Back in the Game

So, I really need to get back in the game – particularly with updating the website and getting the blog going.  I plan to just start adding little posts about the various places I go to photograph, which are usually around Charleston; and usually Bear Island and Donnelley WMAs.

But the website/galleries really need updating. I’m moving away from the ‘generalist’ thing to specifically outdoor/nature stuff, perhaps including sports at some point.  The family/wedding stuff just isn’t bag, baby. :)

Here are some recent shots, which will be showing up in longer blog posts soon (hopefully):

All Work and No Play

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SC Alligator

This alligator, if he indeed exists and is present, is a nice little gator smile. I know that SC isn’t typically considered the Gator State, but I’ve yet to walk a walk around Charleston where I haven’t seen an alligator. This one was surrounded by at least 10 other gators. This was a 300mm f4 lens. It was almost too close to focus.

Cottonmouth Spider

Cottonmouth and Spider

So this photograph was interesting.  That is the taking of it was interesting.  If by interesting you mean waiting for days to get a cottonmouth on your glass only to blow it by not having a fast enough shutter speed.

There is a place near where I live called Francis Beidler Forest.   It’s a wonderful place tucked away into the middle of South Carolina, run by the Audubon Society, consisting of a mile-long boardwalk (or something like that – cue lots of google’d facts about this place).  Well, the boardwalk covers lots of brackish water, swamp, pine forest, etc.  Lots of snakes.  And lots of cottonmouths.

Well, I like to wander forests looking for snakes.  And because I grew up on a river in the Mississippi Delta, I have a fondness for cottonmouths.  From a distance of course. (I sat a foot from one for a few minutes when I was 9 but that’s another story)  I had heard great things about Francis Beidler Forst and how many snakes and cottonmouths were there.  “Oh you can’t go and not see a cottonmouth.”  (yeah, right)

So I rented a 300mm f/4 IS lens and borrowed a 1.4x teleconverter from a friend and off I went to Francis Beidler.  I arrive at 9am.  First one there.  Boardwalk to myself.  Slowly I walk (if you can call it walking) down the boardwalk, taking shots of ibis and egrets and herons, among other things.  Then, with tripod in hand, I spot a snake in the water below.  I instantly knew it was a cottomouth.  Looked young-ish (it was very colorful).  My body became rigid.  I calmed myself and setup the tripod for the best shot I could take from the boardwalk.  I fired off a few shots, adjusting the exposure compensation down a bit (I shoot aperture priority most of the time), thinking the dark water would affect the exposure.

I guess he saw me and wanting nothing to do with me or my camera, he left, cleverly hiding in the middle of some fallen trees, remnants of hurricane Hugo.

I get home and check the shots on the screen.   The photos were blurry.   I looked at the shutter speed: 1/5 second.  What?  Are you kidding me?  Am I kidding myself?  What is my ISO?  250.  That’s right, 250.  Here I am, at 9am in the middle of a forest, dense tree cover, no matter how bright it is outside (and it isn’t that bright at 9am) there is such a tree canopy that the light is never crazy bright.  It is crazy contrasty because of the trees, but never overall bright.  And what did I have my ISO set to? 250.  1600? No.  800?  Nope.  Even 640 or 400?  Oh, no.  250.  Now, I have a Canon 1D Mark III.  It can handle 800 ISO fairly well, even in lower light.  800 ISO would have given me 1/15 second.  Not great, but better.  Remember I’m using a tripod so it’s mainly subject movement causing me issues (which is actually something else I didn’t think about).

What else did I do wrong?  I was shooting at f/9.  I’m sure I was thinking, “I want to make sure everything is sharp and I’m shooting down into the water, not much DOF so let’s use the sweet spot.”  Mistake.  I should have been wide open on that 300L lens.  With the 1.4x that would have been f/5.6.  That would have given me 1/40 second.  The snake was pretty still when I took the photo above.  I think 1/40 second could have been sharp.

So instead of shooting at f/9 (which may have been there from shooting a plant or something earlier) at ISO 250, I should have been at f/5.6 at ISO 800, which should have given me 1/40 instead of 1/5.

Awesome, huh?   The spider is nice though.

Lit Little Cloud

Click for larger image

Here is an image that has a lot going for it (with many positive comments regarding it), but one drastic thing wrong with it that basically ruins the entire photo, at least for me.

The main thing favoring it is the light. It has nice light. Beautiful light. The bright, controlled light in the distant cloud, the dark light in the above rain clouds, the soft warm light on the bank in the lower left corner. All of this adds to a nice subdued mood to the photo. This didn’t just happen though. It was a process, from seeing the the scene before me, to capturing it in a 3-frame HDR image, to combining the three exposures together, to tweaking (or more really) the HDR image into what you see above. (maybe one day soon I’ll post all of the interim photos contributing to this final image)

All of that is fine. (we can address the issues of HDR and “reality” in a later post) But no matter how great the light in this photo looks to me, all I can really see is the bridge leading me right out of the frame. My eyes jitter like a crazed schizophrenic’s, unsure of where to look or how to focus. I think if I could have been much farther to the right or the left, the composition could have matched the light, or at least not been so distracting. But this was as far right as physically possible to go where I was. Otherwise I would be jumping off of the ledge into a marsh, possible with waiters or maybe a boat – but not given my options at the time. A boat would also have enabled me to be far to the left, in the harbor facing the bridge. That might have been nice, and it might have blocked my view of the cloud. It really is the cloud that I wanted to take a photo of, but the bridge drags me away from the light.

