Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Signs of Spring

On my lake shoots, there is only one way out and back. I was just about to turn back when I came across two signs of Spring.

Brambles leafing out...

And a bumblebee...Of the genus Bombus, species a head-scratcher at this time. But I couldn't resist throwing that name around... Bombus just sounds so cool.

Don't worry, it's very much alive. It had been buzzing all around and decided to take a break right in front of me. When I tried to lift him on a twig for a better shot... Bzzzz... He was off again! I promise to have bees in flight. It's just not the same when they're only hanging around, is it?

I try to plan ahead with my posts, setting a few out in advance for insurance. Even so, I still want to add a bit with today's post. A short session on the deck a few moments ago gave me these little ones--a chipmunk collecting nesting materials and a pair of Mallard Ducks paddling though the swamp.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Paper Birch

Paper birch feels like such a gentle tree. Their habit seems to be of a clumping nature but this twisted creature is a loner. It grows out of a drop off so I was able to get below the ground level and shoot up from around the exposed roots.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

The Photographer's Eye

The Photographer's Eye: Composition and Design for Better Digital Photos by Michael Freeman is my current read. I'm wanting to explore photography from other than technical topics--no tools or techniques for a time.

I'm about halfway through a first reading. With this, I'm homing in on line: horizontal, vertical, diagonal. Shape: triangle, rectangle, circle. I become more aware of what I'm reaching for with the crop. There are discussions of subjects outside the purely compositional, that is, to the photographic specific: telephoto versus wide-angle, focus and blur, exposure.

This book is a welcome respite from my scrambling to pick up the technical. This book makes me distinctly peaceful. It's meditative. I'm liking it. Even though chapter based, each topic within carries at the most for four pages and always with lots of illustrative photos.

For eighteen bucks, it's already been a bargain of an eye-opening and pleasurable trip. I'll soon finish this book and keep it ready for rereads or really just to open it to any page for an idea to carry around on the next shoot.

Raccoon Tracks

On this section of shoreline...

I found these tracks...

Raccoons are the dearest little creatures and I hope to catch some shots. As they are nocturnal, when the nights get warm and I by then get myself a little kayak, I may get the opportunity.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Maple Bud

Maple buds are a sure sign of spring, right?

This shot came from last week's shoot and I really expected to see blossoms by now. Alas, there has been not much change this past week. I thought that perhaps in more sheltered spots or areas with more sun exposure that I might see at least a few. Sigh...

But, I did get some signs of Spring that I'll be processing up for the coming week's posts. I also discovered some new remnants of last year's wildflowers that need research. Even have a new gall. We're in for some real treats this week! :-)

During today's adventure, I got to talk with some nice folks and handed out the blog address a couple of times. I've thought about bookmarks for getting the address out easily and I need to either firm that up or get to something else. For now I may just print up some 4 x 6's that I can keep handy.

Friday, March 27, 2009


The Goldfinchs are molting into more color. Before long they will be looking nearly fluorescent.

We looked at Alder a short time ago but the catkins and cones here are a bit different. These catkins were still laden with pollen and a little finger flick produced clouds of yellow dust.

I found these cones interesting in their starkness compared to an earlier shot where they were shrouded with leaves or something or other. I'm becoming something of a catkin and cone freak. Today I noticed catkins on a Hop Hornbeam at work. And to think that not long ago I thought that all the world had to offer was the ubiquitous pine cone.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Japanese Knotwood

In a previous post way back at the end of last year, we looked at Japanese Knotwood, Polygonum cuspidatum . At that time, we could see branches loaded with seeds. My best guess is that the birds cleaned them up over the winter, leaving just a few behind.

I'm so interested in the interactions between plants and animals. In fact, I am thinking about the possibilities of insect interactions. Phew...it might all be over my head to get into all that here...

We have looked at a couple of galls, but that's just a tiny sample of insects' influences.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Pussy Willow Up Close

I couldn't resist a close up. It's so beautiful, isn't it?

I didn't know that this species is dioecious. I believe this is the male. This gets me to thinking that I'd like to pay more attention to each species' reproductive methods. Hmm...that gets me thinking I have a good excuse to invest more into my library...

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

HeliconFocus Comparison

I recently tinkered with HeliconFocus, using the same six photos from the Photoshop focus adventure (in the Multi Layer Focusing post).

