Archive for May, 2012

Elusive Wildflowers Part 4 – Indian Cucumber Root

This little wonder hides in plain sight.  For years I’ve been marching past stands of them, ignoring them as just part of the undergrowth.  This year though I looked closer and wondered what they were.  Then the other day I noticed they made the most delicately strange little flowers under those leaves.  I wasn’t prepared to shoot that day, but knew I’d look for them again and go for it.  Yesterday was relatively still wind-wise (rejoice!!!) and so when I found some by the Merrimack river, I got one shot that I like.  And a bonus spider that I only noticed in post.

They stand on tall stalks with two levels of leaves that all grow from the same spot and look a bit like umbrellas with missing sections.  The flower buds start on top of the leaves, facing up, but when they bloom they turn downwards into a nodding position.  The blooms themselves are about 2cm wide including those enormous…stamens?  Looking at them you could guess that they are part of the lily family, but would still be puzzled at why they’re called Indian cucumber root.  It’s for the taste apparently.  Indians did use them for food and I guess Europeans thought they tasted like cucumbers.  I’m tempted to dig some up after they’re done blooming and taste for myself.


Luna Waxing

Yesterday on the return leg of a hike up some small mountains in southern NH, I spied this beauty on a striped maple.  It’s a rare and wondrous luna moth and the backlight was a bonus.  Judging by the bushy and feathery antennae, it’s probably a male.  It had newly emerged from the cocoon and was at its most vulnerable stage; pumping up those glorious wings.  It was so fuzzy that I wanted to touch it, but didn’t.  Just look at those purple legs!  Tremendous.  I felt so privileged to have found and photographed him.

Luna waxing

I was so excited because it’s only the 2nd one I’ve ever seen.  A bit of research turned up the usual fact of human poisoning of the world and they are now an endangered species in my state as a result.  Hopefully our last-minute conservation efforts can bring them back from the brink.

Another thing I learned is that they are only found in the eastern half of North America and, depending on the latitude, have one to three broods each year. In the north, the first brood is in May while in the south it is in March.  Each brood is marked by a change in color to the upper and lower borders of the wings.  First broods usually being pink or lilac, second and third more orange or yellow.  The southern specimens are smaller than the northern whose wingspans can reach 4 1/2 inches. They only fly at night.

One of the more puzzling and intriguing things about them is they seem to exist primarily for their larvae stage, since the adults only live about a week and have no mouths and thus cannot eat.  I wondered for a while just where this beauty came from since it’s early in the season and since it’s obvious the adults could not possibly have over-wintered or migrated anywhere. The cocooned caterpillar did the overwintering. If it pupates too close to winter it waits until spring to emerge where it will eat and eat and eat, eventually going through 5 separate instar stages before the final transformation into the stunning adult.

Nature always surprises and enchants me, but somehow this also made me sad, thinking of those mysterious night fliers, doomed to their short lives.  It shouldn’t, but it does.

Don’t Panic

For the last few days I’ve been grounded with the car in the shop for new brakes and some other fiddly bits.   So I went into the yard with the 90mm macro, a 25mm extension tube and a ring flash.  What do you know, abstract macro.

Total Perspective Vortex

Magrathea artifacts

Ravenous bugblatter beast

And if you know where your towel is you’ll easily figure out why the titles are what they are.  See you at Milliways!  PGGBs are on me.

Tools of the Task

Lots of people have done a ‘what’s in my camera bag’ type post and have dragged every last bit of kit out of each and every nook and cranny of their bags.  Kind of interesting, but out of all that stuff I’d like to know what a person really uses to create her images.  I have all the emergency and mundane stuff as any photographer does, but I don’t use those things all the time.  Like extra memory cards and lens cloths.  You need them, but they’re not part of your process per se.  So here’s a shot of what I actually use most to do what I do.

Stuff I actually use

Starting at the top left with the tripod.  It’s a travel model because I don’t want to lug my gigantic Bogen all over the woods on a regular basis.  I bring that one if I need its weight or reach, but for woodland landscapes, close ups and some waterfall shots, this little Slik works just fine.  I used to not bother much with tripods, but have come to realize it’s my sharpest lens.

