Portraits in Suburbia

It’s that time of year again:  graduations.  I have begun to divide my life into stages by the kinds of events we celebrate.  Long ago, it was our own graduations and those of our friends.  Then it was weddings.  Next, it was baby showers, followed by divorces (well, that wasn’t usually a celebration).  Then there were second marriages (and occasionally third).

Now, I seem to be participating in the same cycle of events one generation removed.  Because I have friends in many age groups, these events continue in waves depending on how old my friends are.

The high school graduations of my friends’ children started ten years ago.  Those were followed by weddings, and a few baby showers (although babies seem to be coming later and later in people’s lives).

But, this time, it’s my nephew who completed high school.  This event led to us taking Tisen on his longest road trip ever.  Fortunately for us and for Tisen, my brother’s family is willing to accommodate Tisen so he didn’t have to stay in a kennel.  I’m not sure either one of us would have survived the separation anxiety.

The other unintended consequence is that I gained a couple of new models for portrait shooting.  It’s a good thing my nephews were unwarned of my intention to shoot some portraits or I might not have seen either one of them during our visit.  However, I managed to get a few minutes of their time before they got too impatient with me.  What is it about the men in my family that they can’t sit for more than 10 minutes to let me practice portraiture?

They might have been a little intimidated posing next to my strobe on an umbrella stand–I don’t think either one of them has ever posed in front of an umbrella before.

I had fun trying to create some more dramatic lighting by casting shadows with the light.  My youngest nephew seemed to think the lighting was a little too dramatic, but he played along patiently anyway.

Tisen, never one to pose in front of a flashing umbrella, spent his modeling time discovering the joys of the ‘burbs.  I believe the thick, green grass right outside the door was a first for him.  At home, he can cross an asphalt parking lot to find a small patch of grass or walk to the park to roll in a short, spongy variety of grass.  Before he came to us, I doubt there was much grass in his life.

Unleashed and let out the door in the heart of an Indiana suburb, Tisen seemed at first confused and then overjoyed by the large yard to play ball in.  Although there was no fence, Tisen stayed well within the invisible confines of the property lines as if he was  afraid he would get lost if he got too far from me in that endless expanse of grass.  I am now worried he will resent returning to his urban life.

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Big Dog in a Flash

Today, a mysterious brown box showed up outside our door.  I hadn’t ordered anything and yet a package arrived.  The address was hand written like maybe it came from someone we knew.  It was addressed to both my husband and me.  When Pat came home, we opened it together.  It turned out, it was a gift for Tisen!

Tisen’s very thoughtful grandma sent him his own dog friend!  This is not just a little squeaky toy to add to his collection.  No, this is a life-sized stuffed dog that’s so incredibly soft, I tried it out as a pillow.  It makes a great pillow.

Since Tisen was at puppy daycare when we opened the package, we set Big Dog up on the couch with Lion.  When Tisen came home, he ran to the couch, grabbed Big Dog and threw him on the floor, snagging Lion in the process.  I guess he thought Big Dog had no business playing with Lion.

After a while, Tisen started carrying Big Dog around, which was pretty amusing because Big Dog is about the same size as Tisen.  Eventually, he settled down on the couch with Big Dog and discovered just how comfy a pillow Big Dog makes.

This gave me an opportunity to get a little portrait practice in.  Having just gotten my new flash before leaving for Columbus last week, I hadn’t tried it at home yet.  Interestingly, when I use my monolights (which can only be turned down to 1/8 power), Tisen gets up and leaves.  With my flash on an umbrella stand and turned down to 1/64 power, he seems to actually pose for me instead.  I could be onto something.

One of the challenges of properly exposing Tisen is that he is black and white.  As you can see from the last photo (taken with my iPhone), the whites tend to blow out and/or the blacks get clipped.  This is fine for an iPhone photo, but not really what I’m shooting for (a pun!).  I started with the umbrella on the white side of his face first because the black side of his face was in lots of ambient light.  Then, I tried speeding up the shutter to exclude the ambient light and moving the flash to the black side of his face.

