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Hungry Plants. April 28, 2012

Posted by littlebangtheory in Art and Nature, Love and Death.
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The Northern pitcher plants (Sarracenia purpurea)  up in Rowe MA are doing their Spring thing, despite the freezing nights and scant bugs.

Here they’re greening up amongst the leaves of swamp irises:

They’re astonishingly colorful for what’s growing around here, showing vibrant greens and rich reds amidst the sphagnum moss:

Hungry green funnels wait for curious insects to take their sweet-smelling bait:

Once an insect crawls down to check out the sweet liquid in the funnel, fine downward-pointing hairs prevent it from climbing out, and there’s precious little room for flying, so most suitors get drowned and digested be enzymes:

Yum!!!  😉

Periwinkle. April 26, 2012

Posted by littlebangtheory in Art and Nature.
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A carpet of mossy rocks and Periwinkle swathes a sugarbush in Rowe:

…and that is all.

More From The Rookery. April 26, 2012

Posted by littlebangtheory in Art and Nature.
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I went back to Wendell for another whack at photographing the heron rookery my friend Lizz told me about, this time arriving around 8am to get the light on  rather than behind  the birds.

Well, as these things are wont to happen, the weather didn’t quite cooperate; even when there was blue sky behind the objects of my affection, the sun was screened through a moving mat of high and ever-thickening clouds.  I spent three hours trying, but left knowing that I’d be back for more goes at this magical tableau.

The rookery is in a stand of dead trees in a beaver-flooded hollow:

I counted at least a dozen nests, some not evident until a croaking heron circled and landed, or took off from something much less evident than this one:

Thanks for the help, guys!

And I say “guys” because most of the nests which were close enough to observe had a sitting bird, which I’m assuming is female and incubating eggs (as they almost never  left their nests,) and a standing  bird, who seemed to be watching their environ by quadrants, either for danger or opportunity:

I could almost hear the conversation as they interacted: “Heads down*, Alice, I’m goin’ out to get lunch.”  “Ralph, you’re always  going out to get lunch!”

* Herons never say “duck,” as they consider that to be fowl language.

Anyway, my objective for the day (besides getting shots of front-lit herons) was to try to get herons in flight.  This is a big leap for me, as Gizmo is a 400mm lens without image stabilization, meaning any movement of the lens (including touching it) blurs the photo, so tracking birds, even with a tripod, is out.  Add to that the sorry fact that for many of these shots I was using a 2X tele-extender which  a) slows the shutter speed by two full stops,  b) magnifies the shake inherent in touching the camera and  c) makes the lens’ auto-focus inoperable, and I had a situation where I had to  a) boot the ISO up substantially,  b) pre-aim the camera, guessing where my flying subject would be, and shoot with a cable release so I didn’t have to touch the camera, and  c) pre-focus on God-knows-what and hope something good would come of it.

So here, against all odds, are the results.

A trio of “guard” herons, with one taking flight:

Obviously, I hadn’t guessed correctly which bird would “chicken” first.  Oh well.

Here’s one preparing for take-off, posing as a Buick hood ornament:

Good one, Bird!

…Then, launching into flight:

That’s an impressive wing-span there!

And lastly, the same bird returning to its roost, playing Night-time, Daytime:

I find the feather separation on the up-flap impressive, and marvel at the engineering inherent in such an organic design.

Anyway, that’s all I got before the clouds moved in and I got tired of sitting in cold, wet moss.

But if I’m right in my assumption that the females are sitting on eggs, return trips might prove productive.

Time will tell, eh?  😉


Columbines! April 26, 2012

Posted by littlebangtheory in Art and Nature.
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…at a little ledge along Colrain Road in Shelburne:

These were pretty specimens and easily accessible, but I have yet to see them when the wind isn’t gusting, so I got what I got.

That’s my excuse, and I’m stickin’ to it!  😉

A Walk In A Welcome Rain. April 23, 2012

Posted by littlebangtheory in Art and Nature.
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It’s been dry here, bone dry, all of the last two months.  The ground is dust, the river is dry, the green shoots of Spring wilt as they emerge.

It ain’t right, I tell ya.

But last night we had a glorious inch of rain, trailing off to showers and drizzle as today progressed.  And while I’m not usually inclined to take a hike while it’s raining, this time was different, a blessing, and I got an early enough start to catch the last of the showers up on a ridge in Rowe, near the Raycroft Overlook.

