A Year in Photos

Photography, fiction, and personal essays form my three primary creative outlets. For this blog's first 18 months, I used it primarily for photography. As I've returned to creative writing, I'll use this blog for fiction, too. Sometimes, when reality needs to be discussed more than truth, I write personal essays.

This blog will continue to showcase as many above-average photos as I can muster. Hopefully my written work will be as good or better than the visual. Whichever drew you here -- photographs or fiction, I hope you enjoy both.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

High ISO Macros

I hadn't used my macro set up on a film camera before last week. MY macros set up is a Pentax Macro Bellows II and m Vivitar 135mm 1:2.5 lens. This yields very nice enlargement with sharp details from a decent distance. So I took out my Pentax K2 (recently back from being repaired... again) and the macro rig. For film I used Ilford P4 pushed to 1000 ISO and Kodak Double-X 5222. I don't recall which of these images are which, but here are the results:

A flower growing by the complex's dumpster

Another dumpster-collocated flower

A mushroom top about the size of a dime

Leaf -- exposed for the leaf

Leaf -- exposed for the background

Macro at f2.5

Macro at f11 or f16

Another flower

A mushroom about the size of a pencil eraser (the kind on the back of the pencil)

Mushroom hiding behind some leaves

Monday, April 29, 2013

Round Valley Regional Park

A few weeks ago I took in Round Valley Regional Park in an attempt to see some golden eagles. Following my mis-identification of a nesting pair of red-tailed hawks as golden eagles, I decided to see if I could find some real eagles to photograph. Low Vasqueros reservoir has some trail closings, so those eagles would probably be  inaccessible. Round Valley State Park has had historic eagle sightings, and no current trail closures.

To spoil the plot early, I did not see any eagles. Lots of eagle food:

ground squirrels and rabbits, for instance.

But the trip wasn't a total wash. I managed to get some great photos for my Panoramio account. Have you checked that out yet, by the way? I have, right now, about 800 photos active in Google Earth. Here's a link to all my photos on the Panoramio map. It's a fun website, by the by.

Anyway, in the park I found an old stone building along Marsh Creek. I don't know anything about it yet, but when I have more details I'll go back and take more photos for another blog entry. In the interim, here are some photos of the stone house.

It was kind of warm that day, so I stopped to take this photo under a tree.

Some interesting deadwood by the house.

I could have done a better job of not blowing out the highlights on this shot. The stonework turned out nicely, though.

More really blown-out highlights.

It's worth noting that none of the shots on this page are high-dynamic-range images. It's possible to expose an image in a DSLR for a wide dynamic range without using multiple images and having software slap them all together. In fact, one of the reasons I chose my Pentax (an earlier model than but similar to this one) was because of the camera's range.

Lest you think, though, that all Round Valley has to offer is the stone house, here are a few other photos from the hike:

A California Aligator Lizard (Elgaria multicarinata multicarinata)

An old tractor with caterpillar treads

What I'm pretty sure is an American Goldfinch

I know there's a squirrel earlier, but this one wanted to play hide and seek with you.

This photo is just heartbreaking to me. It's a good angle, nice framing, and a good atmosphere, but the problems from the camera metering the images different make it a severely flawed finished product. I'll have to re-take it.