I've found the results from both methods quite similar. Of course, my tests are rather willy-nilly. I have no idea what I'm doing or why--simply following instructions and/or using default values. If I got into the why's of both methods and worked to produce the best image possible using various sets of images, well, that would be some fine testing. Alas, neither time nor ambition are with me.

At some point, I can imagine having real need for this technique and that might drive me to greater exploration. But for now, I'm done here and flitting off to the next topic, whatever that will be...

Forked Bluecurls

I first came upon Bluecurls, Trichostema dichotomum, last weekend. I was intrigued with the delicate structure of the dried flower sepals. How do these papery little treasures keep it all together throughout our winter?

I spent only a few minutes in A Guide to Wildflowers in Winter to complete my ID of this annual.

The bleached out appearance in these photos is quite accurate. The stark whiteness of this little one stood out clearly near the shoreline.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Reflecting Pool

This weekend I went out in search of more signs of spring. I found a few swollen to partially opening buds. That's all. I guess it's too soon yet.

A lake inlet remained calm during the cold, overcast , and blustery afternoon.

Sunday, March 22, 2009


Not since the case of the Sweet Pepperbush have I dealt with such mystery as this little creature. For months I have been photographing and taking samples of the Broadleaf Meadowsweet, Spirea latifolia . I repeatedly searched through A Guide to Wildflowers in Winter to no avail. Then yesterday a sudden flash of insight led me to realize that my elusive quarry was not a small wintered over biennial or a perennial but a true bush. Within minutes my trusty The Shrub Identification Book by George W. D. Symonds came to the rescue. The details in the remains of what I imagine to be the fruiting section of the flower are so incredible. How did those tiny little sharpened tips stay just so throughout our severe winter?

The close up shot was new technique experimentation. For shutterbugs, you can read about my adventures with all the technical details over in 24 x 36.

I've been shooting this little one for so long that I feel I must include shots taken over a period of months.

Multi Layer Focusing

If you do much macro work, you know how the limited depth of field can make it tough to get the detail you'd like to see throughout your subject. Sure, we're supposed to pick the most interesting detail and work out from there. Often times it's critical that the eye highlight be tack sharp.

I try to push that a bit by focusing further back while using the depth of field preview. That gives me a bit more detail in focus. But, that technique can still leave out a lot of desirable imaging.

I won't go into details of this exercise but just lay out the steps. There are plenty of fantastic how-to's with great screen shots already out there. But once we get through the steps, I'll present a viewpoint that you may not readily find in the web world.

Using a tripod and a cable release, shoot a series of photos of the same subject, with each shot changing the focus plane ever so slightly. With my example, I used six shots.

Work up the images as needed in Bridge and Adobe Camera Raw (ACR). Be sure to synchronize your changes so that all images have all the same ACR settings.

Back in Bridge, select all the photos and open in Photoshop as Layers.

Next, in Photoshop, Select, All Layers.

Then Edit, Align All Layers. Choose the Protection Auto option. Advice says to check Geometric Distortion but I lost a lot of photo with that. Besides, the two times I used it, it took out radically different amounts of the resulting picture. I have no clue about that, didn't care and unchecked it. I got a shot that looked okay to me.

Then, Edit, Auto-Blend.

That does it. Now you have a shot with incredible depth of field. It really works. This is my first try and I'm surely not very critical but it was quite adequate for what I hoped to accomplish.

What I found fascinating was how each in focus piece of each layer was masked and how they all fit together. Let me illustrate from the top layer on down, turning on one additional layer in each shot.

This is the state of the layers windows with the first three layers turned on.

Okay, it works. Did I overlook problems? Probably. Will this technique always give decent results? I have no idea. The web is naturally full of opinions on the efficacy of this method. Helicon makes a product that seems to draw fine reviews. I think there might also be competing products. But, I actually got something working here and that's cool! As a Photoshop beginner, I wonder what can be accomplished without third party products. I guess only experience can answer that for me.

Oh, I almost forgot to mention! This whole exercise got under way because I wanted this shot for a Nuncketest post.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Wild Grape

Wild Grape, Vitis vinifera, grows in patches around the lake. I had difficulty trying to isolate the canes from the background, hence a tour of tendrils.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Simple Practices

I'm learning how to keep my camera in a ready state. For me that means the CF card is indeed in place. The ISO is set to 100. Automatic shutter and aperture selected.

