My New Camera - Day 15
Birds, Birds Courting,
a Wedding and a Lilting Sunset
Friday, March 10, 2006: Another bright day. Anna and I walked the lake, where I fell into my Pelican Routine, waiting for them to do something photogenic. Then Anna pointed out this colorful fella (a male Dometic Wood Duck), and I turned and shot him.
I think center-weighted might have actually been helpful here (as opposed to spot metering), but I'm not sure. He is very colorful, and the tramped-down grass isn't. His colors were a lot more important, and this is a small crop from a larger photo. I dared not run over to be closer to him. Ducks are flighty.
She also noticed how the male pigeons puff up their neck feathers to look more — what? imposing, bigger, goofier? Hard to tell in mating season, which this definitely is. My little struggle, played out in the trio of photographs below, was to show the puffy feather routine.
Top left is a nice portrait of a pigeon all het up, but he doesn't look very different, although his colors are intense. Top right is a puffed-enough pigeon, but that shot's aesthetics are lacking. He doesn't look pigeonish enough. In the bottom image just above, we can see the difference easily and quickly, thanks to their (male on top, female below) parallel posing, but she's out of focus, and the puff of his breast gets lost in shadow.
This was the quickest copulation I'd ever seen. After all that fluffing and cooing and gargling and chasing, it seemed anticlimactic. Although it wasn't.
Having both succeeded and failed with the pigeons, I turned my camera out to catch my pelks in flight. In all today, I saw five elegant descensions, some from way high up.
I like this one, because it is in sharp focus, and there's interesting things in the background, not the least of which is a person in red shirt. I wanted to show more of the tree top leftish, and there's more to show, but it felt right to crop it off just there to emphasize the horizontality of the bird coming in low.
Same bird two seconds later. Both shots are crops down to about 6% of the total area, neatly eliminating the clutter of the usual suspects lined up along the sand bar, which is more prominent now the water has gone down after recent rains.
I wanted to concentrate on these guys in the air, where they are magnificent. Gulls flap, pelicans soar. They may look like pterodactyls, especially in silhouette, but they know how to work a thermal, and those 12-foot wingspans are amazing.
Two more seconds later, and you can see the perspective I shot through. The usual suspects, gathered in their usual variety of stances and squatses along the sandbar.
Three minutes later, while I was following the left pelk down, yet another one was coming from another angle. I was surprised about that when I saw the image on my computer.
Looks like they're on collision course, but the big, breeding male (nose fin) is closer, which makes it all the more surprising they're both in relatively sharp focus. Probably by this point in time (to use Watergatese), I was aware that there were two birds out there. It would have been difficult to miss. I would not have known which to focus on, so whatever I did, was correct.
Turkey Vulture Flyover, although they (four birds) could have been short-tailed hawks. But more likely they were turkey vultures just checking things out. They stayed high, flying in over Sunset Bay, then off into the east.
The ground and sand bank birds were aware of the flyover, but if it had been a hawk, they would have scurried for cover, and I might have got the opportunity to see a hawk in action. Turkey vultures, however, just eat what something else has killed, so they guys knew they were safe.
Ugly as turkey vultures are on the ground, they are beautiful in the air, even more beautiful than Pelicans, but they were only passing over and didn't show us any aerial pyrotechnics.
I thought it might be an interesting perspective on the pelks if we went out to the end of the pier and shot. That seemed to bunch up and randomize them, and more easily compare their differing bill colors and relative sizes, but ho-hum, otherwise.
As I play through the images of this scene on the camera, it looks like a pelican beak pointing exercise, with their long "noses" following some unknown tune, left, right, up, down and down into the warmth of down.
There were, however, lots more strange little sights to be captured nearer the pier. I liked this duck with a do. I've seen bigger, dooyer doos, but this was a distinctive miniature. I especially enjoyed its honey-colored fuselage.
If you look closely, you can see tiny beads of water clinging to this colorful mallard's breast.
