Curiosity – not just for cats

I bought a trail camera in the spring, interested in seeing what comes through the backyard at night. It’s a decent device, shoots 12 megapixel images and 1080p video (lower resolution for infrared), and is really easy to use. It’s been fun seeing the wildlife that’s up and around at night. Back in the summer when it got dry I put a large saucer out back with water and now it’s the local water cooler, attracting turkeys, squirrels, opossum, raccoons and deer.

Almost all the animals seem unperturbed by the camera – I mount it on different trees about three feet off the ground. The lighting is infrared flash and spot for still and video, which I understand is essentially invisible to most animals.

But there must be something about it that stands out. There’s this one doe who occasionally pays attention to it, really up close and personal attention:

She either hears something when it goes off or sees something (I think there’s a small red light that comes on when the video starts) because she’ll stop what she’s doing and stroll over to take a look. I’ve had to clean off the lens a few times – she sticks her nose right on it and licks it. Doesn’t seem afraid or aggressive – just curious. I’d heard deer will check out strange things in the woods but this is the first time I’ve seen it happen.

Go Extreme

Was on a webinar today run by a photographer who does very nice B&W images of man-made objects. They have shown their technique several times and I’ve played around with it on my images. Today a comment stuck in my mind – don’t be afraid to over-process. I realized I was short-changing the technique they were showing by not being radical. I was limiting what I take out of an image and not taking enough chance with how the remaining elements are treated. Guess my bias is still to show documentary images so I’m hesitant to take anything out.

Here’s an example of a basic image I thought has promise:

And here’s the over-processed version:

This was a quick mask selection and adjustment but it does show a really different, and dramatic, way to portray the subjects. I can see how a little more Photoshop time will really add some interest. Now to dig through that Lightroom library to find more material I didn’t realize was in there!

Geek time – panoramics

I enjoy making panoramic images when the setting calls for it – gives a sense of the really big picture. Typically I use a longer lens turned vertical to get as “tall” an image as possible for each of the shots I combine into the final panoramic. Still, it’s hard to get foreground material in the image and I think that’s what sets a good panoramic apart.

Short lenses don’t usually come with the mounting ring found on longer lenses. On the latter it’s easy to go vertical – just turn the lens on the mount and you’re ready. With a shorter lens you either don’t have a vertical option or you flop the whole system over on its side. The latter approach means the lens isn’t rotating over the center of the tripod or around the nodal point of the lens.

Nodal points are great discussion topics for a bunch of outdoor photographers. Some swear by them, some claim they don’t exist. Drop the idea at your next camera club meeting and see what happens.

Here are the basics. When you look through a lens some objects are close and some are far. As you move the lens side to side, the near objects appear to move in relation to the far objects. You can see this by closing one eye, holding out a finger and use it to cover some object in the distance, then switch eyes. Your finger will appear to “move” in relation to the far object.

So what, you say? In making a panoramic you take several photographs, moving the camera from left to right (or opposite if you prefer) and then have software stitch the images together. As you move the camera there may be near objects that get out of alignment with the far objects, and the software may not handle the different images well. If you rotate the camera around the nodal point of the lens while making the images then the relationship between near and far objects stays constant and your software is able to render a clean final image.

One way to deal with this is to put a L-bracket on your camera that will enable you to mount the camera/lens system vertically. This solves the orientation issue but it doesn’t allow for you to find the nodal point of the lens because the rotation point is the camera, not the lens. Also, L-brackets are not available for all types of cameras.

I figured out a way to use short lenses in a vertical orientation and rotate them around the nodal point to make clean panoramics, It uses two pieces of gear in tandem and just a minute or so to set up. Here’s how it looks:

The GH400 attachment enables the vertical orientation while centering the system over the rotation of the ball head. The M-8 plate can slide the camera forward/backward to put the lens rotation at the nodal point for that lens. That’s all there is to it.

Here’s a sample of what I’ve gotten using this setup. Using a longer lens I wouldn’t have gotten the rocks in the foreground, which I think adds a good perspective to the location and composition.

Devil’s Lake State Park, Baraboo, WI

Toning options

Black and white photography, after a while, just looks so – well – black and white. Fortunately there are options to enable me to give different appearances. To apply a tone to a photograph is simply to give it a color cast other than the “native” color from the negative and paper. Sometimes the intent is to duplicate old photographs, which traditionally have a sepia or bluish cast to them due to the developing process. Sometimes it’s just more interesting for the subject if there’s a color tone in the picture.

Winter images are where I like to play around with tones the most. With digital post-processing it’s easy to apply a variety of tones at different intensities until you get the look that fits the image. I am by no means an expert at this. For me it’s interesting how the appearance of an image can change the impact elicited in the viewer.

