Porcupine Mountains Road Blur

While the wife drives I stick the camera out the window to get some blurred shots of the forest going by.

While my wife was driving through Porcupine Mountains State Park in Michigan, I stuck my  camera out the window to take some blurred photos of the forest.  It was a dark day with rain off and on and a good opportunity to get those sort of shots.  The shot was of course hand held at 1/6th of a second.  The Sony a65 that I was using has steady shot (vibration reduction) built into the camera body, and it did a pretty good job at keeping the image level while the trees close by blurred.

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Today is lens cap appreciation day

That’s right in case you haven’t heard today is in fact lens cap appreciation day.  This is the day we take out our lens caps, admire them and thank them for their service to our lenses.  In photography it is often the little things that are important.  The lens cap main utility is protect the glass from damage caused by impact, and preventing gear, twigs, fingers, you name it, from contacting the glass elements and damaging either the glass or its coating.  Lens caps also prevent dirt from getting inside lenses, especially some zoom lenses where the inside is somewhat exposed.  Lens caps are also used by Do-it-yourself types to mount new and exciting things on there lenses.

Help me, I’m a little old Zeiss lens and my photographer is a clutz. I need of a lens cap!

Anyway take a moment and think of all the times that you have been thankful you had a lenscap firmly attached to your camera.  How about that time you dropped it, ran into a shrub, stuffed the camera somewhere it really shouldn’t have gone.  Or those times your subject turned on you, a baby’s slimy hands, a cats wet nose, or a liking dog.  Ok a UV filter saved me from those moist attackers, but still a lens cap would have been nicer.

Lens caps, like filters come in too many sizes for my liking.  I have a few extra caps lying around, but if I lose a cap for a lens I use often, none of the caps from my stock pile will fit, and I’ll have to get a new one.  Usually I go to eBay and get a direct from China lens cap.  Lens caps attach to cameras is several ways, there are those that act as a sort of clamp by gripping the filter threads.  There are slip-on lens caps that use friction to hold on, and these are the easiest to lose.  There are also a few bayonet mount caps, and those automatic ones on point and shoot cameras that open close like shutters.

Lens caps are also a real pain, but worth it for all the reasons mentioned, but come on, do they have a second evil purpose?  Where did I put that lens cap?  Which pocket? Is it still in the camera bag?  Did I leave it in the car?  After I rip my hair out looking for the cap I ask the question, “Are there really lens cap gnomes?”  Yes, they really exist, and are quite common, but the rare lens camp gremlin in far worse animal.  They are those creatures that drop lens caps in mud, sand and snow.  They run over your friend, the lenscap with a car, or feed it to a puppy.  Oh the lens cap gremlin is a true evil beast.   He gets into your head when using trying to take pictures, and makes you forget the lens cap even exists.  This is a major problem when using an old rangefinder, where the viewfinder does not show what the lens sees.  One of those gremlins got me on my first roll of film on my “new” Fuji 690III.  A whole roll of film destroyed by gremlins, because it certainly wasn’t my fault!

Anyway take some time today and praise the humble lens cap, and then try and remember where you put the darn thing.

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Just Bark

Photos of bark, just plain old tree bark.  The textures found in nature can be very interesting, sometime sensuous, but not so much with bark.

This ancient black cherry (Prunus serotina) tree’s bark is covered with a few species of lichen. Purchase Black Cherry Bark Print

Visit my tree page on my lake and wetland website for more information and photos of these tree species.

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Glowing Mushrooms Bitter Oyster (Panellus stipticus)

The bioluminescencent Bitter Oyster mushroom (Panellus stipticus), growing on a dead Yellow Birch (Betula alleghaniensis)

About Glow-in-the-Dark Mushrooms

I have seen mushrooms that glow before, when I was a kid, and since I have longed to see them again, and to photograph these fungi.  The glowing of mushrooms, and animals is sometimes called of foxfire and more scientifically — bioluminescence.  In mushrooms it was first thought to be just some strange byproduct of some other function, but more recently it has been linked to attracting insects that help spread the mushroom’s spores to new locations.  The cold light produced by mushrooms is one of nature’s truly amazing sights.
The Bitter Oyster (Panellus stipticus) is an unassuming drab brown mushroom in the daylight it lives on several species of dead and dying hardwood trees.  In this case I found the fungus on a Yellow Birch (Betula alleghaniensis) tree stump.  I had actually photographed that tree when it was alive and well 13 years ago.  Anyway, these mushrooms are not always luminous.  Not every year will the conditions be right for them to make light.  They will usually glow only on damp or humid nights.  I was fortunate enough that it had rained heavily the day before, and we had light rain that same day.  
Finding the mushrooms is not easy because even when they do glow, the light is very dim to human eyes.  On a moonlit night the speckeled moonbeams can be brighter than the fungus.  On the cloudy night I was out conditions were good for spotting the light.  I left my flashlight in my pocket and allowed for my eyes to adjust to the darkness.  I could barely see anything, so I stuck to a dirt road I new was pretty flat and walked slowly to avoid tripping up.  I was lucky, and after only a 100 yard walk I could see the faint glow 50 feet way.  Had I used a flashlight or even if a crescent moon had been out I likely wouldn’t have seen them.

