Recently in Photography Category

Front Yard Drama
January 18, 2014 1:29 PM | Posted in: ,

It's a beautiful day in the neighborhood, a beautiful day to shoot something good...

Well, it was actually a nice day to attack some winter weeds in the lawn. The sprinklers ran last night, and some of the pseudo-dandelions still retained some water drops. I think the lesson here is that accessorization is the key to making ugly things pretty.

Photo of a weed with a water drop in the middle
Photo of a weed with a water drop in the middle

Another lesson is that beauty is temporary, as this weed now resides in the bottom of a trash can. Life can be cruel.

Speaking of cruel things, this breaks my heart:

Photo of a happy Texas Mountain LaurelPhoto of a sad Texas Mountain Laurel

The photo on the left shows one of our Texas Mountain Laurels, in Happy Happy Mode. The photo on the right shows another one, just a few feet away, in Time To Break Out the Burial Clothes Mode. While the leaves still have a semi-healthy-looking hue, they're dry and fall to the ground at a touch. I have no idea what's causing this, but I'm pretty sure the tree is beyond saving. Perhaps spring will prove me wrong. I hope so.

Cool Photos...Ice Cold, in fact
November 23, 2013 6:00 PM | Posted in: ,

We had our first ice storm of the season last night. Or today. I'm not sure; we were out of town, but returned this afternoon to find a thin layer of ice over all the vegetation. (Fortunately, there was none on the roadways between Midland and the Hill Country, although it appeared to be moving into the latter region.)

There's really only one thing to do outside when the weather is frigid and everything is coated with ice: take pictures! So that's what I did, primarily of the last blooms of the year. It's too bad they can't be preserved in this state until next spring...but that's what photos are for.

Euonymus fortunei 'Coloratus'

Groundcover encased in ice


Ceratostigma plumbaginoides

Groundcover encased in ice


Knockout Rose

Groundcover encased in ice


Ceratostigma plumbaginoides

Groundcover encased in ice

Fall Blooms
November 4, 2013 9:01 PM | Posted in: ,

We haven't yet had a freeze this fall, and the really hot temperatures of summer are finally behind us. The recent rainfall coupled with the mild conditions means that the flowering plants are putting on some wonderful performances.

Last Saturday I strapped on a macro lens and walked around the yard, snooping on our blooming residents. Here's what popped out.

By the way, the following photos were taken in natural light, sans flash.

Plumbago - My Blue Heaven
Photo - Plumbago blooms
Knockout Rose - Pillow SoftPhoto - Knockout Rose blooms
Dandelion - Space Travelers, temporarily groundedPhoto - Dandelion blooms
Ice Plant - Nature's FireworksPhoto - Ice Plant blooms

Fall Fredericksburg Fandango
September 25, 2013 9:50 PM | Posted in: ,

We've just returned from a long weekend in Fredericksburg, where we were able to do many of the things we like to do best, including bicycling, dancing, and eating.

We stayed at a bed and breakfast on North Cherry Street, in a quiet neighborhood close to the western edge of town. It's one of the few B&Bs in the area that gives off a distinct Santa Fe vibe, both from an architecture and a landscape perspective. It also has the distinct advantage of being roomy enough to park a 10-foot-long bicycle inside without disrupting the flow of the space. I'd give you the name of it, but I don't want anyone else staying there so it will always be available for us. Well, that and the fact that I can't remember. That seems to happen a lot nowadays. What were we discussing?

Even though much of the Texas Hill Country enjoyed torrential downpours - and Fredericksburg got its share - we were still able to get in bike rides every day of our stay. I don't believe in karma, but one might make a convincing case that this was payback for our Memorial Day trip where we hauled the bike 300 miles only to watch it sit forlornly in the steady rain that kept us off it for the entire weekend. Anyway, we rode a total of 62 miles - a metric century, if you care about such things - and nothing fell off the bike, including us. That's always A Very Good Thing.

As an aside, we can remember when we rode that far plus a hundred miles on long weekend trips to the Hill Country. It would be nice to think that we could still do that, but as we get more miles on ourselves, getting more miles on the road no longer holds a great attraction. We just need to ride enough to justify eating well.

Following are a few photos from around the B&B. By the way, in the interest of accuracy in advertising, they should change the name of these facilities to "B&C," where the "C" stands for "coupons." Almost no one still offers breakfast. Instead, you get a coupon to apply towards a meal (generally breakfast or lunch) at a few choices of restaurants. Our hosts provided us with $7 coupons (per person), which we chose to use each morning at the Java Ranch Espresso Bar & Cafe where the kolaches, cinnamon rolls, and pecan coffee are highly recommended.

Photo - Passionflower
This passionflower was blooming in front of our B&B.

Photo - Green Anole
The geckos and green anoles (like this one) were busy
keeping the insect population in check.


Photo - Bugs on Cactus
Well, some insects were spared. These were getting ready to rumble.

Photo - Snails
Conspiratorial gastropods creep me out. They're talking about me, I just know it.

For those who are familiar with the Fredericksburg dining scene, we had dinner at Pasta Bella, Navajo Grill, and Crossroads Steakhouse, and lunch at the Peach Tree Tea Room, Bejas Grill, and Cranky Frank's. Yeah, that's right...not a German restaurant in the bunch. Oh, and we enjoyed fine al fresco dining at Luckenbach on Saturday evening; more about that later. I have to say that the lunches were uniformly superior to the dinners, although Pasta Bella never disappoints.

We made the obligatory side trip to the Wildseed Farms. It was nice to be there in double-digit temperatures. Seems like the last few times we've visited, it's been 100º+. And while it's no longer peak wildflower season, the grounds were in excellent shape, especially the butterfly garden.

Photo - Butterfly Garden
The Wildseed Farms butterfly garden was resplendent.

Photo - Butterfly Garden
We're getting toward the end of butterfly season in Texas,
but that just makes us appreciate those that are left that much more.


As I mentioned above, we played tag with the rainshowers during the entire weekend. We got in a two hour ride Thursday morning without getting out of the city limits (we were checking out real estate), and got back to home base about an hour before the rain started.

On Friday morning - the day that the forecast called for a 100% chance of rain - we contemplated taking a rest, but then decided to try to get in a brief ride. We had a very pleasant 45 minutes on the bike, and returned just as a light sprinkle was beginning. But within 20 minutes after pulling the bike into the house, here's what kicked in:



That's an awfully purty sound to a Texan's ears, especially if you're not hearing it from the soggy seat of a bicycle ten miles from home.

Saturday was clear and cool, if a little breezy, and we did a 30-mile ride into the country, where we enjoyed a number of pleasant and/or provocative sights.

Photo - Rushing river waters
It was good to see water in the Guadalupe and Pedernales Rivers.

Photo - Road sign
It was also good to know that we could squeak by on the weight limit.

Photo - Mushrooms sprouting in a cow pattie
You know that saying about blooming where you're planting?
Is this what they had in mind?


Photo - Turtle in road
This turtle was obviously disoriented by the rain, as he left the safety
of the mud for the danger of the road. (We rescued him.)


Photo - Rough green snake
This guy (gal?) picked a dangerous spot to catch some rays.

This beautiful creature is a rough green snake (some might refer to it as a grass snake). I had to look it up, because we don't have them in our neck of the woods, unless they're brought in with loads of non-native trees or shrubs. It was laying motionless in the middle of a rural road, one that was fortunately not well-traveled.

He didn't move a scale while I took a series of photos, and, in fact, I finally had to grab his tail to convince him to move off the road and into the pasture.

Photo - Rough green snake
She (he?) was wary but unmoving.

Photo - Rough green snake
Is this a threatening countenance? I think not.
(I've taken a lot of snake photos in my time, but this might be my favorite.)

One of the main reasons we like visiting the Hill Country are the plentiful and diverse choices of live music. There's no lack of dancing opportunities either, although claiming a spot on the dance floor is often a contact sport. (We're not averse to cutting the legs out from under our fellow dancers, provided they're older and slower than us. Which, come to think of it, never happens.)

On Friday night, we moved from the restaurant to the saloon at Crossroads, where a band out of Austin called the Debonaires performed a surprising variety of modern country and classic rock. Seriously guys, the ironic name is fine for those who know you, but we almost skipped it thinking you were a Fifties do-wop group. Not that there's anything wrong with Fifties do-wop, mind you. Crossroads has the world's tiniest dance floor, and some of the most inebriated young-women-whose-dates-won't-dance-with-them-so-they-"dance"-with-each-other. I'd insert air quotes around "dance" if I knew how, but I trust you know what I mean. Nevertheless, we weren't deterred.

Saturday had more opportunities than we could handle. Almost Patsy Cline was performing in Harper at 8:00 p.m., while Chris Story's CD release concert and dance was scheduled at Luckenbach at 9:00. Then, back at Crossroads, Del Castillo was also set for a 9:00 show. We've seen, heard, and danced to all of them, and they're each outstanding in their own way, but we decided to head out to Luckenbach.

We got to Luckenbach early enough to grab something to eat at the walk-up diner, and then got some prime seats inside the dance hall. It was eventually standing room only, and once again we had to fight for space on the dance floor. But that's sorta part of the fun of Luckenbach...it really is a family-friendly venue, and there were kids in strollers and octogenarians, and everything in between.

The band was even more awesome than usual. Chris has brought his band to Midland several times over the past few years, so we knew what to expect. But he's got a new guitar player (who also produced the new CD and wrote many of the songs) and he's absolutely amazing.

If you've been to Luckenbach, you know that the seating is at rows of picnic tables lined up perpendicular to the stage. The bench seating and limited space means that you'll likely be joined by strangers, and we eventually found ourselves surrounded by a group of folks who seemed to know each other, even though they were from different cities. As it turned out, one group was from Big Spring (just a few miles down the road from Midland, for you readers who aren't from our part of the state), and they were so excited to find some other West Texans that we were apparently made honorary family members (right down to the farewell hugs at the end of the night). In addition, one of the men in the group - Bryan Maynard - wrote one of the songs on the CD, which was pretty cool. And, on top of everything else, he gave us a copy of the new CD (entitled Chapter One...you can buy it here, but it's not available for download yet).

By the way, Chris Story and his band will be in Midland - along with Almost Patsy Cline - for the Wine and Music Festival in early October. 

So, that about wraps up our trip report, and...uh...what's that? Shopping? Well, yes, shopping did take place, and I even captured some photographic evidence. Sort of.

If you're a regular visitor to Fredericksburg, you probably know about Madlyn's, a women's clothing and accessories store that's well away for the main shopping area. It's been there forever, and I have no idea how they stay in business - we were there for an hour on Saturday afternoon and were the only customers during that time. But they do manage to stock some good stuff; Debbie seems to always find something and this trip was no exception. But here's what caught my attention:

Photo - Ceiling tiles

Recognize it? Well, sure, it's a section of ceiling tiles, but it's also apparently a part of the store's sound system. As far as I can tell, they've scattered their speakers around the store behind the tiles, so as you walk around the sound sort of fades in and out without an apparent source. It's really not a bad idea. However, it was sort of jarring to hear Texas rock from an Austin radio station coming from the ceiling of a store that caters to women who cut their musical teeth on the Lawrence Welk Show.

A little of this, a bit of that...
September 7, 2013 11:05 PM | Posted in: ,

In the past, this would be a Random Thursday post, but posting has been so random lately that Thursday no longer wanted to be associated with it.

First, the obligatory back yard hummingbird photo. The little guys will soon be leaving for southern climes, so let's enjoy them while we can.

Photo - Hummingbird and shadow on wall



I've heard a lot of chatter today about the truck tailgate decal depicting a woman apparently being kidnapped. I agree that it's in poor taste, but there's poor taste and there's this:




There are some beautiful blogs out there that manage to get by without a word. But, then, a picture is worth...well, a bunch of them. Take this one, for example, created and maintained by Azerbaijani designer Samir Sadikhov. It's simple a series of photos and illustrations, without context, selected apparently because Mr. Sadikhov found them remarkable in some way. You'll have to click around a bit to find where the images originate and some additional information about them. Think of it as online exploring.



And what, you might ask, can we expect from a designer from Azerbaijan? Well, how about an Aston-Martin concept car?




Speaking of beautiful blogs, this tumblr has one of the best collections of photos, illustrations, and animations you'll find in one place...and, again, no words to get in the way. Navigation tip: click on an image to see it in isolation, then click on it again to pull up the next one. [Warning: Site contains occasional artful nudity]



I think this speaks for itself.




Photo - Sweet Potato Vine

Fort Stockton Photos
September 2, 2013 5:22 PM | Posted in: ,

We were in Fort Stockton over the weekend and I carved out some time to wander through a pasture to take some photos, and then snapped a few at the nursery owned by my brother and his wife.

Dead mesquite
Since the pasture was once part of the Permian Sea,
can we call this mesquite stump "driftwood"?


Meteorite?
No, this is not what you think. It's a rock,
and the pasture is littered with them. Growing up, we
thought they were pieces of meteorites but I now realize how silly that was.
They're obviously fragments from a crashed alien spacecraft.


Sulphur butterfly
I think this is a Cloudless Sulphur

Gulf Fritillary
I'm more certain that this is a Gulf Fritillary.

Gulf Fritillary
This is a different view of the Gulf Fritillary shown above.

Garden Shots
August 18, 2013 3:19 PM | Posted in: ,

I strapped on the trusty macro lens yesterday afternoon and spent a very hot half hour shooting some of the plants my wife has done such an excellent job of nurturing through our continuing drought. Below are images of hibiscus, bougainvillea, and lantana. I'll leave it to you to figure out which is which.

Most of these pictures will eventually appear in somewhat larger form in the Gazette's Gallery, if I will ever make the time to put them there.

Photo of a plant

Photo of a plant

Photo of a plant

Photo of a plant

Photo of a plant

Little Porch of Horrors: Return of the Bling
August 17, 2013 9:40 AM | Posted in: ,

Experimentation with animated GIFs continues, this time with some selective desaturation and background blurring.

Animation of blooming hibiscus

Little Porch of Horrors: The Sequel
August 16, 2013 2:41 PM | Posted in: ,

I'm not going to quit until I get this right. Or something.

I tried my hand at a timelapse sequence of a blooming hibiscus about a week ago. The sequence was OK, but my camera's battery pooped out before the bloom opened completely.

Yesterday, a new camera housing arrived, one that will allow me to connect the camera to a power source, and so I arranged things this morning to once again try to capture the full blooming sequence.

I got closer...well, actually, I got too close. I did get the whole blooming sequence, but as it turned out, the GoPro video camera needs a bit more space between it and the main subject. What I ended up with was a series of slightly out of focus photos, until the flower opened almost fully, at which time the camera figured out what it should be focusing on.

So, I needed to get a little creative in order to mask the poor quality of the initial photos. I did this by cropping and reducing the size of the photos, then converting the initial shots to black and white, with the latter effect being gradually faded through the timelapse sequence. Here's the result:

Timelapse of hibiscus bloom opening

I really shouldn't worry too much about the quality of the photos, since the GIF format that's required for the animation dictates a significant loss of quality anyway. I do like the idea of applying different effects to the frames through the sequence of the animation, so if you're getting tired of seeing these things, I have bad news for you. The boredom will continue until you get interested.

Little Porch of Horrors
August 11, 2013 1:55 PM | Posted in: ,

We had one of those rare mornings with not a breath of wind, and I noticed an unopened bloom on the hibiscus on our back porch. I decided this was a great opportunity to create a time lapse using the GoPro Hero 3 camera so I grabbed the tripod and camera and set things up.

