Archive for the ‘Photography’ Category

Frozen Falls Frustrate Fotography

Monday, February 15th, 2016


Enjoying the constantly shifting patterns of water, rock, and ice, is one of the special pleasures of living within 5 minutes hike of several hundred feet of a stair stepping sandstone falls.   Sometimes I visit the falls several days in a row. I always see something different as winter works its magic on sedimentary stone, but I continue to struggle to share the beauty and wonder of my favorite part of our property.


If the falls have any potential as a landscape shot, I really haven’t figured out how to depict it. The base of the falls remains a beautiful and mysterious spot, but my attempts to capture the totality of the thing are insipid and uninspired. Framing out 10 foot long sections that have interesting angles helps, but still doesn’t result in a picture that I would want to hang on my wall.


I’ve decided that the trick the trick to compelling photos of our falls is to move in closer, finding the small compelling dramas of ice and ever-eroding sandstone.  Are those flows of water, or icicles? Aren’t icicles just flows of water that are trapped in a different time stream?  As the photographer can manipulate the experience of time, so does the nature’s cycle of freezing and thawing manipulate the experience of water.


Sometimes spraying water freezes into hanging globules that I call isticles. Chains of moss anchor these frozen chunks of water until the next thaw. A little more than an inch in length, its almost impossible to capture sharp images of such small objects without using a tripod.


The steps and landings comprising the most interesting part of our falls are cramped and awkward places to work, making it difficult to hand hold a camera, and often impossible to setup a tripod.  Sometimes I use a monopod, and I take a lot of shots, hoping the camera will be still enough to capture the textures of ice and stone.  Wavy ice of varying thicknesses creates a focusing challenge that is only partially compensated for by small apertures.


The water continues to flow, even when its below freezing, and you can almost see the stalactites and stalagmites forming before your eyes.


Sometimes the spray and overflow coat the surface of a sandstone boulder, the pinched and dimpled ice trapping moss, air bubbles and sediment, making a marbled pattern. Placing the camera within a few short inches of the surface provides a random abstract of green and brown swirls.


A dedicated macro lens allows me to get even closer to a congealed horizontal pool, a higher level of magnification providing a totally different abstract of sharp angles and jagged crystalline lines.

Everybody Loves a Beaver Pond

Monday, November 23rd, 2015


We didn’t realize how much natural activity a beaver pond attracts until we set up an automated game camera alongside the beaver dam. Besides the beavers and bobcats, we captured a variety of birds and beasts.


The wood ducks have been especially enthusiastic visitors, paddling around the deep water behind the dam, and dabbling around the shallow water along the face of the dam.  The blue heron has appeared multiple times, mostly hunting on the downstream side of the dam, but sometimes alongside the dam and at least once, jumping into the pond in water up to his waist.


During the day, squirrels and chipmunks use the damn as a bridge to an opposite shore that otherwise is inconvenient or impossible for them to visit.


We’ve seen a lot of raccoons on the game cam, or more likely, a lot shots of the same one. He regularly crossed the first dam multiple times a night, and it didn’t take him long to find the new dam.

Bobcats and Beavers

Saturday, November 7th, 2015


After a couple of fruitless attempts at catching our busy beavers with the game camera, Kirk and I about fell over when we swapped memory cards, checked the previous nights images, and found that a bobcat had strolled past the breach we’d made in the left side of the dam.


The game camera did not get any shots of the beavers repairing the dam (see the breach visible just above the bobcat in the shots above), but when the bobcat returned 5 hours later, the breach had mostly been repaired.


What’s especially interesting about the second series of bobcat shots is that it also captured the beaver. Note the white dot in the dark water just to the left of the tall upright branch above. That’s the infrared light of the game camera reflecting off the eye of a beaver swimming towards the bobcat.


16 seconds after the bobcat walks away from the game camera’s field of view, the swimming beaver reaches the shore where the bobcat had been standing. In the shots below, you can see the beaver’s eyes swimming back to the right.


An hour later, a raccoon made the first of two appearances, but we didn’t see any more evidence of beaver or bobcat.


Frozen Falls

Thursday, January 16th, 2014

The tiny brook that makes Heiser Hollow a hollow flows year around, but it is usually underground.  Not only has it been flowing constantly for the last month, but a light Christmas freeze created hundreds of crystal clear icicles and iciglobs.  Splashing water froze over a period of several days into all sorts of interesting patterns and shapes.

Once a fantastic alpine cataract, over a period of millions of years, Heiser Falls has eroded into a 30 foot high jumble of sandstone boulders, decaying back into the sand that they sedimented from.  As the fragile sandstone splits, slides, and decomposes, it constantly alters the shape and form of the falls. Truly, you never really visit the same water fall more than once.


By December 28, the continuously splashing falls were making increasingly thicker layers of ice on top of stones and fallen branches.

Dripping water from day time thaws had created stalactites, solidifying ferns and moss.

The spring-fed brook created beautifully clear ice, covered and infused with subtle but complex textures of cracking. And then everything melted.

And then it froze. It froze hard. Starting from a relatively balmy mid-40s on the night of January 5, the temperature quickly dropped to -10 Fahrenheit (-23C).  The pond quickly froze solid, but I didn’t get to the waterfall for a couple of days.  When I returned after a light snow on the 9th, the brook and falls appeared to have frozen solid, although you could still hear the water flowing under the ice.

It looked like a miniature 300 foot glacier, sliding into the back of our property, sliding slowly downhill towards the frozen pond.

Much of the brook above the falls had turned into stair steps of ice, as successive layers of constantly flowing water solidified on top of already frozen water.

The falls seemed frozen into place, although you were always surrounded by the babbling sound of flowing water.  And then it thawed again, with all but the thickest ice completely melting.

