Archive for June, 2014

Elusive Wildflowers – Part 10 – Garden Loosestrife

Another one that’s not elusive in the sense that it’s rare, but that I’ve never encountered it before. This post combines my love of wildflowers and my yard macro thing from the last post. I spotted these guys in an overgrown garden that’s being reclaimed by weeds. Sigh. Laziness. That’s why I can’t have anything nice. But hell, I do have wildflowers so I don’t really care. Both images are done with the OM 90mm macro. Like you couldn’t guess.

One Last Kiss

Ghosts of the Future

I didn’t intend to convert to B&W when I shot the second one, but when I got it into Lightroom, the color saturation was so off the charts that I thought it detracted from what I wanted to do with the image; namely to show the structure of the plant. The color shot I deliberately isolated that one blossom and leaf to hide the structure of the plant. If you didn’t know it was loosestrife, or didn’t know how a loosestrife plant was put together, that shot wouldn’t really help you. The second one (shot at f11) does that, but the extreme yellow and green made you forget about how symmetrical and lovely the arrangement of leaves and flowers is, so I deleted it. Then I cranked the green slider a ways to further emphasize the tonal range.

My approach to shooting wildflowers is to try for something that might be different from how other people have taken photos of the same subject. I mean, how many shots of pink lady slippers does the world need? Whenever I shoot them I try for different angles or to find a specimen that has something unique about it. If I don’t have an idea of how others shot the plant, I try for what strikes me about it at the time. As I studied these little wonders, I was struck by the symmetrical arrangement of the flowers on the leaves, and the graceful counterparts they make. So that’s what I tried to highlight. Hope you liked my “fine art” treatment of a backyard weed.

 


There’s this thing I do

that I call ‘Yard Macros’.

It’s when I go into the yard for some camera therapy.

I live in the ‘burbs. On a tiny plot of sand. I suck at gardening. As much as I’d like a nicely landscaped yard, I don’t (once I attempted it, but it didn’t take). I can’t stand yard work or gardening and so we basically have wildly overgrown plants, hardly any of which came from a green house. Most are what you’d call weeds.

Yeah, I said it. Weeds.

And this year is the worst year yet. I haven’t mowed. My husband had surgery to repair a torn pectoral, so neither has he.

Yep. Mid-June and narry a Honda has graced the lawn.

Lawn. That’s nice. Call it that if you want. I prefer pasture. Or meadow.

So back to that thing I do. Sometimes I go into the yard and shoot what is there. Often it’s something pretty small because any kind of landscape will have a neighbor’s house in it. No matter what direction I face there’s a house. So small scale it is, but darn, there’s sometimes wonders down there, out of sight but within view.

Who’s that girl?

American Copper

Peck’s Skipper

There will be joy

Not a drop to drink

Sheep sorrel abstract

Sheep sorrel

Door frog

American Speedwell

Mouse-ear hawkweed

I would have added some mushrooms, but someone eated them.


Kayaking season

Woo hoo!

I can’t believe I waited so long to buy a kayak. Seriously, I love it. On quiet water is such a wonderful place to be. I seek out less frequented ponds, lakes and rivers. Avoiding powerboats as much as possible. I like to slip into side channels or very shallow spots and await what might come. The other day while paddling the Nashua river, I found such a spot. So shallow that it was less than a paddle blade deep. I got hung up on a few branches, but other than that it was fine and what to my wondering eyes should appear? A green heron! My photos are pretty terrible because it was hiding among some tree roots and my lens isn’t long enough to isolate it even though I was only 20 feet away. Still, I’d never seen one before and it was amazing. I just couldn’t tear my eyes away.

Eventually though, it moved on and so did I. Other birds were less shy.

On guard

An hour before I took this picture, I paddled by the inlet and out it came. Charging like mad. Flying just barely above the water, making sure I wouldn’t come closer. I took the hint and paddled away from him and his mate whom he was presumably defending. I didn’t see her. Eventually I had to go by him again to get back to the main channel and there he sat, giving me the stink eye. Drifting with the slight current, I got as close as I dared for a portrait and then meekly paddled away, hoping he wouldn’t charge me again. He didn’t.

