The Lilies of the Pond

Posted in On Tthe Road, Photography Tricks on April 9th, 2011 by MadDog
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Yesterday it was impossible for me not to think of Eunie’s death seven months ago. How I miss her. How I’ve changed. I’ve gone through another lifetime in the last few months beginning with despair and suicidal thoughts, stark fear and crippling grief. Much of that is now behind me, hopefully to return only in isolated episodes. Perhaps I am maturing in this strange new life. Loneliness remains my most troubling companion, but I’ve come to realise that it not need plague my future. My allies are my faith, my friends and naive hope.

Being here in Gympie for the last few weeks has been not unlike traveling to a different, less lonely planet. It has provided me with a wealth of distractions and allowed me to heal more rapidly. Certainly travel itself is stressful and I’ve had to make some major adjustments. The stress I felt in Madang was the pressure of the too familiar. Everything in life reminded me constantly of loss and provoked the aching in my heart. Here, at least, that is absent.

So, being in a reflective mood today, I naturally began to think about light. I think that may be a pun of sorts. I don’t usually contrive puns, because I’m no good at it. I suppose that I just proved that point.

Anyway, I’ve been thinking about light from the perspective of an artist, in particular, a photographer. It seems to me, and I know that it’s not an original thought, that we do not, in fact, see the real world. Perhaps that requires some explanation. What we do see is only light. Our eyes do not respond to objects, they only sense light. That’s all there is as far as our eyes are concerned. We see only photons reflected or emitted by objects. Though this may seem a very abstract, even meaningless distinction, it’s important in the sense that one who intends to capture the essence of an object must be very aware of the roll of light in revealing the nature of the subject. Indeed, it is all we have to work with. Try turning the lights out.

In this shot of a water lily, one of the better flower images I’ve produced lately, I was working with the light, molding it, in fact, to my will:

The flat, grey light of the overcast sky did not do what I wished. It provided only the colours and the shape. I had to create depth by digital trickery. The bright glow of the yellow centre washed away the detail which I saw with my eyes, but was lost in the electronically recorded image, a common fault of digital cameras. I had to find it in the information and restore it. I was completely unsatisfied with the lack of depth in the water drops. They looked like cartoons. It took some fiddling to make them drops again.

I am the proverbial guy who knows nothing about art, but knows what he likes. I have an idealised template of an image in my mind when I sit down to work with it. My camera provides a good starting point, sometimes better than others This is the beauty of photography today. A dabbler such as myself can produce images which, in another age, might have been presumed to be the work of a master:

I had similar problems with this image. I had to dig deep in the digits and grab back what the flat light took from me. In this case I took a more painterly approach, intensifying detail to the point of parody. At least the leaves in this shot have no serious imperfections.

In this shot of a blossom just opening, I went further down the road of recreating the image to suit my ideal of it. A trick of the light made the deep center seem to glow. Again, details were nearly absent. I struggled mightily to pull them out. I’m quite happy with what happened around the outer edge of the glowing centre:

The little puddle of water on the leaf under the blossom is also a gift.

I got another gift here in the form of a busy bee:

I’m pleased by this snap shot. When working with bees, one has to be quick. They don’t pose. I also like the stems flowing across the frame. “Angled lines” is a good compositional tool to keep in mind.

Voluminous tomes have been written about light from the perspective of the photographer. I’ve read a couple. Though informative, much of the information deals with studio lighting. Since I’ve never been attracted to that kind of photography, the information is mostly academic, but it does provide insights into things an amateur might do well to think about. My advice is to learn to enjoy playing with light. In this shot, which was hopeless with the natural light, I had to find a useful way to use the dinky flash on my Canon G11:

The camera wanted to put way too much light on the subject. I had to ask the long-snouted grasshopper to stick around for a while as I fiddled with the intensity of the flash. I finally found a setting that gave me a good exposure.

