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Thursday, June 21, 2012

Hummingbirds in Action!

A flash of iridescent red reveals
the location of tiny hummingbird!

I think it would be safe to say that most folks like hummingbirds and we're no different at our house. Rather than put out feeders, we like to landscape with birds in mind and when we redid our backyard a few years ago, we definitely planted for hummers. Also, every summer we put fuchsias and salvias in pots on the deck to lure the hummingbirds in. We'll see Anna's, Black-Chinned, and, occasionally, Rufous Hummingbirds. They can get quite territorial about our yard, perching in the trees and singing their creaky little songs and dive-bombing one another if an unauthorized individual attempts to visit the waxbell! It's such a pleasure to see their iridescent bodies hovering among the flowers; hummingbirds have a touch of magic about them. Of course, as a photographer, I've longed to get a photograph of a hummingbird in flight, but they don't exactly stick around waiting for you to set up your equipment! I knew that the only way I would ever get some decent hummingbird photos (and that means NOT taken through a window!) would be if I set up my camera and waited. I was determined that this summer I would make that happen!

Mouse kept me company during
the stakeout.
I brought my camera downstairs when I woke up yesterday morning with the idea of having it handy, at the very least, and when I looked out the glass door at the back deck, there was a hummingbird. I thought, it's warm enough to be outside, so let's make today the day I photograph a hummingbird. So I got out my tripod, put my 100mm lens on my camera, set it up so it was focused on the pot full of salivas, and put the camera in "Sports" mode so that it would automatically focus on what's moving and continuously take photos (at a rate of 3.7 per second) when I pressed the shutter button. I made sure my setup was within easy reach of a chair and settled in to wait with a book on digital photography.

The dog watched for squirrels
while I watched for hummers.
And so I waited. And waited. And waited some more. For several hours, no hummingbirds came at all. Eventually, the male Anna's hummingbird that has been our most regular recent visitor stopped by. He hovered high over the deck, taking in me, the camera, and the dog, and uttered a series of "chick! chick! chick!" noises. I interpreted this to mean that the dog was too close to the fuchsia for the hummingbird's liking and so put the dog in the house. I ended up taking three series of photos, one at 4:55 in the afternoon and the other two at 6:55. I had begun my stakeout around 1:30, so there was a lot of waiting! But I got some good reading done while I waited and the photos I managed to get were great! 

You can see the rest of the photos I took here.

I'm hoping that later this summer I'll be able to take another round of photos, including ones of the hummingbirds feeding on the salvias, but I'm very pleased that my patience paid off and I was able to get some beautiful hummingbird photos!

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

One Year Blog Anniversary

One year ago, on June12, 2011, I launched this blog with a post about successfully photographing lupine at park near my house.

I wasn't entirely new to blogging. I'd been keeping online journals, both private and semi-private, since before they were called blogs. (Remember Diaryland, anyone?) I decided to get into blogging publicly because Etsy recommended it as a way to promote your store and I'm always writing essays in my head on various topics anyway, so I was not opposed to promoting my work and my thoughts in written form! I was also looking for a platform from which to do mental health advocacy work, especially since the onset of the migraines meant I wouldn't be able to do anything that involved showing up in person.

Unfortunately, less than one month after I started this blog, I accidentally hit my head on the stair rail and ended up with a concussion that I have yet to fully recover from. The migraines had already made it more difficult for me to articulate my thoughts and since the concussion, there have been many days where an insurmountable gulf lies between what I wish to say and my ability to say it. (I had intended to post this on the actual anniversary of launching my blog, but was unable to finish it yesterday because my mind quit working!) The easiest posts to write are the ones that describe something I've done, like a weekend spent dog-sitting or spending time with the horses. The more nuanced, thoughtful pieces continue to be very hard to get down: I have two in draft mode, for example, that I haven't been able to work on for weeks. I have enough ideas that I could easily post every other day, but my brain simply can't work that way anymore.

That said, I have managed to write several post that I consider meaningful and important and that have moved people in return. Most of the posts I want to highlight are a bit on the heavy side, so if you'd prefer to look at beautiful photos and hear about my exploits with horses and dogs, you're best bet is to scroll through my blog archives instead! The following are some of my favorites:

Can't Regret What I Did For Love
I wrote this post about not regretting things done with the best intentions shortly after hitting my head.

A Day of Mourning: A Migraine Anniversary
This post sums up everything you need to know about what it is like for me to be living as a chronic migraineur.

My Migraines: A Visual Handbook
This illustrated post defines my migraines in pictures.

