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Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Highrock Park Pink Carpet

I didn't go out this morning to photograph these lovely little flowers but who could resist such a glorious pink carpet scattered over the sides of Highrock Park. I don't know what they are called but I'll see if I can find out.


As usual, Lewis J. Clark's Wild Flowers of British Columbia provides an identification of these flowers. They are a member of the Valerian family called Sea Blush (Plectritis congesta). Clark quotes Archibald Menzies, a naturalist who traveled in this area with Captain George Vancouver in 1792:
"...the rural appearance"...[of Protection Island, in "Juan de Fuca's Streights"] strongly invited us to stretch our limbs after our long confined situation on board & the dreary sameness of a tedious voyage.... We found on landing...the shore was skirted with long grass & a variety of wild flowers in full bloom, but what chiefly dazzled our eyes...was a small species of wild Valerian [now known as Plectritis or Valerianella congesta] with reddish colourd flowers growing behind the beach in large thick patches."

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Bluebells (Hyacinthoides)

A rainy day kept me inside today so I spent some time playing with a bellows attachment to my camera, a gift from Causeway Artist, Dean Lewis. This bellows attachment enables me to turn some of my old legacy lenses into super macro-lenses capable of the kind of resolution you can see in the above photo. Blogger shrinks everything to 1600 pixels wide but this image is just as sharp at twice the resolution. The flower is a Bluebell, one of three very similar species in this genus (Hyacinthoides). Although they are all over the place in the parks I visit and along the roadsides, they appear to be an introduced or invasive species since they are not listed in my field guides of indigenous flowering plants. However, for me they are another sign that spring is here despite the dark, wet days we're having.
To the right is the setup I used to capture the above closeup. The bellows allows very precise focusing since it can be moved along a track using the screw adjustment at the bottom. Also, since the lens is further from the sensor the magnification is increased. I don't really understand optics or lenses but I am very pleased with how this setup works. Many thanks, Dean. (Now all I need are some cooperative insects so we can begin to explore the world of six legged Victorians.)

Monday, March 29, 2010

Bewick's Wren (Thryomanes bewickii)

Here's another of those little brown birds that we are all familiar with though they are so small and modest that we may not see much of them. This is a Bewick's Wren (Thryomanes bewickii). Once again, I am a little uncertain when it comes to identifying these small brown birds so any real birders out there who may recognize this bird as something else, please let me know in a comment. These little birds hop and flutter around so much in thickets and bushes that it is very difficult to photograph them so I was pleased to capture this shot recently in Highrock Park in Vic West.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Killdeer (Charadrius vociferus)

While I was out at Esquimalt Lagoon the other day I was happy to see a very old friend, the Killdeer (Charadrius vociferus). I say old friend because I remember someone explaining to me when I was very small that the limping, wing-dragging bird I was following was perpetrating a ruse, that it was not wounded at all but was pretending to be in order to lure me away from its eggs or young ones. I think that was the first time I realized that animals too had intelligence and feelings. Of course this behaviour might be genetically programmed but even then it's a tribute to the complexity and functionality of evolution.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Laurel Point Panorama

The day before yesterday I posted a few photos taken from Laurel Point. Here is a panoramic view of the Inner Harbour from this location. Click the photo to see a larger version. You may also need to click the larger version to see it full size.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Northern Pintail Duck (Anas acuta)

Since I've been birding a little avidly over the last few months I have not been out to Esquimalt Lagoon where there is an actual bird sanctuary. It's about a twenty minute drive from Victoria. I went out there yesterday and although it was a dank, gray afternoon, I saw several birds I had not seen before, more than enough to make it a rich and memorable day. Above are a pair of Northern Pintail (Anas acuta) Ducks, with the more brightly patterned male in the foreground. There were quite a few of these mixed in with Mallards, Scaup, Wigeons and some other waterfowl and shorebirds whose photos I will share over the next few days.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

New View

Here's a view of the Inner Harbour that I've not photographed before because I don't generally visit Laurel Point which, together with Songhees point opposite, marks the entrance to the Inner Harbour. Both today's photos were taken yesterday from Laurel Point. You can see in the photo to the left the walkway, much used by joggers and strollers, that follows the shoreline from the Inner Harbour Causeway to Fisherman's Wharf.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Saxe Point Promenade