Here in this shot of a very fat spider illuminated by a flat, listless sky, the problem was to find a way to give the spider some depth:

Franky, this shot would have been a throw-away if done on film and processed normally. A genius in the darkroom could have pulled up from the negative the detail present in the underexposed body of the spider. With Photoshop, it was the work of a few minutes.

Photography is much more fun for me today than it has ever been before. I can’t believe I stuck with film so long.

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The Sad Fate of the Male of the Species

Posted in Humor on August 2nd, 2010 by MadDog
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As soon as we arrived up at the house at Blueblood on Sunday, my sharp-eyed mate, Mike Cassell told me of an impending natural event that I would not want to miss. He guided me to the front of the house where a large female spider had built her web. A small male on the make was cautiously walking around her. We watched him circle the female several times. The tension in the air was intense.

Here’s a shot of the hapless fellow checking the scene:

Well, we all know how this is going to end, don’t we? All except the poor male spider. This takes me back to high-school. I was that most unusual combination of a slightly geeky guy with a truly boss set of wheels. This confused the girls. I was called “cute” which is the last word a guy wants to hear in a verbal description of him. Oh, how they loved the car, an Austin Heally. Many a cruise ended with, “Thanks for the ride. You’re cute.” Grrrrrrr . . .  And no phone number.

My problems were a picnic compared the the nasty surprise that this little guy has in store.

Here he is chatting her up. His palps are quivering and his forelegs are vibrating like crazy. One can almost detect the faint spider talk, “Hey baby, lookin’ for a good time?”:

Sadly, nobody has told him that this is a very poor pick-up line for a male spider to use. The problem is that it implies dinner and there is only one item on the menu.

About this time I blew the lunch trumpet. Really. We have an old bugle there at the house.

During lunch we discussed matters of more import, specifically, how to get Eunie out of the country as quickly as possible down to Cairns for a thorough medical exam. I have decided, after much internal debate, that I’m going to go with her. We’re not expecting anything dramatic. It looks for the moment that the worst outcome might be to stick in one of those little clipper-snipper things through a hole the size of your pinkie and yank out her gall bladder. She is looking pretty yellow. Up until this morning I was still thinking that I would just be in the way and it costs a bundle and who’s going to take care of things here at the office and blah, blah, blah, one “reason” after the other to act “responsibly”.

Then, this morning, I got my head screwed on straight. Where do you belong when your spouse is sick? Duh! I’m going to Cairns. Everything else can take care of itself. Hey, if I dropped dead in my chair right now, the world would go on, eh? (At least I think  it would, but that gets into a philosophical discussion for which I’m not prepared at the moment. Maybe later. It will be fun.)

Anyway, let’s get back to the drama of the spider and her unfortunate lover. (That would make a good title for a novel – The Unfortunate Lover.)  *

What we did not know was that the spider love fest had already reached its conclusion and the female was enjoying her  lunch:

Clicking on this will reveal a quite graphic view of the lady spider devouring her former mate.

Well, if I had the time today, I could do a few paragraphs of allegorical humor and anecdotal musings connecting this to the existential value of maleness. I mean, really, how many of us do you need? How big do we need to be? Do we require brains at all? Should anybody care a whit what we think? Much of nature zips along quite nicely with none of the mess of males casting about for means to perpetuate their macho selves and fouling the air with testosterone fumes.

Food for another post.

There is a terrific potential bonfire stacked up on the beach. This spot attracts a lot of driftwood. We will probably start dragging it up on higher ground soon so that it can be well dried so that we can have have a huge fire at Christmas time. For a little stress relief, I decided to take a couple of pictures:

An interesting thing in this shot is the green sand. The sand itself is not really green. It is covered by a thin film of algae.

As a tip of the hat to the possible discovery of US$200,000,000 worth of Ansel Adams glass plate negatives (which I can’t wait to see!) I decided to do another shot in monochrome.

I think that I like it better.