One discovery from this experiment:  pleather makes a very bad background for shooting with a flash–the glare makes it pretty obvious that a flash is in use.  That said, you should now be able to tell which of the photos were taken with ambient light only and which of the photos used the flash on the umbrella stand.

Tisen was not too concerned about the glare.  He was just happy to have something soft and cushy to snuggle with.  He decided he liked Big Dog so much that when we went out to pick up a pizza, Tisen grabbed Big Dog for the ride.  Here’s a video of Tisen with Big Dog for your enjoyment.

Home is Where the Holstein Is

I spent four days back in Columbus for both work and personal activities, although I’m afraid I had too tight a schedule to see everyone I wanted to see.

There was one “person” who was particularly upset that I didn’t manage to work him into my schedule for four days straight:  Tisen.

My poor boy suffered greatly from the lack of a mother.  No one told him (in a high, happy voice) he’s the best dog in the whole world for four days.  No one rubbed his armpits in the exact spot he likes so well.  He didn’t get to take any of his toys with him on walks. And no lap was acceptable to rest his head on while mine wasn’t an option.

In spite of all our efforts to create a bond between Tisen and Daddy so that Tisen would be OK without me, he was a very sad boy indeed.

Over the past few weeks, Pat has become the sole feeder of the dog.  The good news is that even though Tisen was depressed, he kept eating for the most part.  But, he wouldn’t cuddle with Daddy on the couch.  As long as I was gone, if Pat called Tisen to come lay with him, Tisen would run and hide, sometimes even going to the bedroom and getting in his crate.

Pat was worried enough about Tisen’s strange behavior, including sleeping most the day, that he didn’t take Tisen to doggy day care, thinking Tisen wasn’t up for it.

As I drove home, I could think of little else besides my poor boy suffering from my absence.  I confess I may have driven a little faster than was prudent.

When I got to our door, I knocked loudly, but I heard nothing inside.  I dug out my key and swung the door wide, calling “Hello?” No one.  I walked the rest of the way into the apartment to discover it was empty.

Two friends I didn’t get to see in Columbus had stopped in to see us at home.  Pat was out walking with them and Tisen and hadn’t heard his phone buzzing when I’d called.  So much for my emotional homecoming.

Instead, I drove over to where they were to pick them up.  Tisen seemed not to recognize me at first, but then he started running at me and licking my face.  Later, our friends commented about how much perkier he seemed now that I was home.

Currently, I am laying on the bed typing this.  Tisen dozes on a blanket on the floor right next to the bed.  He dozed off for a while, but then started awake and immediately lifted his head to check and see if I was still here.

Since I didn’t have a chance to take any new photos tonight, I pulled together a montage of Tisen photos.  While many are not such great images, they all helped get me through the four days of separation.

Itching to Hike

Back when I was a Camp Fire Girl, I accepted a dare to roll in a patch of poison ivy. 24 hours later, I showed no reaction. Even three days later, there was nothing.
Fast forward about 15 years.

I was working in the garden at our first house, removing the crazy plants that had taken over in front of the house. I noticed about half way through that some of the vines I was attacking were poison ivy. I shrugged and thought, “Good thing I’ m not allergic.”

By the next day, I had a horrible itchy mess. A friend told me running hot water on it would help shorten the length of the reaction by stimulating the histamine response to happen faster (or something like that). I decided to try it. By the following morning, I had an enormous welt at least 5 inches in diameter and 2 inches high. It was oozing so much fluid, a stream was running down my arm.

Ever since, if I so much as see poison ivy (and perhaps more often, when I don’t) I end up breaking out. Thankfully, having learned a few things since then, not like that first time:
1) I watch out for it and avoid it as best as possible.
2) If I do come into contact, I wipe off with alcohol and wash thoroughly at the earliest possible moment.
3) I treat my clothes as hazardous and throw them into the wash in hot water immediately.
4) If I start to itch, I take an anti-histamine.
Above all, I do NOT run extremely hot water over the area!

