Musings with Camera in Hand

Belinda Greb – The Photographic Journey


What Summer’s Here? Coulda Fooled Me!

Okay, well I almost got to last week’s post, but on the two decent days we had last week, I was up on the roof, cleaning off branches, twigs, and moss, and cleaning out the gutters, before the next downpour – rainy weather becoming such a normal thing during late Spring and early Summer here in Oregon.  So I almost missed the beginning of Summer, never mind about my “weekly” post!

And since we’ve had so much rain, I haven’t been shooting a lot. I did work on some older pictures, and before I got up on the roof on Saturday, I did take a short walk through a lovely meadow of wildflowers with my sister and brother-in-law who were visiting.

So not much else to say, except, bah humbug, oh wait, that’s for the holiday season – well I will save you from any more whining about the mostly dreary weather we’ve been having, and say that at least I’m grateful that we haven’t had any tornadoes or floods.

Here are this week’s photos:

The first two are pictures I worked on last week, although they were taken a few weeks ago, and the next few are ones I took on the one sunny day last week – the 2nd day of Summer.  Hope you enjoy!  (You can read more about each photograph if you click on the link and read the description.)






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Few Words

I’m tired today, and running behind on things, so today’s post will be entitled, “Few Words.”  I’m going to reserve the title “No Words” for a really bad week!

Anyhow, should have written this two days ago, but procrastinated. Then yesterday was nice, so I went on a hike, and today – well my excuse is to blame my cat who work me up too early with her meows for an early breakfast.

So I will just post some of the pictures I worked on this week. Two are from my sister’s, where I spent last Saturday.

White-PeonyThis is a white peony. I really liked the way its petals looked almost crumpled. I also liked the various shades of greens in the foliage behind it.  It was a good photograph, but I wanted to give it a more painterly feel, so I added a light watercolor texture.

I took some more pictures of the horse and mules that are grazing the fields at my sister and brother-in-law’s place. I hadn’t gotten a really good picture of this white horse before.  I had to do some retouching to get all the nasty flies away from the horses’ face. It had been a warm day, so the flies were out in droves.

White-HorseThe next one is from Thursday afternoon, late but before the sun set. It was late afternoon, and there were a few clouds in the sky, but the lighting wasn’t that dramatic. I got the tripod to see if I could working on getting a high dynamic range photograph. I took five exposures and then combined them in HDR Effex Pro. I don’t really like over the top HDR photos, so I’m really still experimenting with the software (I’ve tried the trial Photomatrix trial version and may still get that and also just combining them and using the Photoshop HDR).

I was pleased with the results. Did some processing in Color Effex – tonal contrast).

Late-AfternoonThe last image,  I took yesterday on my walk.  I had tried to go up to this one place in Blue River, Oregon, past the H&J Experimental Forest,  twice earlier this Spring and had gotten only partially up the road due to snow still being on the ground.  This time I reached my spot.

I was looking for this one grove of trees I had really liked, but was surprised to see that they had filled in; I may need to wait till fall when some of the leaves fall off for a better photo opportunity. Most of the other trees around are large fir trees, and a very few here and there – old growth (300-500 years). The gravel road winds up the mountain and then heads north. So the outing wasn’t what I had expected, but I got my uphill exercise  (carrying all my camera gear and tripod), and my dog got to run around a bit.

Sanctuary-StreamSince there is a nice creek that parallels the road and various streams that feed into it, I used the outing instead as an opportunity to practice using my neutral density filter to lengthen my exposure times for taking shots of water.

So this post didn’t take long. Wishing anyone visiting a great Father’s Day and a good week ahead of you!


Limitations, Inspiration, Perserverance

I’ve been busy the past few weeks since my trip to Malheur Wildlife Refuge in Oregon, working on pictures, catching up with work and daily life.  In reviewing the photographs I’ve taken I’ve come up against the limitations that exist currently in both my ability and equipment. I’ll start with the second one first, since being outside my self, that’s always the easiest to identify and evaluate.