Harbor Seals loll on the rocks off Saxe Point and lazily watch the passing kayak traffic. Harbor Seals (Phoca vitulina), also known as Common Seals, live around here all year. I often see them off Saxe Point as in the photo above, swimming at nearby Fleming Beach, occasionally in the Gorge or closer to the downtown at Fisherman's Wharf, where they take advantage of summer's influx of tourists who line up to buy fish to feed them. It is a treat to see how gently they pick small pieces of fish from children's hands. Below is a short video of my granddaughter Rosie feeding a Harbor Seal at Fisherman's Wharf.

video

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Wildlife Tree

The yellow sign above is attached to dead trees here and there throughout Saxe Point Park, presumably to prevent passersby or perhaps over-diligent parks employees from cutting down or cleaning up these trees. And judging by the holes in the trees they are often visited by woodpeckers and other birds looking for the insects that are busily working on breaking the trees down in nature's recycling program. I am happy that most of our parks are not too well gardened or controlled. Mostly they consist of paths through large areas of trees and bush that are pretty much left to grow as they will. This seems a bit messy but there is order there, though it is order at a level of complexity and at a pace and scale we can scarcely comprehend.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Giant White Fawn Lily (Erythronium oregonum)

Here's another old friend on the roll call of spring flowers, the Giant White Fawn Lily (Erythronium oregonum). I'm not too sure why it's called "Giant" since I've never seen any that were very big. It's considerably smaller than a Tiger Lily, for instance. In any case I always like to see these graceful blooms amongst the rocks and mosses of our local parks.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Shooting Stars ( Dodecatheon hendersonii)

I arrived at Highrock Park just after the sun had risen and wandered around looking for some birds - there are many species I often see but have not successfully photographed yet. After a bit I sat down on a rock in the sun to drink my thermos of coffee. I saw several people walking pony-sized dogs. It's an off-leash park and sometimes these dogs are quite aggressive so I jumped when I heard a sudden heavy thumping behind me. It was a deer, a young doe, leaping through the underbrush. She was gone by the time I got the camera to my face so no picture. But what a pleasant surprise in this small urban park. I don't know if Victoria is particularly blessed with wild-life or whether I've just begun to notice it but yesterday was remarkable when I consider the animals that I saw. After I left Highrock Park I went to Saxe Point and there I saw a half-dozen Harbour Seals basking on the rocks and a small otter scurrying along the shore. In addition to these mammals I saw about ten different species of birds including Bald Eagles, Northern Flickers, Crested Cormorants, Canada Geese, Common Mergansers, several species of sparrows and wrens, robins, crows, starlings, and a yet to be identified species of duck. An additional treat encountered in Highrock Park, pictured above, were the first blooms of one of my favorite spring wildflowers, commonly called Shooting Stars (Dodecatheon hendersonii).


I love the kind of information found in Lewis J. Clark's description of Shooting Stars in his Wild flowers of British Columbia:
Dodecatheon. Say it: savour it. Would that all plant names were so pleasant to the ear! Dodecatheon derives from the Greek dodeka, twelve, and theoi, gods. Pliny (and much later Linnaeus) imagined, in the cluster of crowned flowers, an assembly of the Olympian deities.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Truckin'


As in "Keep on truckin'"


It's dawn and I'm off to a couple of our local parks to have breakfast with some feathered friends.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias)

Thanks to a suggestion from a visitor to this site, I went to Cuthbert Holmes Park yesterday where some Great Blue Herons (Ardea herodias) are nesting in a group known as a heronry. Local users of the park helpfully guided me to the best location to view the birds. I saw about a dozen of these large nests while I was there but there are probably more since quite a few are located in living trees and are hard to see because they are hidden by the foliage. In years gone by this heronry has been under attack by Bald Eagles who swoop down on the heron nestlings. While I was there an eagle cruised slowly overhead. Though he was a long ways above, sailing peacefully along, all the herons took flight and began circling around their nesting area and making loud calls. A regular visitor to the park told me that she had to curtail her visits to the park last year because of the heartrending scenes arising from the eagle attacks.