Sunday, April 28, 2013


            There is a requisite boredom needed before throwing a paper plate in a campfire is entertainment. The fire is coals, just pieces of carbonized wood that glow like liquid steel and flame like meat-ready charcoal. The plates sit on the coals, as though fireproof. For these few seconds, they don’t brown, or flame, or curl.
            When they catch fire, it begins at an edge. When cardboard burns, it burns center-out. The middle, or some central spot, browns. A brown circle, growing like a sphere passing through a two-dimensional world, spreads like bad language across the cardboard
            Plates burn out-in. Flames, orange, and bright as an un-thought idea, move around the edges like an encircling army. The burned parts curl upon themselves like the legs of a dried spider. Flame grows over each plate like weeds, seem to hover over it, and the plate finally burns.
            The flames are rude, destructive, not just to the plate but to the coals. The coals glow like the cheeks of a well spent lover or the nose of a cold drunkard. The flames reach skyward, not content with the slow, low burn of the coals.
            Like a person whose dreams are too high, aims too unrealistic – impossible – the flames reach to light the whole night, set the very sky, its darkness, alight with the brilliant glow of actualization. Like a person whose dreams are too high, the flames also tire, lose strength, and fade.
            The plate remains, though, as a shrunken, circular ash totem to the dreams it fed. The ashes glow like the coals, but ash is not the stuff of coals and it, too, fades. The glow of the plates’ ashes fades from the inside out, like a city’s lights going off, a line of darkness spreads outward as the flames’ last vestiges use what energy remains. When its ashes have faded, the circle of paper broken to shreds and carried away in the breeze, no trace of the once-plate remains. Like a person who dreams too grandly, the ashes of the plate’s life, too, try for the sky and fail.
            Coals are the still-burning, glowing parts. Ash is the wholly burned remnants – the proof that once there was a fire, that once existed the flame which consumed it. The line of dying paper coals is brighter than the wood coals below it. Behind the line, ash ripples in the fire-wind. It tears from the rest of the once-plate and is thrown upward, a final chance to land and spread the flames that consumed it. The death-line is bright as the fire consuming, in final glory, the energy which fed it. Energy can be used only once.
            Fire falls into a confusing scientific class. Is it energy or matter? It seems an odd, simple question. It must be energy for it is heat, causes motion via thermal currents, and, most importantly, creates light. Yet it is the result of hot gasses and smoke which were once wood. And matter, according to physics, has always been and must always be matter. Energy, to, has always been energy. The nature of fire, the stuff of it, is complex and lacks easy classification and identity.  People, too, are complex and lack easy classification and identity.
            A campfire is like a lifetime in short. There is a stack of wood and the potential for anything. The flames can be tough to start, like adulthood, and a good bed of coals a long time in coming, like maturity, but once they are in place, and the potential power of the wood depleted to ashes, the campfire accepts its slow burn, clinging to a dim mimicry of its youth.
            But the coals, like mature adulthood, are when the fire is at its best. The coals last longer than the fuel which made them, carry the flames’ legacy beyond the ability of that which made them.
            Flames, like an evil religion, consume. Like people, too, they exist to use, destroy, and leave indelible marks on that which they touched. Fire teaches the danger of folly. Fire also teaches the success. Though most fires burn and fade, like most people, all cast off ashes. Like the ashes cast off by people – the acts and thoughts of people – most land near the source and burn out. But some fires, rare fires, throw their ashes high. Some rare people, too, throw their ashes high, and when they land they set the world to blaze.
            To compare an individual to a flame is not an insult, but a compliment. It does not say: You are dangerous and unpredictable. It says: You reach higher than you have been given cause to and you may be that rare person who sets the world alight.

A Year in Photos: Week Eighteen

This week will have some fiction, some of my photos, and some of some other, unknown person's photos. Regarding the last, I picked up a roll of Kodak 122 film on eBay for the paper backing and spool, but it had exposed film on it. So I decided to try and develop it. I'll explain my complex, highly scientific process (read as: dumb luck) during that post. For now, here's a bit of what you'll see this week:

Round Valley Regional Park, Brentwood, California

A trolley in front of the U.S. Capitol Building

A tiny mushroom

A good friend of mine and one of my dogs

Thursday, April 18, 2013


Today I won't have a narrative to share, just photos from the company bowling team's outing a few weeks ago. These were low-light, high-ISO shots -- a combination I'm not a fan of. I admit I've warmed to it since last year, but I don't think that the Pentax K-7 is capable of suitable shots north of ISO 1,000. Beyond ISO 400 it becomes hard to tell if I missed focus or if the image is just soft from the ISO compensation algorithm.

Shooting high ISO is not for all situations. In fact, it should be avoided on digital sensors unless no other option exists. But for a slightly soft, grainy look, it can deliver acceptable results. Converting a high-ISO image to monochrome, though, never yields good results.

I've never liked photographing people. Why that is should be another story for another day (preferably, actually, not another day ever.) But working with people with whom I'm comfortable -- friends -- and who are comfortable around me has yielded some very nice photos.

Photoshop can help sometimes, too.

And be willing to accept a blurry photo can yield... results.

And it helps that bowling makes people happy.

And bowling brings out competition, strategizing, and intensity.

"You know who has two thumbs and just bowled a strike? THIS GUY!!!!"

Let's end this week on a happy note. Enjoy your Friday, everyone.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Nature Hike Part 3: Distant Hawks

As a child I often wandered in the forest behind our home in Maineville, Ohio. Willow Creek separates Maineville from Loveland Park and between Willow Creek Road and Lilly Drive provides a forested open space with hills, running water, standing pools, frogs, and box turtles that can endlessly occupy the eyes and imagination of a child who looks to the mud for entertainment and education. My near-daily walks in Willow Creek, unattended, losing more than one perfectly good shoe to deep mud, picking up salamanders, and walking through poison ivy were both encouraged by and the bane of my parents early thirties. Now older than they were then, even without my own children, I can imagine that it was a lot of work to take three-hundred-and-fourteen  splinters out of my arms and thighs one afternoon and two-dozen bee stingers from my neck and back another.

But what I found in Willow Creek was not simply mud and turtles and spider bites but also an intense love of nature. Even now, as an ostensibly mature adult, I will take a lost mayfly in my fingers and carry it from the office bathroom to the front door. Sure it may be eaten by a bird later that day, but it won't be smashed and flushed, its life and death having passed entirely for naught.

