Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Fall Colors

Photographing Fall colors doesn't always have to be about sweeping vistas of mountainsides aflame. There is room for studies at the other end of the spectrum, a more intimate and microcosmic look at the beauty of Autumn leaves. Even this image incorporates more of the landscape than I had in mind.

The woods surrounding our home are made up of a large amount of hickory trees which turn a lovely shade of yellow this time of year. By positioning the sun on the opposite side from the camera and out of frame, it is possible to bring out the translucent qualities of the leaves.

By moving in even closer, the images becomes a study in abstract form as well as color. Depth of field and the point of focus are two of the main concerns. Too much depth of field creates a background that is too sharp and distracting.

One of my favorite trees this time of year are the sumac, which I am not really sure would even be classified as a tree. They are more of a large bush, but their color in the fall is one of the most intense reds seen in nature. I took this image in a different direction, making texture a main theme. I am not sure, but I am guessing the moniker "winged" comes from the look of the stems.

This particular species is called a winged Sumac and is considered a dwarf plant. It is actually a member of the cashew family. The plant produces panicles of yellow flowers in summer that mature into small fruits called drupes in the fall. Some years the birds don't seem to pay much attention to them, but when the ground is covered with snow, they become a source of energy for Bluebirds, Robins and other small songbirds as well as woodpeckers. Having said how colorful their leaves are, in this photo, I decided to render the color more subdued.

I am so attracted to the forms of the hickory leaves. They have so many unusual characteristics, like the way the leaves become larger the further out on the stem they are positioned. When I was growing up, shagbark hickories were common in the area around our home and each fall, my brothers, sister and I would gather nuts like squirrels to enjoy over the winter. They were an awful lot of work for a small reward because the shell was so thick and the inner nut so small. This photo lent itself to processing as a high-key image.

I have a long-term project that I call "the last leaf of summer" where I try to find a single intensely colored leaf in late fall that embodies the "last gasp" of the season. In trying to vary the result last fall, I incorporated two techniques I hadn't tried with this project before: motion and double exposure. By decreasing shutter speed and not mounting the camera on a tripod, you can suggest motion through blurring. My current camera has a feature where it will produce a double exposure in which motion can also be integral to the abstracted result. I usually prefer to remove noise from the image, but I actually added it to this one. If I processed it again, I would probably remove the small, dark spots on the left of the image which are dust on the camera sensor. I left them as added texture, but have since decided they are too distracting.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Looking Back

The Chesapeake Bay region is within the Rusty Blackbird's winter range. On the Eastern Seaboard it stays along the coast up through southern New England. As the summer progresses, the rusty feathers become worn and the bird turns darker.

The Wilson's Snipe is also a bird that can be seen in this area over winter. They breed throughout Canada and Alaska, so this area is like their Florida in winter.

This is one of the Osprey pair that nests on the platform on the edge of the marsh just outside of town in North Beach. This was just at the beginning of the nesting season, a time of final preparations on the nest.

I'm not sure if this is the male or female. It was early April and the bird looks in excellent health for having finished it's migration a week or two earlier. It is not a tagged bird.

Both the male and female gather material for the nest. That is what this Osprey is doing. They do not land to do this, but fly low over the marsh and snatch grasses and mud for the nest in their talons without stopping. This one gathered a clump of mud and took it to the nest. A little while later both flew, one right after the other, picking up mud like WWII fighter planes in a strafing run.

Friday, October 30, 2015

Five on a Friday

I saw these two crows back in the spring. They appeared to be trying to decide where to site their nest. The crow's nest on a masted ship purportedly got its name because it was so high up like a — er, crow's nest.

This Bald Eagle also had nesting on it's mind as it parachuted down into the marsh to pick up a stick. Perhaps, like Osprey, they add sticks to their aerie throughout the year, because this was already past the time when they would have been nesting.

Can you imagine how long it would take to clean your entire body if you had to use a toothpick? The tips of their bills are pretty much all they have for preening. phttt...

Bald Eagles spook just about any other species of bird. Like these Green-winged Teal, birds feel safer if they are in the air when an Eagle is flying around.

The ones with the mahogany and green heads are the males. The less colorful ones are the females. Eventually, they settle back down when the Eagle becomes a speck on the horizon. Their numbers bottomed out in the early 1960's at about three quarters of a million. Today, there are roughly 3.5 million Green-winged Teal.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Early Snows

I took a bunch of photos of Snowy Egrets at the marsh in the spring. I was like an addict who couldn't help himself. Who would have thought the mud could make such a nice backdrop, the way it isolates the birds?