The Darkest Evening of the Year
In this post, I recall one of the bleakest days in my early days of confronting my just-diagnoses and as-yet untreated mental illness and why it's worth remembering still.

More Than Just My Diagnoses
I consider this to be one of the most important things I have written and something that I want to share with others!

Choosing My Sorrows: Thoughts on Dogs and Loss
This post I wrote about why I felt sad about the death of a dog I'd never met really resonated with people. Strangers wrote me to thank me for saying what they had been unable to put into words. What started as a sad experience and a personal examination of grief turned into something positive for many people and underscored for me the value of sharing what I have to say.

To cope with the limitations imposed on my life by health problems requires a mindset that focuses on what is positive rather than what is negative. In this post, I walk through my way of thinking about the world so that I am capable of experiencing gratitude on a daily basis.

Haiku of Horses
This is one of the very shortest pieces I've written about my recent experiences with horses, but it says it best.

This first year of blogging has seen me through a variety of ups and downs, including a head injury, the opening of a second Etsy store, being granted disability benefits, buying my fancy pants camera, facing some old sexual harassment issues, the death of an old kitty I cat-sat for many years,  the death of my grandfather, getting involved with horses, and encountering a shrew-mole! I can't wait to see what interesting photos and experiences this next year of blogging will bring!

Monday, June 11, 2012


A point-and-shoot shot of a bee on
a lavender plant.
In the last three years or so since I started photographing flowers, I've always taken a particular delight in snapping shots of bees at work. These photos never make it into the "fine art" folder, but for some reason I get a kick out of watching bees do what they do best. Also, they are important pollinators and I am pro-pollination. Add to all that the fact that I've never been stung by a bee and the love-fest is complete. I'm not into cute artificial bees (you know, as decor and all), but I do like to see the real thing at work and if I'm out with my camera, I'll definitely point it at them. This worked out fine with my point-and-shoot in macro mode--sometimes the bee shot wouldn't come out, but a lot of times they did, at least well enough to put in one of my personal albums devoted to summer photos.

This underwhelming image was the best photo I got out of
 all my attempts to capture the bees on the rhododendron.
When I got my DSLR camera and my macro lens, I found the shallow depth of field to be a real problem when it came to photographing bees. My point-and-shoot's macro setting had an adequately broad depth of field that, so as long as the bee stayed more or less in the same place while I pressed shutter button, there was a decent chance the bee would be in focus. With my macro lens, and especially with my need to use the camera's autofocus feature because of my hand tremor, focusing on the bee became a problem. The autofocus feature chooses the point on an object that is closest to the lens as the area of focus and while there are ways of circumventing this feature, it's not so easy to do this when your subject is moving! And if the bee has entered a tubular shaped flower whose petals extend beyond the bee's body, forget about it! I spent days stalking the scores of bees that visited a large rhododendron in my yard and all I got for my trouble was a bunch of out-of-focus bee pictures. The lens either couldn't focus on the bee within the flower because of the autofocus limitations or couldn't refocus fast enough when the bee came buzzing back out. Since I just photograph bees for fun, I wasn't going to take the trouble to set up a tripod, point my camera at a flower, establish my focus ahead of time in manual mode, and then wait until a bee blundered into my setup!

Recently, though, I had a stroke of luck. I managed to find two different flowers on two different days being thoroughly explored by bees in adequate light!

The allium photos, which I'm displaying first, were actually the second set of photos I captured. (I'm saving the best for last.) I had tagged along on an errand to a local nursery specifically so I could photograph their alliums and found them crawling with bees. Because the myriad tiny allium flowers come together to form a solid ball, the bee stays on the surface of the flower and is therefore the closest thing to the lens, allowing me to use the autofocus mode to highlight the bee. Because so many little flowers make up the allium balls, if a bee moved, it seldom moved very far! That meant I had plenty of opportunities! The three below are the best and give a nice view of bees at work.

This next set of photographs were made possible thanks to the anatomy of the cornflower. The flower is in fact composed of many florets and the bee was slowly and carefully probing every single one, moving only millimeters at a time. This meant I had ample time to take picture after picture. One of the outer, ray-like florets was missing, giving my lens a clear shot of the bee as it moved over the surface of the flower. I love these photos because the macro magnification brings the details of the bee to life: the jointed exoskeleton, the bristling hairs, the intricate wings, all set against the gorgeous pinks and purples of the cornflower.

You can find more photographs of the cornflower and the bee here.