Not much else was stirring although there are tons of birds on this stretch of the Nashua. Swans, herons of blue and green, osprey, ducks and red-winged blackbirds. I even noticed a cormorant. I really need a longer lens. But I can always shoot landscapes.

Heading home

Next up is another slow-moving river, the Powwow in Kingston, NH. I’ve paddled it before, but wanted to see if I could get further along than last year when I was stymied by lots of plant growth. There was a lot this year, too, but I still made it all the way to the other lake. Didn’t paddle there though because of wind and powerboats. Drifted back on the current, barely even steering.

Safer waters

Same side pocket, facing the other way –

Alone in a crowded room

And back in the main channel where the very end of a big tree still pokes above the waterline –

Tiny island

Oh and wait. I forgot my very first outing this year, when I tried to find one pond and ended up in another because I just couldn’t figure out where the first one is. I should have parked and walked down a forest road to be sure, but I was impatient and headed to Mountain Brook Reservoir in Jaffrey, NH. It was quite windy so made for some great texture on the water surface.

Mountain Brook Reservoir

What is it with the wind? I paddled into it on the way out and into it again on the way back?!! Grrr. I was tired and sore since it was my first outing, but when I got back to the put in, I met up with some buds and hung out for a while.

Tiny Hunter

Isn’t it cool? Well sure, my technique needs improvement, but newts are too irresistible not to try. They were in the very edges of the pond where it’s warmest and there’s a lot of light. It was fascinating to watch them hunt among the leaves and other detritus. Fierce little guys they are, too. I used my new(ish) 35-100mm f2.8 lens with the polarizer (a nice B&W model, so much better than my old one). Focusing is sometimes iffy, but mostly I need to practice more. It’s close focus distance isn’t what I’d like it to be, but it was the right tool for the job.

So that’s a wrap. My first 3 outings in the boat. There will be more to come, that’s for sure. Click the tag word kayaking below to find last year’s posts.

 


Pulpit Falls and the great light race

In the last couple of posts I talked about learning a hard lesson about light. That is not to fight it, but to work with it to make the best of my time and my photographs. Letting go of that perfect image you have in your head is hard. We go out trying to get “the shot” and when we can’t, how do we react? As photographers, we’re always looking for the best light, but sometimes Mother Nature has other plans. It’s always a gamble whether or not the conditions you want will prevail. So what’s a person to do if the light you want turns into the light you don’t? Well, you can pack up and go home. Yeah, that’s an option if you’re a quitter. If you traveled far to get to your location, making the most of your time is probably the best bet. You can put the camera away and just soak up the atmosphere; enjoying the place for itself, not for how you can shoot it. Another choice is to stay and find something interesting to put your camera in front of. Maybe it’s not “the shot”, but who knows what you’ll find. Something that works with the light Mother Nature has decided to give you. That’s usually the one I go for, hoping to find something interesting and worth shooting.

This was what happened to me the other day when the forecast called for chance of rain and overcast skies. I decided to head to Pulpit Falls again and see if I could get to the other side to get a different set of photographs. It’s about 90 minutes for me to drive there, so it was a gamble and as I drove the skies got bluer and brighter by the mile. Cursing, I kept going, finally arriving with some clouds still lurking and some on the horizon, but it was turning into a nice day. Not the greatest conditions for waterfall photography. I decided to try anyway and see if more clouds moved in later like they had the day before. Instead I got this –

Pulpit Falls - nice but where do you look?

Pulpit Falls – nice but where do you look?

Dappled sunlight in the woods is something I really love and try to work with, but damn this is awful. Where the heck to you put your eyes? There’s no flow, no cohesion. Too much contrast. The light is harsh and it’s just a mess. Plus look what a hard time the white balance is having. The water is blue! It wasn’t mouthwash! I’d have to remove it in post if I were going to use this image. Blue water in these kind of shots is a giant pet peeve for me. I hate it.

