The Food Chain

The Food Chain

It’s kind of become an annual tradition here on Weekly Fifty for me to post a picture of a garden spider in the fall, but as autumn marched onward and the leaves started to fall I must admit I had to wonder if I was going to get a picture of one of these black and yellow friends this year. Almost without fail one of these shoes up in our yard sometime around Labor Day, spins a big old web, and hangs out for a few days until it moves on to greener pastures.* The fall of 2017 was turning out to be a big of a bust though, and as the weather got a little chillier and the days grew shorter I kind of gave up on the idea of seeing one appear. And then, in an amazing display of arachnid consistency, my kids found this one hanging off the side of our house just like his (her?) forebears in years past.

And just like we always do, my boys and I spent a couple days feeding the spider with crickets and grasshoppers and watching the fascinating intricate display of dexterity as, with each insect we dropped into the web, the spider nimbly bound its prey in a whirlwind of webbing before closing in for the kill. It’s like watching a nature documentary without the television, and it’s a fun way to share a rather singular experience with my two boys who, like most kids their age, are endlessly curious about, and fascinated by, the world around them. After watching this spider capture the grasshopper my oldest, who turned six this summer, turned to me and said “It’s the food chain, daddy.” He went on to explain that the grasshopper had no doubt eaten other things, and now it was food for something else. I was both proud and relieved, since it has never been my intention to put bugs into spider webs in order to be cruel but to demonstrate to my kids that this is how our eight-legged friends survive. And to hear my son explain this back to me was a nice affirmation that something has stuck with him along the way.

Whenever these situations present themselves I always try to find a way to get photographs, and that is often a little tricker than it might seem. After using my close-up filters for so long I had a good idea of what gear I needed to get the shot I was going for here, so after this spider wrapped up the grasshopper I ran inside and grabbed my D750, 50mm lens, and +4 filter. Even though it was near sunset there was still enough light to get a good exposure at f/8, which I knew I would need in order to get a sharp image with a wide depth of field. Shooting at a smaller aperture would have left too much of the image out of focus, and shooting with a +10 filter would be far too close to see what’s really happening.

The shot you see here was taken at f/8, 1/180 second, ISO 5600 and I think it does a good job of showing what is really happening here. I tried a few different angles and also made sure to take the background elements into consideration–by showing the web the viewer is able to get a better sense of context, and by moving myself to position the spider in front of the gray eaves I was able to make the subjects stand out from the background.

Looking back on previous spider pictures I have posted it’s fun to see a progression in my photography, and also get a sense of just how much I still don’t know and have left to learn. And I’m confident that about a year from now I’ll have another opportunity to practice this type of shot.

*or wherever spiders go when they stop showing up. I have no idea :)

Levitate

Levitate

When our son turned six earlier this year we decided to buy him a camera, but instead of getting a kid-friendly camera we got him what he calls a real professional camera. You know, the kind for adults like daddy has. He has shown a great interest in taking pictures in the past year or so and we wanted to encourage that by giving him a real camera with real controls that could take real pictures, but at the same time we didn’t want to break the bank in case he broke the camera. Our solution was a Canon Powershot SD450, which was small and light enough to be pocketable but had all the options and controls of an actual camera. Because it is an actual camera, even though it’s not exactly the most current high-tech touchscreen model. And the beauty of the whole situation was that we only paid $25 for it on eBay, and even though it arrived with a couple of scratches and dings he has used it extensively ever since and jumps at the chance to use his “real professional” camera to take pictures of anything and everything he comes across.

He has also figured out how to change settings, turn the flash on and off, record movies, and set a timer for using it on daddy’s tripod. So yeah, you might say that the birthday gift was $25 well spent :)

A few weeks into the school year I asked my kids if they wanted to go on a photo walk with our cameras–me with my D750 + 50mm lens, my older son with his PowerShot, and my youngest with an old film camera (devoid of any actual film but with a flash that still works). They didn’t quite understand the point at first, but as we walked around the neighborhood taking a closer look at the everyday objects all around us the kids got more and more excited about taking pictures of the most boring, mundane things. We went the same way that the kids go when they walk to school so the route was well-traveled, but even so it took us about 45 minutes to walk roughly one mile because of how often they stopped. It was really cool :)

As we neared the end of our Photo Walk I saw this pinecone basically hovering in midair, suspended by only a thin branch which you can’t really see in the picture. I thought it would make for a fun picture, and a nice opportunity to get a super blurry background too. As usual it took a couple of tries for me to get it right, and of course both my kids wanted to get in on the photo action too, and in the end not only do I have a photo I like but a fun story to go along with it.

