Monthly Archives: March 2006

Flower within the Flower

I photographed this very special flower within a leucospermum bloom with a Nikon D200 and my Lensbaby 2.0. The Lensbaby was fitted with +14 diopters of close-up filters and its smallest aperture ring (f/8).

Here’s another Lensbaby flower macro, an abstraction of a peony in my garden:

Peony Landscape 1

My First Look at the Nikon D200

This is one of my first photographs taken with Nikon’s new prosumer model, the D200. I think it is qualitatively (as well as quantitatively) better than my beloved D70 workhorse.

By qualitatively better, I mean that I think the sensor array does a better job than can just be explained by the added pixel resolution. Check out the macro photo of a leucospermum flower in my garden at the larger size, and I think you’ll see what I mean.

Of course, there’s a learning curve, and it will take me a while before the meaning of all those little inscrutable icons becomes second nature.

The D200 continues the progression of digital cameras internalizing controls into the command center. There are more things you need to set on the LCD screen, or using command wheel button items, rather than just setting on the exterior of the camera body. For example, there are now just four primary shooting modes: P (Program), S (Shutter-preferred), A (Aperture-preferred), M (Manual). If you want to tell the camera to use one of its programs optimized for a specific situation, such as a landscape or portrait, you have to select that as a secondary item. This contrasts with the D70 in which all the programmed modes were available from a single prominent wheel control.

As I’ve said, digital cameras are a hybrid, one part camera and one part computer. The trend of internalizing and centralizing the interface is part of the process of acknowledging the computer portion of this heritage.

If you are new to the D200, you might want to know about a couple of settings buried within menus that I changed from the default. (Look these items up in the almost inscrutable manual for the specific mechanics.)

First, I changed the default color space used by the camera from sRGB to Adobe AdobeRGB. The sRGB color space is a really crappy (that’s the only word for it) generic color space that would make sense for snapshots and plays on old monitors. By selecting AdobeRGB, I get a far wider gamut of colors. You can really see the difference when you open a D200 RAW capture in 16-bit mode in Photoshop. (This is set using the Color Space selection on the Shooting menu.)

Second, there’s now an option to compress RAW captures on the memory card. This is lossless compression that doubles the number of RAW captures you can fit on a CF memory card (and helps to make storage issues less intense generally). A compressed RAW on the D200 is a little smaller than a non-compressed RAW on my D70 (which has no compression option), and has a lot more pixels. (Choose the RAW compression item on the Shooting menu.)

Morning Frost in Berkeley

It’s part of my morning routine when I can to wander out into the garden as the sun comes up. This serves two purposes: I get to photograph at sunrise, and I get a moment of peace and serenity to start the day away from the banging, bustling, and yelling of a household with three little boys.

Imagine my surprise the other day when a sunrise close examination showed frost. Very rare in Berkeley altogether, and especially with spring this far along.

Well, the frost was definitional: it only appeared when I looked really close up, and consists, as you can see on the photo above of my leucospermum, of drops somewhere between water and frozen. Here’s another view of the morning frost on another plant:

Peony Bush Leaf with Morning Frost

Someone on Flickr suggested that my photos (and specifically these morning frost images) could “launch an entire cosmetic line.” This was meant as a compliment. I’m not sure that this is my goal when I take pictures. In fact, I know it is not. My best photos are taken in a kind of zone where I am living in the moment, not thinking of past or present, and not visualizing what taking these photos will do for me. It can be tough to forget about family and context when my kids are around, hence the dawn visits to the garden.

But if any cosmetic company would like to take the hint, I could sure use the income!

Boards Not Bored

A few days ago it was raining. Phyllis and I drove the kids on the rounds to school. At Step One, Phyllis took Nicky in–and vanished for what seemed to be an interminable period–while I stayed with Julian and Mathew in the car. Rain swept across Spruce and beat rythmically on the car.

I was getting ancy sitting in the car. Across the street I saw this composition of boards, with the red especially saturated in the rain. Fortunately I had my waterproof Pentax Optio with me. I got out and snapped this photo.

Of course, I use a lot of fairly heavy-duty professional equipment to make some of my photographs. But I enjoy being open to all the wonderful photo gizmos that are coming out these days to benefit consumer and hobby photographers–like this cute, small, water proof camera. A wise stance, I think, since being too serious can take away all the fun leaving only boredom.

