On the same trip that I visited Carlsbad Caverns, I also went to White Sands which in the grand scheme of things is nearby. If you’re going to one it makes sense to go to the other and since they’re such wild opposites, it’s a really interesting contrast. From deep underground where you pupils are dilated to their max and then to blinding sand where your darkest sunglasses are barely adequate. It’s great.
Over the years I’ve seen some amazing photography coming out of this area. Stark and otherworldly and so I had it in my head to replicate or try to replicate those images. I wasn’t prepared for how popular the park is despite being in the middle of nowhere (and next to a missile testing area). The place was CRAWLING with people. Mostly what they do is walk up the dunes and sled down them. Footprints everywhere. Very much NOT what I needed as a photographer.
So I got sneaky. Basically there is an out and back loop road that brings you to different sections of the dunes, some with or without picnic areas and/or comfort stations. Big parking lots. One of which was chained off so you couldn’t drive down it. But you could walk. It didn’t have a sign saying that was forbidden, so that’s what I did. It was the perfect solution and I couldn’t believe there wasn’t any monkey-see-monkey-do business that followed. Nope. My solitude (relatively speaking) sustained.
It was easy to get overawed by the immensity of the vistas. It’s a little overwhelming and sometimes challenging to put together a compelling and balanced landscape, but I slowed down and really tried to look and experiment.
One thing to remember if you visit is that you would shoot this desert like you would a snow scene – overexpose by a stop or so, that way you preserve the whiteness of the sand. And it really is white. Not really like snow since it doesn’t sparkle or reflect light the same way or take on the color of the sky so it can be a little more stark than a snow landscape.
Going to black and white seems like it would be perfect, but I didn’t do a lot of it. Mostly because there isn’t a lot of absolute black or white in the scenes. This one is close, but I wish the mountains had been darker; the angle of the sun lit them up. I actually darkened the blue value in Lightroom to get the shade down to something reasonable, but I’m still not sure it works well.
The sand is white because it’s gypsum and when formed it was not powered yet, which has happened by weather and wind. There are a few spots where the stone itself still exists in strange little outcrops that reminded me of Tatooine.
Even though it was early November, some plants were still flowering and you could hear them before you got close. Well, it wasn’t the plants specifically but the hundreds of bees feeding on the nectar. Everyone was so overwhelmed by their gorging that it was easy to isolate a few beauties. It was a little surprising they were so pristine this late in the season. At home the surviving butterflies are ragged at the end of summer.
It being so bright I hand held everything and left the tripod in the car. I went into this more casually than I do many photo sessions, but I still made an effort to create interesting views. Hope you enjoyed and can visit someday yourself. It’s amazing and a tremendous place to see.
Well at least I think so!
During the past couple of summers here in Wisconsin I’ve noticed these spiders on the house and garage, but too high up for me to get a good look, much less a picture. So when my husband came in the house and said he saw a red and brown spider on the cement by the remote garage, I headed right out. Almost trod on the poor wee girl.
Ok, so she’s not that wee. With her legs relaxed like in the shot above, she’s about the size of a quarter. Good sized, but nothing like the girls that live on the dock. She was very patient though and a great model, letting me get her best side!
She’s an araneus marmoreus aka marbled orb weaver and according to my book, the females leave their webs up in small trees and bushes (or garages, you know, whatever works) and descend to the ground to lay their eggs. Judging by the somewhat deflated look of her abdomen, this female might have done that recently and is looking for a place to hole up for the winter. Or die. Many spiders die after only one mating season, but fortunately they leave the little ones behind as legacy.
Just look at the jaws on her! Orb weavers get their name from the shape of their webs – it’s that traditional round, net-like web that Charlotte wove in the famous book by E.B. White. This particular species usually stays out of sight under a leaf or similar shelter. She keeps at least one leg in contact with a special line of silk that, when the web is touched, will signal her that there’s something in it. Once the trap line is triggered and she springs from hiding onto the web, whatever is stuck there is lunch.
As you might have figured, all these images were made in natural light with the legacy Olympus 90mm macro with the 25mm extension tube. I hardly did any cropping! Seriously, she basically fills the screen when I focus down to nearly the closest distance I can work from.
Same with this bonus spider!
The other day I went to the Mead Wildlife Area which is south of where I live, down in the lower section of Marathon County and crossing over into two other counties. My reading led me to believe there might be opportunities to photograph some wildlife, probably birds, so I brought my longest lens and I am so glad I did. It’s migration season and birds are restless this time of year.