*  There is a poem by Andrew Marvel bearing that title. After a couple of read-throughs, I decided that I didn’t understand a single word. I did a little checking on the web. I don’t feel so bad now, because it seems that nobody else understands it either. I’m feeling much better about my own poems now.

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The Spider and the Fly

Posted in Mixed Nuts on July 17th, 2010 by MadDog
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This morning’s sunrise was unmanageable with the tiny sensor and the somewhat limited dynamic range of my modest Canon G11. I have nothing but praise for this camera, considering that I am a relatively poor person. We just bought our first new car in nearly twelve years. I’d like to purchase a camera which would cost, with lenses, nearly a third of the price of our new Nissan Navara. That would be patently insane. Therefore, I squeeze the lemon. I do not, in any way, resent being relatively impoverished. I certainly live as a rich man here in Paradise, so why should I complain? I can’t afford an expensive car. Where would I drive it? I don’t own a Rolex. I don’t own any  watch. Why would I need one? In Paradise, things happen when they happen. I am rich beyond my wildest dreams of three or four decades past. It’s a richness that money can’t buy.

Anyway, the contrast ratio between the sun and the clouds was greater than any camera can handle. Only the human eye can deal with these conditions. I began to wonder if I might use that to my advantage. What if I could turn day into night?

Well, it’s not totally convincing, but the general effect is pleasing.

When I turned around and saw the morning sun lighting up our house and the garden all I could think was, “Wow. Gotta have that shot!”:

Too bad about that ugly TV satellite dish spoiling the shot. It’s tacky. I should Photoshop it out. What’s amusing about this shot is that you can see my shadow. I’m like the ghost appearing in the hall of the mansion. I held my trusty G11 up as high as I could to get just the right angle. The other shadow is one of our coconut trees.

Down at the water’s edge I could not resist yet another shot of one of my favourite plants commonly called the Sensitive Plant or the Tickle-Me Plant (Mimosa pudica):

Its flowers remind me a cheer-leader’s pom-poms and the leaves fold up magically if you touch them.

Half a lifetime ago, I never dreamed that I would live the rest of my life in a place where I would have orchids growing in my yard:

Life can be full of surprises. Let it flow, baby, let it flow.

Even the now familiar orange lilies were decked out in their sparkly caps of morning dew:

I will never tire of shooting water drops. There’s a purity of imagery there which is difficult to top. Less is more.

Today is about images. I suppose that you’ve guessed that already. I enjoy letting the images speak, because images can speak more eloquently than words, at least my words. I was hunting for my wonderful green spiders who frequent the yellow flowers forever blooming in our garden. They have been curiously absent recently. Today I found one laying in wait for a meal:

Does the fly sense danger? I think not. The spider is designed to be covert. Its posture mimics the shape of the flower.

Even as the spider slowly moved its legs to conform more closely to the contours of the flower, the fly approached:

And then the fly flew. Was the spider disappointed? I doubt that a spider thinks much about disappointment. It’s a waiting game. Patience is the key. The occasional meal will suffice. Would that we had such patience.

Yes, the spider waits and my attention is focused upon it. My concern is the perfect image. The spider is takes no note of me. Even as I hold the stem of the flower to adjust the angle, the spider is unconcerned:

My concentration prevented me from noticing, until I had this shot on the screen, the other  spider, which had completely escaped my attention.

How much we miss when we concentrate on one thing!

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Your Thursday Morning Dog’s Breakfast

Posted in Mixed Nuts on July 15th, 2010 by MadDog
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Sometimes befuddlement settles deep into my cranium and all I can manage is a little walk around the yard and a scrounge through old images to find a scattering of thoughts and images to exercise my chosen writer’s discipline and fill some space. Each day I leave something here and take something away. The beauty of it is what I need please only me. The down-side is that if I find my own efforts unpleasing, I have nothing to show for my efforts but dissatisfaction. So, I muddle through.