Before powering up the camera, I flip open the little door to be sure the CF is really there. So many times I've pushed the shutter and nothing happens. It takes me a few moments to notice the display flashing "no CF". I probably have more trouble with this than anything.

After flipping up the power switch, I double check the ISO and auto mode. I check the exposure compensation as I've once gone for two days off by two stops.

I'm becoming aware of how I punch the shutter. That rough action twists the camera during the shot. I can do much better when I slowly smoosh my finger through the shutter button.

It's these simple little practices that I'm slowly adopting that are removing the frustrations of missed shots, off exposures, and fuzzy photos.

So far I've mostly kept some kind of automation in place, either aperture priority or full auto. I'm often not aware of the automatically selected parameters and I'm wondering if maybe I try shooting full manual for a while. That is, paying better attention by working simply. Besides, shutter and aperture are creative parameters and working manually for a while might increase my awareness and technique.

Happy Vernal Equinox!

Today is the Vernal Equinox, the first day of Spring. Ah, we made it, didn't we? It's been a cold and snowy winter here in Bridgewater, MA and with any luck there'll be no snow until way after the autumnal equinox.

We recently saw pussy willows, one of Spring's earliest indicators. Here's a Mullein that, after wintering over, is picking up some color as it builds a rosette of leaves, soon to spread open and throw a flowering spike.

And here's another indication! Just today I noticed this Goldfinch with what appears to be the beginning of a molt. His eyebrows and bib are coming in nicely with also little patches here and there. I'll be sure to follow their development. In fact, I think I just may be coming into the busy season here on Nuncketest!

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Water and Ice and... What's In A Number?

I ran across this most wonderful quote in Nancy Rotenburg's Foreword to Fine Art Digital Nature Photography by Tony Sweet.

Don't ever begin to believe
that when you get to a certain
point, you're there.

Don't ever put a limit to what
you want to be, because when
you get to that place, you're

Don't ever set yourself a
stopping place, because maybe that
is just the beginning.

~John Held, Jr.

Today is the one hundredth day of Nuncketest posts. It's been downright satisfying and exciting and without further ado...

Here's to keep on keeping on!

A couple of shoreline shots where I practiced not leaving my shadow in the pictures.

Fine Art Printing for Photographers

Fine Art Printing for Photographers, Exhibition Quality Print with Inkjet Printers by Uwe Steinmueller and Juergen Gulbins is a heavy read for me. The mechanics of inks and their delivery systems and paper take up a couple of chapters. There's color management and workflows and even a chapter on black and white printing.

I'm learning why we might want to have up to four different black inks to handle various papers and b/w prints.

Like each book that I've been posting on, I am only skimming the surface. I will need to reread as well as try to implement--I think it's the only way I might grasp all this information. I am sometimes overwhelmed with all the aspects of photography that I am simultaneously pursuing but I think in time that I will reach some understanding. I feel that if I can at least recognize the subjects that I can then keep going back to fill in more and more.

Another area that I am pondering is mounting and framing. Coming soon...

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Fine Art Digital Nature Photography

Fine Art Digital Nature Photography by Tony Sweet is so awesome. Just buy it. How's that for a review?

Okay, first off I will assume that you are a nature photographer. Next I will imagine that that you'd like to present your photos with some kinds of abstractions--blurs, dreamily hypnotic images, or painterly styles. Additionally, you will have to be ready to pick up at at least one add-on package for your Photoshop. After seeing the incredible photos, you'll want to try to incorporate some of the techniques in your own work.

You will soon become familiar with companies with names like Singh-Ray, Nik, Alien Skin, Photomatix, and Helicon. And then you'll probably want the rest of Tony Sweet's books.

Or, buy this book simply to look at the beautiful photos and kindle your inspiration for better work. Many of the photos in this book can be seen in his online gallery.

Smooth Alder

I discovered Smooth Alder, Alnus serrulata, along the shore, one after another until I realized that this bush was all over the place! I'd been walking right by it without noticing the catkins or cones. It's a beauty, isn't it?