The visitor mentioned above, Mike Laplante, has also blogged some of his photos of these birds with some interesting background information, HERE.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Windblown Mergansers and Some Notes on Composition

The Common Mergansers (Mergus merganser) pictured above are posted just to give some idea of the weather yesterday - a nice bright day but VERY windy. Below I discuss what little I have learned about composition.

Composition
I think of composition as what is inside the frame and how it is organized. That seems a little vague but it addresses what I feel are the big problems I face when taking photographs. First, "what is inside the frame," is a consideration for me because I tend to want to get everything possible into every picture. You know, here's a picture of Jack standing beside the dinosaur and the two of them are standing in front of the parliament buildings over which the Blue Angels are flying in formation to celebrate the eclipse of the sun just visible to the left near the tornado.... There are probably six good pictures there but how often I end up trying to get them all in one frame still amazes me. However, I have learned a little bit about editing and the rule here for me is to decide what the picture is about and then (if possible) get rid of everything that doesn't lead the eye or mind to that subject. When taking photos that usually means zooming in or moving closer or narrowing the depth of field.

At home, cropping can often solve the problem of too much stuff in the picture. In the Fisgard lighthouse picture below cropping the bottom and the left side removed most of the distracting driftwood and the equally irrelevant Esquimalt Naval dockyard.Insofar as how the remaining information is organized inside the frame the two rules I generally go by are leading lines and the Rule of Thirds. There are lots of lines in the world - the horizon is one, but there are lots of fences, roads, pathways, shorelines, windrows and drifts, treelines and snowlines, etc. What I look for when framing a photo through the viewfinder is lines that will lead the viewers eye into the photo and towards the subject of the photo. In the lighthouse photo the two main lines are the shoreline that pulls the viewer's eye from the bottom left and the road that does the same from the right. Though they are less distinct, there are a couple of lines in the sky that also lead down towards the lighthouse. This is one of those things that you really have to concentrate on when taking a photo because if you don't get the lines in the right place there is not much you can do about it later when processing the photo. Of course there may not be any lines in the environment or they may be useless for your composition in which case you have to do without.

The Rule of Thirds has to do with where the subject of the photo is located. Space inside the frame is divided into thirds by two lines drawn across the frame and two lines from top to bottom making 9 boxes. The rule of thirds advises that the most pleasing or interesting compositions are when the subject of the photo is situated where two of these lines intersect. Most of us naturally put our subjects in the center of our photos when we point our cameras. I'm getting better at framing things when I take the photo now and managed to place the lighthouse in this photo almost exactly on the lower right intersection. I've also emphasized in green the leading lines in this photo that pull the eye towards the lighthouse.Another rule I often use for landscape photos is something I read somewhere: "foreground, middle ground, background." In other words, a landscape photo with something fairly close, something a little further away, and something far away makes a more interesting photo than one in which everything is very distant. If you're on the summit of a mountain, try to get a bit of the summit in your photo of the vast view. It gives the viewer a place to stand and puts everything into an understandable perspective.


There is a great deal more to composition. Above are just a few guidelines I understand and use regularly. Sometimes, as in the photo below, I am very pleased with how it all works.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Processing

I took the photos above and below to provide examples of the kinds of image that can be taken with the old legacy lenses I was describing yesterday. Both these photos were taken in near darkness yesterday on my way home from downtown and were taken with a fully manual 55mm f1.8 Super-Takumar lens. They were hand held so are not as sharp as they could be but I find the colors, contrast and detail are very appealing. This lens cost me $6.95
Software I use to process images

For me what comes out of the camera is the raw material. Of course, before I click the shutter I try to frame the best image I can. Sometimes the resulting image may not need much work but generally, after I select an image that I like, I will work on it to bring out more of what I like about it, to focus it and remove irrelevant details. Mostly I am more interested in producing a memorable, appealing, striking image rather than attempting to capture reality.

When we visit the seashore, it's a multi-dimensional experience with powerful smells - seaweed and salt water, powerful sensations - warm sunlight and sea breezes, sounds such as the wind, the waves splashing and gulls crying and there is constant, often rhythmic movement. It seems impossible to capture all that all with a small, two dimensional static image. With luck and a great deal of skill we may be able to capture an image that suggests all those aspects of the scene that the camera cannot record. However, I think that often we are able to invite the viewer to participate in re-creating the scene's missing dimensions in his or her own mind by intensifying the information we have been able to record. For me that usually means adjusting the contrast, saturation and focus and improving the composition (if possible) by cropping.