The black leg, orange-yellow foot is typical of the breed. Young have duller greenish legs.

Osprey often find sticks on the ground to carry back to the nest. This one, however, had actually broken the branch out of the tree.

The bird on the right portrays the typical egret posture; the bird on the left is in a posture more reminiscent of a heron.

By August the long aigrettes, or breeding plumage, are shed in a molt prior to the migration south but until then, they are pretty spectacular looking.

Monday, October 26, 2015

A Mix of Species

Northern Shovelers are such graceful birds in flight. I posted another frame from this series back in the spring. I was glad to capture them against the backdrop of a sycamore rather than just sky. They have one of the longer wingspans of ducks. When their young are born, they have a regular duckbill shape. It is only as the mature that the bill becomes "spoonbill" shaped with the tip being almost twice as wide as the base.

This is about as monochrome as it gets out in the wild. These are mostly Lesser Yellowlegs with a couple of Snipe mixed in.

Blue-winged Teal can be very difficult to photograph because they spend so much time with their heads underwater. If they had not been moving from one mud flat to another, I would not have gotten so many with their heads above water. Notice how difficult it would be to identify the females from other similarly mottled females of other species. They do have a telltale patch of blue on their wing, but it is not always visible.

Lesser Yellowlegs eat mostly insects but will occasionally eat small fish if the opportunity arises. I photographed one catching and eating a small fish in the spring. Females will abandon the nest before the young can fly, leaving the male to defend them until they can fend for themselves.

When they are only moving a short distance to another location, they won't tuck their feet, but will let them hang down in readiness to land. Many other species also do this. It is not as aerodynamic as pure flight.

Early on, I was able to photograph some striking images of Snowy Egrets against mud backdrops that appeared almost as if they were painted. It caused the birds to really stand out. The streams that coursed through the mud narrowed the area where minnows could swim, making it easier for them to be caught.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

The Disappearing Act

The colors and patterns on many animals can make it very difficult to spot them in their environment. In addition to camouflage, they also use other techniques to hide. One common method used by many different animals is to simply stand completely still.

In this photo, the two male Wood ducks can be seen fairly easily over on the left. The left arrow points to a third half-hidden male and the arrow on the right is pointing to a Great Blue Heron that you might have overlooked if the arrow wasn't there.

I recall a mother raccoon that brought her two babies up on the deck one year and tried to catch my wife's goldfish out of her little pond. I went out there and the mother took off, but the babies froze in plain sight thinking that if they were simply completely still, they would surely be invisible. Even when I shushed them, they wouldn't move.  This is not the pond; it is the birdbath, where they were politely washing their hands before the main course.

I was painting around the front door yesterday afternoon when a herd of ten or more Whitetail Deer snuck down the ridge on the side of the house. I watched one acting just like a kid. It went from tree to tree hiding most of it's body behind each one and peeking around the side. This photo was taken last year from the same porch where I saw the herd coming from the back of the house. I beat them to the side porch and got real still before they passed. This female spent the longest time standing still and studying me to see if I would move and whether I was a threat.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Highly Processed

I was going to continue yesterday's blog with the thoughts I am about to relate, but I decided to give them their own space since it is a change in the entire subject.

Digital photographs right out of the can are mostly blah. I don't care how you choose to set your camera, they are not going to look all that good. No one who takes photography seriously is going to be happy with the images just the way they look right out of the camera.

Photographers are a cagey bunch. Read photography magazines and they will admit to making "minor adjustments" in tone or contrast, etc. "But otherwise," they insist, "The image is just like I saw it out there in the wild." Yeah, right.

Who starts a race and doesn't finish it? Who goes half-way and says, "That is far enough?" No one I know of! It doesn't make sense. That is essentially what these guys are saying, though. I could have done more, but I wanted to keep it "real."

You want to know the truth? I process the heck out the pictures I take until I am completely happy with the results. The subject matter may not be that great, but I keep processing until I get the result I am looking for.

I have been using a program for a couple of years that beats Photoshop by a mile and with a lot less effort. (If you are curious about what the program is called, email me.) Sometimes I end up with so many pleasing versions, I have a hard time deciding which one to choose.

Both of today's photos are the same except for one detail: in the first the color saturation was enhanced quite a bit while in the second it was diminished almost as much. The difference affects the birds almost not at all, but it does affect the background. Since there is so much white in the picture, the second creates a monochrome appearance and changes the mood of the image.

If you click back and forth on the thumbnail pictures, you'll get a better idea of the differences between the two photographs.