Trumpets of spring

Trilliums have been the harbinger of spring for me since my first spring in Michigan.  Just as the leaves in the trees started to green up the woods there would be these white stars appearing on the forest floor.  Some areas would be dotted with white and some would display a carpet of brightness against the dark green and brown.  Only in the woods would you see them, creatures of the deep forest floor, too shy to venture into the sunlight.

Delightfully I see these in Wisconsin as well, peeking out of the ground before the other plants put out their leaves and start competing for the limited sunshine let in through the branches above that are rapidly extending their leaves to create shade underneath.  A brief glance is just about all you get before the white is gone, followed soon by the part of the plant above ground, gone for another year to rest before springing up again to remind us of the seasonal cycle.

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Signs of spring – at last!

May at last and it seems the last snow has just melted.  Somehow it feels as if the seasons and the climate are not in sync.  The trees, birds and flowers all want to start growing while the wind still blows cold and damp.  The height of the sun in the sky will hopefully re-connect the two and everything can get on with another year of starting over.

It’s the time to be quick as a photographer.  One day there’s a great composition and the next it’s gone as flowers pass their peak and babies grow rapidly.  Much like chasing fall colors it feels like the best way to handle this season is to go into the woods and stay for a month or so, patiently keeping an eye on all the goings-on and being there when the best view manifests itself.  Tough to do as an amateur.

Spring redux

Summer green has set in strongly now, replacing the spring flowers with lush foliage.  Saw some flowers at the store the other day and decided to capture some of the seasonal color.  Tried a little light painting to give the look I wanted.  Technique works really well on these type flowers with all the textures and bold colors.

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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Renewal

Plants insist that spring is here now, in spite of the recent snow and chilly temperatures.  Yeah, flowers get all the attention with their bright petals and colorful throats designed to attract pollinators.  What does the beginning look like?  Who pays attention to the small sprout coming up out of the cold ground announcing the change of seasons?

Well, I did lately.  Playing around with a focusing rack designed for macro photography I made some really close images of early spring.  I’m still learning the ins and outs of focus stacking, both the mechanical and processing tricks.  Very short depth of field close-ups are perfect for this since you can control the viewer’s attention by defining what’s in focus and what’s not.

Here’s a crocus that’s made it up ready to bloom.

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And here’s a peony sprout pushing its way up to form a stalk that will be 2-3 feet tall and support a huge blossom.

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I liked the tones in this image.  It was a cloudy day with the sun over my right shoulder and the lighting turned out looking like a studio set-up.  But no, I’m down on my knees with my camera on the ground making a dozen images that will be blended into this broader depth of field.  But about those tones.  I thought this one would look better as a monochrome – let me know what you think.

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A lost world?

What I’m looking for, strolling through my image catalog in search of intimate landscapes, is that small vignette of a space filled with interesting characters.  The interest may be texture, shape, contrasts, personality, whatever seems to come together in a composition to want you to take a second look.  Stripping the color away means I have to pay attention to form, placement, tonal quality, dynamic range – all those technical aspects that when used correctly contribute to a well crafted image.

Here the flowers are bright against a darker background.  They are lacy in a field of flat.  Behind them is a gradually darkening space leading to whatever your imagination conjures.  The ferns break up the space into ordered pieces with their planar, sectioned leaves.  They generally point to the flowers, emphasizing and reinforcing your eye to return there.

Where does this miniature jungle lead?  What’s behind the dark ferns?  Are the flowers struggling against the encroaching ancient ferns or is there a symbiotic relationship between them?  What creatures might inhabit such a world?

You stop to look and gradually you are imagining all sorts of things.  About a picture of ferns and flowers.