August 28, 2011

Photo of the day: 073

Filed under: Uncategorized — paul davis @ 5:57 pm

I’ve developed a fascination with the interplay between my fence and the spiders’ webs. My fence cost a few thousand dollars (don’t know how few, it came with the house), was built with materials manufactured at significant pain to the environment then assembled over many days of hard labor, and is now looking pretty bad, through my inattention to maintaining it, mainly…though entropy is always going to win in the end. The spider tossed off her web overnight all on her own, and will do another tomorrow night. Which is the more advanced species? Yes, the two structures serve different purposes, but which is the grander of the two?

I spent yesterday afternoon reattaching the “cloth” of the fence (yep, it’s really called that) to the corner post I had reset, then walking all the way around it (at least 800 feet of it) replacing the countless ties that have popped off and bending posts and top poles back into place where large mammals have hopped the fence or run into it with the lawnmower. I went down one long side then made the turn into the waist-high weeds at the back of the property. I went all the way down that side, picking up every burr in the county on my shoes, socks, and leg hair. I passed the gate and kept going. At no point did it occur to me that the grass on the inside of the fence was mowed, by me, very recently, and that working from that side would be a lot more comfortable. Yes, the spider is looking smarter all the time.

One of the unintended consequences of lack of fence maintenance is volunteer trees in the fence row. I’ve always liked that aspect of back forties, and I like it on our back two, as well. These drops wouldn’t have anywhere to hang if I’d been better about trimming weeds.

An almost perfect web, with a symbiotic background.

These multi-hued roses are volunteers at the gate of our horse neighbor up our lane to the north. Jeanne and I took Mabel for an unusual morning walk today in that direction. I had already headed down the road with both of them still sleeping, took the notion that it was a beautiful late-summer morning, and went back to wake them up.

The horse is named Reichart. He’s a beauty–practically an icon of a horse. Last evening he stood still in the gloaming up on the hill by the silo, daring us to imagine him as anything but horse.

Heading, dramatically, our way.

A meeting of the species.

Flat-top thistle…no idea how that came to be.

Near the far-point of our walk we spotted dinner-plate sized white flowers up the hillside through the trees, growing on a dump heap. I ride past this spot nearly every time I ride my bike, but I’m always going too fast…or rather going too close-mindedly…to see them.

We turned around on the bridge over the Little Blue River. Julie used to walk down to this creek all the time, and even take photos here, but I’d never stopped to look.

August 27, 2011

Photo of the day: 072/Pip

Filed under: Uncategorized — paul davis @ 4:16 pm

I’ve been wanting to run a Pip series for a while. Since I’ve not been keeping up rigorously with the photos-every-day concept, I thought I’d give you a bonus post today.

I may not have the genetic material to photograph cats…or maybe dogs are just better natural subjects. Someone said, “Dogs are social animals, cats are sociopaths.”

There was a very readable article in The New Yorker, August 8 edition, by Adam Gopnik called “Dog Story” in which Gopnik makes the point that dogs are the only creatures that have learned to look at us (humans) the way we (humans) look at each other. Pip’s look says, “If this house burned down, and you in it, I guess I’d have to find another place to live.”

On the other hand, Pip has a daily habit of climbing onto Jeanne’s shoulder for something that nearly resembles a hug.

Usually she just looks out the window from Jeanne’s shoulder, but I happened to get her yawning.

Pip goes well with our color scheme.

OK, that should hold the cat lovers for a while.

Photo of the day: 071

Filed under: Uncategorized — paul davis @ 8:22 am

I’ve got some work to do repairing our fence. I spent part of the afternoon disassembling a section and digging out a corner post that Mabel has learned to lever out from the wall of my shop in order to escape our yard (she elopes with Hank, the neighbor dog). I dug the hole bigger, then reset the post with two bags of concrete. All of this is to say that this morning I thought it would be good to find a surprising blue beauty in that fence.

Here’s another member of Hank’s harem, Isabel. She just had a haircut. The golden light was good to her.

Mabel and I went for a walk last night. She allowed me to take one photo of Isabel and one of these flowers and one of the geese.

For some reason I thought of a board meeting.

On the way home Mabel ran into the reincarnation of Winston Churchill (the early years, before he got all jowly). Mabel doesn’t get British humor.

