I took my Sony RX10IV camera to look for tadpoles at Huntley Meadows. It’s really hard getting a picture of a tadpole breaking the surface. I thought some tadpoles had expired, they didn’t move much, but prodded by other tadpoles they moved soon enough. To emphasize the shape of the tadpole, I converted the pictures to black and white and really raised the contrast and sharpened the image. Murky water can be a problem.
One can keep going to the garden and take the same kind of pictures. Overviews of flowerbeds with a wide angle lens. Macro photographs of bees. And you can come up with some incredible pictures. Here’s the deal, whatever you do. The most important thing that you can do to make a good picture is understand light. That’s it. Photography, after all, captures light reflected from objects. Or light emanating from light sources. Direct lighting. Diffused lighting. Specular lighting. Harsh. Soft. Color temperature. The angle of light in the scene. Background, side, foreground lighting. Light is always there, in every picture that you take. You might as well learn to work with it.
What does this little blurb have to do with these pictures? Well, you can use a combination of diffused lighting and strong back lighting to create pictures that evoke the feel of an impressionist painting. Are these pictures the next van Gogh, Renoir or Manet painting that takes the world by storm. No. Though when I look at them, I feel the beauty that they saw, and know there is still much to be learned. About flowers. About light. About art. About life.
And what lens did I use for these photographs? Not a macro lens. Not a wide angle lens. I was looking for birds, you see, and I saw flowers instead. Yes, that incredible Sony 200-600mm lens.
On Friday night, I made up my mind to wake up early and take a walk at Huntley Meadows. It’s been a while since I spent a few hours at Huntley. Spring went quickly and the summer heat is oppressive. The birds are most active in the early part of the day.
I’ve been using my Sony RX10IV for most of my photography lately. This is a great camera. It’s light enough to carry everywhere and it has an incredibly useful zoom range and good built in image stabilization. Where I used to carry a tripod and a long zoom into Huntley, I just carry the RX10IV and shoot away. It’s very liberating.
One thing about the setup that I find indispensable. Without the tripod, you try out different angles on the same subject. Not that you can’t do that with a tripod mounted camera, but it’s a much faster process when you use a handheld camera with a nice lens that you know can do what you want it to do.
What I really wanted to do is shoot bird pictures. Alas, although I got up before daybreak, I hesitated long enough (about going out in the heat) that by the time I did get to Huntley, the sun had been out for almost an hour and a half. Not great. And so, the birds that I hoped to see were not in view (they were probably there, I just could not find them). There were ospreys flying and diving, but they were never close enough to get good pictures of them diving. There were herons that stood on the water, but they were just lounging around. There were egrets, further still, also lounging around. A bluebird sang then went into its nest. Birds aplenty? Yes. The early bird gets the worm is a saying that applies to humans, especially bird photographers. The early guy with the camera gets the birds.
Still, there was a goose that wandered into close proximity. And with its partner, flew up into the sky in an opportune moment. I was tracking an osprey, but saw the two large birds in the periphery of the scene, turned around and pressed the shutter button. The RX10IV has a great AF system. It focuses quickly and tracks the subject quite well. Not quite as good as the top of the line Sony A9, but that’s a bigger camera and the lens I want to use with it won’t be out till next month. And if someone wants to give me that lens, well, I’d take a picture for you.
And that’s how I managed to get a decent goose in flight picture. Born of frustration, but given an opportunity to do something unplanned. Sometimes (actually, most of the time), opportunity knocks. You just need to listen for the sometime faint sound (or in this case, a momentary rush at the edge of the viewfinder). You never know what’s out there. And that’s a good thing.
And there were other things aside from birds. I almost got sunburned staying out too long. And didn’t bring enough water. Still, it was a nice morning to sweat. Take pictures. And be inspired.
So go out there. Take a walk. Be surprised. And let nature rejuvenate your mind and soul.
Somehow, an eagle with a fish, being chased by another eagle, makes dull colors really interesting. Or not. These two juvenile bald eagles seem unaware of the bland coloration around them. There are (a lot of) fish in the water, meals to eat. Action. Lots of it. In bursts. Sometimes, you can wait for hours and see nothing but the bland brown color of rocks in a river. Then suddenly, an eagle dives for a fish, sometimes almost in front of you. Conowingo, in late November and December certainly is a place not lacking in excitement. If you wait.
Moab, Utah. How can one town in the Utah desert be so close to two of the most spectacular national parks in the United States – Arches National Park and Canyonlands National Park. And in between these two great parks, before entering Canyonlands, Island in the Sky, there is a small state park known as Dead Horse Point. You can be forgiven for not noticing this state park as you drive down the road in the early morning, hoping to catch sunrise at Mesa Arch – a scene that is truly beautiful, truly iconic, widely photographed, widely admired. Microsoft made Mesa Arch a household name, or at least a household scene, when it included a picture of sunrise at Mesa Arch in its collection of background images in Windows 7. And I have to say, thank you, Microsoft, for bringing so much of the world’s beauty into our desktops – with the myriad of screensavers, background images, themes that you have available in your various operating systems.
