Woodland stroll

The weather this afternoon was just right for wandering through the woods. Cloudy but bright, cool and dry, slight wind to move the temperatures around. Couldn’t resist it, especially since I’m trying to increase my efforts at local photography.

Stylists say one design rule is always have something in threes since the odd number attracts our attention, breaks up symmetry and generally makes an image more interesting. I’m pretty bad at styling, which is why all my food photography looks staged (terribly so!), but nature doesn’t need help in this department. Lots of plants are interesting to look at because they do break symmetry, with three being a popular number. Makes it easy to spot poison ivy!

My favorite plant that uses three effectively is the trillium. They seem to magically appear in the woods in various places (I can’t predict where they’ll show up) and at different times each spring. And they don’t hang around for a long time. Seems like I spot one or two in the woods and a week later they’re gone. Makes it a special image when I can see one at the height of its short-lived bloom.

This one was resting quietly next to a fallen log, protected from the wind and sun. There wasn’t many other plants around it so I had a clear view at a low angle. The texture of the fallen tree made the view interesting, giving a mostly plain backdrop to the plant’s three-on-three proportions. The cloudy sky gave me enough light to get the bright white of the bloom without creating such a wide dynamic range that keeping details in the bloom would block up all the shadows. A little processing in NIK to bring out surface details in the bloom and leaves, and a conversion to B&W (the color would just get in the way). Nice final image for my stroll.

Morning stroll

Chatting with members of the camera club I’ve joined about their photography I realized I’ve significantly cut down on the time I spend outside with my camera. Part of it feels like I’ve just seen everything around here and part is not feeling challenged by composition and design. Years after photography school I was out several times a week, looking through the local parks and trails for anything that might be of interest in a picture. That behavior has faded quite a bit but fortunately it’s something I can recover. As an instructor told us, you have to get out and work the muscle memory of clicking the shutter before you can start seeing what you ought to photograph. He encouraged the “documentary” shots, the ones everyone takes, as simply a way to get your mind into photography mode. I need to get back to applying that advice.

So today I went over to a nature center I rarely visit just to refresh my memory of what’s there. Overcast day so no grand landscape images, and most of the spring flowers aren’t out yet, so I had to pay attention to what I was seeing if there was any chance of seeing something interesting. Fortunately that paid off. I found a couple of compositions that cried out to be B&W and came across a couple of subjects that you had to be there to see. A good start to returning to good habits.

Submarine in Wisconsin

The shipyard in Manitowoc, WI made boats and ships for the Great Lakes since the days of wooden sailing. During World War II they were asked to take on the challenge of making submarines to aid getting as many of these boats into service as soon as possible. There were 28 of this type made here on the shores of Lake Michigan and all served the country well. You can read more about the history of this effort here.

One of these boats made it through the war and returned to Manitowoc where it was lovingly restored and now gives people the opportunity to see what it was like to be a submariner. Had the chance to tour the USS Cobia today and was fortunate enough to pick a day with few tourists. No people meant great photography opportunities throughout the boat. Here’s what it looks like onboard.

Forward torpedo room – note slide-out bunks under the torpedos
Valves and gauges in forward torpedo room
Officers mess galley
Officers mess – they ate the same food as the enlisted crew just in a different place
No idea what this role was called – looks like a clerk of some sort given the typewriter, files, and other office material
Control valves and gauges for ballast tanks
Rudder control wheel and gyroscope with depth, speed and compass dials
Control wheels for diving planes with controls and gauges
Enlisted crew galley
Enlisted crew mess
Crew sleeping quarters, looking forward
One bank of diesel engines used for surface propulsion and battery charging.
Part of engine room controls
Switches and gauges controlling batteries used for underwater propulsion
Aft torpedo tubes
USS Cobia

The typical crew on this type submarine were generally pretty young. Even the captain, a person with several years experience, might only be in his early 30’s. That’s fortunate because the space inside is pretty cramped. Younger, smaller and more flexible people would definitely have an advantage! It was great to be able to move through the boat without dodging other people. I can’t imagine the claustophobic feeling of being underwater in a moving tube while navigating narrow passages with other people.

Being able to photograph in this boat and capture parts of naval history was great. All the credit goes to the builders and restorers who crafted such an intricate vessel.

Spring kids

Because my Lightroom catalogs folders by date I look back periodically to see what I was photographing at this time a year ago, or a couple of years ago, or however far back I have entries. It’s a practice suggested by a teacher in photography school. He said you will probably find themes you’d forgotten, images that just aren’t as good as you remember and new images to work on now that you have more processing skills and a better sense of what you want your images to say.

I did this exercise a few days ago and discovered most every year at this time I’m photographing the goslings at Horicon NWR. By this time each year they are big enough to wander around with their parents, eating on the verge of the roads and generally making life anxious for their adults. They hang out in groups, making portraits of a bunch easier, and seem pretty unconcerned about the big vehicles stopping right next to them. As the year goes on they transform from fuzzy little characters to “geese” as their mature feathers come out and they start practicing for the winter migration. At that point they must lose their appeal for me because I don’t see many images from that time each year.

To celebrate spring coming through again here is a selection of what’s been new each year around this time.

Heading toward a thaw

The spring weather is wandering in gradually as temperatures are up one day, back down the next, and the chance of percipitation goes between rain and snow. Almost all the snow on the ground is gone – a victim of sunlight and warm winds. The trails are still icy and the ground somewhat frozen although there’s enough thawed on the surface to muddy boots. Signs of winter are still around but the season is clinging to the last phases as the spring equinox approaches.

