Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Seeing Autumn in Simple Terms

Sometimes, I find myself getting too complicated with my photography.  Too much gear to see clearly. Too much weight to haul.  It can become a burden.  So, today, I am publishing seven photos taken with my simple iPhone 4.  No zoom, no filters, no tripod, no thirty pounds of gear.  Just the wide angle, fixed aperture lens and the editing apps on the phone.

I'll begin with a photo taken last Friday when I had ten minutes to spare before a program with some delightful ladies in a garden club.  Found this in the arboretum at Cornell Plantations.

Used an app called Photogene to trim a bit and add a frame. I don't recall ever seeing such tall asters.  Staying on the subject of asters, I found these on a short walk.  They clearly have not benefited from the attention the preceding asters received, but that is part of what attracted me.

Pretty nice, and only a short walk from my home.  Only had the iPhone along. 

On longer walk in the Steegee Hill preserve nearby, I found the even later blooming Witch Hazel.  It can be found blooming in January.  Really!

Again, edited in the iPhone using Photogene. 

Granted that Witch Hazel is not as spectacular as some, but can the others bloom after the killing freezes?

On the same walk, I came upon a demonstration of the randomness in nature.  This oak leaf somehow flew in the wind to catch itself on a tiny branch of Witch Hazel.  Somehow, it was caught by a small hole in the leaf.  What are the odds of that? So, I had to take a photo.

Edited in PhotoForge2 and colorized in Mobile Monet.

Often, I seem to see subjects in combination with their setting.  These small shelf fungi are not too unusual, but I saw something in the blanket of reddish oak leaves and grayness of a late autumn day.

The colors of the woods depends on the tree types, so nearby was a grove of maples.  They were a simple yellow in a surrounding sea of reddish oak leaves. One yellow maple leaf had been blown against a tree's trunk, and it stuck there.

Edited in Photogene and colorized in Mobile Monet.

Not all of my time this fall has been in the woods. Earlier this month I was in Cape May chasing birds. On a few instances, I pulled out the iPhone for a break from the heavy equipment.

I am sure that most of the settings for my photos at Cape May are unrecognizable today after the hurricane blew through there yesterday. I mostly wonder about the fate of the many migrating birds, and the people that live there.  But, I also wonder what this stretch of sand dunes looks like today.  On one October day, the sunrise looks like this with the Cape May lighthouse in the distance. It was lovely.

Photo taken with DMD Dermander HDR app.  HDR is high dynamic range; the app takes two photos, one over exposed and the other underexposed, in order to record the wide range of tones.  It  then combines them into one image.  Post processed using PhotoForge2.

So, the iPhone does not replace my high end camera and lenses.  But, its limitations do support them by demanding that I pay attention to more than complicated equipment. A simple camera is a great learning tool for both the neophyte and the advanced photographer.  The instantaneous review of your photo is arguably the greatest learning tool to come along in photography.   Give it a try.


Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Hanging on to Autumn Colors

Right now, it is raining heavily and I know that the multicolored leaves will soon be gone. The optimist in me says that might make for either some great waterfall or rich mushroom scenes.  The realist says the dull colors of winter are on the way, soon.

So, it is time to recap the highlight of this fall season. Went to Rock City near Salamanca (New York) where the huge blocks of rock monoliths compete with the colors for attention.

I've reported all I found there in the Cayuga Nature Photograper's blog at See Rock City.  

More recently, I led a group of friends to one of the nicest collections of waterfalls in the northeastern United States.  Rickett's Glen State Park in Pennsylvania has twenty-two named waterfalls, all in about a three mile distance along Kitchen Creek.  See:  Rickett's Glen State Park 

The highest waterfall is Ganoga at 94 feet.  It is both the highest and, arguably, one of the more difficult ones to photograph, since it usually lies half in sun and half in shadow.  It's also a bit slippery to get near.

Ganoga Waterfalls in Autumn

The high waterfalls are not the only beauty to be found on Kitchen Creek.  Some of the smaller cascades are lovely.

Kitchen Creek Cascade

And, even smaller little drops can be entertaining as they wind their way down the bedrock that is littered with golden leaves.

Ribbons of Water

Among the waterfalls, I think Erie is my favorite large drop,  It's 47 feet, but what I really like is the setting and the color in the background.

Erie Falls on Kitchen Creek

It seems to me that the falls is mirrored by the hillsides colors. I've seen it in later winter and the ice makes another wonderful scene.

But, there are unnamed little drops that sometimes are really beautiful, like this one on the lower portion of Kitchen Creek.

A Gentle Drop in Kitchen Creek

Now,  there was a secret to the above photo.  I placed the camera extremely low to the ground so that the leaves in the foreground were a strong part of the image.  I actually was lying on the ground in order to see through the viewfinder.