OK, I’ll admit that I seem to be making a thing of spider webs. I just can’t stop…

…but…they’re just so darn pretty. Look at that drop in the middle picking up red yellow and blue.

Just noticed that once again I forgot to downsize all the earlier photos in this post.

The creamy gradient of the backdrop always wows me. You can do that in Photoshop, but it’s hard for me to be as subtle.

Exercise in skinny focus.

Like a tiny golden Christmas tree.

Whichever way I moved, she moved in perfect synchronicity to stay on the other side of the stem. Only that engineering marvel of a transparent knee stuck out.

August 25, 2011

Photo of the day: 070

Filed under: Uncategorized — paul davis @ 8:49 pm

I was back this morning at the single tall weed/flower still standing around our pond (and it’s listing now)–the one that always has some big bug or another on it every morning. Today I could see a pair of hefty monarch caterpillars making breakfast out of her…she just gives and gives. I like the way one of the antennae is draped over a leaf.

These are late-stage caterpillars–fully two inches long. I’m guessing this is the last of the five skins she’ll wear before butterfly.

Julie used to call these “cadderpitters.”

I tried a variation of the flash-fill-into-sunset I used on Jake and Olyvia last night. Except this was sunrise, I was holding the flash in my left hand, and the lens was 6 inches from the subject.

Monarch on black velvet…really it was just dark out and I used the off-camera flash.

Through fog into sunrise.

The sun just blasted over the ridge, sparkling this sleepy little bee.

Golden light striking the bank.

I hid the flash way down low in the weeds underneath the web, pointed it up with a tight beam to catch the strands, and shot into the foggy sunrise.



August 24, 2011

Photo of the day: 069/Jake and Olyvia

Filed under: Uncategorized — paul davis @ 9:51 pm

I received an off-camera flash by UPS today. I’ve been reading the strobist website and one of my favorite posts was how to use the sunset as a free backdrop any day of the year. The sunset wasn’t spectacular today, but I grabbed the flash and attached it 8 feet up on a stand, reflecting into an umbrella. The sunset itself serves as a back light, giving you nice separation.

Jake and Olyvia were at our house for dinner, on their way home from Seattle. I invited them to serve as models to see if we could figure out the technique.

They weren’t really posing–just goofing around while talking to each other, Jeanne, and Mabel.

Nice movement.

They’ve left now, driving back up to Graceland.

August 23, 2011

Photo of the day: 068

Filed under: Uncategorized — paul davis @ 12:12 pm

The light coming over the ridge this morning lit up the clouds before it lit up me. Those pointing rays could be taken as a sign…but of what? That I should become a pilot? A hot air balloonist? Jump really high?

I took them as a sign that I should throw my tripod over my shoulder and schlep down the road to the blue flowers. When I got there I discovered that the neighbor who owns that land mowed it yesterday afternoon. VERY unusual…as in, he mows it once a year, maybe. The crying of the blue flowers should have reached my ears. So now what is this a sign of?

I schlepped back up the road, flip-flops dragging, not finding a single thing to photograph. Then I saw this brown little mushroom right at the road’s edge, and snapped it off to take back inside.

By the time I’d made coffee, the mushroom had already lost so much moisture that the stem would not support her weight. So I hung her upside down. This is the first shot, with ambient sunlight only coming through the blinds, which adds up to a four second exposure at f32.

She was losing her vitality by the minute, wrinkling up at the edges. She was so fragile and airy that even shifting my weight three feet away would cause her to vibrate. With an exposure of four seconds, I would have to stand completely still for 20 seconds to let her damp out before opening the shutter remotely.

I added some orange light diffusing through a sheet from camera right and some white light similarly diffused from the left.

Shooting up from below, orange light showing through the fungus. I felt a calling to return to the mother ship.

Just about gone, she’s so dried up.

Yesterday afternoon at Whole Foods I procured a paperbagful of hatch green chilies, fresh off the truck from New Mexico. I’m about to roast them to make hatch green chili chili, specialty of Chuy’s, Austin, TX.

Chili lovers.