As I aged I began looking up from the muck and slime that ringed my childhood fingernails, stained my childhood clothes, and filled my shoes with permanent debris that would wear my toes and feet raw wile eroding socks like water on sugar. In college I began to look around at plants and other wildlife. In grad school and afterward at the sky. Now, as a mid-thirties adult, I am back looking at the muck, though not at the cost of looking into the blue. No single thing other than sky provides so much to see in something so featureless.

As a Teen I has less open space at my disposal. We had moved to Gurnee, Illinois, and the open space around us included a flat retention pond behind the house and a farmer's field across the road. Though I did not spend as much time outside, my activity in Boy Scouts provided time to explore semi-wild areas. At least until my parents' divorce and my father's and my subsequent and (somewhat) mutual disinterest in continuing Boy Scouts involvement.I forget if a photography merit badge existed or not. If so, I definitely did not earn it. If a video games merit badge existed, though, I would have earned that. I played a lot of F-zero. 

And animals continued to fascinate me. I had two pet ferrets, a cockatiel, and the dog I had grown up with in the creek behind the Maineville house. These and my brother's rabbit provided enough animal life for me to photograph and kept alive a tiny ember that sat, untended for years, until late last year. Photographing seagulls along The Embarcadero, I felt a stirring that recalled, brought fully into flame this ember, the love I had of photographing wildlife and natural scenes.

I'll never be a world-renowned wildlife photographer, but that's okay. With being good comes the responsibility of being better and continuing that for ever. And sometimes, instead of the pressure to go out and take ever-better photos, I just want to play Forza.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Mega Macros

I've been experimenting with mega macros lately. My goal is to achieve microscopy with my camera lenses. I had read that microscopy was defined as 10 times (10:1) the subject's actual size on the film plane. A college professor in Germany corrected me and said it's 50 times (50:1) the subject's actual size when recorded on film. So that's harder to do.

I had trouble exceeding 1:1 -- the minimum size for a macro. Anything less than life-size when reproduced on the film plane is simply a close-up. I began testing various lenses on my macro bellows and managed to get 2.5:1 magnification, though in a very useless manner as it was right in front of the 50mm lens (almost touching the element. My macro lens, which achieves 1:1, was much more useful. Mounting my 135mm lens on my bellows, I could get slightly larger than 1:1 and it was VERY useful with a nice distance from the subject, even at large magnifications.

I tried then to reverse-mount some lenses. I made a YouTube video about the experiment, even:

After I filmed the video, I picked up some step-down rings and was able to mount my 18-28mm lens, which provided EVEN Greater magnification. That technique yielded 5.75:1 magnification with just a reverse-mounted ultra-wide lens.

So I decided to reverse-mount my Canon FD 24mm 1:2.8 on my bellows and see what happens at full extension. This happens:

Tree bark at 25.4:1 magnification happens. That entire area is about 1.5 millimeters wide and 1 millimeter tall in real life.

Next stop -- 50:1 magnification or better.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Nature Hike Part 2: Red-tail Hawks

Writing last night's narrative was fairly draining, so I hope tonight you'll excuse me if I simply share some photos. I took these on my March 22 hike. The macro shots were with my 400mm Vivitar (Tokina) fitted with some macro tubes.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Nature Hike Part 1: Black-tailed Deer

I managed a hike on March 13 to Lime Ridge. I hiked along the Ridge Trail up to the water tank. For most of the trail, the wildlife was what one sees in Lime Ridge:

Red-winged blackbirds,

Western Blue Birds,

And Canadian Geese. Basically, the standard, pedestrian birds that make up much of ornithology and human experience with nature. But even though we experience these birds regularly, they are still attractive and important parts of the ecosystem.

And so are people. Valuing our open spaces and natural habitat, learning to live with these spaces around us and, in many cases, separate from us are the only way we can really preserve nature for its inhabitants.
Along the trail I, at one point, had a strong and impending sense that I wasn't alone and that, more importantly, I wasn't at the top of the food chain. No crickets chirped. No birds trilled near me. No field mice or voles moved in the underbrush. All became stillness and quiet except for the ocean-sound of a gentle breeze in my ears and the faint electrical hum that all people with a working nervous system are burdened with from birth onward. No one can experience perfect silence.

During graduate school I tried. In Park Lake, Utah, I took a mountain bike up a chair lift and rode it down a summer ski slope. I rode away from the lift toward a lower peak I scouted on an earlier trip. I rode the bike down the narrow, worn lane paved of cracked earth and dried pine branches. I rode it past a fence, too close, catching my knee on a metal shard and opening a gash that would birth a scar I would keep four some years.

