Timing is everything… and I’ve got nothing…

This is not a new subject matter for me, your humble photography narrator. Not by a long shot, but it has been a while since I’ve encountered this particular gem of a let down…

You know what this is?

It's a tree


It is a tree.

Good job.

But do you know what makes this particular tree special?


Well let me tell you…

This morning I was enjoying my breakfast in the t.v. room. I chanced to look out the sliding glass door towards this very tree and what did I see, but two juvenile squirrels playing. I don’t know if it was simply play or courting or what, but it was very, very cute. They would scamper around the tree and pounce upon each other just like kittens do. One or the other would often wind up upside down on the grass while it’s paws playfully coaxed the other to attack. They raced around the tree, up its base a bit… back and forth.

It was one of those moments which would melt the heart of the most jaded soul alive.

And so I watched them for about four or five minutes before I realized I should get up off my ass and grab my camera, which was at the time residing in my car. I put down my glass of milk, raced to the garage, grabbed the camera and began making settings adjustments on the way back to the television room. Upon completion of my task I reached for the handle to the sliding glass door so that I didn’t have to shoot through it when I noticed the squirrels… were… gone.


I myself wasn’t gone but maybe 30-seconds and in that particular span of time the lovely squirrels had decided enough was enough and taken off for other squirrelly pursuits.

Some days I hate being the owner of a camera.


And so it sweats…

My last post discusses the beginning salvo of my SoBoFoMo project revolving around the feral and homeless cats I watch over and feed. Since then I have encountered two bits of ‘fun’ I thought I’d share.

Here’s fun number one:

The weather...

Yeah. It says “90” right now (and ‘right now’ is almost 9:30p.m.), but it was 96 at the peak today with a heat index of around 110. You know… I left Florida to escape this sort of thing.


It has been like this all week and will remain like this through tomorrow, as you can see in the above picture. While things will cool-off over the weekend and into the week it’s still scheduled to be warmer than average. Just not stupid-hot. Needless to say working with a dSLR in this heat, with this humidity, in a small wood which only serves to trap the humidity under the leafy canopy (and between the two humidity is far worse than direct sunlight) I’ve been reluctant to shoot pictures.

The cats look and act distressed (lethargic) and I don’t blame them. It’s nasty. I myself looked as if I had just stepped out of the shower as I returned to my car to come back home. And into a real shower.

(heavenly sigh)

So this first week of photography has yielded precisely three-days of photographs when I had planned at least six. Kid you not… the camera actually slipped out of my hand the other day as both it and my hand were so covered in sweat.

Gross… I know!

But I did learn something yesterday while out with the camera and I apologize for not having the pictures to prove it as I’m entering this blog post from a different computer. What I “discovered” is when trying to photograph cats in a small wood with a flash attached to the camera there is a very good chance the flash will highlight… even over-expose… the leaves and branches that lay between the cat and me; the humble photographer.

This does not lead to the sort of results one had hoped for. It also begs the question: does forkboy have the slightest clue what he’s doing?

It’s probably best we don’t answer that…

Not according to plan…

It was supposed to be a perfect day. The weather, while warmer than I like, was very nice. A good breeze. Reasonable humidity. Plenty of sunshine and enough puffy, white clouds to make it an attractive sky.

You know… a good day.

And when nature hands you a good day you should take advantage of it with your camera and so it was I made some plans. A quick trip south of Dayton to collect a ring I was having re-sized and then a short journey to Cox Arboretum to take full advantage of the very recently opened Butterfly House!

As they say… the best laid plans…

Jeweler was closed for the week. On vacation. I didn’t know about it and I had been saving my trip to the store for post-butterfly house opening seeing how both the store and Cox Arboretum are not exactly around the corner from my house.

“Oh well,” I thought. “The butterflies will more than make up for this,” was the thinking which cheered me up. Except the butterflies were not in attendance at the butterfly house.


