Fall Fungi

I was tempted to title this posting “A Fungus Among Us,” but that’s so trite I opted for something plain vanilla instead. Regardless, what I present here are some photos of toadstools and other fungi I recently made. These were all made in late September at Moosehead Lake, near Greenville, Maine. The rains brought out a plethora of fungi of differing types and colors and shapes. I had a fantastic time making these images and could have spent hours exploring the woods and side of the roads for more examples. Clearly, the fall colors are not limited to leaves!

I have no idea what their names are, whether they are poisonous, or anything about them at all. If any of you is a specialist in fungi, I’d love to be enlightened. Otherwise, enjoy this brilliant display of one of nature’s autumn wonders.

These sweet little toadstools were growing on a fallen log
The wavy shape of this toadstool caught my eye
These highly colorful toadstools were everywhere; they grow to a large size
Here’s another of the same variety that has expanded to maybe 8-10 inches in width; the day after I took this, the edges had curled up like a bowl and it had captured a pool of water from the rain
Here is another grouping of the same colorful toadstools
This toadstool was growing from a dead birch tree trunk
A growth of fungus on the side of a dead log
Another grouping of delicate toadstools that look good enough to eat, if only you dared; would they make you shrink in size, like Alice in Wonderland? Or would they simply make you disappear?
Sometimes they just look good in black and white

A Rose is a Rose

I was out shooting a bed of roses recently. I was using my newly-acquired Nikon 105mm f/2.8 S lens for Z-mount cameras. I am still testing this lens, but am quickly coming to love it. As these photos will show, it is an extremely sharp lens and is capable of showing very tiny details very crisply.

Here are my recent images. All were taken tripod-mounted. All are heavily cropped so not only are they close-ups, but they are small parts of close-ups. They represent the tiniest details I can photograph easily with this camera and lens.

My intent was to make extreme close-ups and use selective focus to highlight parts of the roses that have interesting graphic and color possibilities. As a result, they are not representative of rose blossoms taken as a whole but are, I hope, good artistic expressions of shape, line, color, and detail that are interesting from a graphic perspective.

Let me know what you think.

Nikon Z7, Nikon 105mm f/2.8 lens, 1/125 sec., f/2.8, ISO 64, tripod mounted, edited in On1 Photo Raw.
Nikon Z7, Nikon 105mm f/2.8 lens, 1/100 sec., f/4, ISO 64, tripod mounted, edited in On1 Photo Raw. This image was cropped very tightly. If you look carefully, you can see both the tiny drops of morning dew on the edges of the petals but also extremely tiny drops within those drops. This lens is scary sharp!
Nikon Z7, Nikon 105mm f/2.8 lens, 1/200 sec., f/2.8, ISO 64, tripod mounted, edited in On1 Photo Raw.
Nikon Z7, Nikon 105mm f/2.8 lens, 1/125 sec., f/3.2, ISO 64, tripod mounted, edited in On1 Photo Raw.
Nikon Z7, Nikon 105mm f/2.8 lens, 1/160 sec., f/4, ISO 64, tripod mounted, edited in On1 Photo Raw.
Nikon Z7, Nikon 105mm f/2.8 lens, 1/125 sec., f/3.2, ISO 64, tripod mounted, edited in On1 Photo Raw.
Nikon Z7, Nikon 105mm f/2.8 lens, 1/125 sec., f/3.2, ISO 64, tripod mounted, edited in On1 Photo Raw.
Nikon Z7, Nikon 105mm f/2.8 lens, 1/100 sec., f/3.5, ISO 64, tripod mounted, edited in On1 Photo Raw.

More 105mm Photos

I was out early this morning, while the light was still soft, making images in the garden of a home where we are staying. These are some of the images I made. All were made using the Nikon Z6 mirrorless camera with the newly-released Nikon 105mm f/2.8 S lens. This lens is quite sharp. It’s reputed to be the sharpest 105mm lens Nikon has ever made, and they’ve made some legendary lenses in that focal length. I’ve owned several over the years and I can’t disagree with that statement. In addition, the lens is surprisingly light for its size and it operates very smoothly.