Riding up the peak, my legs pedaling like a sprinting mad man but the bike moving with the speed and gusto of an inebriated log, I realized I had escaped the sound made by the chair lift. No clacking every twenty seconds as a chair passed through guide wheels. No other mountain bikers shouting to each other. In the winter this hill would be considered out of bounds. Were I under a ten-foot snow pack, there would be no help, no rescue, no noise. I would be alone, I realized, with silence. I knew then that this hill was where I would find and experience the truest, deepest silence available to man. I would understand what it meant for my ears to be, for the first time in my then twenty-six years of life, to be totally devoid of auditory input.

Would they struggle for sound? Would silence hurt? Would my ears simply shut down and not come back?

I walked my bike up the peak through grasses that came to my belt. Pin-sharp seeds and brushes raked across my knee gash, tore at the bare and sensitive nerves like an electric stove burner. The pain coursed through my leg like venom and more than once I stopped to fold my skin back into place and hope a clot would form to keep it there.

Since childhood I have suffered random, and fortunately not increasingly frequent, episodes of tinnitus. Hereditary, I will be saddled with this ringing for it is with me in the same way as my breath. My father had it and, with age, it became progressively worse. I remember periodic episodes of his tinnitus so cripplingly painful he clutched his ear like a monster attacking his face and threw his head about as though in mortal battle with the noise. I had never experienced tinnitus that inflicted pain, though I was told that one day I would and that as I aged it would become worse, and the pain would set it with time and that it, too, would become worse. In my fifties, I can expect, if my tinnitus progresses as my father's did, to, with only seconds of warning, suddenly be gripped by ringing that feels like frostbite, though with no mechanism to stop it except its own comings and goings which occur without ascertainable reason.

In time I reached the peak's summit. As I neared the top, the day's gentle, favonian breeze stopped. The air, which had done well to keep me cool, turned warmer in an instant. The temperature changed as drastically as a temperamental lover with fire for blood. I laid the bike down in the grass and set my helmet on top of it. I closed my eyes and listened to my breathing slow, my body returning to rest. The sun, unfiltered by a cooling breeze, warmed my face and brought sweat forward to my clothes.

Around me was what I called silence. I could hear no identifiable sounds. And my hearing stretched outward, seeking distant sounds. In time, I could hear a highway I didn't know existed, a plane so far away that the engine sound warped like a well-played record. My hearing reached, desperately like a starving man for bread, to hear any sound and I swore I could hear mice in the grass a mile away.

Then I realized I had never been without sound. In the background I became acutely aware of a soft buzzing, like a high-tension wire in morning fog. Variable, soft, electric, like the sound of galactic background radiation. It was not tinnitus. I knew that sound well, that ringing that sounded like a refrigerator compressor. No. This was something entirely. This sound I could not lose for it was my brain and my nerves -- the sound of my body talking to itself; the sound I make simply for being. And I realized I could never, never escape this sound and I could never experience a moment devoid of anything audible.

My leg had caked in dry blood and when I, at last, moved to pick up the bike the dried block cracked and fell in pieces like an avalanche. The thin layer of dryness that kept my loose skin in place broke and, like a frozen lake in the spring, blood seeped through and re-dried in moments. I knew it would be a thin scar, but right then it was a shin-guard-size block of crumbling red that fell into my sock and shoe and felt like wet sand.

My bike welcomed me back to my seat and I began riding back to the trail. Tinnitus has a harbinger. Seconds before an episode, an ear loses its hearing. More precisely, sound becomes filtered, like someone has stuffed a cotton ball into it. And then, after a brief moment of extreme auditory muting, the ringing begins. No jaw movement can stop it; only time and the tinnitus' willingness to leave can stop it. Halfway down the peak the hearing dropped from my left ear. I kept riding, having never before experienced painful tinnitus. I expected this to be about a minute of intense ringing followed by a return to normal hearing with a perceived improved sound quality, like hard-rebooting my ear. But this tinnitus was different. My ear felt like it clenched shut in a cramp and I clutched at it with both hands, twisting my head around involuntarily to quell the pain. The bike's front wheel, free from my hands, caught on a rock and turned. I went over my handlebars and had a brief, distinct moment where I looked at the sky and a single cloud and all was beauty and pain and ringing until I landed in the tall grasses and rolled to a stop.

Humans were not meant to experience silence. We are sound. Life within us exists as sound and we cannot escape it until we escape life. To attempt to escape sound is to attempt to escape life.

I sat up, the ringing and the pain subsiding, at the hill around me aware that the crickets and birds had stopped. No field mice nor voles moved in the under brush. Something else was there; it stalked me; in time, and later in life, it would catch me and my days would be filled with that ringing and clenching. That day in Park Lake and, later, just weeks ago on Lime Ridge, were precursors, teaser trailers for an inevitable future.

And then I heard the black-tailed deer in a bush up ahead, and the ringing stopped.

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