Agave

Costa Rica is an amazing country with astounding biodiversity.  We spent several hours at Lankester Gardens (http://www.jbl.ucr.ac.cr/) wandering the paths and admiring the vast array of plants.  When we got to the cactus/succulent garden I was quickly intrigued by several agave plants.  I thought that there was a black and white treatment that would emphasize the patterns and character of the plant if I could find a decent (i.e., healthy, little-blemished) plant to photograph.  I set the tripod up and shot 4 images at different focal points with hopes of bringing the entire plant into focus in Photoshop using focus stacking.  Here’s the result.

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Give it a try

I posted a couple of macro shots of an aster patch yesterday and it appears that some people really like them.  Thanks for the feedback.

We went to a friend’s house last night to listen to a trio of Scottish musicians play and sing for a small group of enthusiastic listeners.  The group consisted of Linsey Aitken, Ken Campbell and Andy Shanks.  The three had been in the USA for about a week and were working their way north from San Francisco, singing as they go,  and were soon to turn around and head back south.  They loved being in America (darn good to hear) and were impressed with the land and the open, friendly nature of the people they encountered.  They loved being able to play in the living  room of a wonderful home where the audience was right with them… close and participatory.  Thanks Laurie and Bill for opening your home to us.  This was really an unusual experience for us.  One week prior, to the day, we were in a barn in Vermont celebrating my mother’s life with family and friends.  As I listened to the music and words I could not help but think of the Vermont gathering and the contrast between situations.  I drifted and fell into the music.  Nice.

I’m sure that Dianne and I both left thinking “what an amazing evening”.  The trio played guitar, cello, bagpipes and sang along to each other’s creative, original music.  I’m not sure if it is the Scottish brougue, the sense of humor, the stories they told but amid the laughter and singing there was an unmistakeable passion for what they do.  At one point, Linsey, the cello player and vocalist, described the house and setting in which she and Ken live on the west coast of Scotland.  Her words were like the music.. poetic and painting a picture for me.  I loved having the opportunity to hug her and thank her for the intense visualization of the setting with ever changing light and thousands of birds calling into the night.  She hooked me with that description and I told her we wanted to come see this magic place.  She smiled and said “Oh, you must”.  Di and I agree that Ireland and Scotland are now at the top of the travel list after we return from Costa Rica.  Is this the way it happens?  Situations breed friendships that open avenues of exploration and richness?  So far, for us, that is exactly the pattern.

The passion of the three musicians/artists got me thinking about another artist who I’ve recently discovered and am enjoying.  Mark S. Johnson is a photographer who creates images using both the camera and Photoshop.  No apologies are given for his manipulation of images using a wide variety of techniques.  Sometimes it is in-camera manipulaton and sometimes it is done with Photoshop – sometimes both.   I really enjoy the majority of his images that I’ve seen.  I also enjoy his writing and description of the joy he feels when he sees an image come to life on the camera’s LCD or his computer monitor.  I was reading through his ebook called Luminescent World, a compilation of 25 photos and the storys of how they were created, and got caught up in an image of a clematis patch that seemed to radiate out in a vortex of shooting stars.  I expected that I’d read about a lot of Photoshop layering and playing to achieve the image.  Not the case.  Not at all.  He described a simple technique to create an in-camera multiexposure image using manual zoom prior to each of the many exposures that the camera then blends into one magical result.  I thought “What the heck?  I can do that”.  Off I went.  Back to my little patch of asters growing outside our kitchen window.  I won’t say that this is a great example (darn breeze) but it is proof that images like this can be created in-camera and do not require a lot of post-processing manipulation.  This image was cropped a bit and enhanced just a bit with some detail extraction in places.  Other than that, it is all done by the engineers that built the brains of my Nikon camera.  A simple image to make if you are open to such things.  If you have the passion.

