Saturday, May 27, 2023

Three Favorites from May 2023

It's time to wrap up May with three bird images that have some meaning to me.  First, is an elegant Cedar Waxwing that was part of a group of about five that were gleaning caterpillars incredibly close to my parked car.

Waxwings are a huge treat when they appear.  Their contact singing is so extremely high pitched that any background noise will surely leave it disguised.  They move through the cover like ghosts.  

On the same morning, a pair of Brown Thrashers appeared.  Not shy like waxwings: rather bold in human terms.  More often they are in grass fields, so finding this one perched was unusual. It appeared to be surveying the grasses for insects.

The thrashers generally nest in a series of dense thorn bushes.

Bobolinks are always a subject for my May outings. It seemed to be an off year for them and most outings were failures, especially in the quest for flight images.  This boy did stop to sing in the hope that the females had arrived from South America.  The rich yellow cap on the head plus the bold black and white patterns on the back (not visible) are supplemented by their bubbling song. Look at the scalloped ends on the tail feathers. 

Two weeks later, all of the singing was over and the ladies were in their ground nests. 

I noted the black and white patterns on the back.  Well, the otherwise inadequate flight image on the left does illustrate one more reason I track these boys in May.  This was at 1/2000 second, and I still couldn't precisely track his flight.  Next year!


Next for me is June in Shenandoah National Park.


Thursday, May 18, 2023

Mundy Wildflower Garden- Slowing Down to See

It's been twenty years since I discovered the Mundy Wildflower Garden on the Cornell campus. The rich array of spring blooms captured my imagination. Soon I was working on a project to upgrade the  images posted at the welcoming "Bloom Board."  A sense of urgency drove me as I worked to find artful compositions that spoke of the beauty.  No mug shots! I said.  Over five hundred quality images were put on file; but in retrospect, I needed to slow down in order to realize the emotions that I was feeling. 

The urgency is now controlled.  Honestly, every time I get low on the ground for an intimate view, well, my cranky knees also work to slow my pace.  There are only three subjects for this message.  In addition to appreciating their beauty, I hope there is some useful insight for even simple phone captures.

The first subject is a small pod of Wild Geraniums. This image is different from what I made twenty years ago in two respects.   First, I paid more attention to the colors in the scene and to the location of the supporting yellows especially.  Twenty years ago, the distant colors were not carefully placed above and below the blue-violet blooms. I could have done better years before.  Notice how the leaf at the bottom shows  the form clearly.

The second difference is in the camera technology now available. I was so close to these flowers that only a short distance is actually in sharp focus. The image is a stack of six images that walk from the nearest part of the Wild Geranium leaf to the last part that I wanted in focus. The camera is on a tripod and does not move for all six images.  For each shot, the scene displays red dots on all edges that are sharp. I merely walk the red dots from near to far on the flower, and stop. The software selects all sharp areas and fills in the rest with those blurry remaining pixels.  Amazing, and not even a dream in 2003.  

The next image is also a second group of Wild Geraniums but with a different intent.  There is a subtle hint that the plants thrive in the mixed light of woodlands.  That was my intent. The blooms are also more directly facing the viewer. 

This is actually a better offering for identification purposes.  It called for greater depth in sharp focus; there were 9 images in the stack.  Impossible twenty years ago.  Easy today.

These big white Trillium grandiflorum are my final subject.  Wait, did I say white?

Yeah, this healthy trillium started out that way, and in its old age it is blushing pink. Still beautiful.  That's why I concentrated on it.  Richly green leaves, too.  It gets love from me because it is still vibrant.  Do you see anything unusual on the flower?  There's a critter sitting motionless even as I poked the one-eyed lens close to it. Let's get a closer view.

I wonder if it is waiting to snap up some visitor feeding on the rich amber pollen? 

I am not sure if I would have noticed this little bug in my earlier rush to photograph everything.

So, there you have it.  Three images in 2-1/2 hours with pauses to enjoy the orioles passing through Mundy.  

