Monday, January 30, 2017

Going For One Thing And Getting Another

Does this happen to anyone else?   I'll go to the grocery store to pick up one thing.  Maybe a gallon of milk.  When I come out I have several other things besides milk in my cart. Sometimes that may include things such as a one pound bag of peanut M&Ms.   During our recent remodeling project, I was doing this at our local Lowes home improvement store where things are much more expensive than M&Ms.

This experience translated from the store to my photography on this past weekend.   June and I took a short trip to Dayton Tennessee to see the Sandhill Cranes at the Hiwassee Wildlife Refuge. I had seen photographs of these magnificent birds at this 6,000-acre land and water refuge. The refuge is the largest winter flock of Sandhill Cranes in the southeast United States outside of Florida with an estimated 30,000 wintering over. I was ready to make some bird photographs!

When we arrived late Friday afternoon we saw few of expected thousands of Sandhill Cranes. There were maybe 40 but they were pretty far from the observation platform.  The refuge is closed while the birds are wintering there so we had to make do with shooting from a distance. While we were there we met a lady who took us to a place where they were last week, but no birds were there Friday. We were disappointed and considered going home. One more trip to the observation platform before deciding.

Flying In To Roost
Just before sunset, the birds started to fly in to roost along the river several hundred yards from the platform. The longer we stayed, the more birds flew overhead and gracefully circled before landing. Before long there were several hundred along the river bank. I made 278 photos that evening, shooting right up to the point where there was not enough light to make a photo!  A quick glance at my photos in the hotel room told me I didn't have the winners I was hoping for. The birds were just too far away and there was just not enough light.

Click on any photo for a larger view.

This is an extreme crop of a shot made with a 420mm telephoto lens.

Stars Over Sleeping Birds
The next day we planned to go back to the same place to catch the birds around sunrise before they took off.  I got the sunrise time wrong and we got there an hour before sunrise. The skies were crystal clear and we were several miles away from any towns or cities -- good conditions to make some night sky photos.

In the yellow tinted photo, you can see the Cranes sleeping in the shallow water at the bottom of the photo.   In the second photo, you can see two shooting stars I just happened to capture during the 30-second exposures.
Shooting Stars
As the sky got brighter, the birds became more active calling to each other and walking around in the shallows.  I started to move to a better vantage point and they all took off at once! Maybe a thousand Cranes honking and flying in mass.  I enjoyed the show but didn't get any photos.

I went for Sand Hill Crane photos but came home with night sky photos.  But wait, the story doesn't end there.  On our way home, we decided to stop off at Ozone falls.

Ozone Falls
We have seen signs for Ozone Falls on I-40 for years but never stopped. The falls are very close to the interstate, but not near an exit. It's still only about a 10 - 15-minute drive from I-40.  When we got there I realized we were there at the wrong time of day. The sun was shining on the falls and cliff walls, with dark shadow areas.  It took a good bit of editing in Lightroom to pull out a decent photo of the falls. Next time we will go to Ozone Falls on a cloudy day or early morning so the light on the falls is not as harsh.

When we were climbing down from the road to the falls we saw what appeared to be young kids with hula hoops heading to the base of the falls. By the time we made our way down we realized they were college age young people twirling fire near the base of the falls. I got as close as I could and found I was in the mist from the falls. I couldn't change lenses without getting water inside my camera so I shot with my 18-55mm lens on the Fuji. Again I had to do some cropping to get a decent composition, but this was a very cool subject.

We went for Sandhill Cranes but the more interesting photos were stars and fire twirlers.  Life is like that.  We have plans, but God will send us down another isle in life's grocery store to find something completely unexpected.  We just have to be watching for it.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.

According to The Phrase Finder, this proverbial expression dates from the early 19th century.
An early version comes in a piece by the English writer Eustace Budgell in the newspaper The Spectator No. 605, October 1714:

"Imitation is a kind of artless Flattery."

The version of this proverb we know best was given by Charles Caleb Colton, in Lacon: or, Many things in few words, 1820:

"Imitation is the sincerest of flattery."

As photographers, we all imitate each other to some degree. We will see a photograph that we like in a magazine or online, and want to know where and how it was taken. When we are out shooting with each other and see a photo on the back of another's camera, many of us will step right up to the same spot and try to imitate the photo.   