Aster explosion
Aster explosion

Recess – a time to play

I think that Dianne and I are both committed to looking for brightness and beauty in our lives more than ever.  We know that the rains are coming and with them, the long period of gray skies and flat light.  As I sat eating breakfast I looked out at our flower bed and enjoyed the brightness of the asters that will soon be gone.  I discovered Mark S. Johnson’s work recently and have enjoyed his writing and photography.  He stresses the joy of photography and creative approaches to emphasizing not only the beauty of a scene but of the discovery process when preparing images.  I figured I could use a bit of that so I mounted the camera and macro lens to the tripod and went out into the drizzle to rediscover the magic of closeup photography.  I’m going to study Johnson’s work via his tutorials and ebooks and hope to retain the inspiration he is providing me at the moment.  For now, two images from the garden.

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Hughes Water Garden

A year or so ago our friend Judy suggested that I visit the Hughes Water Garden.  Neither she or I had been there but she’d heard good things.  I went last year and found it to be just a remarkably accessible and friendly spot.  Judy sent an email a few weeks ago and said she had some time off and wondered about getting together to do some shooting.  We settled on the date and headed out to the Hughes Water Garden.  This was my third visit and it still impresses me as a commercial nursery with outstanding employees and great flowers.  When we got there it was overcast but bright.  We settled into the primary “show pond” for waterliliies and spent about 30 minutes enjoying the blooms as we shot.  Then I wandered over to one of two hot houses to see if the lotus flower I’d seen there last year was still around.  Darn if there weren’t several of them.  They are still backed by ugly plastic so it becomes a test to see if you can get a background that looks natural — or settle for extracting the bloom later and adding a background.  I struggled to find a spot high enough to put a bloom against it’s own and some neighboring leaves rather than the bright plastic.  I filled a couple of small holes in using Photoshop but the background is 99% natural.

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I never seem to tire of looking at these wonderful blooms.  The colors, the structure and the curves all work for me.

I wandered ahead to another hot house and found a man working in a pond of tropical lillies.  We visited a bit and I confirmed again that it was OK to be there shooting photos.  Very informative and obliging guy.  What a treat.

These tropical lillies are outrageous.  I’m not entirely sure about the colors but I do know that the petals and interior are complementary and quite striking.  I hope to go back soon to shoot these blooms with a macro lens.  As a group or individually the blooms really please me.

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Again, having the camera in hand and with time to spend with a friend in a beautiful spot is something I place high value on.  I can’t wait for next week when my good friend Steve comes in for a few days so we can visit some wildlife refuges together.  We’ll try to send him home to Suzanne smiling… tired but happy.  More to come…

Yet another

We came home to the cool of Oregon and found a gift from our friend KT who had been staying in our place while we were gone.  She helped us out by caring for the house and by taking a car to the airport for us as she flew home.  I love it when a plan comes together and am happy to report that we found the car in the parking lot without any trouble at all.  Since I’d locked the keys in my sister’s car in Colorado as we were trying to get to DIA for our flight out to Oregon I had some reservations about my ability to do simple tasks.  Thanks for the great instructions KT.

KT is another friend who we are amazed is a part of our lives.  We met her when she worked at the local New Seasons market and we became friends rather quickly. Then she moved to Kentucky and, poof, she was gone.  Sort of. We are always happy to see her when she visits from Kentucky.

KT left an orchid sitting on the counter to welcome us home.  She knows we love these flowers.  So, with gratitude, here is KT’s orchid.  Click on the image for a larger view.

It was all new to me

I have seen several nice photos of Abiqua Falls near Scotts Mills, Oregon but had never been there.  The land is owned by the Mt. Angel Abbey but access is allowed to this beautiful place.  Researching the access I learned that the last few miles of road are dirt (actually, they are serious rock) and steep (yes, it is).  Once parked you start downhill on a trail that lasts about 0.5 mile.  Let’s just say that this is not a family hike.  The trail goes straight down with only a few roots, fallen logs or rocks to break your fall  progress.  Once down to Abiqua Creek you pick your way over rocks and logs as you head upstream to the falls.  You really can’t go wrong but the going is a challenge.  I’ve never earned a waterfall view and photo opp more than I did this morning.