The Trickster

Myths about Coyote are prevalent in Native American culture. These stories vary, but Coyote is often wily, sometimes the creator, and almost always a trickster. Sometimes benign, and sometimes a bit mean, but always cunning and tricky.

For me, the Coyote represents chance, or serendipity, in my life. I ignore Coyote at my peril, but when I follow him I am in for an unexpected ride.

I photographed this coyote in Yosemite Valley. Julian, my eight-year-old, and I had a strenuous morning hiking in the snow. (You can read about our snow shoe hike the previous day here and here.)

The weather started sunny, like this:

Along the Merced in Winter

All too soon, snow squalls started coming in gusts, creating a wild world of blowing snow, with clearing but fog creeping coldly into the valley:

Yosemite Falls and Fog

We had a great time, but withdrew to the yucky “food court” at Yosemite Lodge for lunch, and some respite from the weather.

After lunch, I asked Julian what he wanted to do. He said, “Dad, I’ve had a great time here, and I love the snow, and I know I’ll miss it when we’re not here any more, but can we go home now?”

I think the wildness of the weather was too much for him. I said, “Sure!”

We loaded up the car, and headed down the valley in the snow, tire chains thumping. Near El Capitan meadow, the coyote was walking serenely along the road. His winter coat was full and glossy. I opened the window to take his portrait. Julian yelled, “Daddy! Don’t let him in the car!”

Once I reassured Julian that I had no intention of letting him in, he calmed down and got interested. I looked at Coyote, and the coyote looked at me. I snapped a photo with my 18-200 mm lens (according to the Exif data set at about 100mm). I’m including this information because lots of people have asked me what long lens I used to get so close to the creature. Obviously, it wasn’t such a long lens, but rather the fact that I was close to Coyote.

The coyote nodded at me, and resumed his explorations. I suppose he was walking in the road because it was easier than navigating the deep snow in the meadows.

Now I’ll just have to see what tricks Coyote has in wait for me!

Golden Gate Sunset

It’s been a while since I posted one of my Bay area photos. I’m particularly excited about photographing the Golden Gate: topography, geography, bridge, and mystical engineering.

Recently, for a proposal I needed to find a view of the Golden Gate that showed the city. Of course, I have many of these. But this photograph from Marin Headlands across the Golden Gate from San Francisco appealed to me. I took it last autumn at sunset while exploring the old fortifications with Julian.

I expect the sun to be setting behind the Golden Gate, or at an oblique angle to it. West, after all, is west. (Don’t even get me started about east.) But at first glance in this photo the sunset looks to be setting over the city, definitely not in a westerly direction.

What’s going on is that the sun has set below the horizon. It’s lighting the clouds over the city from behind my position. You can see the direction of light even more clearly if you check out the image in its larger size and note the reflection (pretty small but bright light a star) made by downtown Oakland.

Recursive Water Drops

Water drops are among my most favorite things to photograph. I like most about them the entire worlds that you can see in the drops: like our world, but reflected, bent, and refracted. With the promise that if you just looked closely enough you could be transported to an entire parallel universe.

That said, these are not easy to spot or photograph. Fragile, tiny, and desperately prone to the whim of the weather, water drops are a constant joy and challenge. A little like bringing up children.

I photographed the water drops above and just below the other day in my garden on my lecospermum bush. The water drops further down are earlier photos that I like.

The water drop above has a water drop within it. If you look very closely at the water drop within the water drop, you’ll see yet another version of the recursive water drop as part of an infinite repetition. At least until the pixels degrade to mush.

Droplets and Reflections

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Garden in a Water Drop
World Wide Web

Wet Cymbidium

Fire in Ice

If everything has embedded within it an opposite and contrary self, then this ice must contain fire at the core.

I found the ice along the banks of the Merced River in Yosemite Valley–unable to make up its mind to be winter or spring with a cold wind fighting the warm early spring sun.

Ice on the Merced

Stellar’s Jay of Happiness

This is a Stellar’s Jay, a close cousin of the Blue Jay, commonly found in the western United States.

Julian–my eight year old son–and I were snow shoeing up the Muir Trail past Vernal Falls in a storm (read the earlier story).

Somewhere above the lower falls we got tired of the snow blowing in our faces, and found a cave for a dry rest and a snack. The cave consisted of a big flat rock, with snow for the side walls, and earth on the ground.