Bitter Oyster mushroom (Panellus stipticus) during the daylight.

How to Photograph Bioluminecent Mushrooms

Two things are absolutely essential to photograph these glow in the dark mushrooms 1) A tripod, and 2) Long exposures.   There is no getting around a tripod, exposures will run way past one second.  While in the photos the mushrooms are bright, the light given off by the mushrooms are actually quite dim to human eyes, and hard to spot.     Most cameras will allow for exposures up to 30 seconds, and this is workable with very high ISO setting.  Better is a manual mode for longer exposures.

Turn off Vibration Reduction

Turn off vibration reduction modes.  Vibration reduction function is great for handholding, but on a tripod it can confuse the software and try to compensate for movement that isn’t there, leading to burly photos.

Triggering the Shutter

A remote trigger release is nice, but for very long exposures it is not necessary.  A second of camera vibration does not amount to much information being recorded over 30 or more seconds.  Even so, I set the cameras timer to its lowest duration, just to be safe.  Some cameras have a bulb setting that is can be triggered by pushing the shutter once to open, and once to close. This will also work well for very long exposures.

Shooting modes and ISO Speed

ISO speed depends on how much time you’ve got.  If you are using a noise reduction function, the noise reduction processing is equal to exposure time, so if your exposure was 10 minutes you’ll have to take wait another 10 minutes in dark for the processing.  This can test your nerves out in the wilderness on cloud filled moonless nights.   Photographing such a dim subject is something you probably don’t do often, so if your like me, you’ll bracket your photos which means many long exposures.  Shooting at ISO 100 at f16 to get plenty of depth of field, and trying different compositions could literally take until sunrise.  That’s fine if you can stay awake during exposures, with bears, and wolves testing your nerves, even though you are well aware you’re more likely to be struck by lightning than bothered by a bear.  The only animals I saw or heard was a curious woodland jumping mouse and a northern flying squirrel in the distance.
As stated in the caption I compromised, for the sake of time on a and exposure of 30 seconds at f 2.8 at ISO 6400.  If had shot at f16 using the 100 ISO setting the exposure would have been 2 hours plus another 2 hours if I used noise reduction!  Even though the photo is grainy it works for the subject.  Automatic, in-camera, noise reduction settings are great, but RAW camera files can be just as good with post process and the photo above is indeed from a RAW file.  With such an unusual phenomenon to photograph, for me at least, I took no chances and had set the camera to take both RAW and JPG with the in-camera noise reduction.
Suitable Cameras and Lenses
Most digital dslr’s these days are up to the task.  It helps to have one with great high ISO capabilities if you decided to go the high ISO route.  Some digital point and shoot cameras may be up to the task if it has a macro setting and manual controls.
For best results a dedicated macro prime lens is the best.  These lenses allow the photographer to get in close to the Bitter Oyster Mushroom and other small bio-luminescent fungi.  Not everyone has one of those, and the next best option is a sharp, fast lens and closeup lenses that screw onto the filter threads.  Extension tubes and bellows will also work, but they reduce the light getting to the sensor, and so make a long exposure even longer.

Other Things to Keep in Mind for Long Exposure Photography

Have fully charged batteries.  Long exposures and the following noise reduction periods will use up more battery life than regular photography.
If possible return the next day to photograph the mushrooms in the daylight.
Last be sure to take a minute or two and actually enjoy the sight!  Too often we get caught up in taking a photograph.  Don’t forget to take in, and complement this amazing phenomenon.  I hope you enjoyed this article, thanks for visiting.