But first, a sunrise:

My creative writing professor at uni was a hard taskmistress. We had to write 1,000 words every day in a jornal. It didn’t matter what it was about and it wasn’t graded. However we had to turn it in for checking each week and then we got it back to continue on. Most weeks I would review what I had written and a familiar phrase would pop into my mind, “What a dog’s breakfast!”

An unappealing mixture of many things… a hodgepodge… a disorganised mess… but probably still usable (or consumable in the case of food.) From the idea that a dog will eat anything and feeding it a mixture of whatever is on hand. (Unappealing because only the dog finds its breakfast appealing… if you see or smell the dog food in the morning, as you’re feeding the dog, it may well turn your stomach.)

“Those contractors didn’t do very good work and they made a real dog’s breakfast of that job.”

Not that I insinuate that my readers are canine. No. I simply mean that there are good days and bad.

So, off we go into visual pandemonium.

Let’s add a canoe to the sunrise:

This was a very mediocre shot right out of the camera. I had to jazz it up a bit. I decided to make it nearly monochrome and take advantage of the brilliant red-orange tugboats across the harbour to complement the colours of the sunrise.

It looks as if warm colours are going to be the theme today. Here is a nice red hibiscus right outside our front door:

The brown mass to the left is the trunk of one of our Fishtail Palm trees.

Speaking of which, they are fruiting continuously now. In this shot I am standing directly underneath the oldest inflorescence, pointing my G11 straight up. You are looking into the bottom of it from about six metres away:

I am amazed how long it takes for the fruit to ripen. This inflorescence developed in October of 2008. You can find an image of it here.

Over the last three months, fruit has been dropping from this inflorescence. They are bright red to maroon in colour and average about five or six centimetres in diameter:Our haus meri, Juli, tells me that they are “not for humans” but some birds eat them. Of course, I had to try one. They are intensely sweet and fig-like. I tried only a small amount. After a few seconds you get a chili-like burning sensation on the tongue wherever the fruit was in contact. The strong sweetness lingers, but I take the burning as a warning. I decided that I had experimented enough. The seeds are one or two shiny black kernels which are so hard that you have to crack them with a hammer. Inside the thick shell is a nut-like core which is also very sweet.

In the garden this morning I found a spider who was willing to pose for a while. I got one very nice shot of it:

If you click the image to enlarge it you will see a water drop attached to its abdomen.

I felt like saying, “Shake it off, dude.”

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Cute Lady – Cute Dog – Cartooning Again

Posted in Mixed Nuts, Photography Tricks, Under the Sea on April 5th, 2010 by MadDog
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It’s Easter Sunday morning. In Papua New Guinea it’s an official holiday, so I have no excuse for going into the office. Miraculously, my TELIKOM copper line has dried out sufficiently so that I can get on the web, albeit at glacial speed. I sincerely hope to get my wireless connection to the office going tomorrow. It’s disappointing that we’ve put so much money and effort on it and it doesn’t work. I’m certain that the fix is simple. It just involved getting up on the supermarket roof again.

I have a small collection of miscellanea for you today. I am simply too lazy on this last day of a long weekend to go through the 160 exposures that I took on my two dives on Saturday. There are only two here. You will simply have to wait a bit longer for your fish. I hope that you’re not too hungry.

This morning I went outside to check out the photographic possibilities. Beside the front door, where I installed my last link in the wireless hop to my office, there was a katydid perched on the Cat 5e cable. I can only assume that it was trying to heal the link:Unfortunately, it’s efforts were unsuccessful.

Since this is an entirely random accumulation of images, I’ll jump to this one of Swami Monty wielding his new Canon G11 at some unsuspecting underwater critter. This was Monty’s first outing with the new rig, which is identical to mine:Richard Jones also has the same gear. I think that we’re going to have to start a G11 club here in Madang.

