Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Exploring macro

At a recent photo meetup I met a young man who was taking pictures of flowers on a tripod in broad daylight. I thought he was foolish. There was plenty of existing light for nice flower photos. I discovered I had something to learn. The kind sir, Justin Welsh, was gracious enough to explain that he had purchased extension tubes that allowed him to get closer into the flower. The tripod is because he is getting a great depth of field in a very tight area. And with that depth of field, his shutter speed was at 1/3 of a second or slower. Thus the tripod was a "must." 

He was kind enough to offer me the use of his extension tubes which are really a great deal for a budget conscious photographer. You can get 3 different sizes for about $60.  The tough part is focusing. You need to turn vibration reduction off and, I believe, you get best results by manually focusing.

I was so impressed, I cam home and ordered a set of my own. I got a 12mm, 20mm and 36mm with a Nikon mount. When they arrived, I was disappointed to see there was no glass in them. How could they possibly work? I took a few pictures and wrote to Justin that I was disappointed with my results.  He kindly responded that I should try with a variety of lenses. So I did. And I've been impressed with the results.  Here is one with my 24-70mm and the 36mm extension tube:
And here are a few a my birthday flowers that a dear friend gave me, utilizing my 105mm and both the 12mm and 20mm.  Pretty cool.

Justin also uses a remote shutter control which I also purchased but haven't figured out. He said I need to have the shutter mode set to remote and I haven't located that setting just yet. Please respond if you know where this is on a Nikon D700.

One other thing he stated was that he likes to use his 70-300mm lens zoomed in at 300mm doing macro at 5-7ft away from the subject. I only have a 70 - 200mm but that is going to be my next project, to see how that works for me.

I am pleased to report, wildflowers are still very prevalent in Austin. They started popping out in the beginning of March and, while they are quite a bit taller now, they are still colorful and exciting.  This is with my iphone but tonight I'm going back to this field with my trusty tripod, extension tubes and what I've learned from another generous photographer and see what I get.

Happy shooting, friends!

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Big Bend National Park

What is it that compels me to take way too many images of the things that move me? I was absolutely awe-struck at the beauty and majesty of Big Bend National Park in southwest Texas.  I had seen pictures in a magazine last summer that made me insistent on planning a spring trip there. A good friend urged me to be sure to go in early April when the desert would be blooming and to definitely get a place at Chisos Mountain Lodge, the only accommodations right in the park. Both were excellent recommendations. If you read my last blog you know that the trip there and back were almost as good as actually being there (the wildflowers are STUNNING this year! Still are!).

Well, almost.  The last 2 hours of the ride were boring, colorless desert and I really thought that nothing could make this trip worthwhile. And then we saw the graceful Octillo cacti with their bright orange blossoms on the long, thin green stalks, waving in the breeze with a backdrop of some spectacular mountains.

Soon after that,  we arrived here.... (that's my husband by our car)

Check out where we stayed (below).  For the next four days I went nuts trying to capture it all.  The beauty of this place is indescribable. As I navigate through all of my photos, I am happy to see that I did capture so many memories - finding a rock formation that looked like an elephant, showing that we finally reached the top of the path that led us to Balanced Rock, and getting to experience some truly beautiful sunsets.  Selecting a few to show to you, however, is another story.

For those of you who don't know, this national park is as large as the state of Rhode Island. It's southern border is the Rio Grande River. On the other side of that is Mexico. It is a land of startling contrasts, as it's website boasts, with spectacular river, mountain, desert and valley scenery.  It should be on a hikers "must do" list.

Rio Grande River on the border of Mexico.

We got up early to shoot sunrises. We stayed up late and got star trails. We hiked and drove and took 1460 photos. My true challenge, now, is in post-production. Many were done as HDR groupings or panoramic groupings. Sifting through them is making me question why I do this at all. NOBODY wants to look at all of those images - including me. Which ones are "good" and which "not so good?"  I am actually reveling in tossing some out.

Here's one of my favorites because it reminds me how much fun we had together
and that we can get creatively silly when we want to.
My husband walking a trail with a flashlight in hand, in our "backyard" after dark.

I've been looking at other great photographer's sites today trying to figure out why I took so many images. My goal was to get a large image of a definitive Texan landscape for over our mantle. I did get a couple that qualify for that. My goal, as a photographer, is always to capture places that totally move me, so that others who don't get to travel, can still enjoy a special place. Or that those who do get to go there, can relive it because I have worked at capturing it's quintessential essence (I just discovered, there is actually a word - quintessence.)

Just watched a video podcast by Robert Rodriguez, Jr. that helped a bit. "There's a lot more that goes into a great photograph than simply pressing the button.  How we process and creatively interpret that image in a program like LR, makes a difference to what the viewer sees."  Thanks, Robert!

OK, so it's my DUTY (as a neurotic photographer) to sift through the images I felt the necessity to capture and try to craft them into the beautiful moments I remember and share them with you.  There  are plenty more to see at

I guess I'll continue to figure out which are the "very best" but I think I've come to realize I like TAKING photos more than any other part of the creative process...except perhaps sharing them. I do enjoy the reactions of friends and family when they take the time to view my images.

Me at the end of a good day.

Happy trails and happy shooting, friends!

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Getting there

This blog is not for Texans.  They already know how outrageously awesome the landscape of their highways and byways is in March and April.  This is intended to try and describe how magnificent and exciting the mosaic of the ever-changing colors that blanket the entire state - especially on the highways, appears as you travel.

As a photographer, I am challenged to try and capture images that move me. And, as you can see, I was compelled to photograph every darn mosaic meadow we passed. But it was like being in a blender with Crayola crayons - the tapestry of colors kept changing and changing.....for MILES! An assortment of yellows, then suddenly a mix of yellows, blues, purples and whites mixed with the lush green grass. We pulled off the side of the road several times, exclaiming things like, "look - a pink one! Hey, have you seen this orange puff ball thing? (horticulturalists, we are not) Look at this different kind of purple flower!"

And the landscape itself kept shifting - from meadow-y mixtures of a riot of colors, to forests of trees with a blanket of blues and oranges beneath them, to fields of arid cacti sprinkled liberally with purples, oranges and blues. It was an exponential mosaic quilt - an absolute riot of colors. And Andrew and I have been like two kids in a candy shop, wanting to capture it all.

The flowers are Lady Bird Johnson's legacy. She inspired the passage of the Beautification Act of 1965–a “gift” from LBJ–which cemented environmentalism as a top priority in the United States. Her dreams are a "gift" to us, as we get to be inspired by the millions of blooms planted in Washington DC as well as, in the sweeping banks of wildflowers lining U.S. (and especially Texas) highways.
 Bad drive-by image, but it helps allow you a feel for the experience. 

Stay tuned as I plow my way through over 1,000 photos at Big Bend National Park (our ultimate destination - but the trip was as wonderful as the destination)

I'm beginning to see Texas as a bit of heaven on earth (and I NEVER thought I'd say that!!!) Put a visit to the Texas Hill Country in late March, early April on your wish list!

Happy shooting, friends!