Sunny Spring

Feels like we’ve been waiting for the seasonal change for way too long so the recent warmer weather is very welcome. Sunlight for more than a couple of days doesn’t happen a lot in the spring around here so definitely want to take advantage of it with some infrared.

Usually its summer when infrared is best – all the foliage reflecting as bright whites and the sky showing up so dark. With the trees pretty bare and no grass showing yet I was wondering what would deliver the contrast expected from this type of image. Surprisingly there’s quite a lot that reflects this wavelength.

There are lots of limestone quarries in our neck of the woods, most of them active and a few closed down. One nearby has been turned into a county park. The quarry itself has filled with water to provide swimming areas (for people and dogs), scuba training, kayaking, etc. along with several trails for hiking, biking, X-country skiing and such. It’s easy to walk around the lake and find different compositions. And the sky + water gives a good bracket around the rest of the landscape.

There is a fishing platform built out into the lake that has nice lines. This time of day there’s this shadow that exposes the shape of the railing onto the deck.

Where the walls of the quarry jut out into the lake there are benches and tables for one to sit and enjoy the scenery. The tops of the trees in the distance are just showing some buds at the tips of their branches. I think this is what is reflecting the infrared light. No clouds in the sky means the water and dark sky frame the treeline nicely.

This is a small panoramic of the fishing platform.

These trees are really reflecting the infrared, as is the rock face where the bench is, probably due to it being warmed by the sun.

Architectural

I joined a couple of webinars recently that showed great images in this genre and it got me interested in trying some of the post-processing techniques. Here are a couple of items that worked out well. It’s great practice for the Pen tool in Photoshop, making selections of small details for adjustments. These images are primarily showing how to eliminate objects that aren’t relevant to the subject. For both of these I selected the sky and then applied a gradient to that layer to eliminate clouds and make the tonal change more even. Then I reversed the selection and made a Curves adjustment to the subject to give it more contrast.

Now I have to go find more buildings and objects!

Bass Performing Arts Center, Ft. Worth, TX
High-power electrical transmission line tower

Heron spring

Great Blue herons have a rookery in the trees along a local river and wetland. They’ve been there for a while, long enough for the conservancy that manages the wetland to put an information sign on the boardwalk explaining what the nests in the distant tree are for. I keep forgetting to go over there in the spring to see if there are photo opportunities but this year I saw birds on the nests while driving by. Since it was a nice sunny spring day I grabbed my long distance gear and gave it a try.

They don’t make it easy for wildlife photographers. Their nests are in just a few trees that are in the middle of a wetland next to a small stream. From the boardwalk it’s easy to see the nests but it’s about a 1000 feet so even a long lens doesn’t really bring them into viewing much.

This is a very cropped image from an 800mm lens view. Here’s the uncropped version.

Even the cropped image doesn’t give much detail to determine what kind of bird it is.

Thankfully the wetland nearer the trees was not flooded yet so I was able to make my way a bit closer. It’s a thicket of small and medium sized trees, plus lots of underbrush. Fortunately the deer had made trails from the people-hiking trail toward the stream so I could navigate closer but was still masked by the density of the limbs so I didn’t startle the birds.

Once I was set up another heron arrived. You can see how thick the limbs were, and this was what I thought was a good vantage point? The arriving heron was bringing in more sticks to refurbish the nest.

After placing the new stick in the nest there was some greeting display going on. I was still frustrated at all the limbs between me and the nest. My lens was having a hard time focusing on the birds in both automatic and manual. So I looked around for a spot with less stuff in the way. While I was moving the bird who recently arrived flew off, looking for more remodeling material or food probably.

This was a much better view – definitely fewer limbs. I was able to shoot at f/5.6 to get most of the bird in focus without too much distraction from in-focus limbs. I made a few nice images while waiting for the other bird to arrive. It never did, and this bird stayed like this for around 20 minutes. Have to wonder what goes through their mind just standing there motionless.

I was pleased to finally get over there when the herons were on their nests. According to a hiker I met the birds are there most of the spring so I’m hoping to get some images of young herons on the nest. It’ll be a race between new birds showing up before the leaves do!

