30 December 2011

Do-Over: Two Trees

Two Trees at Sunset, Bosque del Apache NWR, Oct. 2011
It is sunny and WARM (mid-50s) today, so I'll just be a moment before heading outside with the kids and the dogs. Based on feedback I received on the original posting of this photo, I've been wanting to re-process the image to give the trees more "breathing room." I know I tend to crop in too closely, probably fearing that details (like the bird perching atop the dead tree above) will be lost in a larger image, but really the point of landscapes seems to be large ideas rather than small details. I still need to work on that. Meanwhile, here's the revised image, and I do indeed like it much better than my earlier version. I always appreciate feedback, including constructive criticism; nothing like another set of eyes to offer a different perspective.

27 December 2011

Ice, Ice, Baby

Icicle detail, Magdalena, NM, Dec. 2011
Icicle at sunset
I never imagined an icicle could look so... alluring.... So my "Appreciate Winter's Unique Beauty" series continues thanks to bountiful ice and snow. Our weather has been off the charts lately; the first official day of winter brought us our fourth winter storm, and this one was a monster for us in central and western New Mexico. The scenery is amazing, though, and just the icicles on my house (now melted) provided some great images. The photo above is not a macro (that would have given better clarity but I couldn't find my macro filter in the Christmas mess) but rather a close-up taken from the image at left. It still has some very cool details and looks like a glass sculpture of a woman's body. I was shocked to see that my camera managed to capture the icicle's surface frost and interior bubbles. More Photoshopping would surely clean up the detail in the reflections, and I'll be looking harder for that macro filter now that I see what this camera is capable of.

22 December 2011

What A Real Pro Can Do

Rosy Finch in a whole new light
I asked a friend to help me learn more about Photoshop and bring a bit more "art" to my photos, and WOW did I learn a lot. Watching a professional work was a great experience in itself, and to come up with this result, which may or may not be "finished" (I think it's already fabulous), was beyond what I'd hoped for. So, what am I gonna do during my vacation (besides finally finish my course project)? Play, play, play! And, not that I need another reason to want to hang out with this great person, but hey, I'm sure I'll need a refresher course soon. Next up: a re-do of the hummingbird pictures; thanks to your feedback and my great tutelage I have some ideas of how to make them... outstanding? Well, I'll try.

20 December 2011

Post-Processing Experiments: Hummingbird Images Revisited

I am staying up way too late these days playing in Photoshop, lately with the Topaz B/W plug-in. Working with the latter I am finally breaking free of my visual literalism (or whatever you'd call it) to consider what other elements of an image besides stark realism might express the essence of the subject. I always want the most crisp image possible and recall being disappointed when I first opened these images; without a ridiculously expensive fast telephoto lens, hummingbirds are close to impossible to capture "perfectly."

Last night I opened three hummingbird images I took during the summer and started abstracting them; the results were nice, but... still very realistic. Tonight, having had so much fun earlier with today's bird images, I opened the hummingbird images again and went further into abstraction. The blur works here; especially in the top photo I marvel at the clarity of the little dude's eye and head/neck feathers.

I still need to work with the tinting; I see these as a series, perhaps matted or at least hung together, and think the color should be consistent among them. But I can't decide between a warmer or a cooler tone... what do you think?

19 December 2011

Birds at Play

Rosy Finch, Digital photo in Opalotype style, Magdalena, NM, Dec. 2011
Dark-eyed Junco
It is still snowing here in Western New Mexico, and it is lovely. I refilled the bird feeders this morning, knowing my little buddies wouldn't be able to get to much of their natural food thanks to our heavy snow today, and here they are, giving me and the kitties a wonderful show. The front feeder has been taken over by doves, who drop enough feed on the ground that I'm hoping some quail will come by later. I don't see them often because I live in town and many dogs roam around, but when the weather keeps the dogs (and people) hunkered down the quail probably feel safer coming out from their brushy cover.

Female Finch
We have a feeder in the back yard, too, and I moved it closer to the sliding glass doors in the living room so I could get some good shots of them feeding and fussing. I used my 55-200mm zoom lens for these images; I was going to sell this lens because I've never been impressed by its optics but decided to hold off to see if it gave better results with the new camera. These are good enough for now, I think. I processed them as always in Photoshop, then ran them through the Topaz Labs B/W Effects filter to add a vintage feel by desaturating (though I never can bring myself to eliminate the color altogether), adding grain and vignettes, and so forth. These images are all done in the "Opalotype" style, which mimics an early photographic process of printing images directly on milk glass (also called opal glass). Like many black-and-white prints opalotypes were often hand-tinted with just a blush of color. I'm in LUVVV with this style, so please bear with me as I work it to death in the next few processing sessions....