In spite of the fact that the new telephoto lens I bought is much better than the one I had, its reach is still never going to be as long as I want it to be!  As I’ve talked about before in this blog, I love shooting animals, especially wildlife in their natural habitat. And of course the challenge is that they’re not always near you (harder to focus on) and they move (requiring high enough shutter speed).  So I get home and look at my pictures (where I can actually see them on a full screen) and in the majority of cases, I’m often disappointed because when I zoom in to 100% or more if I’m cropping the picture, it’s less sharp, or the area that the animal encompasses is just too small to be able to crop into a compelling photograph.

colt-with-mother-20130606Here is the original shot I took of this cute little colt whose picture I stopped to take.  I have a 100-400mm and I don’t know how far away he was, but far enough, so that this was my shot at a focal length of 400mm. It was almost 7pm so the light was lower, but still acceptable.  I had raised the ISO to 250, had the aperture set to 11.0 and my shutter speed was 1/80 sec. At 100% I can see that the colt is a bit soft, so obviously my focus wasn’t spot on, but at its original size, it came out okay but it has a bit of noise.

This leads me to the first part of limitations – my ability or habits as a photographer.  In hindsight, I might have taken the aperture down to 8.0 or even 5.6 to get a higher shutter speed. But I still get so caught up with wanting to get the picture (in this case before the colt moved behind a sagebrush, or turned away from me) that I went into my snapshot mode. So I don’t have the ability now to crop and get a sharp picture.  colt-with-mother-crHere is the picture cropped to just the colt, and you begin to see the problems.  Of course these are low resolution files at smaller width and heights than the actual files, but the comparison should still be telling.

When I look back at pictures I took in Kenya with a film camera almost 20 years ago, I’m amazed at some of the pictures I got. I had a cheaper lens at that time (Pentax camera/Tamron 400 mm lens) but the differences are: 1) my digital camera now is a full frame, which means my reach isn’t as long – 400 is 400 instead of maybe 640; 2) film didn’t have the noise that digital cameras do; and 3) shooting in Kenya, I generally had much more light to work.  However, I still love my digital camera for many reasons, not limited  to post processing control (never had a darkroom) and ability to adjust ISO for each shot (whether I’m always great at doing that is another matter altogether) to name just the first two that stand out.  The fact is that I need to find a way as a photographer to form better habits in order to work both with the tools  I have (which are quite good) and the limitations that present themselves (moving animals, low light, etc).

So the disappointment in not getting the shots I hoped I had gotten turns into a learning experience and a resolve to get better. I still will cherish the photo and the others I took of this colt, because he was beautiful, and I loved the way he seemed to be trying out his legs. I decided to enhance the photograph in Photoshop and added some artistic/impressionistic type effects.  This is the result. Colt-with-new-long-legs-2

The following two photos are two more examples of a similar situation.  I shot this photo, and actually I do like it, but again, it was shot in low light at nearly 8pm. So I took up the ISO to 800. Since the mule deer did not seem particularly disturbed by me as they were at quite some distance, in retrospect, I probably should have used my tripod and kept the ISO lower to avoid the noise. The aperture was 10.0 and the shutter speed was 40, but the photo was still fairly sharp – there was just a lot of color noise.The-Gathering

However, I felt the photograph was a bit conflicted. Was the subject matter the herd of mule deer (not close enough to really be about them) or the landscape?  In the end, as the result of a suggestion from a fellow photographer in a forum, I decided to just concentrate on the beautiful colors in the landscape.

I reassessed the picture, erased the herd of mule deer from the scene, blurred the edges of the photo, and played with effects to give it more of an abstract feel, since the photo really lent itself to that. See the second reinterpreted photograph.

You can judge for yourself. Some will like the more true to life version, and others the artistic interpretation.  I always feel there’s room enough for more than one version.

Blue-Green-LandscapeLuckily, the telephoto lens did work quite well with some of the animals that were closer to me.  I especially like this capture of a little house sparrow that was taken at Malheur Wildlife Refuge, but wasn’t so crazy about the fact that he was just sitting on a metal plant protector thing. But I kept returning to him, because I was so charmed by his expression and the fact that he was looking directly at me.  This is the initial photograph.

Little-BirdIn this case, I was able to crop quite a bit, and have him remain very sharp, although I did add a texture and a color filter to make his background more visually interesting. The-Sparrow-questions-why

Next week I will move on from Harney County, Oregon, although I am sad to do so as it was a great experience on many different levels.  I did want to share a few more photographs.

This is of the Hot Springs where my friend and I stayed, Crystal Crane Hot Springs.Crystal-Crane-Hot-Springs


The next picture shows a close-up of a mule deer that was taken earlier in the day near the same spot where the herd was, and this deer was closer to the road (love it when that happens!)

