Monday, May 26, 2008

Ethical Nature Photography

This morning I woke up at 5:00 a.m. and headed out to the Lewis Ocean Bay Heritage Preserve in hopes of finding Venus' Fly Traps in the 9300 acre preserve. When I arrived, the sun was just rising up and a beautiful mist had settled over one of the pocosins that I've spent a lot of time exploring in the past. I was tempted to head straight for the pitcher plants and start shooting but decided to stick to my original plan and began looking for sphagnum filled sandy ditches as outlined in Porcher and Raynor's "Guide to the Wildflowers of South Carolina." After about twenty minutes and a little prayer I noticed an unfamiliar patch of white flowers about ten feet from where I was standing. Thinking that they were Carolina Grass-of-Parnassus, I walked over and was amazed to see about 20-30 Venus' Fly Traps at the base of the long stalked flowers. By discovering the fly traps I fulfilled a life-long dream of witnessing these amazing plants in the wild. After my initial euphoria wore of I began to wonder exactly how I might photograph such an iconic and much publicized species. This is where the ethics part came in.

Venus' Fly Traps are a very small species of plant. The specimens that I encountered were only about 3-5 inches high (without the flower) and scattered among wire grass and other plants. The group consisted of a dense center population that radiated outwards with surrounding smaller individuals. As a result, this all made photographing any of the plants very difficult. I have been fortunate enough to discover several 'rare' species in the field and each time the event has been accompanied by a sense of anxiety due to the pressure to make a great image and not destroy the population at the same time. After studying the group of fly traps for some time I decided that it might be very difficult to make any kind of special photo unless I was willing to risk damaging some of the surrounding plants –which I was not– so instead I decided to focus on some of the smaller, outlying plants. As a nature photographer, it is often very easy to get caught up in the moment and lose sight of what it is that you actually photographing. However, no photographic opportunity justifies the destruction of a particular subject. In the end, I am happy with my images and I feel elated to have finally seen such an amazing plant in a place that it has grown for millions of years.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Developing a Photographic Narrative

One of the greatest challenges that most photographers face –and I am certainly no exception– is finding a way to trim down a potential image to its most basic elements while still retaining enough appealing information that it doesn't lose its intrigue. I refer to this as developing a "photographic narrative." I believe that really strong images should always tell some type of story and at least provide a jumping-off point that will spark the viewers imagination. You want to "dangle a carrot" for the viewer so that you might prompt him/her to ponder about an image time and time again. A great and famous example of this would be the Mona Lisa. Why is this painting still be adored hundreds of years after it was created? I personally don't believe it has as much to do with the quality of the painting as with the fact that folks are drawn into the narrative that Da Vinci cleverly –and surely knowingly– injected into the painting with Mona Lisa's famous smile. We all want to know what she is smiling about, right?

A couple of nights ago I went out for a walk just before sunset. A nice rain had just passed through and a low mist had begun to hang over the field. I was just about to come in for the night when I noticed something odd surrounding the post of one of the old bluebird boxes nearby. As I came closer, I immediately recognized that the odd shape was in fact a black rat snake (my third encounter this spring) that had tightly coiled its body around the post and was working its way up to the nest box (the birds had just fledged). I ran inside to grab my camera gear and came back out with a a great determination to illustate the story of the snake and the box; predator and prey. I photographed the scene with a 20mm wide-angle lens from above, below and straight on. That didn't work. The sky was too washed out and the angle too severe. Next I tried zooming in and shooting from afar but still nothing was working. Meanwhile, the sun was quickly setting and the snake was getting tired of being gawked at. How could I show this powerful predator inching its way for what it hoped might be an evening meal? Then it occurred to me that I should just focus on the form of the animal. The bluebird house was a nice addition but it only served to distract the me from the crux of the shot. By now the snake was fairly calm, and it was fairly cool outside, so I moved within a couple of feet and carefully composed the shot. I became excited as I looked through the view-finder at the snake. It was easy to imagine that it was a piece of sculpture. The field looked great, the reflected sunset on the snake's dew-covered scales appeared iridescent, while the post now became an anchor within the image. It also would provide something for viewers to question and wonder about. I was reminded of my new mantras "Cut out the clutter" and "Create a Narrative." In the end, I may not have created anything like the Mona Lisa but for me, I know that I created a better image by having the willingness to focus in on what really mattered and develop a narrative.


Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Photographing Carolina Bays

Last year I began making photographs in one of the most unique and biologically rich preserves in South Carolina: The Lewis Ocean Bay Heritage Preserve in Horry County, near Conway, SC. This is a very long name for a sprawling 9300 preserve that is packed with orchids, irises and a variety of other rare and extremely photogenic plant and animal species including the world famous Venus' Fly Trap. The LOBHP contains several 'Carolina Bays' which are mysterious elliptical depressions that range from three acres to over a mile in length.