There are, of course, many other ways to see autumn. It is also in the contrasting leaves of red and yellow that stand out against a deep blue sky.

Oak Leaves in Red and Yellow

Sometimes, the only color left among the bare branches is a hardy oak.

 But I like to make the viewer unravel the scene when a pond offers a nice reflection.

Which do you find the more interesting?  To me there is a mystery in the reflections that keeps me interested for a longer time.  Perhaps part of this is that I see so many nice scenes that I would like to have with a reflection, like this final image.

In Want of a Reflection- Red and Yellow Among the Birch Trunk

So, I expect this is the end of my autumn photography, but not an end to my memories of this autumn.  After all, I have these photos to remind me.

Enjoy the day.

Paul Schmitt

Friday, October 12, 2012

Itty-Bitty Bird Migration

When the autumn winds come out of the north, the itty-bitty bird migration erupts.  I've been working that for photographs of mostly small perching birds this October.  I've come up with both commonplace and unusual birds. 

Sometimes I only have to walk over to the town park for results such as this nice Eastern Towhee.  It's not uncommon, but I love its boisterous vocalizations of "drink your tea" in spring and its more subtle chips in fall.

Traveling farther from home, I encountered what birders would call a "life bird"; one that is extremely uncommon in North America.  The Northern Wheatear is described in my bird book as a rare tundra breeder that normally migrates to Africa.  Presumably, some North Atlantic storm blew this juvenile bird way off-course.

I would normally work to have the Wheatear posed in a more natural setting, but had I scared off this bird in the process, I would likely have suffered mob action from the serious birders lined up nearby. 

The Brown Thrasher is a common bird that I really enjoy.  This one had me confused because he was vocalizing like a Red-bellied Woodpecker, leading me to look in the wrong places.   The image correctly shows his brash attitude.  He's giving me a vocal hazing in the photo.

I don't keep a life list of birds, but my first encounter with a Black-throated Blue Warbler left me wanting more.  It frequents the shady woodland brush, and the females look so much like other warblers that I don't believe I'd pick up on one.  But this colorful  male sure got my attention. I want more of this.

The Common Yellowthroat is just that, but I just love the poses that I find like this one with its feet on two crossing branches.  Hope it never becomes uncommon.  I frequently find it along the power line near our home.

This is probably a female, or maybe a juvenile. The male has a deep black mask that is instantly recognizable.

Now, there are birders whose goal is to find as many species as possible, and there are those who relish in observing  any bird's behaviors.  I am in the latter, and recently had great fun watching some Red-breasted Nuthatches searching for food among the cedar trees. This one has a small insect, maybe a spider in its beak.

It seemed they were more comfortable upside down as they probed the dense foliage, again finding an insect.  On one occasion I found a juvenile overcome by the demands of long distance migration that it simply landed in the road.  Having picked it up to move it, there was no feeling of weight at all. 

The Red-breasted Nuthatches were also very approachable, often coming in so close I could not focus on them.  But, I had to be quick.

Another secretive and uncommon bird is the Brown Creeper.  They forage for insects on the bark of large trees. This one was on a sassafras tree. Their coloration makes it difficult to see them.  Their call is very high pitched and hard to hear.   I've only seen one on two occasions.

The Yellow-rumped Warbler is pretty much the opposite of the Brown Creeper- common and bold. It makes for great practice and entertainment.  This one was feeding on autumn berries.

It has a yellow rump, yellow sides and a heavily streaked breast. 

Finally, a tiny bird that is common but still a challenge to me.  I saw dozens of  Ruby-crowned Kinglets this fall, but only once did a male show the brilliant red crest raised on its head.  It was directly behind me and nearly overhead. Then, it was gone.  So I was stymied, again.   Still, I have to show you one absent the red crest.

I sat for an hour on two occasions and watched as these little birds dashed out to catch insects from around sassafras fruit on the ground.  Just catching one motionless was a reward.

It's cold and breezy outside as I write this.  The weather forecast is for 23 degrees (F) in the morning, so I think most of the small bird migration is over. It's been fun.

Hope you enjoy, and maybe have a few new birds to recognize.

Paul Schmitt

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Rocky Mountain Highlights- Elk, Bison & Moose

We arrived in West Yellowstone on a rainy Sunday evening as a majority of visitors headed home after the weekend. The wake-up on Monday was about 5:15 am so we could get the car loaded, and be on the road at 6:00 am; elk are early risers.  The west entrance to the park is only 1/2 mile from the town, and my research told me to expect elk anywhere after the first 5 miles along the Madison River.

At about 10 miles, we found a large meadow across the Madison River. The sunrise was soft in the damp morning air. The faint outlines of elk were visible where the meadow met the mountain.  We could hear the cow's "mew" call as they kept track of one another.