And finally I wanted to show you a composite picture I did using the little calf from the first post on Harney County – Wild Horses, Part 1.  I had two landscape pictures I liked, (but not enough on their own), so I combined them with this calf. I wanted to create an image that reminded the viewer of one of those old paintings you see at museums. This is entitled, “The Lost Calf.”

So in closing – acknowledge and evaluate your limitations, be inspired by them to break through them, and persevere! I’m not usually this Ra, Ra, but sometimes we need to do that for ourselves, just so we can deal with expectations that get a little banged up along the way.


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Malheur Wildlife Refuge

Benson-Pond Malheur Wildlife Refuge is over 187, 000 acres in Southeastern Oregon, containing over 320 species of birds and 58 mammals. It consists of sagebrush and wetlands.

I had grown more interested in visiting the Malheur Wildlife Refuge after reading Refuge: An Unnatural History of Family and Place, by Terry Tempest Williams (a wonderful book). She mainly talked about the Salt Lake Region in Utah, but did mention this refuge as a wonderful place for bird sightings.  But what really sealed the deal for me was when I heard about the wild horse herds in the same area. I’m not a birder, but I do enjoy seeing the various varieties and recently got The Sibley Field Guide to Birds of Western North American in order to be able to identify more.

After my trip to Kenya, I do feel I became more observant and would start to see the birds more, and becoming reignited by photography has also refined my observation skills.  However, I have a long ways to go.

The headquarters area was about 30 miles from where we were staying – Crystal Crane Hot Springs, most of it a well-maintained gravel road.  There were birders out and about with their huge telephoto lenses, which made mine seem rather dinky. There were a lot of Yellow-Headed Blackbirds about, and also Red-Winged Blackbirds.

Yellow-Headed-Blackbird Red-winged BlackbirdIn addition at the pond there were several American White Pelicans, which are beautiful.  Around the grounds were bunny rabbits and ground squirrels. Also seen were hummingbirds, and many other birds that I did not identify. It was supposed to be rainy that day, so the clouds were got were much better than expected, with even a few spots of sun.

American-White-PelicanOne birder told us that there were owl babies by Benson Pond, and that we would probably see others about who could point them out to us.

We headed down to Benson, meaning to stop and then look for the South Steens Wild Horse Herd.  We actually passed it, reaching French Glen and realizing we had gone to far.  However, we had stopped to take a picture of a beautiful Great Egret.  While the Egret was fairly sharp for the distance he was from me, I did end up doing a texture to the background, as the photograph was cropped quite a bit.

Where the photograph of the Egret was taken, in the middle distance was a flock of geese, and in the far distance I made out two coyotes probably hunting rabbits or rodents.

Long-Billed-DowitcherAlong the way, I also got this picture of a Long-billed Dowitcher.

French Glen is a very small town (est. pop. 12) with a historic hotel built in 1924. Pete French was the owner of a livestock company and he was murdered in his 30s as he had a tendency to buy up land, controlling the water rights and preventing settlers from getting to their own land if they had to cross his.

The little town is at the foot of the Steen Mountain Loop which rises from sagebrush terrain to over 9000 feet. I’ll have some pictures of that next week. Here is a picture of the area right by French Glen. Frenchglen

After going up the Loop, we headed back to see if we could find Benson Pond and nearly missed it again.  There is no sign directly off Hwy 205. Instead, you have to take another gravel road north of it, and then work your way down.

By the time we got there, there was really no one else around to point out the owls, and frankly I didn’t even know what type of owl or what I was looking for! Hindsight tells me I needed to ask more questions, but aside from looking up at the trees to see if I could see any owls (since I did learn that they don’t usually stay right by the nest but in nearby trees).  For some reason I thought it might be a burrowing owl, so I was looking on the ground around Benson Pond, but there was a lot of grass, reeds, and parts where there were holes down to the water.  I also tried to listen for any sounds, but again, was unsuccessful.

There were more egrets, and it was wonderful to watch then land, as well as some Dark-eyed Junco Sparrows, more blackbirds. I also admired greatly these beautiful trees, pictured below as the bark was nearly black and stood out from the green leaves.  On the way back, I happened to catch some movement and saw this beautiful pheasant, but by the time I stopped the car and started shooting though not at a fast enough speed to get any great photos as he was retreating behind a barbed wire fence.

PheasantAgain, I feel like I would like to go back and just have more time to observe and hang out.  This trip was very short, but it provided a great overview to make plans for the next trip and I had some wonderful experiences.

Next week, just a bit more about the general area.