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?

One Light Burning

I talk Pat into sitting for me so I can play with lighting.  Having just returned from 2-for-1 margarita night at Taco Mamacitos, he’s a little more patient than usual.

I want to play with one studio light with an umbrella and I want to try a snoot.  I think it’s a life requirement to try something called a “snoot.”  How often do we get an opportunity to participate in a real-life Dr. Seuss scene?

First, I try aligning the umbrella light with the ambient light.  This is possibly because of the margaritas.  I read an article about lighting in which the photographer “chased the sunlight” with off-camera lighting, but I can’t remember why.  I decide to try it.

The shadow is unpleasant (see first photo in gallery).  Scratching my head trying to remember what conditions call for that setup, I decide to scrap that idea and move on to placing the umbrella very close to Pat at various heights and angles.  I have to move the umbrella many times.

Through this process, I learn why my “great deal” on lights may not have been such a great deal–the power goes no lower than 1/8th.  I have to move the umbrella stand further away to reduce light further, but then I don’t get the effect I want.

I play around and find that raising the light high above my head and pointing it down on Pat gives the most even lighting with a nice shadow under the chin.  However, it’s not exciting.  I play around some more.

By this time, my marriage may be in jeopardy.  I attempt to engage Pat’s inner MacGyver by asking him to make me a snoot.  A snoot is just a tube that goes around a light to basically turn it into a spot light effect.  It might have just as easily been called a snout or a spout.  Totally Dr. Seuss.

Pat, who has no interest in playing model, is more interested in thinking about creating a homemade snoot.  Pat’s idea is to get a PVC pipe, but the size we need isn’t available at the local home depot.  I suggest we create one from a cereal box, but in the end, Pat uses a piece of poster board he happens to have laying around.  This is surprisingly effective.

However, Pat doesn’t want to model anymore.  I have to move my setup to the couch so he can do some work on his laptop while I shoot.  Tisen doesn’t seem to want to model anymore than Pat does.  Add “carpool dummy” to my list of essential equipment for the aspiring photographer.

The snoot creates such tight light that Pat and Tisen don’t fit inside it together.  I’m also at the end of my leash and can’t try different angles–the cords are stretched tight.  I switch back to the umbrella to see the difference (see the last photo).

Pat and Tisen both breathe a sigh of relief when I put the camera away.

A Shot in the Dark

I arranged to meet my trainer and his fiancee at the sculpture garden in the Bluffview Art District an hour and a half before sunset.  I have no portable lighting, so the timing is critical.  They have agreed to model for me so I can try shooting portraits on location for the first time.

I get there early so I can walk around and look for good places to shoot.  I discover the tall building across the street from the park casts an enormous shadow and the shadow is growing rapidly.

When my models arrive, the light is not good in the park any longer.  But we take a quick stroll through the middle of the district (it’s a bit optimistic to refer to it as a district; it’s more like a short block) reveals some interesting architecture between historical buildings with a nice gate with an arch over it.  Of course, it’s even darker between the buildings, but we give it a try while it’s still bright enough.

We work our way around the area, trying shooting against a variety of backdrops–Bluffview affords a lot of interesting choices in a really short walk, so it’s perfect for this.  We end up at the Hunter Museum on the porch of the Georgian style mansion portion of the museum, sticking with the historical theme rather than walking over to the extremely modern side of the museum.

We play on the porch with the sun setting in the background.  Some red stripes start to appear in the sky and I attempt to get a few shots with the sun-streaked sky as a background.  This does not work at all.  I keep trying to get my subjects positioned so the spot lights on the building are lighting them, but, as shocking as this may be, architectural lighting doesn’t really work well for lighting people.  My shutter speed is way too slow–I coach my models to hold as still as possible, but let’s face it, I need a strobe.

When I review the photos later, I realize one reason why professional photographers often have an assistant.  I failed to notice when my subjects’ clothing did awkward things (like an errant tie that pops out of the bottom of a jacket like a pet snake).  This makes some of the shots I otherwise like annoying.  While the fiancee asked me to watch for her bra straps showing and my trainer was worried about his jacket not fitting properly, I really had trouble remembering to think about it.

I will have to bring Pat next time so I don’t get overwhelmed with trying to figure out how to use whatever portable strobe arrangement I end up with and watching clothing at the same time.

Tisen was happy to see me when I got home.  He thinks he’s my assistant and was mad I went without him.  I didn’t tell Tisen that Princeton, my trainer’s dog, was at the shoot while Tisen stayed home.

