2015—Storm Clouds

We had lots of clouds and rain in Utah. We were always optimistic that the forecast would change and we would be able to see stars at night. One evening, we ate an early dinner, slept for about 4 hours then rose at 12:30 am when the moon set and drove an hour to Mesa Arch where we hoped to photograph star trails or heavenly bodies or at the very least, make time lapse videos of nighttime cloud movement. We trudged the half mile to Mesa Arch in the dark using headlamps to light the way (the trail is not really treacherous but it’s hard to see in the dark), then set up our cameras to try for time lapse as it was clear (pun intended) that the sky was not clear so star trails and heavenly bodies were not going to happen. After an hour or so of fidgeting with our equipment and realizing that it wasn’t going to get any better, we packed up and trudged back, abandoning our original plan of leaving one or two of us to monitor the camera gear while the other two slept in the SUV. No sooner had we arrived at the car than the skies opened up and it poured for a couple of hours. I was the only one to bring a pillow from the motel and I was fairly comfortable. We hoped that it would clear up for sunrise but that didn’t happen. After sleeping in the car for a few hours, we drove back to the motel at about 6AM and got into our comfortable beds. Later that day, after brunch, we ventured out again. The skies were cloudy and threatening and we heard thunder and saw lots of rain but we returned to Arches National Park to see if we could find anything of interest. The dark, threatening skies made the perfect backdrop for these rock formations. I processed this shot in Perfect Effects Black and White.

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2015—Mesa Arch Without Sun

When I was at Mesa Arch in February 2014, I got to use a borrowed fisheye lens for the first time and I loved the results.Click here to see my photograph from that trip. On the 2014 trip we complained about bald skies with no clouds. This trip, we had lots of clouds, lots of rain, and minimal sun. We got to Mesa Arch early Sunday morning well before sunrise and trekked the half mile or so to the Arch in the hopes that the sun would appear and brush the arch with glorious glowing red. That didn’t happen but I did get a shot that shows some color in the arch as a bit of sun filtered through the clouds. Once again I used a fisheye lens; now I have my own 10.5mm DX lens for my Nikon D7100. Although the shot is similar in composition to last year’s, I did lay in a diffent spot on the ledge and the light is not at all dramatic or glowing. Still, I love the effect of the fisheye on the arch which is not rounded at all on top but is flat. I read that Mesa Arch is classified as a pothole arch because it was formed by surface water that pooled on the sandstone behind the arch, slowly eroding the rock so the arch now clings to the mesa’s edge.

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2015—The Monitor and the Merrimack

The Monitor and the Merrimack were Civil War era ironclad ships, the Monitor from the North, the Merrimack (originally the USS Merrimack, it was rechristened the CSS Virginia) from the South. The ships engaged in fierce combat on March 9, 1862, in a battle that was history’s first duel between ironclad warships. The engagement, known as the Battle of Hampton Roads, was part of a Confederate effort to break the Union blockade of Southern ports that had been imposed at the start of the war. The ships fired cannons at each other for four hours and the cannon balls merely bounced off their ironclad sides. The battle was inconclusive, but it began a new era in naval warfare.

Formations of Entrada sandstone in Canyonlands National Park in Utah bear such a striking resemblance to the two ships that they are called the Monitor and Merrimac(k) Buttes. We stopped at an overlook on Sunday afternoon and took some photos. Because of the historical significance of the Monitor and the Merrimack, I used the Carbon Print Neutral 19th Century preset in Perfect Effects to give these shots more of a vintage look from that era. The subject of the second shot is the windswept juniper that caught my eye. I was so taken with its shape that I forgot to look at the background. If I’d moved a couple of feet to my left, I could have had the Monitor Butte in the shot as well. Instead, only the Merrimac Butte (the sign at the Federal Park site spells it without the ‘k’) appears in the background.

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We came to photograph stars but the weather didn’t cooperate after the first night. We held out hope until the last night but periodic heavy rain and heavy cloud cover prevented us from photographing heavenly bodies or making star trails. Flooding from the rains even closed the road to Delicate Arch which was one of our planned destinations. Sun on Saturday did give us few starbursts, however. In these shots, Balanced Rock and rock formations near it provide the background for the starbursts. I took the first shot with my 24-70mm lens, the others with the fisheye lens.