Rose blossom, Nikon Z6, Nikon 105mm f/2.8 S lens, 1/200 sec., f/4.5, ISO 640

Hydrangea blossom, Nikon Z6, Nikon 105mm f/2.8 S lens, 1/250 sec., f/5.6, ISO 640, processed in Adobe Lightroom and Nik Viveza 3

These lenses are hard to get right now, due to a computer chip shortage affecting the industry. If you can get one of these lenses, you won’t be disappointed.

Rose blossom, Nikon Z6, Nikon 105mm f/2.8 S lens, 1/400 sec., f/4.5, ISO 640, processed with Nik Silver Efex Pro
Buddha statue, Nikon Z6, Nikon 105mm f/2.8 S lens, 1/250 sec., f3.2, ISO 640

Testing the 105mm Lens

In June, Nikon began releasing its new 105mm macro lens for its Z-mount mirrorless cameras. The lens was touted as being sharper and as good a lens as Nikon has ever made. As a photographer who likes shooting close-ups, I was eager to get my hands on one as a replacement for my F-mount 105mm lens. But not so fast! Although Nikon issued the lens in late June, supplies were very short due to limited computer chips needed for the lens. And, demand for the new lens was very high. As a result, the few that were available were sold out quickly, with no more on the near term horizon.

I went to my usual supplier and was told the lens was “coming.” I contacted a number of other suppliers to get on their waiting lists. Finally, in a desperation move, I checked the Best Buy website. Bingo! Not only did they list a lens in stock, but they had a second one for my friend, who was also looking to buy one. Three days later, they arrived at my local store!

Naturally, I’m eager to give the lens a tryout. I haven’t had much chance to do close-up photography with it, but the lens is also good for general shooting and portraits. What follows here, then is a set of early images–grab shots from my travels–that show some things I found interesting, all made with the new Nikon 105mm f/2.8 Z-mount lens and a Nikon Z6 mirrorless camera.

All of these photos were made hand held. I’m impressed with both the speed and the sharpness of this lens. I plan to make a lot of good use of it.

A simple shot of a mundane subject, a garden hose, but the bright color and the circular forms attracted my eye. 1/640 sec, f/4.0, ISO 400.
A metal park bench in Bellingham, Washington, whose structure I found appealing. 1/8000 sec., f/4.0, ISO 400.
A ball of brightly colored yard in an antiques shop. 1/60 sec., f/3.0, ISO 400.
Ready for a game of hopscotch. 1/125 sec., f/8.0, ISO 400.
A glass of water at lunch. 1/60 sec., f/3.0, ISO 400.
I thought this scene of a woman hauling a large fiddle was amusing. 1/125 sec., f/8.0, ISO 400.
The iron ring on an old hitching post. 1/400 sec., f/3.5, ISO 400.
The bumblebee feeding on a flower was cropped from a larger image but still shows good sharpness. 1/125 sec., f/7.1, ISO 400.

Photographing in the Cascades

The Cascade mountain range is located in the northwest portion of Washington State.  The portion of this region contained in Whatcom County is largely organized into three national land management areas.  The central region, which incorporates the snow-capped Mount Baker, is the Mount Baker Wilderness.  The second and largest area is the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest.  The third and smaller area is the North Cascades National Park.  Only two roads lead into the area and allow viewing from the highway.  State route 542 is a scenic road that crosses the northern portion of the national forest, leading to Mount Baker from the north.  Farther south, route 20 leads through the North Cascades National Park and allows views of Mount Baker from a distance.  Because so much of the area is wilderness, interior access is only possible in most places by hiking trails.

Mount Baker, Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest, Washington. Photo made with the Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8 Z mount lens handheld.

We stayed for several days in the charming hamlet of Glacier, Washington, located at the mid-point of route 542.  Driving this road took us through forests of tall and often moss-covered trees, alongside the Nooksack River, and up the foothills of 10,700-foot Mount Baker.  We paused at Nooksack Falls for photos of the impressive rapids there, then climbed higher and higher toward Mount Baker along narrow, twisting roads that tested our nerves.  We reached the ski lift area at Heather Meadows, which afforded a good view of 9100-foot Mount Shuksan, which is situated in neighboring North Cascades National Park. 

This vase of flowers brightened the morning at the local bakery. This shot was made handheld.

