More fun from a distance

I keep returning to Horicon Marsh searching for a whooping crane.  Now that I’ve got the gear to reach out and touch this rarely seen bird, he seems to be avoiding me.  Just have to keep it up, I guess.

Not that the time there is a waste.  I’m learning more about the terrain, the roads, the wildlife.  Seems the swifts that hang around one of the viewing stands are starting to get used to me.  Not that they are any happier about my presence.

My photography colleague Steve Russell is building quite a portfolio of macro images – you should take a look the result of his effort.  His technique is usually the traditional approach – macro lens, solid tripod, lots of patience to get the subject framed and exposed to his liking.  I’m not as good as Steve at getting close nor as patient to wait for the right moment.  Fortunately with my 300mm lens I can stand back and fill the frame.  Great for getting tight with a subject you can’t easily get to.

Sure, I could have been like Steve and gotten to this with a macro lens but it would have meant wading through a foot of marsh whereas I was able to stand on the boardwalk and get just as close as I wanted.  Like I said, Steve is better at this than me.

The swifts are an interesting crowd.  They zip around the boardwalk chasing each other (or invisible insects) all the while chatting about something.  For a break, they sit on the rope banister for the boardwalk and chat with each other.  Must be lots of gossip to keep up with in the marsh.

At the other end of the activity scale are the egrets and herons.  Patiently waiting for the right snack to appear, not getting in a rush for anything.  It seems they even take their time talking with each other.  Maybe they are sticklers for using just the right sentence structure or word choice.

The marsh serves as a very large nursery each year, as parents raise kids to be a part of the huge avian world.  This time of year the youngsters are showing some post-adolescent plumage as they look forward to following their parents south to escape the chill that will cover the marsh with ice and snow.  This young sandhill crane, not yet with his red skullcap, is strolling through the fields with mom and dad.

With so much to see there are opportunities for a little abstract, countering the soft, rounded edges of the marsh with man’s insistence on linear and angular.

I’m very pleased with the performance of this lens – it stretches me to be a better photographer for composition, exposure, focus and storytelling.

Surprise – there’s more there

I’m continuing to learn the capabilities of my 300mm lens, specifically how to capitalize on the sharpness.  A long lens take practice to “dial-in” as far as technique to use it at the limits of its design.  I know a few things to look out for and am learning more about set-up and handling.  Still, even with my novice skills I get surprised.

While sitting in a marsh recently waiting for waterfowl to come by I practiced focusing on this guy:

Red-winged Blackbird

Seemed like the image turned out pretty good so while in Lightroom I zoomed in to see how much detail I could find in the bird.  That’s when I noticed this:

What are all those spots?  I thought, “Oh no, the lens has something inside it” before realizing anything in the lens wouldn’t show up for the most part.  I zoomed in a little closer and discovered these are small flies hanging around this tree.  Which is probably why the bird was hanging around as well.

This is one of the aspects I really enjoy with telephoto lenses.  You get your image downloaded and starting looking it over only to discover there are elements in the picture you didn’t see.  Lots of fun.  Especially when things are sharp enough to make sense of them.

So I discovered the lens is sharper than I expected, something to keep in mind while reaching out to pull in a subject in the distance.

Marsh scenes – summer

Continuing to learn how to get best results from a 300mm lens I recently bought.  The Horicon marsh north of us is one of the best places around to see a variety of birds and scenery so I wandered around a bit to see what I could practice on.  Most of the images below are cropped from a larger composition.  Where I used it best, the lens is sharp enough to allow significant cropping and still render detail.  Great when the subjects you want simply refuse to get any closer.

Great Egret

This bird appears to have been resting from a feeding session in the marsh just below the tree.  I was able to get closer by creeping up behind other trees and shooting through open spots in the leaves.

Sandhill crane and red-winged blackbird

Earlier I was walking a dike with a small cloud of red-winged blackbirds around me, all screaming warnings to everything within hearing distance.  Experiencing that I realized they are pretty bold but didn’t realize what they would take on.  A pair of sandhill cranes were slowly feeding across a shallow marsh when they wandered into the nesting area of a group of blackbirds.  At least a half-dozen of the blackbirds were swooping around them, driving them away.  The most effective method seemed to be landing on the crane’s butt and screaming at it, like the one above.

Swallows

The swallow on the left was patiently waiting on the right one for something.  As the cleaning proceeded past the limit of the left one’s patience it reached out and grabbed the other’s wing.  That got attention.

Mallard family

Families are growing this spring, as parents have just a few months to train the kids on survival and migration.

Lily still life

Before the wind gets up there are nice opportunities for some quiet scenes.

Egret hunting party

This group of egrets slowing moved across this small marsh, vacuuming up fish, frogs and other aquatic life.

Muskrat

He appears to be gathering moss or reeds since he’s carrying a clump in his mouth as he makes his way back to a small island of cattails.

Great egret

Always good in a portrait session to have shots from both sides.

Birds – up close

I’m not a hard-core bird photographer.  Having said that, I do enjoy the opportunity to make some images that give me a closer look at these remarkable creatures.  A photo’s ability to freeze time is the perfect way to get to know their details.

