Friday, November 30, 2012

Ring My Chimes

I was out on the porch one day filming an hummingbird when it would come to the feeder.  It was only appearing at the feeder every ten minutes or so, so there was a lot of time where I was just waiting for it to return.  While I was sitting there, I kept hearing a distant high ringing sound.  I began to wonder if I was experiencing tinnitus which is ringing in the ears when there is actually no external sound causing it. But, I had plenty of time to figure it out and since the sound seemed to be directional, I kept looking for what might be causing it.

That is when I discovered the sound was coming from a set of chimes hanging on the porch. Looking up into the tubes, I discovered a mud dauber building a nest. The reason I wasn't seeing the cause of the ringing was because the chime would only ring when the mud dauber was inside one of the tubes, so whenever I looked in that direction, there didn't appear to be anything going on.

I don't know why she decided to use the chime because it was certainly difficult for the wasp to get herself aligned so that she could get into the tube. She would hover forever trying to get in just the right position to grab the end of the tube. The ringing was coming from her wings hitting the walls of the chime as she climbed up to her nest.

Notice the thread-like waist which is indicative of dirt daubers (that one's for you, Dianne). They are solitary creatures and work alone unlike most other types of wasps. I swear it looks like she is carrying a little pear with a stem.  To this day, I don't know if that was a piece of mud that just happened to look like a pear or whether it may have been some food she was going to pack in the nest. Look at how she holds it like a bag of groceries!

Finally. She got herself lined up and disappeared inside the tube. It was nice to know I didn't have tinnitus. That was then, this is now. I have developed a mild case of it since. Excuse me, I have to get the phone...

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Bird Nests

I think I may be a bird brain except I don't fit the bill, as it were. My attention span is not that short.  I just find birds fascinating creatures.  Very few don't build a nest to raise their young. While some build an almost indiscernible nest, so little care seems to be taken in it's construction, others build fairly elaborate structures.  Knowledgeable birders (something I am not) can recognize what species of bird built a nest by simply examining the nest. I, on the other hand, can tell what kind of bird built a nest if the bird happens to be sitting on it when I see it.

I have no idea what species built this found nest, but it is not hard to infer that it was rather a small bird by it's size.  It is also a fairly deep nest.  The location of the nest (bush, tree, low, high) can aid in
identifying the bird and most of the time you can rule out exotic birds as candidates.  So, your choices can be narrowed some.  Cavity nesters can also be excluded also reducing the field of possibilities, but don't think that helped me identify the species that made this nest.  I still haven't a clue.  Look how intricately it is made, though. Each strand of grass and twigs are intricately and carefully woven into the design.  There is even a layer of (it looks like) squirrel hair woven in.  When you consider that the entire nest was built with only the use of their mouth, it is all the more amazing.

Here is another nest my grandson found in the woods the other day.  You can see how different it's qualities are. Built like a saucer, it is much shallower than the other and much sparser in the materials used, but just as intricately woven.  I watched a robin (although this is not a robin nest) building a nest last spring.  She would bring mud in from a spot in the woods just off the lawn where water accumulates, position it on the side of the nest, then use her breast to tamp it into a bowl shape.  It looks like whatever bird made this nest has done the same kind of thing. You can see the wall of mud around the outer edge.

Here is the same nest from the side.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

A Roost for a Wren

I love wrens. They are such cool little birds. Loud, friendly, excited about life.  We almost always have a pair of Carolina Wrens around our house. The other day, I was sitting out on the porch reading email on my phone and not moving, when a winter wren flew in and landed on the steps no more than about six feet from me.  They are even smaller than a Carolina Wren and just as cute. I had never seen one around here before.

Anyway, we do what we can to encourage them to hang around.  A few years ago, I took an old hanging basket and constructed a winter roost for them. I took one of those semi-disposable plastic containers you can buy in a grocery store and cut a opening in the side.  I put some sand in the bottom of the hanging basket to raise it up a little and to give it some insulating ability, stuffed some sphagnum moss around the inside of the plastic hut and put leaves around the outside of it, again as insulation.  We have kept it up there for several winters now.