I didn't activate the wifi, in an attempt to conserve battery life, so I couldn't monitor the pictures via my phone; I had to sort of aim the camera in the general direction of the flower, counting on the ultra-wide lens to catch the action (however slowly it might move). I set the timer to one frame per minute and headed back inside. 

What I didn't count on was how pitiful the camera's battery life is even without wifi. It shut down after about two hours. I later realized that I could have waited another twenty minutes to begin the process and probably ended up with the flower in full bloom, but, as they say, it is what it is.

With a little work in Photoshop (I chose 15 photos along the timeline, then duplicated and reversed the sequence), the following living, breathing hibiscus just popped out. It's sort of freaky, really. (If you have a slow internet connection, be patient...this is a 1.5 mb gif image).

Time lapse of blooming hibiscus

By the way, Primelapse.com seems to be an excellent resource if you're interested in timelapse photography.

Riot (Florally speaking)
August 3, 2013 4:11 PM | Posted in: ,

In the midst of a brutal drought, and on a day of 100+ degree temperatures, wildflowers still find a way.

Wildflowers in West Texas

This image is a composite of three photos of the same plant I found growing in the pasture west of our neighborhood, taken at different focal lengths and slightly different angles. I overlaid them in Photoshop, experimented with various blending options for each layer until I found a combination I liked, inverted one layer, and laid the Vibrance and Unsharp Mask on pretty thick.

More Nest Peeping: Barn Swallows
June 22, 2013 7:42 PM | Posted in: ,

As I mentioned a couple of months ago, we decided to let the barn swallows finish building a nest on our front porch, mainly because they picked an innocuous spot and I figured if I ran them off, they'd just find a worse place while we were out of town.

The clutch of eggs in the nest hatched recently and we've seen some tiny bird heads leaning over the edge, waiting to be fed. I figured this was a good time to snoop.

I put an adhesive-backed GoPro mount near the nest (it's about eight feet above the floor), and attached the camera to it, set to take a picture every 30 seconds. The setup didn't go unnoticed.

Photo - Barn Swallow Nest

It also wasn't completely successful on the first try. I was sitting in the living room when I heard a loud thump. I went outside to find the camera laying on the concrete. I had combined several mounts into an articulating arm in order to get the right angle for the shots, and the leveraged was too much for the adhesive.

Fortunately, the GoPro housings are very sturdy and the camera was unscathed. I redesigned the setup to reduce the strain on the mount, and tried it again. Following is a sample of the results from about a two hour period. Click any photo to see a larger uncropped version, or start with the first one and use the controls on the pop-up to step through all the images.

Photo - Barn Swallow NestPhoto - Barn Swallow NestPhoto - Barn Swallow NestPhoto - Barn Swallow NestPhoto - Barn Swallow NestPhoto - Barn Swallow NestPhoto - Barn Swallow NestPhoto - Barn Swallow NestPhoto - Barn Swallow NestPhoto - Barn Swallow NestPhoto - Barn Swallow NestPhoto - Barn Swallow NestPhoto - Barn Swallow NestPhoto - Barn Swallow NestPhoto - Barn Swallow NestPhoto - Barn Swallow NestPhoto - Barn Swallow NestPhoto - Barn Swallow NestPhoto - Barn Swallow NestPhoto - Barn Swallow Nest

I think my favorite shot is #14, the one where the adult is flying away and the babies are still fussing because they think their mouths need to be filled again. They were obliged shortly thereafter.

Quelle Quail? These Quail!
June 4, 2013 10:01 PM | Posted in: ,

This evening I noticed some shallow disturbances at random between the flagstones on the east side of our back yard, as if something had been digging or scratching. I also heard some rustling noises around the mediterranean fan palm in that vicinity. This looks like a pretty good place for something to hide, doesn't it?

Photo of palm tree and ground cover

I decided to do a little investigative photojournalism, so I grabbed my camera and a long lens and went snooping. Here's what I found hiding in the middle of that shrubbery.

Photo of hiding quail

OK, so it wasn't a catamount or a lemur, things that would have generated a bit more excitement. But can you identify the type of bird?

Photo of quail

It's a scaled quail, aka blue quail, and there were two of them under the tree. Shortly after this one ran out - in an apparent attempt to lure me after it and away from their nesting spot - another one sprang from the brush. (If you don't have quail where you live, be sure to listen to the bird's calls on this page.)

Photo of palm tree and ground cover

I'm guessing the second bird is the female, and she was protecting something until the suspense became unbearable and she decided to flee. Sure enough, when I looked closer, I saw at least two baby quail disappear into the ground cover, too quickly to photo (and I wasn't crass enough to paw around trying to flush them).

The female didn't go far; she was determined to keep an eye on me.

Photo of quail on roof of house

The neighbors' roofline made a perfect lookout spot, close enough to see what I was up to, but not within reach.

I decided to wait her out, and hid behind the wall next to the palm tree. Pretty soon, curiosity got the best of her.

Photo of quail peering over fence

She would peek over the wall, disappear for a few seconds, and reappear at a slightly different spot, all the while making note of my position. 

Eventually, her patience, the 100+ degree temperature, and the swarming flies crumbled my resolve, and I retreated, while she gave me the nonchalant "I have no idea why you'd want to hang around here as there's nothing to see, and nothing to worry me" look.

Photo of quail on fence

I walked quietly by the tree about ten minutes later and could see her hunkered down, presumably with her babies safely underneath. She didn't stir, but I could feel the stinkeye all the way around the corner.

We've noticed a lot of quail this spring around the neighborhood, mostly in pairs - no full-blown coveys. I presume that the drought is driving them in from the dry pastures. They're fun, goofy birds, and I'm glad we can offer a preserve for them for a while.

Gallery Photos
June 2, 2013 5:30 PM | Posted in: ,

It's been a while - a few months, to be accurate - since I updated the Gallery. There's a bunch of new stuff out there now, including larger versions of these images.

PhotoPhotoPhotoPhotoPhoto
The wreath hanging on our front door isn't really a Christmas wreath. Well, it did start out that way, but when Debbie was unable to find a spring wreath she liked, she hung a few spring-y accessories on it and decided to leave it up for a while. But I suspect a few people in the neighborhood wondered why the red-and-gold decoration was still up in May.

It's because we didn't have the heart to take it down after we discovered a bird nest full of eggs in late April.

The nest was constructed immediately next to the beveled glass in our door, giving us a, well, birds-eye view into it. And, of course, I couldn't resist hauling out the camera from time-to-time, much to the annoyance of the mother birdie.

A month to the day after the eggs hatched, introducing three new birds to the world, the nest was abandoned, the young ones having spread their wings and flown the coop. Here's a brief look at how it unfolded.

Disclaimer: I mentioned the beveled glass above. It presented some unavoidable photographic challenges, as did the extreme backlit conditions during daylight hours. I did the best I could with what I had.

April 18 - And so it begins

The momma bird was so skittish, this is the only photo I was able to get of her, shortly after she laid the eggs.

Mother bird

May 1 - The Hatching: A look only a mother could love.

Hatching bird egg

May 9 - They eat and poop. But mostly eat.

Baby birds

May 16 - Even pre-teen birds have attitudes

Juvenile bird

May 17 - Getting adventuresome

Juvenile bird

May 18 - Ready to fly?

Juvenile bird

At this point, sensing that we wouldn't have the birds around much longer, I had the brilliant idea to mount my GoPro camera on the front door and take a series of photos. I put a strip of clear packing tape on the glass, and then stuck an adhesive GoPro mount onto the tape, reasoning that it would be easier to remove that way. I then assembled an articulating mount and set the camera to take a photo every 30 seconds. Here's what the rig looked like:

GoPro camera mounted on door

Good idea; poor execution. For one thing, I had waited two days too long to think of this. The birds were now too active and skittish and wouldn't stay in the nest. (Plus, one had already left the nest.) The GoPro also didn't handle the backlighting very well. Out of the 200 photos it took, here's one of the best.

Birds ready to fly the nest

I might have been a bit late, but if I'd waited six hours longer, I'd have been too late. Both remaining birds had flown away, never to return, by evening.

I still have two more opportunities to be an annoying intruder, as we've discovered another nest - containing five eggs - in the palm tree at the corner of our front porch. We're also giving in for the first time and letting barn swallows build a nest in a fairly innocuous part of the front porch.

And speaking of good ideas poorly executed, never underestimate the sticking power of clear packing tape to clean glass.
In late April Canon released a new point-and-shoot camera, the PowerShot N. I pre-ordered it from Amazon.com (where I now see that it's temporarily out of stock) based primarily on two features described in a preview article: an 8:1 optical zoom, and built-in WiFi. It didn't hurt that the camera is about 20% smaller than my all-time favorite P&S, Canon's workhorse PowerShot S95 (which has been replaced by the S110), and came with a price just under $300.

Photo of cameraAfter a too-lengthy wait, the camera arrived and I've been using it for a couple of weeks. It's taken some getting used to, thanks to some design decisions made by Canon's engineers (or are they engineering decisions made by their designers?). If you look closely at the photo, you'll see a silver ring with three notches encircling the lens. That's the zoom control; twist it one way to zoom in and the other to zoom out. Another ring that protrudes past the zoom ring - it's difficult to discern from the photo - is the shutter release. You press that ring from either the top or bottom to take the photo.

These unusual controls are designed to give you more flexibility in camera position, in order to take advantage of the flip-up LED screen that covers the entire back of the camera. It's easier to hold the camera at a low angle and take photos than it would be with conventional shutter and zoom buttons. I haven't had a lot of reasons to try that out yet, and while it may indeed be a helpful design feature, I've also had some accidental snaps while I get accustomed to the layout.

Photo quality is good, especially outdoors. Flash photos leave something to be desired; the flash isn't much more powerful than in a smartphone. That's a compromise that comes with such a tiny form factor. Don't expect to use the 8x zoom to get details from across a dark room.

The camera takes full 1080p HD video and provides the welcome ability to snap a still photo while recording video without interrupting the movie. It also offers a super-slo-mo, 120 frames-per-second video recording capability (but only for short recordings) that provides some pretty amazing results.

It's said that the best camera is the one you have with you, and from that perspective, the N is a good choice due to its combination of small size and innovative features, especially if you want to share photos on-the-go via Facebook or Twitter. Being able to take high quality photos and HD video (better than you can get on your phone) and then use your phone to put them on social media is a hard-to-resist capability.

Stalking the wily Coccinellidae
March 28, 2013 4:32 PM | Posted in: ,

Here's a tip for you macro photographers: if you want to find subjects, go out and pull weeds in your yard (but take care to pay attention to what you're pulling). Chances are good that you'll see something worth shooting.

Photo - Ladybug

I was reaching down to rip this weed out of the lawn (or what sad thing passes for our lawn after a summer of drought and a winter of discontent), when I noticed the ladybug perched atop it. Fortunately, it was sufficiently focused on whatever ladybugs focus on to give me the time to rush inside, grab my camera, mount the macro and flash, and get back outside to snap some pictures.

Photo - Ladybug

They're actually not that attractive up close like this, no offense to any that might be visiting the Gazette. On the other hand, they're not bugs, either, so they have that going for them. (For an enlightening look at the differences between bugs and beetles, see this page. It's more interesting than you think.)

According to Wikipedia, ladybugs are referred to in Hebrew as "Moses's little cows." If you have any insights as to why that is, feel free to share them. They eat aphids and spider mites (which is one reason gardeners generally welcome them), so if carnivorous cattle are your thing, feel free to use the label.

Photo - Ladybug with raised elytra and moving wings

Another photography tip: keep shooting until you're out of storage space or your subject flees. You might get lucky like I did. The split carapace on a ladybug is called the "elytra," (which I have no doubt will eventually become the name for a model of Hyundai car) and this photo was snapped an instant before the beetle tired of my presence and left for greener weeds. I wished for a slightly faster shutter speed* but overall was quite happy with the way the picture turned out.

*Photo geek stuff: Shutter speed - 1/160 second; Aperture - f/5.6; ISO - 100

Texas Mountain Laurel
March 16, 2013 6:59 PM | Posted in: ,

Here's an amazement, how this...

Photo - Texas Mountain Laurel buds

...turns into this...

Photo - Texas Mountain Laurel buds

The West Texas landscape may be viewed by some as being "beauty-challenged," (a description I strongly disagree with) but at least we have the Texas Mountain Laurel in our corner. The fact that the blooms smell just like grape soda is icing on the cake.

Both of the preceding scenes are found in our front yard today, on the same plant.

Photos
February 19, 2013 9:00 PM | Posted in:

Photo
Remember those old electrical insulators? This one was inexplicably shattered...but only on the inside. You may know some people like that.

Photo
The bloom on this flower reminds me of popcorn...deliciously buttered popcorn. With tentacles.

Photo
There went the neighborhood.

Photo
This golfball had seen better days, but it's gotten a new life on this page as...well, you can fill in the blank.

Photo
I see a sleeping fox. What do you see?

Photos
February 10, 2013 9:26 PM | Posted in: ,

Photo - Moth floating in water
Photo - Moth floating in water
Photo - Macro of dandelion flower
Photo - Macro of dandelion flower

Macro Mania
February 2, 2013 4:33 PM | Posted in:

Made some time this afternoon to play with my new(ish) macro lens and ring flash, with just a dash of Photoshop thrown in. 'Tis not the season for much nature photography, but it's fun to see what subjects present themselves in the garage. To wit...

Photo - Circuit board heat sink
Heat sink from a computer circuit board

Photo - Pliers in a tool bag
Pliers

Photo - Driver bits
Driver bits

Photo - Lime
Lime

Photo - Circuit board
Motherboard from a Mac G4

Photo - Work gloves
Work gloves

New Year Snow
January 4, 2013 5:16 PM | Posted in: ,

We didn't exactly get a blizzard in Midland (although parts of West Texas did get just that), but it was nice to wake up to a snow-covered view on our day off. I suspect that the back yard horny toad - who, by the way, is attracting way more coverage lately than he merits - probably would disagree.

Photo of snow-covered yard art

Since we don't get much snow in these parts, I like to try to get a few photos to illustrate how the phenomenon transforms our usual surroundings. Like, for instance, these pansies:

Photo of snow-covered pansies

You did recognize the pansies, right?

The snow on the roof had begun to melt, and the water dripping onto the back porch persuaded me to grab my new macro lens, with the following result:

Photo of bubble

I have a feeling that the new lens and I are going to have some fun in 2013.

Guardian Horny Toad
January 3, 2013 6:25 AM | Posted in: ,

Doves don't strike me as being the most intelligent members of the avian world, if only because of how often they seem to knock themselves silly by flying into our windows. But their silliness can also be sort of tranquil, in the right setting.

Photo - Dove and Yard Art

This guy (gal?) apparently decided he (she?) was among friends, regardless of the vaguely menacing and/or hungry look on the big metal horned lizard in our back yard. Perhaps he figured if the blue ants had survived, his chances were also pretty good.

Best Photos of 2012? Could be...
January 1, 2013 12:18 PM | Posted in:

As we stumble into a new year, a pleasant way to idle away some time is by looking at some really striking photos, and the aggregation website Twisted Sifter has assembled a pretty decent 2012 "Top 100" list.