That sound in the night

We have a pair of Great Horned Owls that hang around in the trees behind us. I know that because several times a month they carry on a conversation that resounds through the woods and penetrates the walls of the house. I’ve managed to get an image of one of them a couple of times, but only because the crows were annoying the owl enabling me to see the perch it had near the truck of a tree. Way up near the top. Very well camouflaged against the bark. I’m not much of a threat to them here on the ground, and I doubt they are threatened by the crows, just annoyed.

Photographing owls is great fun. I guess it’s those forward facing eyes set in a somewhat human-like face. The way they look around patiently, seemingly without much worry for their surroundings. Finding them in the wild is a challenge – that camouflage – but rewarding. The following images are of captive birds – much easier to get close to without resorting to massive lenses.

Teton Raptor Center, Jackson, WY
Wildlife Safari Park, Omaha, NE
Wildlife Safari Park, Omaha, NE

Flight

I’m hearing the sandhill cranes are passing through central Nebraska in their annual cycle to head north for nesting. We’ve finally heard a few here in Wisconsin, some passing on and some returning to their habitat here. Another seasoning reminder that winter is on the way out and soon the world will be green and much more noisy.

Photographing the cranes has given me lots of images and an amazing amount of good time outdoors with equally interested photographers. The various places they show up across the country attract people from all over the world to observe, photograph and enjoy these raucous creatures. Slow and measured as they appear on the ground, when they are in flight their motion is smooth and effortless.

Posing what’s around

I’ve always admired Edward Weston’s still life images, not so much for his technique but for his visualizing a form that suggests another form. Sure, the lighting and lens choice and film and printing were critical to the final product but these would have been meaningless without him seeing what he wanted from the beginning. Still life is not something that I do much of, but periodically it’s fun to dive in for a bit. And it allows for more B&W practice.

OK, the last picture isn’t technically a still life. The branch is attached to a tree and the background is a cloudless blue sky. The interesting lighting comes from a flash held slightly off camera with enough power to overcome the sunlight a little. It looks like a still life enough to include it here.

The first two is what you do when outdoor conditions just don’t lend themselves to interesting images. Pick up some vegetables at the store, put a black drape on the table, arrange some interesting layout and then start shooting. The first image uses an on-stand flash to the side with a little reflected light from the other side to help the curvature come out. The second image is light-painting. Set up, turn the lights out, open the shutter for 30-60 seconds (make sure the room is really dark), and take a penlight to “paint” on the subject where you want highlights. It’s a great technique to create images that would be very difficult with flashes even with a ton of special equipment to direct the light to certain spots. David Black is the expert with this technique so check out his images to see what’s possible.

Vegas scene

The name calls up scenes of tinsel and glitter, bright lights in the desert, and throngs of people wandering down the sidewalk. It’s what most people go to Vegas for and the image they take away with them. Yet just a few miles outside of town all that man-made artificiality goes away. Head west from the city and you’ll discover Red Rock Canyon National Preserve, a series of formations that show off the geology of the area. Small enough to get a sense of while driving through, bit enough to leave the crowds behind. Digging through my library I found a few images that called out for B&W conversion, a great way to show off the details of the formations.

Those buildings in the distance to the left are on the Vegas Strip, showing the proximity of Red Rock to the city.

Cabins

Much of the land west of the Appalachian Mountains was unknown to early settlers of the original colonies. A few trappers, surveyors and adventure seekers crossed the mountains and explored the area but there were no settlements and the population was mostly Native Americans whose ancestors had lived in the area for centuries.

Opening of this western frontier came via the Ohio River and the Cumberland Gap, both bringing settlers to the area with the intent of finding their own lives. One area where settlement took hold, albeit in a small way, was the Red River Gorge country of eastern Kentucky. A deep valley cut by the Red River into the last foothills of the Appalachians, the gorge made settlement difficult. Little flat, tillable land was present and distances to other settlements for commerce were great. The people deciding to live in this area had to use what resources were found there in order to make a living. The area has seen farming, mining, forestry, trapping, etc. as activities enabling the settlers to survive.

Wandering through the gorge one can still see remains of where settlers made their home. Some have been preserved, some are in disrepair. All make you wonder what type people these were, to brave what the environment handed them and managed to reside here, tucked away from cities and towns.