2020—Home Alone with Banana Bread

Wednesday was Day 40 home alone for me. I had three bananas that had turned very brown. I recently I ran across a recipe for banana bread with chocolate chips and had set it aside so I thought I’d try it. I thought of my friend Melinda who was forced to make several loaves of banana bread because her e-Cart order contained 5 bunches of bananas instead of the 5 bananas she’d ordered. I was glad that I had only enough bananas to make a single loaf. I had almost all of the ingredients on hand. I didn’t have chocolate chips but I did have a Ghirardelli 90% cacao bar to use instead. It turned out to be a delicious indulgence to enjoy home alone on Day 40.

2020—Cooler Days

The weather has warmed suddenly. It was quite chilly when we were first sequestered in mid March. But now, with spring in full bloom, the trees are completely leafed out. Spring blossoms are already beginning to fade and we’re heading too quickly to the searing days of summer. The past few days the weather has been unseasonably warm, passing the 90 degree mark for three days straight, about 15 degrees above normal for this time of year. There are some remnants of winter left, though. This dried oak leaf and empty acorn cap reminded me of cooler days just past. This is another focus shift image. It took a couple of tries before I got a stacked image that I liked. I had to be careful where I placed the starting focal point to make sure all parts of the leaf were in focus.

2020—Backyard Birding

The past few weeks at home have been quiet. I’ve been taking lots of photographs but not of moving things. I have missed going out and shooting photographs of birds and other critters that I have become so accustomed to doing on my frequent travels away from home. But, with those travels mostly curtailed, I am paying more attention to the birds in my backyard. On Saturday, I attended an on-line backyard birding class with Moose Peterson offered through Precision Camera in Austin, Texas. It was inspiring and Moose had lots of great ideas for improving the bird-friendliness of my backyard. I already have several hummingbird feeders but plan to add some seed feeders and maybe a suet feeder. A few strategically placed perches will help me use my yard as a shooting gallery. Just before the class, I was outside with my Nikon D500 and 300mm PF lens with the 1.7 X teleconverter attached. The female Anna’s Hummingbird spent quite a bit of time hovering around the Crape Myrtles which are just leafing out but are already covered with sticky dew from aphids and other tiny critters. I think she might have a nearby nest because she’s been visiting the trees for bugs, the feeders, and even the blossoms of the Echeveria below.

2020—Enjoying a Spring Morning

The patio door was open, the whole house fan was drawing in the cool morning air, the Mourning Doves were cooing, the Lesser Goldfinches were taking a morning dip in the fountain. I watched the scene unfolding in my garden, enjoying the spring morning. A spot of bright caught my attention in the back of the garden, a female Anna’s Hummingbird was preening on the end of a twig in the Photineas. She was perfectly positioned to catch the light on her breast with just a tiny spot of pink from the feathers on her iridescent patch. She looks like she was enjoying the morning as much as I was.

2020—Emerging from the Darkness

My new obsession is photographing flowers, specifically taking a set of images using focus shifting and stacking the resulting images into a single image where everything is in focus. I use three speed lights for each photograph. I picked up this moth orchid (Phalaenopsis orchid) a couple of days ago when I made an emergency run to the grocery store. The emergency was an urgent need for Talanti’s Sea Salt Caramel Gelato. I ran into the store with my face mask and gloves prepared to grab my gelato and go. But a display of orchids caught my eye and with my new obsession, I brought one home.

My plan was to photograph the entire spray showing it emerging from darkness into the light. I wanted as much of each flower to be as well lit as possible while still giving the impression of the spray emerging from the darkness. Until I decided to use this orchid spray as my subject, placement and power of the speed lights was relatively simple and pretty straight forward. But my previous efforts were photographing a single blossom. Photographing a spray of flowers necessitated placing the lights differently and adjusting the output to give the proper look and avoid shadows. It took a little fine tuning but I achieved the look I wanted.

2020—Trio

I won’t reveal whence the third dandelion puff but two didn’t look right so I had to procure a third from a source which will remain unidentified. Unlike the single puff from yesterday’s post, focus stacking worked perfectly on this trio of puffs. I used 29 images to create this single stacked image. Nikon Z7, FTZ, Nikkor 105mm f/2.8 Micro, three SB 5000 Speedlights.