We took our time making photos, using a tripod for most shots.  Though I had both a wide angle and telephoto lens with me, at the distances we were shooting, I was able to make most of my landscape images with a 24-70mm zoom lens.  I’m generally pleased with the resulting photos.  My principal regret is that I was unable to make any time exposures of the rapids so the water would appear as a frothy foam.  I thought I had packed the neutral density filter I needed to achieve this effect but discovered at the scene that I’d failed to pack it.  In addition, there was not enough time to make all the images I would like to have created.  But then, when ever is there enough time?

Nooksack Falls, Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest, Washington
The intriguing menu at the Heliotrope Restaurant in Glacier, Washington.
What in the world is a boat doing in the middle of the Cascade Mountains? And a derelict one at that? It just goes to show that there are photographic subjects to be found everywhere, if only you look for them.

Shooting Glacier National Park

I made a recent trip to Glacier National Park, both for family sightseeing and, of course, making a few photos I hope are sufficiently good to share. 

Getting There

The real purpose—and the heart of the park—is the famous Going to the Sun Road, which runs across the western continental divide and through the Rocky Mountains just south of the Canadian border.  The first challenge is being able to drive that road.  To do so requires both a park pass, which can be purchased at the gate, and also a pass to drive the Going to the Sun Road.  The National Park Service is limiting the number of cars that can drive that route daily in order to keep the numbers of tourists manageable and the experience good for all visitors.  The passes cost $2 and can be purchased on line.  The problem is getting one.  They are made available daily at 8:00 Mountain Time and each day’s allotment is snatched up in a matter for 2-3 minutes.  It requires coming back on successive days to try for a pass, and a bit of luck, to get one.  Fortunately, my friend and traveling companion succeeded.

Lake McDonald, Glacier National Park Montana

Conditions

Because our room was on the west side of the park, we drove through the park from west to east.  Since we traveled in the early afternoon, the sun was mostly at our back for eastward-facing photos.  However, by the time we arrived at Saint Mary Lake and the iconic Wild Goose Island location, we were facing into the sun, which made for difficult conditions for that highly desirable photo.

Our drive from Great Falls to Eureka, where we stayed, was in hazy conditions, due to the smoke from numerous wildfires spread across the west.  Fortunately, the smoke conditions were somewhat relieved once we got into the park, and they did not impair our photos significantly.

Glacier National Park, Montana. I failed to record all of the locations I was photographing, so I don’t know which mountains these are.

Photography

Because many of our photos were made during quick stops at pull-off locations, most were made handheld.  However, I took a small Peak Design travel tripod with me and used it on several instances to help stabilize my 70-200mm lens.  Most of my wider images were made with a Nikon Z6 mirrorless camera and the 24-70mm Z mount lens.  However, I had just purchased the 70-200mm f/2.8 Z mount lens prior to leaving and was eager to give it a tryout, which I did on several occasions.

Lake McDonald, at the Lake McDonald Lodge, Glacier National Park, Montana

Post-Processing

I purchased a 15-inch Lenovo L440 Thinkpad for editing photos while on travel.  I use Adobe Lightroom Classic to manage my photo catalog and do initial processing.  After that, I relied on a variety of packages for editing: On1 Photo Raw, Nik Viveza and Color Efex Pro 4, and Silver Efex Pro.

Glacier National Park, Montana. Here’s another location I did not record. This is poor photographic practice!

The Images

Some of my better images are shown here.  You can judge for yourself whether I have been successful in capturing some of the beauty of this magnificent park.

Wild Goose Island, Saint Mary Lake, Glacier National Park. There was enough smoke in this backlit scene that it did not render well in color. I converted it to B&W using Nik Silver Efex Pro.

Choosing Selective Focus

My Escape from High Depth of Field

By inclination, I’ve always been a tack sharp focus kind of photographer. I’ve not been satisfied with photographs unless they had high depth of field. To get this, I typically shoot with a smaller (high number) f-stop, which increases the sharpness of my images throughout their range of depth. And I’ve made considerable use of focus stacking, a technique Jeff Fleisher and I described in detail in Shooting Iron Horses: Photographing Your Model Railroad (Amazon).

Recently though, I’ve been in increasingly aware of the possibility for alternative artistic interpretations of subjects when the lens is focused on just a single aspect and the remainder is permitted to blur. I’m inspired in this direction by Harold Davis, who’s used the technique in his flower photography books, and Denise Ippolito, who’s made a career of artistic interpretations of flowers. Energized by their work, I decided to get out of my comfort zone and experiment with selective focus.

