Things close to home

Cold weather can be tough for photography, from the batteries and tiny buttons on digital to the adjustments and exposure for film.  The scenes can be interesting if you’re willing to deal with the chill.  And the almost monochromatic look to everything.

So winter is my time to look for B&W opportunities, including infrared.  The bare trees and drifting snow make for some wonderful shapes and textures, and the stark sun in a cloudless sky provides plenty of contrast for shadows.

I continue my education on Ansel Adams’ Zone system for exposure and snow covered landscapes are perfect to experiment with.  The dazzling white snow can through off exposure meters or at least lull you into a sense of complacency on how the image will come out.  Fortunately the dynamic range of my digital and film cameras is usually sufficient to simply place the mid-tone greys in Zone V and let everything else fall where it does.  Here’s an infrared image where I put the grey stones in the wall right on Zone V and was able to retain some detail in the shadow of the wall while holding the texture of the snow in the foreground.  Snow is an almost perfect reflector of all colors so it will be white in infrared just as with B&W.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA


I’ve had this image for a couple of months, playing around with it.  I really like the detail in the cattail “fuzz” against the dark sky.  I wanted enough depth of field to give a sense of the three-dimensions of the stalk but keep the background blurred so the subject stands out.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe’ve finally got our bird feeders arranged to keep the acrobatic squirrels out of the flat feeder we installed for the ground birds like juncos and cardinals.  The feeder is high enough to keep squirrels or raccoons from jumping over the baffle.  Surprisingly it’s also strong enough to support the larger feathered diners who have started coming by.  The snow is apparently deep enough to annoy the turkeys in their scratching for food, so they come by our place for an easy snack. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThey are amazingly tolerant of us watching them through the windows.  I think we’ve had upwards of 10-12 on the deck at one time, vacuuming up the sunflower seed and corn I put out for critters who just like to crawl around and graze.  The squirrels don’t really like to mingle with these ladies so I usually put more out after they wander away. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Turkey populations have really grown in my lifetime.  Driving around Door County a couple of weeks ago we saw a field with close to 50 of them, all scratching for the corn left from harvest.  Are these the next Canada goose for urban parks?

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.





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.


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.


Long lens close-ups

The Canada geese in the area are herding their goslings around showing them the ropes on survival.  It’s fun to watch the adults try to threaten a big car with hissing and advancing motion while the young blithely wander around poking their noses into everything.  In general, though, mom and dad keep the group together and moving in the same direction.

It was an overcast, rainy day and the goslings were in the tall grass, either stripping the water drops off the leaves or picking at the grass itself.

I was using a 300mm lens for my OM-1 film camera on my digital camera, shooting out the car window.  The geese were so close at times I had to wait until they walked out of my close-focus point.  It was great to be able to fill the image with the birds but handholding a long lens like this (and manually focusing) meant the images aren’t as sharp as I’d like.  Still, you can see details on them nicely.

Whenever the parents felt we’d gotten too close or had seen enough, they herded the goslings further into the grass.  With all the rain we’ve gotten the stems were tall enough to easily hide the young birds, although a few of them still were curious about all the fuss.

We expected to see sandhill cranes in this area as they use it for feeding and nesting.  And sure enough, we saw one walking along the side of the road in the grass.  He pretty much let us coast along beside him while he nosed around for bugs and periodically called out to see if anyone was in the area.  Although this was our only sandhill crane we did see a cousin.

At a nearby visitor’s center we heard a whooping crane had been sighted so we drove off in that direction hoping for the best.  Luckily, the bird was still in the field so we got to see one of our most endangered birds, just wandering around in a field behind a farm house.  What a great opportunity for us to see the “other” American crane.

We learned later whooping cranes have been transplanted to Wisconsin but the efforts are not going well.  The percentage of successful nesting and raising of young is very small.  One surprising issue is the black fly population, which harasses the adults so much they leave the nest and eggs behind.  A tactic managers are using is to get to the nest soon after the eggs are laid and remove them to be hatched by humans.  The birds will apparently lay more eggs later, which is after the black fly population drops off.  Sometimes even evolution needs a hand….

A few things about this image.  It’s an extreme crop of an image made with the 300mm lens resting on the window of my car so it’s nowhere as sharp as I’d wish for such a great occasion.  But, you use what you got as best possible.  Also, see the bird on the right?  From other images it’s obviously a crane but I can’t find anything online about whooping or sandhill cranes being this black at any stage in their life.  Either it’s been rolling in mud or it’s some other type of plumage.  Finally, if you look closely behind the white whooping crane, about an inch in this image, you’ll see a little orange spot.  This is the head of a chick that followed the adult around.  At the distance we were from the birds it was invisible – I only noticed it when zooming in on the images in Photoshop.  Hopefully this will be one of the chicks that make it to adulthood!

Every little thing

Watching the chipmunks and ground squirrels running around chasing food and each other I got to wondering what the world must look like from their perspective.  With eyes almost on either side of their head the view is much wider than we see, and just about every plant around grows taller than them.

I put my tripod flat on the ground and mounted my shortest lens to a panoramic attachment to get some images of the world at their level.  It certainly looks like a much bigger and wider world than we’re used to seeing.  And the details are almost overwhelming.  No wonder they seem to attend to every little twig and leaf that turns up in their small section of land.


10 image panoramic, 14mm, f/8, ISO100

Whales here


The annual whale migration down the California coast has been getting lots of attention this year due to the numbers and types of these mammals making the journey.  A near record number of anchovies in Monterey Bay is attracting not only large numbers of grey whales (the usually sighted in this area) but also humpbacks, orcas, and the occasional blue whale.  One radio story described the behavior of the whales hanging around the Bay to feed like trucks pulling off the turnpike to the local buffet.  They will eventually get back on the road but much fuller than normal.

We noticed a few whales while there before Christmas; you can see their spouts from the shore on a day when the ocean has few whitecaps.  What surprised us was how close to the shore they were traveling.  Usually a good pair of binoculars helps spot them but all the ones we saw were less than 1/4 mile offshore and their spouts easily seen by the naked eye. 

The images below are of three grey whales cruising past Pt. Lobos south of Carmel.  The sun was out over the water so their spouts were being backlit against a somewhat smooth ocean.  They seem to take their time until you try and set up some shots; then you notice they are relentless in their journey as they cruise out of range in just a few minutes._C167266 _C167235