More Macro Madness

Posted in Photography Tricks on April 22nd, 2012 by MadDog
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Life continues to be far busier than I imagined it might be here in Sedona. In fact, my hope of “simplifying” seems to be dashed. I sometimes thought that living in Madang was overly complex, considering the physical and social environment.  Our most common refrain was, “It’s always something!”, implying that just when things seem to be in control some forgotten detail or requirement rears up and makes its obnoxious presence known. It would be ungrateful of me to complain, so I’ll just make the observation that simply maintaining an existence in America is far more demanding of time, immensely more complex and requires the absorption much more information than does drifting through life in Madang. I’m barely keeping my head above water. I find that I barely or not at all understand much of what I’m doing. Most of the time I’m following the instructions of someone who’s paid to guide me through some thing or another and signing on the dotted line when required. I think I’m managing the big picture, but I’m being dragged along by the nitty-gritty.

Fortunately, I can escape the circus once in a while for an hour or so of  clear thinking and working my craft. It’s an amazing thing to have my hands on the kind of equipment I’ve always dreamed of. The title implies that this post is all about macro stuff, but I have some other images today. My Canon 70-300 zoomer has been neglected lately. It’s a workhorse lens with no particular glamorous features, though it performs its mundane tasks superbly, as this shot of a full moon rising behind a dead tree across the street attests:

Luna is partially obscured by a thin Cirrus cloud layer, softening the details of its topography and creating a soft halo. The tree is about 150 feet away and the moon is about 24,000 miles from the front of my lens. I might have stopped the lens down to ƒ32 and gotten them both in focus, but that would have required a tripod and a long exposure. This shot was taken at 300mm, ƒ22, 1/13 second with image stabilization. This combination just barely allowed me to capture the image hand-held.

Another task for which this workhorse lens excels is bird watching. Serious bird watchers will want more powerful zooms, but for my modest efforts this glass is my ticket to ride. We have some lovely birds visiting our back yard daily. One of my favorites is the Western Scrub Jay (Aphelocoma californica).  I tossed a handful of peanuts on the ground near the bird bath in the back yard, set up the Canon on a tripod and started recording HD video while I went about my business with other things:

The Western Scrub Jay from Jan Messersmith.

After about forty minutes I copied the video file to my laptop and edited out the blank spots, added a little public domain music and some titles. You can listen to the song of the Western Scrub Jay here.

Changing lenses now, I’ll blather on about my new favorite, the 100mm macro. This piece of glass is not simply a microscope for the little things. It’s a great all-round lens for many situations. I like the flattening effect of the mild zoom for portraits and its tack-sharp images and very wide range of apertures make it my favorite carry-around lens. Here’s an example of a “normal” shot in which the lens excels:

In the full resolution image from the camera the level of detail in this image is amazing. Even in the 2000 pixel wide shot, it conveys a lot of visual detail. A lens like this is really wasted on web images. It takes a full magazine page printed well to make it shine. I wish I was still in a position to sell some articles.

The shot above was taken at Red Rock Crossing, one of my favorite places for a calm walk in the woods. While walking down the shore of Oak Creek we came across an amazing example of fossil ripples in the red Schnebly Hill Sandstone formation:

After doing a little Googling on the subject I conclude that this example of fossil ripples is one of the best which is easy to visit. Here is a shot of another location nearby:

The 100mm focal length of the Canon macro lens is perfect for this shot. The slight foreshortening of distance accentuates the effect of the ripples in the red sandstone. We found three examples of the ripples within an area of a hundred feet or so.

Green being my favorite color and the high desert being particularly short of this shade, I’m snapping everything green that I can find:

Spring is coming on strong. I’m waiting for the rains which will hopefully paint the desert with flowers. I’m wishing for scenes reminiscent of the old Oscar-winning Walt Disney The Living Desert movie which I remember seeing when I was about ten years old, a very long time ago.

While I’m still showing big things shot with the macro lens I’ll show you a mysterious (to me, anyway) series of holes in a Schnebly Hill Sandstone layer at Bell Rock, a famous formation just on the edge of The Village of Oak Creek where we live:

It’s interesting to speculate what might have caused these holes. Being lined up in the same strata implies that whatever caused them was fairly brief in nature and rather unique, since I see no other examples in the area. My personal favorite explanation is that some event caused a large number of stream-rounded boulders of soft rock to be deposited more or less at once on the flat layer of material which later became the red sandstone of the area. When the Schnebly Hill Sandstone eroded, these soft rocks eroded more quickly, leaving the cavities. If you can do better than my guess, please wade in with a comment.

Here’s a nice shot of an ancient looking tree on the side of Bell Rock. The 100mm macro is a great lens for this kind of shot:

But, of course, the raison d’être for this chunk of glass is the little stuff:

Popping up everywhere in the desert are a variety of tiny blossoms which appear to me to be daisies of some kind. I’m hopelessly uninformed about the local flora. I’ve come from a place where I knew quite a bit to a place where I know nothing. (UPDATE – Within minutes of posting this I got word from my friend Anne-Marie Gregory in the UK that this is a Blackfoot Daisy – Melampodium leucanthum.)

But I I can appreciate the beauty and capture the images:

That will have to be enough for now. (UPDATE – Inspired by Anne-Marie, I found a good site for local wildflower identification. This look to me to be the Spreading Fleabane or Layered Daisy – Erigeron divergens.)

Cacti are mysterious to me. I never realized there are so many kinds:

There is no shortage of new things to learn about here in the high desert.