I hung it on the eyelet closest to the back wall of the porch where the previous owner had a porch swing.  It is right in the corner so there are walls on two sides.  I also faced the opening of the roost toward the house so it was out of the wind.  Every evening, well before dark, a pair of wrens fly in and use it overnight.  They must not be able to see very well in low light because it is always still light when they arrive.  (Cardinals, on the other hand, must be able to see quite well in low light because they will often be on the feeder right up until dark.) I have even seen the wrens fly in and roost in the middle of the day occasionally.

It is nice to know you can do little things like that to encourage them to stick around. They never fail to lift my spirits when I see these little joyful birds.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

A Nest Box is for the Birds

The day the bluebirds were checking out the nest box with the idea of roosting in it, I could tell there was something in there keeping them from entering. Upon opening the box, I discovered an extensive organ pipe mud dauber nest.  Mud daubers, which are not at all aggressive, build their nests in areas that are protected from rain, and the unused nest box provided a perfect place to build it.

Last summer one built it's nest on the side of a container I put recycled trash in on the side porch.  As often as I would throw stuff in there, I didn't notice the nest until it was about five pipes wide. I couldn't leave it there, so I scraped it off. To my surprise, not only did the pipes contain wasp larvae, but also spiders! The spiders were moving a little, but they were unable to run away. I googled mud daubers and found out that the adult will hunt down spiders and inject them with a paralyzing venom and pack them away in the pipes as food for the larvae when they first emerge. I have torn down mud dauber nests before, but I had never seen spiders in them.  They particularly like to use black widow spiders, so you might want to consider them an ally in your war against spiders.

You wouldn't believe the list of animals that have inhabited our nest boxes over the years. Toads that spent the entire summer perched on the hole looking out over the lawn. A huge black snake spent some time packed in one one year.  We had a flying squirrel spending the days (they are nocturnal) in one. My wife would feed it peanut butter and walnuts on the end of a stick every evening.  There are more of those around than you might think.  The reason you don't see them is because they are nocturnal.

While I'm thinking of it, where you orient a nest box may be more important than you realize.  This box, which has been the most successful one we have had, faces east and receives the morning sun, but it is also protected from the prevailing west winds (and driving rain) by the tree. You might keep that in mind.

Anyway, I removed the organ pipe nest so the bluebirds can use the nest for roosting if they want to.  Here is the back side of the organ pipe that was up against the side of the nest box.  This nest doesn't look like the one I removed with the spiders in it so I figure it must be a different variety. Can you imagine the amount of work that went into building this structure.  It stood out from the wall four pipes thick, which is why the birds could hardly get through the hole. It was built by a solitary wasp one mouthful at a time from mud brought in (one mouthful at a time) from somewhere it could find wet dirt. Each larvae is individually packed in it's own chamber. I hated to remove it, but the birds being able to use it as a roost took priority in my mind.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Eastern Bluebird

I looked out the window early Sunday morning and saw a couple of bluebirds around the feeder.  They are not seed eaters, so they weren't coming to the feeder, but were hanging around with the other birds that were on the feeder. A few minutes later, I went out on the front porch and my attention was attracted by several bluebirds that were flitting around a nest box I had built. One female especially was checking it out. No, they don't nest this time of year, but they will roost in a nest box on nights when it is bitter cold to keep each other warm.

Back in the mid to late 90's, my wife and I watched a flock of bluebirds do this with another nest box we had. We had a bitterly cold stretch for about a week and every evening just as the sun would be going down below the horizon, they would all enter the nest box one at a time.  I counted seventeen going in one evening! The following spring when I cleaned out the nest box in preparation for the breeding season, I discovered the body of one of the bluebirds that had either suffocated or succumbed from the cold. The nest box was a little larger than the one pictured here, but not THAT much larger.

How do birds know what is coming weather wise?  I'm sure there are plenty of theories about internal barometers and that sort of stuff, but somehow they can tell what kind of weather is coming. I fully expect that Sunday night is going to be well below freezing. Many times, we have had a larger than normal contingent of birds filling up at the feeder just before a snow storm. Somehow they know.