The photo below is a good example. Back in August 2016, I was shooting with some good friends at Exchange Place in Kingsport.  I walked into the blacksmith shop to find my friend and talented photographer Jim Haverstock making a still life photo of miscellaneous objects found in the shop.

I really like the photo he was making and being a poor still life photographer I wanted to copy his creativity. I don't think our photos are exactly the same, but I surely took advantage of his talent when making mine.

I made the photo below before that same long weekend of shooting with friends. After I showed the photo several of the others wanted to know where I took it and could we go there with our cameras. Their photographers were not the same as mine but I was flattered by their imitation.  

In school, we are taught that copying from others is not a good way to learn and is not allowed.  In photography, watching and copying others is a great way to learn. When we shoot alone, our creativity is limited by our own experiences.We can make the best photos and improve the most when we are out shooting with others.

The best way to find other photographers to shoot with is to join a local camera club. There are several in our area:

Colby McLemore in Knoxville maintains a good list of regional clubs.

Find a group, join up, then copy each other. You will expand your creativity and improve your photography.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

The Final Five - My Favorites From 2016

If you have been following my blog over the past few days you have seen several of my favorite photos from 2016. Today I finish up that series with the last of my favorites. Like the previous posts, there is a theme to these photos.

I'm sitting in the Charlotte North Carolina airport surrounded by acres of high technology controlling everything that happens here. My photos for today represent the complete opposite of technology. You will not find any electronics or other signs of technology in any of these photos. The closest is an electric light in one photo. These are all photos of

Old Stuff

Earlier this year I joined a bunch of photographer friends at the Rocky Mount Historic site to watch a vintage baseball game. The Tennessee Association of Vintage Base Ball promotes living history by bringing the 19th century to life through base ball (that's the original spelling) events.  They use the rules, equipment, costumes and culture of the 1860s in their games. This means long sleeves, long pants, homemade bats and balls, and no gloves!
Vintage Baseball
The photo above is one of my favorites because sports photography is not something I have done much of. I was able to get behind the backstop (bales of straw) and get a shot at the instant the bat made contact with the ball. That was a fun day.  

I've found I learn things when I stretch my photography outside my landscape comfort zone.   I will never be a good sports photographer, but I've learned a bit.

The photo below was taken in the Allandale Mansion in Kingsport.  We had a gathering of photographer friends from around the country here for a long weekend and spent some time in around Allandale.  I thought this was an interesting angle on the piano and the reflection of the lamp.

During the same long weekend, we went to Memory Lane in Rogersville to photograph the old buildings, cars, trucks, and associated vintage stuff.  There are acres of old things to photograph but this day I liked the old Texaco truck best.  I've tried to photograph this truck several times but the light was never quite right to get the shot. This day we got there early enough and the sun was in the right spot to light up the inside of the truck and phone booth. Who remembers the old Texaco commercials... "Trust your care to the man who wears the star - Texaco".
Trust Your Car...
You can't beat an old truck with two vintage steam locomotives.   I was at Cass Railroad State Park with my good friend Kent Ervin for this trip.  We spent our morning standing in the cold rain to get this shot.  If you look close you can see the rain falling down.
Waiting On The Train

My final favorite photo of 2016 is one I took just before Christmas. I was playing around with a candle, Christmas lights, and an off camera flash. I had to light the candle, put it out, and take one or two shots over and over again before I got a decent shot of the swirling smoke from the candle.  This kind of photography can test your patience!

Well, that pretty much wraps it up.   I hope you have enjoyed my favorites from last year.  I'm heading west on another adventure today.  Perhaps I'll get a photo that will be one of my favorites from 2017.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Continuing With My 2016 Favorites - Colors Of Nature

Before there were photographers or painters creating beautiful works of art, there were beautiful works of art in nature. Since the beginning of time, God has been creating beautiful art in the natural world.  Every day when the sun breaks the horizon there are brilliant sunrises happening all around the world.  We may not see it where we are that day but it is happening.  Sometimes the edge between night and day is defined by bright orange and yellows. Other times it is more pastel pinks and purples that paint the sky. Below the sky, every color can be found in the leaves, flowers, and grasses. Most of the earth is covered with water, which reflects and sometimes intensifies the colors of nature. The photos for today capture the color of nature that is all around us. Color in nature is one of my favorite subjects.