I won’t say I packed lightly – camera and tripod, a pack full of lenses, and my rain set-up: a wooden stake tripod, big-ass hammer, two bungee cords and an umbrella.  ‘Cause I’m high-tech, you know.

Anyway, I drove as far out toward the Overlook as my oversized beast would take me without risking disaster, then loaded up and hiked onward to where the ridge narrowed to a rib of forest slicing through the fog and mist hiding the valley far below.

It was as magical as it always is in the mist – the last time I was here in these conditions, a big black bear loped by between me and the misty void, and though my vulnerability in that moment was clear, I wished it would happen again.

But it didn’t, and as I made my way through the hemlock forest I kept my senses open for a reason to set up the camera and umbrella.

I found this, a moss covered log so vibrant it startled me, cloaked in green velvet and sporting some newly emergent Orange jelly fungus (Dacrymyces palmatus ):

This is from Elliot, with about five degrees of tilt (!) and a hand-held three-stop ND graduated filter, which was the primary reason I needed the umbrella.  Little bugger doesn’t take kindly to getting wet.

I took a dozen shots, playing with composition and laying the plane of sharp focus in artsy ways, but none of them were more compelling than this simple early take, so that’s what I’m sharing here.

Another Tree Shot. April 22, 2012

Posted by littlebangtheory in Art and Nature.
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Here’s a pair of oaks in an incestuous embrace:

I’ve photographed these trees before, but it’s been a few years now, so I thought I’d revisit them.  This photo needs work; now that I have a sense of what atmospherics I’m looking for I’ll be back to shoot it again until I get it right.

This shot is courtesy of Elliot, with about one degree of tilt.  I was lying on my side with my head down hill and my face squeezed between the camera and ground, so the composition was a bit rushed.

Still, the verdant mossy bark gives it an other-worldly feel, and I like it well enough to keep trying for the money shot.

More Herons. April 21, 2012

Posted by littlebangtheory in Art and Nature.
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Housemate/Dearest Friend/Photographic Mentor Lizz told me about a heron rockery she’d crossed paths with in Wendall. MA, which is less than an hour from here and so qualifies as “local,” and how her 200mm lens didn’t quite get her close enough for keeper photos.  Perhaps, she thought, my 400mm Gizmo might be more appropriate for the job.

Well, I went there and found the nests, and though the light was behind them, got a few shots worth sharing.

A tree with three nests and two sitting moms-to be:

There were a number of nests with sitting birds, which I’ll guess were the females, while another set of birds flew about, landing on other nests and branches:

My sense was that these were the males, though I’m no ornithologist.   I graciously assumed they were patrolling the perimeters, rather than dodging their parental responsibilities.  At any rate, they were beautiful to watch:

They were backlit, meaning they weren’t colorful, but they had strong lines.

And, as it turned out, their beaks were translucent, and positively glowed in that backlight:

I was happy with the shots from this first visit, but I think I need to see it at/near sunrise, which means getting there in the pre-dawn pall and setting up before the action commences.

That’s awfully early, but I’ll try.  I think the shots may be worth it.


Tax Day, Northampton MA. April 17, 2012

Posted by littlebangtheory in Politics and Society.
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There was an “action” today in Northampton, wherein the 99% made our voices heard:

Something struck me about the dozen or so participants:

…that is, they were almost all dust-farters like me.

They were the same people who had occupied the streets and commons back in ’70 to protest the Vietnam War.

Back then we were college students.  These days, the local college students brush by with their heads down, busily texting their friends about the ass-hugging jeans they’re on their way to buy.

Note To Kids:  We Old Folks won’t be here to wipe your asses all that much longer.  It’s time to start paying attention to your world.

It’s just a thought.

Buffalo On The Great Plains… April 17, 2012

Posted by littlebangtheory in Art and Nature.
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…of Hadley, Massachusetts:

This gruff-looking bull watched me carefully as I approached with my camera.  He was, after all, just being a protective Daddy, but I wasn’t displeased to have a stout fence between him and me.

A proud Momma Bison cleans a newborn (that is, day old) calf:

This little guy is just getting his legs under him:

Sorry ’bout the fence, but I had Gizmo on the box and getting close enough to shoot through the fence wouldn’t have given my the Whole Calf.  I’ll try to get back there while the newborn are still small, and I’ll bring a range of lenses.