Uphill Battle

After a day of shooting on Saturday, one might think I am all shot out for the weekend.  However, upon rising Easter morning, I look out upon that early morning light and think “I should go shoot the flowers on the bank!”

Pat decides he will come with us.  This is awesome because it’s hard to do a lot of macro shooting with Tisen trampling over everything.

Deciding to travel light, I put my 100mm macro lens on my camera and attach my camera to the tripod.  I grab my 5-in-one reflector and my extension tubes and that’s all I’m taking with me.  Pat takes Tisen and the three of us cross the street.

I suppose we might look a little odd to the families arriving in droves at the park parking lot.  There is apparently some live music event for Easter at Coolidge park and many folks are parking here at Renaissance park and walking the short distance on the riverwalk to get to Coolidge.  There are all kinds of children in their Sunday best carrying Easter baskets.  I am wearing a pair of cropped hiking pants and a black pullover also made for hiking accessorized with my five finger shoes.  Plus, I am carrying my reflector fully open, although it’s only 22” in diameter, I’m sure it looks odd.  The tripod over my shoulder might help explain some of this to those who are curious, but I’m sure it seems strange to be focusing (pun!) on flowers when there’s an Easter event going on next door.  I guess we all celebrate in our own way.

But this morning, the light is indirect, glowing like only morning light can, and it’s dry.  I manage to make my way down the steep hillside without trampling anything that won’t recover.  I try to fluff up the grass where I’ve stepped in the hope of not leaving any trail of where I’ve walked.  I work around the outskirts of the flowers, looking for a few isolated blooms that I can get to without crushing anything.  It’s a struggle to stand up the tripod and get really close to the bloom on the steep hill without either falling or smashing other flowers.  I manage to arrange things carefully so that when I’m done, there won’t be any permanent damage, but standing with my feet carefully placed in areas that were recently cleared of weeds causes me to bend over at a weird angle, straining my back.  I am getting quite a workout bending over the camera while balancing myself and trying to support my back with my stomach muscles.  Who knew photography was really a sport?

In the end, I’m reasonably happy with the shots I got.  A little more physical comfort might have led to some better shots, but to have had more physical comfortable, I would have done damage to the plants on the hillside, so I’ve decided less than perfect photos are better than damaged plants.

Here Comes the Moon Again

After a long morning of shooting at the Lookout Mountain Flight Park training hills, Tisen and I went shopping.  First, we went to Target to stock up on exciting supplies like Q-tips and shaving cream.

After waiting for me, Tisen got to do his own shopping–we took a stroll through PetsMart.  Tisen discovered a table loaded with cats hoping to be adopted.  One cat in particular really didn’t think Tisen should be there.  I guided Tisen quickly on by and back to the salon.

In the back, Tisen got a quick pedicure–they use a dremel, leaving his claws short and smooth.

Since Tisen doesn’t like treats, he got to pick out a new toy.  He chose a small beaver squeaky toy, so now Mr. Beaver has a Baby Beaver.  Tisen proudly carried Baby Beaver around the store with the large tags hanging out of his mouth.  People were highly amused.

After getting Baby Beaver out of Tisen’s mouth long enough to pay for him, we visited the good folks at the McKamey Animal Center, where Tisen’s life was saved.  At least a dozen staff members came out to visit him.  They all commented on how fat he is.  Considering he has gained about 25 pounds since he was originally rescued, I guess he does look fat by comparison.

He enjoyed being treated like a superstar.  The staff comments on his confidence and how happy he seems.  I smile proudly, slightly choked up as I always am when I think about how close this boy came to dying.

When we return home, Tisen cannot take a nap fast enough.  I spend some time working on photos while he rests, but soon, I join him on the couch.

After dinner, I prepared for a second chance to shoot the almost-full-moon.  Having learned a few things from my many attempts to shoot moonrise and set, I set up early, and found something well enough lit in the vicinity of where the moon will rise and focus on it ahead of time.  The biggest challenge of focusing at moonrise is that there is so little light when just a tiny bit of the moon starts to show that I can’t use live view and I have a hard time seeing in my view finder.

At least this time I was mentally prepared for the process and reminded myself to take a breath and relax.  I got way more shots of the moon rising than usual thanks to clouds that kept the moon looking interesting when it is well above the horizon.

As I review my images, I realize that for once, the success of my photos is limited by the capability of my equipment.  This might be a new achievement for me–I didn’t make any major mistakes but my camera couldn’t deliver the goods.  I’m disappointed by the noisy images.  I guess I’d better go see if the price of that new camera has started dropping yet . . .


