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Vernal pools part 3

On this trip to the pools I played with my polarizer a bit to get different looks at the same scene.

I’ve always found the polarizer an important bit of gear for most of my photography. It has an effect that can’t be duplicated with post processing software and with a little practice and experience, you can produce big changes.

Overhead and under water

And with a little twist we get this –

Pause for the effect

Isn’t that great? Not only can we see down into the giant cup of tea that is a vernal pool, but those rocks just pop out. I really like both images and I hope this pool stays wet. It hasn’t rained in a while (unusual here in northern Wisconsin) so who knows, but I think the area in the back of the image does stay full to some extent. There is a lot of peat moss back there in addition to the grass, so I think it does.

Here’s a view I quite like of the other pool I’m keeping an eye on.

So to the woods

The downed trees are so great. I imagine turtles basking in the sun, but I doubt it. Vernal pools don’t host those guys year round. Painted turtles need permanent bodies of water, like the Wisconsin and other lakes, ponds and flowages.

When I was there the ferns had just come up and by now must be unfurling. I’ll have to get back over!

Spring in your backyard

Wisconsin winters certainly seem longer and bleaker than NH winters. When things turn it seems so slowly that I think I know for the first time what spring fever is. Being cooped up with hardly any color or seeming life around can get on me a little even though I do enjoy winter quite a bit. Spring though. There’s nothing like it. And of course the flowers.

Round-lobed hepatica starts us off!

Breathless exchange

These are both shots from the yard. I used to have to drive 45 minutes to find these little lovelies, but not I just walk outside. They’re everywhere, but I love them still and marvel at their proliferation and toughness.

Clarity of purpose

Sometimes the choice to go to black and white isn’t obvious. With this next picture I was playing with a moonlight simulation in Lightroom for a while, but it kept getting paler and paler until I finally knocked all the color back. I like the mix of detail and blur, the solidity of the stems and the muted exuberance of the flowers themselves.

We wouldn’t dare impose

Bloodroot is another flower I used to travel all over to find and now just have to step outside to see. My yard and the surrounding area is covered with them. They’re hard to shoot, but I keep trying. Those leaves are just so wonderful that when the light catches them just right, they become the focus, not the about to bloom flower.

A season anew

Of course, finding wonder and joy in my own backyard isn’t new. I used to do it in New Hampshire all the time even though my yard was much smaller. Curiosity is the key to staying engaged in photography even though your horizons may be limited, either by the weather, time, physical ability or whatever. As long as you can keep your sense of wonder intact, subjects for your sensor will keep appearing and, more importantly, keep appealing.

We get a lot of rain up this way and so when I found some collected between the leaves of as of yet still unknown flower, I got right down on it and just look at what I found –

Not beneath notice

A reflection of the trees above and yes, my camera. It was fascinating to me and I’m glad I slowed down to explore my yard in more detail. I ducked out of the frame and so now it looks like some alien probe from Star Wars checking out what’s down there.

So that’s my first wildflower post of 2017. There will be more. As of this writing I’ve found a spot that was literally carpeted in spring ephemerals and I shot some flowers I’ve never photographed before. I’m also planning a trip to Door County in June to visit a wildflower preserve so that should be really fun. Stay tuned!

Vernal pools part 2

After discovering that the woods across the street hosts many vernal pools, I decided to explore further to see if I could find a couple that I could work with over the course of the weeks or months they stay full. So far I found two, possibly three that will work. And boy are they popular. Lots of deer scat and frog song.

Richness

I need to wear some tall boots to get into these properly and explore what looks like a tiny sedge meadow in the back of that first picture.

Subtle splendor

Things are moving slowly this spring, but at least the snow has melted. I have a feeling the view in the shot above will be something I return to as the pond develops. Even though I have no exact plan for how I want to shoot these, I want to try to show them in all their messy glory. This includes some unusual views –

Aftershock

And smaller slices. I love the way the sun lights up these tufts of grass. I forgot my medium telephoto zoom so shot this with the legacy Olympus macro lens. It works just as well out of macro mode.

Inner workings

No ferns were up yet when I shot these (April 19), but I’ve been back over since and they are up now. Cinnamon fern for sure and possibly Royal fern, but it’s too early to tell. Also I didn’t notice any egg masses, but I’m sure there will be some soon when the critters start getting serious.

 

 

Picture me in spring – Vernal pools part 1

I have long had a love of vernal pools. Almost every time I see or hear one near a trail I go to take a look. They come in many shapes and sizes, and not all will last through the season, but all are important to wildlife during breeding season. Especially invertebrates and amphibians. How wonderful is the sound of a poolful of spring peepers? It’s one of the best parts of spring.

What is a vernal pool? It is a temporary body of water often created by melt and rain water in spring. Sometimes they are called ephemeral ponds. Naturally occurring depressions collect this water but, the important part is that they don’t last. Eventually they dry up.

Some pools are large and run together eventually forming small streams at times. Some are tiny and fleeting –

But they are notoriously hard to photograph. I mean, basically they’re just big puddles with leaves at the bottom and plants hemming them in on all sides. They form in dense woods which can be rather flat which doesn’t get you much perspective. For that first shot I stood on a little hillock to get a tiny bit of elevation which works ok I think. The second was shot from my driveway which is a foot or so above the tiny pool, beside which grow ferns including my beloved maidenhair.

