Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Five times two, times two

Long day today - educational concert, rehearsal, portrait session. Even so, when I spotted these thumbnail sized flowers in soft, end of day light, I had to do some photography for myself.

Permalink: http://jilcp.blogspot.com/2014/04/five-times-two-times-two.html

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Never close enough, but close enough to try a shot

This spring, I've been proving to myself that the bird photographer's cliche about telephoto lenses never being long enough is mostly true. Of course a person with the patience and skill to closely approach wildlife would not have this problem. For casual wildlife shooters, though, it can seem that you never have enough magnification. (Another way to state the situation is that the lens is never long enough except when it's too long. Birds tend to be shy and fast, so they don't closely approach until they suddenly fly right by you, at which point your long telephoto is too big and heavy to aim quickly, can't focus on a subject that close, and might not include the whole bird in the frame anyway!)

With all of that said, here are three shots from this afternoon, each of which required cropping. These blackbirds showed up before any geese, gulls, or herons.

I had almost given up on seeing any Great Blue Herons when this one soared across the opposite end of the lake.

I had about decided I wouldn't see any more interesting wildlife at all, and was headed home when this cardinal landed in a nearby tree and played hide and seek amid the branches.

[All photos Canon EF 300mm f/2.8 L IS II with Extender 2X III]

Permalink: /2014/04/never-close-enough-but-close-enough-to.html

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Wet Raleigh

It would probably be a good discipline for me to got on a photo outing and limit myself to one image. However, I must admit I'm more inclined to try to find as many different subjects as I can, regardless of where I find myself. Today was a mostly rainy day, with the sky consistently overcast, so I went out to look for scenes of "wet Raleigh". I started with an ess curve of railroad tracks at Pullen Park, and finished on a section of Greenway at almost the opposite end of town. Although I had a selection of lenses with me, all of my shooting ended up being done with a 70-200mm zoom. It was misty when I did the first photo and poured for a time after that, but had quit raining before the last exposures.

Permalink: /2014/04/wet-raleigh.html

Friday, April 18, 2014

Sunset through distant trees

Last night's sunset didn't produce a spectacular spread of color through the sky, which was almost cloudless, but it did climax with an intense orb dipping past the horizon. When viewed through the tunnel vision of a long lens, I thought it had photo possibilities. I blocked the sun itself with a tree limb. The surrounding glow through gaps in the distant trees looked exactly like a forest fire (so glad it was not!), which you can see here.

Momentary distraction! Backlit dandelion preparing to replicate!

When the solar display peaked, I had found my best composition around budding leaves. They were about seven feet from me, while the trees in the background were at least one hundred times that far away. There is no manipulation in this image, just the extreme contrast of in focus/out of focus, and the natural colors are modestly enhanced, just as they appeared to me, subjectively, at the time of exposure.

Incidentally, this might be taken as an example of landscape photography not always being done with wide angle lenses.

[all photos Canon EF 300mm f/2.8 L II IS)

Permalink: /2014/04/sunset-through-distant-trees.html

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Wet Flowers, the all-natural way

A rainy day, overcast sky providing that "giant softbox" look of light from almost all directions, and flowers highlighted by drops of moisture with no effort required on my part - what could be a more perfect invitation to wander about with a macro lens?

And spring is here.

Permalink: /2014/04/wet-flowers-all-natural-way.html

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Apple Blossoms

When apple blossoms spring forth around here, they only present one or two minor impediments to making a good close-up photograph. The branches are quite high, so getting a high enough camera position can call for a fully extended tripod (including center column, not ideal for stable support) and a step ladder (cheaper and less technical hassle than a remote viewing system). Also, they are prone to sway like crazy in the slightest breeze. So I played a waiting game this afternoon, and caught this at a moment of minimal motion.

[Canon 5D MkIII, EF 100mm f/2.8 L IS macro, f/11 @ 1/50 sec., ISO 320]
[...and none of the above is really important, but some of you like to know...]

Permalink: /2014/04/apple-blossoms.html

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Focus Stacks v Straight Shooting: Tuesday at the Arboretum

I paid a visit to the Raulston Arboretum Tuesday, with one aim being to experiment with focus stacking. This is a technique that can enable shooting high magnification subjects (small objects shot from very close) with the whole subject, front to rear, in focus. Before digital photography permitted the blending of multiple exposures, the limitations of optics meant that only things which were pretty close to flat could be rendered fully sharp when the camera was really close. Think of stamp or coin photography compared to very tiny insects or flowers, which could be tack sharp in the areas closest to the lens but had to be allowed to "go soft" as their shapes bent just fractions of an inch further from the lens. Ah, the wonderful days of film photography!

