Second Spring

Posted in Arizona Images on October 28th, 2011 by MadDog
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I invested considerable effort while I lived in Papua New Guinea to learn as much as I could about my environment and its flora and fauna. There are thousands of images here in my journal, which shall soon need a name change, of many hundreds of mostly accurately identified species. I don’t claim that as any kind of accomplishment, no more than a model railroad geek might brag about the scope of his layout. Hey, it was a hobby. The hobby now continues, except that I’m starting from scratch. I can identify nearly nothing. Oh well, it is  just a hobby.

I intended to write this post a week ago, but a “cooking incident” made typing painful. Last Friday night, with the aid of one of my fancy new ultra-sharp knives that I told Gracie that I must have if I were to be the primary chef, I neatly sliced off the tip of my left pinkie finger. Let me tell you, that knife was exquisitely sharp. I could tell. I felt it glide effortlessly through my tender flesh a full second before there was any pain. Fortunately, I withdrew the dripping appendage before the neatly sliced pile of hard, stinky Italian cheese was contaminated. It’s been an adventure the last few days to learn how to neatly bandage a fingertip. I don’t think it’s possible.

The subject today is a phenomenon which is entirely new to me. Spring has always been my favorite season. The cold weather I hate so much has abated and everything gets a fresh new start. It’s a time for rapid growth and replenishment. All things which appeared dead are resurrected. What I certainly did not expect to see was a spring renewal in the autumn. That appears to be exactly what happens here in the high dessert.

Flowers are everywhere. I have not yet experienced a true spring in Arizona, but I can’t imagine that it would be much more verdant that what I’m observing now. The predominant color is very obviously yellow. In some places entire hillsides take on a sunny hue. A couple of weeks ago plants such as this seemed to have gone dormant after the blazing heat, waiting for the frosts which will probably start tonight, if the forecast holds:

Here is a species which I have seen in the highlands of Papua New Guinea, but I’ve already forgotten the name. The color in PNG is red:

Of course, not everything is yellow:

And, not everything is a flower:

I got this shot from a resort named Enchantment. I can think of only a few places in all my travels where I enjoyed such a scenic lunch. I wondered where the airliner was going. It couldn’t be any place better than where I was:

I was pleasantly surprised the our lunch there cost little more than any decent restaurant in the area. The splendid view was virtually free.

Here are some more yellow flowers:

The roses all around the neighborhood are in a frenzy to produce blossoms which seem impossible for the end of October:

There are a dozen varieties of rose blooming now, as frost nears, along the streets of our neighborhood on the way to the local grocery store:

Milder temperatures probably contribute to the second spring effect, but I suppose the biggest factor is the increase in rainfall. We have had nighttime showers recently and the occasional stormy day. A couple of days ago, on the way back from Cottonwood, we followed this rainbow for about twenty minutes. It was wonderful to watch it move along with us:

In the image above it is hovering over our home. We wondererd if there might be a pot of gold waiting for us.

The roller-coaster of life that I’ve been riding for the last two years has followed some spectacular paths. I feel genuine hope that it might now be settling down for a less thrilling ride. I’ve had to make some pretty difficult decisions on my own. It is very comforting now to once again have a beloved partner with me. Grace and I have set a multitude of wheels turning. All of them now seem to be rolling in a positive direction. Our meager investment accounts are even starting to move upward again after a much too long bankers’ holiday. After the breathtaking ride, I can’t avoid seeing many things as metaphors. The poetry of life is coming back. Arizona, my new home, is experiencing a Second Spring even as I myself am being refreshed and regenerated by the blessings raining down on me.

As corny metaphors go, that’s not too bad.

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Alison Raynor’s Magic Garden

Posted in Guest Shots, Photography Tricks on November 5th, 2010 by MadDog
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Today we’re going to do some more of Alison Raynor’s shots from Amazing Australia. How could a place called Toogoolawah not  be magical? I’m getting very bored talking about myself, so I’m giving my ego a holiday. It needs a rest. I will have a few comments to make concerning photography and the the care and feeding of images.