The accompanying photos illustrate some of my early results. Here’s how I’ve made them. I attach a Voigtländer 40 mm f/2.0 lens to my Nikon Z6. Sometimes I also use an extension tube to get even closer to my subjects.  When the lens is focused at its minimum distance and with the diaphragm wide open, I get a very shallow depth of field. When feasible, I mount the camera on a monopod; when not, I shoot handheld. I set a high shutter speed, often in the 1/2000second range and set the ISO at a level that will work with that shutter speed. I prefer overcast days, which yield more subtle colors of the flowers and eliminate harsh shadows. I set my shutter so it will shoot bursts of images. Then I lean in toward the subject, looking for patterns that appear interesting and when I find one, I fire a burst, hoping that the selected focal point will be sharp enough.  There are a lot of wasted images with this technique, but then, pixels are free.

This image is of the leading edge of a rose petal. I used a 40mm Voigtländer lens for this photo, and added a 55mm extension tube so I could get in very close to render all but the petal’s edge out of focus.

My goal is to find the leading edge of a petal that traces an interesting shape or line. At the same time, I want other features of the flower to be rendered out of focus, sometimes recognizable but de-emphasized, at other times rendered as a wash of pure but undefined color. I’m encouraged by my early results and I’m finding this to be both a fresh creative challenge and, frankly, an unscripted chance for play. Who knew that abandoning sharp focus could be so much fun?

This image shows more of the rosebud, with lines visible but nothing in sharp focus. I used a 55mm extension tube for this shot as well.
This image was made without an extension tube. It was one of many in a burst I shot as I leaned in toward the flower. It is hard to achieve an exact focus without using a tripod. With the blossoms swaying in the gentle breeze, I find that shooting a burst is the best way to assure that I’m getting at least one image worth saving.
A shot of a rosebud made without an extension tube. I stopped down to f/3.2 and backed away for this shot, to get a little more depth of field so the outline of the rosebud would be apparent.

Being Elephant

I’ve just released my latest book, a poetic picture book for children. Entitled Being Elephant: How It Feels to Be a Jumbo, it’s a 41-page book with whimsical stanzas paired with photographs expressing the ideas in each stanza. It’s targeted for children from toddlers through the middle grades, though parents and grandparents will find it amusing as well. The full-color photographs make it an intriguing read.

From the back cover:

Inspired by the majesty of the world’s largest land mammals, the elephants, this picture book of whimsical doggerel will delight children of all ages, from one to ninety-nine. Illustrated with beautiful color photographs of African elephants in their natural surroundings, the poem weaves an intriguing tale of what it’s like to live the free life of a jumbo in the remaining unspoiled land of their birth. The result is a feast for the eyes and a treat for the imagination.

The book is available in a 7 X 10″ paperback format from Amazon.

An Elephant’s Life

Elephants are all mixed up;

They do things wrong way ‘round;

Their trunks are not for storing things,

But grabbing things they’ve found.

Their mothers must get mad at them,

They bathe to get all dirty;

To cool, they throw dust on their backs,

So hardly can stay purty.

Their food is eaten upside down,

Like pointing north for south;

They hold it in their nose just so,

Then lift it to their mouth.

When something tries to block their path,

They merely have to bump it;

But nearly always they will play

A warning on their trumpet.

They wag their ears to let you know

They’ve got a thing to say;

And even if you don’t agree,

They’re sure to get their way.

Their balanced meal is not like yours,

With icky things you hide;

They have to hold it level so

It won’t tilt to one side.

Your mother’d never let you do

An elephant’s worst habit,

Like stuffing things inside its nose

Then use its mouth to grab it.

When riding on an elephant

You rock from side to side,

As if you were a little boat,

Bobbing on the tide.

Just watch a line of pachyderms

Go walking to the river;

You’ll find them swaying side to side

With much more than a quiver.

Beware the plodding elephant,

As on its way it goes;

You dare not step in front of it

Unless you want flat toes.

They come already built with toys

As everybody knows;

To splash their friends is never hard:

They use their built-in hose.

Their babies don’t get cuddled much;

They soon must go to town;

They walk as soon as they are born,

Though sometimes look like clowns.

Their teeth stick way, way out in front

And nearly hide their faces;

But still I’m sure you’ve never seen

An elephant wear braces.

