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July 2015

WPC: How close is too close? That depends on your subject matter!

For this week’s challenge I’m including photos taken by a friend of mine, because he captures amazing images of something I won’t. At least not deliberately. My friend, Kenny Sharrocks, along with a few like-minded pals, goes out several times a year wandering through southern Arizona looking for rattlesnakes. And while his pals bring out the latest high megapixel Canons and Nikons, Kenny uses his seven year old Sony H5 series all-in-one with its high powered zoom lens. He tells me he gets better depth-of-field than his cohorts, which is one of the things I admire about his shots. He also captures excellent detail of his subjects, which are almost always found in shaded settings. Kenny doesn’t use a flash, and yet he still gets a nice studio softbox feel to the shots with no post-processing.

Another subject he is fond of are the frogs he has come across on his trips to the tropics. For these, he does move in close, using a wide-angle and a ring flash. While my friend prefers small critters for subjects, he is very capable of handling almost any subject matter with his camera.

I prefer dangerous subjects that only move fast while they are retreating. Take the black widow, for instance. I was so close to this one that I thought I was going to get a shadow from the lens while using the built-in flash. This is an uncropped shot. In the exploded view insert, you can see that it has brought one of its legs to its open mouth, perhaps for some cleaning.

Another fast retreater is the scorpion, which are usually found in defensive locations, waiting for their food to come to them. A white light flashlight will have them hiding quickly, but a black light flashlight will spot them up to 20 feet away, and will not startle them as you get very close. It is very difficult for a camera’s autofocus to work properly under this circumstance, so I turn the focus mode to manual.

How about a spider so big, it didn’t get fazed by my presence. The largest wolf spider I had ever seen before this was about quarter-sized, including legs. Sometimes you want to move in close to your subject for dramatic or artistic effect. I wanted to show how big this one was, but realized after the first shot, nobody would be able to tell. I went to grab a metal yardstick and placed it alongside the wolf spider, which sat there the entire time. This was before I had a digital camera, and was taken with a flip-phone.

Shooting video in macro mode can be challenging. When I came across these ants in Zion National Park crawling all over this branch, I couldn’t resist trying to capture the frantic pace of their world. The breeze was wreaking havoc with my autofocus, so I switched to manual. At this distance, the branch was still swaying slightly in and out of focus, and I was able to capture better video by moving further back.

 

Enough of the creepy, crawly things, let’s move on to some flowers. Again, special equipment is an option here. The red cactus flower was taken in my mom’s backyard with an android phone. This is straight out of the camera, and was very sharp in an 8×10 print – good enough for mom. Sometimes your best tool for macro photography is patience. This cluster of pink flowers took 45 minutes for me to finally capture sharply. Every time the breeze subsided, I would press the shutter, then zoom in on the screen, only to find that part of it was still moving. About 30 deleted shots later, I finally got this one. The white flower is one I took this spring. In the original, there was a little bit of subdued sunlight finding its way to the background, making for some distraction. This shot was handheld. If I had my tripod, I could have shaded the background completely, and avoided having to do this in post-processing. I have employed the shadowing technique many times, it just requires extra hands and a cable release or remote, along with the tripod.

Then there’s extreme close-up without using a microscope. My last shot was one I used for one of Cee’s Challenges, but I’m bringing it back out for this one. This is an uncropped photo of a 2013 US quarter with the Mount Rushmore tribute. I used a fixed 40mm manual lens and two extension tubes. The extension tubes render the aperture useless and fixed wide open. I wasn’t getting the depth of field I wanted, so I took the lens off, then reattached it, but didn’t turn it all the way into a locked position. This allowed me to change the f-stop and see the result in viewfinder. Similar results can be achieved by using a wide angle fixed lens mounted backwards. Focusing in these situations has to be precise and is assisted by using a focusing rail.

Close-up of the back side of a 2013 US quarter by Steve Bruno
Close-up of the back side of a 2013 US quarter by Steve Bruno

In response to The Daily Post’s weekly photo challenge: “Close Up.”