Let’s start with this sunset shot at Mt. Beppo. This probably won’t be hanging on any gallery walls, but it has some interesting features. The first thing which I noticed was the colour of the sky in the upper part of the image. It is most unusual. I tried not to mess with it, so it is pretty faithful to the original, I think. The horizon is slightly tilted. In this shot, it works fine for me. It’s not quite an angled line, which is a good compositional tool, but it isn’t straight either. It teases the eyes just a little, like a picture hanging crooked on the wall. I like the fence post standing right in the middle. The eyes keep coming back to it. There are two trees, but they are very different. This provides some contrasting elements:

All in all, it’s a pleasant, simple shot which speaks with a small, comforting voice. Ali emailed it to me at 1280 x 960 pixels and the file size was about 140K. That is about the minimum size in pixels and the tightest compression which works well for a photography oriented site such as MPBM. You can click on it to enlarge and have a nice viewing experience.

This is another very pretty image. It reminds me of the succulent plants which we called “Hens and Chickens” as children. Ali can tell us what it is, I’m certain:

I got this one in an email also. It came in at 516 x 639 pixels and the file size was 65K. Now we are getting into the range of too few pixels for pleasant “click me” viewing. If you do click to enlarge you will be able to begin to see some jaggie edges and the level of detail has dropped off. It’s fine to view on the page, but when you blow it up, it suffers. According to your browser and your display resolution, it may also not fill your screen.

I hasten to add that I haven’t talked to Ali about any of this yet, so I hope she can forgive me for jumping the gun. Ali shoots lovely images. I want them to keep coming – just a little bigger.

When I first saw this one I thought that someone had woven a spider web out of string. It is a near perfect coating of morning dew. The web is being dragged down by the weight of the water:

This one came in at 480 x 640 pixels and about 70K. It is too small for blown-up viewing. Also, if you do enlarge it you can begin to see chunky little out-of-place bits, especially around the edges of the web, which are produced when the image is compressed down to a too-small file size. You might have to zoom in a little to see this. In Firefox you can hold the CTRL key down and press the “+” or “-” key to zoom in or out. These chunky bits are called compression artefacts. Once they are there, you can’t get rid of them. All you can do is go back to your original file and save it again with less compression, and possibly more pixels. There is no free lunch. This is why I always save a copy of an image which I have edited at the full resolution that it was shot. I use a different file name for the “save as”, but keep the image number in it, so that I have both the camera image and the edited image. I might want to start all over on the editing for a different effect. I don’t want to waste all of my editing work by downsizing the image and compressing it too much. I can then make smaller versions for special purposes as I need them.

Again I’ll note that Ali did not know that I was going to put these up on MPBM, though she should suspect that I’m likely to, because nearly everything that she sends, I like. I’ll also say that I’m a little jealous of that spider web. I don’t have any which are nearly so good.

This is another very interesting spider web shot, because of its depth of field (pretty much in focus from near to far). I really like the washed out colours and the way the building and tree seem to float behind the web. The jumbled twigs in the sky are a nice touch:

This one was about the same size and compression as the previous one. If you click to enlarge, you will see that it also suffers when blown up. It is the same problem, not enough pixels and too much compression. The fewer pixels you start with, the more the image will suffer from too much compression.

This is a very sweet, loud image. It tickles my fancy. It breaks a few compositional rules, but it still pops!

It came in at 1280 x 960 pixels and 213K. Though a little short on my usual standard of 1600 pixels on the longest dimension, it still looks very nice enlarged. Also the larger file size means that the compression was not too great, so there are no nasty compression artefacts. Very pretty indeed, but you don’t want to stare at it for too long. If you do, you will no longer be in Kansas!

I like this Snake in the Garden shot. It is so hard to get close enough to snakes to get great shots such as this one. For one thing, I’m never quite certain what might like to bite me and what the consequences of that might be. This one doesn’t look dangerous, but neither does Britney Spears. Still, I would keep my distance from her:

This one came in at 640 x 480 and 48K. That’s too small and too compressed. If you click to enlarge, you will see another type of compression artefact. Look in the lighter areas especially and you will notice some little squares of colour which don’t blend in with each other. This is because the compression program is breaking the image into little blocks to try to make the image smaller. As you enlarge the image, you can see the blocks.

So, what’s the message? Well, if you would like to send to me some of your tasty images for a guest shot (and I can’t imagine why you would not), just follow this simple formula. Resize your final, perfect image down (remembering to keep a copy at full size) to 1600 pixels on the longest edge. Then, when you are saving, set your compression to make a file no smaller than about 200K. The resulting file will look beautiful on a full screen view.