Their legs are bigger than most trees,

Their feet look just like stumps;

And just before you see their tails

Come mighty pairs of rumps.

Their skin is oh, so very tough,

In fact, they call it hide,

Because that’s really what it does

To what they have inside.

If you could see their skin up close

And touch it with your hand,

You’d find it very papery:

The kind that’s made with sand.

Like all they have, the tails they wear

Are elephantine size;

They swat them to the left and right

To keep away the flies.

Among the land-based animals

They beat them with their height;

To find one in the wilderness

Would surely give you fright.

This tale about the pachyderms

Has lasted long enough;

And so it’s time to end our talk

Of elephantine stuff.

Bringing Food to Light

Close-up Photography on a Lightbox

Inspired by Harold Davis’s latest book, Creative Garden Photography, I decided to make a series of lightbox photographs of food items. The concept is to record the iconic shapes of fruits and vegetables up close. My basic technique is to slice translucent subjects very thin, then pose them on a light pad so they are backlit against a white background. For opaque subjects, a little front lighting is added so their colors and textures are visible.

To make the photographs, I placed my subjects on a 17 x 24” light pad. The pad is large enough so that, in addition to solitary slices, I can create larger arrangements in various configurations. The light pad I bought can vary the intensity of its luminosity. For translucent subjects, the light from the light pad is sufficient illumination. Their shapes are revealed by the light shining through the thin slices. Opaque subjects require some front lighting so that in addition to the white background their colors and textures are visible.

In crafting these photos, my goal was to create strong images that reveal the iconic structures and graphic qualities of my subjects. When they are arranged in groupings, I sometime build visually interesting patterns. These might be organized chaos or arrangements that use the photographic concepts of line, color, form, and texture. In either case, I wanted to build images with strong graphic quality that reveal the essential characteristics of the subjects.

Yunnan Golden Needle tea leaves

It’s important to understand the photographic intent in creating the photos. While each photo is unique, the goal is to reveal the inner qualities of the subjects. In the case of the stringy Yunnan Golden Needle tea leaves, my goal was to use the apparent randomness of shapes and display that quality. I do not think this image would have worked if I had arranged tea leaves in a more orderly pattern.

Lima beans with single kidney bean

The arrangement of the beans presented a different opportunity. The subject was amenable to an arrangement that emphasizes line and form. At one level, the photo is about the structured organization of the smooth skinned lima beans. But the predominant theme is clearly the color contrast between the light limas and the solitary red kidney bean. Compositionally, the arrangement is orderly, with the red bean at about the rule of thirds point where its impact is maximized.   

The photo of the mixed legumes emphasizes yet another compositional principle, the use of color to achieve impact.  Here again I’ve employed a rather carefully organized chaos to suggest randomness.

Pear slice

The fruit and vegetable slices present still different compositional opportunities. In these cases, the compositions are the iconic profiles and colors of the subjects themselves, which makes them quite recognizable and yet unusual graphically. Unlike the tea leaves, beans, and legumes photos, where some front lighting supplemented the light pad, the fruit and vegetable slices were entirely backlit.

Red bell pepper

To reiterate a key point, the pictures in these compositions were intentionally organized in the patterns they display. They are by no means random scatterings that reflect only happenstance. Instead, in building each composition I carefully placed the elements in arrangements that seemed to me to be effective.

A technical note is in order. I made these photos with a Nikon Z7 mirrorless camera, which has a resolution of 45.7 megapixels and gives me a high degree of resolution. I set the ISO at 64. The camera is mounted on a Smith-Victor Pro Duty 36-inch copy stand that allows me to shoot straight down on my subjects.

My lens for these photos is a Zeiss Milvus f/2 50 mm Makro Planar lens, which is a manual focus lens. I achieve sharp focus by zooming in on the LCD screen so I can see the details up close. I set the f-stop at the higher end of the range, typically f/18, so that I get as much depth of field as possible. The exposures vary. I normally shoot multiple exposure sequences that enable HDR processing.  For this series, in some photos I’ve chosen to display only a single image from each exposure set. For others, I used layers and masks in Photoshop to combine several images to enhance the final result.

I plan to use these and similar images to make a set of food-themed note cards and to hang some of them in my kitchen. These images represent only the beginning of my explorations of this fun technique. I’m sure I’ll have more to say about it, and more images to display, in future postings.