Well, as often happens when I set out with one goal in mind, I became diverted to other pursuits along the way. However, my first image of the day did indeed involve focus stacking, though not of the sort I might do with a single tiny object. Instead, I found nice shapes and light at the top of a flowering bush, and wanted to capture that part of the plant with clarity, but wanted the background as soft as possible. I used the long end of a 100-400 zoom, near its closest focusing distance and widest aperture. This gave the desired background effect, but would not have come close to getting all of the nearby twigs and flowers in focus. Depth of field is very limited with such a long focus lens. So, I made three exposures (on a tripod), with each focused slightly differently. In Photoshop®, I then combined them to get the areas of clarity I wanted, a reasonable transition to softness, and the soft wash of color behind it all.

Lower in the same bush, bees were active. I couldn't resist sticking my nose in there and getting a few shots. No focus stacking possible with living, moving creatures!

These bee photos stand up to cropping and enlargement pretty well. Here's a version taken from the shot above.

Next I tried some of those tiny flowers that sometimes seem to call for heroic efforts to get them in focus. I did a stacking experiment, but in terms of artistic effect I decided I preferred these two straight shots (i.e. single exposures), with limited portions emphasized by their clarity while others were left blurred and highlighted the translucency and delicacy of structure.

The next flower was above my eye level, but a nearby staircase let me get a view from above. Here too, I tried a stack of shots to let me render the whole bloom sharp, but I like this version with detail and texture in the front and softness in the back.

To round out my journey, I studied a plant that became dormant over the winter and may or may not spring back from its geophyte. Here too, the idea of stacking shots to get every bit of detail in focus occurred to me, but I think that the gradual softening as leaves curve further away from the plane of focus helps to strengthen the feeling of depth and solidity.

I did make use of a bit of supplemental illumination from an off-camera flash, to emphasize the textures that were so much a part of what intrigued me. Here are three successively closer compositions:

[first photo Canon EF 100-400/4.5-5.6 L @ 400mm,
other shots EF 100/2.8 L IS macro]

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Lake Jordan sunset

I made a trip to the shores of Jordan Lake in the early evening, hopeful that the clouds would continue to be interesting and perhaps contribute to sunset color. I staked out a position near the exposed roots of this tree, and used it to block most of the still intense sun, which was staring me in the face. The young fellow on the left seemed to be skipping a rock on the water surface. The jet contrail balanced the shapes of the tree branches.

Satisfied that I had at least one good vantage point for sunset shots, I explored a swampy area behind me, which gave virtually perfect reflections and made this composition possible:

The shot above was converted to black and white, then given a differential toning of the shadows and highlights. Reclining nude?

Back to my chosen tree as the sun neared the horizon and the clouds swirled in the high altitude winds.

I caught a bird flying into a scene that I set up, but did not have time to alter camera settings to freeze the rapid motion. Had I prepared for the possibility, a pop of flash might have turned the anonymous silhouette into an identifiable species. I'm still glad for the movement it adds to the scene, though, and I think some amount of blur is appropriate to the mood. The paintbrush sky was amazing.

In this broader view, you can see that the orange tones were concentrated in a narrow band, contrasting with the blue that persisted.

The sun's last gasp may have elicited a gasp from me!

[Canon DSLRs and various lenses, all manual exposure settings]

Permalink: /2014/04/lake-jordan-sunset.html

Friday, April 4, 2014

Outstretched wings and necks

Hear me on WCPE radio at 7:00 pm EDT Monday, April 7! "My Life In Music", also rebroadcast Tuesday, April 8, 3:00 am EDT and Sunday, April 13, 5:00 pm EDT.

OK, with that plug out of the way, here are a few photos from April 3 at the lake.
Fully outstretched wings reflecting the copper sunlight:

Crow landing on a submerged tree:


Basking in the golden light:

Swimming away from the sun:

[All shots Canon EOS 1DX, 300/2.8 L IS II, most with Ext 2X III, last shot with "bare" 300]

Permalink: /2014/04/outstretched-wings-and-necks.html