I suspect there are a few that have been subjected to some Photoshop manipulation, but that shouldn't detract from their awesomeness. This one's real, though:

Photo - Green Vine Snake

Two Things: HaloRig / Flyboard
October 7, 2012 9:39 PM | Posted in: ,

Our Two Things spotlight today focuses on a couple of "add-on" products, things that make other things work better, or at least differently.

HaloRig: Video Stabilizer


Anyone who's tried to shoot video with a small digital camcorder, point-and-shoot camera, or phone knows how hard it is to keep the dang thang steady. The form factor is just too small and light and the slightest irregular motion translates into a noticeably jerky video. That's the problem that the HaloRig is designed to mitigate.

It's basically an inexpensive (less than $200; price varies with options) metal ring onto which you can affix multiple cameras, lights, microphones, and other accessories. The ring is large enough to provide a greater chance of smooth motion (I haven't tried one, so I'm hard-pressed to say that it would completely eliminate jerky movement).

Here's a short video explaining the device in somewhat more detail.



Flyboard: Your next James Bondian Sporting Device


The following video is making the rounds on the interwebz. If you haven't yet seen it, it's worth spending six minutes to watch, and another six seconds to decide how crazy one needs to be to try it.



This is the Flyboard in action. I think the video explains everything you need to know about why the only question about product placement in an upcoming movie is whether the first director to use it will be Michael Bay or Luc Besson.

This review by GizMag touches on a lot of the salient points of the Flyboard, including cost (~$7K, excluding insurance premiums). But, seriously, aren't our public waterways dangerous enough now without giving inebriated jet skiers yet another injury vector? What happens to the poor soul who tries out that dolphin dive and hits headfirst an actual dolphin (or worse)?

Still, I'd be lying if I said I didn't want one.

Tip o'the ski helmet to my beautiful Aunt Margaret for the video link!

A Damp Tour Through the Neighborhood
September 28, 2012 10:10 AM | Posted in: ,

I'm pretty sure we're setting some kind of rainfall record in Midland, Texas today. While it's not unusual to have monsoonal downpours in September, it's been years since we've actually experienced one.

I'm of the opinion that, except for reasons of bereavement or illness, there's no such thing as a bad day off, especially in weather like this, so I took the opportunity to stroll around our neighborhood park, protected by an umbrella, and snap some photos of the result of the rain that started early this morning (and continues as I type this). 

Those of you in more moist climates may roll your eyes at making such a to-do over something that seems commonplace to you, but we've just received more rain in the past six hours that we got during the entire year of 2010. It's hard to overestimate the value of this precipitation to our region, in ecological, economic, and even psychological terms.

Except for the mosquitos, of course.

Well, anyway, here are a few pictures that might be meaningful to those of you who have visited our neighborhood.

I emptied the gauge at this point because I wasn't sure how much more rain we'd get.
(Update - the next morning: Good thing I emptied it yesterday; there was another 3" in the gauge.)

Photo

Need to set up the follow two shots. The first was taken last weekend, on a [dry] Sunday afternoon. The second is from this morning, from approximately the same perspective. The bird has mysteriously vanished. I'm pretty sure it didn't drown, though.

Photo

Photo

If you've been to our south pond, you know that the dock usually sits a couple of feet above the surface of the water. Research has shown that docks that sit above the water are more effective for most purposes, although geese tend toward skepticism.

Photo

Trees are generally scofflaws and/or contemptuous of accepted societal norms.

Photo

This is why we love the rain. OK, it's misleading to imply that purple sage blooms because of the rain, or even in anticipation of it; in reality, it kinda does its own thing, oblivious to our tendency to attribute intentional prophetic meteorological insight to its life cycle. But it's still prettier in the rain.

Photo

The stream bed wasn't really much more frantic than usual, although there were signs it had overflowed its banks a few hours earlier, but scenes like this are a good reason to live in our neighborhood.

Photo


Drill Site Scenes
September 21, 2012 10:28 PM | Posted in: ,

*tap* *tap* Is this thing on?

Yeah, I know...it's been a while. Life gets in the way of blogging, quite frequently nowadays. I miss it. Well, we do what we can, right?

One of the facets of life that's interfered with my extracurricular activities is that job-like thing I attend to most days. Working in the drilling department of an oil company doesn't afford the best ever outlet for creativity, but that's not to say that I'm not getting to see and learn some very interesting things. I get to leave the office every now and then to visit a drill site, and I always try to remember to take a camera along. Of course, finding time to do something with the photos is an additional challenge, but I finally set aside some time tonight to fire up Photoshop and run a few recent pictures through the pixel grinder. Below is one of images that crawled out of the rathole (and the others are now lodged in the front end of the Gazette Gallery; feel free to visit at your leisure and see what results from busy hands and an idle mind).

Stylized photo of a crane on a oil well drilling site

Photographic Perspective
July 8, 2012 9:39 AM | Posted in: ,

The greatest aspect of digital photography is the way it reintroduced the concept of play in picture-taking. When you don't have to worry about the cost of film or development, it frees you up to just have fun, and to experiment with different techniques.

I don't do it nearly often enough, but one of the things I enjoy most about photography is taking the camera outside and pointing it in odd angles at mundane subjects, without looking through the viewfinder (which would be impossible most of the time anyway), and being surprised at what ends up in the photo. The different perspectives sometimes yield delightful results. Here are a handful of pictures I took yesterday in our back yard.

Photo
A Mexican Lime on our back porch

Photo
A Vitex bloom, slightly past its prime

Photo
The armadillo that stands vigil over our side yard

Photo
The delicate beauty of a desert willow flower

Photo
A burro, yearning to fly

Photo
A Mexican Elder towers over a stoic chaparral

West Texas from Above: The End
June 19, 2012 10:00 PM | Posted in: ,

Scarily observant Gazette readers Katie Hilburn, Gregg Ulvestad, Jon Wheeler, and Mark Springer correctly identified the final aerial photo in the series as the area around Hogan Park in Midland. The small body of water directly beneath the "fish" (which is a pond at Hogan Park Golf Course) is part of the wonderful nature preserve maintained by the Sibley Nature Center.

Photo

Sadly, we've come to the end of the series. It was a good excuse for me to not to have to do any actual blogging. But I've been very impressed with your perceptiveness and with the number of responses (we had a dozen different people submit correct guesses, and more than that participated). Thanks for making this a pretty darned fun project!

West Texas from Above: Part 8
June 15, 2012 10:01 PM | Posted in: ,

Incredibly eagle-eyed Gazetteers Gregg Ulvestad, Lisa Blake, and Les Blalock recognized foto numero siete in our series as..well...as a number of things, all of which were correct although not precisely the answer I was seeking. That's my fault for not being more specific.

The photo is of the Penwell area, a few miles east of Odessa on I-20. The feature that's shown but hardly recognizable is a portion of the Caprock Escarpment. Few people know that the caprock was actually an unintended consequence of an early 20th-century top secret government experiment gone terribly wrong, which resulted in a massive underground explosion that raised many miles of West Texas terrain by several hundred feet (and also provided a serious setback to the careers of a number of formerly prominent scientists and their sponsoring politicians).

OK, not really. It all has to do with some geology stuff, perhaps more scientifically plausible, but definitely more boring.

Anyway, everyone pointed out the cement plant (that big white area in the southeast quadrant of the photo shown below, which is a separate but equal answer. Les even provided some accompanying history (which unfortunately omits any mention of massive underground explosions).

Photo

OK, you're probably wearing out your eyes and Google Earth, so let's wrap up the series with one more aerial tableau. This is an urban scene, and it immediately caught my eye, and if you seen anything other than a gecko about to eat a fish, you're just not paying attention.

Don't bother clicking on the picture to see a larger version, because there isn't one.

Photo
Viewed from 7,200 feet

West Texas from Above: Part 7
June 13, 2012 6:30 AM | Posted in: ,

Photo of us checking out our scuba gearGazette-crazy map mavens Paula McKinney and Les Blalock recognized the sixth photo in our series as Balmorhea State Park, which has the distinction of not actually being located in Balmorhea, but "Toyahvale State Park" apparently doesn't have the same cachet.

Every scuba diver in West Texas has cruised the crystal waters of Balmorhea. Debbie and I did our check-out dive there when we got certified, and have returned repeatedly to give our the gear the once-over before dive trips. One memorable trip had us surfacing to find a light snow falling; the spring-fed pool is a constant 72°-76°, and it was 40° warmer than the air temperature that day.

Another interesting bit of trivia (well, interesting for us, anyway). If you happen to have a copy of the August, 1988, issue of Texas Highways laying around, check out pages 30-31. They feature a particularly handsome couple intent on checking out their scuba gear. You're forgiven if you didn't recognize us in the photo above; Debbie was rocking her Flashdance look, and I had lost my razor a few years earlier.

Photo

We're coming to the end of the series, and I must say that I've been impressed by your ability to ferret out the identity of famous features of West Texas. This next one is obscure enough that if you figure it out as easily as the previous photos, I'll have to consider the possibility that you've installed keylogger software on my computer. Have at it...

Click on the picture to see a larger version (opens in a new window or tab).

Photo
Viewed from 10 miles

West Texas from Above: Part 6
June 11, 2012 6:32 AM | Posted in: ,

Photo of warning signCartographically crafty Gazette readers Jon Wheeler, Joe Lee, and Chuck Rubins all correctly identified photo numero cinco as the famed Odessa Meteor Crater, renowned across the galaxy as, well, a semi-big hole in the ground. Some say it's proof that we Earthlings aren't the only ones who have problems texting and driving. Plus, it has snakes, or at least signs alerting one to the possibility of snakes. Or, this could actually be code for "watch out for alien life forms that might have hitched a ride on a big chunk of rock crashing into our planet." Your guess is as good as mine, but I advised heeding the sign on either account. Seriously, though, it's a registered national natural landmark, so no giggling.

Photo

Well, I didn't think anyone - let alone three people - would recognize that location, so I have no idea how challenging this next one will be. The only hint I'll give is that you don't have to be from the Midland-Odessa area to know what it is.

Click on the picture to see a larger version (opens in a new window or tab).

Photo
Viewed from 15,000'

West Texas from Above: Part 5
June 7, 2012 8:15 PM | Posted in: ,

Astoundingly intelligent Gazette readers Gregg Ulvestad, Chuck Rubins, and Paula McKinney correctly identified aerial photo numero cuatro as the world-famous Monahans Sand Hills State Park.

I have fond memories of the Sand Hills, despite taking two classes of fifth grade boys over for the day as a part of my Sunday School teaching duties. (Word to the wise: windy days and hot dogs don't mix well in that part of the country. I'm still brushing sand out of my teeth, even though that was 20 years ago.) Not only did I learn to sand surf there, but I recall a great zoological moment when, following a particularly wet spring, someone dug up a 9-inch long salamander who had emerged from a lingering water hole. How long had that critter been dormant beneath the sands, waiting for a wet wake-up call? But I digress. For those who didn't recognize the shot, here's something to help you get your bearings. (By the way, Chuck and I would like to know the identity of the oil field offsetting the park to the west.)

Photo

OK, I've been pretty easy on you up to this point, but this is where the gloves come off. I shall bow before your cartographical awesomeness if you can identify the following scene.

By the way, we're taking the weekend off here at the Gazette, because we've been working so gosh darned hard bringing you all this bloggy goodness. So the answer will be posted on Monday.

Click on the picture to see a larger version (opens in a new window or tab).

Photo
Viewed from 10,000'

West Texas from Above: Part 4
June 6, 2012 10:01 AM | Posted in: ,

Loyal Gazette reader Joe Lee once again had way too much time on his hands and easily identified aerial photo numero tres in this series as a view of Big Bend National Park, which covers almost a million acres of the most starkly beautiful country you'll ever lay eyes on. Don't let the apparent desolation fool you; life abounds here. From the National Park Service's website:
Big Bend is famous for its natural resources and spectacular geology. The park is home to more than 1,200 species of plants (including approximately 60 cacti species), 11 species of amphibians, 56 species of reptiles, 40 species of fish, 75 species of mammals, 450 species of birds, and about 3,600 species of insects. The park boasts more types of birds, bats, and cacti than any other national park in the United States.

Photo

We continue our aerial tour of West Texas with another striking natural phenomenon. We get a little closer to earth than before, only about six miles up. This one should be a piece of cake.

Click on the picture to see a larger version (opens in a new window or tab).

Photo
Viewed from 33,000'

West Texas from Above: Part 3
June 4, 2012 8:07 PM | Posted in: ,

Perspicacious Gazette readers Wallace Craig and Berry Simpson correctly identified aerial photo numero dos in this series as a view of Guadalupe Mountains National Park, home of the highest spot in Texas, and an irresistible attraction to hikers from around the country. The most obvious attractions are Guadalupe Peak and the imposing face of El Capitan, shown below. Neither looks too impressive from 28 miles in the sky, but the view from ground level is amazing, as is the one from the top of Guadalupe Peak.

Photo

OK, the first two have been pretty easy, at least for most people familiar with West Texas. It gets a little more challenging now. How good are you at recognizing terrain from an altitude of almost 50 miles? Some people might wonder if this is even a picture of earth.

Click on the picture to see a larger version (opens in a new window or tab).

Photo
Viewed from 49 miles

West Texas from Above: Part 2
June 3, 2012 6:30 AM | Posted in: ,

Alert Gazette reader Joe Lee correctly identified the initial aerial photo in this series as the Yates oil field, located in Pecos County. As indicated below, the town of Iraan is in the northeast quadrant of the photo, and the Pecos River meanders down the east side. The Yates field is one of the largest oil producing properties in the US; more than one billion barrels have been pumped from the field and it's still active.

Photo

Ready for the next mystery scene? This one focuses on one of the most significant natural wonders of West Texas. It's a beautifully desolate area (OK, not that unusual for our part of the country), but that doesn't stop it from attracting thousands of visitors each year.

Click on the picture to see a larger version (opens in a new window or tab).

Photo
Viewed from 28 miles

West Texas from Above: A Series
June 1, 2012 5:11 PM | Posted in: ,

I'm fascinated by aerial photography, and especially by the images provided by Google Earth. Apart from their cartographic usefulness, which has assumed greater significance because of my new job, the different perspective on natural and human-created features provides a constant source of delight. Sure, there's something of a voyeuristic thrill from peering into the neighbors' backyards - or so I've heard - but the real treat is the way that features that are so familiar at ground level take on new characteristics when viewed from miles above the earth. The world somehow becomes more accessible, more comprehensible.

I have no idea how many Gazette readers share this fascination, but I want to issue a friendly challenge. I'm going to post a series of screen captures of various geographic features located across West Texas; the challenge is to see how many of them you recognize. If you've never lived in this area, you'll likely have a hard time identifying any of them, and that's OK. I wouldn't have a clue as to what East Texas looks like from the sky. But if you're a long-time resident of the Llano Estacado or Permian Basin, some or all of these photos should at least have a ring of familiarity to them.

There are nine photos in all. I'll post them one at a time over the course of the next few weeks. Feel free to leave your guesses in the comments or email them to me if my sucky commenting process won't work for you. At some point, I'll post all the answers.

I guess it's only fair to drop a hint for each photo. This first scene should be recognizable to anyone who's in the oil business in West Texas. Oil fields are everywhere, but there aren't many like this one.

Click on the picture to see a larger version (opens in a new window or tab).

Photo
Viewed from 38,000'
I put the video camera on a tripod and trained it on one of the hummingbird feeders on our back porch, and then edited the two-hour recording into the following "best of" video, slowed to 50% to give a better perspective on bird behavior. 