2020—Always Someone Else’s Fault

I blame it on my neighbor.  I didn’t plan to return to a life of crime.  But after only two days on the straight and narrow, I was confronted with an overwhelming temptation that I couldn’t resist.  That neighbor, with as much time on his hands as everyone else, has failed to mow his lawn.  What once was a swath of green has become a vast field of dandelions!  There were two that had turned to puffs and were ripe for picking, both temptingly on the edge of the sidewalk.  This time, I didn’t even look over my shoulder to see if anyone was watching me.  I leaned down and plucked them both.  I am not sure what section of the penal code I may have violated. The puffs were filched from private property this time, not public right of way as my previous crime spree was. 

The scene of the crime is just a hundred or so feet from my home, just two houses away.  It will probably be pretty easy to track me down if the dandelions left a trail of seed evidence leading to my front door.  My neighbor’s Ring camera probably recorded me in the act.  At least I wasn’t wearing my Bruno Maglis.  I am suddenly lumped in with the miscreants who skulk the neighborhood at night peeking in car windows and jiggling door handles and stealing packages from doorsteps.  I don’t think I can take it any more.  I’ll come clean. I confess!  I did it!  I stole a noxious weed!

OK.  Now that I have that off my chest, I can get to today’s image.  As a follow up to my Tiny Dancers image a few days ago (again, with apologies to Elton John), I wanted to create a focus shift image of a whole dandelion puff.  However, despite making several sets using different exposures and apertures, numbers of images and starting points for focus, I was unsuccessful.  As stacked images, the center of the dandelion was blurry in each one with significant ghosting.  I’m not sure what I did wrong.  In the end, I decided to use a very small aperture and long exposure which created the look I was trying to achieve with focus shifting and I managed to get it with only a single image. 

2020—Alstroemeria

The past several days I have been taking photographs of flowers using the focus shift technique in the Nikon Z7 camera. After running out of interesting floral options in my own garden I realized I needed another source of blooms to photograph. Alstroemeria is one of my favorite flowers. It’s at once easy to grow and exotic looking and it comes in many colors. I must confess, however, that I did not grow this Alstroemeria. I bought it at the grocery store for a couple of dollars. And I recalled that I could convey the look of water drops using glycerin instead of water. It is very difficult to position a drop of water on a petal. Glycerin is much more forgiving. This is my first attempt at glycerin drops. Nikon Z7, Nikkor 105mm f/2.8 micro, FTZ.

2020—Just Joey

My roses continue their glorious bloom. This is their time to shine. They flower all year here in Northern California’s Central Valley, well into winter but spring is the peak of their display. Each flower is exquisite now, not diminished by the searing heat that comes later in the year. This is a stacked image of Just Joey, a rose I planted more than 20 years ago as a tribute to a friend.

2020—Miscreant

I have become a miscreant. I deliberately removed plant material from a county highway right of way, violating § 384a of the California Penal Code. Weeks of isolation as I shelter in place by myself have led to this.

The two things that have helped me maintain my sanity during the Stay-At-Home mandate are my morning walks and my daily self-assigned photography projects. But these two things led to my miscreance. Photographing flowers from my garden has become a favorite challenge. Finding flowers with interest is part of that challenge. Sunday morning as I walked, I pondered what flower would be my next subject. As I turned into mile two of my 4 mile walk, a spot of red caught my eye that I hadn’t noticed on previous days. It was bottlebrush blooming at the edge of the sidewalk in the area landscaped by the County. As I passed by, I began to think about that bottlebrush and how it would look on the black velvet background I have been using for this project. It would be perfect, I thought. As I approached the bushes again on my last lap, I slowed my pace and eyed the shrubs for the perfect flower. I looked over my shoulder to see if anyone was watching me. In a premeditated act, I snapped off one flower, then another, then a third. The adrenaline was pumping. My step quickened as I made my getaway from the scene of the crime, with still a mile to go before I would reach the safety of my home. And, in an act of absolute defiance, I did not try to hide the contraband. Rather, I carried the bouquet in my hand as I walked.

I didn’t choose a life of crime. I don’t plan to continue it. But I think the results were worth at least this one transgression.