For the most basic adjustments I use a free, open source graphics editing program called GIMP. It will do most of what can be done with Photoshop and does it for free. What's more, many Photoshop plug-ins work with GIMP. I recommend it highly. The GIMP organization also has a registry of plug-ins and filters that can be downloaded free of charge. Great stuff! I use it extensively and whenever I have time I go through one of the many free user-created tutorials.

Whenever I think an image can benefit I also put it through HDR (High Dynamic Range) processing using a program called Photomatix. There is still considerable resistance to HDR processing. However, I think this resistance is mostly directed towards the more extreme manifestations of HDR that may be greatly oversaturated and cartoonish. Often HDR processed photos don't look very HDR and are not recognized as such. The prizewinning Chinatown Gate photo I posted a few days ago was processed with HDR. To the left is a split version of the photo with the HDR treated image on top and the original image below. The original image reflects a typical problem. In order to expose the darker underside of the gate properly the sky gets overexposed. Film photographers had a saying for such situations - overexpose and underdevelop. This preserved the detail that would otherwise have been lost in the shadowed parts of the photo. HDR software performs essentially the same process digitally.
Our vision is incredibly sensitive. When we look at a scene, we are always focused on some part of it but our eyes flick around back and forth and as they do so the iris expands and contracts according to the light reflected from that particular part of the scene. Our mental image of the scene is thus composed of all those hundreds or thousands of differently exposed bits of the scene put together in our brains. In my opinion, HDR processing gives us an image that is closer to this composite image we create in our brains than the normal image that comes from a camera in that different parts of the scene are differently exposed, something no
camera is yet able to do. New cameras, however, often have HDR processing built in to the internal software image processor.
Photomatix costs about $100 but there are free HDR programs available online as well.
Another software program I occasionally use is for panoramas. It is another free program called HUGIN. It will stitch together a bunch of photos beautifully. I haven't used it that much but the Victoria panorama below was made with HUGIN out of 16 separate photos.Sometimes I work with images in RAW format, especially if I need to adjust the white balance or the overall exposure. For this I use the Sony software that came with the camera. Most of the time, however, I work with the JPG versions. I almost always shoot so I get both RAW and JPG versions of each photo. The only time I just shoot JPG is when I am shooting something where there is a lot of action and I want to exploit the camera's fastest shooting mode.
Well, I do tend to run on and on but tomorrow I hope to wrap up this somewhat narcissistic excercise with a little discussion of the brutally simple rules of composition that I employ - nothing very original here but it never hurts to repeat good things.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Lenses


Lenses
One of the major advantages of Digital Single Lens Reflex cameras (DSLRs) is the option to use different lenses. Sony DSLRs will of course take all Sony lenses but they also will accept all Minolta AF lenses. In addition, third-party manufacturers such as Sigma and Tamron also make lenses specifically for Sony DSLRs. Here are lenses I use often along with approximately what I paid for them:

Sony 18-70mm f3.5-5.6 zoom(This is the kit lens that came with the camera when I bought it.)
Minolta 50mm f1.7 AF prime lens (bought used $10)
Minolta 75-300mm f4.5-5.6 telephoto zoom(used $80)
Minolta 500mm f8 AF Reflex prime telephoto(used $500)
Tamron 90mm f2.8 prime macro lens(~$650)
Sigma 10-20mm f4-5.6 wide angle zoom lens(~$700)

The photo on the left above was taken yesterday with the Tamron 90mm. That on the right was taken with the Sigma 10-20mm. Both were taken on a brief trip to Mount Douglas Park. The bumblebee was one of a half dozen staggering around fairly close together. I think they had been hibernating and were just waking up. Yesterday's prize-winning photo of the Chinatown Gate was taken with the 18-70mm zoom kit lens that came with the camera when I bought it.