Under an ocotillo moon

Late season blooms of yucca plants in the Arizona desert by Steve Bruno
Late season blooms of yucca plants in the Arizona desert by Steve Bruno

I was driving down to Phoenix Monday afternoon, and as the sun was about to set I noticed an area where the yucca blooms were still holding on.  There was no fantastic lighting, but I got out to see if there were some photo opportunities nonetheless.  The yuccas, which start to bloom around early June, produce stalks of white flowers, which eventually dry out to a golden color before finally blowing off when the summer storms come through.  The ones that were left were in the golden stage, and stood out from the rest of the surroundings.

Crescent moon in the skies above an ocotillo plant in the Arizona desert by Steve Bruno
Crescent moon in the skies above an ocotillo plant in the Arizona desert by Steve Bruno

As I was meandering around, I stood next to this ocotillo plant with the moon hanging amidst its branches.  I loved the way its textures stood out against the simple sky, with just a sliver of a moon for perspective.  After this shot I was about to wrap it up, but the skies were becoming a luminescent backdrop for the yucca plants.  I spotted a photogenic grouping of the plants, but then thought to myself this is stupid.  I hadn’t brought along a flashlight or even my phone, and had ventured at least 10 minutes from my car.  The route had some rocky terrain and potential snake habitat.  I looked up at my ocotillo moon and its angle in the sky and knew it would be sufficient to get me back, so I waited patiently for those moments when the subtle breeze faltered, allowing the yucca flowers to become still.

Late season bloom of yucca plants, as twilight approaches, in the Arizona desert by Steve Bruno
Late season bloom of yucca plants, as twilight approaches, in the Arizona desert by Steve Bruno

WPC: Half and Half

Sunrise from the Hawaiian island of O'ahu by Steve Bruno
Sunrise from the Hawaiian island of O’ahu by Steve Bruno

The challenge this week is half-and-half, and as I was looking through my photos I came across some lake shots. Those were mostly reflections, not two halves.  Then I came across this one, half water (with some rock), half sky.  This was sunrise from the island of O’ahu.

In response to The Daily Post’s weekly photo challenge: “Half and Half.”

Historical Photographs, Part III

I walked down to the viewing area of Grand Canyon’s Point Imperial where there were a dozen or so tourists.  I spotted the ranger amongst them, yet by himself.  “Excuse me, but where can I find the complaint department?”

Everybody’s head turned.  Complain?  About the Grand Canyon?  What has this guy been smoking?

Without hesitation the ranger replied, “Right here!”

“Simply put” I said, “bark beetles”

The ranger and I engaged in a conversation for several minutes where he explained the park service’s approach to the fires and the beetles.  I brought up the fact that there have been ways of exterminating the beetles for many years, but I realized he was just the messenger.  After decades of a policy that put out fires as quickly as possible, land managers have figured out it is best to let nature run her course.

Translation:  We’re going to let the wildfires burn the beetles out of existence.

I thanked the ranger for his time, but as I looked around I just felt nauseous.

A couple who had been there several years before were sitting, listening, on a nearby bench.  “We thought we were driving through a toothpick factory” they commented, “We just wanted to cry!”   I conversed with them for a while, sharing our feelings for a once spectacular place that has lost its luster.

The ‘toothpick factory’ they were alluding to was actually outside the park boundary, in Kaibab National Forest.  As I drove in I couldn’t help but feel saddened.  Mile after mile of completely scorched forest had an eerie feeling to it, even in the middle of the day. That fire’s damage stopped before the Grand Canyon park boundary, and I remember having a sense of relief, thinking that the national park’s forests were spared.  But that was not the case.  Separate fires have left their mark, leaving the forest unrecognizable from its former appearance.  It’s downright ugly in places.  I honestly felt a couple bulldozers would help.

If you haven’t been there before, I should explain.  The North Rim of the Grand Canyon used to be a package deal.  The journey started at the town (gas station, restaurant, hotel) of Jacob Lake.  From there it’s about thirty miles to the national park boundary.  Driving across the Kaibab Plateau and its pine and aspen forests, mixed with small lakes and open meadows, you got the feeling that you were entering a special world long before arrival at the park’s gate.  On my previous visits, I could swear they had landscapers working at night.  I had never seen a forest that immaculate before.  It wasn’t just that it was clean, there was something in the way the trees were arranged, as though it had been planned.  It seemed to other forests how Augusta National is to other golf courses.

