Friday, August 31, 2012

Rush hour at Shelley Lake

Just as rush hour was getting going on the roads around Raleigh, I made a quick hop to a local lake in hopes of catching some avian traffic. The Canada Geese that seem to have taken up semi-permanent residence in these parts (not so many years ago, they mostly made layovers of a few days or weeks on their migration route) were in evidence, but apparently not interested in expending the effort to fly. As they were lazing about in the middle regions of the water, I garnered a few portraits of ducks that gathered closer to shore.

The Canada geese swam all the way to shore, and formed a pretty orderly procession toward the end of the hour, while the sky became more interesting, so I framed an overview of the lake.

The traffic began to go its own way... the clouds continued to develop. I grabbed a sky shot and headed for home.


Sunday, August 26, 2012

A day in the life

With the very first rays of sunrise, a photograph pushed it self upon me, whispering "get up, grab a camera, fast, before I'm gone!"

That lamp only gets the glint of sunrise through a window during the summer. I've looked at it before, and tried to catch the effect once before, but this was the first time I got the particular sparkle and shape that originally caught my eye. The surroundings are very dim and indistinct to the naked eye at that point, so the effect of the photo is quite natural and uncontrived.

Early in the day, I observed some of the squirrels who make their homes pretty close to ours.

Along with doing some violin practice, I tested a new bit of location lighting gear, to be sure it would perform as expected for some upcoming location work, executive portraits created on site rather than in my studio. The lights worked fine for the violin head. Next step will be some test portraits with a human volunteer, after which I expect to finally pass the lights into primary position, with the previous lights becoming backup gear.

In the afternoon, I followed a new feathered friend to the magic seed field.

Finally, at sunset, I took advantage of the soft, even light to shoot a flower that opened in a neighbor's yard. I added just a touch of flash from an off camera position. This was almost two stops weaker than the skylight exposure (overall exposure was 13 seconds at f/13, ISO 200). Very weak light and quite long exposure beats a strong flash of light for a tiny fraction of a second! At any rate, the contribution of the flash was subtle, but it gave just that little extra bit of life to the upper parts of the flower.

So, there's a day in the life...a "day off" for a working photographer, a day of survival for a few mammals and a bird, and an evening to show off for a flower - if it could only be aware of its beauty!

Jess Isaiah Levin

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

BIF - bird in flight, butterfly in flight

The bird in flight in this photo is just an embellishment that happened to fly by as I was shooting what I envisioned as an abstract set of shapes and colors. I was eager to grab the shot while the one was perched on the corner of the building's roof, but didn't see the flier until it entered the frame. There was no time to raise the shutter speed to freeze the movement. I simply tripped the shutter in reaction to what I saw. The blur of motion works, I think, as a contrast to the solid structures behind and below it.

(By the way, believe it or not, there is also a dragonfly in flight, clearly visible in the original full-size photo, to the left of the flying bird and below the perched one! It looks like a dust spot when the size is reduced for the web.)

This butterfly made a brief visit to some nearly dead flowers in our driveway. I had no chance to train the lens on it while it perched, so I tried to catch it in flight. I fired off just two frames, but the second one was successful in showing off the wings and antennae. Yay! It never hurts to try. One of the marvelous things about digital photography is how quickly we can find out whether we've had any success with things that move too quickly for our eyes to be sure what we've caught. Those of you who grew up in the dark ages of film and chemical development will certainly understand why I value this and try not to take it for granted.

Aside from flying creatures, one thing that these two images have in common is that they were shot with the same lens, a 100 mm macro. This is a lens specially designed to focus very close and allow large images of small objects with great detail rendition. It can also be used for portraits, though, and the little architecture/bird/sky abstract above was shot during a brief break amid portrait shooting.

Jess Isaiah Levin

Monday, August 20, 2012

Steppin' Out

A foot on the armrest? I'm not sure how to describe why, but I found this somewhat humorous. Mostly, though, I thought that by playing with light sources I could make an attractive little study out of it. I think the various wood tones are quite rich.

Jess Isaiah Levin

Sunday, August 19, 2012


I do not take pleasure in the misery of other people or any other animals. I don't know how much a chipmunk suffers from the after effects of mosquito bites, but I wouldn't wish those nasty bugs on anyone or anything. So why have I got a photo of a mosquito biting a chipmunk? It was an accident. The little fellow paused and gave me a chance at a few shots, and I concentrated on getting his eyes in focus and catching the posture of paws in front of mouth with claws extended. It was only afterward that I noticed the tiny predator doing its "syringical" thing. Of course, predation on all scales is part of life. Nothing to be sorry about here, anyway. This chipmunk has eluded snakes and other life threatening predators, and is evidently eating well and storing up for winter. Look at those cheeks!

So, it's often "eat or be eaten", but here we could say "eat and be eaten"!


Jess Isaiah Levin

Friday, August 17, 2012

Apple and Strawberry

So an apple went for a walk...
We won't go there for any bad jokes, but let's follow the apple that I carried around for a while.
It became a fence post sitter, and I was on the fence about how to compose this little study in perspective. I chose to do it two ways. Both shot with the same 50 mm lens, by the way.

I tilted the camera for this image of an unlikely resting place because I liked the way it emphasized the balance point of the apple, which looked a little askew in any case.

The apple seemed to find a natural home in an oversized strawberry.

So that's where it ended up for its formal portrait. Classical Photography, you might say.


Wednesday, August 15, 2012


Sometimes I become captivated by a subject, and want to return to it. It's not quite an obsession, but a strong interest in being creative, trying to find a new way to see something. So, I headed for the same little group of flowers that I photographed yesterday. Of course, it would be foolish to avoid being distracted, so along the way I pursued a bee that seemed to be carrying an unusually heavy load of yellow stuff. Isn't it a good thing that they're not allergic to pollen?