Next is My Precious.  Every time I leave the 90mm home, I end up wanting it.  Like the other day I went out with the 135mm instead, just to be different, and of course I came across something I’d like to have shot very close up and my regular lens wasn’t up to task.  I was SOL.  Sure, the 90 is heavy, but it’s worth lugging.  I loves it.

Duh, yeah, I use a camera.  I wasn’t going to put it in the shot, but decided to because of the LCD screen. I use it all the time.  It tilts, it swivels, it works like a waist-level finder and is almost the only way to shoot with my old lenses, especially for close-up work.  Any future camera must have this feature.  Seriously.  And the lens on there is what I shoot with most of the time – the ZD 12-60mm f2.8-4.  It has just the range I need for the type of photography I do.  It goes very wide to a normal angle of view and focuses very close.  It’s wicked sharp, quick focusing and fairly bright.  I’m pretty spoiled by it.

Remote shutter release.  I don’t use it all the time, but when I have to time the shutter precisely, I do.  If there’s no wind or I’m not worried about it interfering with the shot, I often use the 2 second shutter delay feature and that works pretty well.  Of course if I forget to take it off and am handholding it’s irritating, but on a steady surface I like it.  When it’s windy though, those 2 seconds can change everything and that’s when using the shutter release is the best solution.

Neck knife.  Sometimes you have to cut stuff to clean up a scene.  A branch, a frond, whatever.  I usually have this little blade handy for such tasks.  And, let’s face it, a woman alone is not the safest thing in the world and if anyone gets up in my face they’re in for a surprise.  Not that my spidey-sense has ever tingled, but having some protection is always a good idea.

Filters.  Basically just two – a polarizer and a neutral density.  I have a set of graduated NDs, but I don’t use them often.  Just for sunsets and rises mostly.  The polarizer is great for bringing up the color in leaves, getting rid of glare on water and smartening up reflections when those are the star of the show.  The ND is how you get those long exposures during the day.  It’s like sunglasses for your camera.  When doing waterfalls or flowing water shots, I use both.

Beanbag. My camera lives on the ground and I wasn’t going to shell out a lot of money to give it something to rest on.  Why do that when you can go to the grocery store, spend a buck on some barley, lentils or rice and put them into a ziplock?  Instant beanbag.  Any shot of mine you see that’s wicked low to the ground was taken with this.

Bug spray.  Either this or the stuff like it in a tube it.  It’s from 3M and has a wagonload of DEET which is the only thing worth a damn in bug spray.  The higher the percentage, the better.  The nice thing about the spray is that it works on clothing and doesn’t smell too bad.  I put it on and it’s like an anti-bug force field.  Of course I don’t need it in the winter, but April through October, it’s a MUST in New England.

Anyway, that’s what I use for most of my work and what I usually have with me when I’m out.  Anyone have a similar kit?  What stuff could you not live without?

Waterfalls and Wildflowers

Crazy, huh?  Spring is so…springy.  The two Ws are just irresistible – wildflowers and waterfalls. I’ve shot these particular falls before, but after a big storm knocked branches and whole trees down so the cascades were a mess.  When I saw fellow photographer Jeff Newcomer’s recent post about Garwin falls, I saw they were clear and that I’d have to copy his composition.  I didn’t copy his processing though; sepia is something I don’t often do, but this time it seemed a great choice.  There was color in the shot, but not like the side view and so I processed it differently.  Ditto with the long view.  I wanted to see if I could warm it up some and still make it believable.  If I were presenting these as a set, I’d process them all the same, but since I’m not I didn’t.  These are my rules, I make ’em up.  : )

Rampaging Somewhere

This is the part of the falls you can’t see in the shot up there.  It’s behind the ledge on the left.  The brook sort of curves around it,  making it damn hard to photograph.  I brought my knee-high muck boots and got in the water just once since it was deeper and faster than I remembered.