Carolina Bays were really not discovered until 1933 when an aerial photographic survey was conducted over the Carolinas and Georgia. Two University of Oklahoma professors –Doctors Melton and Schriever– observed the images and were the first to really document the number of bays. Although they range from New Jersey to Florida, the bays are primarily found in South Carolina, North Carolina and Georgia. Because of the unique elliptical shape of the bays and the fact that they are all rimmed with sand banks on their southeastern edges, many scientists believe that they were formed by asteroids. Others researchers tend to believe that erosion led to their creation.

When I visit the bays I try to arrive as early as possible to beat the harsh sun and wind that makes photographing the many orchids and pitcher-plants extremely difficult. Early morning is also a great time to spot animals as the preserves are brimming with wildlife including black bears, bobcats and abundant bird-life. LOBHP is mainly composed of dense evergreen shrub bogs (known as pocosins) and long leaf pine savannas. These moist, open areas are easier to access for photography and I have spent many visits in an area smaller than an acre.

I will be visiting the preserve again in a few days and am really looking forward to exploring deeper into the pocosins and surrounding ecotones in hope of photographing venus-fly traps. The preserve can be intimidating if you don't know where you're going (and I really don't) so a lot of looking around is required. However, I never go home without a few really nice images and each time I visit I am able to zero-in of where the best places to explore are. I'll let you know what turns up!


Friday, May 16, 2008

Top 10 Macro Photography Blogs and Websites

I've gathered a list of my Top 10 favorite macro photography blogs and websites. Certain selections are included because of the photographic artistry and others because of the great how-to information that can be found on the page.

Oregon Wild
Oregon Wild is a wonderful blog by nature photographer Michael Durham. Although everything on the blog doesn't deal directly with macro, a great portion of it does and the conversational tone that is presented by Mr. Durham makes for a very interesting read.

Insect Photography
This is the website of one of the most brilliant macro photographers on the scene, Piotr Naskrecki. I am always inspired by his work and believe that you will be too. His book, "The Smaller Majority" should be on the bookshelf of every inspiring nature photographer.

Macro Art in Nature
Fellow South Carolinian Michael Brown shares his thoughts about macro photography and art in his blog entitled Macro Art in Nature. His work has a lovely, impressionistic feel that is both beautiful and intriguing.

Plonsky Photo
This is a fantastic site for folks who just beginning to become interested in macro photography and want to learn how too improve their technical know-how. Dr. Plonksy's work is very technical in nature for those of you who are looking for a more scientific approach to macro.

Beetles in the Bush
This blog is like a walk in the woods. I enjoy reading about Missouri entomologist Ted M.'s daily adventures in nature and photography. I believe that you will too!

Insect Macro Photography
Insect Macro Photography is a website by Pennsylvania macro photographer Paul McNelis which contains both an original, ongoing collection of bug photos taken since 2005 as well as a daily blog about the insects that he encounters in the field.

Myrmecos Blog
This is an informative blog with lots of biological info that those of you with an interest in natural sciences will really enjoy. It is the creation of University of Arizona biologist Alex Wild who uses macro photography as part of scientific work on the evolutionary history of insect groups.

Mark Moffet - Portfolio
Although Dr. Mark Moffett, AKA Dr. Bugs, doesn't have a blog, his photography is absolutely incredible. He is the Indiana Jones of the Insect Photography world and his travels have allowed him to make some really great images. This is his portfolio at Minden Pictures. He is also happens to be a very nice guy and was kind of enough to answer some of my most basic questions when I began my journey several years ago.

Mitsuhiko Imamori - Portfolio
Mitsuhiko Imamori is one of my favorite macro photographers. I really enjoy the subtlety in his work and the dreamlike quality of many of his photographs. He is also represented by Minden Pictures.

The is a blog for the casual macro photographer who just enjoys getting closer to nature and seeing the world from a different perspective.

Hope you all enjoy visiting these sites as much as I have. If you have any more suggestions please let me know!

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Room to Roam

The more time that I spend photographing animals in the field, the more that I've begun to pull away from the tight, crisp, maximum depth-of-field shots that I used to make early-on in my career. Initially, I was so intrigued by what I was photographing that I failed to capture much more than just a shell of subject. It took me a while to realize that there were so many folks who literally had thousands of scientifically accurate photographs in their files of just about anything that I could imagine. It also didn't take long for me to realize that the photographs that I was selling –that really grabbed viewer's attention– were not the perfectly sharp, show-it-all type of images. Jim Brandenburg certainly had a great influence on this departure in my work through his masterpiece, Looking for Summer but it was only this year that I believe that I've finally 'let go' of worrying about making images to fit a certain niche. My subject-matter is still –and I suspect will always be– nature based but I don't worry so much about getting it all in focus. What I'm looking forward is narrative, imagination and passion in my work. In order to reach their maximum potential, every artist must come to a place where he or she realizes that there will only ever be one of themselves in this world and that they will be doing the everyone a disservice if they deny their own unique voice.