Going up to Ithaca, I also am slowing down with the idea to see any of the deer waiting to run across the Route 13 morning rush of commuters. That's another story that also teaches that the slower you go, the more you see.

It's spring.  Enjoy!


Sunday, April 30, 2023

Ask Five Times- Can I do that?

Over the last two years, I have been moving past  objectively showing the things I love in nature towards a more subjective result based on why they engage me.  The aim is to build a style that has more meaning.  Sakichi Toyoda of Toyota Motor Company fame introduced the approach of asking why five times.  For art, this hopefully will lead to images having stronger meaning.  

At left begins an example from a series of three images that I captured one year ago.  It is a beautiful objective image that defines the subject. Let's ask about the meaning:

  1. See the rich colors in the bird.
  2. It's a beautiful blue sky day.
  3. The apple blossoms look nice.
  4. The focus is sharp.  Ho hum.
  5. ....sort of running out of meaning.


 Move to the second image and try for five better whys:

  1. The Oriole is after something in the flowers.
  2. Does it mean there is nectar in the blossoms?
  3. There is something to be learned here.
  4. If there isn't nectar, are there insects maybe?
  5. What is to be learned next?



On to a third image seeking greater meaning for the five whys:

  1. Wow, there are little yellow caterpillars inside the apple blossoms.  Look in his beak.
  2. It's not nectar.
  3. Orioles are visiting the apple trees for protein.
  4. This is unexpected!
  5. Next year I should check the trees for this.


The third images shifts my style from a mug shot to showing a relationship between bird, tree and insect.  It has more meaning. 

Note:  In April 27, 2023,  the same tree is in blossom and there are no caterpillars, and hence no Orioles.

If at this point you are lacking interest in the five why's exercise, it is fine to just enjoy the pics absent the text. 

That is the background to what I pursued in April while I was in the Washington area on family business.  It's a far different locale than my strongly rural Finger Lakes home.  Could I create meaningful images in this new neighborhood with limited natural scenes?  Can I answer the why question five times?  Here goes my test.

Rock Creek on an April Morning
  1. There is a surprising wildness so close to the sounds of DC morning traffic.
  2. The foreground pulls me into layers in middle and far that feel rural.
  3. The spring greens are the same as I'd see at home in the Finger Lakes. 
  4. A city can be inviting. No trash to see seen.  Bravo.
  5. Rock Creek has a restorative power for residents, and me.

Another good place is Brookside Gardens in Wheaton, Maryland.  It's a Montgomery County Park.  Early mornings are quiet and beautiful.  Here is why I always enjoy my visits.

Pavilion at Brookside Gardens- Wheaton

  1. The hallmark of Brookside garden designs are rich foregrounds that welcome the eyes to explore.
  2. Exploring, I find layers to search in near, mid and far layers.  It's far from stale.
  3. The visitor immediately wants to find the path to the pagoda overlooking the lake.
  4. The reflections on the lake double upon the distant background.  
  5. The park is a refuge from the hectic crowded city.
There is another magical place in Brookside Gardens in April when the Wisteria is in bloom.

The Wisteria Bench
  1. Who could pass up a chance to sit on this bench? 
  2. The flowers have a delicious perfume.  The photo helps to remember it.
  3. The color of  wisteria blooms and the surrounding greenery are ephemeral. 
  4. Knowing the flowers will soon be gone keeps you lingering a bit longer.
  5. This is a calming.  I dream of sitting here next year with my 1/1/2 year old granddaughter.


The Purity of a Dogwood Flower 


  1. Here I see the purity of the beautiful Dogwood without distractions.
  2. My eyes always start at the white, which is as I intended.  
  3. The branches support my eyes exploration of white petals, lively green leaves and some reds too.  
  4. There is a purity that welcomes returning to view this image repeatedly.  Background is blurry complementary without distracting.
  5. It seems like a visual solo performance.

There are some wildflowers that I would never expect to find near DC. One is Virginia Bluebells; but to my surprise I found them on the perimeter of Brookside.  They were in a lovely setting too.  What can I do with the five questions?

