These hungry Barn Swallow chicks are protected from wind and rain nestled in an awning above a door. The chicks lie in a pile with their beaks open. When an adult flies in with a juicy insect, the chicks perk up and start cheeping, as if to say, “Pick me!” Barn Swallows nest between May and September and have 4-6 chicks in their brood. A deep chestnut color on the throat, a reddish orange belly, and a forked tail set this swallow apart from others.
This photo was taken through a glass door to keep from disturbing the nest. When shooting through glass, use a shallow depth of field. Your subject will be clear and the glass will not be as evident. It works best if the subject is not too close to the glass. This was shot at f4, 1/200 sec, 400 ISO with a 135 mm lens.
The chicks are growing quickly. They are expected to be in the nest for only 15-27 days!
Frosty artwork was on display when I opened my front door this morning. Random shapes and lines with intricate strokes adorned the storm door. Several inches of snow had fallen on the Horicon Marsh by this morning making the air moist. Our 9 degree morning temperature cooled the glass on the door to a temperature past the dew point. The dew point is the point where air gets so cold that water vapor in the air turns to liquid. If it is cold enough, like this morning, we get to see ice crystals when the liquid freezes on the glass.
The light and dark areas were created by a snow covered Colorado Blue Spruce Tree in the background. The surface of the window influences the pattern that is formed. Scratches and streaks of residual window cleaner affect the design.
I couldn’t resist taking macro shots of a beautiful bouquet of wildflowers my best friend gave me to cheer me. The sunflowers were spectacular! I used a small aperture to increase depth of field. I turned off the lights around the flowers. When the overhead light was on, the petals were overexposed and there were shadows in the center of the flower. I used a small flashlight to light the flower for this image.
The camera was on a tripod and set on the self-timer mode. During the 13 second exposure, I waved the light from the flashlight all over the flower. The flower remained dark for the rest of the 13 seconds. I experimented with the amount of time the flashlight was lighting the flower until I got an image I was satisfied with. This resulted in more even lighting in the final image. It was so simple and fun! You might enjoy trying this on a rainy day.
My mood for macro continued and I discovered this lichen on a wood fence on Palmatory Street in Horicon. Lichen is fungus plus algae or cyanobacteria. Fungi cannot make their own food. They need one of the other two substances. Soil fertility is improved when fungus joins with cyanobacteria. Lichen can colonize on almost any undisturbed surface. I love the texture of the wood with the leafy lichen. It grows less than 1 millimeter per year. This lichen has been growing a very long time.
I think the gray green color would be an excellent interior paint color. I suppose “Lichen Gray” would probably not be a big seller.
The subtle bluish-purple petals of Chicory delight the eye. If you can identify the insect, please let us know in the comments section. I looked at hundreds of photos of bees and wasps and didn’t see an exact match. Chicory, intermingled with Queen Anne’s Lace, edging back roads is one of many reasons I am grateful to live in Wisconsin.
The texture and artistry in the leaves on the underside of this Sunflower intrigued me more than the blossom itself. A kind and thoughtful person gave me a bouquet of colorful blooms. Sunflowers will be blooming in late summer in the Horicon Marsh area. If you traveled here this week, you would have seen this,
I shot the Sunflower photo by a window for side lighting and used a floor lamp for overhead lighting. I wanted more light on the underside of the blossom. My “real” reflector was too large for my set up. Aluminum foil wrapped around a piece of cardboard and taped to the back bounced light from the floor lamp up underneath the Sunflower. The result was more even lighting. Little post processing was needed.
The handy Wimberley Plamp was used to demonstrate the set up. One end has a sturdy clamp that can be used on most tripods. You can also clamp it to other objects. The other end has a lighter clamp that can be used to hold plants still for macro photography. It spins 360 degrees and has a rubber cushion to protect the object it is holding. It only holds lighter items. Tension on the larger clamp can be adjusted by turning a screw. The arm can be moved in any direction. When you need three hands, the Wimberley Plamp may be just the help you are looking for.
I hope to be taking my Wimberley Plamp and reflector outside soon to photograph cheery spring blossoms at the Horicon Marsh.
