Another subject I love in winter are brooks, streams and rivers. Or more properly for Wisconsin, a creek. Ripley Creek in particular. It’s a lovely, but overgrown waterway that feeds into the Wisconsin river just south of my house. The trailhead is 8 minutes away so it’s becoming a go-to spot in much the same way as Tucker and Purgatory brooks used to be for me in NH.
My usual approach to this kind of shot is to use a slow shutter speed and smooth the water, but this time I decided that the smooth element was already there – the snow – and so I left off the filter(s) and used a faster shutter speed. This gave me a rougher, more jagged texture in the water and that contrasts nicely with the snowy blanket on the shore.
The camera was on the tripod for both those shots, but sometimes I just couldn’t get it into the right position and I had to hand hold. Luckily I could brace myself pretty well and there was enough light that I didn’t have to go to a very high ISO.
I had to go for it though because of the shapes the ice forms behind the boulders. Isn’t it great? You can see that the water slows down behind the rocks and so that’s where the ice forms first. I was jammed into the branches of a hemlock sapling for this one, trying to back up enough to get the near ice formation and the right bank into the shot without getting the branches in the way. Not a bad effort and one of my favorites for the series.
Another big choice for winter water scenes is monochrome or color. Going black and white works especially well because there is true white and true black in just about every shot (even if you do have to tweak in post). It’s dramatic and shows off the textures and contours of the landscape, which you can see here supports a lot of plant growth and is sometimes steep and rocky. The color of the water though, is part of what fascinates me about doing stream work. The tannins.
Just look at that richness down there. It is most definitely not pollution. Tannins are chemical substances that come from phenolic acids (also called tannic acid) that are produced by plants. These acids are found in all parts of plants including leaves, bark and stems. As water moves through the soil the acids leach out and collect in surface waterways. They bind with starches, minerals, cellulose and proteins and are NOT water soluble and don’t decompose easily. This means those molecules are carried along in water, staining it like tea (tannins are exactly what makes tea that color). So when I like the composition and the contrast, I keep my shots in color.
But when I want to focus attention on structure and line, I leach out those tannins.
This last one was a little challenging in terms of getting those big logs in the foreground. My tripod was on its tiptoes (should have had the center column with me, but I didn’t) and I was on a bridge (luckily a high one), but it was close.
Up here on the Wisconsin river are a bunch of things called flowages. A flowage is a section of river blocked by two dams; one up and one down river. With the flow restricted the water acts more like a lake. There is a slight current all the time on the one I live on, but it’s nothing like how fast the water rushes below the dam where there isn’t another close by to slow it down. But dams need maintenance sometimes and what’s the power company to do?
They let out enough water to get the job done. It’s called a draw down. The dam up river from us is called the Grandmother dam and the flowage it creates is called the Grandmother flowage. To repair the dam (which makes power for the electric company) they lowered the water by some 14 feet, which made for some interesting landscapes –
I had no idea this was going on since the water level below the dam (and behind the house) wasn’t affected. By chance my husband and I happened to stop just to check out the dam since we hadn’t been there in a while. Well, he hadn’t, I padded there twice in spring. Lo and behold there was barely a trickle running through. The tree stumps with their exposed roots knocked me out and I made a mental note to go up there on a foggy or cloudy day.
I hoped for more fog, but since there wasn’t much water, there wasn’t much fog. They were letting water back in though and so there is more than there was when I first saw it. In any event, normally both of these stumps are under 3-4 feet of water at any given time. The current keeps the roots clear of mud and debris and I just loved how they looked.
I didn’t love the washed out, blah look of the shots out of the camera though, so I played with some presets to give things a bit more drama. Usually I process for realism, but this time I did so with an eye to an apocalyptic scene. Some ravaged landscape, irretrievably lost and ruined. I don’t know if it succeeded, but I like it.
The other day I decided to do a little car exploring. You know what I mean, right? When you jump in the car and go down roads you’ve never been on before. Moving to a new state means there’s a lot of opportunity for this, but even so, I found myself on roads I’ve gone by a bunch of times, but never went down. We have some great back roads. Oh and it helped that it was fall.
It also helps that there are so few people here that I can stop on the road and not worry too much about blocking traffic or getting hit. The road in the first shot snakes through some county forest, some private acreage and a bunch of little lakes and ponds. I noticed one had been blocked by the DNR because of invasive species contamination. Bummer.
