Random Photos and Thoughts. Adventures in life as a Amateur Photographer.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Things That Fly

A few weekends ago, Karen and I loaded up ourselves into the car and had our 1st real weekend adventure of this year. A short 45 minute Sunday morning drive to Fremont and East Bay Regional Park District's Coyote Hills for their Birds and Butterfly event. Coyote Hills is set at the opening of Alameda Creek and the Salt Marsh of San Francisco Bay.


They have a "Butterfly Garden" which is a concentration of the different plants and blooms which are butterfly attractants, (either blooms which are nectar rich or plants which the butteries need to lay their eggs upon, or both).

I discovered capturing images of butterflies was hard to do. They are insects which move constantly and are subject to the lightest of breezes. Over the course of several hours I discovered a technique which seemed to work for me. Trying to follow butterflies from plant to plant didn't seem to be very successful and I found nothing but disappointments. When they landed, they seldom stopped long enough after you arrived on sight to snap any sort of picture.

So I stood back and watched and finally found a plant they would land on more often than not. They do not act totally random, but follow certain well defined behavior patterns. I picked a place where the lighting was optimal, set my camera to shoot one stop underexposed, and waited...

Then, finally an opportunity came flying in front of me.


After an adjustment of one of a stop, I had an image in which the colors are bright, the light yellow area is detailed and my image of a Tiger Swallow Tail Butterfly is something I can be happy with, for now.

A larger version is available on My Flickr Site:

I got several more good shots in a row. I started feeling good about the day, after so many failed attempts. My level of respect for other people which have made many magnificent images in the past went up intensely.

I stood Carefully wondering if more chances would be available, where I was standing.

I didn't have long to wait and soon a monarch buttery arrived. The butterfly landed and sat with the light coming through both sets of wings.

I shot several images in a quick series.

It was a matter of hoping for the best with no time to check the images between shots.

Was it a case of Mother Nature was being good to me, or was it just my patience and perseverance being rewarded?

I walked around the small informal butterfly garden a while longer and discovered in a sunny corner a milkweed plant.

Soon I discovered it was a favorite of the monarch butterflies.

In about 20 minutes or so I saw at least 10 more monarch butterflies visiting the milkweed plant.

I shot nearly 100 images some good and some not so good, while standing in one spot.

It is said: "When you are having fun, time flies".

I discovered several hours had passed. Karen and I took our picnic lunch in the shade of a one of dozens of wonderful trees. Nice heavy wooden tables and a cooling breeze, neatly cut crass and view a dozens of families which had came out to the park to enjoy the day.

After our lunch we decided to walk down over the wooden walkways into the Alameda Creek Estuary.

We walked slowly once we left the parking lot area. After a bit, I spotted several Damsel Flies flitting about and noticed they seems to all wanted to land on a small reed poking up out of the water. I wondered would the same technique work with them. After a few long seconds of standing still, the reward came to me.

Onward, we walked. Taking our time to look across the marsh and through the thick reeds whenever we could.

There were lots of different birds and waterfowl: ducks, geese, pelicans, egrets, and sparrows, and swallows.

One of the most interesting was an egret, which we saw across the bit of open slow moving water. I got a few shots, but nothing I really felt was impressive.

The surprise came on the way back when we came to open area where we had seen the female egret. We heard a loud series of squawks, and and flutter of wings.

It was smaller bachelor male had intruded on what I surmised was someone other male and its mate's nesting territory.

The display from the male was impressive and the intruding bachelor swiftly retreated onto the path in front of us, before leaving the area on wing.

The last significant shot came while we were sitting, cooling down from our walk. The air on the estuary was warm, but not unpleasant. There was a slight breeze but amongst the reeds, little air was moving. We finally found a nice small pier out over the water were the breeze was cooling and refreshing. We could see flights of gulls and pelicans coming inbound, on the low glides over the water. Between us and edge of the reeds, swimming and diving was a very interesting duck. It had a bright blue bill. We both sat for 30 minutes and talking in soft mummers, enjoying the show and the company of each other.

Finally the blue billed duck came close enough to get a good image. I was again pleased with one of the images, after many attempts to get a good shot. Later, at home, the birds in question were identified as a pair of Ruddy Ducks.

That ended our day on a perfect note. We made our way to the parking area packed our gear and made our way home in the early evening.