Tisen and I make it to the training hills.  It’s a mile walk in my barefoot shoes on rough gravel carrying about 40 pounds of gear, but we stop frequently along the way to shoot, so it doesn’t seem so difficult.

Tisen gets confused shortly after we arrive.  When a hang gliding student drives off on a Kubota, Tisen sprints across the field following him.  I don’t realize Tisen thinks I’m on the Kubota until he gets 100 yards away and shows no sign of turning back.  I call him and he hears me, but he can’t tell where I am.  A glider flies into the field about 10 yards from Tisen and he decides it’s me, running straight for the glider.  I call him again, hoping to prevent him from “playing” with the pilot.

Tisen hears me, but when he looks up, he sees a group of people and decides that’s where I am.  I keep calling him, hoping he’ll locate me.  He is now 30 yards from me and running from person to person, eliminating each as a possible me.  After he passes them all, I am the only person left.  I wave my arms high in the air and call again.  At last, he sees me.  He’s so excited, he practically knocks me down when he runs up to greet me.  Poor guy.

After I take a few shots of the training hills half wishing I were flying today, we walk to the top of the big hill.  I take only my tripod and camera with the 16-35mm lens on it.  At the top, one of the pilots asks if I’m selling pictures.  I laugh.  He says he was hoping maybe he could buy some from me.  I take his email address and tell him I’ll email some photos to him for free.  Now I have a client.

I take some rapid-fire shots of his flight, but the wide angle lens looking down isn’t the best view.  Tisen and I walk back to the bottom of the hill and I set up again with my 100-400mm plus 1.4x teleconverter.  I shoot my client a second time, but this time looking up at 560mm.  It looks like I’m standing next to him.

Unfortunately, I cannot pan and focus manually at the same time, so I only get a few good shots during the launch before he drops out of my frame and then I lose focus when I find him again.  This is exactly why I don’t ask for money to shoot people.

I pack up, load myself with all my gear, and Tisen and I head back up the road, stopping to enjoy the sun on more spider webs and the contrasting colors of bright, new leaves against dark evergreens.

When we make it back to the car, Tisen hops in like he wasn’t sure we were going to survive this adventure.  He’s tired.  Come to think of it, so am I.

Walkin’ in a Spider Web

Tisen and I arrive at the gate to the training hills; there are already two trucks waiting for the arrival of the instructors.  I pull off as far as I can so cars can fit between us, hop out and start putting on my pack mule costume.

My costume consists of: a rain jacket, a book-bag sized backpack that weighs over 30 pounds, my tripod bag, my loupe, my camera with my 16-35mm lens, my five-in-one reflector, and my extension tubes.  I hang each accessory off of my body in a fashion best described as “sherpa.”

A man waiting in a truck rolls down his window and asks if I’m a professional photographer.  I assure him I am not, but I’d like to play one on TV.  After swapping stories about professional photographers, I excuse myself on the basis that the sun is rising rapidly.

Tisen gets very excited when he realizes we’re going for a hike.  He runs ahead of me doing his happy-dance-prance, with tail wagging, and turns to look back at me as if he thinks this is too good to be true.  I love his happy-dance-prance.  Never fails to make me smile.

We make our way down the gravel road until we reach an open field at the base of the mountain.  This field provides a home to what might as well be an infinite number of life forms, but today, I am mainly interested in the homes built by spiders.  Every time we’ve driven by this field early in the morning, the light has hit these dew-covered condos that are shaped roughly like a ball.  I’ve said at least a dozen times that I want to come out some morning and shoot these spider webs; today is the day.

Tisen gets a little frustrated that our walk is so short, but he amuses himself by running around exploring in the vicinity, occasionally disrupting my shot by brushing against the plant holding the spider web I’m shooting.  But once the vibration settles down, the spider web itself is undisturbed.

Interestingly, even though I end up shooting at least a dozen different spider webs, I never see a spider.  This could be because I didn’t put on my reading glasses to look at the spider homes, but it at least implies that the spiders who build these webs are small and hard to see.

Eventually, I decide I have enough spider web pictures and we head down the road to see what else we can see.  I grab a quick shot of a bend in the creek with the mist rising off of it with the 100mm lens still on my camera.  When I hear a Pileated Woodpecker call, I switch to my 100-400mm and 1.4x teleconverter in the hope he’ll fly our way.  We never see the woodpecker, but I do get a couple of shots of flowers high up in the trees.