Cold weather returned, and this week, the Hollow is beginning to ice up again, looking like it did before Christmas.  The constantly flowing spring water surrounded by elaborately formed and textured formations of beautifully clear ice.  I went out at lunch with a tripod and macro lens, trying to capture some of the elusive beauty of the ever-changing ice.

Fickle Fate of Favorite Photo

Tuesday, June 25th, 2013

My most ‘acclaimed’ photo is a good example of the somewhat fickle nature of aesthetic opinion. And furthering the fickleness of this photo, I wouldn’t have captured it at all if Elizabeth hadn’t seen the scene first, taking her own version on the balcony of our Tokyo hotel during a colorful sunset evening last June.


My first success with it was a 3rd place win in the Around the Cities round of the Amateur Photographer of the Year competition, a contest run by the popular UK magazine Amateur Photographer which draws over a thousand entries a month. Foreshadowing the uneven path this image would take, the judges were almost apologetic in explaining that it was the best of the pictures that met the theme, so they decided against choosing it for first or second place (click on the above image to read the caption, and figure out for yourself why a shack in the woods and a deserted bridge would place in a contest of this theme).


Belonging to 3 different camera clubs (do not ask), this image ended up in 6 different club competitions. It didn’t win anything 2 of the times. Entered in a theme competition ‘Architecture’, it won an Honorable Mention, meaning it was in the top 25% of entries that night, also qualifying it for the end of the year competition. As shown above, at the end of year competition it was awarded the blue ribbon for digital projected image, and Best In Show.

It had placed 2nd in the other club in a monthly competition for the theme ‘A Different Point of View’ , finally ending up with an Honorable Mention at that club’s end of year competition. I don’t remember now if it was one of the judges who didn’t give it any ribbon, but one of the four monthly competition judges complained that the rectangles in the center of the image were offset, and wasn’t that a shame.  It should be clear at this point that different judges do have different points of view.

Tokyo Balconies on display in Fenton House

Meanwhile, the Royal Photographic Society, which I had joined in the UK and continue to support, is always looking for ways to encourage their non-UK members. It organized an exhibit from the ‘Overseas Chapters’. The US chapter selected my image, making it one of approximately 100 images that spent a month being exhibited at Fenton House, the Royal Photographic Society’s headquarters in Bath. This exhibit is also scheduled to be in London at the Royal Photographic Society Cave from the 11th to 31st of July, so if you are in London this summer, you can see it.

The picture also generated some attention on a photo critique site where I spend some time, called Photosig. Ending up as my second highest scoring image.

Evening Balconies

In one of the club competitions that didn’t go so well, the picture ended up displayed on its side (don’t ask).  I thought it did have some potential in alternative orientation, but the lacy ironwork seemed unbalanced, so I Photoshopped it, copying the top half, pasting and flipping it, positioning it over the bottom half of the photo, and then rotating it 90 degrees.  I actually like the result a lot.  It has a degree of surreality that I think is interesting. And it fixed that judge’s concern about non-symmetric windows. Several other people like it too, and the surreal version of Tokyo Balconies ended up as my 3rd highest scoring image on Photosig, just behind the non-manipulated version.

For those who are following my series on before & after photos, the non-manipulated version of this image is one that spent no time in Photoshop. The original camera RAW image was processed in Lightroom for global exposure, contrast, and color saturation. White Balance was left As Shot..  The color turns out to be a very important aspect of this image. I experimented with black & white, but it just turns out blah. This is essentially what we saw off our hotel balcony at 6:48 PM

ISO 800, f/18, 1/20 sec (there’s a lot to be said for both steady hands and image stabilization)

My Tokyo Hose

Sunday, June 23rd, 2013

Blue Hose Final Version

There is something irresistibly sinuous about a garden hose, exhibiting a natural elegance as it mimics the French curve. I found my Tokyo Hose last summer in trendy Shibuya.

Blue Hose As Captured By the Camera

Always on the lookout for found still lives, this one struck me as almost perfect as originally presented, and I did not ask my subject to make any changes in her pose.  If I had it to do over again, I think I would have moved the bucket, but that turned out to be one of the easier digital darkroom operations. Taken at 17mm and f;8, ensured enough depth of field for the entire image to be adequately sharp.  Perspective was the first fix, easily corrected in Lightroom (Distortion +7, Vertical –30, Horizontal –7, Rotate –0.9), resulting in a square image that looked like it had been taken directly downwards from an impossible position centered over the hose.  This still left me with the unwanted bucket, and some unsightly reflections from the harsh midday sun, so I moved to Photoshop for some outpatient surgery.


Copying another section of tiles and pasting it over the bucket simplified the image, turning a garden scene into a near-abstract.

The next task was to take care of the unsightly reflections by copying better looking tiles, and pasting them over the ones with the bright reflections. I ended up making 4 patches like this. I created mask layers over 3 of the top 3 tile layers and then brushed black over the mask to blend in the seams.  The hose was the most fiddly part, because it needed to look realistic, but I didn’t have a dark gap to hide a transition.  I also used curve layers, (1, 2, and 3) to correct the exposure and contrast of several of these patches to more closely blend with their neighbors. My final step was to create an empty layer, setting the mode to Overlay, and filling it with neutral gray. This is a quick and easy way to make a Burn & Dodge layer, and it has the advantage of being editable.  Painting on it with a white brush, as I did in the upper left corner, opened up the darker tiles, making them a closer match to the tiles around the hose, and ensuring a symmetric and simple background. 

I’m very happy with the way it turned out. I’m not sure that Japanese hoses are innately more elegant than any other hoses, but to me, this particular bit of blue rubber tube is suggestive, even symbolic, of the Japanese obsession with elegance and form.