Ravine Critters

I swear there is a mouse in this photo

I swear there is a mouse in this photo

Sometimes when you go for a walk, even if it’s in a relatively familiar place, you end up seeing something you’ve never seen before.  Gina and I took a short walk to a ravine at the end of her street.  The ravine has a lovely little park in it, complete with an arched bridge over a large creek.  Given that it was one of the first sunny, warm days of the season, the park was fully of people.

A little bit more of our white-footed friend is showing in this one, but not much

A little bit more of our white-footed friend is showing in this one, but not much

We were there to do a little practice portrait shooting.  As we wandered around looking for a good spot, we saw a group of tables set up under an overpass where the creek flows under a major roadway and continues its course downhill towards the nearest river.

Under this overpass, about 5-6 naturalist-looking people wearing naturalist-like attire had a bunch of critters they had collected on display, along with a microscope and some  other types of collections that weren’t moving.  I wasn’t well equipped for shooting these critters, but I did the best I could given they were in glass containers and I was shooting with my 70-200mm lens.

I forget what this was, but I think it's some kind of salamander

I forget what this was, but I think it’s some kind of salamander

Having to stand back when shooting through glass is a major disadvantage.  The smudges and reflections on the glass show up quite a bit more than I would like.  But, to be honest, I didn’t take these images with the expectation that they would win any photography awards.  It’s just pretty darn interesting to learn what critters are crawling all around us that we’re mostly oblivious to.

We were introduced first to a white-footed mouse.  The mouse ran out and posed for us just long enough for me to get my lens cap off and my camera turned on.  Then, he ran back under the leaves in his cage, rolled up in a ball, and promptly fell asleep.  I tried shooting from several angles, but all I could get was a spot of brown fur amongst brown leaves.  Trust me.  He was really cute.

One of the most frightening creatures in the mid-west:  the Wolf Spider

One of the most frightening creatures in the mid-west: the Wolf Spider

The group had also collected a snake and a couple of spiders.  While I am a fan of snakes, I have a bit of a problem with spiders.  I love spiders and their contribution to the balance of the ecosystem.  I particularly love their webs.  However, I love both their webs and them a lot more when they are not on the same side of a window as I am

I appreciated when the ladies holding the spiders for us decided to put them back in their containers–I would never have shot them when they were running around outside the containers, I was too busy jumping.

I was too nervous to remember what kind of spider this was

I was too nervous to remember what kind of spider this was

When we asked the group what they were doing, they told us they were both trying to get people interested in the flora and fauna in the ravine and getting a baseline of what was there so that as they work to restore the native habitat, they can see how many more species start appearing.

My baby boy in a blur--I'm so happy he rejoined me

My baby boy in a blur–I’m so happy he rejoined me

Rebel without a Cause

This little guy led the high school band like he was ready to graduate.

This little guy led the high school band like he was ready to graduate.

Since the Starlight parade was held after dark, I was hesitant to take my old 40D as my second camera.  The 40D doesn’t do well at higher ISO settings.  Fortunately, my husband was willing to share his new Rebel T4i, which has better ISO performance and higher resolution than my out-dated 40D.

I don't think anything could distract this cheerleader.

I don’t think anything could distract this cheerleader.

I had to think long and hard as to whether I wanted to put my wide angle lens on my 5D Mark III or on the Rebel.  The last parade I shot, I put my wide angle on my 5D and my telephoto on my 40D.  This seemed logical since the 5D is full frame and the 40D is a cropped sensor.  If you want to go wide, go wide.  If you want to go tight, go tight, right?

This little girl watched intently throughout the parade.

This little girl watched intently throughout the parade.

But, when I was shooting the parade, I found my 24-70mm lens on my 5D was often too wide and my 70-200mm lens on my 40D was too tight.  Plus, when I shot the subject loosely so I could crop to the framing I wanted, I was cropping a lower-resolution image from the 40D.  As a result, I concluded I should have reversed the use of the cameras so that I would have had the higher resolution for the photos I was doing the most cropping on and a wider field of view on both.

This young woman gave quite a show twirling her baton and tossing it well into the dark.

This young woman gave quite a show twirling her baton and tossing it well into the dark.