This second shot is a loop road that winds through parts of the Underdown Recreation area, a place open to many non-motorized sports like horse riding, mountain biking, hiking, cross country skiing and snowshoeing. The track is barely wider than one car width and so I was a lucky I could stop for this shot because I knew I was going to take a little time with it.
The latest version of Lightroom has an exposure blending function that I’ve never used much. I’ve never done much with HDR at all, but just because some made ugly photos with it didn’t mean I had to so I gave it a go. The shot is a blend of 3 exposures, all one stop separated from each other. It’s old school bracketing like I used to do when I shot slide film. I can, and probably will, use more exposures more closely spaced in terms of stops, but for now I think this works. It’s not too overly garish, but does mimic how our eyes actually see a scene like this with its wide range of light values. Our irises are so sensitive that they move constantly as our focus changes and the light changes. So many times I’ve looked at a shot through the viewfinder or on the live view screen and decided not to try it because it was so contrasty. I have to remember my new capability and do more bracketing. Especially since it’s a dial setting on my camera and wicked easy to do. What do you think? Do I need more practice? Is that the wrong scene? Is it garish?
Probably all of the above, right? Well I like it and will keep working with it. Am off to New Mexico for a long weekend shortly and so will try it out at White Sands!
Fall is a big deal in New England and as a photographer I always felt some amorphous pressure to go out and capture fall scenes. I still feel it here and have tried through the spring and summer to find locations that would be especially picturesque. One such spot is Timm’s Hill which is just to the west of my house in the next county. It’s the highest point in Wisconsin, but don’t be impressed. It’s 1951.5 feet. Then there’s a viewing tower which is pretty cool, but the scenery is uniform and blah, so I didn’t take any pictures. Below and surrounding the hill are lakes and ponds (the hill, btw, is only a couple hundred feet higher than the parking lot, so you won’t break a sweat climbing it or anything) and I thought I might have some luck with landscapes and water. Not really although I did manage this one by getting an old, submerged boat seat out of the way of the tripod. At first I thought it was an empty turtle shell, but then realized what it really was.
After not finding what I wanted on that outing, I returned to a location I walked through last year called Harrison Hills. It is hilly and has lots of small ponds and lakes that aren’t built on which is something that foiled me going to other areas. Even with 15,000 lakes it’s hard to find some with no houses. This little pond was gorgeous though and so I walked through the undergrowth to the edge and had to bend and hold branches out of the way, which all part of the experience. While shooting I heard a big commotion in the leaf litter and heard the sounds of chasing. The next minute, something ran over my feet. Squirrels or chipmunks I suspect. Was funny though that they just ran right over me as if I was just part of the terrain.
Little lakes abound in the Lincoln county forest as well and happily many of them have one lane tracks leading out to them and there are even boat launches should you want to try some solitary fishing. Overall they are too small to paddle, but you could do it if you just wanted to sit and read or something. You can pretty much get away from the sound of human activity in some parts of the northern forest.
Back to Harrison hills for this last shot. I hadn’t walked as far as this my first time out, but looking at the map for little ponds, I figured I had to go at least this far and lo and behold there was a little bench so you could relax and take in the view.
So these will work for 2016 foliage shots. I still would like to do some river work and stuff with farms and/or barns, but the exploration is part of the joy. I’m still getting to know my adopted state and it is always interesting.
It’s great when I can just go out my front door and find gorgeous things to photograph. I used to do this back in NH when I had a much smaller yard and now I have even more to find and share. Like these beauties, all found in the yard –
This first one is really tiny. The stipes (stems) are as thin as thread and the caps a mere 1/4 of an inch across. They come up in the leaf litter and once you notice them it’s like a dusting of snow. The trick to finding mushrooms is to be still. Then they seem to come out of nowhere. Giving myself some time to look around and really see brought me to this pair of beauties. A couple of days later and they were gone.
During that same quiet few moments of looking, I saw this one and knew it to be a type of mycena. The blue tint really is there; no camera trickery. It fades as the mushroom ages so I’ll have to check earlier next year to see if I can find one in a more vivid state.
Once your eyes are attuned to mushroom hunting they seem to be everywhere and they don’t need to be as brightly colored as this one, but it helps.
All the IDs are my best guesses according to my several books and the internet, but some just elude me altogether, like this next one –
You’d think such a distinctive little shroom would be easy, but no. This next one is though.
It’s commonly known as the tippler’s bane because of a toxin it has that makes a person feel very sick if they eat them with alcohol, or follow them up with alcohol. Otherwise they’re quite edible and rumored to be delicious. The compound they make is similar to the one used in Antabuse, a drug prescribed to alcohol abusers. Interesting.