Separate Lives

Wending Down

And now for the wildflowers part of our show.  First up, painted trillium.  I’ve shot them before, but just look at ’em.  Could you resist?  Just before I put this shot together I made a couple images in a standard sort of way and liked them well enough, but thought they were kinda repetitive.  So I took the camera off the tripod and set it on a nearby stump and lo, this composition came together.  I just love the intimacy of it and those drops off the leaves are such a bonus.  Ah the forest after rain.

A Grand Gesture

Look what else is blooming – wild geranium!  There were scads of it nearer the coast in a couple of spots and even though it was hanging out with tons of poison ivy, I had to try for some images.  The one I had in my catalog was sheer crap so I braved the ivy and got one that doesn’t suck.

These are challenging to shoot in a couple ways.  First is that like a lot of other flowers, the least little breeze makes them wave around like they’re doing some mad dance.  Waiting for the lull is the worst part of shooting them.  I swear that poison ivy was inching toward me angling for a pounce.  The second thing is getting the color right.  Try as I might, I couldn’t quite get it right in camera with a white balance setting.  They were too blue or too orange.  So I set it close and then processed by memory.  These next ones had a similar problem although they are a different shade of pink.  I’d never seen them before and found out that they’re an introduced species from Europe.  Pretty little things though.  They were in a river flood plain and I took a zillion shots to get one that worked.  Oh that wind!  It conspires against me.  LOL.

Ragged Robin (what a strange name for a flower)

Anyway, that’s it for now.  I have a few more flower shots, but I haven’t processed them yet so they’ll have to hang fire for a bit.  Hope you all can get out and enjoy the bounty of spring, too.

Wildflower Roundup

As these are pretty common flowers (apart from the columbine, which I shot a few weeks ago) I’m not including them in the elusive category.  Popular and ubiquitous or not though, I can’t resist them.

Mithra’s Blessing

Jack in the Pulpit


Ground Ivy

Water snake


How did that last one get in there??


Singing of Swamps and Waterfalls

Before I head out today in quest for more wildflowers, I’ll share a couple more favorite spots.  First is Senter Falls on Cold Brook. Why the heck they’re called that, I don’t know.  I suspect my friend Mike made it up.  It’s a relatively popular location for local photographers and I’ve shot it several times.  Still, the lure is powerful since it’s such an easy place to get to.  Here is a “new” view and a “classic” view for you.

For this one I set the camera on my bag of barley that was on a rock a couple inches above the water while I stood in some myself.  Yay for goretex, but I think I need some waders or something this year.  Anyway, this is below the main falls and I’ve shot it before with much less water in the brook and more rock exposed.  I love how the seasons change the image possibilities which is another reason to keep going there.

Cascade dances

This is the main part of the falls and I think there are permanent tripod marks where I shot this.  : )

For all you’re worth

Moving on to another favorite spot, the Atlantic white cedar swamp in Manchester.  So easy to get to and such a vital habitat not only for these rare trees, but for certain butterflies that only live where they grow.  Even though the ferns aren’t as fully developed as I usually like, I couldn’t resist getting a shot in the afternoon light.

I dream in green

Just look at that skunk cabbage!

The Mighty Piscataquog

The Piscataquog is my favorite river.  I know, weird, huh?  It’s an important waterway not only for people, but for many animals and plants that thrive in the ancient glacial habitats along its course. It has 3 branches (north, middle and south), runs for 57 miles with little interruption and its name translates from a local Indian dialect as The Great Deer Place or The Place for Many Deer.

Over the last couple hundred years, many local towns have sprung up on its banks using its regular and forceful flow to power mills, one of which is said to have been the very first shoe factory in the United States.   Only remnants remain and much of the land around the 3 branches is officially protected. Each branch has unique geological features which I’m exploring as a project of sorts.

This is the only gorge so far as I can tell and unfortunately most of it is covered in no trespassing signs so I didn’t explore where it was prohibited.  I hope someday easements can be granted to allow hikers and of course, photographers.  : )  It is on the south branch and is on the border of two towns – Lyndeborough and New Boston.