Mr. and Mrs. Finch at dinner

The Creative Exchange: Snowfall

Midnight Snow, Magdalena, NM, Dec. 2011
I'm linking up with Lisa and friends at The Creative Exchange, always a showcase for amazing and unique photography. We've had storms blowing through one after another for the past few weeks now, which wouldn't seem unusual for most people this time of year. But I live in New Mexico, and when I tell people in other parts of the country about our snow they exclaim, "But how is that possible??"

I'm no fan of winter weather, but if this recent trend signals the end of our wretched La Nina cycle of the past year and some, I can live with it. For a while.

Intimate Landscapes: Glass Chile, Revisited

Hand-blown Glass Chile, Magdalena, NM, Dec. 2011
Oh, my. The new camera does indeed have a better sensor, providing a much clearer, less noisy image. I had to do a lot less processing to bring out the clarity in this image than I did on those in my previous glass chile post, and good God look at those colors.

I think winter will be a bit more bearable now. Huge thanks to my dad for giving me this camera for Christmas, and for believing in my photography.

18 December 2011

Intimate Landscapes: Old Rugged Cross

Rusted Iron Cross Detail 1, Magdalena, NM, Dec. 2011
It's cloudy and raw outside, so the kids and I are staying in... and trying not to get on each other's nerves. (They're annoyed with me at the moment because I won't climb a rickety ladder to try to hoist the 45-pound fake Christmas tree out of the garage rafters....) Today's diversion: photography, with my new camera and the f1.8 35mm lens, and stuff around the house that looks cool in the low winter sunlight.

Rusted Iron Cross Detail 2, Magdalena, NM, Dec. 2011
This cross came from the store/gallery I owned and ran till 2007; I bought it in Juarez in 2006 from an ironworker who had accidentally discovered after a freak rainstorm that his beautifully made crosses looked even better with the rich rusted patina that grows on iron after it is exposed to the elements. This cross looks just divine hung on a whitewashed adobe wall, but since I don't currently have such a wall I can make do with an old tapestry for the backdrop.

Rusted Iron Cross Detail 3, Magdalena, NM, Dec. 2011

I Heart Macro: Morning Frost

Light Morning Frost, Magdalena, NM, Dec. 2011

Close-up of Heavy Frost
Time for I Heart Macro! What a winter we've had already -- two major storms so far and another due on Monday -- and it's not even technically winter yet. Two mornings ago the frost was so heavy on my windshield that it took almost 10 minutes of blasting hot air through the defroster to clear it off. I did think to grab a few photos (including the one in my previous post) with my early Christmas gift, a Nikon D5100 that is a step up from the D3000 I've been using for the past year and a half. The D5100 offers a better sensor and much better light sensitivity, and although I haven't yet figured out most of the settings I was able to grab some pretty cool frost photos while waiting for the car to heat up. The second photo shows a close-up of much larger frost crystals; I ran the image through Topaz Labs' B/W Effects for a quick enhancement and may play around with some tinting later on. I have a sad feeling I'll be getting lots of frost and snow images this winter... yes, we need the precipitation, but I can live without the cold and the inconvenience of being stuck at home when I'd rather be out working or playing.

17 December 2011

Winter's Bone

Looking up through morning frost, Magdalena, NM, December 2011
"I prefer winter and fall, when you feel the bone structure in the landscape - the loneliness of it - the dead feeling of winter. Something waits beneath it..."
-Andrew Wyeth

I don't agree with the "prefer" part of this quote; I much prefer the lush abundance of summer and the easy living that comes with the long, warm days. Winter drives me indoors, away from the sun and fresh air, and the short days leave me slightly bereft, especially in these weeks around Winter Solstice. Winter's Bone, a stark depiction of loss and redemption in rural Missouri, highlights both the cold, grim harshness of midwinter and the bone-deep resilience we summon to survive it. I'll be calling on my reserves a lot this winter and will also be hoping for a trip someplace warm before long to refill the well....

14 December 2011

12 December 2011

Post-Processing Experiments: Toning and Tinting

Dog stole my chair.
No running water thanks to an unexpected hard-enough freeze. More snow on the way. And then I go to sit by the fire, one of winter's few pleasures (for me), and my seat is taken. Fine then, I'll just go crawl into bed and hibernate. I think bears hibernate not just to save energy but to spare themselves the inconveniences of winter. Maybe I'm projecting a bit....