But introducing the Rebel T4i into the mix was a new problem.  It’s lighter to hand hold than the 5D, but not well balanced with the 70-200mm lens, which out-weighs the Rebel by 2 pounds.  This makes holding it somewhat precarious.  However, by holding it by the foot on the lens, I felt a little more confident I wasn’t going to drop it.

This was the youngest twirler performing big tricks--I guess that's how she got the sash.

This was the youngest twirler performing big tricks–I guess that’s how she got the sash.

In the end, I decided to go with the same plan as for the previous parade:  cropped sensor with telephoto and full frame with the wide angle.  The decision was made easier when I realized I didn’t have a bracket for the T4i to attach it to my tripod.

It does look really stupid to walk around with a T4i with a 70-200mm lens on it.  I instinctively held my hand over the T4i when I spotted another photography coming my direction.

Grainy close up of some of the girls on the tiny tots twirlers float I mentioned yesterday.

Grainy close up of some of the girls on the tiny tots twirlers float I mentioned yesterday.

That said, other than the flip out touch screen on the T4i, which I found annoying, and the imbalance with the lens, I really liked the tiny Rebel.  The shutter was quiet and handled rapid fire shots faster than the 5D (probably because of the slightly lower resolution).

The flip out touchscreen will be handy for shooting video and does make viewing images in bright light easier.  I just don’t like to put the camera up to my face with the flip screen open and then get annoyed when I have to open it again immediately following a shot to check an image.  In the end, I was pleased with the images, although they were a bit noisier than I was expecting.

This little guy was very energetic throughout the parade.

This little guy was very energetic throughout the parade.

Giving Thanks

Thanksgiving is the most important holiday of the year to me these days.  It’s a holiday that isn’t overloaded with expectations, can be celebrated with little effort (for those of us who don’t cook), and usually offers the opportunity to reflect on all that is good in life.

It’s the last part that makes this a special holiday.  It’s always easy to find something to complain about.  Yet complaining rarely makes me happy.  On the other hand, remembering what I have to be grateful for fills me with the sort of joy that both reminds me how good my life is and makes me sad that not everyone can find a long list of things to give thanks for.

In giving a little more thought since yesterday’s post to my gratitude list for Thanksgiving this year, here is what I came up with on my second attempt.  I am grateful for:

  1. Friends and family who accept and love me with all of my shortcomings, laugh with me when I laugh, laugh at me when I deserve to be laughed at, and remind me that the greatest joys in life often come in the smallest gestures when they’re least expected.
  2. A world so full of wonder that I could live a thousand lives and still not come close to exhausting the potential to be awed and amazed.
  3. The extraordinary number of people in the world who believe that kindness is more important than being right, justified, recognized, or fair.  Examples:  A friend of mine picks up other people’s dogs’ poop in the park.  A neighbor walked across the street with a trash bag one day and start picking up the trash left behind after a marathon.  A woman across the street stood on the corner asking passers-by if anyone recognized a puppy who had been hit and killed, wanting to inform the owners.  Every day there are people taking care of others in ways that often go unnoticed.  I am grateful to be surrounded by inspiring people.
  4. The abundance of food that makes it possible for me to have to watch my weight.  I am sometimes ashamed that not everyone in the world has the same access to basic resources like food.  But for today, Thanksgiving Day, when we Americans traditionally feast until we burst, I set aside my guilt and simply feel incredibly grateful to have had the fortune of being born in a part of the world where food is plentiful and affordable.
  5. Finally, technology.  It gives me the opportunity to experiment with forms of personal expression like blogging and digital photography, the ability to make a living, and access to information from anywhere I have a cell signal.  More importantly, technology connects me to people all over the world I would have never known about otherwise.

All-in-all, I am grateful I have the opportunity to live my life, to find my own path.  I hope you all had a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday.

Savage Falls

One of the things I love the most about hiking is the solitude.  There is nothing like hearing only the wind whistling quietly through the trees.  It’s like the secrets of the universe being spoken quietly in your ear.

When we did the Stone Door hike, we were surprised at the solitude we found.  In spite of it being a short, easy trail that started out with a paved segment, we only saw people going the opposite direction.  At the top of Stone Door, a breeze blew through the pines and we enjoyed that hard-to-find solitude that usually only less accessible wilderness offers.

