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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: Roy G. Biv and his nighttime rainbow

Seattle Flowerpot

Seattle provides interesting subject matter, and I always find myself venturing the streets, sometimes into the evening.  On one of my trips to the Jet City, I came across this oversized flowerpot.  The lighting on the building across the street completed the spectrum for my rainbow in the dark.

It seemed too easy to post a rainbow shot for this challenge, but if you must see one of my favorite rainbows, check out my previous addition to my blog, Calgary, Revisited.

In response to The Daily Post’s weekly photo challenge: “ROY G. BIV.”

Sunday’s Hike (seven more photos)

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This is one of my favorite spots on this planet to be standing.

Or sitting, or observing, or inhaling large volumes of fresh air, or taking photographs.

Sunday morning I started out wearing a light jacket, feeling the freshness of random raindrops, and side-stepping muddy parts of the trail – three things I never thought I would be mentioning about a hike in southern Nevada in the end of May.  It poured in my neighborhood on Friday for about 10-15 minutes, but that doesn’t mean it rained a couple miles away.  Not around here, anyway.  My rain jacket was still in my car from a couple weeks ago, so I threw it in my pack.  There were just a few drops when I started out, but it looked as though that could change at any time.

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The hike to this point is only a couple miles, mostly flat with a milder grade at the end.  From here it descends slightly to Oak Canyon, where trail finding skills become important.  I just wanted to make it to my spot, and hopefully catch the sunrise.  The clouds, thick enough to hold water, saw to it that the sunrise colors didn’t materialize.  In fact, the sun only popped out for about 5 minutes the entire time out here.

My spot is on a ridge that runs up towards Mount Wilson.  There are great views of most of the Red Rock cliffs, so no matter what time of year, there’s usually something to photograph – at least in the mornings.  This spot is rare because trees which usually need the coolness of the canyons to survive, thrive here.  The sounds of the birds reverberate throughout this little pocket, and the only reason you can vaguely hear cars go by is because the 2000 foot cliffs echo their sound.

My early start meant I had the place to myself.  About a half-hour later, two climbers headed off trail to scale some precipice of Mount Wilson.  My next visitor was a hummingbird.  It came flying around the trees, coming to an abrupt halt as it startled both of us, I think.  It hovered away momentarily, then flew back to check me out again.  My camera was a couple feet away, but before I could grab it, my guest was gone.  I had been shooting time-lapse video, which didn’t require anything of me other than sitting and enjoying the morning.

The early morning cloud cover made an attempt to go away, and at one point I thought it was going to clear completely, without me capturing any shots.  That never happened, and as the clouds reformed, I was getting my favorite kind of light.  I call it window light, where only small openings in the clouds allow the sunlight out, and usually filtered light at that.  I like to think of it as Mother Nature’s dodge and burn.  I fired off a few shots, and would then have a lull before the next slivers of light would slide by.  During one of these lulls I heard a noise in the trees below me.  My next visitors, three deer, had been unaware of my presence until that point.  They froze for a couple seconds, then took off at a somewhat hurried rate. This time my camera was ready and I managed a few shots before they disappeared over the ridge.  I took a few more shots with my window light, then felt I had captured everything I was going to see for the morning and packed up.

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I started my way down the trail and it wasn’t long before I took what I thought was a parting glance.  I’m not done here I thought as I now had a lower perspective which was looking better and better.  I walked slightly up a different ridge and found a great location which had a perfect sized boulder to stand on.  I thought my dawdling cost me the shot I was hoping for.  I waited for at least ten minutes before the next window slid by, and, as it turned out, was even better.  Perfect, actually.  Now I’m done!

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I glanced down for a good spot to step off my boulder, and as I did, I noticed two insects.  They weren’t moving and were up against each other, butt to butt.  I didn’t think this was going to last more than a couple seconds, so instead of changing to a faster lens and moving in closer, I aimed my camera downward and started to focus.  I thought it might be a cute shot for a saying like “we don’t see eye-to-eye” or “I’m not speaking to you!”  I was about to press the shutter when a third bug came into my frame.  My initial reaction was you’re ruining my shot, dammit!  It quickly approached one of the other bugs and started to attack it.  That’s when I realized what had been taking place.  The first two had been in the process of copulating.  I could now see a small tube (penis?) between them as the one bug was busy fending off its attacker.  The one being attacked was now moving around, forcing its partner to maneuver to maintain contact (or keep from breaking?).  The skirmish lasted about a minute.

Then a bizarre thought came to me.  “I think I just witnessed the insect world’s version of The Jerry Springer Show!”  For those who’ve never seen the show, the usual theme is confronting lovers who are cheating.  At some point the ex-girlfriend starts swearing and beating on the new girlfriend (or boyfriend).

Jerry's Bugs

The rest of the hike went without incident, but I was still pondering the drama of the insect world.  A desert willow tree that I had passed in darkness was in bloom.  There was now sufficient light to take photos and finish out the day.

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*** click on any photo to enlarge ***

Sunday Stills, the next challenge: Pointy Things

night cactus

The desert is full of pointy things, so a good flashlight is essential when exploring at night.  Some desert plants bloom at night, such as this fruit chain cholla cactus, which is also called the jumping cholla.  While they don’t actually jump, they broken pods on the ground just need the slightest touch to attach themselves to you.  These broken chameleonlike pods, now dead and dehydrated, blend in effortlessly to the rocky ground.  Loose cactus pods don’t usually venture too far from the living plant, so avoiding them isn’t too challenging.  Rattlesnakes and scorpions like to come out at night, too.  Did I mention you want a good flashlight…..better yet, two?

Sunday Stills, the next challenge: yellow or wildflowers

I was down in Arizona this week, and while the early flowers have succumbed to the heat, the cactus are now beginning to show. And, as it turns out, there’s a little bit of yellow in this one.

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