I’m not sure what all this says about the power of photography and the ability to use it as a connect with others, but there’s probably some kind of nugget buried here that maybe I’ll suss out someday :)

Together

Together

One a warm Friday morning in early September my wife brought our kids to OSU so I could watch them for an hour while she taught class. They had the day off school and we didn’t want to line up a babysitter for such a short time, so the three of us walked around campus for a little while and then found a place to sit down and have a picnic lunch with some sandwiches, apples, and a half can of peas each. While we were walking around they spotted an elevator and asked if they could ride in it to the fourth floor of the building we were in, and since I didn’t really see the harm in such a simple request we got in while they figured out who got to press the buttons. Once we arrived at the top they ran straight to the window you see here, and I quickly got out my D7100 and 50mm lens to fire off a couple shots.

I don’t normally post pictures of my kids here on Weekly Fifty because I like to keep that part of my life (and theirs) a bit more private, but this one kind of stood out to me for a few reasons. I like how it shows a physical closeness with the two boys, and even though they fight and argue as much as any pair/triad/quartet/etc. of siblings that has ever existed it’s moments like this that remind me of just how much they really do love each other. I also think it’s kind of cool how they are both clearly caught up in the same moment–not looking at one particular subject necessarily, but the action of looking out the window at the lawn below. The older one is resting his hands on the window ledge while the younger one is so short that he can barely see over it, and if you look carefully you’ll see that he’s got his arms stretched out and resting on the sill almost as if he is using them to stretch himself upwards just a bit more to see what his big brother is seeing.

I thought it was kind of a cool moment to freeze in time, and I had to act quickly to get the shot because kids tend to not stay in one place very long. I shot in Aperture Priority at f/2.8 to get the background nice and blurry and dialed in an exposure compensation of -5EV to ensure that the bright outdoors would not be blown out entirely. It worked just fine but it meant that the kids themselves were severely underexposed. Fortunately that’s exactly what I was going for so I didn’t mind :)

I originally posted the color version of this but a few days later returned to the image in Lightroom and re-edited it to be black and white. It felt more appropriate given the subjects (and subject matter) and it really served to highlight the silhouette as opposed to the color of the objects out the window. I certainly didn’t plan this shot but I’m glad I was able to take it, and it was another reminder of how important it is to have your camera with you and also know how to control it to make it do what you want to get the photos you want.

Worlds Apart

Worlds Apart

So there I was, heading out for a short walk around Theta Pond after a busy morning at work, when my friend and coworker Gina saw that I had my camera in hand and mentioned that she had a photo opportunity for me. She said there were some Mexican Verbena flowers near our building that I might want to check out with my close-up filters, so instead of going around the pond I took a detour to a little flower bed near the parking garage where I came across the flowers you see in this week’s picture. What Gina mentioned to me that made this opportunity a little more special was that when most people look at these particular flowers they see a single object, when in fact each large purple flower is actually made up of several very tiny flowers. It’s the kind of detail I would normally overlook (and have overlooked many times, since I walked past this particular bed of flowers often) but adds a whole new rich layer to what is already a beautiful sight.

The trickiest part about getting this photo was the wind, because when shooting with a 50mm lens and +10 filter the depth of field is so shallow that even the tiniest subject movement will wreak havoc on the photo. There was just a hint of a breeze when I took this shot but it was enough to send my camera into a tizzy when as tiny little flower petals had a tendency to jitter back and forth just slightly. When this happens as I’m doing close-up work I put my camera in continuous high-speed mode and take a ton of shots hoping something is in focus, and almost every time I get a few pictures that I can use. I’m guessing this would be different if I were using an actual macro lens and not close-up filters, but until that happens this is the technique I’m stuck with :)

One other thing about this picture is the weird color cast. Look at how the greens in the top right corner are kind of desaturated and yellow-ish. I played around with tint and some other settings in Lightroom but in the end I think this is mostly just an artifact that happens when using close-up filters instead of a true macro lens. I could be wrong here, but when I use my +10 filter I find that I get strange coloring issues on my pictures sometimes. Maybe it has something to do with the way different wavelengths of light are bent and manipulated by the close-up filter, or maybe it’s all in my head. It is what it is though, and instead of trying to fix or change it I usually just settle on leaving the picture how it is and try to learn something for next time. The purple flower in the center is sharp, colorful, and really draws your attention which is what I was going for. And in that regard I think the photo worked out, so It’s all good.