We pulled off our packs, and removed our snow shoes. Julian ripped into a package of BBQ potato chips. A few crumbs fell on the ground, and this greedy critter swooped in for the tasty treat. (If you look closely you can see a bit of chip under one of the bird’s talons.)

What happiness! It’s not every dad who gets to share snacks with his son and an elegant bird in a cave protected from the swirling snow.

Also I wonder at the color of this bird…could the bird have something to do with the blue feather I found in Boulder? Might this all be totemic, or what?

Poppy Emerging

This opium poppy (I kid you not) rests decoratively in my front garden. Looking at this photo, on Flickr I was asked by several viewers

What are the “hairy footballs” clinging to the poppy petals?

The “hairy footballs” are the poppy bud case (poppy pod) hanging on the flower. Poppy action takes place really quickly once the case is ready to open. The poppy in the photo opened a few minutes before the photo.

Here’s a photo of mine showing a poppy case in the process of expanding before it opens (about one hour to blast off):

Wet Poppy Bud

About this view of the Icelandic Poppy about to, well, “pop,” many people seem to think that it looks like a certain part of the female anatomy. Consider this comment:

I keep looking at it trying to think about the supurb sharpness and the beautiful colors and the masterful macro capture, but my mind keeps thinking those horrid (or at least I feel REALLY horrid about thinking them) thoughts. I feel like some silly 15 year old boy, and not the adult lover of photography that I claim to be. This is an amazing picture, of a girl-like flower.

Even closer up, I think an emerging poppy does look like, well, what this viewer thinks it looks like–either that or velvet fabric:

Tipping the Velvet

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Once the poppy emerges from its bud case, pretty soon it takes on a whole new appearance as a fresh part of its life begins:

Basking in the Poppy Sun

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White Poppy and Mourning Becomes Camellia

Here’s a photograph of a white poppy opening, and a white camellia bud in the light of early morning.

Mourning Becomes Camellia

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California Poppy Quartet

California poppies are native flowers that begin to dot the hills near us at this time of year.

The genus of this flower is Eschscholzia–named after Johann Friedrich Eschscholtz, the doctor on the Russian exploration vessel Rurik.

A part of California’s semi-forgotten early history, the Rurik explored California in the early 1800s. The expedition’s naturalist was one Adelbert von Chamisso. Von Chamisso was Eschscholtz’s good friend, which is why he named the genus after Eschscholtz. What a strange name for such a delicate and beautiful flower!

Perhaps the relationship between Eschscholtz and von Chamisso was like that of the wonderful Aubrey and Maturin duet, except stronger because they were both von Chamosso and Eschscholtz were men of science interested in botany.

I photographed these poppies on a hillside in Tilden Park a few days ago, on a hike with my nephew Peter and my son Julian.

California Poppy 2 California Poppy 3
California Poppy 1 California Poppy 4

California Poppy 4

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California Poppy 1

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California Poppy 3

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Worlds in the Chocolate Sky

This is a milk chocolate nonpariel from Vermont Country Store (not a plug for VCS, I get no commission!). My kids love these candies. When I photographed it up close, I kept thinking the little colored decorations look like worlds embedded in a chocolate sky!

My Mysterious Hidden Kingdom

Julian and I strapped on our snow shoes and headed up the Muir Trail to Vernal and Nevada Falls. At the bridge below Vernal Falls I snapped this photograph in the swirling snow.

Coming into Yosemite in the winter, when it is probably its most photogenic, I am reminded how much the Sierras are a temple of nature, a sanctuary, a mysterious island, a snow-clad land apart, a refuge, and my most mysterious hidden kingdom.

Yosemite Valley

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Flowers and Light

Successful photographs of flowers are about seeing the way light interacts with the flower. A bold blanket statement–but clearly it is backlighting that makes this close up of Japonica Lily of the Valley buds interesting.

Obviously, there are other things that make a flower a flower photograph special: composition, focus, color, and the interest of the flower itself. But without the play of carefully observed light, all this other ingredients don’t matter much.

The other day I picked Julian up from school and ran an errand with him. On the way home, we stopped at Berkeley Hort, where I photographed the Lily of the Valley in the setting sun, the cactus flowers shown below, and a succulent in the sun.

Cactus Flower 2

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Cactus Flower

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