Think of it as a soothing screen saver - perhaps not the most exciting movie ever, but the patient viewer might observe some interesting action, especially at the 6-, 11- and 12-minute points. (Note: Click the full-screen icon -  - to view the movie in, you know, full-screen mode.)


Scary Prairie
April 25, 2012 6:30 AM | Posted in: ,

According to The Weather Channel, the temperature in Midland today will hit 105° In recognition of this dubious achievement, I offer the following.

Photo of dry grass

If my lawn is already looking like this, imagine what August is going to bring. OK, just kidding (sort of). This is an overly bleak perspective of the grass the developers planted to hold down the soil in the new phase of our neighborhood. It was a lush green up until a couple of weeks ago. Now? Uh, not so much. In fact, it looks like a good candidate for a wild fire (Heaven forbid!).

By the way, despite a concerted effort at research, including almost three solid minutes of googling, I still don't know what species of grass this is. This is especially troubling because I was actually on a grass judging team when I was a mere lad in 4-H. Bet you didn't know such a thing existed.

Note: I was going to title this post "Passed Grass" (you know, like a euphemism for death and all that) but found that I'd actually used it before. Dang.

Another Wind Farm Aerial
February 1, 2012 1:04 PM | Posted in: ,

In response to the previous post, my aunt wondered how the wind farm adjacent to her [real] farm looked from outer space. I grabbed the following from Google Earth, which depicts the turbine sites and terrain just outside Muenster, Texas, from ~45,000' above the planet. The photo was taken in 2008; nothing more current is available from the app.

If you squint just right, this looks like either a lightning bolt or a constellation.

Satellite Photo

Back Yard Action
January 18, 2012 9:57 PM | Posted in: ,

I was going through some pictures that I downloaded into iPhoto from one of my cameras and ran across this one. I don't remember taking it, nor do I have any idea how I managed to get the fisheye effect. But there's something about the composition and the action that captures my imagination.

I do know the characters and the storyline...but you don't, unless you were there. Feel free to make up something.

Photo of kids in the back yard

Record-setting Snowfall in Midland
January 9, 2012 9:43 PM | Posted in: ,

Last time I checked, we'd received almost 10.5" of snow today, and it's still coming down. According to the Midland Reporter Telegram, this is an all-time one-day record, and also gives us a record cumulative snowfall for one season.

The "weather event" was an interesting study in contrasts. The city of Lubbock sent snow removal equipment to Midland to help clear roadways, and Midland International Airport was closed for the day by noon. On the other hand, the public schools weren't canceled in either Midland or Odessa (although all the private schools let out early). Many businesses let their employees leave early (ours didn't), but the roads were not dangerous (except for the presence of those who've never mastered the art of self-control).

The one thing we can all agree on is that this will provide some desperately needed moisture, probably the equivalent of an inch or so of rain, and it will soak into the soil. Good, good stuff for a parched land.

Photos? Of course; I thought you'd never ask.


This is the obligatory view of the snow-enhanced pond. The ducks were not amused.


Also not amused was our palm tree.


An interesting predicament: snow-filled traffic lights.


This is a clumsy 360° panorama taken from the hill just north of our neighborhood. Click for a bigger view. There's software that will stitch these pictures together much better than I did by hand, but I was too lazy to look for it. Oh, by the way, the big photo is 3,300 pixels wide.

Bird's Nest Troupe
December 18, 2011 8:28 PM | Posted in: ,

I suspect that the red oak tree in our front yard will not emerge in full foliage next spring. It's a multi-trunk tree, and one of the trunks has been devastated by some unknown assailant - borers, oak wilt, dengue fever, black plague, overexposure to Lady Gaga...who knows? We had it treated by a tree service last year, but they warned us it may have been too far gone to save, and I think they were right.

But, that didn't stop the tree from being a very popular destination for our feathered friends. The leafage on the rest of the tree was quite thick and apparently made for a secure gathering place for a wide variety of birds. Just how popular a destination was only recently revealed, when the tree dropped its leaves after the first hard freeze.

I counted seven (7!) nests in the smallish tree, nests of all shapes, sizes, and quality of construction. You know, sort of like any neighborhood in Houston. I'm sure some of them weren't inhabited this year, being abandoned tenements from an earlier time, although I could be wrong about that as none of them seemed to be as completely deteriorated as you would expect from a full year of West Texas wind.

Anyway, I'm posting photos of six of the nests for your perusal during what I'm sure are boredom-filled holidays. I have no explanation for why I captured only six of the seven nests, but it is, as they say, what it is. And along with all the other things I don't know about this whole situation, I also don't know what kind of birds built any of these nests. Feel free to offer opinions, educated or otherwise. I won't know any different.

Note: In the interest of scientific accuracy, I will note that these photos aren't necessarily all cropped to the same scale. For example, the first nest is much smaller than the others, approximately teacup-sized. It's also the best constructed, obviously built by someone other than the low bidder.

Photo of a bird nest
Photo of a bird nest
Photo of a bird nest
Photo of a bird nest
Photo of a bird nest
Photo of a bird nest

Mocking Bird
December 9, 2011 12:55 PM | Posted in: ,

I was driving past the south pond this morning and something caught my eye on the far bank. I pulled into the clubhouse parking lot, grabbed the camera (which, for once, actually had a charged battery) and set out across the grounds to get a closer look. Turned out to be this guy:

Photo - Great Blue Heron

It's a Great Blue Heron (I hope it has a happier fate than a previous visitor), and at first I thought it was just innocently hanging out. But then I realized that birds can be cruel jokesters, too, because look who was nearby.

Photo - Great Blue Heron and Goose

Yes, it's our good friend, the one-legged goose, and the heron was obviously mocking him, much to the goose's dismay. Appalling behavior, right? It makes me weep for the animal kingdom.

The Art-Producing Instrument As Art
September 14, 2011 6:32 AM | Posted in: ,

I have a fairly open mind when it comes to art, or, more specifically, what constitutes art. The human imagination is a wonderful and mysterious force, and when it's imposed on physical materials in unexpected ways, it evokes a wide range of emotions and reactions from the beholder.

Such as...what the...?

Photo of cameraI can't recall how I ran across this website, but it belongs to a guy whose art medium is cameras. He builds functioning cameras that make a statement about issues he's passionate about. His creations are elaborate, and incorporate both inorganic and organic materials, juxtaposed in ways to shock and/or amaze. 

For example, the camera at right incorporates an actual sample of blood from an HIV+ patient. The blood becomes a #25 red filter, and the photos it produces are eerie, to say the least. Other cameras incorporate insects, "sea creatures," human skulls, and assorted "found" parts. The craftsmanship that goes into each camera is as sophisticated as the imagination that conceived it.

As I mentioned, these are all functioning cameras. If you visit the site, be sure to check out the sample photos taken with each model, as they constitute a different kind of artwork.

Scenes from a train station
July 27, 2011 6:20 AM | Posted in:

It's been a while since I uploaded anything to the Fire Ant Gallery. Here are a couple that started out as photos taken at the Santa Fe railroad station.

Highly processed photo
Highly processed photo
Ever heard of the "Canon Hack Development Kit (CHDK)"? If you have, I bow before your superior geekiness. I had never heard of it until I decided to research how I might be able to use my Canon PowerShot S95 to shoot in time-lapse mode. Out of the box, this otherwise highly competent point-and-shoot (P&S) won't allow you to automatically take a series of photos at set intervals.

Enter the CHDK, a collection of free software that extends the firmware of many Canon compact digital cameras - but not digital SLRs - and adds capabilities to those cameras that go far beyond their out-of-the-box features. One key feature of CHDK is that those enhancements are non-destructive and non-permanent. The camera's original firmware is not altered, and the CHDK programs can be easily and permanently removed at any time. Here's a brief FAQ about CHDK that documents some of the enhancements.

Well, that's the theory, anyway. And to be honest, I couldn't find any verifiable instances where someone had hurt, let alone ruined, their camera by installing CHDK. Still, the concept and processes are inscrutable enough to give one pause before diving in. Heck, I thought about it for all of about twenty seconds before I got busy rewriting the innards of my camera. (Don't try this at home, unless you really want to.)

I thought I might post a full how-to article on installing and using CHDK, but there are plenty of good articles on the web and there's no reason to invent the wheel. If you're a Mac owner, this is a good resource; here's another that's geared for Windows users.

It might be helpful to understand the basic concepts, without going into all the gory details, so here's a quick summary of the process:

  1. Right off the bat, you need to determine the version of firmware your camera uses. This is critical to ensuring that you install the proper version of CHDK. For me, the perfect solution was ACID - the Automatic Camera Identifier and Downloader. This free program, available for OSX, Windows, and Ubuntu Linux, is an all-in-one firmware identifier and CHDK downloader program. Once you download and install ACID, you can discover your firmware version simply by dragging a photo from your camera's SD card into the ACID program's window. The program not only identifies the firmware, it provides a link for downloading the proper CHDK for your camera.

  2. You need to have a properly formatted SD card onto which the CHDK can be installed. I found another free program called SDMInst that performed that task for me with just a few click. Note that this program works only with OSX, but I'm sure there are other similar apps for Windows.

  3. After the CHDK is installed, the SD card must be locked (you'll still be able to take photos); I think this prevents the programs from being overwritten by the camera's firmware, but that's just a guess. Once this is done and the card is re-inserted into the camera, you can confirm that installation was successful by the appearance of a new boot-up screen that appears briefly on your camera's LCD screen. Here's what mine looks like:
Photo - Startup screen of S95

In addition, the CHDK installs a new menu screen that's accessible by pushing a series of buttons on the camera. On the S95, for example, pushing the print button followed by the menu button brings up the following menu:


Photo - CHDK menu screen of S95

I have no idea what most of these do, because I haven't had a chance to research them. But the sub-menus provide an inkling of their capabilities. For example:

Photo - CHDK sub-menu screen of S95

This particular sub-menu allows you to override the camera's factory settings for things like ISO, aperture, and shutter speed. And, again, anything you set on this menu is reset to the factory default as soon as you turn the camera off, so there's no danger of permanently altering the configuration.

Just for comparison purposes, here's the default menu screen, pre-CHDK, on the S95:

Photo - Default menu screen of S95

Boring, huh? Prettier, yeah...but still boring. 

Now that I've got it, what do I do with it?

As I mentioned at the beginning, the reason I embarked on this weird journey was to figure out a way to equip the S95 with time-lapse photo capability. So, installation of the CHDK is simply a means to an end.

The final step in my quest to equip my camera with automatic time-lapse capability was to install an intervalometer script into the CHDK. Ultra Intervalometer is such a script, a free uBASIC program that's easily installed by simply downloading and copying into the Scripts folder in the CHDK directory on your camera's SD card. Once installed, you have to manually load the script via the CHDK menu each time you use the camera. Here's the menu screen highlighting the script that will activate the time-lapse program:

Photo - CHDK script activation screen of S95

Once this script is loaded, the following parameter screen is used to configure how you want the time-lapse production to proceed: you can set the number of shots (or specify unlimited), the time interval between shots, and how long a delay you want before the first shot is taken (thereby kicking off the time-lapse; this would be helpful if you want to start the program in the middle of the night without having to actually get up and press the shutter button). Here's what the parameter menu looks like:

Photo - Ultra Intervalometer screen of S95

The benefit of using a digital camera for time-lapse photos vs. the GoPro is that I can use the digicam's built-in settings for flash and autofocus, as well as taking advantage of the zoom lens.

I've done a very rudimentary test of the time-lapse capability and it does work as advertised. I'll post a better example at some point in the future, as well as share any additional cool applications that might be useful via CHDK. 

By the way, you can write your own CHDK scripts, if you know BASIC (I don't), and load other scripts if you know how to use a browser (I do).

Making a Stop Action Video
July 10, 2011 8:56 AM | Posted in: ,

Note: After I posted this, I realized that what I'm referring to as a "stop action" video is more correctly called a "time lapse" video. Pardon my lazy usage of terminology; I'm still learning this newfangled moving pictures thang and I'm not yet convinced it's not just a fad.

I tested the stop action feature of my new GoPro HD Hero video camera yesterday evening, and the results, while not exactly mind-blowing, are still encouraging. 

I set up the camera on a tripod using the optional mount, and placed it in front of one of our hummingbird feeders on the back porch. I set the camera to take a still photo every 30 seconds until the battery ran out. That resulted in 380 pictures, or just over 3 hours of filming. (I didn't bother attaching the camera to an outlet for unlimited photos - well, until the SD card was full - but that was an option.)

I then imported the photos into iPhoto '11 on my Mac, then exported them to a new folder on my hard drive. I opened iMovie '11, created a new project, selected all the photos from the directory, and dragged them into the project section of iMovie.

I selected all the photos in iMovie and set the duration for each to .1 seconds using the "Clip Adjustments" menu. I also turned off the Ken Burns effect by selecting "Fixed" in the "Cropping, Ken Burns & Rotation" menu. This combination resulted in a fast-moving, smooth stop action video of 50 seconds in duration.

I exported the movie in .m4v format, uploaded it to Vimeo, and the result is the following video. It's nothing dramatic, but if nothing else, you can get a feel for our weather pattern by watching the clouds appear and dissipate without providing any relief!

With the right subject matter, this could be a really fun process to experiment with.


The post title is a little provocative but not technically inaccurate. See, MLB gave me one of these for my birthday and I finally figured out how to work it well enough to wear it on our tandem ride today through north Midland this morning. While the actual footage of the 22 mile jaunt is around 90 minutes (including some preliminary and post-ride scenes), I didn't figure anyone would actually be that interested in a tour of our fair city, so I compressed the timeline just the teensiest bit...well, by 800%, to be exact.

GoPro HD Helmet HEROIn case you're too busy to follow the link above, the "one of these" I'm referring to is a GoPro HD Helmet HERO video camera and housing, complete with a helmet mount. It's a wee little guy, weighing less than 4 ounces with battery, and under 6 ounces including the housing. It came with a couple of methods of helmet attachment, including a complicated harness that looks like something they'd put on Hannibal Lecter. I opted for the simpler - albeit no less nerdy-looking - "vented helmet straps" that weave through the holes in the typical modern bike helmet. The camera is snug and secure, but gives the wearer the appearance of, as Debbie put it, Marvin the Martian. Of course, that's a good look for me, so I went with it.

This truly is an amazing little tyke, capable of full 1080p HD video and 5 megapixel stills. With the right housing back, you can take it 180 feet underwater, and it comes with interchangeable backs that are rated for mounting speeds in excess of 120 mph on your car's hood or motorcycle handlebar. Video is recorded on a standard SDHC card (up to 9 hours on a 32 gig card). You can even program the camera to take a series of stills at fixed intervals ranging from 1-60 seconds, for that time-lapse masterpiece you've been planning.

I'd love to take it skiing, but I don't do that anymore, so cycling will probably be the most common application (although I'm considering mounting it on my lawnmower for a truly awesome view of lawn care). And maybe someday I'll have a chance to go scuba diving again. The HERO is totally coming along if that happens.

So, here's the vid from this morning, pretty much unedited except for that speeding up thing I mentioned. I might later post a more leisurely version of parts of the ride so you can see what our normal cycling routes look like, but this will have to do for now.