I can but hope that Ali will forgive me for using her very pretty shots as examples. If I had received them at larger sizes I would have not had the chance for this little excursion into the bone-crushingly boring details of image sizing and compression. So, thank you Ali.

By the way, I cannot resist, at the slightest opportunity, to poke fun at rabid Britney Spears fans. My post  Britney Spears Will Make Me Famous attracted more comments than any other on MPBM. There were many more acid remarks left which I did not allow into the comments. I received no death threats, but there were some which made me glad that I was half a world away from the sender.

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Doing It in the Dark

Posted in Photography Tricks on November 7th, 2008 by MadDog
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Every dinky camera made has a flash built in. That goes for even the most expensive of the point-and-shoots. A big clunky external flash unit puts you squarely in the geek realm insofar as fashion goes.

However, most internal flash gizmos are next to useless if you want to create interesting photographs.

So, why not go with what you’ve got?

In most situations, with a decent camera, if you can easily read a menu, then you have enough light to take a photo without flash, if you remember only a few little things.

First, your camera is going to want to flash its flash. Don’t let it! Most cameras can be told, “Don’t flash, or I will smash your lens in!” You may not want to put it that strongly, but be insistent. You might have to abandon your principles and read the manual.

Next, if your camera offers you a more sensitive sensor setting (usually called ISO – whatever that means), then set it to its highest number. This will allow the camera to take a picture in low light conditions without having a horribly slow shutter speed. The less light, the longer the shutter needs to be open to let the light in. If you make the film (sensor) faster (more sensitive), then you don’t have to leave the shutter open so long. This helps with the next problem.

Try to find a way to brace yourself so that your camera moves as little as possible. Your shutter is going to be open a long time – possibly as much as a half-second or more (hopefully much less). If your camera moves, you’ll have a blurry mess. It works best to brace the camera itself against something relatively immovable instead of bracing your body and trying to hold the camera still. A lamppost, table, car bonnet or wing (hood or fender for Yanks), tree, or an extremely sleepy elephant will do.

When you’re firmly braced, press your shutter button to its first position, wait for the beep or other indication that it’s focused, then gently push it the rest of the way while trying desparately not to move the camera.

Remember, it’s okay if the people move a little, especially the hands and feet. The little bit of blur will illustrate the motion and make the photo more interesting. You just have to hold the camera as still as possible to avoid blurring the entire scene.

Here’s an example of a shot that would have been completely ruined by flash:

The Fun-House mirror trick

I’m having a little trouble with my legs. They seem to be getting shorter.

This shot would have been impossible with flash. The subjects are at wildly varying distances (inverse square rule, remember?). Also, flash would overpower the interesting things that light is doing in the scene:

Wedding preparations

I had the camera braced solidly against the kitchen door frame.

Here are a couple of shots from the Slippery Noodle Inn (Indiana’s oldest tavern) in Indianapolis. The entertainer is the finest harmonica player I’ve ever heard. He used to live in Melbourne. He bills himself as Harper. I’ll write more about him sometime:

Harper at the Slippery Noodle Inn

Aside from the fact that Blues Clubs and such don’t like people flashing cameras all about, these shots would have been throw-aways without the excitement of the ambient lighting:

Another shot of Harper at the Slippery Noodle Inn

I grabbed the two frames above with the camera sitting on the table with the front tilted up by a book of matches.

Here’s another shot from the Slippery Noodle Inn:

Blues at its finest - at the Slippery Noodle Inn

Flash? Forget it. The shot would have been worthless.

This frame was taken in a cabin up in the Vienna Woods. The primary lighting was the kerosene pressure lamp:

A cabin in the Vienna Woods

By using the available light I captured the moment exactly as I remember it.

In many places you are not allowed to use flash. Don’t despair. You can still capture amazing images.

I shot this one in the Reptile House at the Indianapolis Zoo. It was, as you can imagine, very dark. Only a small spotlight about as strong as a candle was shining on this snake. The snake wasn’t going anywhere fast, so I pushed my sunshade right up against the glass and held it there while the shutter was open for possibly two seconds:

DON’T wake up the snake!

So, if there’s not enough light and you don’t want to make enemies,

DO IT IN THE DARK!

You can see some other posts where I’ve shown available light examples here, here, here, here, here, and here.

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