Friday, August 30, 2013

Pre School Session

During the first week of school, all of the teachers in my district sit through three long days of meetings.   For me, this is a perfect opportunity to do some photography before school!

On Wednesday, there was a very thick fog that rolled over eastern Massachusetts.   I had gotten up early to photograph the sunrise.   The fog was so thick, that a sunrise (at least a visible one) wasn't likely.   Rater than be disappointed, I was ecstatic!  I love fog and snow.  They change the everyday landscape into something exotic and new!

My first stop was to see my "buds".   My "buds" are cows that I drive by everyday on the way to work.  They live on a small farm in Marshfield.   This morning they were hanging out by a beautiful tree in the fog.   This session was particularly difficult, because the light was so dim, that it was hard to record details on the black cows.   I raised my ISO, opened my f stop and slowed down my shutter speed.  Then I hoped that the cows would be still for a moment.  Their movements would cause them to blur in the image.  I was fortunate to make one image that I liked.  

After photographing the cows, I went to Scituate Harbor to photograph boats in the fog.   Along the way, I found a mourning cloak butterfly!   It was only a foot or two from the water, still covered in morning dew.   I was able to make a handful of images of this beautiful species.   I was quite surprised to see this butterfly so close to the ocean.   I usually associate this species with forests and my woodpile behind my house.   Mourning cloaks actually overwinter as adults.   They will fit themselves into crevices between bark on trees, woodpiles, and empty sheds to protect themselves from harsh winter weather.   It is always a treat to find one in my snowbound woodpile in the middle of February.   Of course, I always leave them in a safe place.  In March, they are often the first butterfly to be seen in the new year!

After spending some time with the mourning cloak, I returned my attention to the boats.   There are a number of beautiful boats to photograph in Scituate.  I focused on the row boats and dories.   The hardest challenge was to focus in the thick fog.   Autofocus was worthless, so I switched to manual focus, but that was not very effective either.   Finally, I turned on the live view and zoomed in as much as I could and then manually focused.  It worked very well!

The dory that I included in this post was shrouded in soupy fog.  By adding a lot of contrast, I was able to create a clear image.   It does not look the way I saw it that morning.   To me, this clear version is a superior image compared to the soupy fog version.   Yet, the emotional side of me still leans toward showing the soupy fog.   Sometimes as artists we have to make difficult decisions.   Which image do you prefer?

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Star Trails and Horse Latitudes

Last night I led a star trails workshop with the South Shore Camera Club.   Fifteen of us went to a very historic barn, "Horse Latitudes" in Middleboro.   We discussed a variety of tips and techniques to make beautiful star trails.   Around 8:15 we started making images using intervalometers.   The sky was dark and the stars were bright.   With a little bit of light painting, we were able to illuminate the foreground, which was a beautiful barn with a rambling white fence.  

As the night turned colder, we were a little disappointed to see that Logan Airport had changed its approach pattern to go right over the barn.   A jet flew through the seen every few minutes.   Fortunately everyone took it in stride and continued to have a great time! 

Once everyone had their cameras up and running, the snacks came out.   I was impressed with how well prepared the camera club members were with their snacks.   Salami, fresh fruit, home baked cookies... these folks know how to brighten up a long photo session!

While we were spending a couple of hours photographing the stars, I used my laptop to teach everyone how to stack our images using a variety of editing tools.    I had photographed the same scene the night before and was able to show my editing process step by step.

Last night, it became really chilly.   Our lenses repeatedly fogged and everyone was dreaming of a nice warm fire.   The temperatures eventually fell into the 40's!    I was really proud of the group for sticking it out in the cold night air.   I think we all had a great time.  I know I did!

The South Shore Camera Club is a really nice group of people who are a lot of fun to hang out with.   It was really great to see so many familiar faces and meet some new people too!   I also would like to thank my friend Doug, the owner of the farm for letting us photograph his barn late into the evening.

The image accompanying this post was made as a test shot the night before the workshop.   The skies were partly cloudy.   The red color came from some light pollution that was reflected upon the clouds.   Rather than try to get rid of the red, I decided to enhance it.   The star trails were approximately one hour in length.   While I like the color version the most, I was tempted to see what it would look like in Black and White.   I am curious to see which version everyone prefers.  

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Adventures in Photography: The Return of an American Icon (Mayflower II)

            Mayflower II had been away from its home port, historic Plymouth Harbor, for a very long time.   Many locals, tourists and business owners had lamented her absence.   After a nearly 9 month hiatus for significant hull repairs, the grand lady made a glorious return to Plymouth.   She was greeted by hundreds of people loudly cheering as she arrived at her pier.

Mayflower II was first sailed to America from England in 1957.   After 56 years of service at sea, the ship is in need of repairs.   The first major repairs were begun in December of 2012 and were significantly delayed when the exact type of wood for the hull could not be readily found.     After many months, the repairs were made and the Mayflower II made her voyage home.   She was accompanied by the tugboat Jaguar, of New Bedford.

Captain Tim Brady of Plymouth graciously guided a press corps aboard his deep sea fishing boat, the Mary Elizabeth.   As we headed out of Plymouth Harbor to meet Mayflower II, Captain Brady shared his extensive knowledge and love for the history of Plymouth with his passengers.    Soon, he had us expertly positioned alongside one of the most famous sailing ships in America. 