August 22, 2011

Photo of the day: 067

Filed under: Uncategorized — paul davis @ 10:09 am

What will be different about this morning’s photos is depth of field. I had left my camera on the tripod after shooting the surprise lily massacre on Saturday morning. When I looked out this morning, there was no sun, so I threw the tripod over my shoulder and headed for the pond. Almost all of the photos are at f32–which meant long shutter opens. I used a remote shutter release, too. One of the side benefits of shooting this way is far fewer exposures to sort through. I made only 97 exposures this morning–about a half to a third the usual. Getting to the point: you get a lot more drops in focus.

This is what happens when you bump the subject with your remote release button just as you press it. It spoke to me…so here it is.

The sun just poked through the clouds over the ridge. I never miss a chance for a backlight blowout.

This is the only shot for which I opened up the aperture, to f/10.

I found it endearing when she scrambled around to the far side of the stalk to hide from me, then put one arm over her eyes for good measure.

Meanwhile, on the next web over, another hiding strategy.

Yeah, you’re probably sick of grasshoppers, but this one is more in focus than usual, given the tripod and tiny aperture. Have you noticed how they always give me the same look? Taciturn: inclined to silence; reserved in speech; reluctant to join in conversation.

Low water levels, heat, and calm=colorful pond surface. The sun is just now striking it.

Clouds and blue sky reflecting off pond scum. The foreground is darker because it’s shadowed by the high bank.

Don’t ask me–it’s just what the water looks like right now. I wasn’t thinking about swimming in it.



August 20, 2011

Photo of the day: 066

Filed under: Uncategorized — paul davis @ 3:23 pm

Here’s the sky from our patio just after sunset. Lots of evenings Jeanne and I sit and watch it together, and I usually have the camera in my lap in case something like this assembles itself.


We went to the KC Ethnic Enrichment Festival last evening. It’s in Swope Park, nine miles from our house, but I wouldn’t have known about it if I hadn’t gotten lost and found a new route through the park a couple of weeks ago. All the really epic rides I’ve ever taken have included getting lost, which stands to reason once you know that an epic hinges on the moment you run out of fuel, water, daylight, and common sense simultaneously. The festival was a nice reward for this particular instance of 102-degree epicness.

My photos would be more representative of the experience if they showed me standing in line at food booths while wolfing down what I bought at adjacent food booths. Jeanne had to hold me by the collar as we made the pre-purchase sweep of the 40 or 5o booths. Unlike every other festival of this sort I’ve ever attended, the food is a bargain–I think the most we paid for a plate of Croatian or Vietnamese or Swedish vittles was $4. I was polishing off a basket of patatas aioli while watching this Mexican dancer.

Big big rain last night, with big big wind, and Jim and Madelyn’s lilies took it in the shorts. I was making my way across their yard this early morning when Madelyn came out her front door to walk their dogs. These are the flowers I called aliens on two-foot stalks a couple of days ago, so she gave me the real name: surprise lilies–they spring up out of nowhere, bloom quickly, and die. I said, “Yeah, when I saw them, I was surprised.” She said, “Exactly.” The wind snapped most of them off at the ankles. This is one of the survivors–tattered, but still flying.

No mist this morning, but big drops from the big rain. Here the drops are both above and below the stems, lensing what’s left of the flowers around them.

They were only pink a couple of days ago–now they’ve added blue to their repertoire. Surprise!

Tissue thin, soaking wet, how did she hold up to that storm?

The sun just popped through the cloud cover and starred that drop top middle.

Down low, peering through the carnage.

Only way to get this much depth was to run back to the house for the tripod, set it up really low to the ground, squeeze the aperture down to f32, and wait for those slow shutter releases. Almost dead calm, so that worked outside for once.

This photo is only to show the wreckage on the ground all around the few survivors.

Yep, blue and pink.

August 18, 2011

Photo of the day: 065

Filed under: Uncategorized — paul davis @ 10:54 am

I got out for the golden hour last evening and finally solved the opportunity of what to do with these flowers, the ones with a funny name that my neighbor Jim told me and I can’t remember. This bloom is in Jim and Madelyn’s yard–a month ago he told me they were coming on and would be worth watching, and I’ve tried to photograph it a dozen times, and just couldn’t find the POV. They are large flowers, relative to what I usually photograph, standing waist high and spreading a foot or more. If I stand back and get the whole thing in, it looks waifish, lost in the background. If I get close, I don’t have the DOF to show more than one small part in focus. The above is the get-close approach, of course, and you’ve got both near and far out of focus, but tolerably so, given the strength of those waving tendrils.


