The Sunday evening Arizona sky was dramatic with clouds and a full moon and stars so I went out to see if I could capture anything of interest. Lightning flashed behind the clouds in the distance illuminating their edges from behind but there were no lightning bolts. I tried to determine what settings I needed to use to capture dramatically lit clouds. I set my camera on manual mode and alternated between ISOs of 800 and 1000 and apertures of f/10 and f/11. I set the shutter to bulb and held it open for several seconds hoping for a random flash of lightning. I caught a few dramatically lit clouds but no lightening bolts. When the storm started to move away, Lonnie suggested I move my camera and tripod to the back yard where the storm clouds were rising ominously. The first visible lightning bolt flashed across the sky while I was between shutter releases. Finally, I held the shutter open and a flash of lightning appeared behind the tree on the hill in the backyard. When I realized I had actually captured a lightning flash I shrieked in astonishment. Lonnie and Melinda raced over to see what I’d captured and we all whooped and hollered in excitement for a few seconds. Then I returned to the business of trying to anticipate a lightning flash. The storm continued for about 15 more minutes and I managed to successfully photograph a number of lightning flashes.  I am thrilled with my first lightning photographs. 

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2015—Meanwhile, Back At Anderson’s Zoological Gardens

Saturday morning in Arizona, I photographed a bee-fly (or a fly-bee) at the butterfly bush, hummers on the willow tree and on the apple tree, and several blue dappled sagebrush lizards…all before breakfast. The rest of the day was just as eventful as I experience real monsoon weather complete with raindrops the size of water balloons, thunder and lightening loud enough to drown out the relentless screech of the cicadas, and wind gusts that almost blew the doors off the car as we exited it. We ended the day with remnants of the super moon seen through the clouds with more lightening in the distance. My photos of the super moon were not spectacular but here are a few of the creatures I saw today and one of the moon shots that reminds me of Jupiter.

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2015—His Master’s Cone

I’m visiting Melinda and Lonnie in Prescott, Arizona and they took me to the Friday night concert in the park where locals gather to enjoy summer evenings with their friends and neighbors while a band plays. We sat on the Courthouse steps, heard some fairly decent country rock music, and did some serious people watching…or in my case, serious dog watching. This Jack Russell terrier was sitting with his owner on the steps in front of us and didn’t let the ice cream cone out of his sight, waiting for the moment when he would be offered a bite. His anticipation was palpable but he was very well behaved and didn’t make a move toward that cone until finally, long after I took this photo, a bite was offered to him.

I edited this shot in the Topaz Black and White Effects filter.

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2015—Just Scraping By

When we cruised the Rhône River in France last November, we passed through many locks and canals along the way. Most of the time we sailed at night and so we missed the claustrophobic sensation of squeezing through the locks although I would occasionally awake in the night and open the curtain because there was no light, only to discover a cement wall inches from my nose. I was in the room one day as we passed through a lock during the day time and I could reach out through the open sliding door (it had bars to keep us from falling out) and touch the slimy concrete wall. When I looked up and saw the First Mate seeming to grimace as he monitored our passage through the lock, I stuck my camera out the window, being careful not to lean out too far and scrape against the wall; the wall was so close, it easily could have happened.

If you click on the photograph itself, it will take you to a window where you can view the photo in its entirety to give you a better idea of what I was seeing. I took the photo vertically to emphasize the narrowness of the opening. A sliver of sky is visible at the top and a narrow ribbon of water is visible at the bottom. The metal tubing visible just above the ribbon of water is the barrier that separated me from the wall.



Yesterday, I spent the day visiting with my cousins Penny and Lynda in Walnut Creek and on the way home, as I exited Highway 99 at Elverta Road about 7 PM, I noticed a fire rainbow in the west. I pulled over on Elverta Road to take a photo. As I started to get back into the car, I looked at the Sacramento skyline to the south and took a couple more shots. Despite the presence of clouds, a rarity for this time of year, and the foreground of rice fields in the skyline shot, all of the photos were rather dull and uninteresting until I edited them in Topaz Glow. You’d be hard pressed to identify the first shot as the Sacramento skyline but that’s what it is, edited using the Electrify filter in Topaz Glow; the second shot is the fire rainbow also edited using the Electrify filter in Topaz Glow. The sun is on the left and the fire rainbow is on the right and the blue spot in the middle is my lens flare.

