Sunday, June 9, 2013

What goes into a great bird picture?

I take hundreds, maybe thousands, of them.  Pix of birds.  The same bird again and again and again--shifting slightly each time--so that I could make a flip book if I wanted to.  Then the next one, same thing.......   And sometimes the whole series falls flat, others that are just 'nyeah'; not bad, but not one to remember either.

So, what goes into a memorable bird picture?

Of course, clarity, good focus, an appropriate depth of field, just as in any photograph.   I end up using auto focus, which allows me to shoot quickly.  However, since I used the 'old-fashioned' viewfinder, that also means that sometimes the focal point ends up being the tip of the beak or a feather rather than the eyes.  Hard to tell in that tiny window!

That's a key:  The eyes need to be in focus.  With just about any creature where the eyes can be seen, they usually need to be in focus. 

And, if there's a highlight on the eye, so much the better.

Is the light modeling the shape of the body? 

Is the bird doing something particularly birdlike?  Or something unique to its species?  Is the woodpecker pecking?  The warbler warbling?

And finally, do you get a bit of personality?   

In my second summer with this camera in the same, small two county area, I sometimes realize I have photographed a bird I shot last year--and it's not just markings, it's their neshama, their soul. 



Other times, in the case of red-winged blackbirds for instance, I'm finally getting technically proficient pix on a regular basis.  But there are the few that, if I shot the same bird again, I think I would recognize it.  Because of their essence, their personality that shines through.

So, that's a lot of it--do they become as individual as a person or a pet?  Could I pick them out of a crowd?  That's capturing soul.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

First Day of Meteorological Summer

(Before I start, here is another panorama that I think gives some more idea of the contours of the land in the Kettle Moraine:)

According to the weather'girl', yesterday was the first day of meteorological summer, although I am not sure what that means.  I tried taking some different routes, but found myself relatively uninspired until I returned to the familiar haunts of the past 11 months.  I am not sure what it is about this two county area, but something inside me jumps when I enter the area.

Yesterday ended up being more fruitful in terms of new sights and discoveries even within that limited area:  I saw my first 'baby' sandhill cranes and got to photograph them.  I have never seen them before they are 'teenagers', so this was very special.  It was a set of twins.  From what I have read, normally only one of a pair will survive most of the time as the parents cannot gather enough food for two.  However, last year I was sure I saw several pairs of juveniles, so am not sure what it means.  Here is one with one of the parents:

I got started taking pictures in this area as I would see sandhill cranes and was just fascinated by them.  Many of my pictures of them are backlit, which can work against a photographer by causing the effect of a semi-sillhoette.  However, in this case, it served to really set off the colt by highlighting the down.
Damsel flies can be so delicate and hard to notice, let alone photograph.  It was fortunate and serendipitous that I noticed this one.
As I have photographed and re-photographed this same area for almost a year, I have wondered how long I would continue to find new things to shoot.  So far, this has not been a problem.  There are several more specific things I am looking to photograph and then I think I will be needing to find a new location to explore; I'll return here, of course, to this place in  my heart where I met the sandhill cranes.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Almost a year

It's been almost a year since I bought a good DSLR camera; the little point and shoots, even with zoom features and the like just weren't enough anymore.  Combine that with learning how to use some photo softwares better, and it's been loads of fun.

My most recent adventure in software involved learning how to stitch photos with the panoramic function.  Love it!

My major reason is that I do a lot of photography in the Kettle Moraine, an area carved by glaciers during the Ice Age and which is full of  curving hills and low spots.  Sometimes a regular lens really just can't give the effect.  It also can't catch some serious weather.  But with the panorama function: Wowie Zowie!

This is a three shot panorama.  Try picturing just the middle.  While that is the most interesting part with the contrast of blue, sunny sky against the rainclouds, certainly adding the rain on each side adds to the drama.

This one doesn't feature weather or rolling land; however, it did allow me to photograph an entire controlled burn site conducted by our DNR.  They do this periodically on state lands; it assists in allowing more variety to the plants;  on this site and others, there will be an abundance of wildflowers later in the year.  If the burn had not happened, the area would have been all grasses.

Here, the panoramic function allowed me to show these birds in one picture.  They were fairly close, but not close enough to catch together. 

Before digital photos and software, panoramic cameras were pretty rare and expensive.  They were designed so that the lens rotated on an axis, requiring longer time for the shot.  This could mean needing to use a tripod to ensure sharpness.  Due to that, many photographers did not take them.  I love seeing the plethora of panoramics my friends post!

