Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Who cooks for you? Who cooks for yooouuuu?

I left work today thinking to myself, "It's been a while since I captured a good outdoor picture."  But, considering the day's weather was absolutely terrible (overcast, windy, cold, miserable) I didn't figure on having any photo opportunities arise on my drive home.  But luck has a funny way of popping up every now and then.

Rewind a bit to the weekend where we had to make a trip into Lawrence on both Saturday and Sunday.  On each trip, I saw a beautiful Barred Owl perched on the same exact fencepost just off the side of the rode.  Unfortunately, I was without my camera and, even if I had it with me, the likelihood of actually stopping for a possible picture was pretty slim for a couple reasons.  First, anyone who has traveled with young children knows that the experience can be extremely entertaining and pleasant or like being dragged by your fingernails through the depths of hell.  Our youngest (13 months old) absolutely hates car rides.  So, any additional time spent in the car could be just the ticket to push your blood pressure through the stratosphere.  Second, each time I saw the owl it was out of the corner of my eye at 65 mph, so any chances at photos would have required a U-turn and parking close enough to get a good view.  However, my track record of rolling up on birds carefully enough to keep them from flying is pretty bad.  So, the most I could do was file the experience away in my mind and hope that I might get a similar experience again in the future.

So fast-forward to today, there I was, cruising along, listening to conservative talk radio and wondering what the evening would provide once I arrived home.  Should I go to the gym?  What are we going to eat for dinner?  Yada yada.  But, any time I'm driving there's a part of my subconscious that is scanning the surrounding scenery for...anything...birds, deer, a grand landscape.  This drive was no different and my senses proved to be working great and my luck suddenly changed.  As I passed by the same fencepost from the weekend, my eyes caught the site of the owl sitting atop it and this time I got a really good look at it.  Gorgeous.  But, I had a car following me closely, so any attempt to pull of the road immediately probably would have ended in a wreck.  I had to try my luck at finding a place to U-turn and then slowly rolling up on the bird to put myself in position to get a decent picture.  Turns out, I U-turned twice because I didn't like the idea of trying to pull onto the shoulder on the same side of the road as the owl for fear it would fly off.  Turned out to be a wise decision.

Barred Owl
I managed to pull off the road and began getting shots out of my truck window.  The owl was beautiful and didn't seem to care too much about my presence.  But, I also noticed something odd about this owl.  It's right eye appeared to be either missing or extremely clouded over, so it's fair to assume this owl only benefitted from one good eye.  To think, an animal that relies so heavily on having good eyesight, especially at night, in order to hunt to survive and here I find one with only one good eye.  Pretty tough bird.

I also couldn't help but notice that I seemed to be the only person on the road paying enough attention to even see this amazing bird sitting there.  Seriously, I was ecstatic to see it during the weekend and I was even more stoked that it allowed me another opportunity and this time I had my camera.  Even as I sat with my camera lens sticking far out of my window not a single car slowed down to see what I was taking pictures of.  Now, I know they're not rare or endangered, but you definitely don't see them every  day.  In fact, I know we have at least two flying around in the creek bottom behind my house because I hear them all the time when I let the dogs out at night.  But, I've never seen one when I take walks to the creek.  Here I find one in broad daylight and nobody else seemed to care that it was there to be admired.

Anyway, I captured several images and actually got within about 15 feet of it after getting out of my truck and walking to the opposite shoulder.  The owl made two final poses before finally deciding it had had enough of my company.  The picture you see here is my favorite and I think it shows just how beautiful these birds are.  The size, the eyes, the talons.  Amazing.

For those of you reading who are unfamiliar with Barred Owls, they are also commonly referred to as Hoot Owls.  Additional info, including a few sound bytes of their familiar calls can be found here.


Tuesday, April 5, 2011


Apparently, keeping up with regular updates on a blog is a bit tougher than I imagined. Not to make excuses, but the last 2 1/2 weeks have been quite busy. Obviously, since my last post I have had some time to familiarize myself with Apple Aperture 3. The transition was a bit bumpier than I expected mostly affected by my need to know exactly how something works (didn't I mention that in a previous post?). But, I managed to import my least 2 or 3 times before I finally settled on a library structure I am happy with.

As far as picture taking goes, it seems like the last month has been pretty slow. But, there's been plenty to occupy my mind: getting the kitchen ready to paint, researching chickens...and then buying some, researching chicken coops...still need to construct one, kids.

But, as I strolled across the parking lot last Friday to end my work day, I noticed the sky was filled with puffy white clouds. The light wasn't perfect, but it wasn't bad, either. Instantly I knew that I had to take some back roads home. My quest was in finding some landscapes where the final image(s) would be converted to black and white. Sounds easy, but it's not!

Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMugFirst, harsh mid-day light, in my opinion, can provide some of the best lighting situations for black and white photography. I don't think I'm the first to realize this, either. There's just something about the deep shadows, bright light, and available contrast that make it work. If you want an idea of what I'm talking about, go through any set of so-so, ho-hum landscape photos (color ones) taken during mid-day lighting and convert them to black and white. I guarantee they will take on a whole new look with far greater emotional impact. It won't instantly make them great, but most of them will be better. When I said earlier that it, "sounds easy," what I'm referring to is the idea that it IS very easy to take any color photo that wasn't specifically taken to be a black and white image and convert it to black and white and think, "Hmm, that looks a lot better." But, that rarely works when trying to produce really good black and white photos. Instead, finding landscapes where you already know you want black and white as the final output can be very difficult because you have to visualize the tones and create a pleasing contrast with those tones. Also, in working and visualizing black and white you lose a powerful design element in color. Instead, you have to rely more on other design elements such as patterns, lines, textures, and shapes to make the image interesting.

So, without further delay I present my first two photos edited using Aperture. Both of these photos were specifically taken with a final conversion to black and white already in my mind. I have to say that Aperture offers some great tools for black and white conversion and the ability to play around with those tools rather easily. I'm still getting to know the software, so the entire process took quite a while before I was happy with the final results. None-the-less, I think it's the start of a good relationship!