Autumn was a magical time here, especially near where the road to Point Imperial left the road to Cape Royal.  Aspens lit up the forest with their golden hues, sometimes lingering to reach a shade of pumpkin or tomato.  Two cars would be crammed into the pullouts designed for one.  Occasionally, people might not even pull completely off the road, just getting out of the vehicle to snap a quick pic or two.  Nobody honked their horns in a petulant rush.  Everybody slowed down to admire this gem of a forest.  And the Grand Canyon was still three miles away – yes, THE Grand Canyon!

Forest in autumn near the junction of the roads to Cape Royal and Point Imperial by Steve Bruno, 1992
Forest in autumn near the junction of the roads to Cape Royal and Point Imperial by Steve Bruno, 1992

As the road continued to Point Imperial, it offered hints of what lay beyond, finally terminating in a forest of ponderosa pine.  These majestic trees towered to the skies, giving a visitor the impression there was a touch of redwood mixed into the DNA here.  Between all that shade and the encompassing view, it used to be a great place to have a picnic lunch.

The fire line stopped on this point, and now I think there are two tall pines left.  To the north, where the small brush is growing back, it looks like an overgrown weed field.  The Grand Canyon is still there, relatively the same.  I say relatively because evidence of bark beetles is visible as one looks towards the south.  Lush green trees protected from all else by sheer cliffs, are starting to brown.  A lightning strike is the only chance this pocket of forest has of catching fire and eliminating the beetles.  That seems like it would only be trading one shade of brown for another, but at least the forest might have a chance to recover.  That is not an option for beetle devastated trees.  Several generations of visitors will get to view this slow, lingering death.

Grand Canyon looking south and east from Point Imperial by Steve Bruno, 1988
Grand Canyon looking south and east from Point Imperial by Steve Bruno, 1988

Fires are a natural and healthy process for the longevity of our forests.  Public land management officials have come to the realization that dense undergrowth is the fuel for intense fires, and make efforts to clean out that growth.  Drought may be something out of our control, but the bark beetles are not.  The Grand Canyon is not the only place subjected to this damage.  Forests throughout the western US are being destroyed by the insects, leaving them unhealthy and prone to massive fires.

In the famous words of Smokey the Bear, “Only YOU can prevent forest fires!”

I wonder if Smokey knew about bark beetles?  Are WE supposed to be doing something about those?

Fireworks, Las Vegas 2015

4th of July Fireworks, Las Vegas, Nevada by Steve Bruno
4th of July Fireworks, Las Vegas, Nevada by Steve Bruno

Last night I photographed the fireworks displays for the first time in many years.  I had a great vantage point from a high-rise building adjacent to the Las Vegas Country Club, where the first display originated.  During the course of the night, I could see hundreds of store-bought fireworks going off.  There’s one in the lower right of the photo above.  They legalized those a couple years ago, and judging by what I witnessed last night, the sellers made thousands of dollars last week.  Damn, the trouble I could have gotten into if those were around when I was a kid!

A short time after the Las Vegas CC display was finished, the Stratosphere (the space needle copy building in the background) dimmed their lights and put on a fireworks display of their own.  I was under the impression they launched from the top of the building, but was slightly disappointed to see them going off on the opposite side of the tower.  Better viewing for those nearby, I guess.  I switched to my 30 year old Tamron 90mm f/2.5 manual focus lens.  This lens is so ridiculously sharp it makes me wish I had more uses for it.  So here’s one from the Stratosphere display:

4th of July Fireworks, Las Vegas, Nevada by Steve Bruno
4th of July Fireworks, Las Vegas, Nevada by Steve Bruno

WPC: Door to Eddie’s Place

Door to Eddie's Place in the Kanab Creek Wilderness, western Grand Canyon by Steve Bruno
Door to Eddie’s Place in the Kanab Creek Wilderness, western Grand Canyon by Steve Bruno

Welcome to Eddie’s Place.  There are no roads here, and you will have hiked at least ten miles to get here.  Deep in the Kanab Creek Wilderness on Grand Canyon’s western edge, the building comes as a surprise along the route to most visitors.  Eddie was a veteran who returned with leprosy, and was given the chance to live out his years far away from society.  This was long before any wilderness designation was assigned to the region.  It’s been over ten years since I visited last, but I have a feeling this durable structure is still intact.  I feel sorry for the mule that had to bring in the cast iron stove, however.

In response to The Daily Post’s weekly photo challenge: “Door.”

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