I love macro photography because it allows you to see the world around you in new ways. I've photographed all manner of flowers and plants and food and inanimate objects, but this is the first time I've been able to use it to reveal the unexpected wonder of a tiny animal. (Well, I had a delightful time photographing the shrew-mole, but the details revealed weren't nearly as amazing as those seen on this ordinary bee.) I feel very lucky to have seen the bee on the cornflower while I had my camera in hand! I stopped by that same flowerbed today, less than a week later, and found that the cornflowers are done for the year. I'm thankful, too, that I decided to invest in a 100mm macro lens, enabling me to take breathtakingly beautiful, unexpected photos!

Friday, June 8, 2012

The Art of Horses

Clematis bloom.
Yesterday was Horse Day for me again and I had specifically brought along my fancy camera because I wanted to photograph the spectacular pink and white clematis blooming on the stable owner's property. The sun cooperated with me, dodging in and out of some very thin clouds when I arrived at the stable, making it possible to get a handful of lovely clematis pictures. The break in the rain meant several of the horses were out in their turnouts and I had an opportunity to take some photographs of various horse parts with decent light! I've been hoping to get a few more "art" style horse photos and was very happy with several of these shots. I don't expect the first one of Beacon's nose to be of commercial interest, but it IS a very nice picture of a horse's nose!

Beacon's nose.

Bear's eye.

Beacon's ears.

Drifter's mane.

Drifter's eye.

It was a very nice visit to the barn. Last week, I found that I was still recovering from the bout of flu that had forced me to cancel my visit to the horses the week before, but my stamina was back this week, enabling me to groom Drifter without exhausting myself. He definitely knows who I am now and what I'm there for. Shortly after I arrived and while I was still taking photos of the horses in

their turnouts, he took himself into his stall. He was watching me very closely when I came into the stable and as soon as I opened his stall door, he started trying to put his head in the halter in my hand! I gave him the usual treatment: two hours of thorough grooming. He's shed almost all of his winter coat now (it is June, after all, though in a 55-degrees-and-raining kind of way), so I had less to do in terms of working loose hair out of his coat, but I polished him up nicely. We had a bit of a stand-off over cleaning his right front hoof. To clean it, I have to hold the hoof in my right hand and use the pick in my left. I am severely right-handed, so it's not easy for me to handle the pick, and while I don't wield it in a way that would hurt him, I think he senses my discomfort and will quite literally put his foot down, refusing to let me clean it all the way. It's important for a horse to know
that you are the boss--a gentle, understanding boss, but a boss nonetheless--so I have to be sure that he does what I say. Fortunately, my experience working with dogs gives me the strength and insight on how to calmly and firmly insist that we keep on cleaning the hoof until I say it is clean enough. Still, it took some time for him to give in and let me finish the hoof! Other than that, though, things went beautifully and it's actually good for me to establish my dominance in our relationship before I ever get on his back.

Although I was very happy to have adequate light for photographing the clematis, I was actually hoping it would rain while I was at the barn. It was such a soothing sensory experience for me be with a horse while listening to the sound of rain and I rather hoped to repeat it, especially since I'd had a nightmare about the amount of suffering in the universe that was weighing rather heavily on my soul even after I woke. In a way, I got my wish. Shortly after I went into the barn and put Drifter in the cross-ties, it started to rain. It was not a steady, drumming rain, however. It flat-out poured! The sound of that torrential downpour hammering on the stable's metal roof was deafening! It was perhaps a little louder than I would have liked, but it certainly played up the drama of the storm and left me feeling rather exhilarated! The horses didn't seem to mind the racket at all and simply stared placidly out at the falling rain from their stable doors. By the time I left, the sun was shining again.

I still had some energy left after I was finished with Drifter because his mostly-shed coat hadn't required such intensive grooming. I was doing my usual sweeping up job and decided that while I was at it, I'd do a little extra. Horse feed and bedding generates an incredible amount of dust and so naturally it accumulates in a place like a stable! I like to sweep, so I did the whole floor, not just the area around the cross-ties, and brushed off some of the surfaces, too. While I was at it, I also decided to tackle the dust-covered cobwebs. I didn't do the whole barn or the horses' stalls (though Syd, who was watching me curiously and whose general outlook on life can be summed up as "Can I eat it?", decided that dust-covered cobwebs fell under the "edible" category and pretty much licked his stall clean), but there were fewer cobwebs and the floor was much less dusty by the time I got a blister and called it a day. All in all, it was quite a satisfying afternoon. Drifter got groomed, the stable got cleaned, and I got some nice photographs!

My very favorite photograph of the day was this
one of Bear watching the downpour from his stall door.