More B&W from the ‘fridge

Continuing to pull rolls of film out for processing and learning some of these have been just sitting there for a year or so.  Great thing about monochrome film – almost indestructible if held cold and dry.

These are from 35mm negatives, all made using the Olympus 35-80mm, f/2.8 OM lens.  I managed to snag this online a few years ago – very hard to find.  One of Olympus’ sharpest lens for the OM system.  It really delivers on the details of an image and has a “look” very different from comparable Olympus “digital” lenses.

All Ilford Delto 100 film processed with XTOL developer and the usual array of stop bath, fixer, hypo and Photoflo, scanned with an antique Minolta film scanner.


Wind Point Lighthouse
Cedarburg, WI
You have to enjoy kayaking to be out on a sunny, snow day.

The good ole days

Been using black and white film for a bit, just off and on going out to work on exposure and composition. In the meantime I’ve learned some different ways to process any image to make it more than just a documentary image. It’s a way to think beyond the typical approach and look I’ve worked on to see what other stories might be portrayed.

So, mixed up the chemicals and started processing all the film that has been accumulating. I don’t keep records on what the images would be so sometimes it’s a surprise to see what comes out of the developing tank. For some reason I like architectural compositions when shooting film – not sure why. Here’s a few of the most recent finds.

The colors of autumn 2020

So much of the year seems surrealistic, new surprises every week that are unexpected, unsettling and unpredictable. And it seems that’s just the weather.

Fortunately, all of human activities on the planet have insignificant impacts on the changing seasons. This is the time when we look to the forests to remind us how the cycle of time continues to roll across the land. A summer of non-stop green gives way to a myriad of expressions as the trees show off what’s been hidden.

I’ve spent a hurried few weeks traveling around Wisconsin to find peak colors. This year the change has gone fast, moving from north to south quickly and sometimes popping up unexpectedly in places far removed from where predicted. Overall it felt like this year the colors were better than last and moving across the state to see the progress was, as usual, very relaxing and comforting.

Here’s the best of what I saw. Hope your fall was rewarding as well.

Click on an image below to start a slideshow to see the complete picture.

Simple steps to dramatic

My local camera club hasn’t met in several months but efforts are made to keep us in touch with each other and opportunities to learn or photograph as they come up. Last night we had a Zoom meeting program to learn about B&W photography from Geff Bourke. It was a good program and gave me some ideas on how to turn what seem to be unremarkable images into something with a little more kick. Geff does much of his work in Lightroom so his methods are readily available, easy to do and don’t require learning Photoshop.

For example, take this image:

Not a particularly interesting photo – color is washed out, empty sky, no real contrast.

Following Geff’s recommendation, I used Lightroom Develop mode to add graduated density to the top and bottom, used the Color adjustments to convert to B&W and then emphasize the red and yellow parts of the image, and increased the contrast. From that I got this:

A much more interesting photo. And a way to display fall colors when the forest doesn’t have that much drama.

Check out Geff’s work. And play around with photos you’ve previously passed over.

Fall Color Safari 2020

Here another autumn season has come around, totally ignorant of any stressful events impacting us humans. The weather and foliage are unmindful of human events, focused on the transition from a summer of growth and development to a time of reflection. All that work of green passes away at this time to reveal the results of such efforts, a coat of many colors to dazzle even the most indifferent observer.

I am not indifferent to this spectacle. This is when I feel the urge to get out into the woods, to travel the roads and seek out the brightest and boldest colors and scenes. Fall has always been a time of new things, a time of changes to anticipate and joys of realization.

My grail search is for that perfect arrangement of trees, leaves, water and sky, a gathering that takes your breath away at nature’s ability to amaze us. With a seemingly casual shrug at the end of summer, the trees reveal what’s been hidden all these months, a final act of the show we’ve been taking for granted all around us.

This year took me to the north central part of Wisconsin, carefully timed to see peak colors in as many places as possible. The heat and dryness of summer, and the inconsistent coolness of early fall, resulted in color patches, some good, some past peak. Also the color change seems to be spread out over time based on the types of trees. Maples were turning red over a week ago and will be barren in a few days of wind and rain. Birches and yellow maples are reaching peak now, turning the forest into a golden, glowing hall of dark pillars and a yellow roof. Along with this are the dusty, pale colors of leaves that never burst with color (I’m looking at you tamarack), along with the oak trees that go from green to brown seemingly overnight. And as always, a few green stragglers left in the forest, along with the pines, firs and spruces that will remain green.

As usual I’m drawn to country roads littered with leaves passing through a canopy of color on the way to yet another lines of trees. And water, streams and lakes to reflect the tapestry on their banks. And the hedgerows, edges of fields where domesticated growth of grass or corn butt up against the wild woods. It’s these “edges” where I find the scenes that are pleasing and relief-giving. To know that even with all the changes humans make to their environment, the forest may remain unchanged and untamed.