Rain and freezing rain are pummeling the Horicon Marsh. My driveway needs a zamboni. Since I can’t get outside, I’m working on my New Year’s goal to watch the “Fundamentals of Photography” DVD series from The Great Courses. Joel Sartore, a National Geographic Fellow, teaches the course. In his lecture on shutter speeds he says, “The faster your subject is moving and the closer it is to your camera, the faster your shutter speed needs to be to freeze the action.” A good rule of thumb is to “match shutter speed to lens length.” For instance, if I am using a 50 mm lens, I should use a 1/50 second shutter speed. If I am using a 300 mm lens, I should use a 1/300 second shutter speed. Some photographers suggest doubling that. John and Barbara Gerlach, in their book Digital Wildlife Photography, say that if I want to stop the action of a bird in flight, I should use at least 1/1000 second. If I am using a tripod or I purposely want to blur motion for an artistic effect, then I can go with lower shutter speeds.
I routinely used my 300 mm lens for photography on the Marsh and it takes excellent pictures. I had the exciting opportunity, along with several other photographers, to witness the hatching of 4 Black-necked Stilt chicks. When I got home and looked at the photos, the chicks were grainy fluff balls lacking detail. One of the photographers alerted me to a sale on the Sigma 150 mm – 600 mm contemporary lens at www.bhphotovideo.com. It was a deal I couldn’t pass up. It is wonderful to photograph wildlife and birds that are farther out on the marsh, but I am still frustrated with a lack of sharpness in the images. Now I know a possible reason. I need to make sure my shutter speed is 1/1000 or 1/1200 to stop the action of a bird when using this longer lens.
Another strategy for increasing sharpness in my photos, is to change the sharpness setting in the menu of the camera. Yes, I actually read my camera manual (well, some of it) and found this helpful nugget of information. In the Canon menu, choose Picture Style. There are 6 styles to choose from, depending on whether you are doing portraits, landscapes, or you like to do more post processing on your computer. I chose Standard which results in vivid, sharp images. Within the Standard picture style, there is a submenu that allows me to choose the level of sharpness, among other things. Here is the interesting thing: The default setting was 3 out of 7, with 7 being the sharpest. Why? I don’t know. But I increased the sharpness level to 7. I guess it pays to actually read the camera manual now and then. Nikon users may have different menu options. Pentax did not have this option in the menu.
I’m excited to get back out on the Marsh and try these 2 strategies to improve the sharpness of my images. Next time I want to capture an amazing photo of those cute little Stilt chicks.
By the way, those of you who live in warmer climates and don’t watch ice hockey, may not know that a zamboni is a machine that cleans and makes the surface of an ice rink smoother.
 John and Barbara Gerlach, Digital Nature Photography (Burlington, MA: Focal Press, 2013), 51.
“One of the huge mistakes people make is that they try to force an interest on themselves. You don’t choose your passions; your passions choose you.” –Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon
Thank you to everyone who has stopped by to read my blog and for your support this past year.
The quote above has proven true for me. I have had a passion for photography and nature since I was a little girl. The interest has continued throughout my life in greater and lesser degrees. In 2016 I took the plunge and started this blog which has given me a wonderful outlet to pursue my passion. It has been a fun thing to do with my brother who started his blog at the same time.
“A dream doesn’t become reality through magic; it takes sweat, determination, and hard work.” –Colin Powell
Pursuing my passion of nature photography has been fun work. New Year’s Day is a good time to think about specific goals, the “hard work,” I want to accomplish in the coming year. There are three things that have helped me to consider how to pursue my passion.
Professional photographer Troy Freund critiqued the above photo a few years ago after the Edgar G. Mueller Photography Contest. He said, “You were intentional.” That comment has stayed with me. I want to pursue photography with intention. Everything in my photos should be there for a reason. Every element in the photo should contribute to its overall success. I can use negative space to communicate as effectively as a photo filled with things in nature. I plan to improve my photography and writing skills by taking a class or two. These intentional goals will hopefully improve the quality of the blog.
“In previous ages the word ‘art’ was used to cover all forms of human skill. The Greeks believed that these skills were given by the gods to man for the purpose of improving the condition of life. In a real sense, photography has fulfilled the Greek ideal of art; it should not only improve the photographer, but also improve the world.” –David Hurn, photographer
Troy recommended the book On Being a Photographer by Bill Jay. Jay interviews photographer David Hurn who made the above statement. I started this blog to improve my writing and photography skills and to have a place to share those things with others. I also wanted to add value to others by promoting the Horicon Marsh and sharing my experience of nature with those who may not be able to visit in person. The blog is a place to educate people who are interested in learning along with me about photography and nature. Readers can learn from my successes and mistakes.