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Seeing Red

Posted in On Tthe Road, Sedona on August 8th, 2011 by MadDog
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Today the subject is pretty much photography, because I’ve got so many other things on my mind that I cannot concentrate on writing. I’ve been trying to gather some images which convey the near-mystical beauty of this part of Arizona. It’s no wonder that Sedona has become a magnet for new age folk. I have to admit that I’m running up against the limitations of my Canon G11. I’m looking for a new camera. It will definitely be a Canon, because I think the brand delivers the biggest bang for the buck in each category.

Anyway, until I get some new gear, I’m still squeezing every bit of lemon juice out of my G11. Here is a High Dynamic Range shot of some red rock:

We’ve had some very blustery weather lately. These late summer storms are referred to locally as monsoons. I find that amusing. A big dust storm is now called a haboob. That term is mildly controversial, considering its origins. The sky has often been dramatic. Here the late afternoon sun strokes the top of one of the huge red rock formations with wine light:

I took that shot from Grace’s car as we were returning from Sedona to Oak Creek Village, a distance of about six miles.

At a family gathering at Red Rock Crossing I snapped this shot of lovely little Tana with a very famous red rock in the background:

Red Rock Crossing has appeared in many western films. You can find a very interesting list of them here.

Did I mention that the weather has been frisky? Here is an image of a huge Cumulonimbus Incus which we drove right through on the way back from a shopping trip to Cottonwood, Arizona:

It seems that Grace’s hobby is power shopping. I find it disconcerting. Shuffling around The Dress Barn for two hours does not thrill me. Next time I’m taking a book.

The weather is presenting me with some radical photo opportunities. Back in Oak Creek Village the late afternoon sun was valiantly drilling its way through the cloud cover:

The next evening presented a different sky from the same location:

Once in a great while I find a scene which makes me very glad that I travel always with my camera. If I had left it at home, I would have missed this seventeen frame panorama of the magnificent display of nature on the highway between West Sedona and Oak Creek Village:

The rainbow is real. I did have to increase the saturation to make it show up better. I’ve uploaded this to my server at 3000 pixels, but the original is over 18000 pixels wide. So, to give you a better view, I created a Microsoft Photosynth Panorama of the scene:

Being critical of my own work, I can see where my camera is letting me down. You can expect only so much from a camera in the less-than-five-hundred dollar price range. Maybe that is going to be fixed soon. It depends on how other things work out.

Life is about to become very interesting . . .

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It’s Me Again

Posted in On Tthe Road on July 22nd, 2011 by MadDog
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Early tomorrow morning we are up for a road trip to Dallas. It’s about a sixteen hour drive from here, so we’ll be staying over in Amarillo, Texas, a town which I never expected to see. Life seems to be teasing me lately with constant surprises. At least none of them are bad. I can’t help thinking about how miserable I was only a few months ago

Last October, only a little over a month after Eunie died, I took this self portrait of a man overcome by grief and loss:

When I looked at it, I kept seeing the expression as “pensive”. Now it looks terribly sad. A great deal has changed since then. Though I still grieve for Eunie every day, I’ve traveled half way around the world staying with wonderful friends along the way who have helped me to heal and see that there is a future for me. I’ll never get over the loss of my wife and best friend of forty-seven years, but I’ve been given a vision of a future in which life can be good again. Whereas death once seemed a total loss, it now feels more to me as a change of condition. In my present situation, staying with Grace, Eunie’s life-long best friend, She is not physically present, but nevertheless alive in our memories. She seems close to me now, whereas before I could not even unlock the treasure chest of memories.

So, as life unfolded day by day and month by month, I was guided to a place where I could find peace, comfort and healing. It feels very strange that only three years ago Eunie and I were here together visiting Grace. I remember being stunned by the incredible landscape. Nothing has changed my impressions of it. Here is Bell Rock. I see it every day when running mundane errands to buy groceries or post letters:

Every place you look here you find some outlandish display of handiwork. Here is the view from the parking lot of the local hardware store:

Ridiculous, eh?

Still skeptical? How about this:

Really, it sometimes gives me the giggles.

It appears that I’ve traded fish for birds. There are precious few fish around here. This is a pair of European Collared Doves (Streptopelia decaocto) resting high at the top of a huge pine tree in back of Grace’s house:

I can’t account for all that’s happening to me. It seems as chaotic a process as that which put me into the depths of despair less than a year ago. There is no explanation or rational for it. Grace says that the universe is being nice to me. I suppose that’s as good a summary as any. I tend not to blame things on God. It’s a useless notion. What I do believe is that everything of significance which “happens” is really part of some big plan, the details of which I am not privy to. Things which do happen are somehow necessary to keep the big plan on track. Being born and dying are critical events in the plan and we humans have little control over the timing. We do have a lot of control over many of the details of our lives, so it pays to live wisely, otherwise we waste what we are given.

I could not understand the plan if it were explained to me. God operates on some higher plane than my intellect can envision. I’m reminded of the old Simon and Grafunkel song, Slip Sliding Away:

God only knows
God makes his plan
The information’s unavailable
To the mortal man
We work our jobs
Collect our pay
Believe we’re gliding down the highway
When in fact we’re slip slidin’ away

All I can do is play my part with as much patience an good humor as I can muster. I think that I’m finally doing that again. I don’t think I’m slip sliding away any more. I think it shows in my face:

This is no longer the face of a sad man.

It’s the face of a man who has stopped trying to figure things out so much and is just enjoying the ride. I’ll eventually get to where I’m supposed to be.

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