This Mottled Duck was just so beautiful, I had to shoot it. Wonderful display of feathers. And sitting on the pier, with all these lovely birds swimming by was easy. Like shooting ducks in a barrel.
I'm checking Fred Alsop's Birds of Texas to see what, exactly, this too-common bird is. A Great-tailed Grackle. In this shot, I got all of his tail, all of his feet, that bright golden eye and a wonderful, soft lake background. He couldn't have been more than 5 or 6 feet away, and I managed to soften his face and upper torso, but still make him look mean. Although I don't think they are. Noisy, yes. And an annoyance. But not mean.
I've been wanting to catch one of these critters in near-ground flight for several years. Now that I've got several pretty good Pelican descents (although no ascents), maybe I can concentrate more effort on my grackle friends. Besides, the pelks can't possibly stay much longer into the heat of spring.
Since we went to the lake to walk, after watching and photographing birds for nearly an hour, we finally did. I led us off to a nearby playground, for no reasoned reason. Where we found this father and his child, both playing. Dad was juggling, as you can see, a crystal ball while balancing on top of something, I forget what.
I shot 9 times, getting the ball and him both in focus most of the time. But all the exposures were dark. So pattern would have been a better metering choice. But I didn't think about it, till later.
I like this for its mystical flavor. I'd never seen anyone roll-juggle before, and I was enchanted, especially with they way he rolled it over his arm, hand and fingers. Using a circular mask, I slightly darkened the ball.
When he dropped it, he quickly jumped down, picked up the ball, got back up on the riser and continued his elegant juggling.
Then we walked around the bend, where a lot of other people had the same idea. I love the sharp, side lighting, and never saw the bird until I brought it up on the computer. Exposure is nearly perfect, center-weighted seems perfect.
Anna in the deadly Crane pose from the Karate Kid. Center-weighted-average (CWA) might have provided slightly better exposure, but Anna is standing in her own shadow here, and there's almost nothing of the lake behind her left. CWA might have made it dark enough to see the water surface, but I don't know. I'd rather see her face, although her fingers are red.
1/60 is awfully slow a shutter to be hand-holding a 180mm lens (270mm in 35mm equivalency). The rule in 35mm photography was 1/focal length @ f/16 in bright sunlight (this is more like cloudy bright, about a stop down from full bright) was the slowest shutter speed you could still expect to get a shot with and not blur the details with photographer's motion. At least that was before VR (vibration reduction) lenses.
This is a terrible shot of Anna, but I love the lighting and the subtle separation between her and the background. I should not have cropped off her hand, either. Very dramatic lighting. I especially like what the falling sun's light does to her dark glasses, and it's nice that I can still see an earring.
I did not Photoshop the exposure in any way, although I often do, mostly BYC (because you can).
Again, pattern metering mode would probably have provided a better over-all exposure, but I prefer this one.
Anna loves small bits of wood and bark, and she always amasses a collection of drift and other wood bits whenever we walk at the lake, so I thought this would be a very appropriate attempt. The late slant of afternoon sunlight provided another stripe of dramatic lighting.
I should have remembered, again, that the meter was set on spot. It worked out to my benefit, but I had no idea it was set there. Maybe I need a camera voice to remind me what mode I'm in at every shot. "You sure you still want to be shooting with spot metering, Mr. J R?"
Anna pointed out two young boy children about a hundred yards off, and I shot them 11 times before I got anything decent (below) — including a their-mother-running-after-one-of-them series (above). All either out of focus or ho-hum composition.
The only reason this one works (or at least I think it does, posed as is) is because the kid found himself an excellent posing pedestal and has such a winning smile and great couture. It probably seemed taller to him, but doesn't he look proud of himself. I am, too. This shot makes me smile. So simple. So orange, and I can read "Bam-Bam" on the shirt.
Notice how perfectly the pattern metering rendered the background here and in the mom-chase shot, even if my elderly lens never did find the focus. Perfect exposure, just focused somewhere else.