Maybe four or five small monarchs.


I think this happened to me two years ago. Early July, regardless of the fact the butterfly house is open, is too early for the butterflies. I need to give it until the end of the month before things really start to pick up. (make mental note about such so we don’t have to write about this problem again next year)

Well… adopting the make lemonade mantra when life hands you lemons, I moved on to the various ponds at Cox Arboretum thinking I may grab some shots of the dragonflies. I do love dragonflies. But again it is just a bit too early in the season for them.

Oh… they were out and about. Buzzing to and fro as dragonflies are wont to do. But they were not out in the numbers I have seen deeper into summer. Nor were they very big; most being rather tiny.

Drat. No. Double drat!

But so what. I spent a nice afternoon outside for a few hours and I may have snagged a few decent dragonfly pictures (I haven’t yet checked). It’s still nice to be out and about with the gear doing what I enjoy most about photography: being behind the camera.

And not unlike my last post, seeing how this is a blog dedicated to photography, how about a snap real quick? I’m glad you agree…


I didn’t snap many flower pictures this Spring, but when I saw my neighbor’s tulips just past their peak, relaxing in a smattering of dappled sunlight I just couldn’t help myself. Tripod and 70-200mm lens in hand I ventured across the street and threw myself into it. There are two things I really like about this picture: (1) the symmetry of the flower, and (2) the brilliant yellow in the base of the petals.

Like sunshine made flower.

Firsts for 2011…

It seems a bit funny to be typing “Firsts for 2011” when one considers we are…. what…. half-way into 2011. But I think it will all make more sense when you see….

While certainly not the first butterfly to be found in the Dayton, Ohio, area in 2011 it is my first shot of one. I imagine folks who venture to my flickr photostream get tired of shots of my butterflies. But that’s their problem. I love photographing them. They are such beautiful little creatures and seeing them on my computer monitor makes me smile. Their bright colours. Sometimes iridescent.

Like I mentioned in one of my more recent posts, if I enjoy it why shouldn’t I photograph it? It is, after all, my hobby. My passion. I should shoot what makes me happy. Granted, I hope others enjoy those images as well, but ultimately the only person I need to satisfy is myself.

I also have a penchant for photographing…

Although I’m not certain what I’m really photographing in this image. I was shooting for the bee (I do love bees.. at least in terms of photography), but wound up focused upon the flower instead. But I do enjoy photographing flowers as well, just not as much as bees and other bugs.

At first I was going to delete the image from my hard drive as it wasn’t what I was looking for. You know… I nice & sharp picture of the bee. But before I could flag it as a reject in Lightroom I think I realized how this photo worked just fine after all. The flower is lovely and the bee, while out of focus, is still in-focus enough that I, and any other viewer, immediately recognize it’s a bee.

And upon further consideration I decided that this ‘mistake’ was actually a very nice photograph. Or at least I think so.

It felt like cheating…

It really did.

I felt as if I were cheating when I took those pictures. How could I be doing this? It wasn’t right. No. It couldn’t be. But I had a hard time arguing with the results.

Sure… there were some of the usual issues. The falling snow interfering with the auto-focus system. The lack of sunshine meaning slower shutter speeds for lower ISOs (thank the Maker for Image Stabilization). But this was different. No freezing fingers, but having to look for cleaner spots through which to shoot.

Still….. the results….

See…. about two and a half weeks ago I ventured out to Aullwood Audubon Center & Farm to take advantage of the rarely sighted sun and do some bird photography. It was, to the say the least, a poor excursion. Not so many birds, but worse, the vantage points from which to shoot around the building almost always lead to the building figuring prominently in the background. Not quite ideal. Not by a long shot.

Dejected I returned home, but found myself back at Aullwood about two-weeks ago to discuss a matter with the front desk. While there I visited one of the bird watching rooms (a nice room with books and comfy chairs looking out through a large glass window upon some of the feeders) and noticed there were tonnes of birds present. Tonnes. That’s a lot of birds. But it was snowing and I remembered the poor background issue from my adventure the week before, but suddenly it struck me.