The female pictured here (they are not quite as colorful as the male) kept trying to go into the nest but wasn't able to enter completely.  You can see there is something inside the nest on the left.  Later, after they left, I went out and stuck my finger in there to see if I could tell what it was. I thought it may be a stick that a squirrel had shoved through the hole, but it wouldn't budge.  So, I went and got a screwdriver and a step ladder and opened the nest to see what it was.  I'll tell you about that tomorrow.

Here is a good comparison showing the difference in coloring of the male (top) and female. Notice how the hole has been chewed out by the squirrels.  They are always a problem with nest boxes.  I plan on building a couple of new boxes and I definitely am going to put a metal barrier around the hole so that they cannot ruin another one.

The male seemed to get perturbed by the female being unable to enter the box and they had a little spat about that.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Delayed Recognition

You would think you would immediately recognize when you have taken a better-than-average picture, but I haven't found that to be true.  Maybe it is because, even though you may be able to review the image on the back of the camera as soon as you taken the picture, that rendering is not particularly reliable. It wasn't until much later that I realized this image had a lot more potential than I initially thought.  And while, yes, it has been manipulated (i.e. optimized) in photo editing software, you must also realize that you cannot improve on a photograph that is bad to begin with. This is not a studio shot of a sacred lotus bud, but is a image that was taken in the field using available sunlight, which happened to be the low light of near dawn. I can only imagine how many lights it would have taken (and how much work would be involved) to achieve the same effect in a studio.

One point I would like to mention while I am thinking about it is that in order to get a perfectly unblemished flower, you must take the photo early in the life of the blossom. The window of opportunity is actually quite narrow and the longer you wait, the greater is the chance of something happening to the flower.

Do you think it is "unfair" to optimize a photograph to achieve the best tone, color, lighting, etc.?  I would say 99.9% of the images produced by professionals have been retouched in at least some degree.  Ansel Adams, for example, use to spend hours on the printing stage to optimize a photo. In fact, he wrote an entire book on it.  He use to say, "The negative is comparable to the composer's score and the print to its performance."

Computers and software have only made that process easier.

Saturday, November 24, 2012


The day I filmed the green heron catching small fish (see the post from November 18th), I was fortunate to see something else that was fascinating in it's own right. Standing essentially in the same spot where I filmed the green heron and just a few minutes earlier, I noticed a large snapping turtle in the water to the right.  My first impression was that it looked distressed and seemed to have a back leg tangled up in something below the surface.  It very quickly became clear that my first impression was wrong as I realized there were actually two large snappers.  When I say large, I mean the diameter of their shells were at least twelve or more inches.

They were mating which, as you can imagine, was not an easy task for two animals confined to shells. There was a lot of rolling around, splashing and dunking.  Although you cannot see her, there is actually a female underneath the male in this picture.  I love the way the water is rolling off it's head and foot as it emerges from the water and tries to gain the upper hand, as it were. The incident went on for ten minutes or more. As with the area where the heron was filmed, I don't think the water could have been more than a foot or two deep. The way the water has created a trough gives you some idea of how much energy was being expended.

Friday, November 23, 2012

A Farm in Fog

I had my eye on this barn close to home and hoped to capture it on a foggy morning.  I had a little apprehension about doing so because to get the photo I had in mind, I knew I would have to be in the median strip of the main highway going in and out of the county. So, one more criteria was that it would have to be a foggy day on a weekend (preferably a Sunday) when I wouldn't be as great a distraction because there wouldn't be as much traffic. Another problem was that there was a ten or fifteen foot difference in elevation between the southbound and northboung lanes at that point, meaning I would be trying to level the tripod on a rather steep hill in the median.

I finally found a morning when all the planets aligned and boogeyed on down there and got everything set up. Almost the entire reason for choosing this particular site was the rutted path used by farm equipment.  I thought it would give an image nice leading lines, drawing the viewer into the photo. I took a lot of compositions. And here I use the word specifically, because I took a lot of pictures, but I was trying to vary the relationship - the composition - of all the parts to best effect. Afterward, I settled on this image as being the best of the lot.

Now, however, I think the barn is too centered in the image. The reason for that is I was trying to include the treeline over on the left which helped to tell the story of fog, but in doing so, I ended up centering the barn too much. Trying to include too much in the image ultimately lead to it being something less than it might have been.