Light Field Cameras: Another Segway?
June 30, 2011 6:26 AM | Posted in: ,

Remember how the Segway was going to revolutionize our lives and rock our worlds? I guess the little teeter-scooter has done that, if your life revolves around leisurely touristy tours of certain major city downtown areas. Anyway, we're now on the brink of yet another life-changing technological breakthrough, the Lytro™ light field camera and while the initial hype does look impressive, I remain skeptical that this is not simply another Petite Lap Giraffe.

I don't profess to understand the science behind the concept of a light field camera, but in practice, it appears that such a camera uses software to perform certain light-capturing functions that traditional camera hardware can do well but not perfectly or completely. The result can be photos in which the point of focus can be changed after the fact, or that can be converted from 2D to 3D on-the-fly. There is a certain amount of "that's so cool!" evoked by clicking on various parts of the photos in Lytro's Living Picture gallery, and watching those parts shift into focus while the rest of the photo blurs out of focus, but I'm not sure the same effect couldn't be achieved with a clever bit of Javascript (and, indeed, it appears that the gallery is powered by jQuery with a Flash wrapper; never fear, it does work on iOS devices).

It does occur to me that this technology...this whole concept, in fact...presupposes that print is dead. Shifting points of focus, or changing perspective, or 2D/3D conversions aren't too applicable to painted pieces of paper. That's not necessarily a bad thing, or a wrong-headed approach; after all, what percentage of the photos you look at nowadays are delivered via screen instead of print? For me, it's probably over 75%, although I'm don't actually know how to go about estimating that.

Well, anyway. I'm all for technology that makes cameras smarter, faster, and more capable in low light conditions. I'm impressed by the promise of photos that offer enhanced post-camera processing flexibility. Can Lytro actually fulfill the hype by bringing to market a camera that achieves these goals? I don't know; I clicked on the "Reserve a Camera" link and got my name in the hat to find out more as things progress...but I'm also on the waiting list for one of those awesome Petite Lap Giraffes, too.

Fast Company has some insights regarding Lytro, including an interesting comparison of the company's prospects to those of Dyson, the vacuum cleaner company.

Throwing Green
June 17, 2011 4:15 PM | Posted in: ,

I don't know what category this goes in, but I picked "Art" because it's the sort of thing that probably draws big bucks in a Manhattan gallery. Heck, for all I know it really is a piece of performance art:

Photo of a can of green paint spilled in a parking lot

It wasn't until I imported this photo - which, incidentally, was shot in the parking lot of Academy Sports this afternoon - that I realized that the dark stain off to the right gives the scene a weird 3D look, making the paint spill and can appear to be floating above the asphalt. That alone qualifies it as art in my book.

Note to whomever lost control of their Valspar: don't cry about it; I can assure you that this paint looks much better where it is than where you had planned to put it.

Overheard Bird
June 4, 2011 5:27 PM | Posted in: ,

All afternoon, while puttering around in the front yard, we've been hearing this odd bird call, kind of a plaintive "squawk," not harsh like a grackle's, but a bit more melodic. It sounded familiar to me, but I just couldn't place it. Nor could I discern its source.

Then, a few minutes ago, the call was closer and I was able to zero in on the apparent source...at which time I remembered where I'd heard it before. It was in this same scene:

Photo - Quail on top of roof

Do you recognize the bird? Probably not. Here, try this one:

Close-up Photo - Quail on top of roof

Yep, it's a quail - specifically a scaled or blue quail - apparently pretending to be an eagle or a hawk. I have no idea why a lone quail would fly up to a rooftop and walk along the ridgeline, squawking at the world. Lonely? Bragging? Defying? Who knows what goes on inside the brain of a quail? I certainly don't. But I suddenly got a craving for jalapeños and bacon.

Random Holiday Nature Scenes
May 30, 2011 9:30 PM | Posted in: ,

We had a rather uneventful Memorial Day, without much to report. We did go on a couple of walks around the neighborhood, and I thought I'd share a few sightings of local flora and fauna.

The first was actually last night, and not local at all, at least not in the "neighborhood" sense of the word. We were coming home from visiting with friends who live about ten miles south of town, and we spotted something white flashing in the pasture not far from the road. I immediately recognized it as the north end of a southbound pronghorn (which, of course, is not really an antelope). I've always heard that there are a few pronghorn around Midland County, but this was my first sighting. Very cool. Unfortunately, while we did have a camera in the car, we weren't quick enough to get a shot.

Photo - Cottontail rabbit relaxing

The next two pictures are of two pairs of quail that were hanging around the north pond. The first one seems to be doing his impression of the king of the hill (I guess he's got a bird's eye view of things):

Photo - Quail standing on boards

The next one is a photo of the other two quail flying away in a panic. I had spotted them earlier and figured they'd fly when we got closer, so I had my point-and-shoot aimed in the direction I guessed they'd fly. They were as fast as I expected, and I didn't know if I'd even gotten them in the shot until I downloaded the photos onto my computer.

Photo - Quail flying away

The final photo is simply a reminder that if you want to find something green in Midland, you can drive out to Woodland Park and pretend we're not in a drought of epic proportions.

Photo - Wildflowers along sidewalk
It's important to keep the Historical Records up to date, so here's what's happening in the front part of la hacienda:

Barn Swallows - When last we checked in on the little #@*%& fellows, their nest was almost complete. It's now finished and positioned so close to the ceiling that we can't see inside the nest, even with our tallest ladder. They think they're so smart, but they underestimate the vastness of my tool inventory, specifically the small round mirror mounted on the telescoping, articulating arm. (I knew I'd have a use for that someday, besides helping me locate stuff that I drop behind the workbench.)

So, here's what's inside the mysterious nest:

Photo of barn swallow egg reflected in mirror

Interesting that there's only one egg in the nest. I thought they usually had a multi-egg clutches.

By the way, I hope you're impressed by the photo, as I stood near the top of a 12-foot ladder, holding the mirror in one hand and the camera in the other, while Debbie re-read my life insurance policy.

Moving on to the flora, I'm pleased to report that our pomegranate-tree-reborn-as-a-bush is growing like a weed, which it is, by definition. Anyway, we put this funky three-sided tomato cage around it to tame its wildness, and it's now 3' tall. Pretty sure it won't have any fruit this year, but we're hopeful about 2012, assuming the world doesn't end.

Photo of pomegranate bush

And, finally, our palm tree has fully recovered from its close encounter of the frostbite kind. It's still a bit lopsided from where Debbie had to prune the dead fronds following that bitter freeze (feels a bit weird to be writing about it, given that it's around 100° as I type this).

Photo of palm tree
By the way, don't let the apparently green grass in our lawn fool you; it's becoming increasingly heat-stressed due to the watering restrictions. I'm not sure why it looks this good; the back lawn is more brown than green. And based on the long range weather forecast, it's going to get worse before it gets better. Pray for rain!

Stationary Hummer
May 24, 2011 6:02 PM | Posted in: ,

So, say you're a hummingbird trying to cope with 40mph+ winds, blowing dust and smoke from wildfires on the north and the south, temperatures in the 90s and humidity around 5%. What would you do?

Probably the same thing this little guy is doing...perching on a tomato cage sheltered by a concrete block wall, and leaving the hovering to the helicopters.

Photo - Hummingbird perched on tomato cage
If eternal vigilance is the price of freedom, we've just been enslaved due to inattention.

I stepped onto the front porch this morning, just before daybreak, and this caught my eye:

Photo - Barn Swallow Nest

I swear, that nest was not there yesterday at noon, when Debbie and I did our usual lunch hour tour of the front yard (yes, our lives are filled with excitement and danger!). But it does explain why barn swallows were so seemingly perturbed as we sat on the front porch last night, eating ice cream and reading, until sunset. We thought they just wanted to go to bed, since they frequently perch overnight on the small ledge provided by the ceiling trim.

I had planned to check the nest this morning and if there were no eggs in it, to knock it down. But I did a quick check of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and found that I'm too late. Once the nest is built, it's illegal to destroy it, whether or not it has eggs or babies. We'll have to wait until the birds migrate away next fall.

The good news is that the nest is not over our front door, and is situated so that the inevitable mess will be manageable. I'd rather it not be there at all, and I take it somewhat personally that the birds won this battle, but the war is a long one and I'll bandage my wounds and plot my counterstrike. The immediate price the birds will pay will be my camera invading their space on a frequent basis.

Photo - Barn Swallow Flying in Front of Nest
Before there was Flash, the primary means of displaying movement on a web page was via animated GIFs, low resolution graphics with mostly clumsy transitions. Animated GIFs have mostly been relegated to retro-cult status, with very few serious uses for the format (although done properly, with the right graphics, they provide a quite passable substitute for a Flash banner ad). But that's changing, at least artistically, with the increasing popularity of a technique called "cinemagraphy" (not to be confused with the film-making term, cinematography). 

Cinemagraphs are animated GIFs in which only part of the scene moves. The effect can be quite subtle, and also quite striking and unexpected. Someone has referred to them as "Harry Potter style moving photos," and if you've seen any of those movies, you can probably relate to that description. Of course, a picture is worth a thousand words, and a semi-animated one is surely worth even more.

Cinemagraph by Jamie Beck
Photo by Jamie Beck; animation by Kevin Burg; posted on model Coco Rocha's blog

This is a great example of how a photo can be made even more striking with the addition of subtle movement, and the repurposing of the GIF format is brilliant: old and busted is made into new and hotness.

This example was created via a collaboration between photographer Jamie Beck and web designer Kevin Burg. This interview doesn't provide any insight into what techniques they used to create this specific image, but tutorials for making cinemagraphs are starting to pop up here and there

I'd love to try my hand at this, now that I have an HD camcorder. It appears that all you need is a suitable short bit of video and Photoshop (to be honest, while I think I knew that you could edit video in Photoshop, I've never tried it and had completely forgotten that fact). Sounds simple, right?

Actually, making an animated GIF in Photoshop is quite simple, almost point-and-click simple. The above example is a series of 35 layers, each displayed with an interval of .07 seconds, and set to loop endlessly. The key is to choose the right source image.

The downside to cinemagraphs is that they yield very large files. The one shown above is almost 400kb and I've seen some that are multi-megabyte in size. That makes them somewhat impractical for inclusion in the typical website design, although the size and composition of the image can be managed to yield smaller sizes.

Avocet Video
April 20, 2011 2:32 PM | Posted in: ,

Remember the flock of avocets that visited our neighborhood pond last weekend? Sure you do! Anyway, I finally got around to editing the video I shot and I've uploaded it to YouTube. You can either view it there via this link, or just click the following embed. Note that the source footage* is HD so you can embiggen it in full-screen mode if you wish.



Please excuse the poor audio quality. The wind was pretty strong (I know; that hardly ever happens in West Texas) and my camcorder has a built-in windscreen, I'll be darned if I know how to use it. 

On the plus side, this was a good excuse to finally learn to use iMovie '09, which I've been resisting for a long time. Turns out it has some great features; I was able to bump up the contrast and saturation a bit to overcome the flat light caused by the wildfire smoke in the air, and the last 20 seconds of the video feature the slow-motion capabilities of the application.

*Isn't it interesting that we still refer to video as "footage," even though that measurement is completely irrelevant in our digital darkroom. Ooh, there's another one...

Software Review: AKVIS HDRFactory 1.0
April 19, 2011 9:49 AM | Posted in: ,

High Dynamic Range (HDR) images are all the rage nowadays. A quick scroll through this showcase of HDR photography shows why: HDR images can be dramatic and hyper-realistic.

HDR images exhibit a greater range between the lightest and darkest areas of an image than normally captured by a camera. The goal is to embue the image with the same dynamic range that the human eye can record (or even more, if the desired effect is artistic rather than realistic).

HDR images can be created in several different ways. The most common method is to merge normal, standard dynamic range photos in such a way as to capture the lightest and darkest details in the merged image. This merging is done via software, and we'll talk more about this approach in a moment. 

The other alternative is hardware based. More digital cameras now include an HDR feature that allows in-camera processing and creation of an HDR image. This is generally accomplished when the camera takes multiple exposures of the scene - each exposure being "underexposed" or "overexposed" - and then using onboard processing to generate a single image that incorporates the details from the extremes.

In the end, all HDR imaging is software based, whether done in the camera or in the computer. Analysis of the lightest and darkest ends of the range of luminance is necessary in order to make sure details aren't lost in the final image.

In addition, all HDR imaging requires at least two source images - again, one that emphasizes the darker end of the luminance range of the scene, and one that emphasizes the brighter end of the range. The most common method of capturing these contrasting photos with a digital camera is by using a bracketing method of exposure. Photograph a scene with the camera set for one or more stops under "normal" and then take a second photo of the same scene with a setting of one or more stops over "normal." (Obviously, unless you have a camera that can simultaneously capture multiple F-stops with one shutter click, you'll probably need to use a tripod to ensure that the photos are capturing the identical scene.)

The tricky part of the process comes after the images are captured. How can you best combine them to create the HDR image?

There are a number of applications that can be used to generate HDR images. Photoshop CS5 has a couple of different approaches ("Merge to HDR" and "HDR Toning"), but it's expensive and is overkill if all you want is a quick method of creating an HDR image.

In that case, your best bet is a dedicated application geared specifically toward HDR imaging. There are several to choose from. I've tested Photomatix by HDRsoft ($99; Mac/Windows) and it's fairly straightforward and yields good results. 

A similar, less-expensive alternative to Photomatix is HDRFactory ($69; Mac/Windows), one of the many image processing applications offered by Akvis, a Russian software company. I was recently offered the chance to test and review HDRFactory 1.0, which I installed on my Mac Pro running OS 10.6.7 (Snow Leopard).

My source images were taken using a tripod-mounted Canon Digital Rebel XT. I used the camera's auto exposure bracketing feature to take three photos, one normally exposed, and two bracketed with -2 and +2 F-stops. (For those who obsess over metadata, the -2 was F/10, the normal was F/5, and the +2 was F/4.5. All photos were 1/1000 sec. and ISO100; 31mm focal length.)

Here are the source images (normal on top):
Photo - Normal exposure
F-stop: 0

Photo - Underexposure
F-stop: -2

Photo - Overexposure
F-stop: +2

After transferring the photos to my hard drive, I opened HDRFactory (there doesn't appear to be a way to import photos directly from a camera into the application, although that's not a big deal) and selected the photos for processing. The program handles at least sixteen different file formats, including proprietary RAW formats for all major camera manufacturers. My photos happened to be plain vanilla, 7-megapixel JPGs.

Those accustomed to the elegant interfaces of most Mac OS X-native applications will find HDRFactory's layout a bit Windows-centric (I even flashed back to Mac OS 6). The interface is functional and intuitive, but hardly slick. Here's a screenshot of the basic window:

Screenshot of program window

Lots of icons and control bars. Fortunately, the application's tooltip function works well, providing a summary in the yellow box of the purpose of each icon and option as you move your cursor over each of them.

And HDRFactory is all about options. The sheer number of detailed parameter combinations and settings is staggering, and I don't profess to either understand or have tested all or even most of them. For this reason, the program is easy to use, but difficult to master - true mastery requires a solid grasp of the principles of digital imaging in general, and HDR imaging in particular. This makes it a solid choice for pros, but the ability to quickly experiment (or to use the program's built-in presets) also make it a non-intimidating option for beginners and those who just want to play around with HDR to see what can be done. For my test, I stayed with the "AKVIS Default" preset.

Of course, the true measure of image processing software is in the quality of its output. Below are comparisons of the HDR output from the three programs I mentioned above: Photoshop CS5 (two images), Photomatix, and HDRFactory. All images were generated using each program's default settings.