2020—Focus Shifting Rio Samba

The roses are on full display right now. Rio Samba is bright and cheery and I wanted to try the Nikon Z7’s focus shift feature to show it off. I took several sets of images before I found a composite stack I liked. The leaf still isn’t entirely focused even though I used the smallest increment for the focus shift. Nikon Z7, FTZ, Nikkor 105mm f/2.8 micro lens.

2020—Blooming

Culinary Sage grows in a large pot on my patio. My main use for it is in butternut squash soup and since I make that often in the fall and winter, the sage gets trimmed frequently so it never gets a chance to bloom. I was surprised the other day to see it covered with stalks lined with purple flowers. Until recently, I haven’t been home enough to keep it trimmed. I was even more surprised when one of the Anna’s Hummingbirds visited each clump while I watched. My hummers love other types of salvia in my garden, especially the Pineapple Sage so I shouldn’t have been surprised. I’ll try to capture the hummer at the sage while it’s still blooming.

2020—Tiny Dancers

A dandelion puff dried and disintegrated so the seeds detached and dangled. The seeds reminded me of a toe dancer’s shoes, the fibers looked like tutus. Maybe my isolation is taking a toll. Hold me closer, tiny dancer. (With apologies to Elton John.) Nikon Z7, FTZ, 105mm f/2.8 micro, three Nikon SB5000 speed lights.

2020—Circle of Life

Flowers on the succulent Echeveria “Deranosa” appear on long stems that emerge from the center of the rosette in spring. The bell-shaped flowers open slowly one by one. I’ve been fascinated with the tiny flowers curled into a circle on the end of the flexible spike and tried to photograph them but my attempts did not do them justice. Then I decided to try the Nikon Z7 focus shift shooting technique I used on the rose in yesterday’s post. The curled cascade with the open flowers at one end and the closed buds waiting to emerge made me think of the circle of life. I did have to cut the stem (ironic given the title of this post) but I first made sure there were more stalks emerging from the center of the rosette. So, the circle of life can continue for this plant. I took fewer images (21) for this final image than the rose and I change the focus step width so the increments were a little further apart because I was getting some ghosting when I merged the images. Nikon Z7, FTZ, Nikkor 105mm f/2.8 micro lens.

2020—Z Stacking

Nikon Z cameras have a feature that enables the camera to take a designated number of photographs while moving the focus point methodically throughout the scene. Then the resulting photographs can be “stacked” in Photoshop or other software so that only the in focus parts of each image are assembled into a single image, and the entire image is in focus. This method is very useful with macro images because macro lenses have such a narrow depth of focus that only a small portion of a given subject, if it has any dimension at all, is in focus. I used this feature in my Nikon D850 but hadn’t tried it in a Z body until Easter Sunday. Betty Boop, one of my most prolific roses, is just beginning its spring display. I thought it would make the perfect spring subject to test out this feature on the Nikon Z7. I used the Nikkor 105mm f/2.8 Micro lens with the FTZ connector and three SB5000 speed lights linked with Nikon’s wireless WR-R10. I positioned one light on either side of the rose and one at the bottom of the rose and adjusted the output to 1/64.

2020—Fielder’s White

It was early spring when we moved here in 1991 and Azaleas in Sacramento in springtime are gorgeous. Azaleas were among the first things I planted at our new home.  Over the years, my Azaleas have grown into massive plants and they continue to thrive.  Their beauty evokes the joys of spring and the hope of new beginnings.  This is Fielder’s White. I took the photograph Saturday afternoon while I watched birds and butterflies in my yard. Because I had my bird rig in my lap, I didn’t need to get too close to get a closeup shot of the flowers peeking out from the shady shrubs. Taken with Nikon D500, Nikkor 300mm PF, Nikon TC-17EII.

2020—A Visit from Anna

My Anna’s Hummingbirds have been quite active the past few days.  Thursday afternoon there were two or three buzzing around.  I think they were all females as is this Anna’s. Since my Nikon D5 and 500mm PF lens are at Nikon for servicing and since that facility is closed and when it might open again is unknown at this time, I’m using my Nikon D500 and my 300mm PF with the Nikon TC-17II to get a longer reach.   The 300mm PF and the 1.7 Teleconverter gets me to 500mm and with the crop sensor in the Nikon D500, I actually have a 750mm reach.

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