As the dawn approached, we could see with binoculars that there were five cow elk and a spindly 3 point bull. I thought, he's just a teenager, and not likely to hold onto those cows when one of the big boys shows up.

 His bugle was a bit weak, reflecting his immaturity.  But, of course, he did not know that. 

After some time, we drove north towards Mammoth Hot Springs.  There is a fraternity of nature photographers who willingly share useful intelligence, likely based on how big your lens is.  (ha ha) The closer your lens is to their big lens, the more they tell you. So, we heard that there was a big bull raising havoc at Mammoth near the campground. 

Along the way, we encountered our first large bison bull.  Reminded me to keep my speed down so I could avoid hitting one.  His horns show a lot of wear; possibly an old boy that the dominant bull drove away to a solitary life.

 We arrived at Mammoth, and saw no elk around the hotel or visitor center.  Driving into the campground just north of Mammoth, we found the big bull sleeping in a campsite.  We parked a reasonable distance away and watched him from beside our car.  You can see that the tine on the near side is broken off; the result of his aggression on something.

He was accompanied by a calf, and a few cows were off to the side. The evidence of  his potential for anger shows in the leafy branches wrapped in his antlers. Bulls are well known to rake small, and sometimes rather large trees.  This guy was also getting a  reputation for raking cars.  When we entered the campground, a ranger shadowed us from a distance to be sure we did not approach the elk.  Not a chance we'd do that.

In the evening, we returned to the meadow on the Madison River, and as expected, the little bull was replaced by a big bull. He's a 6 by 5, the result of breaking off his sixth tine in some confrontation.

There were two somewhat smaller bulls on the periphery keeping the dominate one alert; we counted nineteen cows and yearlings in his harem.  The little bull continued to stay on the edge near a lone cow, but he was clearly outdone now. It was a pleasant evening watching the manuvering within the herd, and listening to the haunting sound of elk bugling. It was a long day, and we were early to bed.

We returned at first light to the meadow, and elk were just across the river in the half light. By sunrise, we could see the big boy was still there with his harem, but only the spike bull remained on the edges.

The bull was keeping close tab on his ladies, and enforcing any attempt to stray too far from the group. 

The little bull remained in the tall grass near a lone cow, and when the little boy stood, the bull took action.  First with some strong bugling.

And, then he exhibited just how fast and threatening a mature bull can be.  The spike retreated near the river, with the bull glaring at him.

Satisfied, the bull trotted back to the harem.

He's just a manificent animal.  At some point, probably hours past sunrise, I had all the photos I could want (for now) and the herd was retreating back into the trees from the meadow to chew their cud and sleep through the midday.  We headed on to the famous Hayden Valley that stretches upstream along the Yellowstone River toward Yellowstone Lake.

So far, we had only seen solitary bull bison, and photographers led me to expect herds of bison at Hayden, maybe a bear or a wolf.  (No bear or wolf showed.) We found bison as hoped, all very close and sometimes on the road.

In the interest of family harmony, I need to attribute this photo to my spouse, Pam. It is perhaps the first time she had used one of my cameras, and the results were pretty good. 

There is a key point to the photo above.  Bison, and other big animals, have the right of way, always. That is something the driver of this car failed to understand.  This bull's tonage is close to that of the car, and his construction is a bit more substantial.

So, there were so many bison around the road that a ranger arrived to manage the situation when cars stopped in the traffic lane or people failed to move behind a car to let the bison through to the  other side of the road.  The rangers have reduced the number of gorings to well under a fifth of what they were in 1994.

Now, I could get close images of bulls and cows that showed the incredible texture of the bisons' winter coats.

And, there were nice groups of bulls, cows, yearlings and calves.

 The smallest calf is called a "red dog" due to the initial coloration at birth.  This one was born much too late in the summer and faces a poor outcome once winter arrives.

While we were  in the Hayden Valley, the herd continued to shift back and forth across the road, sometimes coming very close so that with no cropping of the image, the resulting image was very detailed.

Such big brown eyes, and so stoic.  I can imagine how it will look in the middle of one of the Yellowstone's hard winters.  Wish I could see that.

We returned to our meadow on the Madison River that evening, and the elk were again there in the steady rain.  I set up under the rear door lid on the rental car, and got some more nice photos.  As a bonus, a lady began to fish right in front of us, keeping an eye on the elk.  She caught one very nice trout while most watched the elk. She released it.

The next morning was our day to return home.  The meadow was empty and we could only see some cows on the distant mountain plus a few cows across the road.  I was a bit surprised to see that the cows were still nursing the calves in late September.