“I can shoot from inside. Through the window!” And so it was I rushed back home and back to Aullwood in the rapidly falling snow. But as soon as I arrived back at the room I realized how this entire idea felt like cheating. Cheating because I wasn’t outdoors in the snow and cold. Cheating because I wasn’t carefully stalking my prey. Cheating because I’d be snug and warm.

Again though…. I cannot argue with the results.

However, it wasn’t all sunshine and bunnies. While the glass window had very recently been cleaned it doesn’t take long for it to get a bit messy, which meant being careful as to where I shot through. And I’m fairly certain the addition of this layer of glass between me and my subjects matter only softened the focus of many of the images.

Yet here I am with about 20 or so real keepers of cardinals, finches, & woodpeckers. It was one of the very few outings where I came home and had a devil of a time selecting the very best as so many were that good. And while it still feels like I cheated I’m not going to argue with the results. Maybe in this instance the ends did justify the means.

Light, camera, model…. action!

A couple of posts back I introduced the world of WordPress to my new & portable, single-light kit. Nothing fancy, of course. Just my Canon flash, a stand, an umbrella, the do-hickey that connects the flash and umbrella to the stand and a wireless firing bit of hardware (not PocketWizard or Radio Poppers – perish the expensive thought!).

I did spend the extra few bucks to acquire the 9-foot light stand as opposed to the 6-foot variety. It seemed a reasonable investment and actually turned out to be the right choice when put to use the very first time. Can’t get much better than that, eh?


Back in September I finally corralled my model, Jenna, into an afternoon shoot on what turned out to be a too-warm Sunday afternoon. The weather, being unseasonably warm, made the excursion less than ideal, but I was anxious to give this new bit of kit a try and I was really excited about my location. Well… some parts of the location that is.

Jenna had never modelled before and other than the shots I took of the daughter a few years earlier I had zip for experience as well. So we were both in good hands undoubtedly. We started off with some shots by a neat tree on the premises of the Dayton Art Institute. I actually worked these with my flash affixed to my camera and set to manual, thus leaving me the chance to work with some fill light. Fun, but not the real crux of my we were there. Still… the results weren’t bad. Not great, but not bad.

We moved away from the tree and over towards the spot I was most excited about. The front of the Dayton Art Institute includes a long set of winding stairs leading from the street to the actual museum, which sits up fairly high from the street. About half way up the staircase is a landing where once must have been a small fountain and some statues set into three curved alcoves.

At some point the fountain was turned into a planter and the statues removed, thus leaving their lovely spaces quite open. “Perfect for a model,” I thought when I first came upon them during a recce of the grounds around the Institute. The beautiful yellow, brown and gold tones of the sandstone combined with the intimiate location seemed perfect for my plans.

We set up the light stand such that it faced her rather directly. Perhaps not the best thing, but choices were limited. There was little space in front of the alcove in which to work so straight-on was about the best we could do. In addition, the choice to go with the 9-foot tall light stand paid off handsomely as the alcoves were all about three or so feet off the ground. Add to those three feet a five-foot-plus model and you can quickly deduce the extra height was a wise choice. Well…. see for yourself.

Not too shabby a spot, eh? And not to shabby a picture if I do say so myself.

This whole endeavor was really one giant experiment. Because this area was in shadow I knew some lighting would really help lift things nicely and help me avoid having to use apertures that were too big or shutter speeds too slow. Letting the camera meter the scene I would then dial down the flash in manual mode to some setting… say 1/4 power…. and shoot. Checking my results on the camera’s LCD screen I would, if needed (and I always needed) adjust the flash’s output up or down and try again.