I'm not absolutely sure on the ID. It's definitely an alder, but it could be Speckled and maybe even Mountain although the bud shape leans toward either smooth or speckled. Once it leafs out, I'll have a better idea.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Photoshop and Another Book

I started out with a free copy of Adobe Elements. Then I found a Wacom offer--buy an Intuos tablet and get Photoshop CS4 for $300. I bit.

Most folks who seem to know tell me I don't need it, that Elements will work just fine. I don't know enough to have an opinion, but that's okay because I'm slowly learning. Between the web and good books, I'll get up to speed. I do find that most instructional material is based on Photoshop and there are subtle differences with Elements--menu item location, features, and limited feature sets.

My favorite instructional material is Julieanne Kost's videos. They're packed with detail and move at just the right clip for me. Besides, she's awfully cute. She has a DVD set for CS3 and I'm waiting/hoping for a CS4 version. In the meantime, I'll build my library.

My first CS4 book is Photoshop CS4 for Nature Photographers by Ellen Anon and Josh Anon. It comes with a DVD--video tutorials and images to follow along with the exercises. I gave it a quick read and now it's time to go back and do the work. There are introductory chapters on Bridge and Adobe Camera Raw (ACR) which then lead into tools and workflows. Exposure and color adjustments, composites, creative effects, and printing round out the chapters.

With the focus on nature, we won't find any tips on portrait refinishing. All the example photos are landscape, floral, or bird shots.

I'll probably have more thoughts once I get in and start the exercises.

Pussy Willow

The Pussy Willow, Salix discolor , is proof of Spring's arrival. These fuzzy little catkins are as soft as my dear cat Timothy.

I've known of pussy willows all my life but I've never before seen a twelve foot tree loaded with catkins! Always something new...

And since he has been introduced, here's Timothy himself!

Monday, March 16, 2009

Canada Geese

The Canada Goose, Branta canadensis, is now a year round species in New England. Sadly, this lovely creature can be considered a nuisance, particularly due to the rather large piles of slippery green excrement that can cover roads, lawns, and sidewalks--especially when they are in numbers as we see here.

When I was younger I remember the huge V's way, way up in the sky with the barely heard honking during migration time. Where could all those birds be going?

They will always be welcome by me. After all, we have to put up with a little crap now and then, don't we?

I was unable to get close enough when the above were taken and I got lucky this afternoon to find a few on the shoreline.

Starting Points and Workflow

Nuncketest began last mid-December, and by the end of the year I had tooled up to a Canon 50d and a 100mm F/2.8 macro. I was immediately right back into the excitement of my Canon EF days! I'll admit that I'm still not well versed with all the controls and options of this sophisticated imaging device. I do carry the little manual in a coat pocket for when some thought or question pops to mind.

These machines will give good results simply by using a few automatic settings but ever the tinkerer, I want to know details, leading me to a review of my starter book.

Camera Raw with Adobe Photoshop CS4 by Bruce Fraser and Jeff Schewe. It's a current publication dealing with Adobe Camera Raw (ACR) 5.2 (5.3 recently released--a minor update for a few new cameras).

I'd say that this book's main theme is workflow. That is, once the shutter has done its job, what happens from that point to opening up Photoshop. First, we need to assume that we have decided to capture RAW on the camera. Then the RAW files are pulled into Bridge for review, sorting, and labeling. Next, ACR is fired up for processing--color, crop, vignette, exposure, lots of features.

I've read this book twice and will soon give it another go. At this time, I see Bridge and ACR as foundational to my workflow. Of course, this could change. There's always Lightroom... Or simply shooting JPEG... The web is well populated with discussions of the merits of various pathways.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

White-throated Sparrow

I nearly missed this little bird nestled within a mass of wisteria covering an old woodpile. I'm surprised that I have never noticed the White-throated Sparrow. (In fact, it is quite humbling as I discover how much of the natural world I have simply glossed over for so long.) That little bit of yellow-orange above and in front of the eye as well as the gray below really helped with the ID. I used The Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Birds. Nice book, lots of good color pictures that work well for me with birds.

I can scarcely manage to scribble a tolerable English letter. I know that I am not a scholar, but meantime I am aware that no man living knows better than I do the habits of our birds.
~ John James Audubon

A Bit of History and Then Some

There's plenty to say about what's now going on, but first I'd like to explain my roots. Somewhere around 1975, a lent out 35 mm piqued my interest. A few months later I was explaining to the loan officer at a local bank that I needed to borrow $350 to pay my car insurance because I had spent all my money in the world on a brand new Canon EF 35 mm camera. (Yes, I got the loan!)