Sunday, October 9, 2011


Tashlish is a part of the Days of Awe. It is a short, sweet ceremony which most traditionally is done after services on the first day of Rosh HaShana. One goes, usually with other people, to living water such as a river or stream and names sins one is repentent of while throwing small bits of bread into the water. Usually the bread will be bits of challah, that most beloved of Shabbat and Yom Tov (good day/holiday) meals. I have usually participated in this ceremony with people from my congregation shortly after services end.

For some reason this fall, there has been a very present part of me which has needed to be in the country alone. The same was true throughout the holidays. On the first day, I did not participate. On the second day, the congregation was doing it again; someone commented that, while it was traditionally done the first day, Tashlish can also be done any of the 8 Days of Awe.

That clinched it for me. I gathered a bit of challah and set out for the moraine. Of course, it started raining. I eventually gave up the idea of making Tashlish that day as it was too wet for much wandering. It did make for some good photography, though.

That was a Friday. That Sunday, a gorgeous day, I went back with the intent of performing the ceremony while out. I forgot the challah. I stopped for a hot dog at one point and decided to save a bit of the bun for that. Of course, I was on auto-pilot and snapped the last bit of bun into my mouth. I'm faced with buying another sandwich, a loaf of bread or something to complete the ceremony with.

Later I stop again and review my choice of breads. Somehow it seems wrong to perform tashlish with Wonder Bread, I don't find a traditional bread/roll to use. I end up buying a lovely loaf of chocolate almond pumpkin bread.

I drive around until I'm tired and in pain. Whenever I stop, I cannot get close enough to the water to ensure I can toss the bread successfully into the stream, the water appears stagnant or is covered with weeds.

Eventually I drive back into the city. I drive around some more. Finally, I end up in a park. I name my sins and toss a few bits of bread. The ducks and geese immediately start to head in my direction and stop, confused, after I quit tossing these very few small bits.

Did I wander from a strictly traditional way of performing this ceremony? Definitely. And yet, I think I was the most honest with myself and felt more regret than I have when doing it with others in the past. I'm just that masked in the presence of others. Did G!d mind? I doubt it.

One ideas, two expressions

I am trying to do some redecorating and freshening up of my apartment without spending a lot of money. In the living room, I am using a rose, chocolate brown/burnt umber and cream theme. Without thinking of what I have in storage, I began to do some art for the walls.

I have been incorporating more recycled materials into my work and have made several substrate by collaging pattern pieces, book pages and other material. I have lightly gessoed on some and left some plain. For the top image i used one of those. I first covered that substrate with various colors: ultramarine, burnt umber, greens. They were very dark and intense, so after they dried, I laid down mulberry paper and washed it with a very light coating of white watercolor. This set the basic colors at the right saturation. While working wet, I then began painting the flowers in various colors of rose and crinsom while using a spring green on the stems/leaves. I did this several times, letting layers of colors dry inbetween. Since I moistened the paper for the initial painting in, the colors spread, making a dreamy image. They were then clarified with drybrush layers of colors. The yellow in the center was the last accomplished step. I think I need to add in some stamens.

Although there are 4 flowers, I think the composition is still interesting since one is a bud and at a very short height in comparison to the rest.

The second piece is done in a similar way. However, the substrate is a piece of white watercolor paper washed with ultramarine, burnt umber, spring green and permanent green. The same roses are used for the flowers. Then a layer of rice paper was added and the color layered in a wet fashion before the drybrush to clarify the images. If I work in my normal fashion, there would be at least one more layer of paper and color. At this point, I may add more washes of color over each other as well as do some more detail at the center of the open flowers.

The first one feels more organic and the color is richer as it already has more layers of colors than the second one. The second one has the benefit of being much 'cleaner looking' with less layers. The image is more distinct overall. I know which one I am drawn to more; how about you?

Elul: the bright blessed day

This is the last of this project I finished during Elul and the first part of the Yamim Nora'im (High Holidays); while there is certainly more to the song, those images involve faces and I definitely need to practice my faces on the muslin--and in general--before I can finish the whole song.

These I will string with the lyrics incorporated. I think they will be great Sukkot decorations, as that is a time when we celebrate the harvest and G!d's bounty.

Monday, September 19, 2011

process flag

In this little flag, I laid down colors as I do in my rice paper collages. Something about coating the back of the fabric with acrylic gel medium allows me to have multiple layers of colors without the paper layers; I find myself getting the same layers and blending effects as I do with the collages.