Virginian Bluebells Found  at the Creek


  1.  I find two very similar Bluebell stalks that create a visual echo between near and mid distances.
  2. The light is nice and warm in the morning light.
  3. The distant ground is just enough to suggest a wooded forest.
  4. Technically, I have a green, blue and red split complementary color design that is very pleasing, with no deviations from those three.Very harmonious.
  5. I believe the viewer can return to look at this often.
  6. Adding another answer, the image tells the story of what they are, where to see them and why it is worth looking for them.

Asking the five why's does slow me down to the speed of seeing and understanding in a more subjective mode.  It would seem to apply widely in the pursuit of creative results.

I have come to realize that in my much earlier photography,  I would often come home with photos wherein the aim was just getting the right exposure, focus and maybe composition without pausing to ask why.  Part of that was the more difficult steps required using film.  The process was exposing a roll of slide film, waiting two weeks to receive the processed slides and then finally seeing how many were as expected.  With current digital tools, the feedback is nearly instantaneous.  Never going back.


Saturday, March 25, 2023

Sakura- Cherry Blossoms in DC

It was good fortune to be in DC this year as the cherry blossoms came into bloom.  In Japan, the ornamental Prunus subg. Cerasus are symbolic of the ephemeral nature of life,  and also tied to national spirit.  -They are called Sakura in Japan.- These abundant flowering trees are native to Asia, and contrast with our native cherries that have modest blooms but yield abundant fruits.

While most attention is given to the cherry blossoms around the National Mall, there are many displays throughout Washington such as this towering cherry tree just off Rock Creek Park.

One early morning, I walked over to photograph the scene.  When I complimented the owner on the tree's beauty, he remarked that a professional arborist cares for the tree.

There are over twelve hundred cherries near the Tidal Basin.  They don't all bloom at the same time nor display identical coloration.  These pinks are just a little short of full bloom.

 Along the promenade one sees some very old cherry trees.  I was told there are twelve trees that date back to the original gift from Japan in 1912.  Perhaps this is one of those.

Walking farther along the path, the visitor comes to another striking monument, the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial.  There was a decision to make with this scene.  Where to put the focus?  My decision was that you immediately know it is MLK Jr., even if soft. The tree is less obvious out of focus.

And, sometimes the best scenes are found when looking away from the Tidal Basin. Here is a first surprise.  This is a rare location to capture the reflection of the Washington Monument.  All other places had tree branches over the monument.

It was time to return to our apartment, and the sun was so intense.  On the way to the bus stop near  the Mall, there was another cherry framing the Washington Monument.

I learned two things while doing these photos.  First, be there early if possible. By late morning, it gets very crowded.  Finally, use transit - whether the Metro to the Smithsonian station or a bus. I used the number 52 bus that delivered me even closer that the Metro.  Senior fare was only $1.   I walked one block to number 52 route begins, and arriving at 14th and Constitution it was only about four to the tidal basin.  Beats driving.


Wednesday, March 8, 2023

An Urban Exploration

 In 2023,  we will be spending about half of our time in Metropolitan Washington.  We are "grand parenting".  Can I find natural habitats to satisfy my photographic interests? This winter, I've been including a good number of black and white edits that look largely at form in an image when colors are frequently lacking.

An initial exploration was the Great Falls of the Potomac on the Virginia side.  It's a powerful falls, and that was my focus.

The falls is huge, but the real feel is better captured in a close view.  The sky would be a distraction, right?

Our location in DC requires only a five minute walk to be in Rock Creek Park where I can find many walking trails and also park roads closed to thru  traffic.  On one morning, I road a bus north towards the Maryland border and quickly was on a nice trail into the upper part of the park.  The traffic on Sixteenth Street was roaring, but in the park I only saw a few walkers.  The trail topped a rock bluff overlooking the creek.  The next day I returned to reach the opposite side of the creek.

I discovered several beds of wildflowers along my path.  Next week, I will be back for these as I expect the Snow Drops to be blooming.  

Along the creek, I discovered early hints of spring including these red maple tree buds. 

The stream side beech trees were still holding onto last year's leaves.