In October, June and I took a day trip on the Blue Ridge Parkway to see the brilliant colors that are painted across the hills and valleys each fall.  We started our day enjoying a sunrise from the Parkway near Boone NC.  While others were looking east to the rising sun, I walked up the road a bit to capture a photo of the winding parkway leading over a hill to the clouds lit by the low sun.  By looking north instead of east, I found a beautiful scene that others missed.   Nature's beauty is all around in every direction.  We just need to look around.

Blue Ridge Sunrise
Click on the images for a larger view.

From a sunrise in the mountains of North Carolina, we travel to a sunset on the shores of Lake Michigan. This photo may not appear that impressive. The sun had gone down 45 minutes earlier and the sunset colors had become more soft and soothing. The lighthouse is not an impressive structure. You might wonder why I picked this as a favorite.

I'm proud of this photo because it was made under very difficult photography conditions. It was after 10 PM and there was very little available light, which meant I had to had to push the camera to get a reasonably fast shutter speed. The shutter speed was important because the photo was taken from a moving boat without the benefit of a tripod. Too slow and everything would be blurry and the photo would have been sent to the bit-bucket. With a shutter speed of just 1/9 of a second, the lights in the distance are blurred but the people hanging out on the pier are not.  This was one of those situations where the odds were against me and I might not have bothered to take the shot.  I'm glad I did.

Lighthouse at Sunset

We're now moving into the darkest part of the night when the sky is painted by billions of stars. June and I were again out taking photos with our friend Lynn from Dallas. This time we were at Clingmans Dome in the Smoky Mountains. We had gone there for the sunset and waited around for another hour and a half for the stars to come out. Because it was still summer, the Milky Way was still visible in the sky.
Milky Way
Due to light pollution, most people in the US rarely see the Milky Way.  You have to travel to a place with a dark sky, far from city lights, with clear air.  When it's not shrouded in clouds, Clingmans Dome can be a great place to see the Milky Way.  I've gotten more interested in night sky photography and this is one of my favorite Milky Way shots.

Fall in the Smoky Mountains and Blue Ridge can provide the photographer with the most brilliant colors of the year. For a few short weeks, entire mountainsides turn to gold, red, and green.

For most of the summer and fall our area suffered through an extended drought. This made the water in the Bald River low enough that we could easily walk out on rocks that are normally underwater. The low water flow also made the river surface smooth as a mirror, reflecting and intensifying the fall colors. These are unusual conditions that came together to make one of my favorite fall photos.

Bald River
Water is something I enjoy photographing.  I like mirrored reflections such as the Bald River photo above. Waterfalls are probably my favorite subject and I almost always use a slower shutter speed to make the falling water appear silky and soft. A technique I have tried a few times involves very long shutter speeds to change moving water into a fog.

Waves or Clouds
Today's final photo was taken on a beach where waves were breaking over old coral formations. This was taken well after sunrise on a bright sunny morning. With that much light, it's difficult to get the slow shutter speed I wanted. I used something called a neutral density filter to block much of that light.  It is basically sunglasses for a camera lens. With that filter and a small aperture (f/22) I was able to slow the shutter speed down to 2 1/2 seconds. This made the waves appear like clouds. It's an artsy kind of effect that I like and will try to do more of.

Those are my favorite photos of nature's colors. I have 5 more favorite photos to share.  Come back again to see the finalists.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Some More Favorites from 2016 - Nature

Yesterday, I shared six of my favorite photos from last year and why I choose them out of the 11,686 from 2016 I have on my computer.  Today, I'm sharing a five more that are photos of plants and animals in nature.   Unlike yesterday when most of the photos were taken on a single trip, these were taken from Spring to Fall in a variety of locations.

I enjoy taking macro (close-up) photos of flowers and Spring is the best time to capture these beauties.  The first photo below was taken on April 10 in an area of our front yard where we are growing a variety of wildflowers.  Most of our flowers are native to our area and can be found in the woods and fields near by, but these Bleeding Hearts will not be found in the wild.   They are much showier than the native variety.  That is what makes them great photo subjects.
Bleeding Hearts
I picked this photo because of the brilliant colors, cool flower shapes, and tiny water drops that cling to each one.   This is also special because it is one of the best samples of a technique I have been learning called focus stacking.  This technique allowed me to get the flowers and water drops in very sharp focus while leaving the background out of focus. Click on the photo to zoom in for a larger version to see all the details.