But I will say, it is beautiful light.

Thoughts, Turing machine?

Curvy Lizard

Click for larger image.

I know many photographers will discuss the compositional and geometrical merits of their photographs with profound profundity, nodding to shapes and depth and leading lines and asymmetry, concerting foregrounds and backgrounds, oh my. I actually hope to become one of those photographers. But I’m not there yet. (I tell myself it’s all niggling nonsense, secretly masking my jealousy at their talent for taking amazing photographs and then discussing them in intelligent and interesting ways) I don’t walk out the door, eye to the world looking for the right shapes and the right foreground, middleground and background, waiting with a Corleone steel-nerved finger on the shutter for everything to align into a symbiotic (non-)conformity, a two-dimensional effigy to my visual prowess. I do look for the right compositions, but being a neophyte in this great game of light-wrangling, I’m quite happy to just get a lucky shot. I never like what I take. I always think, Aww, why didn’t I use a different aperture for better depth of field? (sometimes the answer is I’m scared to not have everything/everyone I want in focus…then I think, You are supposed to know your gear better than that! Stop guessing and KNOW! Then I think, It’s all too much and too hard, oh woe is me (er, I), I will put this gold-plated brick on the desk to hold the many papers of all the unwritten words of my stories and novels. Whoops, did I just digress? Never happens. Honest.) Or, why didn’t I move to the right and get the head in a cleaner spot? Why did I choose this angle instead of moving my feet around and boogie-ing a little for some actual creation as opposed to take-ation. (Ahem, sorry, a fruit fly just flew up my nostril as I tried to take another sip of Liberty Creek wine)

So what does all of this have to do with the photograph at hand? I told you, I digress. (or did I tell myself as no-one actually reads this new-born fancy of my mind?)

Well, I actually do like the curves in this photograph. :) I like the curve of the lizard and the curve of the leaf above it, sort of paralleling it. I like the way the other leaf above the lizard points down at it. I even like the leaf to the left, which is sort of lying down like a palm having just swung in praise of its greater. (I should probably delete that but I’m not) I also like the greens and the browns, and that the lizard is one of those cool color mutating lizards, in the middle of its translation to self-deluded camouflage. (I mean, it’s no peppered moth, right?) I like that it is bringing the two colors together.

Another interesting thing about the photograph is the somewhat shallow DOF. It’s shot at f/4, though on an f/2.8 Macro lens. Given the distance of the camera to the lizard, and the DOF I see in the picture I would expect something like f/2. Those macros though. I know it’s true for all lenses, that the closer to the subject, the less the DOF, but it really seems to be magnified for the macros.

At any rate, I do like this photograph. I also do wish I had the 180mm macro instead (or in addition to!) of the 100mm (this image is heavily cropped…was I supposed to point that out earlier?). I wish I wish I wish. This will not turn into gear talk. It will not turn into a work with what you have sans complaints discussion. It. will. not.

Little House

Now THAT is a small house. At least moving wouldn’t be excruciating – just toss everything in the SUV. No problem.
   

Fountain Fun

There is a fountain near my house that our kids love to play in, particularly in the 100 degree droughtish summer heat. Given our kids aren’t the only kids in town, our kids aren’t the only kids at the fountain either. It is a wet Mecca for soothing all sorts of boresome frowns.

I could lie and say that I watched and waited like a hungry lioness, an ungraved Cartier-Bresson, narrowing my slits on the decisive moment. But it would indeed be a lie. This photograph was a test shot. A let’s-see-what-the-right-exposure-is shot. A quickly hold the camera to my eye and click without the aid of focusing shot. Literally a point and shoot shot. Fortunately this young boy tip-toed through my field of view in ironic grand flexing style to show me what possibilities could uncover themselves if I truly did sit, watch and wait.

I would like to tell you my hunt was rewarded with much loot, but I would be remiss. I did indeed miss many excellent images of that boisterous wet day. Though I’m pretty sure I caught a photograph of some sort of rain dance, chant or incantation…

And so my son decided to race the water and the fountain, leaping with an athlete’s tongue and vigor through the relenting water.

Only to be trapped in a holoquatic prison of Prospero’s wave-worn conjuring.

Fear not fair reader, his faery sister lead him through the noisy waters with the clench of a freckled nose.

And after all was wet and done, the two were joined and dry as one in multi-colored majesty.

It Disappeared

And the blog disappeared.  The link failed.  The crowd booed.  The critters crawled back to their dens and snorted some more moist soil.

It all failed.  Miserly.

 

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