Random thoughts

The photography adage is the best camera to have is the one you have with you.  For a week I kept mine in the car to simply be ready.  Most of the week was pretty gloomy with clouds and fog but that just makes me pay more attention to forms and how shapes work together.  Of course black and white is the only way to portray such so here’s the best from the past week.

Lifelong exposure to the prevailing wind gives the trees near Lake Michigan a definite angle, like they are leaning toward the water.

Pretty traditional composition for prairies and trees – just finding a way to show off the clouds.

A rigid shape among the organic forms, displaying its own tribute to the waves in the lake below.

Leading lines – will they merge in the distance?

Well, must be spring out there somewhere….

Ever waited for something you knew had to happen just about any minute now?  It’s the sense I get from this cardinal – where’s that darn spring?

This is my 501st posting, appropriately the first from Wisconsin where I’ll be permanently resettling this year.  Only just started driving around a bit; haven’t pulled my camera out yet.  It takes me a bit to get used to a new location since I want to see the whole place first before getting down to the details.  Based on a couple of maps and books I’ve bought there won’t be a lack of interesting landscapes and wildlife to photograph so I’m looking forward to the adventure.

Now if only the flowers and greenery would show up…….



Merry old England

Winter can get odd here on the Plains.  Right now we have no snow, temperatures in the 40’s (it is still January!) and tonight, fog that would make London envious.  I’m sure there’s a perfectly plausible meteorological reason for it but that doesn’t matter to me.  For a photographer fog is a great light modifier that gives lots of opportunities for cool effects.  It also attenuates the lights on the ground that make clouds light up, so a foggy night gets really dark!  And with long exposures you really don’t know what the final image will be until you finish it.

ISO 100, 27mm, 15 sec., f/5

ISO 100, 27mm, 15 sec., f/5

Here’s a pavilion in a local park with the lights on inside.  I like how the long exposure brought out the blue in the sky and how the fog scattered the light around the building.  The foreground is being lit by a streetlight that was behind me.

ISO 100, 14mm, 8 sec., f/8

ISO 100, 14mm, 8 sec., f/8

Here I wanted the wet road to reflect and create a leading line to the foggy lights.  I increased the structure of the road and decreased the contrast around the lights in order to enhance the sense of walking into the fog and losing details of your surroundings.  The sodium vapor lamps in the street lights made everything in the image a reddish-orange color so I converted it to B&W to avoid that distraction.

ISO 100, 33mm, 8 sec., f/8

ISO 100, 33mm, 8 sec., f/8

This is my favorite.  Driving through the intersection I noticed the stop lights were beaming out into the fog like spotlights.  We don’t notice the fresnel lenses in stoplights but they are there in order to let the light project in a narrower beam; the lens shows up as concentric circles in the stoplight glass.  In the fog this spotlight beam effect is visible.  During one long exposure I was able to capture the light cycling through all three colors as well as a passing car behind.

All lighting presents an opportunity to learn how your camera ‘sees’ so don’t pass up any interesting versions that come your way.


Where’d the water go?

Drought news is all over the media.  Well, it is here because we’re part of it – don’t know how it’s playing around the coasts.  Agriculture is critical to the Plains and Midwest; this year’s weather is playing havoc on farmers and their support industries so we hear a lot about it.  In case you haven’t seen how bad it is, most of the time it’s portrayed with something like this:


That’s a great graphic but for me it really doesn’t bring into clarity what drought looks like.  And I don’t mean pictures of dried up crops and such.  I mean things like – THE WATER IS GONE!

For example:

Two Rivers State Park

It’s not uncommon to see people fishing right off this dock, as in standing on the dock by the rail and letting your fishing line dangle straight down into the water.  Actually, the bottom of the dock should be touching the water.  That won’t be happening for a bit.

How about strolling across a river?

Two Rivers State Park

Doubt the water ever got over their knees.  By the way, below is what this stretch of the Platte usually looks like.

Lots of water vanished.  Not sure when it’ll return.  Not only is there no rainfall expected here for weeks but the mountains that feed the Platte, Missouri and other Plains rivers are not expected to get rain either.


Last year there was too much snow in the Rockies and too much rain in the Plains – the Missouri flooded out many farmers.  This year it’s the opposite, essentially drying out many farmers.