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2015—Da Vinci Meets Banksy

Joe, a “Customer Happiness Specialist” at Topaz Labs made me happy yesterday by fixing my registration blunder and allowing me to finally access Topaz Impression, one of the pieces of the software bundle I purchased at the Gold Rush PSA meeting on Sunday. I may never have to take another photograph! What fun it is to play with Topaz Impression. And I have only scratched the surface. It converts any photograph to look like a painting or sketch in oil or charcoal or pastel or pencil on just about any surface. There are infinite modifications to each preset. I chose one of the Da Vinci Sketch filters and applied it to this shot of Mariposa, the Harris’s Hawk. Then, I tried one of the Urban Street Art filters. Et voilà! Da Vinci meets Banksy! I think I like the Banksy version best.

I decided to post both images to show the range of this software and how it can instantaneously transform a photograph to be something else entirely. To see my original photograph click here.



2015—Evening Feeding

I was sitting on the patio, sipping a glass of Wild Thing (Thank you, Lonnie, for introducing me to that delicious old vine Zin!) and one of the wild things that lives in my yard arrived for his evening feeding. I had the camera remote in my hand, having previously set the camera to focus on the feeder. When the male hummer arrived, after chasing away the female, he chose the closest flower to the camera to drink from and only one of the prefocused shots resulted in a sharp focus on his eye. I lucked out but because the hummer was in the lower left portion of the frame, leaving an area of negative space that did not contribute to the composition, I cropped the shot. Then, I used one of the Topaz filters to make a few adjustments. I fiddled with it for quite a while until I found one I liked so I have absolutely no idea what I did to get this result.


2015—Glowing Jelly?

Yesterday was my first meeting of the Gold Rush Chapter of the Photographic Society of America. It meets quarterly at an all day event filled with lectures, photo critiques, lunch (including delectable chocolate cheesecake for dessert—so much for the diet), member presentations, and for this meeting, the Topaz Road Show. I’ve seen lots of photos by friends and fellow photographers that have used some of the Topaz filter effects but I had never seen a demonstration. I was sold on the first filter called “in focus,” appropriate for my blog. It can magically help an out of focus image appear to be in focus. I hope I won’t have to use it, but it’s nice to know that it might come to the rescue of an otherwise good photo that can use a bit of tweaking to make the focus acceptable. We got such a good deal on the bundle that I got it, and added two others, which are the ones whose effects I’ve seen at the Placer Camera Club and that my buddy Melinda uses: Topaz Impression and Topaz Glow.

As is my usual practice, I jumped right in without reading the installation instructions; I’m of the opinion that Topaz is PC, not Mac, based and therefore its protocols are not as seamless as they could be. In other words, I screwed up the installation on most of the package so it’s not working quite yet. I did manage to install Topaz Glow correctly so I couldn’t resist trying it out. I applied one of the default “electric” filters in Glow to one of the Tiger Lily photos from a few weeks ago. It reminds me of the backlit jellyfish I photographed at the Monterey Bay Aquarium a couple of years ago.

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These bushtits are bathing in very shallow water but that’s not the shallowness I’m talking about. The depth of field in this shot is also very shallow. The two birds in front are in focus and the rest of the birds in the cluster are in varying degrees of out of focus-ness (is that a word?). They’re only an inch or two apart but that short distance causes a huge change in whether something is in focus at such a long focal length and with a comparatively large aperture. I had that problem in mind when I starting taking shots of the bushtits as they jumped in for their afternoon bath. I set the aperture to f/29 so that a larger area would be in focus and started firing, forgetting that I was in manual mode, not aperture priority. As a result, the shots were so underexposed that I had to increase exposure 4 full stops to even see what was in those shots. When I realized what I had done, I opened up the lens to let in more light but even then I should have upped the ISO as well. In my zeal to capture those adorable bushtits in their bathing frenzy, the requirements for a good exposure went right out of my brain. As it turned out, I still had to increase exposure by 1 1/4 stops in Lightroom.

I took this shot at 1200mm focal length and f/8 which is the maximum aperture with the 2X teleconverter on the f/4 600mm lens. The 2X teleconverter seems to have issues with auto focus connections so I had to use manual focus to get this shot. I was concerned that the 2X teleconverter couldn’t produce decent focus at all with the 600mm lens but I think if I’m careful and use manual focus instead of trying to use auto focus settings on the lens, the focus is pretty good.