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.
Whenever I see mushrooms the urge to photograph them is almost irresistible. I am getting better though. I don’t shoot EVERY mushroom I see. The light has to be good, the setting and the angle, too. If the shot doesn’t come together in my head, I admire and pass it by. So here are some that made the grade.
Identifying mushrooms is tough. Mostly because they change so rapidly and any photographs are dependent on when they were taken during the fruiting body’s lifecycle. It’s crazy. I have 4 books now and sometimes I still can’t figure things out, so don’t take any of my IDs as concrete. They’re just my best conclusions based on what it was growing and the characteristics of the mushroom itself; color, shape, gill structure etc.
These first two are boletes, a type of mushroom that has sponge-like cells instead of traditional gills and are easy to spot because of that, but it can still be tricky. I think this second one might be Austroboletus gracilis, but I’m not certain. I have my eye on a few more books that look to have fantastic photos so maybe I can get better in future.
Some mushrooms can only be positively identified under a microscope and a few kinds of russula fall into that category. This next one is probably russula emetica aka The Sickener and yeah, it’s poisonous. But it could also be russula cessans, paludosa or pseudolepida or several others that fruit on the ground, grow in similar woods and are native to North America. Crazy, but check out how similar these two mushrooms are, but different.
Little yellow waxcaps, hygrocybes, are tough to distinguish, too. These first ones I think are hygrocybe ceracea, but might not be. Whatever they are, I can’t resist shooting them. Especially in moss with bonus sporophytes!
This one proved irresistible to a passing slug. It was in full sun, but quickly moved to a nicer pose. I should have cranked the ISO a bit. Hard to believe a slug can move fast enough to be blurry!
And then there are the LBMs. That’s Little Brown Mushrooms. There are dozens and dozens of these and so similar that I have no idea what this little beauty is.
I found it growing inside of a dead log and did some clean up to get that shot, which I personally love because of the placement and the tilt of the cap. It seems to have a personality, which is saying a lot for a fungus.
All of my shots are cleaned up in the field to some extent. One of the most important things to remember when doing close up or macro photography at this magnification is to watch your backgrounds. Things out of your line of focus can sneak in and steal attention from your main subject. I find sticks to be really a pain. They sometimes show up as bright, light-colored lines in the background and so I remove them. Grass can do the same thing sometimes. Often I’m not even aware of them being in the shot because I’m concentrating on my main subject and they’re not critical to focus. So I use my live view screen to look at the image in 2D so I can catch these little gremlins. I also sometimes use a diffuser/reflector to either reflect light onto an image to even out shadows, or to put an object into shade that’s either in direct sun or dappled light. It’s a useful tool to have and one that isn’t heavy and doesn’t take up too much space so I bring it every time I go out.
I probably don’t even need to say it anymore, but all these images were taken with the OM 90mm f2 macro lens mounted on my Panasonic Lumix GH3. I still love this combination and that lens barely comes off the body these days!
Last year we didn’t have furniture up on the deck except for a couple of plastic Adirondack chairs. With so many other things to do after the move, furniture was not a priority. But this year I bought a comfy couch and chairs so I end up spending more time up there. As a result I notice more and despite being really tiny, this little guy stood out –
It’s a burrower mayfly; easily identified by those big green eyeballs. The body, legs and wings are about 1/2 an inch long; the whole thing barely an inch. Here in Wisconsin we have many species of mayfly and some emerge in the hundreds of thousands; clouds so big they are captured on radar and mistaken for thunderstorms. It’s said that the massive presence of mayflies are an indication of clean water, so it’s good, but it has a downside. When they emerge en masse like that they leave behind their larvae carapaces which collect by the thousands along shorelines and docks. My shoreline. My dock. The smell was so bad that I couldn’t be outside until my husband pushed them all into the current and they were washed downstream (I tried to do it, but gagged and had to stop). I’ve come across a ripe moose carcass in the woods that smelled better. Unbelievable.
One at a time they’re pretty cool though. Mayflies are one of those species that exists for the larva stage. The adults have no mouths or other digestive organs and are basically just gonads with wings. And eyeballs. They live just days, mate and die. Their corpses are wispy, weightless things that float on the slightest breeze. I noticed several other kinds on the deck, but none were situated so nicely as this one – on my grill cover.