Under High Bridge

The bridge in this shot used to connect the two ends of High Bridge road, but is now unsafe as the decking has rotted and there are many holes and the iron supports have rusted to lace in some spots. When a horse put its foot through in the mid 1990s, the bridge closed and has remained so. There is a project underway to raise funds for its restoration, but they have a long way to go.  Further downstream is another set of gentle falls as well –

South Falls

Over the coming months I hope to continue to explore different branches of the Piscataquog.  I already have a few scouted and am waiting for some ferns to grow in, etc.  There are some flood areas called eskers I want to try to locate as well, so hopefully you will like what’s to come as I explore.

The Sweet Spot

Because the forecast called for overcast skies with a minimal chance of rain, I decided to take a ride over to one of my favorite little conservation areas to see if the brook was flowing and if there might be any wildflowers about.  Pulpit Rock is about 20 minutes away and, while small, gave me 6 hours of solitude and connection with nature.  It’s not as remote as I usually get, but that’s part of the appeal.  If I don’t feel like driving forever, it’s a terrific option.

This time I “found” a trail I hadn’t noticed before.  I’d been almost right on it, but somehow missed the markers.  Yesterday was my lucky day.  I got to a vantage point that I’d wished for before.  The other side of these falls is the only way I’d approached them and the angle is all wrong.  This is the way to see them –

My eternal gratitude

I was worried the sun might have been too high for this shot, but I was able to manage the highlights and retain detail in the shadows, which I think add some depth and drama to this shot.  And just look at those trees!!  Yellow birch I’m pretty sure.  I love how the trunk to the far right looks like it is flexing its muscles.  I ventured as close to the slippery, sloping side of the rock ledge I was on to frame them around the waterfall itself.  It was loud, yet relaxing and very rewarding to photograph it since I’d never seen it this way before.

So downstream I went.  I passed the small waterfall where I shot my most viewed photograph and tried recreating it, but I’m not sure I like the result so I kept going.  The brook wends its way through gorges and crevasses, sometimes flattening out and meandering wildly off its original course which has left its mark on enormous boulders and ledges.

Hello Again

For all the shots I used a tripod, a 4/5 stop neutral density filter and a polarizer.  I fiddled with that last one quite a bit to get just a slight reflection on the water so it wouldn’t blend with the banks so much, and to manage the reflection on the greenery.  Shooting in the woods after the rain makes the colors pop all by itself so sometimes too much polarizer makes everything kind of flat in terms of intensity.  So as part of my post processing work I turned up the luminance in the green channel just a bit.  It made that moss really pop which I think frames the water well and gives the image more depth and vigor.

Finding a higher vantage point for a view that isn’t blocked by trees is tough here.  As you can see, there’s a lot of growth, but I found a nice boulder to work from.  There’s actually a biggish tree just out of frame to the right, almost right up against the camera itself.  I had to hold one of its branches out of the way for this shot, but I think it was worth the effort.  The way the brook snakes away out of sight in the trees is pretty great.

The Course of Life

Another thing I did on this shoot was to set the camera to ISO 100 which is something I don’t do often since it doesn’t make much difference to image quality.  I did this time because even though I was using a neutral density filter and a polarizer, I wanted to be sure I could get longish exposures – 3 to 8 seconds or so.  A lot of people would simply stop their lenses down further, but I find that at extremely small apertures most lenses lose their clarity a bit.  Staying within the sweet spot on any lens will improve your overall sharpness and I don’t think I stopped down any further than 18 all day and mostly stayed between f7 and 16, which is my lens’s sweet spot for sure.

For more tips on how to use long exposure to make smooth, silky, smokey water, check out this post – Smoke on the Water.

Oh and as far as wildflowers go, I didn’t find many blooming, but I did find some bluebeard lily (aka clintonia) that will bloom in the next few weeks.  You can spot it in the last shot there if you know what to look for.  So…I shall return!