This went on for maybe 45-minutes or so when I felt I had exhausted my model’s good natured willingness to pose and suggested we call it a day. It didn’t help that this mid-September day was touching upon 80F (26.7C) and I was getting tired of sweating (I don’t like photographing in the heat). But ultimately this was all a big test and I had felt things went about as well as one could expect and I’m not displeased with the overall results.

There was one minor incident which occurred very near the end of our shoot. I was standing closer to Jenna discussing what I wanted her to try next when this pained look quickly spread across her face. She raised her hand to point behind me and seemed to be trying to get words out, but they simply weren’t coming quickly enough. It wasn’t necessary though. My brain, being a bit more on-the-ball than usual, quickly surmised what was happening: the light stand was falling over!

And indeed it was. A small gust of wind had struck, and between the umbrella and the teetering height of the stand, it was just enough to topple my inexpensive, but priceless-to-me, light stand. I lept to grab the whole contraption and with no small amount of luck managed to capture it before it all crashed to the hard and merciless cement.

Crisis averted.

Unfortunately, Jenna and I were not able to get back out again for another try at this thing before our cold weather kicked in. She is a senior in high school and has an awful lot on her plate between courses, work and just being a teenager. However, my neighbor across the street, who offers violin lessons, has a student named Emily who I met the other day. She has this whole teen-hipster look and vibe going on and while it’s not quite my thing it does have a strong visual component. I offered her one of my quasi-business cards and asked if she’d like to model and she replied in the affirmative. I have yet to hear from her, but I remain hopeful I will once the holidays are put behind us.

I lied…

I admit it.

I lied.

I promised myself (and others) I would buckle down and get serious about writing on this here blog in a more regular fashion. I notice it’s been three-months to the day since my last entry.


Ok. I suck.

But the fact I suck isn’t really anything new, now is it? Nope. Not at all. It is, if I may borrow a bit of French, de rigueur for the likes of me. So this time I make no promises, but will instead attempt to rectify this problem by hopefully being more diligent. Oh well…. let’s get on to something photography-oriented, eh?

I learned something the other day. No. Let me clarify. I noticed something the other day and with any luck I will have learned something from it. Observe…

Downy Woodpecker

Not too bad a picture really. But it looks a bit soft. A bit grainy. And there-in lies the problem. There’s simply more noise/grain than I would prefer. But you have to imagine the shooting situation to better understand how I came to be shooting at ISO 800.

I ventured out the other morning as it was the first in which sunlight broke through the clouds in probably a week. With still fresh snow upon the ground I hit Aullwood Audubon Center and Farm (a convenient and short drive) early in morning in hopes of capturing some nice shots of the birds hanging out in the trees as they swooped to and from the various feeders.

Birds? Check. Sunlight? Check. What more does a photographer need?

Apparently a lot more.

To not spook the birds I elected to remain at a discreet distance and shoot with my 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 lens. I had tried my 70-200mm previously and it simply didn’t have the reach I needed. After all, these particular birds I was after are all pretty small. Chickadees, titmouse, nuthatch and downy woodpeckers are pretty small birds if you didn’t already know this. Naturally this meant I would be using almost exclusively the 400mm end of the lens and I anticipated plenty of crop & zoom back in front of the computer.

Now, being Winter the sun never gets particularly high in the sky and so it was there wasn’t a whole lot of great light. Add in the fact that when shooting at 400mm the rule of thumb is to work to keep your shutter speed at or above 1/400 of a second to mitigate camera shake or motion blur. Granted, I was using my monopod and had the lens image stabilization active, but to be on the safe side I adjusted my aperture to around f/9 or f/11 (I wanted to hit the sweet spot of the lens), which required me to bump up my ISO to 800 to make it all work.

ISO 800 compounded by the need to fairly heavily crop & zoom is not a winning combination in my opinion.


White-breasted Nuthatch

Still… it was a nice way to spend a cold morning and with any luck I may actually remember this particular problem and work harder to get around it in the future.

But I wouldn’t bet on it.