I was more successful at investing it with an aged look. I removed some of the green and increased the yellow in the grass and enhanced the shadows along the side of the path to make it stand out more. The second image of the barn shows what the original colors were like. Do you have a different emotional reaction to the two photos? To which do you find a greater emotional connection?

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Heavenly Bodies

A few years ago, I learned Venus was visible near the crescent moon and thought it might be interesting to try to capture the moon, Venus and the sun all in the same picture.  I was standing on the western shore of the Chesapeake Bay and you can usually see the eastern shore from this point, but it is a little too early to make it out.  There was something I was trying to exclude from the image on the left and the sun was a little too far north to include it, so I ended up with just the suggestion of sunrise.  The shutter was open for thirty seconds, giving the night objects time to move.  The light rectangle in the middle is a barge moving either up or down the bay in the shipping lane which is over near the eastern shore.  What surprises me is how much light was able to accumulate on the side of the barge in that thirty seconds from the lights of North Beach on the same shore on which I was standing. Especially when you consider the inverse square law (which I won't even attempt to explain). Just imagine trying to light the barge with a flashlight while standing next to me on the shore. 

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Depth of Field

Depth of field is always an issue when you are filming in low light. You are constantly trading off between how fast a shutter speed you can use with what will be in focus.  When the light is low, you often can't have both. I remember focusing on the bright leaf and hoping both of the mallards would be in focus, but the female in the lead didn't make it. There is a lot to like in the image - the orange leaf, the grasses draping down and framing the left side of the image, the swirly burnt oranges in the water in the foreground - all things that convey the idea that it is fall.  But the eye keeps returning to the out-of-focus head of the hen and how annoying it is.  Especially since she is closer than almost anything else.  Your mind says she, being closer, should be in focus.  I could wish I had focused on her and let the leaf go slightly soft.  I think that would have worked.

You see that same kind of thing in movies a lot. My wife and I were watching a movie over the weekend where I noticed that same thing.  The object in the foreground was blurred while the person in the background was sharp. Sometimes it can be used to good effect, but I think it works no better with video than with stills in most cases.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012


I don't think of swans as being a particularly rare bird, but I don't see them very often either.  Usually, it is from a distance as in this image taken near sunrise. Maybe it is because most species migrate to this area during the coldest months and I tend to venture out less frequently to film at that time. I did see three in a sheltered area down at North Beach last winter, but I didn't have my camera with me at the time.  They were interesting to watch, though.  They were in water almost shallow enough to stand in and they would kick up mud on the bottom with their feet, then tip over and feed. I would particularly like to get shots of them either landing or taking off. Maybe this winter...

Monday, November 19, 2012

Improving Your Bird Photography

The branch in this picture of a Blue Jay is staging.  In other words, I tied it to the deck as an invitation to birds to land on it for the purpose of taking pictures.  I don't see anything wrong or disingenuous about doing that. The birds actually enjoyed the branches I had out there at one time. It allowed them to wait their turn to use the feeder.

Another advantage is the ability to blur the background so that it is not a distraction. Because the branch is so far from anything else, a bird can be isolated from the background. This works better with a telephoto lens, but if you are interested in bird photography, you are probably using one anyway.

I had purchased a small blind and wanted to see how well it would work, so I set it out on the back deck for a few days allowing the birds to get use to it being there. The day I took this photo, one of the neighbors was having his yard dug up by a large piece of construction equipment which was so loud, the blue jay couldn't hear the shutter closing. He knew something wasn't right, but there wasn't enough evidence of something out-of-place to alarm him. I was probably no more than ten feet from him.

In the end, I decided the blind just wasn't practical enough. The view of the surroundings is just too limited to be of good use.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

A Bold Green Heron

Not that the color of the heron was bold, but the heron's actions were bold.  I had gone with a friend to a swampy area in a park here in the county which was suppose to be one of the best places to observe wood ducks since there were a lot of nesting boxes. We didn't see any wood ducks but while we were standing on the edge of the swamp, three herons flew into the swamp from the Chesapeake Bay (we were right on the edge of the bay), made a wide circle and flew back out. All except one, which landed in a dead tree, then dropped down to hunt among the lily pads in the swamp.