Photoshop - HDR Toning
Photoshop CS5 - HDR Toning

Photoshop - Merge to HDR Pro
Photoshop CS5 - Merge to HDR Pro

Photomatix
Photomatix

HDRFactory
HDRFactory - "AKVIS Default"

As you can see, the results vary widely, and "the best" result is a matter of personal preference. However, I did notice more artifacts in the HDRFactory image (look closely at the sky around the upper branches of the tree and you'll see the subtle white pixelated artifacts; they're missing from the other versions). The HDRFactory image is also 10-20% larger than the others.

Again, I didn't experiment much with the myriad of options available in HDRFactory, but there's not a single significant technical aspect of the image that can't be easily tweaked via the program's settings. And once you find a combination of settings that you like, you can save that combination as a default option, saving considerable time for future use.

If you already have Photoshop and don't often work with HDR images, a standalone program like HDRFactory may not be attractive, but the price and control of the program make it almost irresistible for those who want a standalone HDR application. (And if you want to use it seamlessly in conjunction with Photoshop, HDRFactory comes with a plugin option. Mac users have to buy it separately; it's bundled with the standalone Windows app.)

Before/After Image Viewer
March 16, 2011 1:12 PM | Posted in: ,

The New York Times website has an incredible series of satellite photos showing the effects of the Japanese earthquake and tsunami. They use a slider effect to allow you to instantly compare "before and after" images of the same scene, and it's a very effective technique.

I was curious about how they accomplished this. I assumed it was done in jQuery, and I was right. A quick search uncovered this tutorial and I couldn't wait to try it out.

I grabbed a photo from our recent visit to Hoover Dam and did some quick-and-dirty Photoshopping. I uploaded both versions, and then applied the script and CSS (which I modified slightly) from the tutorial. The result is shown below. Click on the vertical line in the photo and drag it to the left or right to uncover or cover the modified photo. You can also click anywhere on either side of the line to move it to that point. [Note: While this should work in most browsers, you must have Javascript enabled.]

I don't know whether I'll ever have a practical use for this technique in my work, but it's a cool effect.

"Dancers Among Us"
January 30, 2011 8:31 AM | Posted in: ,

So, I'm a fan of dancing, and I'm a fan of photography. Thus, this series called "Dancers Among Us" just absolutely fascinates me. I think you'll find it equally fascinating. There are more than 120 photographs in the collection, but it's really worth the time to page through the gallery.

The pictures are essentially stop-action photos of dancers performing moves or contortions in situations that seem incongruous. 

And, for sheer whimsy, this is my favorite photo fo the collection.

New Camera: Canon S95
December 31, 2010 10:47 AM | Posted in: ,

Wired has published its 10 Most Significant Gadgets of 2010, and there aren't many surprises. Apple landed three devices on the list: its iPhone 4, the MacBook Air, and the iPad (Wired's #1 pick), which seems to annoy some of Wired's readers to no end.

Photo - Canon S95But what really caught my eye was the inclusion of a point-and-shoot camera, Canon's PowerShot S95. Wired's editors raved about the little camera's features and especially its fast and long-zoom lens. I was excited to see it on the list because I got one for Christmas*, courtesy of My Lovely Bride.

I'm still learning how to use the camera, but first impressions are that it's a very serviceable replacement for an entry-level SLR, and for many people may be the only camera they need.

Canon has packed an amazing array of features into the pocket-sized device: 10 megapixel stills, 720p HD video, 28-105mm (equivalent) zoom lens, high speed image processor, and image stabilization. It has the ability to capture images in RAW format as well as JPG+RAW, and provides multi-aspect image mode options. The camera also accommodates Canon's HF-DC1 external flash for more control over flash photography (the link is to Canon's site, but you can get it for $100 via Amazon.com).

The S95 allows full manual control of shooting modes, but it also has a myriad of preprogrammed modes and special effects, including the in-camera ability to replace colors in a scene, to lighten or darken skin tone, to create HDR photos, and to apply a tilt-shift effect to the image. It can even snap a photo in self-timer mode when someone in the scene winks at the camera. (Is there a big demand for that?)

One of the minor miracles of the camera is how quickly it's ready to shoot when you turn it on. I tried to measure the interval between pressing the "on" button and completion of the ready mode, but it was only about one second.

If you're looking for a carry-everywhere camera that provides the flexibility of an SLR, the ease of a point-and-shoot, throws in HD video, and is less than $400, I can't imagine a better alternative than the S95.

*Funny story about this. I opened the gift and apparently had a puzzled look, because Debbie said, "well, you put it on your wish list!" I didn't remember doing that, and she claimed that I had blogged about it just a few months earlier. I knew my memory was spotty, but didn't realize it was that bad. A day or so later she said she went back on the Gazette and found the post where I mentioned I'd like to have one...and it was from October, 2009 (and just a brief mention in a Random Thursday post at that). I felt a bit better.

The Sci-Fi World of Insects
November 1, 2010 2:19 PM | Posted in: ,

I walked over to the north pond yesterday, hoping to get some photos of the big crane that's been hanging out the past few weeks. He flew away before I could do that, so I sat at the water's edge waiting for him to return. He never came back (thanks to you, Mr. Loudmouth Cell Phone Talking Walker), but I found other things to distract me. Such as the secret alien world of flying insects.

Click on the small images for bigger versions, and to go through them slideshow-style.



New Gallery Images
October 21, 2010 4:40 AM | Posted in: ,

I had no idea I'd fallen so far behind in posting new images to the Gallery.

For simple notes regarding each picture, visit the Gallery. To view the full-sized images on this page, click the thumbnails below.

Pumpjack Railroad Track Clouds and Sun Butterfly on Orange Flower Flower Sulfur Butterfly on Flower Spider and Web Spider and Web Praying Mantis on Crape Myrtle Dew Covered Mushroom Bee and Morning Glory Flower Fall Flowers Fall Flowers Dead Butterfly
We've all heard stories about the tendency of the female praying mantis to bite the head off the male after mating, right? Well, that's a gross exaggeration, and unfair to the species. In point of fact, the female bites off the head before mating, which, according to this article, spurs the guy on.

Hard to believe, huh? Yeah, that's what I thought until I spotted an oddly constructed insect on our crape myrtle at lunch today. Click on the small photos to see the gory details.

Photo of mating mantidsPhoto of mating mantidsPhoto of mating mantids

I'm sure there's a cautionary tale here, somewhere, but I'm trying really hard not to think about it.

Mesmerizing Morph
September 13, 2010 4:39 PM | Posted in:

This is the most amazing thing I've seen in quite a while. Many adjectives come to into play, including "amusing," "terrifying," and "mysterious" but "mesmerizing" was the one that ruled them all for me. (Note: This will work best if you have a pretty speedy internet connection.)


Source: Petapixel

Dos Burros
August 17, 2010 2:31 PM | Posted in: ,

There are two burros pastured about a quarter mile from our house. Every so often, something will set them off - a rattlesnake, a coyote, perhaps even each other - and we'll hear their braying all around the neighborhood.

I took a photo of them a year or two back, when we were in the middle of an extreme drought. I just stumbled across the image and liked the way the light of the setting sun added some contrast to the picture. I applied a little Photoshopping (OK, more than a little), and voila!

Stylized photo of two burros, one white and one black

New Gallery Images
July 30, 2010 1:33 PM | Posted in:

I discovered I had a few images backlogged and I've now added them to the Gallery, including a larger version of this one:

Stylized photo of a Scarlet Darter Dragonfly

Dragonfly
July 18, 2010 2:23 PM | Posted in: ,

Debbie spotted this dragonfly as we were walking around the pond earlier today. I didn't have my camera with me, but we returned about 30 minutes later and the insect was still hanging around (actually, there were two of them, chasing one another with unknown motivations).

According to this website, this is a Scarlet Darter Dragonfly (Crocothemis erythraea). Whatever the name, it's a gorgeous specimen.

Photo - Scarlet Darter Dragonfly
Photo - Scarlet Darter Dragonfly

High Wire Act
July 7, 2010 8:33 AM | Posted in: ,

This walking stick was hanging from an electrical line over our B&B at Canyon Lake last week, barely in reach of my zoom lens. I don't know what he thought he'd find up there, and he seemed to make a great target for a hungry bird, but I guess he knew what he was doing. Well, insofar as any insect "knows" anything.

This is a vastly different kind of "stick" compared to the one I photographed last year. This one is Mike Tyson, while that one is Michael Cera.

Photo - Walking Stick on Electrical Line

Sunset
July 6, 2010 5:46 PM | Posted in: ,

So, how was your sunset yesterday?

Ours was pretty good.

Photo of a West Texas sunset
Photo of a West Texas sunset

Oriole
May 29, 2010 3:37 PM | Posted in: ,

There's something funky going on inside my camera, because this photo of an oriole in my neighbor's tree is definitely not accurate, color-wise. But it's still a cool bird, and one that's not commonly found around here.


American Basket Flower
May 27, 2010 1:55 PM | Posted in: ,

I love these big flowers, with their mix of delicate fronds and business-like spines.

This and a few other new images will be up at the Gallery pretty soon.

Photo - American Basket Flower set against blue sky and clouds

Flaming Sky
May 25, 2010 6:26 AM | Posted in: ,

Photo of sunset and clouds

New Neighbors
May 24, 2010 6:32 PM | Posted in: ,

I recently wrote about the mockingbird nest in one of the trees in our front yard. The fact is, while we don't have that many trees, and they're not that big, those we do have are apparently quite attractive to the local birds. Besides the aforementioned mockingbirds, we have a western king bird nest in our live oak, and then there's this:

Dove nest in palm tree

Can you make out that mass of junk in the middle of the palm tree (and we're using the word "tree" quite loosely here; it's more of a palm bush or palm shrub). It's a dove's nest, perched precariously a full three feet above the ground.

We discovered it last weekend, and noticed it only when the nesting dove exploded from the tree as we walked by. Closer inspection revealed this (it's been a while...forever, in fact, since I've been able to photograph down into a nest without a ladder):

Dove nest with eggs in palm tree

The mother is quite skittish, and with good reason. She didn't exactly pick an obscure spot for the young 'uns. But I was able to point a telephoto lens around the corner and catch her hard at work:

Dove nesting in palm tree

As soon as she spotted me, she burst from the nest and took up residence on the neighbor's roof, keeping an eye on me:

Dove on roof

Dove as a species don't strike me as very intelligent; they're the avian counterpart to sheep. However, this choice of location for a nest isn't as dumb as it might seem. Sure, it's close to the ground, but it's also protected by a seven foot wall and locked gates. There's danger from weather, but that's a given regardless of location, but, otherwise, unless another marauding bird makes an appearance, this may be a good place to raise a family. We'd like to think of our neighborhood in those terms, anyway.

Deluge Aftermath
May 15, 2010 3:26 PM | Posted in: ,

If you live in West Texas then yesterday's torrential rain is old news, but a 3"+ rainfall is still rare enough in these parts to make it worth writing about...or at least worth posting a few photos.

Our neighborhood didn't sustain any damage from the rain or the hail, other than leaves knocked off various shrubs and trees. The drainage system out here performed admirably, unlike in other parts of Midland. And Debbie and I actually missed most of the excitement as we were enjoying Iron Man 2 while the heaviest part of the storm moved across the city (although it was sometimes hard to distinguish movie sound effects from Mother Nature's).

Here's a photo of our neighborhood's south pond. The water level is about 4' higher than normal. If you can't quite make out the sign, it says "No Swimming or Wading," and it's normally on dry ground. That junk floating in the water is mulch that washed down from the bank.

Photo of partially submerged dock

Here's another view showing the sidewalk that normally leads to the dock.

Photo of partially submerged dock

Despite the heavy rains, we still managed to have a spectacular sunset.

Photo of sunset and thunderhead

The thunderhead in the distance was moving away from us. We were more than happy to share it with someone else.

More Gallery Images
May 13, 2010 2:17 PM | Posted in: ,

OK, you should know the drill by now when you see that post title. Drop by the Gallery to see a half dozen new images, not all of them as weird as this:

Photo of cottontail rabbit

More Nature Photography
May 10, 2010 4:18 PM | Posted in: ,

I was driving north on "A" Street this morning, returning to the neighborhood after a quick run to the bank, and caught a flash of movement across the road. I pulled over, grabbed the little Sony point-and-shoot that I keep in the car for just such occasions, and got this:

Photo of a wild turkey
Photo of a wild turkey

Yeah, I know; it looks like the Loch Ness monster but it's actually a wild turkey. I've never seen one around Midland. I apologize for the lack of detail in the photos but this bird was quite skittish and my camera was maxed out. Anyone else ever seen a wild turkey this close to the Midland city limits?

Another cool thing. When I got out of the car to take the second photo, I glanced down and spotted this wildflower:

Photo of a wildflower

It has a vague resemblance to a bluebonnet, but the color is amazing. I was as impressed with the flower as I was with the bird.

West Texas Wildflowers
May 6, 2010 8:22 AM | Posted in: ,

Our part of the state is better known for tumbleweeds than wildflowers, but when we get a little spring rainfall, things change dramatically.

I took a 30-minute stroll yesterday morning, and within a three-block area found sixteen different varieties of wildflowers. OK, most of them are technically flowering weeds, but, you know, potato/potahto.

Some of these may at first glance appear to be duplicates, but if you look closely, you'll see that they're different varieties. And please don't ask me to identify them; the only ones I can name are the bluebonnet, the chocolate daisy, and the purple nightshade.

Click on the photo for a bigger version.

Update: I spent some time browsing various wildflower-related websites and I *think* I've identified most of the flowers. Feel free to correct me or to provide identities for the three species I couldn't match to anything in my "research."

Top row (l-r): Blue curls, Huisache daisy, Purple nightshade, Coreopsis
2nd row (l-r): Limestone gaura, Chocolate daisy, Unknown, Rabbit tobacco
3rd row (l-r): Blackfoot daisy, Gray vervain, Paper daisy, Unknown
4th row (l-r): Bluebonnet, Firewheel, Unknown, Dahlberg daisy

Photo collage - West Texas wildflowers

More Gallery Images
April 24, 2010 9:28 AM | Posted in:

If you haven't checked recently, I've uploaded a few more images to the Fire Ant Gallery. Not all of them deal with dead rodents, so you've got that going for you.

Stylized image of street lamp

Predator
April 23, 2010 4:49 PM | Posted in: ,

I started to write about our trip to Houston this week, but decided I'd rather post this instead.

Photo (sort of) of a mouse skull

Debbie found the skull of a mouse in our back yard at lunch today. We (OK, me) were fascinated by the juxtaposition of delicacy and implied evil.

If the preceding image is too, um, intense for you, perhaps one that has flowers in it will be more to your liking. (The mouse was non-committal.)

Another mouse skull photo

Dusk Storm
April 16, 2010 2:55 PM | Posted in: ,

We were at the end of a post-dinner walk around the neighborhood and the sunset was striking. I had no camera other than my iPhone, but that seemed to work out pretty well.

Photo - Texas Mountain laurel (stylized)

Here's a bigger version of the preceding image.

Texas Mountain Laurel
April 14, 2010 6:30 AM | Posted in: ,

The Texas Mountain Laurels are beautiful this spring. One of ours has been loaded with clusters of blooms that looked more like grapes than blossoms. They also smell like grape juice. I wish the flowers lasted longer.