So thanks to Gina for pointing me in the direction of this flower, and to anyone reading this who is looking for something interesting to photograph…try walking outside your house or office and taking just a bit of a closer peed at the world around you. You might be surprised at what you find.

Who Watches the Watchers

Who Watches the Watchers

It’s weird how, as I look through some of the pictures I’ve posted here on Weekly Fifty over the years, they seem to come in phases. Sometimes I’ll have a couple weeks of macro shots. Then insects or animals. And now this is the second week that I’ve posted a picture of a building with the sky behind it, and I promise you it’s entirely coincidental. I was riding my bike past Boone Pickens Stadium a few weeks ago on Friday at the end of the first week of the fall semester and when I looked up at Cordell Hall something about it kind of gave me pause. It’s an old building, and probably won’t even be here much longer with all the campus improvements going on right now, but it’s the kind of structure that has a bit of character to it.

It wasn’t until I got these images loaded into Lightroom that I noticed a little addition to the building: the crows sitting on the railing between the two chimneys. It made me think about what they were doing up there at 7:15am on a Friday morning: where they waiting fur the sun to poke over the stadium? (Which you can’t see, but is right behind me as I shot this picture.) Were they looking for food? Were they shooting the breeze before heading off to work? Perhaps they were pondering a journey to Mintaka III. Like last week’s picture I don’t think I will ever really know the answer, and I’m OK with that since I kind of like to think of my own even if I know it’s probably not accurate.

Also, just for fun I ran the RAW file through the Accent AI filter in a program called Luminar that I’ve been using lately.

In some ways I think the results here are superior to what I got when I massaged the RAW file in Lightroom, but in other ways…not so much. I like the rich blue in the sky but the building itself has developed a bit of a halo around it that I don’t find all that visually pleasing. Still, it’s a good example of how far you can take a RAW file if you have the right software. And if you’re not ready to shell out all the money for Photoshop, Luminar might be worth checking out. (Disclaimer: that’s not an ad or a paid promotion. I don’t do that sort of thing here on Weekly Fifty. It’s just me sharing my thoughts.)

Derelict

Derelict

This is a picture I’ve been thinking about for a long time, and it’s the kind of shot that I just can’t go out and get any time I feel like it. Whenever we take Highway 77 north of town to get to the turnpike we pass this house, and every time we drive by I wonder about this house and what it’s doing there. When was it built? Does anyone still live in it? If so, why is it so run-down? If not, who farms the land around it? I don’t know if I will ever find the answers to these questions and in some ways I kind of like not knowing since it lets me make up my own stories about what’s really going on in inside those walls.

Despite, or perhaps because of, the fact that I don’t know anything about this house I always think it would be a compelling picture to take but since my wife and I are either at the beginning or end of a multi-hour drive to Nebraska when we go past this location I’ve never stopped to take a picture. Never, that is, until I found myself driving solo after dropping off my two nieces who stayed with us for a week this past summer. Eager to get home to my family, I spent less than a minute actually taking pictures and honestly there weren’t a whole lot of options for composing the photo since I did not want to trespass on private property. I had my D200 and 50mm lens with me at the time, which was a bit fortuitous since it meant I was shooting with roughly a 75mm equivalent lens when you take the crop factor into consideration, and that allowed me to get a closer view of the house than I would have on my D750. (Though I suppose I could have just cropped in on a D750 photo to get the same result. But still.)

I was pleasantly surprised at how the overcast sky and brown grass complemented the run-down appearance of the house, as this image would have taken on an entirely different connotation if shot in springtime, or in the early morning, or on a clear day with bright blue sky. It’s not a creepy photo despite the abandoned appearance of the house, and to me it’s more of a curiosity than anything. I shot at f/4, 1/1500 second, ISO 400 to get the exposure I was aiming for and I think it all worked out quite nicely. I’m curious what you, my readers, think of the house. Not the image per se, but the house itself. What stories come to your mind when you see this house or others like it that seem to have been long since forgotten by the passing of time?