Deigh and I met in Silverton at 07:15 and headed out.  I’d printed some directions to the parking area and they were spot on.  No time wasted getting to the trail head.  The sky was overcast and occasionally drizzly.  We started down the trail knowing that every step would be a potential skating rink.  Wet clay and rocks and roots are notorious for being hazards.  I was glad I’d brought my trekking poles and appreciated the four point stance as I descended.  Deigh worked his way down ahead of me while carrying his tripod.  Once down to the bottom I guess I felt a bit too confident and took a tumble.  Yeah, rocks are still hard but no damage done.  Deigh was relieved and we both knew that if someone got hurt it was going to be a very long day getting out.

Regardless, we got the falls without any more incidents and began shooting this falls.  What a beautiful place we had all to ourselves.

I think that both of us were determined to get our shots as we procrastinated about starting our trip back up the hill.  It turns out that we both found the trip out easier than the trip in.  Took us 40 minutes to get down and 20 to get out.

After lunch in Silverton we parted ways.  I headed out to the Hughes Water Gardens in Tualatin.  My friend Judy M. told me about this place when our little camera club met last Monday.  I just wanted to see what was there.  This is a commercial “nursery” for water plants and a supplier of materials and parts for creating water features at your house.  What a beautiful place this is.  I was anticipating that I’d be told to ditch the tripod but no such warning happened.  Great paths.  Wonderful access to a wide variety of blooms.  This place definitely needs to be visited with Dianne.  What a treat… unlimited access without a set of rules other than common sense and respect for the plants and property.

I shot water lilies of all colors and stages of maturity.  I talked briefly to a couple of nice ladies who were sitting by the main pond enjoying a bite and the day.  They coached me into visiting the greenhouses to see even more water lilies.  Yikes… were they right!  I was really pleased that all the blossoms seemed to be mature and remarkably unspoiled. I entered the last greenhouse and found a single lotus blossom growing about 2 feet above my head and right next to a dingy plastic cover on the greenhouse.  Bingo… it wasn’t perfect but the plastic became a great white background for the shots.  I knew I’d have to deal with all sorts of spots and such but also knew that it would not take long and I’d have a nice clean, near-white background.  After a few minutes in Photoshop that white became black and I had my “shot of the day”.

The flower really was that clean and bright.  I did nothing to the file other than add a bit of contrast and some clarity and a touch of vibrance.  For me the black background works much better than the white one… hence, that is what you see.

Thanks for a nice outing Deigh.  Thanks for the tip about the Water Gardens, Judy.  Both were, in the words of our friend Shyamal, “magical places”.

Portland Rose Test Garden

The rains have come just in time to water the yard and flower beds.  That’s good.  Given our cool  (cold?) and damp Spring it seems like everything is running about a month behind normal.  Several weeks ago my friend Eric stopped by the Rose Garden and reported that only a few blossoms were out.  Not a surprise, really.  But now it is full on Rose Festival time and the roses should be out for all the visitors to enjoy.  I decided to take some time this morning and head to the Garden to see how it was progressing.  What I found was a lot of blossoms that the rain had spoiled and tens of thousands of buds about to break.  There are many blossoms that are just open and offer classic rose poses.  I wanted to find some with water drops to add some interest.  While I found a few it wasn’t until I walked into the Shakespeare Garden and saw the cala lilies that my interest finally peaked.  It was particularly fortunate that the blossoms are clean and fresh.  I found a couple near the edge of the bed and proceeded to see if I could harness the contrast. The clouds helped.  The air was reasonably still and a few frames came together nicely.

Casual Sunday

It is a rare and much appreciated sunny warm Sunday morning in Portland, Oregon.  We are definitely ready for this after a spring of gray and drizzle/rain.  As I sat eating breakfast I was looking at the orchid that Katy gave us the other day.  I don’t tire of looking at these beautiful plants.  Then I noticed the shamrock sitting on the table in indirect north light.  Again, this plant just seems to be really enjoying spring.  I thought, hmmmmm, orchid, north light, hmmmm.  You know what’s coming.  In the space of about 15 minutes we had set up a background and put the blooms on the counters and exposed to even light.  Single source of light wrapping around the flowers and the plant.

