difficulty of the process and I’m getting my money’s worth.  Now maybe I can find a legacy twin flash rig that will mount on the power unit…

Farm Life

The small farmer is under threat these days.  Maybe the ‘eat local’ movement will help, but it’s doubtful.  Still some dedicated souls (and believe me, these people are dedicated beyond anything I’d considered) are making their way as small farmers.  I had a chance to spend some time with them and their spring crops –

Curious twin Shetland lambs

Downtime - lambs tire easily and basically drop and sleep where they are

Nap Time - another pair of sleepy Shetland lambs

Pig Pile - 2 week old pigs pile to keep warm

Hope - an unexpected portrait

For the love of Square

I’ve always wanted to shoot medium format, but never have.  Before 35mm film became so popular, aspect ratios tended to be more square than anything else.  I really like the focus it can lend a photo and also the intimate impression it can lend as well.  Hopefully I don’t overuse it, but I find it works with a lot of my work –

Maple flowers overhang a local river –

Hazy Hazy Hazy

the forest greens, one leaf at a time –

The Greening

Sepia treatment for a tree overlooking Marblehead harbor –

Silent Watchers

Harbingers of spring –

Harbingers of Spring

Now, it may be that because I’m a 4/3rds user I go more easily to a square crop than FF or other sensor format users.  At first the aspect ratio of 4:3 was really strange and difficult to get used to after two decades of the pervasive 3:2 ratio.  Now though, when I look at film scans those long skinny photos look strange to me.  Now they look more mass produced and less thoughtful to me even though I’m an assiduous in-camera cropper.  Also, they don’t seem to lend themselves as well to a square crop as 4/3rds does.  I like experimenting with it and find it really helps bring drama and impact to certain photos.  If you haven’t played with square cropping, give it a try.  If your camera has a jpeg aspect ratio menu, find the 6×6 or 6:6 selection and really get into it.  On my camera, with Live View, it masks the areas on the screen that won’t be in the image and forces me to compose in square format.  Using the LCD screen as a waist level finder, it’s as close to a Hasselblad as I’m ever likely to get.

Lush Life

I love daffodils and flowers in general, but come spring every northerner with a lens and a sensor is out photographing them.  Most of the shots are the same over and over again.  I’m guilty of it just as much, but this time out I decided to try something different.  The rain had just barely stopped and I went outside while it was still fairly bright, but I also brought an Olympus T10 ring flash just in case.

The Promise

The Slide


Golden Shoulder

The Insider


I love it when a plan comes together.

The Story of a Single Shot

I am a walker.  I mean that in the sense that I’m not a runner.  I go out and tear up several miles at a time.  I average a 14-minute mile.  It is not a stroll.  What the hell does this have to do with photography?  Well one of my normal walking routes takes me by a stream that runs through my neighborhood and out into several others.  Over one of the bridges I’m allowed a view down into a part where it gets rather spready.  As spring progresses the vegetation gets more varied and lush.  Part of that lushness are skunk cabbages.  An inglorious name for a really rather nice plant.

So you’d be expecting skunk cabbage pictures right about now.

You’d be wrong.

Fast forward a couple of days and you can find me at one of my favorite spots; the Musquash Conservation area.  It’s so close to my house that it’s like an extension of my (rather puny) back yard.  I know the trails well and just off of one of them lies a smallish brook.  In the afternoon the sun angles down rather nicely into said brook.

Ah…now for the skunk cabbage shots, right?


In fact there are skunk cabbages in that smallish brook and I noticed them.  Noticed them proper.  However they weren’t lit in any way that would be considered in the least photogenic, but these things were –


Now an uninitiated person might think these are skunk cabbages, but they are not, they just like hanging around with skunk cabbages.  Must be the conversation.  At the time I was photographing them, I had no idea what they were, but I do now.  But since I didn’t then I’ll just get on with telling you how much I squished around in this smallish brook trying to find just the right composition and treatment for these impostor cabbages.

I tried initially doing some test shots with the camera off tripod.  I find it a useful and time saving technique when I’m only trying to find how best to pull various elements of a photo together.  Time saving was key in this session because the sun has a nasty way of getting behind trees or clouds or very tall people and ruining my light.  Angled sunlight is tricky enough as it is without a capricious sun getting in on the act.

So, there – that’s the best angle…low down, main plant in large proportion to the plants behind it.  They must be rendered out of focus, but recognizable.  So important to theme and leading imagination without dictating imagination.  Camera on tripod now.  Damn, legs are too tall.  Must get lower down.  Is the water running into my boot?  Never mind that, what’s the sun doing?  Are those clouds?  Ok, tripod is lower.  Oh crap now it’s pivoting on the center column.  Raise center column.

What about that dead tree straddling the smallish brook?  Is it too intimidating?  Is it too dark?  Can I see the light behind it from underneath?  Where are the tips of the leaves of my main plant?  Where’s that sun?  Click.  Damn, the autofocus is confused.  It thinks I want the smallish brook in focus.  Switch to manual.  Ah that’s better.  But are the leaves really sharp?  Hit ok to enlarge Live View.  Nope, not quite sharp.  Adjust.  There.  Click.

Take a few more shots at different focal points, focal lengths, angles and apertures just to be safe.

Many hours later, when I get home I start reviewing to my relief I did get what I want.  Sort of.  Kick up the clarity a notch or two and the blacks.  Damn that dead tree is rather dark and overwhelming.  Let’s crop some.  It’s a start.   But what’s this?  The adjustment brush in Lightroom.  Aha.  That should do the trick.  Feather at 90%.  Brush around.  Ooops, too much.  Undo adjustment brush.  Choose new brush and lightly feather again.  Change exposure.  Ah.  That’s the sauce.


Just look at the breathtaking crispness of the foreground plant to the background supporting cast.  The clean lines contrast nicely with the messy forest floor.  The reflecty parts in the water and the deep shadows under the log really stretch the tonal range to the max.  The light beyond the log and the moss in front of the two main plants; how’s that for depth?

Yes.  I am getting above myself, but dammit, I really planned this shot.  I worked on it.  I worked it.  I improved it.  It’s deliberate.  Isn’t that what I’ve been reciting to myself over and over like a mantra?  Be deliberate.  Make choices.  Slow down.  Plan.

I even think it might be working.

So that’s the story of a single shot.  If anyone ever says to me again that my camera takes good picture I’m going to hit them with it.

Oh, and I suppose you still want to know what this impostor cabbage is.  I suspect it to be False hellebore.  A kind of poisonous lily.  But I won’t know until it blooms or the leaves fully unfurl.  And I have plans for when that happens.