It wasn't like we were hiding.  We were standing right out in the open on the edge of the swamp, but the bird was unfazed by our presence.  At one point, moving to a stump no more than fifty feet away, it crouched down studying the water and slowly leaned forward extending it's neck until it looked like it might fall on it's face. Look at the size of it's feet!

The water couldn't have been more than a foot or two deep there.  Having acquired it's target, if suddenly dove in, creating quite a splash. If you look, however, at the smaller splashes furthest from the bird, you can make out the small bodies of a fish in each one as they jumped away from the bird.

I have enlarged part of the same picture so you can see the fish better.

The heron came up out of the water with a small minnow in it's beak. The entire incident happened within just a second or two, so these images were taken in high-speed burst mode, one right after another.  I love pictures that allow you to see something you would never be able to see with the naked eye, like the water streaming off the heron's wing as well as the stream of water coming off the fish.

Turns out, two of the best pictures I have ever taken (this one and the last) were not really planned. As a trip to acquire wood duck photos, the trip was a total failure.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Improving Your Bird Knowledge

If you would like to take photos of birds that you see around your home, there are several things you can do to improve your chances.  Attracting them by putting out a feeder is probably the primary one. I would suggest situating a feeder near some bushes, which the birds can use as protection if they need to hide quickly. They will be much more relaxed if they know there is a place close by where they can escape from danger.

The second consideration would be to erect it in a place that can be easily viewed from a window. Our feeder is sixteen feet straight out the kitchen window, hanging on the edge of the deck. Since we spend so much time in the kitchen, it becomes very easy to take a moment to frequently watch the interaction of the birds. You can learn a lot about bird species in this way and it is in small bites. After a while, you realize you have gained a great deal of personal knowledge about different birds and you didn't have to read about them.

We feed birds year-round, not just in winter. This requires a commitment to not let the feeder run out of seed.  I think there are good reasons to feed birds even in times of plenty.  When food is plentiful, the feeder is there as a backup and may add variety to their diet.  During the nesting season, many parents introduce their young to the feeder where they know they can always find food if their own skills are not yet adequate.  Plus, the young quickly acclimate to the feeder and incorporate visits into their routine.

I don't use a standard blend of seeds.  Most blends use a lot of millet as filler. There are some birds that eat millet, but you will always have an excess.  Instead, I buy straight varieties of sunflower, millet, pumpkin, and a blend of seeds and fruits attractive to woodpeckers, and blend these together.  Two cups of sunflower seed, 1/2 cup millet, a small handful of pumpkin and the same with the woodpecker blend. Repeat until your container is full. Sunflower seeds make up the majority of the mix, but sunflower is also the most popular seed among the majority of birds.

Friday, November 16, 2012


One of the most fun experiences I have had over the years was photographing an event called Cotillion. It is put on by a local organization in conjunction with a national company with the purpose of teaching social skills to young people. They learn to interact in a social setting with regard to manners, proper table etiquette, as well as learn a wide range of dances. Interestingly, the kids don't resent having to interact with the opposite sex, although kids of that age typically do. I think it is the fact that they have been told they have to go so they are free to just enjoy themselves.

I became aware of Cotillion when my grandson began attending. Parents (and grandparents) can attend and observe the classes.  I brought my camera along to take some pictures of him, but I also had recently bought a fast short telephoto that I wanted to try out under low-light conditions. It wasn't long before I began to see these wonderful candid moments between the kids as they interacted in the various activities.

I have a keen interest in being able to catch candid moments, not in a voyeuristic sense, but with the idea of revealing genuine emotions. I don't have nearly the same interest in capturing staged, more formal portraiture.

I was given permission to take pictures of the children, but I had to promise I wouldn't post them on the Internet.  In this day and age, that was understandable. Things never worked out like I had hoped. I hoped to be able to connect pictures of the children with their parents so they could have copies of the photos.  I was able to do that with a few, but not many.

It ended up with me having a large number of wonderful images that not too many people have ever seen. I won't be posting them here either, but I did have this one image where no one is recognizable that I can post.  I like everything about this image - the implied movement, the colors, the way you can see right through the girls leg to the pattern on the carpet, the swirl of reds on the fringe of her dress. It has a nice energy to it.