Always strikes me as odd that snow on the ground melts last even though it’s out in the sun.
Anything lying on the snow in the sun melts what’s under it and sinks into snowcover.
Items sink and leave a perfect perimeter and they sink below the surface.
Not everything is melting fast. These people are heading out to join a dozen or so more fishing in the middle of the lake.

Winter infrared

Snow really does reflect just about the whole visible spectrum of light, apparently absorbing little of the sunlight that hits it. For infrared it looks like the angle doesn’t matter. Direct reflections, incident, just about any place you put the direction of the light results in white. It makes winter shooting interesting because you have to rely on other elements to get details in the image. Architecture is a favorite of mine because the snow becomes a secondary aspect in the scene while bouncing all the colors in the light onto the structure. It’s like having a giant reflection on the ground!

More color

The orchid show is an example of why I bought the Nikon D800 camera – low light, high-ISO performance. In previous shows, shooting with my Olympus, pushing the ISO much higher than 400 resulted in obvious noise. Some I was able to eliminate with NIK filters but that tended to cut into the sharpness of the image. The D800 reviews indicated shooting at ISO3200 still delivered good images and enabled faster shutter speeds, a problem with the Olympus system in low light. Hand holding at 1/15th second just to get enough exposure was a problem with motion blur, even with the in-camera image stabilization system.

The lighting at Chicago’s orchid show is usually pretty subdued. I guess the idea is that orchids grow under a tropical canopy so this is what they prefer. Actually, they grow in all sorts of conditions so this must be a choice of the show designers instead of a requirement for the plants. What that meant was most of my images were made at ISO800 or ISO1600 to give me fast enough shutter speeds and apertures providing a decent depth of field. The D800 performed well under these conditions so I’m pleased with the purchase, at least for this criteria.

Here are the rest of the best images:

Time does travel in a circle

The first 35mm camera I used was a Minolta SR-T version a friend had purchased.  My college roommate had worked in a local newspaper as photographer and film processor, and he agreed to show us how to use the camera as well as develop the film and make prints.  It was a significant step up from the Instamatic cameras of my youth.  I learned the bare minimum about shutter speeds, aperture and film ISO, as well as some darkroom techniques.

By the time I decided to buy my own camera the Olympus OM-1 had taken a large share of the SLR camera market.   It’s durability, small size and system of lenses had made it popular with photojournalists who were taking it into places the old Graflex 4×5 press cameras couldn’t survive.  Also, it was affordable, something important to a grad student interested in 35mm photography.

I’ve gone through many rolls of film with my OM-1, delivering varying levels of satisfaction in the outcome.  Since I really didn’t know how differences in lens quality would impact image quality, the inexpensive lenses I’d purchased kept giving me pictures that were just not what I was seeing in magazines or professional portfolios.  As such, I’d go back and forth with photography, putting the camera on the shelf for a while, then taking it down to try again.  I cycled through this process several times, working through rolls of Tri-X, Ektachrome and finally Kodachrome.  Never really got the results I wanted but built a nice collection of vacation pictures!

When digital reached the point where it was delivering image quality similar to film I decided to jump on that bandwagon.  Olympus was again my choice as they had begun a new system, designed specifically for digital from the sensor to the lenses.  I started with an E-510 and moved through the E-3 to the E-5.  Again, not really understanding the impact of sensor size on image quality and dynamic range, I found some limitations in the choice of Olympus over the full-frame systems from Canon and Nikon.  Still, I was getting pretty good images, even better ones once I started buying the professional level Olympus lenses.  A summer in photography school eliminated much of my ignorance about equipment and technique. Finally I was getting the quality of images I’d aspired to for all those years. I looked forward to continued satisfaction as my camera system grew.

But Olympus chose to take another route, trailblazing again with “mirrorless” as a way to shrink the camera down, returning to the compact idea of the OM-1.  Gradually I saw it was going to be hard to support my Four-Thirds Olympus system with batteries, new lenses, even simple things like replacement eyecups.  Additionally, I was trying to stretch the smaller sensor to do things it really wasn’t designed for, like low light photography or bigger prints.

So I looked around for a system that would not “age” as quickly (I don’t like to give up things that are working, regardless of how old – I also use a 4×5 view camera!).  What impressed me about the more current full-frame systems was their ability to shoot at high ISO with little noise.  My E-5 was good to around 800, beyond which the noise in the sky or solid backgrounds started to appear.  In order to get shutter speeds that allowed hand-held shooting in low light I needed clear images at ISO’s greater than 800.

What I decided on was a Nikon D800.  It got good reviews when introduced, not only for the increased pixel count on the sensor, but the size of the pixels that allowed shooting at much greater than ISO 800 with little noise.  The full-frame and greater pixel count enables me to crop more without losing resolution.  With the body I purchased the 24-120mm f/4 lens, which is comparable to the 14-54mm “walking around” lens I use on my Olympus (perceived focal lengths are 2x for the Four-Thirds sensor).  I’m still working my way through the menu system on the Nikon to get it set up the way I like to shoot and to understand how to quickly make changes as needed.  Lots of buttons supporting lots of options.  Fortunately, now that I have a few years under my belt, I at least understand what settings will give me the desired results.

Ironically, the day after the Nikon arrived this showed up in the press:


The OM-1 is back.  Good things are hard to keep down.  Olympus sold their camera division a few years ago to focus on medical and other specialized imaging.  People have been wondering where the new owners would take the brand.  Well, they are dipping into their past, combining the best of the old with the years of digital learning.  I’m hoping this one will ignite photography passion just like the original one did, maybe prying some smartphones out of the hands of people who need just a little better equipment to deliver remarkable images.

I’ll keep learning about my Nikon, and keep using my Olympus cameras, including my antique OM-1.  But I’ll be keeping an eye on this new one.  After all, I have some great lenses that will need a home when my E-series bodies quit working.