While walking near the Visitors’ Center I noticed some really large white shapes in the distance. For a second I wondered if there was a small airport nearby. When a couple more appeared I got the binoculars and saw they weren’t planes, but birds. Only two white birds have wingspans wide enough to be mistaken for small planes; trumpeter swans and whooping cranes. Two approached and I followed with the binocs as they flew in low right over my head and landed in a small pond to my left. Amazing. I almost couldn’t focus the binoculars that close.
Aren’t they great?
Not being an experienced wildlife photographer, I followed my instinct which was to give them time to settle in. So I hung back and shot them with the long end of the lens, getting some of their environment into the photo as well. Then I walked away from them, out of sight of each other, to a bird blind at the end of the trail. It was well constructed and situated and I might use it in the spring migration period.
Then I walked back toward them. Slowly, stopping frequently to set up the tripod and occasionally just watching them with the binoculars. It worked. They came out from the grass and gave me a good once over. I got closer. They didn’t seem to mind. On the contrary, they seemed curious about this weird creature with all the legs. Soon I didn’t have to use the long end of the lens anymore.
As I’ve said before, I need practice with my 100-300mm and while I’m not glad it wasn’t whooping cranes I saw (and want to kick myself if I missed the shots), trumpeters were a fine subject for some practice. I still need to find a handheld technique, but with the tripod a single point of focus worked because I could change it quickly on the screen with my finger. Handheld using a multi-focus-point setting caused the camera to hunt a lot and miss focus. I’ll have to experiment more with it.
The light was reasonably bright, but still somewhat diffused by clouds and so the ISO didn’t get cranked too high. I use a custom mode I created for the GH3 that is shutter priority and auto ISO. That way I can freeze action with a high shutter speed, but not worry about aperture or light sensitivity. I also change from a single shot with the press of a shutter, to multi shot. And that’s how I got this next image –
I spent about an hour with this pair and took a ton of pictures, only a few of which I like enough to publish. Mostly it’s because they just won’t pose. Lol. I get why patience is the thing you need most in bird photography. Patience and time because as you see above, eventually one of them will do something and if you’re lucky, observant and know your gear, you’ll get the shot. I love how this one shows how the feathers are arranged on those amazing wings. And the depression in the water from the downdraft. Oh and if you look close, you can see water droplets on its breast and belly. So wonderful.
I don’t do it all the time, but if I can get under a mushroom I will. Well, not me exactly, I’m not Alice, but my camera. For these first two images I used the wider end of my 12-35mm lens. The first one was on a tripod, the second literally on the ground with sticks and the lens cap acting as shims to get the camera level. The perspective is terrific and it shows off those beautiful gills.
Sometimes the structures that hold and release spores are a bit different like with boletes that have an underside that looks like a sponge. I recently found out that a single mushroom can release millions of spores in a single day. They do this every day it fruits pretty much. Amazing.
In addition to gills and pores there are also teeth. The idea of toothed fungus makes me a little giggly, but that’s how they’re categorized. This one happily turned itself inside out so I could get a peek at those teeth. I shot this with a medium telephoto because it was way inside a bunch of bushes that I had to hold out of the way to get this shot. I couldn’t tell it was a toothed mushroom until I looked at it on the computer. And the ID took a while because this is a remarkably pristine specimen. The ones in my books were ragged, dirty and stained. Just lucky I guess.
Here’s another example of a toothed mushroom –
It’s sometimes called a hedgehog mushroom (aka Hydnum repandum) and is not only edible, but reportedly delicious. Now I know where they grow (some chanterelles conveniently nearby) I can gather them next year and have a taste. I could use my tripod to shoot that image (and many others from the down low) because I do not have the center post attached. My particular model came with one, but it is removable and so the legs splay to 90 degrees and the head touches the ground. Very handy. If you want to do a lot of this type of work either take out your center post or get a tripod that doesn’t have one to begin with.
It is occasionally a bit of work to get under a small mushroom that isn’t on a nice stump or log. Usually there are only little slopes and depressions in the forest floor, but sometimes the tripod in its lowest position is too high. In those cases I reach for my homemade beanbag camera prop. Then I can usually get low enough since it’s only a couple inches thick. I use a 1 quart ziplock bag with 2 bags of barley inside it. I’ve stuck some friction tape to one side of it to keep the camera from sliding. And, as I mentioned above, sometimes I still use sticks and/or my lens cap to shim. It’s magical when I can get so low that the foreground changes dramatically and helps me highlight only the cap, which adds a dash of mystery.