Passing

Passing

After several years of taking photos, many of which end up here on Weekly Fifty, I’m still not sure what I would say if you were to ask me what my favorite subject is to photograph. I like taking all sorts of pictures whether people, animals, flowers, landscapes, etc. Some I’d say show up more often than others and some types of pictures are better suited to a 50mm lens than others, but I think it would be safe to say that one of my favorite themes to illustrate with photography is that of transition. Obviously a picture is just a visual representation of a single moment in time, but there’s something special about taking a picture that somehow captures the ebb and flow of time as a concept that I find fascinating. I think that’s what drew me to this particular photo opportunity in the first place and it’s one reason the more I look at it the more I like it.

As per usual I don’t know what type of plant this is but I’m fairly certain it’s not a four-leaf clover. It’s just one cluster of leaves on a large bush that is on the east side of Willard Hall on the OSU campus, and even though it looks at first glance like it could have some kind of leprechaun-infused magical properties I highly doubt that is in fact the case. What drew me to this particular leaf (or leaves? I dunno) was the way it showed a subject in transition from a state of life and vibrance to wilt and decay. Not an altogether pleasant idea, but one that is compelling nonetheless.

As you might be able to guess I shot this with my close-up filters (I think it was my trusty +4 on this image) and with my creaky-but-gotta-love-it D200. The seals on that camera are all worn out so I had to be careful about not getting too much rain on it, but it only took a few seconds to get this shot so I don’t think I was in too much danger of damaging anything. I like how the rain made the leaves shine and sparkle even in the overcast light, and the tiny drop rolling down the bottom-right edge of the lower leaf adds a nice bit of motion to the image also.

Sometimes I’ll take pictures like this and then return to the same spot a day later and it always amazes me how much things can change in just a short amount of time. It’s good motivation for me to take pictures and not let my camera sit on the shelf, because I sometimes just don’t realize or have an appreciation for just how quickly time does indeed fly, how little of it we have, and how precious even simple moments like this really are.

The Path

The Path

This was a photo that came about entirely because of limitations including, but not limited to, the following:

• I was shooting with my super old D200, which meant I had to keep the ISO low on this rainy, overcast day.
• D200 has no Live View and certainly no flip-out screen. I had to hold the camera low to the ground and literally could not see what I was shooting when I took this picture.
• My particular D200 has some kind of glitch which causes the camera to not close down the aperture about 1 out of every 4 shots. So if you shoot at f/4 you’ll get a lot of shots that are way, way overexposed because the lens was open to f/1.8
• Because of the limitations of my gear I shot this and other pictures at f/1.8 knowing I couldn’t rely on the camera to reliably stop the aperture down
• It was rainy and my D200 has cracks in the rubber grips and seals all over the place. I had to be extra careful with it or I’d need a whole new camera in a hurry.

I haven’t shot with my D200 in a long time and it was fun to dust it off and go out to take some pictures, and even though I prefer my much newer full-frame D750 there’s just something special about using old gear and working within the limitations it has to offer. I like the feel of this particular camera, and the chunkiness and sense of durability I get from using its controls. Not having access to things like Live View forces a photographer to come up with interesting solutions to photographic challenges, and something about the whole process of taking this and other photos made me slow down and really consider the basics of photography a bit more.

As to the shot you see here, just out of the frame on the right side is Theta Pond and far in the distance you might even be able to see the red brick of my building on campus which is just a way of saying that there’s nothing inherently special about the location of this picture. If the sun were out the middle portion of the shot would have been severely overexposed, but the clouds, rain, and leaves on the ground all came together to form kind of a somber, contemplative scene that I found quite pleasant. Since I couldn’t use Live View and didn’t want to get my work clothes all muddy I basically held the camera to my eye from a crouching position, locked focus, and then put the camera down on a brick outcropping and just shot several pictures not knowing at all how they would turn out. It was a weird way of going about taking photos and nothing I would actually recommend, but I like how things turned out.