Since the last time I prowled Jim and Madelyn’s yard, these flowers have sprung up, like aliens on two-foot stalks.

I almost always like the closer view.

Just about out of golden light.

This morning’s fog was very thick. I was out in it long before the sun came over the ridge, trying to work with maximum ISO, minimum shutter speed, and maximum aperture. Not a great combo–you have to find stuff that is pretty flat and doesn’t move.

Or you use the skinny DOF to your advantage and show a single row of beads in focus, fading to darkness.

Or you show how thick it is. I punched the contrast up on this in post process a little–it was even thicker than this.

A little light now beginning to glow through the fog, but the bugs still cold and slow.

See how she balances a single drop on her leg? I have been visiting the spiders and their webs around our pond almost every morning for several weeks. The webs are gone by mid-morning–completely gone, like a carnival that has left town. The spiders spend the night spinning, then lie in wait for the sun to warm their breakfast enough to take flight into the web. I show up just before breakfast does, and as I’ve watched the spiders closely every morning I have developed a fondness and solicitousness for their well-being. I step very lightly around their webs, taking care not to jostle even the anchor weeds. I am aware that for the sake of a photograph I might ruin a night’s work, cost them a day’s food–I feel that I am an observer only of a life of industry–she has done good work, creating a lovely and functional device by which to feed herself and her family, and by doing practically nothing but showing up I will take her good work and offer it here as mine, to you, the secondary observer. I have no right to her work, and every obligation to do no harm to it as I steal it. I sensed my place in the cosmos this morning, in other words: well below spider.

The spider, aided by the creator of light, has made the backdrop for this shot.

The creator of berries made this one.

Tri-color, tri-focus.

Creator of light, creator of spiders, and creator of berries teaming up.


August 16, 2011

Photo of the day: 064

Filed under: Uncategorized — paul davis @ 7:31 am

Yesterday morning there was no sun, only heavy cloud cover. I resorted to flash for some of these shots. A half hour later it was raining hard.

How can you not love a little guy like this? His mom does.

A grasshopper perfectly mated to his eco. Those greens could not be closer.

I had to wait a while for her to look at me. Should have been an elementary school teacher–eyes in the back of her head, really.

Her camo extends to the racing stripe. The other guy lives on grass that is only green. She lives on grass that is green and red.

We had this tiny dreamcatcher in the last post with a pastel background.

Last evening I had a request to shoot some finished pots, to go along with the shots from Spec of Tom working at the wheel. I thought I would just toss those off after dinner (southwest chicken corn chowder with cornbread, in honor of the first day you could think about soup). We have lots of pots–that wasn’t going to be a problem. What was going to be the problem? Lighting. By coincidence, I was just a moment before reading the book, Light: Science and Magic, which devotes a long chapter to the difficulty of lighting metal. I hopped up from that book,  casually arranged three pots on a tabletop near a west window, looked through the viewfinder, and made the connection. Dang. Lots and lots of curving hard reflective surfaces, picking up every light source in the room.

Here’s one solution: Take the pots outside, where it is still cloudy, and use the whole sky as an excellently huge softbox. While I was carrying the pots outside, the clouds parted, and that hardest of hard lights, the sun at 93 million miles, popped on me. So I went back inside and got a sheet to drape over two lawn chairs, making a scrim. Now, in the sides of the pots, I could see two lawn chairs and a sheet, very clearly. OK, let’s try shooting straight down on the pots, with a wide-open aperture so the bottoms of those distant pots are out of focus. There, no unseemly reflections. Perhaps not what the client had in mind though.

By framing in tight, I could cut out most of the nastiest reflections. I’m including this photo not as an example of that, but rather as an example of a photographer showing up, comically, in the shot. At the top of the photo, the reflection is shadowed by a Martian-headed guy bent over with a camera up to his eye. Nice.

OK, this one is not too bad. In fact, it has some very cool accidents in it. The pot on the right is reflecting the rocks it is sitting on and the pot to the left and the sky and miraculously not me, while still showing through its own glaze. I’ll take it.

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