If you are from the local area and you might have an interest in your child attending Cotillion, contact me and I can put you in touch with someone who is involved with that program.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

High Key Images

Under the right lighting conditions, taking high key images is another fun way to photograph. It is a little easier to predict the end result because the lightest areas in the subject before you are the same areas that will end up being obliterated - or nearly so - in your final image. The camera's histogram becomes a valuable tool to determine if there is enough information in the lightest areas of the image. Whether you choose to shoot manually or use shutter or aperture priority doesn't effect the end result as long as you have the control you need to accomplish your goal.

Snow is a good candidate for this technique since it is already white to begin with.  By removing almost all detail from the snow (pushing the whites to the right of the histogram in Lightroom), this image ended up being nearly a monochrome image although the colors weren't removed.  It would be easy enough to do, however.

My grandson emerging from the water in a swimming pool was also a good situation in which to use a high key effect. It also works well with someone who has a less than perfect complexion as it will smooth the look of the skin and obscure most defects. The thing I like about this image is it takes a second to figure out what was going on when the image was taken.

This is also a high key image, although it is not as extreme as the previous two.  Note how the back of his t-shirt is obliterated by the light.  That is about as far as you would want to push it. White backgrounds are usually a distraction, but in this photo, it actually aids in keeping your eye focused on the main subject.

It is a fun technique and I only wish I would remember to use it more often - or at least try it.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Showing Motion in a Still

How to show motion in a single shot has intrigued photographers since the invention of the camera. Anything that normally moves can be slowed enough by a camera to give the impression of movement. Water is probably the most common subject where a waterfall (for instance) is rendered as a smooth torrent over rocks.

Panning, moving the camera with a moving subject, can also imply movement if the proper shutter speed is used.  The trick is to use a slow enough shutter speed to blur the background while, at the same time, using a fast enough shutter speed to keep the main subject fairly sharp.

Here again, my grandson was the willing foil for my practice with the technique. As with the technique described in the post, "Time Travel") you have to be able to control the shutter speed and a gray day will work better than a sunny one.  The time on all three of these shots was 1/15 second at f/16. Depending on your results, you can make small adjustments to shutter or aperture and repeat until you achieve something you like.

I wasn't using a tripod on these shots, so there is two kinds of movement, the streaks from panning and the up and down movement from not holding the camera completely steady. One further tip: always keep you active focus on the same spot - for example, his eye - for better results. 

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Time Travel

Here is a camera technique that can yield interesting - if not completely predictable - results.  You have to use a DSLR because you have to be able to use a zoom lens and you also have to be able to control the shutter speed. It is probably easiest to set the camera on shutter priority, but is also conceivable to set a small aperture (aperture priority) as long as that also produces a slow shutter speed. A cloudy day works better than a sunny day because of the longish shutter speed requirement. If you cannot slow the shutter quite enough, the use of a neutral density filter can slow the shutter a stop or more, depending on it's strength.

My grandson was playing in the yard a few years ago when I was fooling around with this technique. Shutter speed on the first two was 1/10 second at f/16 and the last was 1/20 second at f/5.6. I used a tripod to keep the camera fairly stable as I zoomed and I used a remote to trigger the camera.

I like the first one the best and a subject that is closer may be more beneficial to the use of the technique. It almost looks as though he is stepping through a time warp.  Zoom in or zoom out.  Its your choice.  Does it make a difference?  I don't know.  I moved on to other things after that.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Shooting the Moon II

Here is an example of why you don't want to shoot on the actual night of the full moon. When I first wanted to get the hang of night photography, I decided to simply shoot out in the yard. My goal wasn't to get an image I liked, but simply to become familiar with how the camera had to be adjusted to get decent results.

Since the exposures are much longer than normal daytime photography, a tripod is a necessity. The camera cannot move if your goal is to get a sharp image. You might get away with tripping the shutter manually if the exposure was long enough since the longer the shutter is open, the less likely a split second movement would show in the image, but it is still better to either use a remote (as I did) or use the timer function where the camera counts down a few seconds and then opens automatically.