From the font yard we travel to the Smoky Mountains and a photo that was taken just 9 days later.   We had spent a couple days in the park photographing wildflowers while hiking some of the trails.   Driving down Newfound Gap Road toward the Sugarlands Visitor Center we came upon a bunch of cars and people on the side of the road.   This can only mean one thing, a Bear Jam!   Not wanting to miss out, we found a spot down the road, walked back and found there was a mother with a couple cubs about 50 yards off the road.

The bears were often hidden behind trees and this is not a great photo, but the our memories of this time are a funny story.  This particular cub was sleeping high in a tree, oblivious to the crowds of people below with cameras and cell phones positioning to get a better view. As we were watching the bears, a well meaning but confused lady walked up and explained to us that the cub in the tree must be in distress and someone should do something.  We couldn't convince her that cubs sleep high in the trees and was just fine.  Frustrated with our lack of concern she moved on to plead her case to the next person.   Eventually the cub realized mom was moving on and he better come on down or be left behind.

Bear Cub
This funny story could have had a sad ending. In the crowd on the side of the road was one man with a cell phone that felt he had to get close to the bears to get a photo. This idiot was fortunate that mom didn't think he was threatening her cubs. People need to understand the Smoky Mountains is not a petting zoo.

The next wildlife subject was also not in distress but was getting his fill of sugar water at our Hummingbird feeder.  
Hummer Sunset
 I was trying something new when I took this shot. I have some flashes, stands, flash umbrellas and wireless flash triggers I purchased to do Real Estate photography.  I decided to use some of this equipment to photograph the fast moving little birds. By the time I figured out all the different settings I needed, it was getting late and the sky was golden with sunset colors. This is one of my favorites because of the way the bird is in sharp focus and the warm background is out of focus. If I do this again, I will change the aperture from f/11 to something wider to make the background even more out of focus.

There is something about birds of prey that draws our interest in ways that other birds just can't. Hawks, Eagles, and in this case, Osprey, fascinate June and I.  

This bird took up residence in Warriors Path State Park this past fall. Following it around gave us many photo opportunities, such as this one with dinner in it's talons. I enjoy photographing birds and catching them in flight is a fun challenge.   

The final photo in this set of favorites is not flowers in a perfect setting or wildlife in their habitats. I did not go out looking for this subject to photograph but instead found this literally right under my feet.

Fallen Leaves
I was at Cass Railroad State Park in West Virginia with my good friend Kent to photograph the historic steam engines that run up the mountains. It was fall and the colors on the trees were brilliant. However, this day it had been raining all day and everything was wet. I was walking back to our rental house along these raised wooden sidewalks or boardwalks when I came across these leaves that had fallen and stuck to the wet wood.  I had my camera with me and only had to point it straight down. Outdoor photographers are guilty of moving things like leaves around to improve a photo. The leaves in the photo are just where they dropped. Honest!

I like the simplicity of this photo.  The horizontal lines contrast with the randomness of the leaves. The wood is almost black, contrasting with the golden leaves. No brilliant sunset, expansive mountains, or wildlife here. Just simple fall leaves.

I've got 10 more favorites to share in the next couple days.   Come back to find out what others I like and why.

Monday, January 2, 2017

Some favorites from 2016

It is kind of a tradition for photographers to look back on the previous year and pick out their favorite photos.   Often it is their top 12, one for each month.   Other times photographers will share their favorite [insert large number here] photos online.   Their friends will look at the first dozen or so and then move on.

As artists, we want to pick the very best photos for this list of standout images.  The problem is, what criteria do we use?   The photos that make the best use of the "rules of good photography"?  The ones that were technically difficult to make?  Those taken at the most interesting places, or make people say "Wow!" when then see them?  Making this list is not easy.

I've learned that my favorite photos often leave people saying "that's OK".   What people like is very subjective and often the artist has no idea what others will think is a good work of art.   Just this morning I read an article about the song Joy To The World.   No not that one, the one by Three Dog Night that starts out "Jeremiah was a bullfrog, was a good friend of mine."  The group didn’t think much of this song when they recorded it, tacking it on to the album because they needed one more song to complete it. The song ended up being a massive hit and stayed six weeks at #1 on the US Hot 100.  Those of us who grew up in the 70's can probably recite the lyrics 46 years later. Just like Three Dog Night, I have a hard time knowing what other people will like.  Thus the reason I ask others to pick photos for my annual calendar.