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Lucky photos in the Fog

I began my morning driving to Lake Puckaway in patchy fog.  As I drove over the Lake Butte des Morts Bridge on Hwy 41 I noticed an amazing wall of fog over the lake.  I thought I should stop and photograph it, but I did not know where to go to be able to capture the scene.  I decided to drive on, time was going to be short today and I didn’t have time stop and take photographs. I wasn’t really set up for it anyway.  I had my Sony a65v and sigma 17-70mm and cheep Sony 70-300mm and no tripod.  Today was about work, I was going to Lake Puckaway to sample the water for nutrients and other basic water quality parameters, and photography was an afterthought.

Fog off the North Shore of Lake Puckaway

When I pulled up to the lake about an hour later I could see the dense fog hanging over the lake.  The air temperature was hovering just at the freezing mark, there was frost on the boat, but the lake was 49ºF  and so there was thick fog.  I decided to go out on the water anyway.  After venturing out in the soup visibility got much worse.  I could barely see 50 ft., it was eerie, and if it were not for the GPS I would have no idea where I was, or where I was going. From where I put in the water  I had about five miles to travel to my first sampling location through that thick fog.  I moved slowly, about twice idle speed, occasionally stopping in the calm water to listen for other boats, but I heard none.

Eventually the fog began to lift.  As it did the sun became just visible.  I looked up at it, it was one of those unusual times where it was so dim, I could have looked at it all day without squinting.  As I looked I immediately noticed sunspots! Not one, but several, and one was so huge, I thought for a minute I must have been mistaken, but it wasn’t.   I knew from my spaceweather.com email updates that there was a huge sunspot, as large as Jupiter, and the largest in years currently on the face of the Sun.  The name of the sunspot, if you can call it a name, is  AR2192.

A dim sun emerges from the fog making sunspots clearly visible to the naked eye. The giant sunspot is AR2192, the largest in years

After looking for a few moments I grabbed my Sony a65v -slt out of my pelican case, put on the 70-300mm set it to manual focus and took some photos.  They came out well enough.  I knew the photos would be flat, and have a cool cast, and I worried that they would be blurry from using telephoto, without a tripod, on a moving boat.  I took the shots anyway, it is not everyday I can see sunspots with the naked eye.  The photos turned out ok, they are really nothing to write home about, but they are a record of what I saw, and I am happy to share them.  Back at home I cropped the photo of the sunspot, converted it to gray-scale to avoid fighting with the drab color cast, and made adjustments to contrast etc. to make the sunspots a little more pronounced.

A strange bright white lens-shape phenomenon.

As I finally neared my destination the fog began to lift further, and both sun and fog provided a glimpse of another phenomenon.   The sun, now bright, stuck the dwindling fog and created this large lens of bright white light.  I am struggling to describe it in words, and probably the photos do it better service.  Soon after the appearance of this bright white light I was at work with my sampling equipment, noting the water clarity, dissolved oxygen etc., and the next time I looked up it was blue sky, and there were just a few wisps of fog miles away on the other side of the lake.  The work day had just begun.

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Forest Road

Dirt road through a Northern Wisconsin forest.

Roads in the National Forests of Northern Wisconsin usually originated in one of two ways.  Either they are old railroads that were carved into the wilderness to remove massive Eastern White Pines, or they were roads made for horses and logging sleds to facilitate the removal of massive Eastern White Pines.  Later the roads were used for removing other species of trees, when their logging became more profitable.  During and shortly after the logging days the roads were popular for hunters and trappers, later hikers and this photographer.
The opening of these roads allowed access for trappers to remove the last wolves, fishers, and pine martens from the state.  Thankfully all have returned, the fishers and pine martens were re-introduced, and the timber wolves wandered back into the state from Minnesota.  All are now thriving, except the pine marten is not doing so well.

Most of the old logging roads became abandoned to motorized or horse traffic, but when the second or third growth forest’s timber becomes marketable they once again see logging traffic.  The road in the accompany photo remains open to all legal motorized traffic, but I would recommend something with a high ground clearance, because large puddles can hide bumps and humps that could damage or snag the bottom of a car, leaving the occupants stranded.
If your car shouldn’t travel down such a road, park it, hop out, take a walk and bring the camera along.  It is harder to get lost while traveling these old roads then striking your own path through, what can at times seem to be a featureless landscape.   Nevertheless take care as they can fork and intersect with many other similar dirt roads.