Getting to the flowers, I found I could get quite a different effect from what I captured the day before. Different perspective and different light - it felt a little like seeing something new.

Then, I stayed almost as close, but switched to a wide angle lens, the 24 mm tilt/shift lens that I used for this architectural photo. It brought in the whole plant and showed the surroundings, and by tilting the plane of focus I got a nice quality of blur in the ivy and bushes which I think gives a sense of depth.

Crowded! I crowded the blooms in the frame by crowding the plant with my camera. The front of the lens was only a few inches from the nearest petals.

And that may be it for that little "obsession". Or maybe not - I see some buds waiting to bloom!
By the way, have you noticed how bees tend to be attracted to homely flowers past their peak, at least while we are admiring fresh and beautiful specimens? Murphy's Law, nature photography corollary.


Jess Isaiah Levin

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Flowers in changing light

I like to work with just existing, natural light when photographing nature, though I don't hesitate to add to it or modify it (with diffusion, reflection, etc.) if I I have the means and really think I can improve on what's already there. This time, I left well enough alone. I started with a relatively broad view of this cluster of flowers (broad is relative - the macro lens was pretty close, the flowers are quite small).

I gradually moved in closer, trying to catch my point of focus when it wasn't shaking too much due to even the gentlest movement of the air.

The following four shots show how dramatically the light changed over the course of about six minutes. After the first shot, I made a slight adjustment of camera position (it was mounted on a tripod). In the next three, the small variations in composition are a result of the flowers settling into different positions, as I waited for lulls in the breeze to grab my exposures. Although I changed lens aperture to get different degrees of background blur, the variations in "shape" of the light and foreground to background balance were the result of the sun almost, but not quite, breaking through the cloud cover.

Then I began to move out again for a broader view of one plant.

 And finally, a vertical version of my opening horizontal composition.

Now to do some printing!


Squirrel of the day

Squirrels are almost ubiquitous in urban/suburban environments, so it's no challenge to find them. They also become "tamer" than most wildlife, as they're so used to proximity to human dwellings. Not to mention the occasional handouts of seed...

Although they are "just rodents", and a lot of people would much rather be surrounded by birds of almost any type (rock doves, aka pigeons, might be an exception), squirrels can have their charm. At any rate, I like to practice photographic skills on the things that I see regularly (if you can't be with the one you'd shoot, shoot the one you're with?), and it's still a challenge for me to catch interesting postures and expressions, maybe occasionally with some interesting background colors.

[Canon 1DMkIV, f/4, 1/320 sec, ISO 1600, 300 mm w/ 1.4X extender]


Sunday, August 12, 2012

Did one follow me home?

Sometimes a treat lands almost on our doorstep. Having enjoyed (here and here) a visit to the butterfly house at the Museum of Life and Science, I looked out in the porch two days later and saw a perfect specimen that was spreading its wings on the tiles. I ran for my macro lens, then slowly approached. It allowed a few shots before flying off, but then it landed on a boxwood bush. I was able to cautiously approach again, and managed  this shot. Good luck favors the prepared camera!

At this close range/magnification, even a small lens aperture (f/11 in this case) yields very shallow depth of field, so I had to time the shot to the movement of its wings, so that most of the butterfly would be in sharp focus. Because the light was very dim, a high ISO sensitivity was needed to allow a reasonably fast shutter speed. I could not have made this photo in the years that I was shooting film, and indeed its technical quality is largely dependent on the characteristics of recent model DSLR cameras. It still requires some thought and practice, though.


Friday, August 10, 2012

More butterflies, and a big bird

At the Museum of Life and Science in Durham, NC, mentioned in my last post, there is a terrific butterfly house, where tropical species live, breed, and roam freely. There is also one family of birds which are not a threat to the butterflies. I photographed many of them yesterday, and have a few to show here now. First is the Paper Kite (Idea leuconoe, from Southeast Asia). It think it may be the very one that I pictured emerging in the previous post.

Here's a section of the same shot to show you the details of the head ("facial features", to anthropomorphize).

This adult bird (maybe a variety of Guinea Fowl? Sorry, I need to research this!) ran through the underbrush with two young in tow. I barely had time for this one shot, which is not artistic but should be good for an ID.

A pair of owl butterflies (Caligo memnon, Central and South America) posed in proximity.

Here's a Postman (Heliconius erato):

I'm not sure what the next bunch are. I hope to get back to the site soon to find out. If you know any of them, please leave a comment below! I would make a terrible field lepidopterist, but I love to photograph them.

The top and bottom of this species (pics above and below) are equally fascinating!

Finally, and I think fittingly as an homage to the Curiosity mission to Mars, I photographed a relic of a much earlier part of our space program. This is one of the first boosters used to launch sub-orbital flights. Astronaut Alan Shepard rode atop one in the Mercury Capsule, May 5, 1961. The later orbital flights used a two-stage Atlas rocket.

Although North Carolina famously has a lot of red clay, this is, as far as I know, the only location in the state that has a true Redstone, i.e., a Redstone rocket!

To get the perspective I wanted, I shot with a 15 mm fisheye lens. I positioned things in the frame ("aiming" the rocket) in a way that minimized the curvature of straight lines, but showed the actual curves of the fins and got in some of the sweep of clouds in the sky. Unlike a "normal" (rectilinear) lens, this fisheye curves straight lines in order to get in a 180ยบ angle of view across the diagonal limits of the frame. However, lines that intersect the center of the lens axis - that is, lines radiating from the center of the picture - remain straight.