I also like the foreshortened perspective that helps to emphasize the mushroom, not where it fruits. And there’s the lovely bokeh that often comes with shooting in dappled sunlight.
In the end, there are only so many ways to shoot mushrooms, but up from under is usually a winner!
Gray tree frogs (Latin name hyla versicolor) love my decks. I’ve found and photographed them for years on two different decks in states 1000 miles apart. Since they hardly ever leave the trees, it’s a privilege to have them so near. They’re wonderful and never fail to make me smile when I find one. Even when I don’t see them, but only hear that little trill, I stop to listen. As you might expect, only the males sing and they’re singing to the ladies who, like many frogs, are slightly bigger than the males. The throat sac they use to sing makes the males’ throats slightly darker than the females’.
When I first encountered them, I didn’t know they could change colors. Usually they do this to better blend in their environment.
Mostly you find them like this –
Living up to their name by being mostly gray with some bits of green, black and tan. But I have also found them almost totally green. This one was near some leaves that had fallen on the deck that were almost the same color. The other day I found one on a dark green table with even more green washed through its skin, trying very hard not to be seen.
I love how both frogs are in similar poses. Little front feet tucked under chins.
When no green can be seen, frogs are mainly brown, black and tan. My husband found one up on the roof in NH when he was cleaning out the gutters. It was very dark brown, similar to, but even darker than the one in this next shot.
When he moved it out of the leaf litter and pine needles to the deck boards, it changed color rapidly. Within a minute or two it was lighter and showed slight traces of green –
Specialized cells in the frogs’ skins allow them to do this. Collectively they are called chromatophores. Basically they blend three types of cells in three layers of skin. First are the melanophores that contain melanin to make shades of brown. Next, in the middle, are iridophores which don’t make color, but reflect light, primarily the blue end of the spectrum. Finally, on the surface are the xanthophores responsible for producing yellow. Combining the top two layers makes green, which the frogs use to adapt their colors to their surroundings. They also change color depending on temperature tending to become lighter when it’s warm.
And speaking of temperature, these little guys literally freeze during the winter months. Like all animals that hibernate, tree frogs store fat to use during that time and immediately upon waking when they really need the fuel. Unlike most mammals though, frogs stop their hearts and breathing and literally freeze about 80% solid through the winter. Ice crystals actually form in some of their cells, but their internal organs are protected. They do this by producing high levels of glucose in their cells when it starts getting colder. This sugar concentration keeps the cells from freezing and becoming damaged as a result. Then they seek out some nice crevice in a tree or log, or deep leaf litter, and wait it out. Aquatic frogs don’t burrow in mud like turtles, but instead lie on top of it where there is more oxygen. Toads do burrow below the frost line though on land. But let’s get back to gray tree frogs.
Unless they pose weirdly or you pick them up, you might never see the orangey-yellow patches on their thighs. It’s thought they use it to confuse predators. I guess a flash of thigh will do that to a snake, not having legs at all makes them flip. You can see a peek of it here –
Ok, so let’s talk toes for a minute. Check them out! Aren’t they great? Like geckos, tree frog toes have highly specialized adaptations for climbing, but unlike geckos, tree frogs are just a little bit moist and many people think that frogs stick to things because they’re “slimy”; that it’s glue alone. Untrue. What’s really going on is this; surface tension. Under a microscope you would be able to see that each toe has hundreds of tiny wedge-shaped ridges that multiply the actual surface of the toe by many factors. This expands the amount of contact patch with whatever they touch. The friction ridges on your fingertips work in a similar way to let you grip slick, wet or slimy objects without crushing them. But the frogs’ skin goes one better, as the wedge-like ridges get into tiny irregularities on a surface, the frog secretes a substance that helps those formations work better. It is a glue in a sense, but after I’ve handled a frog, my skin isn’t sticky at all. Neither is anything else the frog has sat on. This isn’t a snail trail.
So other than that they are cute and sing so nicely, why should we keep these guys around? Well I don’t know about you, but anything that eats bugs is welcome at my house!
So the next time you see a gray tree frog, stop to marvel at what an amazing little creature it is, and let it go back to sleep. These little amphibians are mostly nocturnal and just chill during the day. What a life.