And if you happen to make it down the road to Dead Horse Point State Park, especially before the sun rises (I should have done this) or as the sun sets, you will be treated to a truly spectacular view of the spectacular Utah landscape. The sun was setting and the river bend scene was not lit well enough to do it justice. A few yards to the left, however, turning eastward, where the sun’s dying light infuses the red Utah Rocks with a crimson hue, the rocks, the mountains, the desert and the sky conspire to remind all who see it that this is a planet of transcendent beauty and fragility. We have touched the sky and now we must do our best to be responsible stewards for all below it. And one look at Dead Horse Point shows us why. This is not a view to be savored by one person once in a lifetime. It is a place that makes repeated viewings a special occasion in itself, a place, like so many other places in our planet, that must endure for the generations to come.
If you want to see Bald Eagles in the East Coast of the United States in late fall or early winter, Conowingo Dam is one of the best places to visit in November and December. Don’t come on weekends – you probably won’t be able to find a good parking spot unless you get there early. On the weekdays, however, the crowds are still plentiful and there is parking to be had. Just be careful when you back out of your parking space. As I was backing out of my spot, a Ford F150 owned by a crew doing work on the dam barreled through the road and took my bumper off. Now, how a truck going at the supposed speed limit does that (especially since I didn’t see him when I looked behind before driving backwards) does that kind of damage is unexplainable (actually, the driver claimed I backed into him – I said that must be why there is a puncture on the bumper from impact and how the bumper detached itself from the car).
Still, it was a good day to visit. As with everything, unexpected things happen. One tries to have a balance in life so that the unexpected does not totally thwart one’s plans. Things happen. Deal with it. But gently, if you can.
One of the most interesting places to visit in the east coast of the United States is Bombay Hook National Wildlife Reserve. Is it by Delaware Bay and the reserve is a major stop in the Atlantic Flyway , the route that most birds take when they migrate northwards or southwards. This means that birds almost always make a stop at Bombay Hook during the spring and fall migration season. It makes it easier for non expert birders like myself to find birds to photograph.
Bombay Hook is a two hour drive from Northern Virginia. You head to Annapolis, Maryland and then cross the Bay Bridge towards the Eastern Shore. You proceed towards Wilmington, Delaware though you actually end up near Smyrna. Since you need to get to the reserve around sunrise, you generally have to leave at 4AM or a little earlier to get there on time. Every trip yields different photo opportunities. Just don’t come here in the summer. You will be eaten alive by mosquitoes, flies and other biting insects. Actually, if you have a thick skin and/or love insects (which birds apparently do), this could be the place to be in the summer. It is only a short drive from the Delaware Atlantic beaches. It is also a short drive from Wilmington, Delaware.
Bombay Hook has plenty of short walking trails that allow different views of the marshes and pools that dot the reserve. There are, of course, a lot of trees, bushes, flowers and other things that hide birds (and feed birds) quite well. My musings on Bombay Hook will be comprised of multiple postings. I only started visiting this wildlife reserve earlier this year. It will be a place that I will return to again and again.
The pictures below were taken on my first trip to Bombay Hook (late April 2017).
I haven’t been to Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge since spring. I’d almost forgotten what a great place this suburban refuge is for spotting birds. Perhaps it is the massive amount of flies that are very adept at finding places to bite you during the summer time.
As I walked the trails at the refuge, a large buck with a large set of antlers jumped about fifteen feet beyond me. I have never seen anything that big so close before (at least not in the Northern Virginia suburbs) and I was stunned. I almost forgot that I had a camera with me as I struggle to see where it went. I saw it again, but instead of taking a picture, I just soaked in the experience of seeing something new. It scampered away quickly. Darn.
Fortunately, the bluebirds still sang. The woodpeckers still pecked. And a few birds that I’ve never spotted before were, surprisingly, within my camera’s view. I’ve been telling myself that even though a bird looks grey or brown, it may be something unfamiliar. When you are learning how to spot birds, one of the worst things to do is assume that if a bird looks like something you’ve seen before, you just ignore it. I am not very good at spotting birds, so imagine my surprise when I looked at the pictures of the small birds and saw a hermit thrush (above) and what I believe is a yellow rumped warbler.
And a white throated sparrow hiding behind leaves.
Of course, why not take pictures of a woodpecker and an Eastern Bluebird?
And fortunately, with the tide low, this ring billed gull was standing in the sand.
And it was wonderful! With my son (young then) looking at the pristine blue waters of Crater Lake, the beauty of the Cascades was in full view. If Bend was beautiful, the view from the snow covered edge of the caldera that forms the lake is nothing but spectacular. The blue waters. The strong springtime winds. The setting sun. And getting used to snowshoes.
My older son is in college now. His younger sibling will soon follow. Each second seems long enough, but the years spent with the children seems all too short. The transient nature of every moment. Each slice of time unique. Some joyful. Some challenging. All part of lives lived and still being lived. A lot has been told. A lot has yet to unfold.
Life is indeed beautiful. From the places that we visit and look on in awe. To the short moments that we share with each other. Each day unique. Each day a chance to appreciate the world that we live in. And hopefully, in our own way, moments lived making a world that is a better place for all who live in it.
Taking a picture of a candle isn’t particularly exciting. To add a little zest to the standard lit candle image, I used a macro lens and a longer than one second exposure to capture the flame moving around. And since the picture was indoors, blowing on the candle ever so slightly introduced the requisite amount of motion to capture the dancing candle light.