As always, you should be able to click on an image below to see a larger version of the photo.

I had told Dianne that I was going to take a photo of the flower.  She chuckled.  Later she asked if I had been keeping count.  OK, it took a few to get the exposure and compositions that I wanted.  Work the scene baby, work it.

As I was about to quit I thought about shooting the shamrock again but the background was just too dark to work well without some other lights.  I gave up that idea and grabbed Di’s boquet of tulips instead.  Bingo.  Love it.

Now I move outside and get rid of some other plants weeds in harsh direct sunlight.  I guess this warm weather has some downside too.  Whatever.

 

Found friendship

Establishing a new friendship is a wonderful thing in anyone’s life, I think.  I marvel at how we connect with people… some stick and some move on. I never really know when a simple bit of conversation and eye contact might turn into a durable friendship.  Our friends Eric and Traci come to mind.  Happenstance brought us together to watch and photograph a sunset over Portland.  Today, we enjoy their friendship and appreciate being a part of their lives on occasion.  Anndee is another one who I met in a lighting class and found a friend who brings new thoughts and experiences to my life. Other friends have come through our work lives… lots of these people, really.  Perhaps it is that we spend more time with people in the work environment and that allows us to build an awareness of their character and qualities. Of course, some of the people one encounters never “stick” as friends.  It’s amazing, really, how we filter our lives.

And then there are the people who not only become friends but who lead us to yet other new friendships.  A cascade of relationships with common friends is really rewarding. We are in the initial stages of what could be one of the most interesting and rewarding new friendships I’ve had in some time. It all starts with our friend Shyamal who Dianne befriended at work and who became a dear friend to both of us.  It is Shyamal who provided the incentive to visit India where we formed friendships with many others, particularly a few who “hosted” us in different parts of India.  One of these people is a remarkable man by the name of Bhaskar Das.  Bhaskar is one of the truly nice people on earth and brings a lot of passion and experience to his friendships.  We are fortunate to call him “friend”.

Our circle of friends centering on Shyamal expanded recently as we worked together to find a way to get him a camera memory card and Dianne some fresh pashminas from India.  The exchange was facilitated by a wonderful young lady named Katy who used to live near Shayamal in Portland and who thinks of him as a brother.  Katy was heading to Nepal to volunteer as a physical therapist and then to vacation in India for a few weeks.  She agreed to shuttle the camera memory card to Shayamal and to bring the pashminas back to us.  Katy entered our lives over tea in SE Portland and we believe she will be one of the people who “stick”.

But it gets better.  Katy was fortunate to have Bhaskar lead her on a trek into the Himalayas from Darjeeling and show her the Neora Valley.  Her sister, April Ruth, joined Katy at the last minute and shared the time with Bhaskar.  We knew that these ladies would love Bhaskar and that proved to be the case. We met April Ruth and Katy for tea on their return to the USA and found that the short visit was not nearly enough.  They accepted an invitation to dinner and we began to plan a menu of Indian food to get us all focused on our common experiences.

Last night Katy and April Ruth showed up with a gift that immediately told me that there is a lot of connection between us that I had not thought could be there.  They brought us an orchid.  Now, visitors bringing us an orchid has history in our house thanks to our friends Deigh and Jon and Barbara.  I absolutely love the delicate features of an orchid.  The new one offers a pastel palette of colors that deepens into saturated colors as you descend into the flower’s interior. The plant is rich with blooms and a few buds to extend the beauty soon. Yes, I took a few photos of the orchid today.  I can hear our friends in Medford laughing… can’t I Jon and Barbara?  I promise to be a bit more restrained with this one though.

So, Katy and April Ruth joined us in a goal of bringing our friend Bhaskar to the USA to teach and learn. We hope to design and build a sponsored program for him to get here and in which he can see parts of the USA, climb a mountain or two and exchange his passion for outdoor adventure as a means to enrich children’s lives and build a durable appreciation for nature and its wonders.

Thanks, Katy and April Ruth.  Your gift will be a centerpiece of our daily lives for a long time. Both the flower and your friendship enrich our lives.