Friday, June 25, 2010

What's It Takes

After a Long dry spell, I am back.

Yesterday, I dropped by one of my favorite wineries. One of the managers of the Tasting Room/Sales Office was busy putting up photos entered in their annual show.

This show is a big deal locally with very nice prizes. It draws both Profession, and the Semi-professional, as well as the Amateur Shutterbugs, like me. [Well selling one photo 40+ years ago doesn't not make a professional, nor selling a hand full of posters. I doubt earning a honorable Mention in the "professional" Category in a local county fair makes one a true profession, either.]

So I wandered around looking at the photos as Richard put them up trying to achieve what was the best look for the over all show. While waiting for my wine order to be processed. [I belong to their wine club. Nice deal 30 busks a month for a red and white selection. This month's red selections was an excellent Fog Head - Pinot Noir, from the coast. Maybe we will try out the Chardonnay selection soon.]

Richard noticed I walked through the exhibit and how took the time to look at the different images. Richard broke down to ask me what I thought. Talk about the can of worms being opened.

Over the next 20 minutes, I spent talking about the different photos, and what was wrong and right about them. I pointed out how the judge's bias showed, and my own humble opinion of the judges picks was not exactly flattering. I pointed out several other images which were far better executed and edited correctly, the n the ones the judge had selected.

This judge picked Birds, Pets and Children in the the standard "Cute" poses. Two the Bird in the wild which were his picks, were excellent and would have made my cut. The two children poses, and the two pet shots wouldn't have made it as winners either, had I been the Judge. One of the images which wasn't a winner, was last years Best of Show, in the division I took a second place. It was actually better than my own image, and that judge did a proper selection.

Which picture would I have picked out of the lot for the best of Show? It would have been either A great shot of El Capitan, from the floor of Yosemite Valley, Winter time Snow covered with the face of the towering cliff, reflecting the light of a Brilliant Red Sunset, and the cliff's image in turn reflected onto a large pool of still, cold waters of the Merced River or an Image of a Highly polished brass trumpet in the foreground with a alpine meadow filled with flowers and surrounded by different shades of evergreen trees.

Richard thought that it might have been photo-shopped. I examined the photo very closely, in the reflected surface of the trumpet's horn, I spied an image of the Photographer, his camera, and the deck of the building and the image of everything else which was behind the photographer. I could see more mountains and evergreen covered slopes which matched with some of the background in the image. Verdict: Excellent image.

I would have been hard put, to pick which was the better image. I think the better of the images was the Trumpet.

So, what makes a photo work in a show and what doesn't work. Well you have to get the judge to notice your shot. It has to contain color or motion which says 'look at me' and it has to continue to draw the attention of the judge/viewer back into the photo. It must be well composed. If it is color the colors must be clear and the edges have to be well defined and not muddy.

What did this judge pick as best of show and Why Didn't I like it?

I'll try to explain:
Picture a Newsweek worthy cover photo. Three firefighters at the edge of Blazing Inferno. Just enough smoke to give the feeling of the size and the foreground has a roaring Mass of Flames. The Focus of the image the Fire, itself. The two fire fighters are knelling or squatting down and have their attention focused on the fire, working with a hose and stream of water, trying to knock down the Fire. Some far, so good. Everyone and everything is busy looking, working, or leading to the same thing, the focus of the image. The third fire fighter who is standing in the image, isn't paying any attention to the Fire or the other two fire fighters and seems to be looking in an other direction at something outside the photograph. The third Fireman breaks the image's focus, and because he is standing, is really the dominate leading figure.

Two firefighters pointing at the focus and the one standing looking away at something out of the frame. This is a common defect of leading a persons attention out of the image, it usually doesn't work paintings and images and in this photo is just more proof of the rule of thumb.

I wish I had access to the images for this blog, but don't. I hope My descriptions work for you. Next time you go to a show or photo exhibit, look at the images and see if you can see bias in how the their were judged. Good judges try very hard to put away their bias. Bad judges allow they to color his choices. Look at the winning images, are they technically correct. Are they interesting. Are they 'standard shots" which are common? Do they contain enough elements of being unique to make you want to look at them a second time.

For those interesting in viewing the Photo show can find direction here:

It was one of the better images as was a very striking image of El Capitan, in Yosemite, all touched with a Brilliant Red Sunset in the winter.