History is one of my favorite subjects.   Photographing reenactments of famous events is truly a joy.   Seeing these events as they may have looked hundreds of years ago is a fantastic way to bring history to life.  

As a photographer, I strive to make images that include only elements that look authentic to the time period being reenacted.    This allows the viewer the chance to “see” history as it may have looked.     In this case, my goal was to have the image appear as if it were 1620.   Keeping the background free of modern elements was a challenge.   Cottages on the shore, other boats, especially the tug and the passengers of the Mayflower dressed in modern clothes all distract from the “authentic” scene.

As Mayflower II made its way into the harbor, it was greeted by numerous sailboats that formed an impromptu parade.   Upon seeing this, I was immediately struck with a pre-visualization of a black and white image including Mayflower II with the sailboats trailing behind.   I momentarily abandoned my goal of making an “authentic” image and concentrated on the modern day beauty of the scene.    A few moments later, Mayflower II and the sailboats came together in a very pleasing composition.

Turning the corner into Plymouth Harbor, Mayflower II had Long Beach behind it, providing a very pleasing backdrop of sand dunes.   It was time to make “authentic” images.    Fortunately, Captain Brady slowed down his boat and allowed Mayflower II to run parallel to us.   This hid the tugboat from sight and provided ample opportunity to create beautiful images uncluttered by modern life.  

Soon, Mayflower II was greeted by the Plymouth Fire Boat, firing its water canon high into the air as a salute.   With the crowd enthusiastically cheering, Mayflower II reclaimed her place as the centerpiece of Plymouth Harbor.

This month’s tip:  New England is brimming with opportunities for recreating history.  Plimouth Plantation, Minuteman National Park, Fort at No. 4, Pow Wows, The Freedom Trail, Salem, Old Sturbridge Village and numerous other locations offer fantastic settings for creating beautiful “authentic” images.



Sunday, August 4, 2013

The Light From Above

Last night, I spent some time at one of my favorite locations, Scituate Light.   I could tell that there would be an excellent sunset, so I quickly gathered my gear together and headed to Scituate.  

The first weekend in August combined with Heritage Days is a crazy time to photograph in Scituate.   I spend a lot of time in Scituate, but rarely during the summer.   I wasn't exactly surprised by the amount of people in the harbor, but I felt almost overwhelmed.   Scituate Light may be the most famous site in Scituate.   On any given day, the light will have many visitors.   Last night, there were many people milling around, watching a beautiful sunset by the seashore.  

One of my favorite tricks to avoid the crowds is to get up early and stay out late.  I decided to wait long after sunset to watch the colors of the sky as it changed from dusk to night.   The crowds dissipated and the photography improved with excellent light played on the clouds above.  

I found my favorite composition of the evening when it had truly become dark.   Using the large boulders in the foreground to lead the eye towards the light, I created a series of 30 second exposures, that allowed the fast moving clouds to streak through the sky.   I waited for a whole in the clouds to arrive over the lighthouse to capture the stars above.

Night photography is one of my favorite mediums.   It is a lot like opening a surprise gift.   You never know exactly what you will get, but you know it will be good.  

With a warm wind blowing off the water it could not have been a better night.   As I left for the evening, I heard a very loud cricket singing its tune while the waves lapped against the shore.   Summer in New England is impossible to beat!

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Robin the Vigilante

A family of red shouldered hawks has lived in my neighborhood for many years.   They are excellent hunters and take advantage of the woods and pond nearby.   I have photographed them calling to each other high up in tall oak trees, eating three foot water snakes and dive bombing me as I stood in my backyard, because they were nesting in the neighboring lot.  


This week I made one of my favorite images of the red shouldered hawks.   I happened to notice one of them perched on a pine tree in my backyard.   I got my camera and ran to my bathroom, which has a nice second floor view of my yard.   This put me at nearly eye level with the hawk.   I opened the window quickly and conveniently sat upon my throne.   Using the window sill and a towel as an improvised camera support, I was able to make some very nice portrait images of the hawk.


Then a brave robin arrived, alerting the entire neighborhood to the hawk's presence.  It was raising a racket and dive bombing the much larger predator.   Keeping both eyes open, I was able to focus on the hawk, while keeping an eye on the robin in a nearby tree.   Seeing the robin start its flight towards the hawk allowed me to know exactly when to start making images with the camera.   Without this technique, I would not have made a single successful photograph.


Hawks and other large birds of prey are often attacked by much smaller birds.  Smaller birds will fight much larger birds, because they want to drive them away from their territory.   This protects themselves and their young.   The smaller birds are more maneuverable and can easily avoid a hawk on the wing; so long as they are aware of their presence.  


A primary tactic of many hunters is stealth.   This red shouldered hawk was patiently scanning my backyard for an easy meal, hoping to go unnoticed.   Unfortunately for the hawk, the robin served as the neighborhood watch and chased it away.


As I photographed this scene, my wife was quite surprised to see my improvised set up. Although, when it comes to photography, nothing seems to surprise her anymore.  I must admit that it was one of the most comfortable blinds that I have ever used!


This month’s tip:   Improvised blinds are often the best way to make great wildlife images.  From your car, crouching behind a tree, or from your bathroom window, staying hidden from view makes a huge difference.   The animals will stay calm and often ignore your presence, allowing you to observe them and make great images!
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