I like the tree, but I don't much care for the bikler (one who bikes). And I only just now noticed the guy standing between the trees in the background. I liked that whole scene for its serenity of trees and grass and dark background. Unfortunately, the focus is well behind the subject.
I sharpened it up a little. It can be faked for the web, since web pics are so low resolution. But making a print of this shot would show my handiwork to be the colossal mess it is.
Then I found this other shot of it (that I'd passed on at first, because the bikler is so out of focus), and it's a lot sharper, though the bikler is not, which may be just as well. Think of him moving or something. That tree here is in its glory, and contrasts especially well with the soft floss of weeds at the water's edge and the dark green woods in the far background.
So much better a shot I might have missed if the other one hadn't been such a wreck. f/3.5 (with its very narrow depth of field) nails it.
There was a wedding going on around the corner at the Dreyfuss Building. We'd seen it as we walked out, and on the way back I noticed this lovely composition, which, as you can see, this image (above) doesn't do much for (then again, it's really not so bad).
But add a little drama, sharpen up the grass ever so slightly and contrast up the building, letting the foreground tree go darker, and I begin to see what made me shoot this version in the first place. I like it, tree dead center and all. Off balance, building obscured and all. A little moody. Nice.
At first I thought my shots of this outdoor wedding were failures. But upon re-viewing, I see they just need to be seen big. Bigger than this, even. At full size, I can see this is the moment in a wedding. When the bride and groom kiss, at the end of the ceremony.
That it happened as the sun was nearly setting, setting the landscape alive with its amber blaze, adds immeasurably to the allure of this photo, which really should be seen even bigger than I can now print. My max with my current printer is Super A3 (13 x 19 inches), and most of the shots I've blown up that far probably shouldn't have been that big, except that viewing distance helps coalesce the image.
This picture is the first to remind me that I want to be able to make larger prints. The last printer cost a thousand bucks, but maybe I can get bigger cheaper one now, since that's the way the digital cookies crumble.
I love the naturalness of this shot. The mellow grass-framed drama. The splay of people semi-protected by the tall grass, trees and distance. The way the lady in the black and white striped dress can be seen clearly, while so many others tend to dissolve into the background.
Center-weighting the metering helped here, avoid the darkness of the trees overhead, most of which I cropped out, trying to get the people big enough to see.
We continued walking, clearing the shot of the confusion of the tree and weeds, but the magic moment had passed. Other configurations of the wedding party were moving back inside for the reception, loose, unfocused (in that other we we talk about focus), undramatic. I had, quite unwittingly, captured the decisive moment. After that, it was just after that.
I'm including this only so you can see what I can see in the bigger image on my monitor. This exposure is too bright, the contrast too contrasty, the sky too gray, the weeds too white, etc.
And I know that only those of you who have the monitors set just the way mine is (less than perfect) will ever see this shot the way I see it — unless I make a print and show it somewhere, which is fairly unlikely. But I'm in awe of this camera's ability to capture reality with mood, color and detail. Wow.
One last challenge, before I put this humongous page to bed, er... web.
I saw this scene somewhat differently than you and I both do here when I first shot it. I hoped, somehow, that both the couple walking at the left and the three fisher persons — two guys and a woman, I think, would all have presence.
I saw it clearer than the mist that covers the land this close to sunset — just past sunset, that is. But it may be an absurdity to ask that from a new camera I'm only barely beginning to understand some aspects of.
Above is my original exposure. Full frame, etc. I tried to keep the amber of sunset and maybe even a little of the green of grass on this side and trees and grass on the far side.
Then I set on it with Photoshop, and — after thirty minutes of careful brightening, detailed masking and feathering and etc. — got this. I hope it's an improvement, and that when I look back at this page (as I inevitably do the next day and days following) that it doesn't seem a big waste of time.
Yeah, the guy in the hat and white shirt is too white, and so's T-shirt man. They should be the same color as the woman walking on the path to the left.
In full size, I can see the expression on the guy in the T-shirt's face. He's looking at me, I think, wondering. Me, too.