Spring on the forest floor

With the fluctuations in temperature and wetness there are days when it feels like spring wants to stay in bed with the covers pulled up.  Still, there is a gradual warming as the sun stays in the sky longer, and there are pockets of rain enough to encourage the plants to come out and get started on another year.

I got down close to see what’s coming up in the back yard forest and was rewarded with a few plants getting ready to bloom.  Wrestling with the macro equipment, tripod and lighting was a challenge, one that made me start wondering whether I have the right tools for the job.  Maybe I’d do more macro if it didn’t feel like I needed four arms!  Nonetheless, the images worked out fine.

The trillium is a woodland flower that seems to appear overnight – suddenly they are everywhere showing off their three petal flower.  I was lucky to find a few just getting ready to bloom.

The purple trout lily (named such apparently due to the spotted leaves) is all over the forest – looks like a new lawn coming up with all the green against the brown of the dead leaves.  The blooms will open up and curve back soon so I’ll need to be ready for that.

It’s the time of year a photographer could just simply go to the same place in the woods everyday and expect to see something new.  Have you looked in your yard lately?

Trillium

Trillium

Purple trout lily bloom

Purple trout lily bloom

Purple trout lily stretching

Purple trout lily stretching

Trillium

Trillium

Trillium

Trillium

Early spring walk

We’re working through a book on local hikes, a way to see places we didn’t know about or may have ignored.  The hikes are mostly through state or county parks, none of which are a wilderness area, but rather sculpted paths through areas someone felt was important for the public to see.  These are leisurely strolls, looking for photography materials that call attention to the small details rather than the grand scenes.  A return to searching for Porter’s “intimate landscape.”

Walked the perimeter trail at Cam-Roc park in south central Wisconsin.  In the late 19th and early 20th century a local creek was dammed to make a millpond.  After the dam was removed the land was a marsh and now a wetland.  People got together and made it and the surrounding hills into a county park, complete with camp sites, playgrounds, prairie and picnic tables.  The trail is only a little more than 2 miles and meanders through the woods and along the wetland, making a complete circuit of the park.

Spring is launching full force right now; just about every plant is showing signs of waking up and getting ready for summer.  The early forest flowers are out in bloom and the tree buds are spreading gradually into new leaves.  Even the mushrooms are sprouting wherever they live.

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More than plant life is starting to become visible.  Birds of all types are staking out territories and loudly alerting all passers-by of this fact.  And with the sun higher in the sky warming the ground longer each day, the reptiles are coming out to search for food.

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I think this is a DeKay’s brown snake, ubiquitous to Wisconsin’s fields and prairies.  It’s the only one I could find in the guide that comes close to matching the markings – possibly a young one as it was only about 8-10 inches long.  It was warming up on the trail as we walked by and didn’t seem to concerned with us looking it over.  My policy is if the animal isn’t concerned, get closer (I check this policy when the animal is bigger than i am!).  So I laid down in a spot with good lighting behind me and eased up closer to get this shot.  It’s tonguing the air trying to figure me out, and right after this it slid into the taller grass.

Another county park makes available a limestone/sandstone bluff that has been exposed over the centuries.  From the top there is a great vista showing the local fields and forests.  It is a wonderfully rural park – even on this great weather day we only saw a dozen or so people.

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Structural values

I had the opportunity to visit Battle Creek, Michigan this week.  Yes, home of Kellogg’s, which is a major name throughout the town.  Walking around the city center I found some great architecture.  Two former bank towers that show the solidly built Midwestern message of trust from the early 1900’s in classic Art Deco.  And a romantic inspired train station that moved people across the state from lake to lake.

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Heritage Tower facade

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Heritage Tower

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Battle Creek Tower

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Central Michigan Railroad Depot

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Central Michigan Railroad Depot

Winter greys

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Duotone images are simply those with only two tones.  Tritones have three.  Instead of lots of greys or colors, you can boil down an image to simple expressions of two or three forms of expression.  Sometimes the effect gives a better image.

The images above use only three tones – black is not one of them.  Essentially I’ve selected three versions of grey and Photoshop has replaced all those RGB or B&W pixels with some form of these three.  If color gets in the way of an image then why can’t the almost infinite range of tones from black to white?  How about just eliminating all that and use just the bare minimum needed to display luminance, contrast and shape?

This is not to be confused with toning an image.  There are selenium tones, sepia tones, cyano tones, colored tones, etc.  Doing that essentially drapes that tone over the whole image and the colors (or greys) showing through are influenced by it.  A duotone or tritone doesn’t drape the tones over the image – they become the image.

I’m sure there are lots of sites giving technical background on this and I could be totally wrong about it.  The idea goes back to graphic arts and halftone printing; it’s been upgraded to the digital world.  I’m sure experts in the art can turn a drab image into a spectacular one – I’m just playing around.

High key winter

There’s a small village in our area that sits on the edge of a large lake.  It was a railroad town for a bit, now mostly a lake community.  I photograph around there because the lake is a nice backdrop throughout the seasons.  This time I was playing around with high key B&W images and liked the way a couple of them turned out.  A high key image is one where most of the tones are at or above middle grey.  It’s useful to set a mood or draw focal attention to specific subjects.  For these I found it opened up the shadows nicely to reveal details that might be missed by the viewer.

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These are scanned images from 35mm Kodak T-Max 100 B&W film.  I’m learning to home-process using Kodak’s Xtol developer, which is known for fine grain and dynamic range.  So far I’m liking what it produces.  Winter is a good time to practice high key because you can ignore the really white snow and cloudy skies to focus on the details and tones of just part of the image.