Horicon marsh is close enough for an easy day trip and right now there are lots of birds up there.  Memorial Day weather was perfect to wander around the trails enjoying the sounds and sights of the flocks of birds making it a temporary home.  Here are a few of the birds I saw.

All images made with 300mm f/2.8 Olympus lens on E-3 digital camera.

Black crowned night heron

Egret with fish

Canada goose and gosling

Sunny nap time

Purple martin

Female red-winged blackbird

Casual Opportunities for Interesting Images #VantagePoint

Vacation or photo safari?  Always a question when traveling and not for an assignment.  Like many outdoor photographers I like to “document” places I visit.  Sometimes it’s just to remember what I saw, sometimes to get some perspectives on a place I plan to come back to for more images.

This image was one of those occasions.  Visited here because it showed up on a tourist guide of the area then found some interesting compositions.  Fortunately I had my tripod and assortment of lenses to use.  One great thing about places you can drive right up to is having all your gear in the car!

Seven Falls, Colorado Springs

What attracted me to this composition was the abrupt change in the water’s flow and the way the wet rocks were reflecting the light in the sky.  I knew this was going to be a B&W image and that I wanted the water to have a nice flow rather than be stopped in time.  The tripod enabled a long exposure and the shorter lens let me put more of the falls in the composition.

So what if I hadn’t carried along all that gear?  Would there be a way to get a similar image?  What about other tourists who have point-and-shoot cameras or their cellphones?  What would they make?  At the time, probably nothing like this.

Friend of mine asked recently about available compact cameras that would give the versatility of a DSLR for dynamic range, depth of field, and varying focal length.  He likes putting something in his travel bag or pocket that will deliver very nice results but not require hauling around lots of gear.  At the time I didn’t have a good recommendation but soon after that I ran across a different type of compact camera.  This one uses multiple lenses and processing software to enable the photographer to capture several versions of a composition and then create the final image with the characteristics desired.  There have been variations on this idea in the past years but it seems the company behind this idea, Light.co, has found the right combination of technologies and design features to meet my friend’s needs.

Photography used to be about skills and technical knowledge, mainly because the tools and processes required those in order to get the final result.  Now the result can be shared in the blink of an eye (no more chemicals and special materials to create a print) and the capture almost with a glance.  Kodak’s original statement was along the lines of, “you push the button, we do the rest” which if you think about it, is how photography is these days.  There’s seemingly no effort required.

Is this a terrible change to a 100+ year human endeavor?  I don’t believe it is.  Now the “technology” of photography can stop being in the way of the creation of photographs.  Today if you don’t like your images you pretty much can’t blame the equipment!  Even the most casual tourist has the chance to create a wonderful experience to share with others – all they have to do is pay attention to what they are seeing.

Computer, well done

You know how we make fun of the accuracy of information found on the web?  Recently I got caught up in a thing that ultimately surprised me while increasing my appreciation for people out there with too much time on their hands.

My Macbook Pro (2008 model) just conked out on me one evening.  One minute it was working, the next – dead.  I tried all the reset procedures I could find online but nothing seemed to give it the urge to recover.  Finally took it to the Genius Bar at the local Apple store and a really nice young lady ran it through some of their diagnostics and offered an answer.  The logic board is probably gone.  That was the bad news; the good news is the hard drive was intact and operating, and she showed me a way to off-load all my data to an external drive without having the logic board actually function.

So, I have my data but a non-operational laptop.  Do I buy a new one (well, a newer refurbished one), get this one fixed (expensive) or just give up having a laptop (my photo processing done in my Mac Pro desktop)?  I decided to browse some sites to see how other people dealt with this quandary.

The consensus seemed to be bake the logic board in an oven.

Yes, the first site where I read that was met with chuckles.  Then it started showing up on other sites, actual Mac sites I respect.  And it seemed several people had performed this culinary/computer operation with success.  And there were a couple of really nice descriptions (with pictures!) of how to disassemble this model Macbook Pro in order to remove the logic board.  Who knew people were taking their laptops apart and bragging about it online?

Really, what did I have to lose?  I’ve always enjoyed seeing what’s inside stuff and it might just fix my problem.

Which it did.  Yes, I now have a recovered Macbook that runs just like it did before.  Crazy, I know, but one explanation seems to make sense.

Laptops go through significant thermal cycles, with the innards getting hot, then cooling down, then getting hot again.  Those little fans you hear running apparently don’t actually move enough air to cool down the insides, just enough to keep it from setting your lap on fire.  As a result of all this thermal cycling (and tossing the laptop around from desk to backpack to countertop, etc.) the solder joints on the chips can get brittle and actually separate.  With this the chips lose connection to important parts of the computer and it just shuts down.  Yeah, that sort of sounds like it makes sense.  But what about the baking thing?

Putting the logic board in an oven for a brief time softens the solder just enough to fill in any cracks interfering with the connection and returns it to a more flexible state.  The key is apparently exposing it to just enough heat to soften the solder and then letting it cool undisturbed so the solder solidifies in place without spreading between connections and causing a short-circuit.

So, it works and I add my happy voice to all those other brave souls who have dismantled their Macbooks and baked the insides.

One caveat mentioned is this fix probably won’t last forever, meaning another baking session or complete breakdown of the board.  Still, I’m getting a little more life out of it and I’ve learned one of those cool internet things – one you simply have to try to believe.