Today’s spider is a spindly looking critter. I’m not sure what the purpose of all the webbing is. Maybe it simply provides a firm scaffolding on which to hang:There is a fair amount of detail in this shot. It’s worth clicking to enlarge.

On one of the dives on Saturday I found this poor starfish which has had a leg chomped off by some predator:I can’t imagine that a starfish leg would taste very good, but then I’m not a fish. The most likely predators of starfish are sharks, rays and larger bony fish (as opposed to sharks and rays, the skeletons of which are cartilage and not true bones).

Back to the garden, I found one of my favourite subjects – water drops:As they say, simple things for simple minds.

I’m still slaving away to learn cartooning techniques. I’m not at all happy with the commercial software for creating cartoons from photographs. Most of the results look horrible and require a huge amount of reworking. If I’m going to go to that effort, I may as well develop my own workflow to get the results that I want. It’s really one of the most interesting and enjoyable Photoshop tricks that I’ve tried:

You saw the image above with Ush and Andrew and Jade Marshall’s Blue Heeler pup yesterday. I cleaned up the clutter in the background and cartoonised it.

I have in mind to someday write some cartoon strips based on photographs for Madang – Ples Bilong Mi.

I need to broaden the horizon. It’s getting smelly in here.

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Overworked and Manic

Posted in Mixed Nuts on February 3rd, 2010 by MadDog
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Everybody is bored hearing how busy I am. Hey, I’m  bored with it! We’re working frantically this week to get the new network rolled out and all of the computers switched over to it. When it’s done, I’ll be able to get back to what passes for normal. I’ve been in a state for the last few months. The old system went back to Windows 2000 Server for Domain Controllers and had been upgraded, patched, hacked, glued together and thrown into a mix-o-matic with a bunch of Linux monstrosities that were supposed to be “enhancements”. Never again!

The new system has dual Windows Server 3008 R2 Domain Controllers and all workstations will be running Windows 7. Most of it is working already and it is sweet, sweet, sweet. I just have three mission-critical machines to move over to the new network. Then we have to get the big network printers switched over, do a little prettying up of bits and pieces and we’re done.

Then I have to get cracking writing some magazine articles and arrange for some bush walks to gather new material. I also plan to ride the Harley more. I’ve only been on it a couple of times in the last few months.

Today, to amuse ourselves, I have a few miscellaneous images that tickled my eyeballs over the last couple of weeks. I’ll start with an unusual view of a nice red hibiscus blossom:

Those water drops caught my eye from twenty metres away. I never pass up a chance to shoot drops. I love the way that they reflect the light. You can see some interesting reflections if you click to enlarge.

Here’s another of my ongoing series of “crazy foliage” shots:Sometime when I was a child I was brainwashed, probably by a gym teacher who was assigned to teach science – a common enough occurrence in the U S of A – that plants are green. Despite intense therapy, I’ve not gotten past this crippling mental defect. Plants here are all kinds of nutsy colours and it is deeply disturbing.

The shots above came from Blueblood as did this one of a man hurrying home during a brief rain shower:You can see the base of the huge Kar Kar Island  volcano at the right side of the frame. Click to enlarge and you can see the rain drops hitting the water and even a few streaks of rain drops against the darkness of the canoe. I took all of these shots with my new Canon G11.

You’ve seen the flower of the Sensitive Plant or Tickle-Me Plant (Mimosa pudica)  here before:

This is the nicest shot that I have of it. I attribute that to the increased dynamic range of the G11. It seems to capture many more tones of colour and brightness than the G10, as it should, given the massive changes to the sensor.

Here is another familiar to regular readers. It’s my favourite spider:This fellow was distinctly grumpy on the dull day when I shot him. They usually try to hide by crawling around on the opposite side of the flower. This guy turned to face me and raised his front legs in a menacing display of aggression. I have to admit that I didn’t feel greatly menaced, but I didn’t mention it to him.