Tour of the Battenkill! April 16, 2012

Posted by littlebangtheory in Uncategorized.
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The Tour of the Battenkill is widely regarded as the largest single-day cycling event in the United States.  That’s very believable; around 2,500 racers set out on what is for most of them a 62 mile cramp-fest of paved roads, steep dirt, covered bridges and eventual dehydration.

I went there this past Saturday with my housemate/photographic mentor Lizz to stretch a bit.  Action photography is nothing I know about, but I want to learn.

We also acted as support/transportation for our friend Chris, who flew in from Colorado to test himself on this grueling course.

As classrooms for sports photography go, I couldn’t have had a better one: racers in groups of about a hundred started every fifteen minutes from early morning to late afternoon, allowing me to try plenty of different camera settings, most of which were discarded, a few of which appear here.

My favorite shot of the waiting-at-the-starting-line tension:

Every detail had been either attended to by now, or was a source of consternation for those who felt not-quite ready.  Chains cleaned and lubed, cables tensioned, just the right socks:

And then, with the blowing of an air horn, they’re off in a frenetic blur of kinetic energy and light:

That’s a blur-shot, something which took me numerous attempts to get right.  This requires a balance between all of the elements of basic photography to get the effect of motion, substance and light.  Thankfully, with starts every fifteen minutes, I had plenty of opportunity to try various settings, throw most of the results away, and still have a few keepers.  That’s one of the overwhelming advantages of shooting in the Digital Age; such experimentation with film is a) expensive, and b) difficult, as the results of one’s efforts are only visible long after the fact, so experimentation necessarily involves “bracketing” your settings and throwing away most of the results – after  you’ve paid for their development in either sweat or money.

I’ll have another of these shots at the end of this post with more details about what I did to capture it.

Lizz and I were pretty much stuck in the heart of Cambridge NY for this shoot, as the roads out of town were busy with cyclists sweating blood and gasping for air – this is a 100 km (62 mile) race along both paved roads and gravel tracks, with grades exceeding 20%.

In case you don’t ride, let me just say that that’s steep.  Really  steep!

Anyway, it was a manageable hike to the finish line, where we got to see the fruits of these folks’ labors.  It was astonishing to see packs of riders dukin’ it out 62 miles later as they approached the finish line:

To have that kind of aggression left after three hours of eating dust and hammering on it leaves me humbled beyond words.

Each of many classes and groups had its victors and surviving stragglers, but the overall champion of the day was Bruce Bird, first across the line in the Pro-1 group:

He won it, and he knew  it.  He smoked his nearest rival by over a minute.

Fuckin’ eh!!!

Congrats to Bruce, who looked as fresh crossing the finish line as he did leaving the starting line.  My head is spinning on that one.

Anyway, I’ve saved my favorite shot of the day for last, as my friend and housemate Holly asked me to say something about what I did to get it.

This is a blur I captured as a starting group passed me:

Two guys looking to get the advantage in a pack of a hundred, with nobody wanting to eat dust.

For this very fast pan, I wanted a relatively long exposure to blur the background, while still getting something in focus.  I dropped the ISO to 50 to get that long exposure in the bright light of late morning, set the aperture at f/20 because I was panning quickly and wasn’t really sure what would be in my camera’s focus sweet spot, and wound up with a shutter speed of 1/13 second to produce a shot which was two stops under exposed to avoid clipping of the highlights.  The under-exposure isn’t a problem when shooting digitally and processing in Photoshop CS5, as RAW photos can be adjusted for exposure after bringing up the levels of the dark areas with Fill Light.  Adjustments to Levels, Vibrance and Sharpness gave the displayed results.

Oh, and I was shooting at a fast burst, allowing me to discard most of my shots in favor of the ones I liked best.

And all of the “start” photos, including the blurs, were shot with my 16-36mm L-series zoom, mostly dialed in closer to the 35 end of things, and all of the finish line photos were courtesy of Gizmo, my 400mm L-series telephoto prime.

I know this is a lot of technical jargon for those of you who just want to see nice photos of Western Massachusetts, but I’m experimenting here with a different style and subject matter and am thinking out loud, while trying to share my process with others who are doing the same thing.

Thanks for humoring me here.