Above are the lenses I use most often. But I also like to use a few other "legacy" lenses originally made for Pentax film cameras. I can use these on my Sony camera with an inexpensive (about $10) adapter.
Those most used are three Super-Takumar prime lenses:
55mm f1.8
105mm f2.8
135mm f3.5

The Super Takumar lenses listed above are completely manual - I have to set the aperture and shutter speed manually for each shot, but they are very sharp lenses that produce richly colored images with lots of contrast so it is worth the trouble if the subject is such that I have time to make the manual adjustments. Another good reason for using them is that they are cheap - less than $10 each. Although they are very good lenses they were designed for the film cameras of 30-40 years ago and most modern photographers don't want to bother with them. I picked up mine in thrift stores over the last year or so.

Why so many different kinds of lenses? I find that every lens really provides a different way of looking at things. A scene shot through a 50mm prime lens appears quite different from the same scene shot through a 10mm lens. Even two lenses of the same focal length made by different manufacturers using different materials may produce widely varying results in terms of color, contrast and clarity. Secondly, different lenses have different operating characteristics - some are very "fast" meaning they can be used when there is not much light or you need a high shutter speed. The auto-focus mechanisms of some are also much more responsive and accurate than others.

Some lenses are quite special-purpose. The 500mm reflex telephoto above is a good example. Of course it can be used for anything that is more than about 25 feet distant but it is particularly useful for photographing birds since the 300mm telephoto zooms that are the most readily available telephoto lenses are generally not quite powerful enough to bring those little creatures as close as needed to get all that beautiful detail. Similarly, my 90mm prime macro lens can be used as close as six inches from the subject making it possible to fill the frame with a single tiny flower.

If you take a lot of photos sooner or later you find yourself in a situation where you are either too far from what you want to focus on or too close. Or your subject is too big or too small for you to capture the way you see it. That's when you start to consider other lenses.

Anyone who can add will have realized that I have spent a great deal more on lenses than I did on my camera, by a factor of three or four. Mostly this has come about because the problems that I had were better resolved by additional lenses rather than by a more expensive camera. Also, I reasoned that (provided I stick with Sony) the lenses I have purchased will be equally useful when I am finally able to upgrade my camera to a more expensive model. If I decide to switch to a Canon or Nikon, I can probably sell my best lenses for good prices since good lenses hold their value well.

They have yet to develop a lens that works the same as or as well as our eyes. Every lens distorts reality in some way. The question is not about whether to distort reality or not but rather how to distort reality. When you choose your lens you are really choosing what kind of distortion you want your images to have.

Tomorrow I will continue this by discussing the software I use to process the images that come from my camera.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Gate of Harmonious Interest - Reprise

This e-mail just received:

Benjamin,

Congratulations! Your photo entitled “Gate of Harmonious Interest” is the Grand Prize Winner of the Clipper Vacations photo contest. You’ve won a Clipper Vacation Trip for Two! Prize includes two free round trip tickets on the Victoria Clipper plus two nights’ accommodation, champagne breakfast aboard the Victoria Clipper, luggage handling from the hotel and a Victoria Clipper Goodie Bag.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Retrospective 2009 - Present

Below are a selection of my favorite images from the most recent nine months of Victoria Daily Photo.

Dave Harris, one man band, Inner Harbour Causeway, Victoria, BC, Canada
Inner Harbour at night with Legislative Assembly Buildings, Victoria, BC, CanadaChrist Church Cathedral, Victoria, BC, Canada
Johnson Street Bridge, Victoria, BC, Canada
Inner Harbor, Parliament Buildings, Legislative Assembly, Victoria, BC, Canada
In September of 2009 another favorite photo of mine (left) won second prize in the black and white category of the annual Monday Magazine photo contest.

When I consider how much I've learned over the last two years, from experimentation and from looking at other photographers' work I am a little bit boggled as to where to begin and how to select what is worth sharing. But the photo below may serve as an introduction to some of what I'll discuss tomorrow. Click it to see a larger version and then click the larger version again to see it full size.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Two Year Retrospective (continued)

To continue with my look back on my first two years, below are some of my favorite photos from the first six months of last year (2009).

For the first time, during this period I received requests from people wanting to use my photos. The photo below left was used in a Mexican elementary school arithmetic textbook. The Chinese Public School photo in the center was used in a brochure advertising the 150th Anniversary of Victoria's Chinatown. The photo of Halkett Island on the right was the first photo for which I received some income ($50) since it was used for an article in United Airlines' in-flight magazine.

Well, I was going to write a little about lenses and software today but this post is already too long so I will leave it for tomorrow.