I loved that camera. With just a 50 mm F/1.8 I learned with a passion. I read all the local library had to offer. I read and reread stacks of old Modern Photography magazines.

Before long, I found myself most attracted to macro. Closeup lenses, a lens reversing ring, and a bellows gave me a flexible and relatively inexpensive toolbox. A macro lens would have sent me back to that loan officer.

I felt the need for immediate gratification (and saving money) so I took to shooting slides and doing my own processing. I could be examining a strip of processed slides hours after shooting.

What with life's twists and turns, I began to lose interest until a friend's new found interest got me going for a while. We shot a few small weddings together and planned a business that never lifted off. In the end, I gave him my EF and he gave me his Canon A1. That is Steve's A1 in the blog header. Can't say I remember shooting even one roll in that camera. My whole photographic adventure lasted probably less than two years.

From the rangefinder to the single lens reflex to automatic exposure shutter, aperture, or both, the changes have been fascinating. Now with digital, full automatics, autofocus, and onboard camera processing, there is so much more to comprehend. But in the end, it has always come down to getting the light on the film, even if now the film is digitized. We always had darkrooms and still do, only now they are digitized as well.

I am amazed. I am now looking at a photo I shot yesterday--processed, printed, matted, and framed--up on the wall in front of me. And yet, it would be the same shot I could have made in 1975, only with much more effort, time, and money.

In the big picture, if I had to choose the most significant difference between now and then, I just might settle on film. That's where the money was--buying and processing film. My home slide processing was cheaper than sending it out but I still had to buy and mix seven bottles of chemicals. Now, I might debate for hours or days or weeks the various improvements and their significance, but film would probably win out with me in the end. I think Kodak, Ilford, Fuji, and Polaroid might agree.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

An Adventure

A four day weekend is so freeing--no schedules, no routines--leaving me all the time in the world for a photo adventure. What with cold and icy weather, when shooting I've tended to remain close to home or drive out to a specific spot. Today I am sore and tired from wading through briars, balancing over the water for that just right shot, and generally wandering all over the place. I probably looked like a kid on an Easter egg hunt.

I've easily collected enough for a week's worth of posts, but processing today's 91 photos will take time. So here's one of the first, an enormous number of Canada Geese. While working closeups of various little plants, I began hearing a thunderous honking of literally hundreds of geese flying in across the lake. Coming right in at me! There were so many more outside this photo, both in the air and on the water.

I've been thinking about a second blog, one that focuses on my photographic experiences. I have quite deliberately tried to keep Nuncketest about the natural world, leaving all the technicalities behind the scenes. But from time to time, I slip something in, folks ask about something I may have mentioned, or someone simply wonders how I made a specific shot. That got me thinking--a place to collect all my musings on my interest with photography. So, here's 24 x 36! It ain't pretty, not yet any way, but it'll shape up soon.

Lastly, I'm again caught in the Feedburner blues. Yesterday's post, Red Pine, didn't get pushed out via email. Here's hoping this post makes it!


Welcome to 24 x 36!

After pondering my ability to maintain an additional blog, I figured why not. Unlike Nuncketest where I feel compelled to post daily, the schedule here will be, well, no schedule at all!

The posts will include all aspects of my photographic adventures--equipment, books, technique, composition, software, printing, mounting, and framing. That is, from before the shot is taken to when it hangs on someone's wall.

So, although 24 x 36 is firstly a reference to the usual dimensions of a 35 mm negative, it could just as well refer to a 24" x 36" fine art nature portrait--hopefully, that is.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Red Pine

There aren't many Red Pine, Pinus resinosa, around the lake. The needles, up to six inches in length, are in groups of two. That with the small size of the cones makes for a positive identification. I suppose the distinctive bark could also help with the ID, as it is the source of this conifer's namesake.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Look Who Woke Up

The chipmunks are no longer in hibernation, as today they spilled out from their stone wall squealing and frolicking. They're definitely morning critters. I put out sunflower seeds for them, and all the while a little one was poking his head out and then ducking back in while squeaking with excitement. I did get a few shots off in between their rapid fire movements.