These next little bugs were on the deck railing just at the top of the stairs and because they herd together in a little group, they’re easy to see even though they are only about 3mm long (not including the feelers). The little stripes are so cute and so I had to grab the macro lens. I also used a 25mm extension tube so I could get even closer. They seemed to be eating the gunk that collects in the texture of the decking material. Because it’s not natural wood, I wasn’t concerned although if a bug that ate plastic did evolve, that would be a big help for us! Those two little balls in the lower right are what they look like – poop. Tiny, tiny poop.
After a bit of puzzling, an answer to what these guys are finally came from an insect ID group on Flickr.
The are Cerastipsocus venosus; commonly known as barklice or sometimes tree cattle which is hilarious because in one of my photo captions I mentioned how they herd together like cows and graze. The little group on my deck was only 10 individuals to start out with and I’m glad it wasn’t more because they do mass in the hundreds and that would have been kinda icky. A few at a time are cool though and here’s how they looked after a few days –
What I thought might be vestigial wings turned out to be just undeveloped and as they moved through the larval stage they got bigger and so did the antennae. The fully grown wings added another 2mm to the overall length, but the bodies didn’t grow. In the background of the shot up there, check out the orange spot. It’s visible to the naked eye, but I didn’t know what it was. When the critter sporting it got into a good position, I grabbed the camera again –
It’s a tiny mite; a parasite. Not sure if it’s harmful or not, but the bug itself didn’t seem to be the worse off for it. I love that you can still see the stripes through the wings.
Luckily when disturbed this little herd just froze up, allowing me to use natural light instead of having to resort to flash or very high ISO in order to keep things sharp. The last one has great light; the first rays of the rising sun. Even the tiniest creature throws a shadow.
So now I know what they are, will I be evicting them? Nope. They’re beneficial and non-destructive to wood or trees. Instead they eat fungi or algae or other organic stuff (gunk, yeah, that will do) that collects on tree bark and other things like my deck. I found some good info on this website.
A while ago I posted about photographing birds in my yard and it taught me that I have a lot to learn about that kind of work. I’m MUCH more comfortable with small critters, so here’s a couple I found recently in the yard.
The first is a snapping turtle which I think had to be only a day or two old because
- it didn’t smell
- it didn’t have algae on it
- it wasn’t a crabby, bitey menace
Instead it was pretty mellow. Maybe the ‘tude takes a while to develop. Comes with size I would guess. Or the smell. I’ve seldom met big snappers who wouldn’t take your arm off given the chance. Sometimes I see really big ones in the river while I’m in the kayak. In my head I know they’re more afraid of me than I am of them, but they still give me the willies. Like one of them is going to come up out of the murk and bash my boat. This little guy though was pretty calm and easy to photograph. I put him in front of a log to use as a backdrop and got right down there with him. Everything about it has such terrific detail. It was only a couple of inches long. The only snapping turtle safe to handle; the ones that fit in the palm of your hand.
If you live anywhere but in the nitty-gritty urban city-scape, you’ve heard spring peepers filling the night with their mad song. It’s one of the things I look forward to most in spring; the first time I hear the peepers as the sun goes down. Weirdly though I’ve never actually seen one until the other day when one showed up on the deck.
I had to grab my field guide to figure out what it was. There is a bit of color variation in the species, but they have a distinctive X marking on their backs that nails the ID. I’m always amazed when I look at tiny creatures close up. If you enlarge the shot above you can see blood vessels in the arm on your right. The skin and bones are so delicate. Look at those wee toes! I thought it was pretty scared and backed off only to have it leap to the floor and give me enough time to change lenses for a more artsy shot –
It’s not even an inch long. How does something so small make such a big racket?
My ongoing fascination with Indian pipe continues. This first one I almost didn’t see, being hot and sweaty with bug spray running into my eyes, I just wanted a blast of air conditioning in the car. But I went down a little side trail and on the way back, this little beauty appeared.
Background is key to good wildflower photography and so with some careful tripod placement I was able to get the distracting highlights out of the frame. When I shoot Indian pipe, I expose for the highlights, just barely clipping some whites at times, but managing that in Lightroom is key also. Preserving detail, but keeping the bright white takes a little finagling, but it can be done.
Here’s another with a background of green; this time a lovely mossy log. I’d have liked a better angle on the log itself, but that would have meant that some flowers would be sharp while others would be blurry. Lining up the angles is sometimes hard, but I do try. In this case the sensor is so much smaller than the scene and it wasn’t too difficult. A couple of checks in the LCD screen and some tripod shifting and I had the focus I wanted. When the sunlight hit I had a shot I love.