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2015—Windows And Keyholes

I’m in Moab, Utah for a few days with Richard and Eric, and Richard’s friend Andy. Richard and Eric are my friends from photography outings with Moose Peterson and we came back to the stunning Utah red rock country, specifically Arches and Canyonlands National Parks, hoping to get practice on nighttime photography: celestial bodies and star trails. We chose to go to the Windows for our first attempts. If you look one direction you can see both North and South Window Arch and in the opposite direction is keyhole-like Turret Arch. The moon was up and would not set until past midnight and since we were all tired from our day of traveling we opted for an early practice session even though the quarter moon was bright. The moon cast shadows but it was still impossible to see in the darkness. I fumbled over settings and focus. With this kind of photography, all settings are manual, including focus, and you have to rely that the infinity setting on the focus ring really gets things in focus because it is impossible to see to make minor adjustments, even with a headlamp.

I somehow managed to get the stars in fairly good focus but I needed to increase my ISO more than I wanted, ending up at ISO 3200 and still my exposure wasn’t very good because I had to make adjustments in Lightroom. And oh, the noise. Everything looked much better on the tiny LCD screen in the dark.
In the end, after our hour of practice, I got three shots that I liked. The moon shot is really my favorite but the moon was so bright it is impossible to tell that it was only a quarter crescent. The shutter speed was 6 seconds so the moon appears just as a bright blob.

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Over the years, I have killed more Phalaenopsis orchids than I can count. I have never had one live more than a year or so, let alone bloom again. A neighbor once took pity on me and repotted my collection of ratty Phalaenopsis orchids, fertilized them, instructed me in their care and feeding, all to no avail. Now, I treat these beautiful plants almost like a bouquet of flowers: once the blooms have faded, into the green waste they go. For some reason, two plants that I have had for a couple of years have remained alive and now live in a north facing window with plenty of light, despite the fact that Bobo chomps on the leaves every once in a while. A few weeks ago I noticed an emerging stem that I first thought was an air root. But, I was wrong. MY Phalaenopsis has actually produced buds. A couple of days ago, one began to open. Finally, emergence!

Because I wanted to show the entire stem of buds with the flower in focus, this shot is comprised of 11 individual photos, merged and blended in Photoshop to make one. I’ve done focus stacking in other blog posts and this was the perfect time to use it again. But I applied a new trick I learned at my Camera Club meeting the other evening. One of the members made a brief presentation on blending the edges of a selection and I needed to try this technique because when the photos blended in Photoshop, one of the petals appeared smudged where the blending couldn’t match the edges. I applied my new found knowledge and it worked. I didn’t have time to make it perfect but I’m happy with the result.


2015—Pollen Baskets

Yesterday I posted more bird shots so I guess it’s time for a few bees. While I was outside Tuesday, I noticed some bees hovering around the blooming Japanese privets. They were working hard to collect pollen. Their bodies were sprinkled with pollen and the pollen baskets on their legs were bulging.



2015—Coming In For A Landing

Tuesday at midday I was outside with my camera trying out a new SD card I just bought. I can’t resist the hummingbirds and when I noticed one hovering by the fountain, I turned my camera and got these shots as she (only the females have white on the tips of their tails) came in for a bath and skittered to a stop on the wet surface.







Lichens are fascinating and complex organisms. They are not a single organism but rather a combination of two organisms which live together in a symbiotic relationship, fungus and algae. I noticed some very interesting lichen on a bonsai oak tree that my mother grew from an acorn she found about 40 years ago. She potted it in successive bonsai pots until it got to its present pot, a 13X9X4 inch pot in which it has lived for at least the past twenty years. It has suffered from neglect in recent years but it is still a magnificent specimen and I have always admired it. Its branches are covered in lichen. The early evening light was fading rapidly but I took several macro shots of lichen on one of the branches and blended them into a single shot. The area of lichen pictured is about 3/8 by 5/8 of an inch and there are at least a couple of different forms of lichen on this branch. Since lichens are able to make their own food with moisture and sunlight, they have no need to parasitize the oak tree. Instead they add beauty and interest to the plant. I hope to bring the bonsai oak back to its former elegance and keep the lichen as well.



Sunday afternoon, I watched the pair of hummers successfully harass a scrub jay to the point it left the yard. It was approaching the fountain trying to be inconspicuous, remaining partially obscured by leaves and hopping from branch to branch. But the hummers wouldn’t leave it alone. They chased the jay from the shrubs to a dead branch possessively protecting the fountain. In the first shot, one of the hummers appears in the background in a fly-by while the jay watches warily. Shortly after this, the jay flew to another tree across the yard not to return, relentlessly pursued by the hummers. So, they took advantage of their victory. I caught one of the hummers in a brief hover as she (I’m pretty sure it’s the female) flew in for an afternoon bath in what has apparently become the hummingbirds’ fountain.