I used a flash on this photo, the effects of which I always end up hating, so I ran it through Topaz's B/W effects plug-in and took away most of, but not all of, the color. Riley is a bit out of focus, something to check more carefully next time.

07 December 2011

The Dark of December

Fuchsia in bloom, Magdalena, NM, Dec. 2011

I posted this poem about a year ago, and it bears repeating as we in the Northern Hemisphere slump toward the darkest day of the year.

I heard a bird sing
In the dark of December
A magical thing
And sweet to remember.

"We are nearer to Spring
Than we were in September,"
I heard a bird sing
In the dark of December.

-Oliver Herford

We do get "real winter" here in New Mexico, USA, but thankfully we also get a lot of sun, which I can enjoy all winter thanks to two large south-facing sliding glass doors. Last year I packed trays of greens and then seed starts onto open shelves in these sunny spaces, a successful endeavor I plan to repeat along with overwintering some tender perennials I can't bear to leave to the elements. Fuchsias have always been among my favorite plants. They're a bit temperamental -- they need conditions that are not too hot, not too cold, not too sunny, not too dim -- but I persist in growing them and did quite well with this plant on the shady front porch this summer.

As cold weather descended, I decided to see if it could overwinter inside, and so far, so good. I took these shots with my 35mm f1.8 lens, which is getting a lot of use these days because I'm snowed in and bored almost to tears because, really, I'm not much of a homebody. I want to be outside. All the time, or close to it, or at least by an open window. I did make it outside for a while yesterday to sweep and shovel snow, dust off and bring in wood for the fireplace, and play with Maggie and the dogs just before the sunset, which probably kept me from losing my marbles altogether.

We are nearer to spring....

Fuchsia buds, Magdalena, NM, Dec. 2011

06 December 2011

Snow Day

Sleepy pup, Magdalena, NM, Dec. 2011
We got 10 inches of snow up here yesterday, followed by a biting cold front that drove the temperature down to -5 by midnight. This all made for treacherous roads (even major lengths of I-25 were closed until late this morning) that probably won't be safe to drive for another day or so, so I had to cancel on five clients today and am trying to keep from going crazy with cabin fever. The dogs and the cats are all bouncing off the walls, literally except for Lucy, but every time I open the door to let them out they rear back and glare at me as if to say, "What is this -- make it WARM!" I guess I could catch up on paperwork and coursework and cleaning, but I'd much rather be working with clients and socializing with colleagues after several days of being housebound. Maybe the dogs and I will walk around town so I can get some photos and they can, well, sniff everything like dogs do, and run and play, and burn off some energy. I guess winter is really here, dang it.

05 December 2011

Still Life in Glass and Geode

Hand-blown glass chile on geode fragment, Magdalena, NM, Dec. 2011

One benefit of staying in on a wintry day is looking closely at everyday objects and figuring out ways to see them differently. I used my somewhat neglected 35mm f1.8 lens for these shots; it's a very fast lens, which I don't really need outdoors, and the shallow depth of field that happens at such a low f-stop doesn't work well with moving critters or wind-tossed flowers. Yesterday, stuck indoors in low light, I had a chance to rediscover its versatility and unique perspective. I gave this glass chile, made by an Albuquerque artist, to my mom two years ago, and the geode fragment came from a hike I took way up into the Magdalenas last summer. Nothing compares to natural light, and the weather was so volatile today that these shots, taken maybe five minutes apart, show an entirely different sky in the background as clouds tumbled from the mountains into town.

04 December 2011

I Heart Macro: Staying In

Angel Wing Begonia, Magdalena, NM, Dec. 2011
Last winter I gave myself the assignment to explore winter colors and textures, and though I doubt I'll ever grow fond of the season I did enjoy gaining a new perspective on its subtle natural beauty. This year I'm revisiting the assignment and, for now at least, will be exploring what might be termed "intimate landscapes," that is, the small beauties I find and create within my and others' homes this season. This shot was just what I was hoping to present for this week's I Heart Macro. The begonia plant, still a baby, was a cutting from a dear friend's plant (hers is easily 6 feet tall) and has graciously decided to begin blooming just as winter finishes off the last of my tender flowering plants outside. I got some other nice indoor shots today that I'll share during the week as I find time to Photoshop them. I hope you all have a good week.