So I gave that up. I wandered away from the falls to explore the undergrowth and see what small things I could find. Mushrooms were coming up here and there. Violets, starflower and fringed polygala were blooming. I found a huge dead bug. While I was sitting and looking for microscapes, a newt wandered by. S’up? Then I saw some indian cucumber and spent some time shooting them, ending up with this little beauty –

Unbroken Solitude

It took me a while to find the right angle (luckily it was on a little slope and I could get below it) then wait for the breeze to calm. Finally it did. I hadn’t planned on a monochrome conversion when I shot it, but when I got it into Lightroom it was the obvious choice. That image alone would have been worth the trip (even though there’s indian cucumber 10 minutes from my house, oh the irony). Then I noticed a drop of water on my flip-out LCD screen. Then another. And another. I just about snapped my head off looking up.

Clouds!

Good thing I didn’t go far. I practically RAN back to the falls. Having scoped it out before, I set up and damn did I shoot in a hurry. It was mental. The cloud was small. And moving. Crap, crap, crap!!!

Good thing I get a lot of practice doing this. The light lasted about 8 minutes. Seriously.

Pulpit Falls – aaahhh, now that’s better.

The scramble paid off. At least I think it did. It’s the shot I had in my head and for those 8 minutes, I had my chance.

But darn, one you start working some falls, it’s hard to stop. I got the notion that maybe I could make the dappled sunlight work. But how? I moved closer and like the last time I shot these falls, I found some ferns to put in the foreground.

Dramatis Personae

What do you think? Too much? Does it suffer from the same issues as the first shot, the wider one? I don’t think so. I think it works, but I’m biased. I like the way the light picks out the texture in the walls. My eyes don’t seem to ping all over the shot like they do in the other one. My eyes move through the photo slowly and while there is a lot of tonal range in the blacks and whites, it doesn’t jar my sensibilities. Again, I might be biased, but at least the water isn’t blue.

Oh and before I go further, here’s a fun story about the falls and my trips to photograph them. Jeff Newcomer is a fellow NH-based nature photographer. I follow his blog and his flickr feed and we’ve traded some comments back and forth over the years. One of his posts inspired me to try to find these falls in the first place. Between his goof the first time around, some additional search information, Google maps and just plain luck, I found it last year. I got a gorgeous shot of the water upstream, but didn’t have a really great shot of the falls as a whole. So I went back a few weeks ago.

As I got down to the brook I noticed a person off to my left with a big tripod and a dog. Not such an unusual thing. I’ve run into other photographers in the woods before. Strange to find one here, though, at such an obscure location. No worries. I head over the the top of the falls to scope out the situation. A minute later and there’s a snuffling at my feet. The dog. I don’t mind dogs and she was very well-behaved. Oh and here comes the photographer. We start talking and lo and behold it’s Jeff Newcomer. He’s equally astonished that he met me as well since he used my last Pulpit Falls blog post to orient himself to find it. What a riot!

I  never did shoot the falls that day, but explored upstream a bit with Jeff and Nellie. From atop a big granite ledge I spied even more falls, but we couldn’t get to them. We even drove around looking for another road in since we could see the makings of a campfire and a bridge across the stream further up. Maddening! But it will make for a future adventure for us to do together. Some day when it’s really good and overcast and Mother Nature doesn’t line up one thing only to go ‘surprise!’ and give us sun instead.

Cool story though huh? What were the odds? Oh and if you want to see yours truly, check out Jeff’s post. And this one where we headed to the Fox State Forest, one of my favorite places.

So back to the falls. I got closer still, looking to isolate that first drop. Again, I hadn’t planned on converting to black and white, but when I started processing, it seemed the right choice.

Hand of Time

The dappled sunlight isn’t as obvious with this one, but it’s there and I think it heightens the drama of the shot. Also, a wide tonal range is really critical in black and white. You have to have black and white, not just gray. Would it have worked on an overcast day? Sure, but this has more punch I think. Am I suffering from wishful thinking? I hope not.

I salvaged what I feared might be a wasted trip. By being flexible and open-minded, I made the most of my time and when the right light came along for a few minutes, I was able to take advantage of it. Too many times I’ve been disappointed and frustrated with what I can’t control during a shoot. The light. Sure, I can choose days and times of day when it’s likely to be perfect, but if it’s not, I like to think I have the artistic resilience to make the most of what I have to work with. To see beyond the image in my head to the image in front of me. For me it’s a skill hard won through tough lessons and ruined photos (not to mention vacations!).

So what are your heartbreaking light disasters? Did you pick up and go home, or did you persevere and make something great anyway?