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The Story of the Fox
6/21/2012 7:57:40 PM

Earlier this week I posted some photos of a fox that were taken last weekend.  The story behind those photos is one of coincidence and pleasant surprises along with some earlier disappointment.  Personal issues have made me stay close to St. Louis this year so I have concentrated my photography efforts in a small number of locations.  One of my favorites is Lone Elk Park where the county has free roaming herds of elk and bison along with a number of whitetail deer.

On Sunday I got off to a late start and decided to see what photo opportunities Lone Elk Park offered.  While there I was able to get a good photo of this wild turkey (one of three that I saw)

and some photos of this years bison calves like the one below.

Even so, the visit was something of a disappointment because of the limited number of animals seen.

As I started home, I decided to visit another park area, the Powder Valley Nature Preserve.  This is an area where I enjoy hiking in the winter and early spring.  I've seen a number of whitetail deer in the area and the Conservation Department also has feeding stations set up for the native birds.  Shortly after my arrival I was walking to the viewing blind near the feeding stations when I came across this doe at a salt lick about ten feet from the trail.

By moving slowly I was able to observe her for several minutes until she walked away undisturbed.  After looking for any feeding birds I decided to walk around one of the hiking trails.  Surprisingly, she came along the same trail and started feeding within three or four feet of where I was standing.  Had I seen nothing else, this would have made the visit a success.

I then moved back up around the visitor's center where I captured several shots of bees on the flowers in bloom like this one.

I also managed to get a couple of photos of this hummingbird on their feeders.

After this I decided to head home.  I was in my truck, leaving the parking area, when this guy jumped out of the bushes along the road and then jumped right back out of sight.  I paused for a moment and he suddenly jumped out again a short distance away.  Grabbing my camera I snapped off this shot thinking it would be my only opportunity.

Much to my surprise, instead of running away again, he decided to sit down and scratch. 

Each time my shutter snapped, his ears would perk up and he would look toward my truck but he seemed more curious than nervous.  He sat for two or three minutes offering several photo opportunities and then, shortly after the final photo below, bounded back into the woods not to be seen again.

I've never had the opportunity to photograph one of these guys in the wild before and doubt that it will happen again.  Even so, it motivates one to keep trying because you never know when a bad day will turn out to be really good.

I Hate Spammers
6/7/2012 10:22:49 AM

I enjoy posting an occasional item to my blog here and really appreciate comments from those who read the posts.  Unfortunately the world is full of people who want to spoil things for the rest of us.  The target of my comments are the "spammers" who have nothing better to do than to clutter our blogs, email, and web sites with trivial, worthless, and sometimes harmful posts.

For those who view my blog, please be assured that I do not use it for commercial purposes.  I don't support the supposed online sales of products from Caroline Herrera, Boss, or any other manufacturer.  I won't ask you to share any personal information nor will I ask you to click on a link to any other site without a clear and full explanation.

I have been trying to delete spam comments from my blog on a daily basis but the garbage continues to show up there each morning so I suspect it gets added throughout the day.  My apologies to anyone who finds the spam offensive as I do.

Thoughts on the Lantern Festival
6/3/2012 10:47:30 AM

For the last several weeks, the Missouri Botanical Garden has been preparing for their big event of the summer, the Lantern Festival.  A number of Chinese craftspeople, both men and women, came to St. Louis to build a number of large displays from steel, silk, and a variety of other materials.  While these displays can be visited during the day, the real beauty comes out when darkness falls and the lanterns are lit to show their full colors.

Much of the construction took place in the Garden parking lot while some also occurred in place.  I've taken a few photos as progress was made and shared them on my SmugMug site (http://frymanfoto.smugmug.com) and my Facebook site and other photos can be seen on the Garden's web and Facebook sites.

The Lantern Festival itself opened to the public on Memorial Day weekend.  I decided early that I wouldn't go to opening weekend because of the expected crowds and associated problems with parking and other things.  While I missed some of the extra events, I still believe that was a good decision.  Instead, I made my first evening visit on June 2.  There was still a large crowd but the Garden was well organized and prepared to support everyone.

Each Thursday - Sunday this summer (through August 19), the Garden will light all of the lanterns beginning at 8 PM and will be open for visitors until 10 PM.  As could be expected, when the lights first come on at eight, the effect is minimal because of the remaining daylight.  As it gets darker, the true colors and lighting affects really come into play.  I posted a set of photos from last night's display for all to view at http://frymanfoto.smugmug.com/MoBot-2012/Lantern-Festival-2012-06-02 .