As we picked our way along the Cumberland Trail last Sunday, all of these memories flooded into my head. The poison ivy grew so prolifically all along the trail, it was impossible to avoid contact. Even of I could have successfully cleared every leaf, vine, and stem, Tisen simply plowed right through it.

After all, Tisen doesn’t have to worry about being allergic to it. But dogs are great transferrers of poison ivy oils from plant to human. So, Tisen got treated like my toxic clothes and went straight into the tub when we got home. He was not very happy about his bath afterwards, as you can see from the last photos.

In spite of the poison ivy, the trail was beautiful. Because it was up high on a ridge, the wind blew through the trees almost constantly. The sound of wind blowing through trees always creates an inner stillness for me–even when I’m watching Tisen run through hundreds of poison ivy plants.
When a grove of older trees started creaking with an almost mechanical noise, I had to laugh–they sounded a lot like my knees.

After winding our way along the ridge listening to the woods being played by the wind like a strange instrument, we decided to head on back. After all, we had eight creaky knees reminding us not to overdo it.

Waiting for a Bird Like You

Tisen and I take a loop around Renaissance park looking for something interesting to shoot.  Well, to be fair, Tisen is more about looking for vertical objects to mark while I am looking for something to shoot.

Today, I’m out for birds.  I cock my head to one side as we walk, listening to the songs and identifying the ones I recognize as I decide whether they’re worth trying to wait for them to appear.

The thing is, song birds are really tough to get a decent shot of.  Especially when the longest I can go with autofocus is 400mm.  Since I don’t see well enough to focus manually unless the subject is sitting still, I figure I need the autofocus.

This means that unless a song bird flies down and perches on a branch about 10 feet away, I’m not going to get a very usable image.

So, I forego waiting to see if I can find the song sparrows, the carolina wrens, or even the yellow-rumped warbler I hear singing.  However, when we cross the bridge over the wetland. I notice a white-throated sparrow down in the creek below.  White-throated sparrows are winter birds in this part of the country, but they seem to be hanging out late here in Chattanooga–I still hear them every morning.

This white-throated sparrow isn’t singing, though.  He’s taking a bath.  I’m amazed as he completely submerges himself in the creek.  Then he fluffs out his feathers like he’s sitting in some kind of pool float.

Next, on the hillside above the wetland, a killdeer wanders back and forth above us.  Having staked out the blue bird house a few yards behind the killdeer, I ignore it, waiting for the blue bird to return.  The killdeer charges me like we’re playing chicken.

I manage to get a few shots of the killdeer without missing the return of the blue bird.  And when the blue bird flies off to the other side of the wetland, it lands in a tree right next to a red-winged black bird.  They are so close together, it’s hard to believe they manage to ignore one another, but they do.

As I sit focusing on the song birds, a large, mostly white bird flies through my peripheral vision.  I pull away from the camera just in time to see it fly out of sight.  It’s shaped something like a mourning dove, but it’s too big.  I find myself wondering if it’s a bird of prey, but it’s probably a giant pigeon.  When I go back to shooting the song birds, it flies by again and I miss getting a good look for a second time.

Tisen is getting impatient.  It has been an hour and a half since we started shooting, so I supposed I can’t blame him.  I skip waiting for the return of the mysterious bird, pack up, and head on home.

Hunting Herons

After attending a photography workshop in the morning and volunteer training at the Audubon Society in the afternoon, I decided spending some time shooting would be a nice way to end the day.

Tisen, feeling better after his bout of upset stomach, and I packed up and headed on over to the park.  I can’t decide what I want to shoot today, so I take everything I own.  Worst case, I get some extra exercise, although the sofa is a little unwieldy  😉

When we arrive at the entrance to the park, a blue bird flies over my head.  I haven’t even taken my camera out of the bag yet!  I stop right there and get out my camera and opt for the 100-400mm lens, deciding I’ve been neglecting it since getting the 70-200mm lens.  Besides, I could use the extra length for birds.