Cicada

Cicada

The hum and rhythm of cicadas is a noise that used to bother me when I was a kid, but now is such a part of autumn life that I kind of miss it if it’s not there in the evenings. However, while the sound of these aural insects is not hard to miss it’s the bugs themselves which can sometimes be a bit more elusive. It’s not uncommon to find evidence of their presence on trees, bushes, and the sides of buildings but for some reason I don’t actually see the cicadas themselves very often if ever. It was because of this that I didn’t really think much of the subject of this photo when I walked past a bush across the street from my building at OSU, and almost missed a good photo opportunity in the process.

When I saw this little guy hanging out in the late afternoon sunshine I thought it was just another outer shell but, because it was so large, I thought I might as well take a picture of it anyway. When I got back to my office I grabbed my D200, 50mm lens, and set of close-up filters and walked back across the street (along with two friends from my office who just happened to be going in the same direction) to snap a photo or two. As soon as we got to the cicada shell one of them pointed out that it was, in fact, not a shell at all but a living cicada still very much ensconced in his existing exoskeleton.

Thankfully this cicada wasn’t too interested in moving around, and didn’t seem to mind that I was shoving a giant camera in his face, so I was able to spend a few minutes moving around and changing close-up filters to get just the shot I was looking for. I initially shot with my +10 filter at f/8 (and ISO 200, all the while being thankful for good light since the D200 is pretty bad at ISO 800 or higher) and got some shots that, while kind of neat, were honestly just a bit too close to be interesting. Soon I switched to my +4 filter at f/4 and took several shots like the one you see here, but from different angles and knowing I would likely need to crop in a bit.

While I was photographing I started to get a little frustrated with one of the limitations of this old camera, in that there are only 11 autofocus points. I really wanted to nail focus on the eye, but focus-and-recompose is out of the question when working at such close distances because the depth of field is so shallow. If I was using my D7100 or D750 I could have just selected an AF point that was right on top of the eye but on my D200 when I did that same thing it invariably resulted in a poor overall composition which was why the ending shot needed to be cropped a bit more than I would have liked.

In the end I was thrilled to get to see a cicada up close and get a decent shot of it too. As my wife said, “that bug has one ugly mug!” and I certainly agree with that assessment. If one landed on me I’d probably freak out and shoo it away as quickly as possible, but it was fun to spend a few minutes getting a close look at such a fascinatingly-designed insect.

Good Morning Sunshine

Good Morning Sunshine

When I was a kid I clearly remember my mom saying “Good morning sunshine!” to me and my siblings, particularly on school mornings when we would wander upstairs bleary-eyed and wishing we could go back to bed for just a few more minutes of sleep. That phrase has always stuck with me over the years and, come to think of it, I need to start saying it to my own two boys. Who knows…maybe they will remember it when they’re older too :)

On my bike ride home from work near the end of July I passed a couple sunflowers at the base of a hill near a retirement home, and made a mental note to return to the same spot the following morning in order to get a couple shots of the flowers as the sun was rising. It was kind of the same idea as last week’s photo, but this time it was entirely intentional and I clearly knew in advance where I wanted to go, what I wanted to photograph, and how I wanted the composition to look. Sort of. And I’ll get to that in a second.

First, for a bit of context, here’s the scene:

Not much to look at, right? I think that’s why I biked past this little grove so many times without really noticing anything. But if photography is taught me anything over the years, it’s that I really do need to slow down, look harder, and really see the picture opportunities right before my eyes. So that’s what I tried to do, and when I came back this way the very next morning I had a clear idea of what I wanted to capture, where the light would be coming from, what elements I wanted to use in the composition, etc.

I spent a few minutes wading through the tall grass taking pictures of the flower on the far right from a variety of angles, and I was specifically trying to get a picture with the flower on the left and the sky poking out through the trees in the background. Here’s my favorites from the shoot, as seen in my Lightroom library.

I eventually settled on #6 (you can see dim gray numbers behind the thumbnails) because I liked how the discrete elements of the composition came together to form a cohesive whole: the sky in the top-right corner, the bright yellow flower in the middle, and the green leaves behind it which created a nice sense of contrast as well. Originally I thought #5 was my image of choice but the more I looked at it the more I realized that the streak of blue sky blended in a bit too much with the yellow petals, whereas #6 created a much stronger composition and the green background really served to highlight the subject.

It was a fun exercise in finding a picture opportunity that was dulled just a bit when I got back on my bike and found my shorts and legs covered in hundreds of small little burs from the grass. I spent the rest of the day picking them off but it was a small price to pay for a picture I really liked :)