Art should also improve the photographer. A person’s passion, whether it’s photography, wood working, painting, or something else, should also improve the person doing it. Photography has helped me to be a more observant person. Photographing nature has given me a deeper appreciation for the variety and beauty of nature and the Artist who created it. God reveals He has a sense of humor when I see birds with unusual color patterns and observe their sometimes comical behavior.
Mulling over how to be intentional in the practice of our passion, considering how our passion can add value to other’s lives, and realizing our passion also improves ourselves in the process, can result in exceptional and fulfilling art.
The Horicon Marsh area is getting another 9-11 inches of snow today. The wind chills tomorrow will be 20-30 degrees below zero. What a great weekend to work on an indoor photography project.
I use a monopod I created that fits in the drink holder of my car. I use it when my car is a blind and I’m shooting from the driver’s side out the passenger side window. This has improved the sharpness of my photos and it gives my arms relief. Six pounds of camera and lens gets heavy when I am holding them out to the side for long periods of time. The project is around $10 (minus the ball head) for materials and it is easy to assemble.
PVC pipe, 2 foot long piece of 2 inch diameter pipe
PVC end cap
Tread Wheels, 2 inch by ¾ inch with a 3/8 inch hole
Tread Wheels, 2.5 inch by ¾ inch with a 3/8 inch hole
Bolt, 3/8 inch, 3.25 inches long, threaded
Durable piece of cloth, mine is 9 inches by 12 inches
Rubber bands (2)
Ball head of your choice
Wrench, 9/16 inch
I bought a 2 foot piece of 2 inch diameter PVC pipe from Menard’s then cut it to the length I needed. Take into account the top cap with tripod head and the depth of your drink holder. My final piece of pipe is 19 inches long. The length of yours may be different, based on your height. The total length of my car monopod with the ball head and end cap is about 24 inches. Put the end cap on.
Tread Wheels are available at Hobby Lobby. The 2.5 inch wheels are a perfect base for my ball head which has a 2.3 inch diameter base. The 2 inch wheels fit perfectly inside the PVC pipe. I used 2 of the 2 inch wheels so the ball head piece would fit securely in the pipe. I used 3 washers to take up the leftover space. The bolt I used is a 3/8 inch bolt so it screws into the base of my ball head which has a 3/8”-16 tripod mount thread size. You may need to adjust this if your tripod mount thread size is different. Conveniently, the tread wheels have pre-drilled 3/8 inch holes. I put the 3 washers on the bolt, then 2 of the 2 inch wheels, then 1 of the 2.5 inch wheels, and screwed the end into the ball head base.
When I travel, I take the top piece off and lay the 2 pieces on the passenger seat. It is easy to pop the pipe into the drink holder and put on the top piece with the ball head and I am ready to shoot.
I tried putting some weather stripping over the end cap. Moving the pipe around in the drink holder caused the weather stripping to shift and it left a sticky residue in my drink holder. I covered the weather stripping with a durable piece of fabric and it works well. The weather stripping and fabric give a little cushion and helps the pipe to fit snuggly in the drink holder.
When the weather warms up, we are ready to shoot from the car.
If you have ideas about how to improve this project, please share them in the comments section.
Seven inches of snow fell in the Horicon Marsh area a few days ago and more is on the way. The winter wonderland creates some great opportunities for photography. Snow presents some challenges for proper exposure, especially if the sun is shining. Often, photos of snow look gray and flat.
This Ring-necked Pheasant was a pleasant surprise. He meandered along the side of Palmatory Street in Horicon undisturbed by my car. I drove alongside him and stopped occasionally to snap a few pictures. He displayed no fear as he walked closer to inspect my car. He did look both ways before crossing. I’m not kidding. Eventually, he walked in front of the car and I waited until he roamed back into the snowy brush. I focused on his head when taking his picture. I didn’t care if the snow was a bit overexposed in this case. I was more concerned about the Pheasant being exposed properly.