Again, using tips from other photographers, we decided to leave Yellowstone and return to Pocatello via the Tetons where there was a good spot to find a large bull moose. The report was correct, and after watching him through a screen of willows, he finally  moved in plain sight just some five minutes after we needed to leave if we were to return the rental car on time.  This was too good to listen to the rental car clock. Better to have the photo and hope the rental company forgives an hour past the return, which they did.

As I watched this bull watch us, I remembered the old joke that I don't need to outrun the bull, just the lady next to me.  And no, that lady is not my wife. This is another lady.

We had a wonderful trip. Late September is absolutely one of the best times to visit Yellowstone.  Our time with our friends in Pocatello was a delight, and we almost forgot how badly Delta treated us on the flight west.

Now, about next year....



Monday, October 1, 2012

Yellowstone Revisited after the Digital Revolution

Our family first visited Yellowstone NP in 1986 when our son was 17 years and our daughter just 10 months. The large animals were incidental to our interest in the geysers and other landscape. We returned in 1994 with an 8 year old, and my new interest in nature photography still concentrated on the landscapes. After our return last week, sans children, I returned to look at the images from 1994.

There was the obligatory geyser taken while struggling with the huge crowds in mid summer of 1994. Late September in Yellowstone is refreshingly slower.  The cars still stop on the road when a large bison is seen, but it is still passable and there are safe places on the side to stop.  If the crowd grows, a ranger will often appear to keep the traffic moving and ensure people keep a safe distance.

The air was clear on those previous visits, a fact not lost on  us when compared to the smoky skies we experienced this time.  It has been a summer of wildfires and no rain. There were times when you could look directly at the sun. We actually drove past one active fire, and it was choking.  Don't understand how the fire crews survive the smoke.

This time, we found the geysers a little less impressive.  The height of the eruption at Old Faithful was decidedly less than we recalled.  Other repeat visitors noted the same reaction. But the big animals were the real prize.  I'll make another post solely devoted to them.

We searched for the one geyser field we remembered to be most beautiful; it had bubbling mud pots, clear thermal springs and a continuously erupting geyser.  We both recalled a beautiful sunset at that geyser. You can see that sunset image to the right. 

Finally, we found it at Fountain Paint Pot just as lightening was building to the west.  I so wanted a new sunset shot of Clep- sydra Geyser, but it was not to be. I had to settle for capturing a bubbling mud pot. I could not have made this photo in 1994 - less skill and slide film were against me. I ran about 25 images in burst mode to get that one instant when the mud exploded into a nice pattern. Digital is wonderfully enabling.

The great falls in the Yellowstone River were another clear memory. We returned to the lower falls on this visit to repeat the photo I'd made in 1994.  It is interesting to compare them.  In 1994, I came upon the narrow window of time when direct sunlight produces a rainbow.  But, the limitations of the slide film did not match the true color of the sunlight and the darker areas lacked good definition.  Today, I was able to adjust the darker areas a make a better image than I saw in 1994.

In 2012, almost twenty years later, I arrived on a cloudy day with marginal light. Could I match the earlier result?

I chose a wider view to bring in more of the foreground and show the river's course down from the falls.  That is experience. More importantly, digital enabled me  to fix the light to show the natural yellow in the rocks.  After all, it is the yellow stone river, not the dull stone. Now, I can review in the camera to get the best exposure.  Before, I  waited 2 or 3 weeks to see the result.  Faster learning now.

This is as clear an example of how digital has revolutionized photography as I can recall. Of course, the advent of smart phone cameras had been another aspect of how photo- graphy has changed.

Some of the change has been good and some ridiculous.  How so?  Well, while photographing an elk group some 300 yards away with a big lens, one regularly sees a car pull up, stick a smart phone out the window and presumably snap a photo of the elk.  At that distance with the wide angle lens on the phone, the animals will be a small dot indistinguishable from a rock or downed tree. Even a simple point and shoot camera is a better choice at that time, but I understand the enthusiasm.

Now, I do carry a smart phone, and used it at Yellowstone. I previously posted images made at City of Rocks with a smart phone; it did the job nicely.

I have an app --Dermandar DMD--  that stitches together a panorama automatically as I move the phone across the scene.  This it one of the thermal hot springs in Yellowstone.

With the addition of an app to add text, the sweeping view of the Hayden Valley is well-presented and identified.

Both of these were edited on my phone as we flew home. The smart phone is a lot of fun, even for an advanced photographer.  It is always with you, and offers a nice challenge to one's skill.

Now, the real reason for this trip to Yellowstone NP was to photograph the large animals, and especially the elk in rut when the large bulls gather harems of cows and have to defend their prize against other bulls,  sometimes including little "teen age" bulls.  It is a wonderful time with the haunting sound of the bull elk's bugling declaration of his strength.  I'll shortly post a third, and final compilation presenting the best images of elk, bison and one very big bull moose.

I appreciate your comments and encourage you to share these posts with other interested people.