This year I have picked out 21 photos that I personally like for my "Best Of Collection".  I didn't use any of the criteria above.  Instead, I picked photos that represent a broad spectrum of subjects, places, and styles.   I then narrowed down to photos that make me happy when I see them.  I may like the image but often they are picked because they bring back good memories from 2016.   I excluded any photo that is on the 2017 calendar because you have already seen those, over and over again.

Rather than put them on a web page for you to flip through, I'm going to write a few blog pages that tell a bit about each photo and why I picked it.  I hope you enjoy some of these.

I am starting off with a photo that was made close to home.  In fact, it was on our back deck.

Carolina Wren
I have set up a place for birds to come get something to eat, drink and hang out. In this case, I set up my camera and took the shot with a remote control from inside the house.  It was January 16 and was very cold outside. I picked this photo because I love the little songbirds that frequent our back yard and this photo reminds me of hours spent on the deck enjoying the birds that visit.

From home, we travel far away to Iceland for the next five photos in this post.  All of these were taken on a trip with several good friends.   We spent a week together traveling around Iceland in a SUV and pickup truck taking photos.   These photos remind me of that good time.

Ice Lagoon
The Ice Lagoon was taken at sunset.  The orange/pink clouds contrast with the blue ice floating on the dark water.   Color contrast is one of those things that can make a photo pleasing to look at.  The triangular block of ice seems to point the way to the mountains and clouds on the horizon.

Northern Lights
I took dozens and dozens of photos of the Northern Lights while in Iceland.  The first night we saw them we were staying in a small hotel.  June went in to tell the others to come out and shoot.   She also told a French family who was staying there in the hotel about the lights.  A young boy was so excited he came running out to see them for himself, wearing only his underwear!

This Northern Lights photo was taken that same night not far from our hotel.  We found a frozen pond to use to capture reflections of the lights. It was a good thing no one broke through the ice that night.

Moving from bright green, the next photo appears to be black and white.

Ice on Black Sand Beach
If you look closely, you'll see this is actually a color photo.   The ice had floated out of the Ice Lagoon and washed up on the beach.  Unlike most beaches, the sand here was a beautiful black from volcanic rock.   When our group arrived at the beach, some went left and a few of us went right and found this natural ice sculpture.  By the time the others made it down to this area the ice had moved and people had walked around and left footprints in the sand, ruining the composition.   The lesson here is when you see a shot, take it.  It may not be there later.

From ice on the beach, we go inside a blue ice glacier.

Ice Cave
The guy who ran our hotel had a van that could drive across ice and snow covered land, right up to some impressive glaciers and a cave in the glacier.  The cave is created by water that makes it's was into cracks in the ice and melts the ice away to form a cave big enough to walk through.   The blue color is from the sunlight passing through the ice, which filters out all other colors.  This is one of my favorites because going in an ice cave was something I'd read about and wanted to do for some time. It was a great adventure and included many good memories.

The last photo for today was also taken in Iceland.

Good Friends
This was a grab shot I made while we were on the black sand beach.  June and our good friend Lynn were resting on a rock waiting on the rest of us to get our fill of photos.   Besides being a photo of two lovely ladies, this is one of my favorites because of the variety stories contained in the photo.   Anyone who has been on a photo trip with June and I knows that she will grab up my camera bag every time I turn my back, which she has done again in this photo.  For this trip, we had metal grippers called Yak Tracks on the bottoms of our boots so we wouldn't fall and bust something when walking on ice.  These Yak Tracks were constantly falling off, and you can see June and Lynn are missing one each.  You have probably noticed they appear to be dressed like twins girls who's mother has picked out their matching clothes.  Our friend and guide extraordinaire for this trip John "Snake" Barrett had come up with an extensive list of items to bring for a week in Iceland, including jackets, pants, gloves, and boots.   We had several online group video chats before the trip to go over his recommendations.   He even provided custom made caps to keep our heads warm.   As a result, many of us were dressed alike and when bundled up looked like we were there attending a Twin Convention.

The best part of this photo is it reminds me of the friendships we have with others we have met over the years.   The trip to Iceland was fantastic, but the lasting friendships are what counts and what we will remember long after we forget the adventure and photos.

I hope you have enjoyed these photos.  I have certainly enjoyed remembering the experiences behind each one.   I'll post more over the next few days.