For me, this sense of solitude somehow always generates a wondrous feeling of connectedness in what might be one of life’s great paradoxes.  It was so palpable at the top of Stone Door that I had to set my camera aside for 10 minutes and just sit and listen to the wind and feel part of life.

When we decided to walk at least part of the Savage Gulch Day Loop trail, we thought we might see even fewer people–it’s more remote.

When we arrived at the parking lot, another couple was getting ready to head down the trail.  I overheard the man ask the woman, “Got what’cha need?  Need what’cha got?” What a profound question.  One of the greatest mistakes I’ve made in my lifetime is not asking the second question.  But I digress.

Tisen has been limping and so have we, so we didn’t expect to make it all the way around the 5 mile loop trail.  We also got a bit confused because there are about 5 trails that converge with the loop trail.  So, we didn’t start out with the intention of going to Savage Falls, but that’s where we ended up.  But we were OK with having gotten slightly lost–who can resist a waterfall?

When we arrived at Savage falls, we were a little jealous of the people swimming in the water.  We contemplated getting in, but we didn’t see a good path for Tisen to get down to the water and Tisen has put on a few too many pounds to be carried easily.  So, we sat in the shade and watched.

I attempted to shoot with my 100-400mm lens since there was enough of a crowd that my 24-70mm wasn’t giving me tight enough compositions.  Plus, I was shooting for a lot of depth of field, so I figured my faster lens wasn’t doing me that much good anyway.

There were two wrong assumptions about this.  First, the faster lens has an easier time focusing no matter what aperture I have it set on.  Second, the shorter focal length is easier to hold still even though that lens lacks Image Stabilization.

But, I did my best to steady the lens.  If only my subjects would have held still–I had to refrain from yelling “freeze!” at the couple under the water fall.

The Fungus Among Us

I’m a big fan of mushrooms.  I like to eat them (when someone else has tested them first) and I like the way they look.

When we started off down the Savage Gulf Day Loop trail, it seemed like there was a new mushroom we’d never seen before every 10 feet or less.

In fact, sometimes there were whole families of mushrooms and, in some cases, it looked like the children were adopted.

I was blown away by the colors and sizes and varieties of mushrooms that added color to the trail in a way previously left to flowers.

Unfortunately, after toting the tripod around for 2.5 miles at Laurel Falls and Stone Door, I’d decided I didn’t want to tote it around for potentially 5 miles on the loop trail.  I opted for my camera with the 24-70mm lens and a 100-400mm lens in my bag in the hope of having less weight on my shoulders.  I also made a mental note to myself to, in the near future, look for a backpack with a hip belt that I can use to carry photography equipment–I have got to get the weight off my shoulders.

I’m fairly certain that the decision to leave my 100mm macro lens and tripod behind actually caused a massive mushroom bloom from the time we left the car to the time we started down the trail.  I would bet a lot of money that had I carried my tripod and macro lens, we wouldn’t have seen a single thing interesting enough to shoot up close.

As it was, I was left to try to simulate shooting macro in a dark environment with a hand held camera.  I was thankful that my Canon 5D Mark III has such awesome higher ISO performance (well, compared to my 40D, which I also left behind).  Were it not for that, I wouldn’t have captured a single mushroom.

On the way out, I shot mushrooms at 70mm, getting as close as possible, which isn’t that close since it’s not a macro lens.  The images are all cropped as a result.

On the way back, I shot mushrooms at up to 400mm, standing back further and desperately trying to hold the lens still.  I’m impressed that I got any decent shots at all.  I think this speaks to the amazing technology of image stabilization built into the lens.

Granted, some of the shots are a bit blurred from too much movement with too long of a shutter speed.  The second image is an example of this.  It’s one I should probably just delete.  But, when I looked at it in post processing, I was so pleasantly surprised to discover what I assumed was leaf debris was actually a tiny snail sitting on the mushroom cap, I couldn’t think of deleting the image.

It’s funny how sometimes the most pleasure comes not from executing a shot well but by discovering something in a shot completely by accident.