By all appearances, Rock Creek Park is an old growth forest.  There are no sawed off tree stumps; no evidence of any timber harvest in a century. I saw many truly massive trees.  Along the banks of the creek, large trees often send their roots over the bank toward the stream. Beautiful.

Near Military Road, I came upon the Joaquin Miller Cabin at a stream side picnic grove.  The cabin's namesake was an eccentric poet who lived in it from 1883 to 1885.  Originally located at Sixteenth and Belmont Streets, it was relocated to the park when city growth targeted it for removal.

Here's a final discovery from my rambling along the creek.  I wonder how I will treat these scenes when the leaves begin to add greens and also start to hide some of the details I find so easily now?

Of course,  I did find some colors to celebrate even in early March. This bunch of daffodils is far removed from any garden.  Perhaps the squirrels relocated them?

Another good location I have found is Brookside Gardens in Wheaton, Maryland.  It is rich with carefully designed flower beds and ornamental trees.  These Asian Witch Hazel flowers were more dazzling than the nearby native varieties.

On my next visit, I am hoping to find more flowering trees including the famous Japanese Cherry Trees.  Finding them in bloom will require some mastery of the bus system plus some magic with the spring weather. I make no promises. 

I am actually surprised at what I could find to photograph, and also that Rock Creek Park was largely free of litter.


Tuesday, February 21, 2023

It's a Maine Thing

The Mid-Coast of Maine is a favorite place for me.  I've been long overdue to return, and last week I finally took five days there. In winter, it is far quieter - so much so that it can be difficult to find restaurants staying open.  I was one of eight photographers in a program offered by Hunt's Photo in Boston.

I arrived a day early for a more leisurely pace.  After a 5 hour drive, my stop was just over the border at Kittery.  Before dinner, I went over to the Nubble Lighthouse.  The wind was "brisk", but it did not discourage locals from enjoying the sunny day. I shot about 40 images to freeze the wave in the foreground.

Up early,  I hurried north to the iconic Portland Head Light.  It you look closely at the light keeper's building closer to the base of the tower, you can see three orange rectangles.  Those are where huge January waves  crested over the rocks and broke out windows. 

The waves were far more modest during my visit.

With all of us in our lodging in Wiscasset and introductions made, we visited South Bristol Harbor.  It is a small working harbor with little tourist activity. Central to the village is Osier's, which is a grocery,  food takeout, lobster pound and roadside gas pump. 

There is a lot to discover.  Buoys draped in a dead tree branch.

On the dock behind Osier's I found piles of fishing gear.

I can't tell you what this net is used for, but the form was attractive, so I had to share it.

The next day we had some dreary weather, so we explored some local museums.  There were some interesting discoveries.  Ropes in a shipbuilder's shop.

Antique car grills at Owls Head.

The next morning was cold but favorable at Pemaquid Point.  This is my favorite lighthouse of all.  Down here you can grasp the height of the promontory it occupies.  The sloping layers of rocks rise from the waves dramatically.  (The tide was rising, and shortly after this I had to retreat upward. )

Up at the lighthouse, there are, even on a cold and icy morning, some hearty people coming out for the view.

Every visit I have ever made to Pemaquid has been inspiring. Soon afterwards, we were at Deb's cafe for hot coffee and great food. It was worth departing at 5:15 am to be there for another beautiful dawn.

That afternoon, we made a big shift in subjects to a small narrow gauge railway near Wiscasset, the Wiscasset, Waterville & Farmington.  It's totally volunteer based and very busy even in February. Here are a few images:

Our final morning was at Friendship Harbor. Again, this is a working harbor with little tourist flavor.  It was another early start.

There was a very creative Christmas tree still on the one dock in mid-February. 

The sunrise cast a golden glow on one of the fish houses.

Nearby was another fish house with buoys that seemed best in monochrome to reflect on time.

Maine in winter is clearly not dreary, nor boring.  Just a little patience is called for when weather is in control.  Natives seem to thrive in winter. 

Well, this ran into more images than is my usual.  Hopefully it is sufficiently entertaining.

Paul Schmitt