I've really enjoyed taking photos of both the festival preparations and the lit lanterns and will probably continue to take photos of some of the displays throughout the summer.  At the same time, last night's efforts reminded me of some challenges associated with photographing events like this.

I made two trips to the Garden yesterday - first from seven to nine in the morning for early walking hours and then from six to nine in the evening.  The morning hours are some of the best for taking photos of the flora and fauna in the Garden because most people there are either walkers or other photographers.  Most visitors don't arrive until regular hours.  The evening visit was dictated by when the lanterns would be lit.   The two visits made for a long and tiring day (but I slept well last night :-)).

For me, an event like this really calls for the use of available light.  Few, if any, portable flash systems can provide enought light for large displays like those at the Lantern Festival and using artificial light could actually take away from the impact of the lantern lighting.  While there were lots of people using the flash in their smart phones or on their cameras, this probably added little to their photos.  Of course, available light means long exposures.  And this, in turn, means that some sort of camera support is needed to minimize (eliminate) camera movement.

I used a monopod for camera support.  While the monopod is better than hand holding the camera, it still isn't as stable as a good tripod.  The result was a number of images that were tossed because they were blurred.  Even so, the monopod was a good idea because the crowds would have made it difficult to use a tripod.  I saw several other photographers trying with mixed results.  If I go to another evening event I'm not sure if I will stick with the monopod or try to use a tripod even though it is less convenient.

The other problem with the crowd was finding good viewpoints to take photos where people would not block the shot or bump you while the camera lens was open.  Luckily my visit in the morning gave me some ideas for places where I could take photos that were a little out of the flow of most walking traffic.  Even so, I missed a few shots that I really wanted because the displays were blocked.

Although there were a number of challenges, I feel like the results outweigh any problems encountered and may do this again before the Lantern Festival closes.
Adobe Creative Cloud
5/3/2012 10:02:23 AM
Along with the recent release, or planned release, of their new Creative Suite 6 applications and PhotoShop Lightroom 4 Adobe also announced a new product called Creative Cloud.  As the name implies, this product offering is different to Adobe’s traditional software distribution method where users purchase individual products or suites of products as either Option 1 -- boxed software or Option 2 -- a download.
At the same time, Creative Cloud doesn’t fall into the category of most “cloud” applications that are seen in the business world where the software runs on a remote computer with your local desktop only serving as an entry device. Instead, Creative Cloud is a subscription service that allows you to download selected software to your computer and run the application on your computer (doesn’t sound that different from option 2, above, so far).
What does Creative Cloud include?  All of the applications in Creative Suite CS6 (PhotoShop 6 Extended, Illustrator, Acrobat Pro, DreamWeaver, Premiere, Flash Pro, In Design and others), connectivity to Adobe TouchApps, and, in the future, PhotoShop Lightroom.
There are, however, some major differences. First, Creative Cloud includes 20 GB of storage that can be used to connect your traditional desktop applications like PhotoShop with Adobe’s touchpad applications like PhotoShop Touch. Second, while individuals who purchase traditional products typically wait about two years for major software upgrades or improvements, Adobe plans to release these upgrades to Creative Cloud users on an ongoing basis. The third big difference is the potential for long-term cost savings for some users.
Let’s assume that the first two differences described above are of minimal interest to you. The question then becomes can I save money by using Creative Cloud? And the answer is, “It depends.” For illustration purposes, I’m going to use the one year subscription price of $49.99 per month for Creative Cloud (if you choose a monthly subscription, you will have different results). Here are some examples:
Scenario 1 -- I only use PhotoShop CS6. I purchased PhotoShop several years ago and now I upgrade with each new version. I don’t us Adobe Illustrator, Acrobat Pro, or any other Adobe application. A subscription to Creative Cloud would cost $599.88 for one year or $1,199.76 for two years. Upgrading your current version of PhotoShop would cost $199.00 every two years. Even if you were using PhotoShop CS6 Extended, the upgrade cost would only be $399.00 every two years. So, in this case, it’s unlikely that you would have any savings.
Scenario 2 -- I plan to purchase PhotoShop CS6 and upgrade with each new version. I don’t us Adobe Illustrator, Acrobat Pro, or any other Adobe application. A subscription to Creative Cloud would cost you $599.88 for one year or $1,199.76 for two years. Purchasing the full version of PhotoShop will cost $699.00 and each upgrade will cost about $199.00. If you were purchase PhotoShop CS6 Extended, the initial cost will be $999.00 and each upgrade will be $399.00. In either case, some savings in year one but these savings do not extend into later years.
Scenario 3 – I use a number of different Adobe products regularly. I purchase and upgrade each of them individually. The two products I use most often are PhotoShop CS6 Extended and Illustrator. I would also like to use other products occasionally like DreamWeaver and Actobat Pro but have not purchased them. In this scenario, you could purchase PhotoShop CS6 Extended ($999) and Illustrator ($599) separately and upgrade them about every two years (PhotoShop $399; Illustrator $249) or you could purchase them as part of a suite (initial cost $1,899 or more, upgrade $375). Either way, you will save money immediately by subscribing to Creative Cloud. While the savings drop in subsequent years, you still get a good deal. What makes this even better is that you can now also use other products like DreamWeaver (purchase price $399; upgrade $125) and Acrobat Pro (purchase price $449; upgrade $199) at no added cost.
So the bottom line is the more Adobe products you use, the more attractive Creative Cloud becomes plus you get the benefits of more frequent upgrades, remote storage, and the flexibility to add more applications when you need them.
PhotoShop and Filters
4/10/2012 9:51:44 PM