Ferns will be a big part of the landscape so I’ve given some thought to them in terms of the kinds of images I want to make. Reflections. Moss. Logs. Grass. All can be part of what makes a vernal pool vital. Discovering more about them is sure to bring me some surprises.

All of these photos were taken across the street from my house in a bunch of vacant land so it will be easy for me to visit often and document changes. That is the main reason I want to try my hand at this; ease of access. I dread bug season, but I will brave it for the sake of giving it a go. As a matter of fact, as I write this I already have a second visit done and I think I’ve found a couple of pools that will last long enough to show their cycles. I hope I can show how special and interesting these little habitats are. It certainly feels challenging and hopefully my creative spark ignites and I can break out of my rut a little bit.

In praise of the subtle landscape

In the world of HDR and the over-saturation of not just images themselves, but of pictures in general, it can be hard to appreciate the subtle landscape.

With this set I also want to talk about taking advantage of the moment and how very small things can make a big difference. For me it means slowing down and photographing conditions immediately – don’t wait! The very thing that draws you to a scene, makes it interesting and compelling may disappear at any moment! Catch it while you can.

This first scene is one that captures my attention every time I pass by. It is a small marsh made by industrious beavers and though I’m not sure any still live in it, there are ducks, herons and other wildlife that take advantage. The dam, though breached, is still in place and is pretty tall so I got on top of it for this shot, but I almost didn’t. I had another goal in mind for the day and thought that I’d snag this shot on the way back to the car. Then it occurred to me that the snow wouldn’t last and it’s the snow that makes this picture work. It gives it depth, texture and much-needed contrast. Otherwise it’s pretty blah.

I would not sign my heart away

Same with my favorite aspen grove. When I came back through there was nothing but mud and that wouldn’t have worked in color (what little there was) never mind black and white. One thing I think you really need in a mono image is pure black and pure white, not just gray.

A stranger returns

As I said at the beginning, I had a specific goal in mind for the day and sometimes I get rather fixated on that to the point that I can’t see much else. That goal was this brook in winter and you know how I love a good brook in winter. But alas, it isn’t as easy to work with or as photogenic as Ripley Creek and I ended up with one image that I thought was decent enough to process. So in hindsight, those first two shots, the marsh and the aspen grove,  ended up being the most successful landscapes of the day.

Lens cap eating brook

Oh and check out the name of that shot there. Here’s a tip – don’t put your lens cap in the same pocket with other gear you need. I ended up tangling my lens cap in my remote shutter cord and plop! Into the water it went. And because it’s so darn tannic, I lost sight of it almost immediately. I dashed downstream a bit, hoping I was on solid ground and not just ice, knelt and leaned over the water hoping for another glimpse of it. No dice. I looked and looked then decided that I should go to a spot where it was really shallow. As luck would have it, I found it hung up on a rock just breaking the surface. Snag! Oh sure, it’s just a cheap item, but damn I hate losing stuff on account of my own carelessness. Back into a pocket by itself. Lesson learned.

Ok, more subtle landscapes!

When it snowed in early April I got my butt in gear and got out into the woods because it was incredibly beautiful and because I was feeling a bit of photographer’s guilt for having ignored this beauty earlier in the season. It was time to just be outside and appreciate the scenery for all its subtle glory. The snow on the limbs, the scrim of it on the ground and the contrast with the tree trunks and the vernal pools – there had to be some good pictures in there somewhere!

Winter’s ghost

Using trees for anchors, I walked around and around looking at different compositions. When the sun broke through, it provided just that little bit of light that pulls your eye into an image if it also has balance and a pathway for your eyes. The scene below I’ve shot before in similar conditions, but it’s so inviting that I had to do it again. The break in the trees at the back of the image is easily arrived at by the closer ones to the side keeping your eyes in frame, and also the rock that fixes your attention.

The sun comes down

As I walked into the scene I wanted to use that rock again, but this time as an anchor. With landscapes like this, I think you have to pay particular attention to composition and framing. Color and bold forms can sometimes be overwhelming in a picture that otherwise might not have strong compositional elements. Our brains light up so much for loud colors and bright light that it can make a weak image strong. Not so with the subtle landscape and I find working with them makes me more methodical and less overwhelmed. I make better decisions and come up with better images for having taken my time and used my head.

That doesn’t end when I get them into Lightroom. Showing restraint with the sliders keeps the image from being too intense, too different from what I experienced. Especially when the light is so delicate. Be cautious and adopt Coco Chanel’s fashion advice, but with your processing. She said that before you leave the house, look in the mirror and remove one accessory. I keep this in mind and just when I think the image is done, I take a look at before and after to make sure I haven’t taken things too far. If I have, I remove one thing.

No need for disquiet

Compare these shots with this one taken with my phone while out skiing –

It’s obvious why I stopped and took it. That sky, those trees, the perfection of the day – they all worked on me to amp up my joy of being outdoors. But technically the photo is pretty lousy. If not for the sky, would you have looked? Would you have stopped?