I switched to manual mode when a correct exposure of the snow was important to the photo. I set the ISO to 200 since less sensitivity to light is needed. The aperture was set to give me the depth of field I wanted. I experimented with having the whole bridge in focus and having the back of the bridge go out of focus. Then I adjusted the shutter speed until the exposure level scale at the bottom of the viewfinder was in the center. I took a shot and looked at the histogram. I wanted the right-most color in the RGB graph to be just at the right edge of the graph. If it wasn’t, I adjusted the shutter speed up or down. For RAW images, we want the right-most color on the graph to touch the right edge of the graph without climbing up. For JPEG images, we want the right-most color to be just short of the right edge of the graph.
I added a polarizing filter and took a few more shots using the above technique. I stood about 90 degrees to the sun and rotated the filter until I could see more texture in the snow. It darkened the sky and cut the glare on the snow.
I would love to have spent more time playing with depth of field and composition, but it was only 10 degrees and breezy. Fingerless gloves allowed me to work the controls on the camera. A couple of hand warmers in my pockets kept my fingers warm. I just discovered these biodegradable hand warmers from L. L. Bean. Just open the package and they start to warm up. After returning home, the warmers went in my slippers to warm up my toes. They last up to 10 hours.
Before getting back in my warm car, I put my camera in a plastic bag. Then I put it in my camera bag. When I got home, I let the bag warm up before removing my camera. Condensation stayed on the outside of the plastic bag and not in my camera. I made myself a hot cup of tea while waiting for the camera to warm up.
It is early in the winter season and there will be plenty more opportunities to play in the snow. If only it could be 70 degrees at the same time.
Note: I do not receive any compensation from LL Bean.
Deer hunters emblazoned with orange clothing were sprinkled throughout the Horicon Marsh today. The auto tour is closed for our safety. Gale force winds the last few days stripped the trees of their leaves, except for a few tenacious ones clinging in defiance of dropping temperatures. The surface of the water is already starting to freeze as a result of 30 degree temperatures the last two days. Geese were standing on top, rather than in, the shallow marsh water.
I don’t know what type of clouds filled the sky today, but let’s just call them amazing. I used my polarizing filter to try and capture the contours. Turning the filter can darken the sky and works well if you are 90 degrees to the sun. A polarizing filter does not work well if the sun is in front of you or behind you. It darkened the sky and I lost about two shutter speeds, which was fine since I wasn’t shooting wildlife on the move.
These were taken on Palmatory Street in Horicon and along Highway Z.
I have always liked the texture on this building and the trail leading to the woods. If you follow it, you can walk all the way to the Education and Visitor Center on Highway 28.
This is facing the same direction as the building. It is fascinating how the clouds start in a straight line high in the sky.
It is amazing to me that this papery swirl of a home is made from wood pulp and hornet spit. How do hornets incorporate the leaves into it? How many trips does it take to go from a tree to get a bit of wood, chew it while mixing it with saliva, and fly back to transform it into a nest? I don’t know the answers to these questions but it is a work of art to be admired from afar.
I worked entirely in manual mode with my camera today. I purposely sought out white birds in the sun in hopes of conquering the overexposure problem. I set the ISO at 200. All of the shots I am sharing today are taken at 600 mm. I set the aperture at various openings. Shutter speed was adjusted until the arrow on the exposure level scale in the viewfinder was at zero. After taking a shot, I pressed the “info” button on the back of the camera and looked at the histogram. I tried to keep the color that was farthest to the right on the graph just to the left of the right margin of the histogram. I adjusted the shutter speed as needed to achieve this. I was much happier with the results of the shots of white birds that I took today compared to shots taken previously. There is more light and shadow and more detail is preserved in the feathers.
Tweaking needed to be done depending on how much of the white bird filled the frame and whether there were dark birds nearby. As long as the photo data stayed just to the left of the right margin (for JPEG), detail was preserved and I could adjust shadows in Photoshop Elements during post processing. If data climbed up the right margin of the histogram, detail was lost. It could not be recovered in post processing. I’m guessing the swans were loosening aquatic plants and the ducks were benefiting from the swan’s efforts.
Manual mode isn’t quite so intimidating now. I’m excited to continue to play with and to learn how to improve my exposures even more.