Photo - Texas Mountain laurel (stylized)

Here's a bigger version of the preceding image.

Baby Pome
April 13, 2010 6:36 AM | Posted in: ,

Ever wonder what a pomegranate looks like in its very beginning? Well, wonder no more:

Photo - tiny pomegranate

To get a sense of the scale, those are my fingers holding the branch.

iPhone Camera Apps
March 31, 2010 9:40 AM | Posted in:

The rumor is that the next version of the iPhone will have a 5 megapixel camera that's capable of capturing HD video as well as better quality photos. That's cool, but in the meantime, the camera in the 3GS is a great tool for snapshots, especially when the images are tweaked by one of the many new applications designed to help iPhone photographers be more creative.

A perfectly valid argument can be made that some of these applications are designed to address the shortcomings of the iPhone's camera not by improving image quality but by actually playing up those shortcomings. In other words, if your camera is going to take crappy pictures anyway, you might as well make them creative crappy pictures. (The term "hipster" comes to mind, for some reason.)

I decline to participate in the debate, because I'm in it for the fun. And some of the camera apps jack up the fun quotient by a considerable amount. Take these two, for example.

Hipstamatic (ooh...another hipster reference!) is designed to make your iPhone's digital photos look analog. I started to say "retro-analog" but that would have been redundant, not to mention dumb. The interface is great; it overlays your iPhone screen with the image of an actual analog camera, and you can change lenses, flashes, film type, and tweak various settings. The default installation gives you more than 200 combinations to fiddle with, and you can add settings bundles via in-app purchases. Hipstamatic is $1.99. Here's a photo I took last night (take note of my new two-monitor layout!); the white border was added automatically by the app:

Photo of my monitors


Spica Super Monochrome is sort of a one-trick pony, converting your camera into a black-and-white model. But if you like that high-contrast, noisy B&W effect, this 99-cent app is the easiest way to achieve it. Be forewarned, though; there aren't any settings...you'll take what it gives you and like it or not. The only options you have are to upload the photo to Twitter or to change the size of the image. Here's a sample, starring my booted foot:

Photo of my boot

One of the presumed harbingers of spring in West Texas is the return of roosting buzzards. If that's true, then Fort Stockton has seen its last cold snap for the season, as evidenced by this iPhone video I shot last evening from my parents' backyard:



This is just a fraction of the flock of scavengers that would eventually come to roost in the Afghan pines and live oak trees of the neighborhood. My guess is that there were 100-200 of the big birds.

They're actually quite graceful, floating silently and effortlessly in the stiff breezes that persisted until nightfall. The only unsettling thing about them being directly overhead was...well, I'll leave it to your imagination.

The voices you hear at the end of the video recounting an encounter of a motorcycle with a buzzard are those of my brother and his wife.
There's an interesting debate going on over at PDNPulse regarding "stylized photojournalism," which essentially involves the application of special effects to news photographs to "enhance" them or to emphasize a particular point of view.

The debate is between purists who tend to believe that the camera should be used to capture newsworthy scenes without any additional manipulations, and those who feel that post-processing of news photos is a legitimate journalistic technique that will help the observer better understand the implications of the scene in question.

This is really just an extension of the ongoing debate over whether journalists should be bringing agendas into their reportage, and if you believe that there's no place for this, then you'll side with the purists. And that's the end of the spectrum I tend to gravitate toward, but not unequivocally.

The problem with photojournalism is that it can never absolutely reflect reality (reality being defined [by me] as what could be observed by the average human being if he was present at the event being recorded). Even the most seemingly straightforward photo captures an instant in time, inevitably breaking the overall context of the scene; life isn't a series of discrete events, it's a continuous ever-changing stream.

In addition, the vast majority of photographs involve cropping the scene - removing portions from the photograph that the naked eye of the human observer would otherwise perceive. Again, this inevitable cropping removes context. It's perhaps not significant, but we don't know, do we, because we're relying on what the photographer chose to show us.

The arguments of the purists are a slippery slope. Should the photojournalist completely dispense with a shortened depth of field? The human eye certainly doesn't see things that way. What about sharpening or improving contrast or color saturation? Are black-and-white photographs taboo?

I understand the point the purists are trying to make: techniques that make a photograph communicate a message that's different than the actual scene hurt the credibility of photojournalism. But figuring out where to draw the line is something that's hard to bring into focus (no pun intended).

Happy Slo-Mo Dogs
March 5, 2010 8:04 AM | Posted in: ,

Remember the frustrated frog videos? Well, on the flip side of things, here's a vid that has a happier ending for all the participants. (Remind me never to eat in front of a 1,000 frame per second camera.)


More Tilt-Shift
March 1, 2010 6:26 AM | Posted in: ,

Perceptive Gazette readers will recall this short post about tilt shift photography, a technique that seems to be gaining in popularity.

One of my favorite commercial applications of the technique is the following Allstate Insurance TV ad:



It's a winsome effect, turning a real life scene into something toy-like. But, as nice as it is, it's child's play compared to this (link via Neatorama):

The Sandpit from Sam O'Hare on Vimeo.

The filmmaker, Sam O'Hare, describes the process he employed in converting 35,000 still photos (shot over a five-day period) into this fascinating look at "a day in the life of New York City." He used a Nikon D-3 digicam and opted for standard Tamron and Sigma lenses in place of dedicated tilt-shift glass; the "minature" effects were added in post-production.

O'Hare says that he likes "making large scenes small," and The Sandpit is an amazing example of how to do that.

New Gallery Images
February 21, 2010 10:35 AM | Posted in: ,

Got a few more images in the Gallery, taken from our trip last month to the San Diego zoo.


New Gallery Images
January 31, 2010 7:19 AM | Posted in:

I've posted a few new pictures over at the Gallery, including a bigger version of this one.

Photo of flamingos

Back Home
January 26, 2010 7:39 AM | Posted in: ,

We spent an extended and very pleasant weekend in San Diego/Coronado, California. I hope to post a report with a few photos as soon as I can work through the backlog of work and errands that accumulated while we were away. In the meantime, here's a teaser photo of four pelicans gliding along the coastline at the Cabrillo National Monument:

Photo of four flying pelicans

More Big White Bird Photos
January 18, 2010 6:44 AM | Posted in: ,

Remember this guy? He's still hanging around. Well, I suppose "hanging" isn't the operative term.

Photo - Egret in flight

Viewed from a certain angle, you can see that there's not much to this bird, despite his impressive size while he's wading.

Photo - Egret in flight

"The Third & The Seventh"
January 17, 2010 8:52 AM | Posted in: ,

The video shown below (via @jonasl Twitter feed) is one of the most mesmerizing pieces I've ever seen. It starts a little slowly, and the variable depth of field and changing focus techniques can be slightly off-putting, but stick with it and you'll be richly rewarded.

You can watch the embedded version below, but if you have a fast internet connection and computer, I highly recommend watching the HD version in full-screen mode. I have no idea how much of it is real, and how much is computer-generated (read some of the almost 1300 comments on the Vimeo page linked above and you'll see that I'm not alone), but it doesn't matter. It easily qualifies as a digital masterpiece regardless of how it was made.

More Fog
January 16, 2010 10:20 AM | Posted in: ,

Our weird winter weather continues today as we awoke to some of the thickest fog I can recall around here. It wasn't quite as bad as the Tule fog in Bakersfield (which is so thick that cautious drivers stop at intersections with windows rolled down to listen for cross-traffic), but it still slowed down traffic on the Loop, a miracle in itself.

Of course, I couldn't resist taking the camera for a stroll around the ponds to see if there were any new perspectives to be gained. Unfortunately, most of my pictures turned out to look like I took them in a fog. Go figure. But the birds were more cooperative than usual, as it was too cold to be bothered, and I was able to get a close-up of what I think is a Pyrrhuloxia, all puffed up trying to stay warm:

Photo - bird in tree

New Gallery Images
January 14, 2010 1:41 PM | Posted in:

I've uploaded a couple of new images to the Gallery, including a larger version of this one:

Stylized photo of bubble under a layer of ice

This may just be one of my all time favorite images, and it's derived from the most mundane of settings.

A New Year "Crane" for Good Luck
January 1, 2010 11:43 AM | Posted in: ,

According to Asian tradition, the crane is a bird of good luck and long life, and further, if you fold one thousand origami cranes you'll be granted a wish.

If a picture is worth a thousand words, is a photo of a great egret* equivalent to folding a thousand pieces of paper? I obviously can't say for sure, but this fellow was a great photo subject on the first day of the new year, and if he wants to be the bearer of good luck, we'll take all he can carry.




*I think this is a great egret; I'm open to correction from any true birders out there. Whatever he (she?) is, he's a frequent visitor to our ponds during the winter. The ducks seem a bit indignant at his presence. I suspect the fish have somewhat stronger feelings, but I could be anthropomorphizing.

Foggy Morning
December 23, 2009 6:53 AM | Posted in: ,

It's foggy in West Texas again this morning, so I thought I'd post an image from the last time we experienced the fog, in November.

"Portraits of Power"
December 10, 2009 1:05 PM | Posted in: ,

What do Muammar Qaddafi, Gordon Brown, Barack Obama, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Dmitry Medvedev, Hugo Chávez, and Benjamin Netanyahu have in common...well, besides that whole "head of state" thing? They each were photographed individually, along with forty other national leaders by Platon, staff photographer for The New Yorker, during a U.N. General Assembly last September. The results are displayed in this fascinating multimedia presentation.

I don't remember how I came across this article, but I've kept it open in a browser tab for several days even though I hadn't taken the time to look at it in detail until this morning. I hadn't realized that the photographer had added an audio commentary to each photo - a brief glimpse into the process, the situation, or most interestingly, the character of the subject of each picture.

Those comments are what elevate this presentation over the normal portfolio (setting aside the fact that there perhaps has never before been such a compilation of political power by one person at one time). The photographer is careful and diplomatic with his observations, but not to the point of banality (OK, there are some banal comments, but they're excusable). And, occasionally, his remarks tell more than the photos themselves. Be sure to listen to the commentary accompanying the image of Robert Mugabe, president/dictator of Zimbabwe.

New Gallery Images
December 9, 2009 10:20 PM | Posted in:

I've uploaded a few more photos to the Gallery, some of which are stranger than others, and most of which document (sort of) our recent winter weather.

Photo of ice-covered garden hose
Photo of flower growing in concrete

Tracing Norman Rockwell's "Art"
December 7, 2009 7:57 AM | Posted in: ,

NPR's The Picture Show blog has a fascinating look at the techniques used by Norman Rockwell to create the iconic images that many of us grew up with. It seems that Rockwell's paintings were actually tracings of photographs, and some are questioning their validity as "art."

I'm not among those skeptics. My definition of art may be looser than others, but I think the human creativity can manifest itself in infinite variety, and it's the result that counts, not the process. As the NPR article points out, Rockwell was in total control of every detail of the process - selecting the subject matter and models (most of whom were fellow residents of his hometown of Stockbridge, MA), working with a hand-picked stable of photographers, directing the photo shoots, and, finally, transforming the results of those photos to a medium of paint. In itself, the process is interesting, but it's the result that defines his work as art: his work stimulates the imagination and memory, and has an uncanny way of creating an attitude of peace, joy, and/or amusement in the viewer.

Further, if you take the time to compare the details of the original photo with the final artwork, you'll see that Rockwell's technique wasn't really "photorealistic." Take a look at the side-by-side comparisons of some of his paintings and the photos he used as starting points, and it will be clear that Rockwell made conscious decisions about details, omitting or altering those that didn't contribute to what he was trying to achieve with each scene. Some of those edits were so extensive that the use of the term "tracing" is inaccurate and unfair.

Whether or not you consider Norman Rockwell to be a true artist, his contribution to the tapestry of American culture is undeniable. And I suspect he'd be amused by discussions such as this.

Ron Shick's book "Norman Rockwell: Behind the Camera" explores in detail the artist's working methods. I haven't read it, but it sounds quite interesting.

Gallery Additions - Snowfall Images
December 5, 2009 9:58 AM | Posted in: ,

Yesterday's snowfall was relatively light and short-lived, but I got out early and snapped some photos to document the rare phenomenon. There are about a dozen new images up at the Gallery, including bigger versions of these two:

Photo - snow covered stream
Photo - snow on lily pad flower

Tilt Shift Photography
December 5, 2009 9:14 AM | Posted in:

Tilt-Shift miniature faking is a creative technique whereby a photograph of a life-size location or object is manipulated to give an optical illusion of a photograph of a miniature scale model.

That's the definition given on the Tilt-Shift Photography website. You can view tens of thousands of examples on the Flickr group dedicated to the technique. Here's my own initial attempt:

Photo of toy Santa against lit Christmas tree

OK, so it's not such a great example, but considering that I took it with my iPhone, and touched up the original photo in about 30 seconds using TiltShift Generator for iPhone*, I think it ended up being an eye-catching image.

According to Wikipedia, tilt/shift lenses were originally developed for perspective control in architectural photography, but the results can now be roughly duplicated with software. In addition, the term "tilt shift" has been appropriated - and, perhaps, misappropriated - to apply to photos containing areas of selective focus. In this regard, the "Snow Bunny" photo I posted yesterday qualifies as tilt shift because I used Photoshop to selectively sharpen some areas of the image while blurring others (although to be fair to my camera, I only "enhanced" the natural depth of field in the original photo).

This technique won't appeal to everyone, but I like the effect of combining selective focus with oversaturated colors to give a sort of garish, retro look to otherwise mundane scenes. I want to experiment further with tilt shift; please be patient.

*Tilt-shift effects are relatively easy to achieve in Photoshop and similar desktop image editing applications, but you really need a dedicated app to replicate the technique on your iPhone.

Snow Bunny
December 4, 2009 9:41 AM | Posted in: ,

Not everyone shares the schoolkids' enthusiasm about last night's snowfall:

Photo - bunny in snow

Camera Toss Photography
November 30, 2009 6:35 PM | Posted in:

OK, let me get this straight. I spend (hypothetically, of course) a couple thousand for a really good DSLR camera, and the hot new thing I'm supposed to do with it is lock the shutter open and toss it into the air?

Welcome to the wacky world of Camera Toss Photography, a sure sign that some people have too much time on their hands. Wired has a wiki devoted to the subject, based on instructions provided by this blog devoted to the subject, which in turn links to this Flickr group that contains over 6,000 photos derived from the subject technique.

Sure, some of these photos are undeniably cool, but many of them could be replicated with the right software. And, frankly, I'd rather toss a copy of Photoshop in the air than my beloved Digital Rebel XT.

At least Wired brings a realistic perspective to the, um, technique, advising that this be tried around Christmas so that you can always ask for a new camera if you execute a fatal fumble.

Now, I might change my mind about this if someone will post a photo taken via their tossed Hasselblad H3DII, which retails for just under 31 large. I'm not holding my breath (even as I clutch my camera).

Bird
November 20, 2009 9:27 PM | Posted in: ,

I see a lot of websites during the course of a week. Many of them are design-related and thus represent what should be the most striking, innovative, and creative examples the profession can build. Still, it's not often that I run across one that simply takes my breath away.

This is one.

Andrew Zuckerman is a professional photographer, and his new book has the simple and completely descriptive title of Bird. It consists of a series of gorgeous photos of birds, both exotic and mundane. What sets his work apart from other "nature photographers" is his elimination of any context for the subject; the photo consists of an image of the bird against a pure white background. This makes for a striking image, and allows the eye to focus completely on the details of each specimen.