Oh, yeah, back to water drops:This is one of my favourite water drop shots. I have others that are sharper, flashier, more colourful, blah, blah, blah. This one, however, makes me feel very relaxed and mellow. I’m strongly affected emotionally by images, always have been. I think that is why I love photography so much. When I look at my favourite images, I feel good.

I love sharing those good vibes with you. I hope you dig it too.

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Stinky River – The Balek Wildlife Sanctuary

Posted in Mixed Nuts on January 13th, 2010 by MadDog
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Yesterday we took a break from diving with our friends from Belgium, Anita, Wouter and Anita’s dad, Jos. We drove  out the road to Lae and the highlands until the pavement ran out, about fifty kliks out of Madang. Along the way, we stopped at a small park which I have not visited for about twenty years.

The Balek Wildlife Sanctuary is the home of what we call The Stinky River. It is a sulphur spring which bubbles out of a cave in the huge limestone escarpment along which the road runs to the Gol Gol River. Here is a shot of the cave entrance and the emerging stinky river:

If you find the smell of rotten eggs unbearable, you had better stay away. Hydrogen sulfide permeates the air. The colour of the emerging water, however, is quite startling. It is an unearthly blue colour. I’d guess that it’s loaded with copper compounds.

Here is the place, not far inside the cave, where the spring emerges:The white stuff is some kind of algae or bacteria that grows on the rocks in long, hairlike strands. The small river that is formed by a confluence of springs contains what appear to me to be some variety of trout. How they manage to survive here is beyond me.

UPDATE: I think that I may have found the organism in the Balek springs. Thanks to my Facebook friend, Len Zell for the tip about sulfur-based metabolisms which shot me off in the right direction. Another mate, Justin Friend, also sent one of his science guys out there to have a look and he came back with the same conclusion – sulfur. I Googled around until I stumbled onto Thiothrix,  which is a filamentous sulfur-oxidizing Gammaproteobacterium. It lives in sulfur springs and sewerage pipes, among other places. As soon as Pascal Michon returns from France, we’ll take a specimen over to Divine Word University and get it under a microscope. Hopefully, I’ll have images soon. Stay tuned.

The “wildlife” in Balek Wildlife Sanctuary needs to be taken with a grain of salt. There are many claims extant on the web for a variety of critters. The only wildlife that we saw, aside from a rather ferocious looking spider, were these two young Hornbills which are the “babies” of this nice old man. With wings clipped to prevent escape, They could fly short distances, but obviously preferred to stay close to their papa:

I’ve observed that many Papua New Guineans treat animals roughly with no consideration of pain and suffering. This is not surprising nor objectionable for people who traditionally have considered anything that moves as a potential meal. This old fellow (probably about my age) treated these young Hornbills as if they were his grandchildren.

The Papuan Hornbill is a stunningly beautiful creature. The adults have a crest along the top of the beak:The eyelashes amaze me. In adults they are very long and delicate. They are very inquisitive and often act like unruly children. There was once a resident Hornbill at a local hotel. Its favourite pastime was to harass the hotel guests. I you had a bag beside your lounge chair at the pool, the pesky bird would hop over (they hop on the ground in a most comical fashion) and remove all of the contents of the bag, often tossing items into the pool. It also thoroughly enjoyed biting toes. As long as you were careful not to allow it to get a toe into the back of its beak, where it could exert bone crunching strength, it was fun, in a creepy sort of way.

The garden is a bit sparse, but does include a magnificent display of Bird of Paradise plants:

There is also a huge pile of rocks in which lies the grave of Robinson Crusoe, so they claim. I find it amusing that they insist that this fictional character is buried here in our lovely Madang.

Other wildlife being scarce, we began to hunt. Wouter found this bizarre spider, about the size of a small coin:The Balek Wildlife Sanctuary is a nice spot to visit while in Madang. There seemed to be some doubt as to the proper entrance fee. I don’t think that they get many visitors. Since there were four of us, I offered K5 each and that was deemed acceptable.

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