Of course the blue bird is long gone.  I guess that’s what I get for letting fate decide what kind of shooting I’m going to do.

We head on down towards the wetland.  When we get there, a great blue heron is stalking the water.  I hand hold the camera for a change–it feels strange in my hands having worked on a tripod so much lately.

Tisen and I walk around to the shore of the wetland to see if I can get a better angle on the heron.  On the way, some people eye my lens and ask if I’m taking pictures of the wedding. Confused, I explain I was shooting a blue heron and the people laugh.  I look around and see a bride and groom disappearing down the path.  Is it funny that I am more attracted to birds than brides?

The blue heron stalks a fish, coming up onto the shore and then back down into the water.  It hangs out for awhile on the way, peeking at me from between blades of tall grass.  It amazes me how a giant, blue bird that resembles a pterodactyl can disappear amongst blades of grass.

As he wades through the water, moving in slow motion, he crouches until he suddenly strikes and nabs a fish.  I missed the strike with this one, but, lucky me, I get to try a second time when another blue heron hunts on the other side of the wetland.

One thing I learned is that a shutter speed of 1/250 is not fast enough to stop the motion of a striking heron!

Unfortunately, he turns away from me to swallow the fish and I only get a view after the fish is deep in his gullet.  Both heron give themselves a big shake after a hunt–it reminds me somehow of Tisen marking a tree after having an encounter with another dog.

Sorry for the excessive number of pictures, but I love the succession of the second heron crouching lower and lower next to his reflection in the water until he strikes.  Just for fun, a movie version:

Dogs and Vomit

Poor Tisen.  He isn’t feeling well.  In fact, he’s been vomiting periodically all day.  The beginning of this rather traumatic event for all of us was really yesterday when I took him to the vet.

He’s been gimping quite a bit and he’s been itching so much that he’s drawn blood scratching more than once in the past week.  This is not a huge surprise–the vet previously told me some of his scars were probably from allergies to fleas and pollen.  She told me dogs often get skin itchiness from airborne irritants like pollen when they have allergies, unlike humans who get hay fever.

This time around, the vet gave me prescription Benadryl for Tisen–mainly because it’s cheaper than over-the-counter human Benadryl for his weight–and Tisen had a restful evening last night with no itching.  But she also gave me an antibiotic for him to take because of some infection in his skin from scratching.  Pat gave him his first antibiotic this morning.  About an hour later, he start vomiting.

While I can’t say I’ve spent a lot of time closely observing vomiting styles, Tisen definitely has his own style of throwing up.  He makes no sound.  He doesn’t even pause in his motion.  He simply opens his mouth and a puddle appears on the floor below him as if by magic.  I’ve never seen anything throw up like this.

When I take him for his mid-day walk, he chooses Lamb.  When we go out the door, he suddenly spits Lamb out and she is covered in vomit.  I set Lamb aside to worry about later and quickly wipe up the mess in the hall while Tisen gets ‘Possum instead.

He makes no fuss.  No noise.  No signs of vomiting at all.  And his vomit is mostly water, so it doesn’t make me gag to clean it up.  It’s awfully nice of the poor guy to be so considerate when he’s miserable.

In contrast, when we had Mastiffs, I will never forget coming home to find Katie throwing up everywhere.  Each puddle was approximately 3 feet in diameter and there were at least 1/2 a dozen puddles.  Even though she hadn’t eaten for hours, the content of her vomit nearly made me vomit.

She’d eaten a rag and a piece of carpet that had wound themselves around each other in her stomach and were lodged there.  Thankfully, they came up eventually.  That dog would eat anything–when we put her in a “puppy proof” room, she ate the outlet covers off the walls.

But Tisen is not an eater.  It’s hard to get him to eat food, let alone home furnishings.  He is most likely allergic to the antibiotic.  Not being able to reach the vet, we decide we’ll ride this out and hope the vomiting stops soon.

I take a few shots, but Tisen gives me the, “Really?  Now???”  look.  Then he throws up again.  Is there an ethical standard for photographing sick people dogs?