This photo is a serendipity of sorts. I had the shutter speed set for twenty seconds. A few seconds after I tripped the shutter, my wife happened to come out on the porch. We have a motion sensor on the porch light and the light came on when she came out.  Since the photo was already in progress, I couldn't stop it and it recorded the light falling on the trees and ridge as well as that of the moon and night sky. Even though the porch light was brighter than the night, since it's contribution to the image was over only about half of the twenty seconds, it didn't "burn out" the lit areas.

But, as you can see, it did burn out the moon. And that is the problem with shooting the moon on the night of the full moon.  There is just not enough light to use a shutter speed fast enough to obtain a well defined edge on the moon, never mine seeing detail in the moon itself. I still like this photo, though, for the play of light from the porch light on the tree branches and ridge.  And I love the deep blue twilight colors and a star here and there.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Shooting the Moon

You may have noticed the subjects of my blog have changed a bit. Yes, I spend a lot of time filming birds, but they are not the only target of my camera.  I shoot other things too and I thought I would expand to other subjects as well.

I had long noticed on the night of the full moon, it was almost always positioned nicely against the steeple of a local church. The steeple always has a light on and I wanted to be able to include that in the image also. I finally decided to act on it one cloudless evening.
The thing about filming the moon is you don't actually want to take the image on THE night of the full moon. Since, on that night, the sun is going down exactly at the same time the moon is rising, it becomes dark too quickly.  Unless the moon is right on the horizon, we don't tend to notice how fast it is moving, but it's relatively fast movement means you have to use a fairly fast shutter speed if you don't want the moon to be blurred in the photo. On the night of the full moon, it becomes too dark too quickly to accomplish this.

If you think of sunset as zero hour, each night the moon rises about an hour earlier than the night before. So, on the night of the full moon, the sun is setting and the moon is rising at the same hour.  The following night, however, the sun is still one hour from setting when the moon rises. In this image, I had to wait almost an hour for the moon to ascend to a point where I could get the steeple in the same picture, so it was nearly dark. There still was enough light to use a shutter speed that would render the moon tack sharp while rendering the sky a nice dark blue twilight color.

One unexpected bonus in this image was the reflection of the sunset in the round window at the bottom.  It never occurred to me that I might be able to capture that also.  I later added an appropriate verse from the Bible.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Telephoto Compression

This is a good example of how a telephoto lens can compress an image and make it appear as though things are much closer together than they actually are. It was shot at an aperture of f/9 which should have rendered almost everything in focus, but I was using my "piece of junk" 300mm lens, so even the red-bellied woodpecker doesn't appear to be completely sharp.  I like the impression that you are looking at a wall of trees, but if you looked at the same scene with just your eyes, you wouldn't have that impression at all. It is a very narrow portion of the view seen through our kitchen window. In looking out the window as I write this, I probably should have used an aperture of at least f/11 or, better yet, f/16.  I probably shouldn't blame the lack of focus in this image on the lens.

Friday, November 9, 2012

What Do You Call a Million Birds?

I had been filming at the river's edge one morning for probably an hour when I suddenly heard a sound I had never heard before. Hidden in the marsh for at least that hour (and perhaps all night) was a flock of blackbirds so large that the sound of their wings could be heard a quarter mile away! They were not vocalizing; they were simply flying as a large flock. The sound of their wings just kept getting louder as they flew closer and then over me. I have never heard anything else quite like it. Perhaps if you have been to some place like Bosque del Apache where huge flocks of waterfowl congregate on their migration, it would not impress you, but I have not.  I never thought the sound of wings could be so loud.

How many were there? If I remember right, the thought that I was able to frame no more than about a third of the birds in the flock crossed my mind.  Multiply the birds in these photos by three and you begin to understand how many birds took off.

The effect was enhanced by the fact that they all took off at the same moment so it went from being completely quiet to the loud drumming of a million wings.

I have seen those endless streams of black birds flying through an area, but I have never heard them make the noise I heard that morning. I don't even know what species of bird they are. In a photo like this, you can often pick up a red edge on the wings if there are red-winged black birds mixed in the flock, but on closer examination, I can see none.  So, I don't even know what species they were.  But, I won't soon forget the sound that they made!