Global climate change?  Sure.  The earth is a massive system that goes through cycles based on any number of factors and interactions.  Should we be so egotistical to assume it’s all our fault?  I’m sure some is – you can’t re-landscape as much of the earth’s surface as we have with out it having some impact on the overall system.  Is it all our fault?  Doubtful.  These cycles have operated well before man made an appearance on the planet and will continue to do so after we’re gone.  Don’t forget – in spite of all the mystical belief about earth as a living organism our planet could really care less about our existence.  It will keep on doing what it does whether we’re here or not.

So what do we do?  Pay attention and learn to deal with the cycles.  That’s a tall order given so much of our lifestyle is dependent on agricultural production that assumes constant conditions year over year, but remember – we have to adapt because the earth isn’t going to adjust its schedule to please us.

The power of photographs over graphs and maps is the ability to portray the local impact of national issues.  Grabbing someone’s attention first – “you mean that’s right here?!” – is crucial to getting them to the next step of understanding the trend and long-term impact.  Think of the great photojournalist images  you’ve seen and the subsequent actions that occur as a result of a single photograph.  Powerful stuff when used correctly.

More drought scenes later.

Weather is all we’ve got

Check out the heat map on any weather broadcast and you’ll find Nebraska somewhere in the red zone.  In spite of significant irrigation systems around the state the corn and soybean crops remain in a threatened state.  Fortunately for us the recent 100+ temperature days have broken a bit.

The question is whether this is just a tease or not.  I went out yesterday to continue working with my new lens and found the sky at sunset was filled with clouds, many different types showing off their designs in the late light.

ISO 100, 30mm, 1/80 sec., f/4.5

ISO 100, 47mm, 1/200 sec., f/4.5

But no rain, at least not around me.  Here is all this water hanging in the atmosphere but none finds a way to release and come to earth.  Instead it rides along the wind, sailing over the landscape to bring some shade and nice compositions but no rain.

Technology of today enables us to know about conditions across the country every day, down to the county or town level.  We can see trends of ongoing weather and watch how they affect our daily lives and the lives of people all around the US.  Imagine the days of the Dust Bowl, when your knowledge of the weather was what you saw outside every day, or maybe heard on the radio from some local station.  When did they realize the weather wasn’t going to change?  That the conditions they saw every day – dust storms, eroding soils, dried up crops – were going to remain for a long time?  What key learning started the great western migration of people?  Was it meteorological or economic?

And have we learned anything since then?  What do the skies tell us about our near future?

I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help.

We seem to always think of our distant ancestors as looking to storms on the mountains with fear and trepidation, an unknown and unfamiliar sight that could only lead to bad things happening.  Are we so fearful as a race that this is our default position, to grant our forefathers only the negative aspects of a relationship with nature?  I’m thinking it’s only half the story.  There must have been people who also looked up and saw the same image only to marvel at the sight.  The brilliance of the clouds, the ruggedness of the mountainside, the way the light played across the surface of both revealing details not apparent at other times.  Where are their stories, their art, their anticipation of a positive future coming from this meeting of sky and earth?

They were incorporated into religions, that’s where.

Renewal by the lake side

ISO 100, 1/20 sec, f/11, 37mm


We use adjectives to describe our perception of people’s personality, endowing them with metaphors of nature like “sunny disposition”.  Were I to use such language to describe myself it would probably be something like “misty, foggy, San Francisco moody.”  I just feel so comfortable wandering around in a light mist wafting on a slight breeze; not so damp as to be chilling or soggy humid, but rather like a cool sheet when you first stick your legs into bed.  Don’t spend a lot of time thinking why this is so, just look forward to weather that gives me this sort of environment.  And the opportunities to visit the city this type of weather is famously known for.

The prairie managers in the local park recently burned a part of the tallgrass on the lakeshore so I wandered over to get some raindrop macro shots.  I’d noticed this blackened ground from the other side of the lake not more than 3-4 days ago, and as you can see from the image, the grass has rushed up to overcome the charred surface with a spring carpet.  Once released from the competitive pressure of other weeds prairie grass grows almost explosively.  There are probably few other places where you can just about sit and watch the grass grow and see some advancement!

I like this composition – the log over the stream caught my attention and I wanted to include it in some how.  The faint breeze was stirring the lake just enough to give it a matte surface, and the trees are just budding out enough to provide a faint color to the grove.  Over everything was the mist – not quite fog, not quite rain.

One aspect that interested my eye was the contrast of the near lakeside to the far, where the burn hasn’t been done yet.  This side is reduced to the simplicity of spring – grass, treebuds, water and earth.  The far side looks almost chaotic with the forest springing out in all directions and tones.

So, a brief moment in time where all the right aspects come together and deliver an existential moment.