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Nikon 28-200mm f3.5-5.6

Nikkor 28-200mm f4.5-5.6d IF AF Nikon Lens
Nikkor 28-200mm f4.5-5.6d IF AF Nikon Lens an old friend

I was thinking about some of my old friends, friends in the form of photography equipment that I used very regularly.  For several years my go to lens was a Nikkor 28-200mm f3.5-56D IF AF lens.  When it came out it was part of a new breed of supper zooms, lenes that could handle every thing form wide-angle to true telephoto.  Around the same time this lens came out so did 28-300mm lenses from third party manufactures.  I stuck with Nikon because I felt it was just getting greedy all the way out to 300mm.  Of course any zoom lens is a compromise between quantity of focal lengths and the quality of the image.  For those who are on the move, or photography is a secondary purpose like taking a walk with the family it is better to have a wide range of capability with less than perfect sharpness than no photos at all.

My least favorite part of this lens was its inability to focus close up.   However for that I had a Sigma 105mm macro, but that meant having to take another lens along.   The other work around I had was a set of Kenko Auto extension tubes.  I only needed to bring one tube usually the 20mm tube and I was good if I happened to have a interesting subject that begged photography.  Unfortunately extension tubes only made a slow lens slower, and images less sharp.

I bought this lens for my Nikon N50, which was not around for long, and then it moved onto a N6006 and the last film camera the lens saw use on was a Nikon N80.  The N80 is a fantastic camera and can be had on the used market very cheap by the way.   My next camera, the Nikon D100, was the death bell for the 28-200mm.  Nearly all of the DSLR at the time had the smaller APS-C size sensors with a crop factor of about 1.6.  What was a good wide angle lens at 28mm on 35mm film was now the equivalent of a 44mm, not even the slightest bit wide angle, but the added telephoto was welcome.  When I moved up to the D100 I went out and purchased a Nikkor 18-35mm 3.5-4.5 D  to fill in some of the gap at wide angle and that was a great lens.  Even with the new zoom at the low end the old 28-200 just didn’t feel right in the lineup and I eventually replaced it.   My old trusty work horse was sent off to eBay, another casualty of the digital era.

I still have many photographs of nature, landscapes, and my family taken with this lens.  While it may have not been the fastest or sharpest piece of glass on the planet it served me well.  All that said, with so many better lenses, both new and used, on the market the 28-200mm would not be on my list of lenses to buy for a full frame dslr.  Sorry old friend.
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Wild Apple Tree

A “wild “Apple tree produces abundant fruit in an old pasture.

Sometimes a tasty treat presents itself for a photograph.  These apples are not one of those subjects.  The apples are not for munching they are for pies as are most wild apples.  This tree grew in an old pasture not an orchard.  Several other apples trees grew there also, but widely spaced with little order.  It is possible, and not unlikely they were planted there on purpose, but I doubt they were were purchased stock.  Most likely they grew from the discarded fruit that was part of snack or lunch of a farmer working the pasture 60 or more years before this photo was taken.  Perhaps an apple was deliberately dug into the ground and its future left to chance.  Where ever the tree came from it was a beautiful specimen, and produced lovely apples, even if they were only good for baking.

Shot on Fuji Velvia RVP with a Nikon N6006 and 28-200mm Nikon lens.

Purchase Apple Sunrise Photo

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Frosty Needles of Scotch Pine

On a relatively warm winter morning I headed out with my Toyo 45aii field camera in search of some good photographs.  The warm air above the cold snow created a fog, which then froze to just about everything, giving it a light and beautiful coating of frost.  The needles of this Scots Pine produced a nice contrast with the frost on black and white Ilford Panf 50.  I used a Toyo 6×9 roll film back.  Proper exposure was taken with a Sekonic L580.

Click: Scots Pine to purchase a print of this photo.

The Scots Pine (Pinus sylvestris)  goes by several common names, Scott’s Pine, Scotch Pine it is a native of northern Eurasia, including Scotland from which its common English name is derived.  In North America it has been planted for lumber, pulp and ornamental purposes, although as it matures it becomes less pleasing to the eye.

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Lakeshore Wetland in Early Fall

Often overlooked for fall colors, the purples, oranges, reds and browns of wetland grasses, sedges, and flowers of the sedge meadows also make an interesting subject for the camera lens.  I took this photo of lake shore wetland in September a few weeks before the leaves of the north woods began to change colors.

Early in the morning at sedge meadow wetland next to a northwoods lake.

This particular wetland is partially the result of years of drought and the encroachment of wetland out over what was lake bed.  Since the photo was taken the lake has begun to rise, providing an important refuge for young bluegills, yellow perch, and pumpkinseeds.  With climate change threatening the northern areas especially it is unknown whether this will be the new normal.   Not noticeable in this photo is the encroachment of the forest on the wetland.
Photo taken with a Nikon Coolpix P6000

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