The website for Bird goes one step further by providing an audio recording of each bird's call. This added dimension allows the visitor to create his or her own context, albeit an incomplete one, although that depends on the extent of one's imagination.

I'm not a fan of websites built with Flash, but this is probably a perfect example of when the exception is entirely justified.

Bird is available via Amazon.com [link], and if you find it appealing, you may also be interested in Zuckerman's previous publications that use similar techniques, Creature [link] and Wisdom [link].

Woodpecker
November 7, 2009 2:52 PM | Posted in: ,

Debbie was watering the plants on the front porch when she heard a tapping sound. She looked up and spotted the source: a ladder-backed woodpecker working its way up the trunk of our neighbors' red oak tree. We don't see many woodpeckers around here, so it was definitely a photo opportunity.

In the second photo, you can easily see the pockmarks the bird was leaving in the tree bark.

Photo of a ladder-backed woodpecker
Photo of a ladder-backed woodpecker

More Butterfly Photos
November 6, 2009 6:42 AM | Posted in: ,

I keep thinking that it's a little late in the season for butterflies, and yet they keep showing up. Yesterday, a beautiful black swallowtail was sipping from the bougainvillea growing in pots on our driveway. It was persistent enough that I was able to run inside, change lenses on the camera, and take a few dozen photos. Below are a couple of examples; there are ten additional larger images in the Gallery.

Photo - Black Swallowtail Butterfly on Bougainvillea
Photo - Black Swallowtail Butterfly on Bougainvillea

Technical photo details: Canon Digital Rebel XT, Canon 80-200 zoom lens, manual focus, ISO 100

Gallery Images
November 2, 2009 6:23 AM | Posted in:

I got unusually energetic for a Sunday afternoon and took a bunch of photos in and around our front yard while Debbie planted pansies. Several of those photos turned into new images that are now in the Gallery. Here are a couple of samples.



Butterfly and Flower
October 17, 2009 7:00 AM | Posted in: ,

I failed in my quest to get better photos of the snapping turtle, but I was determined to bring something back in my camera. When I took this photo, I had no idea it would turn out as beautiful as it did. The wind was blowing and the autofocus on my zoom lens wasn't cooperating, so I focused manually, took a breath, and hoped that I captured the scene without too much blur.

Photo - butterfly on yellow flowerPhoto - butterfly on yellow flower

I should try manual focus more often. ;-)

(Who am I kidding? This was pure luck.)

New Gallery Images
October 12, 2009 10:25 PM | Posted in:

I've uploaded a few new images to the Gallery, including one processed with the new Photoshop.com Mobile iPhone app. 

New Gallery Images
September 22, 2009 6:27 AM | Posted in:

I've added a handful of images to the Gallery, including the one shown below.

Stylized photo of a hummingbird

Sunday Morning Hawk
September 20, 2009 2:41 PM | Posted in: ,

I was sitting on our front porch after breakfast, accompanied by a Bible and a cup of coffee - both being essential to Sunday morning (or any morning, for that matter) - enjoying the beautiful weather. The street light at the corner of our yard was decorated with five or six Mexican doves basking in the sunshine.

My reverie was interrupted by the sound of frantic flapping as the birds exploded away from their metal perch and I looked up, wondering what had caused their alarm. Just then, a young hawk arrived from the east, swooping down and alighting where the doves had previously stood. I mentally kicked myself for once again forgetting to bring the camera, but he was perfectly content to sit and watch the other birds flying quickly past, studiously avoiding him. I crept back inside, grabbed the Canon, returned to my chair and snapped a dozen or so photos before he flew across the vacant lot and perched in a tree by the north pond.




New Images
September 9, 2009 8:12 AM | Posted in:

I've uploaded a few new images to the Gallery.

This Bud's Taboo
September 8, 2009 6:29 PM | Posted in: ,

Remember that ad campaign a few years ago that featured the Budweiser Frogs? This isn't one.

Photo - Budweiser can lying on lily pad

And yet another bug pic
September 4, 2009 7:00 AM | Posted in: ,

We've were hit with a veritable plague of grasshoppers a couple of weeks ago. Occasionally, we'd pick up a hitchhiker on the car, including this one that landed on the windshield, and provided a rather unique perspective for a photo.

Photo of a Grasshopper

Yeah, it's another bug pic
September 3, 2009 9:52 PM | Posted in: ,

This critter was on the wall outside the studio where we had our dance lesson tonight. It's some variety of walking stick insect but I've never seen one quite like it before. It's about six inches in length, and more delicate-looking than most walking sticks I've seen.

Photo of a Walking Stick (insect)

Bugged
September 1, 2009 6:06 AM | Posted in: ,

I seem to be in a photographic rut lately, but the insect world has presented some opportunities too good to ignore.

I spotted this unknown variety of shield or stink bug on one of the red-tipped photinia in our front flowerbed. I browsed in vain through more than 500 photos via Google's image search without finding a match for this particular coloration and pattern, but I suspect there are thousands of variations. Anyway, I don't recall ever seeing one quite like this.

Photo of shield bug
Photo of shield bug

Heavy Backyard Air Traffic
August 31, 2009 6:38 AM | Posted in: ,

The bees were working over the yellow bells (aka esperanza) in my father-in-law's backyard, and so I hauled out the camera on Saturday to try to capture some of the action. I was so focused (pun intended) on the bee leaving the bloom in the following photo that I didn't notice the one that's on approach to the landing area.

Photo of two bees near yellow flower

Is it just me or does the one facing the camera have a cartoonish look on his face?

Mantid on Board
August 30, 2009 6:59 PM | Posted in: ,

We brought a nice lantana back with us from Fort Stockton, a birthday gift for my wife from my brother and sister-in-law. After it was situated on the back porch, Debbie called me to take a photo of what might have been a stowaway on the trip home.

Photo - Praying Mantis

He's wet because she sprayed him with a hose before she realized he wasn't a grasshopper. I think he's a little miffed, if the expression on his face is any indication.

It's also more than a little creepy the way he follows your movements with his head and eyes.

Link Love
August 28, 2009 8:24 AM | Posted in: ,

Ran across a few interesting links I think you might enjoy as you contemplate the wonder that is Friday.

  • Now, about that cover... is a post from the author of the book by the same name, and it deals with how the quite striking cover of his book came to be. The photo shown on the front cover depicts a book that has been soaked in water and the pages arranged into a striking organic shape. This technique is the brainchild of Houston-based photographer Cara Barer, who is quick to point out that no valuable books are harmed in the making of her pictures.

    I feel compelled to note that my wife has at times created this effect by nodding off in the bathtub with book in hand.

  • And speaking of bending paper to your will, check out these amazing origami creations by Won Park. Given the value of the dollar lately, this is as good a use as any for a bill.

  • I'm a sucker for panoramic photography, because I can't figure out how to do it myself. Here's a great example, taken at Shoshone Point in the Grand Canyon National Park. If you have a fast internet connection and faster computer, click the "full screen" link to get the full vertigo-inducing effect.

  • And, last but not least, I was happy to see that Texas Governor Rick Perry garnered Bicycling Magazine's "Wheelsucker of the Month" award for his veto of the Safe Passing bill at the end of the last legislative session. Perry claims to be a cyclist, and, indeed, recently injured himself during a ride, so you'd think he'd have more empathy. But he's a politician first and foremost, and thus can't be counted on to do the right thing. Anyway, BikeTexas, the state's cycling advocacy group, has an online petition urging passage of the bill (while simultaneously expressing displeasure at the veto). If you're a Texas cyclist, pedestrian, farm equipment operator, or "concerned motorist" (which should pretty much encompass all of us), please consider dropping by to sign the petition. It may not accomplish anything more than making me feel better, but this is, after all, all about me.

    The more perceptive among you may also notice a large button on the right side of this page that links to the petition, in case you weren't able to read this far.

Jurassic Flowerbed
August 24, 2009 1:09 PM | Posted in: ,

I stepped out the front door around noon to change some light bulbs and heard a rustling in the flowerbed. Given the number of rattlesnake sightings in our neighborhood this year, I was in no mood to assume the noise came from a beneficent source, so I tip-toed over...and spotted the fellow in the following photo, chowing down on a spider or fly (all I could see were the legs sticking out of his mouth). This is a Texas spotted whiptail and they're quite common around here. They'll also occasionally scare the daylights out of you as they'll burrow underground during the heat of the day, and then explode out of the dirt if you're digging in the vicinity. But, any enemy of spiders and flies is a friend of mine!

Click on the first photo to see a larger and uncropped version.
Photo of whiptail lizard
Photo of whiptail lizard

New Gallery Images
August 24, 2009 6:07 AM | Posted in:

There are a few new images in the Gallery, if you haven't visited in a while.

The Original Hummer
August 23, 2009 8:03 PM | Posted in: ,

Back porch hummingbird views:

Photo of Hummingbird
Photo of Hummingbird
Photo of Hummingbird
Photo of Hummingbird
Photo of Hummingbird

Gallery Photos
August 20, 2009 5:55 AM | Posted in: ,

I carried a camera during my morning walk around the park yesterday, resulting in a few more images for the Gallery.

PhotoPhotoPhotoPhotoPhoto

A Nice Flower Image (For You Wimps)
August 16, 2009 5:13 PM | Posted in: ,

You know who you are. Click for a full-sized uncropped version. And don't worry; there are no snakes (as far as you know).

Thumbnail image

Life of a Thunderstorm
August 16, 2009 7:15 AM | Posted in: ,

We killed a small rattlesnake during our walk yesterday evening. It was flattened against the concrete of the sidewalk, absorbing the radiating heat. I stuck a camera in its face and it did nothing but flick its tongue. Normally, that would be the extent of our interaction, but because it was in our neighborhood, on a path frequented by children and pets, I did the right thing and bashed its little head with a rock. Even a baby rattler is dangerous, and we've already had a child in the neighborhood bitten by one.

Here's the snake in its pre-smushed condition.


But, that's actually not the most interesting part of our walk. While we weren't doing battle with venomous serpents, we were watching a beautiful thunderstorm developing over Stanton and Big Spring, 20-40 miles east of us. I took a series of photos of the storm cloud.







The last three photos were obviously taken after sunset as I attempted to capture some images of lightning. I set my camera to ISO 1600 (the maximum for my Canon Digital Rebel XT), turned on the motor drive, and took almost 100 photos over the course of a minute or two. These three were the best of the batch. The first two photos of lightning were actually successive frames, taken less than a second apart. The third one was taken 10 seconds later.

Just Anole Fashioned Lizard
August 9, 2009 8:25 AM | Posted in: ,

Debbie was tending to the front flowerbeds yesterday and called me to bring the camera. Here's what she spotted on a photinia.

Photo of Green Anole

For a full-sized version of this photo, click here.

It's a green anole, a lizard that is found throughout the warmer climes of the US, but only infrequently spotted in our neck of the woods. They eat spiders, cockroaches and crickets, so they're quite welcome in our neighborhood.

Here are a couple more photos:

Photo of Green Anole
Photo of Green Anole

New Gallery Images
August 8, 2009 7:08 AM | Posted in:

I've posted a few more images to the Gallery. Subjects vary in mood from creepy to simply strange. Click on each thumbnail to view the full sized image.

Photo Photo Photo Photo

Frog and Duck Pictures
August 2, 2009 8:26 PM | Posted in: ,

Here are a few more additions to the Image Gallery.

We're amazed at how the frogs are proliferating in the recirculating stream that flows into the south pond. I'm pretty sure that they're leopard frogs (the bullfrogs seem to prefer the still water of the pond itself).

There's also a lone duck who apparently decided he/she has a sweeter deal this summer here than somewhere up north.

Photo Photo Photo Photo

New Gallery Images
July 18, 2009 5:04 PM | Posted in:

More new images in the Gallery. Dead trees, hairy bugs, and mythical beasts, if you must know.

Photo Photo Photo

New Gallery Images
July 11, 2009 7:02 AM | Posted in:

I've uploaded some new images to the Gallery, all related in some fashion to our summer weather.

Photo Photo Photo

Lakeside Images
July 6, 2009 9:39 PM | Posted in:

If I can make the time, I'll tell you about last week's trip to Canyon Lake, which featured our claiming a Major Award, among other adventures.

We also hiked around the lake, and I found several interesting subjects to photograph. Here are a couple of new entries to the Gallery, both with "head" themes. The one on the left is called "Dead Head" while the other one is "Devil Head." Yes, I'm tired and out of ideas. So sue me. (No, don't, really.)

Photo Photo

New Gazette Header Graphic?
July 1, 2009 2:45 PM | Posted in: ,

So, I've been thinking about whether to re-incorporate an ant into the header graphic, but it's hard to decide which one. Here's a possibility.

Link via Daring Fireball

Turkey Stalking
March 18, 2009 3:12 PM | Posted in: ,

I've written before about the flock of wild turkeys that have taken up residence in my old neighborhood in Fort Stockton. For whatever reasons, the size of the group has dwindled from the upper teens to just three, a gobbler (male) and two hens.

The male has been known to exhibit aggressive behaviors towards people, chasing them back into their houses, something that sounds amusing until it happens to you. The city's Animal Services department seems unwilling or unable to do anything about it; admittedly, it's not a life-threatening situation.

Last Saturday (March 14th), having been forewarned by my mother, I took my video camera into the streets in search of the wily Meleagris gallopavo, and found them only a half block from our front porch. Here are a few minutes of video from that encounter.


The gobbler turned out to be all bluff, and not much of that. I could not induce him to come towards me, much less attack, and shortly after I turned off the camera, he flew up onto a roof to join his hens, away from our prying eyes.

One interesting behavioral note: If you listen closely, you can hear the scrape of his wingtips on the street. I wonder if that's an intentional warning signal. I noticed that he did that same thing each time he puffed up his plumage, but the sound effects were less effective when he was in the grass.

Neighborhood Killdeer
April 28, 2008 2:53 PM | Posted in: ,

Killdeer are exceedingly common throughout the US, and they're even regularly observed around bodies of water in our arid part of the state. Still, I haven't had the opportunity to observe them up close until a family took up residence around the stream and pond located in our new neighborhood.

I shot the following video this morning. It was unusually cold for this time of year - temps in the upper 30s - and the killdeer chicks were seeking warmth under mama's wings. The only problem is that there were too many of them and too little of her to go around. You'll also see a short clip of the "distraction behavior" killdeer use to draw predators away from their eggs or young.

I apologize for the shaky video, as I am too cheap to buy a camera with image stabilization, too unskilled to hold a zoomed-in shot steady, and too disorganized to remember to grab a tripod.

Scenes from a bike ride
June 20, 2006 2:49 PM | Posted in: ,

Photo - Burrowing owl on highlinePhoto - Burrowing owl on highline
Photo - Burrowing owl in flight
Shutter: 1/1000 sec; F-stop 9.0; Aperture: 6.3;
ISO Equiv. 400; Focal length: 55mm; uncropped image: 8mpxl;
Camera: Canon Digital Rebel XT

Here are some lessons I learned from this morning's ride:

  • Never assume that a camera on a bicycle is wasted dead weight;

  • Don't underestimate the patience of a pair of burrowing owls perched on telephone lines;

  • Likewise, the importance of a good lens and a bunch of megapixels cannot be overstated;

And last but not least...

  • Skill counts for a lot in photography, but so does blind luck.

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This page is an archive of recent entries in the Photography category.

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