I've been spending some time recently with the pre-release (beta) version of Adobe's PhotoShop CS6.  So far I really like this new release of the software although I will be the first to admit that I am not a PhotoShop expert.  One of the changes in the new version is the addition of an Oil Paint filter.  Using this filter, a photographer can modify the appearance of a photo so that it almost looks like a painting.  Of course there is a little more to it than a single mouse click but it is a relatively simple process.  While I really like this filter, it is important to remember that it doesn't work well with all images.

I've included two examples here.  In my view, the first photo was improved by applying the Oil Paint filter.  I felt like the original image (on the left) was a bit soft and that the lighting wasn't quite what I expected (this was an early morning photo, about thirty minutes after sunrise).  By adding the filter (on the right), many of the problems seemed to be less prominent so I was pleased with the result.  I used this photo as my Image of the Day on April 9.  I used another filtered image on April 10 that I also thought worked reasonably well.


I was much less satisfied with the result of adding the filter to this second image.  While I wasn't totally satisfied with the original image, when I added the filter, there was a clear loss of detail with no offsetting gain in overall aesthetics. In addition, the filter appeared to actually change the content of the photo - for example the gravel bar now more closely looks like a pile of tree limbs or something unidentifiable.  The original is on the left and the filtered photo on the right.


Bottom line, filters are great in some situations, not so good in others.  While they offer benefits, they can also be overused if care is not exercised.


Photo Critiques
4/5/2012 8:43:10 AM

A few days ago I viewed an on-line photo critique.  While many of the comments by the reviewers were relevant and constructive, I found the overall critique somewhat offensive.  This was not because of the comments made about the photos that were reviewed but instead because many photos were simply discarded without comment other than "Don't take photos of this" or something similar.  As a result, no really useful information was provided.  I did take the time to send in a comment on the critique session (I critiqued their critique :-)) expressing my concerns.

Apparently many others expressed similar views including one person who accused the reviewers of being "mean".  These comments must have hit home because a subsequent critique used a different approach which I found much more positive.

At the same time, the reviewers pointed out something that was also a factor.  When we, as photographers, share photos on Facebook, Google+, or on most other sites we get little useful feedback.  Instead we have friends, family, and others who "Like" our photos or tell us how great the photos are or other really positive things.  While I like to have my ego stroked as much as the next guy, I also realize that not all of my photos are perfect.  Sometimes it would probably do me some good to be told I over exposed a shot or I cropped it wrong or something else to help me improve my photography.  Not something mean or derogatory, but something constructive.

There are some web sites focused on photography where you can get this type of constructive criticism.  You can also get it from a local camera club or photo group.  Unfortunately, if you post to those places most of your friends and relatives won't see the photos or the comments.

I will say that after seeing the most recent online critique session that I vowed to do two things:

- First, I will go back and take a more critical look at my work to see where I can improve (I did this with a small number of photos last night and there is a lot of room for improvement.).
- Second, even when I post a photo to Facebook or other social media, I will strive to make it a photo that would be worthy of a positive review in a photo critique session.

So the bottom line is that even though I didn't like the first photo critique, it made me think and will hopefully result in better photos in the future.

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