I photographed this black rat-snake last weekend on a photo hike with my friend and fellow photographer Greg Kiniry. It was hard not to go in tight on this beautiful creature at first, but as it worked its way toward the rock I anticipated that there might be an opportunity to do something special. Although I had captured several frames before this image presented itself I knew that I wanted to keep the snake small in the frame and give him room to move through its environment. For me, there is a beauty in the image's simplicity that is both closer to what might encounter in the wild and also somewhat symbolic –not intentionally– of where I am at in my life. I don't want to be boxed in. I need room to expand; to grow. I am excited about this turn in my photographic experience and feel that I'm finally hitting my stride.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Pencil-Case Bean Bag for Macro

As usual, in pursuit of inexpensive camera supplies I set out to find a good alternative to commercial grade photography bean bags.

To those of you who are new to macro, bean bags are very a useful tool for subjects that lie very low to the ground. Even if you are fortunate enough to own a tripod that can be adjusted to lie quite flat, some subjects remain either too delicate or too short to work well with a tripod. Therefore, the next best solution is a bean bag. It is a very simple and easy-to-use tool that will often reward the photographer sharp images that would otherwise be impossible to make. To use the bean-bag you simply place it near your subject, sit the camera on top and apply pressure with both hands while pressing the shutter. It is (sounds as) simple as that.

One would think that finding a bean bag would be really simple in any craft store or mega-mart but I found this to not be the case. The ones that I did find were just too small for my purposes. To be useful, you really need a bag that is somewhere in the neighborhood of approximately 8" x 10" (for a pro grade slr). You also need a bag that can be sufficiently thick enough to allow your camera to sink into the beans, pebbles, etc. that fill the bag. So, the solution turned out to be a $3.00 jumbo pencil case from the school supplies aisle at my local grocery store. Not only is it cheap, tough and affordable but it also didn't require me to alter it any way– I had considered sewing my own. Another bonus is that it is really handy for carrying filters, etc when I'm traveling and I can remove the beans before packing to avoid unnecessary weight. When I arrive in a location where the bag will be needed I can simply stop by any supermarket and purchase some dry beans to fill it up. Also, I can use the beans to make a trail so that I don't get lost in the woods or feed an angry bean-eating bear on the attack. Okay, those two scenarios only happen 3-5 times a year but you get the idea.

Hope this helps.


Sunday, May 11, 2008

USA Today Macro Photography Article

For those of you who are just beginning your journey into the world of macro photography –and who didn't get enough of an overview from my posts, Intro to Macro Photography 1, 2 & 3 – check-out this article published in USA Today which gives a nice, albeit brief summary, of the basics of macro photography.

Intro to Macro Photography: Part 3: Critical Techniques

III. Critical Technical Skills for the Beginner–

1.) Understanding Depth-of-Field and Shutter-Speed:
Depth-of-field revolves refers to the sharply and softly focused parts of an image. If an image is mostly soft with only a small section –say an animal’s eyes or the edge of flower’s petal– in sharp focus then you could say that it has a shallow depth-of-field. However, if the image–let’s imagine that it is a landscape, for example– has a sharp background, sharp middle ground, and a sharp image in the foreground then it has a great depth-of-field. In John Shaw’s “Nature Photography Field Guide” (see 'great books' on right side bar) he outlines the four factors which determine the area of sharpness.

“1.) The actual f-stop at which the picture is taken. 2.) The focal length of the lens being used 3.) The size of the subject being photographed and 4.) The distance between the camera and the subject.”

If you examine your S.L.R. lens you will notice a series of f-stops which go around its barrel. This series of markings represent the size of the aperture –or opening– of the iris of the lens. This is determined by whatever f-stop is chosen by the user. This series of numbers typically run from f/2.8, f/4, f/5.6, f/8, f/11, f/16, f/22 and f/32.

Consider the following thoughts:

- The smaller the f-stop number (f/2.8, for ex); the larger the aperture; the shallower the depth-of-field; the more light that comes into the camera.

- The larger the f-stop number (f/32, for ex.); The smaller the aperture; the greater the depth-of-field; the less light that goes into the camera.

This really confused me when I first began learning how to operate a pro camera until I realized the that numbers represented fractions, i.e.: f/2.8 divided by 2 = @ f/4 , f/4 divided by 2 = @ f/5.6 and so on.

Shutter-Speeds control how fast the camera’s shutter opens and closes. This effects the amount of light that comes into the camera and also can determine whether or not an image is in sharp or in soft-focus. Shutter speeds are also listed in fractions (of a second). So, a shutter speed of 1 second is going to keep the aperture open longer than, say, one at 1/1000 of second. If you are wanting to capture a sharp image of a moving subject you must typically set your aperture at 1/125 of a second or less.

There are two approaches that you will most likely have to choose between when composing an image: aperture priority or shutter priority. A good example of a typical aperture priority image might be a “classic Ansel Adams” type of landscape. This is a situation in which you want every rock, tree and tumble weed from where you stand, to the distant horizon, to be in sharp focus. In order for this to occur you are going to want “stop-down” to your smallest aperture (f/22 - f/32 in most cases). Because this is a very small aperture very little light will be entering the camera which can affect the exposure time. So, you must compensate for this by choosing a much slower shutter speed in order to allow the needed light to enter the camera.

A shutter priority image is one where you want to freeze some sort of movement. It might be that you are photographing a sports event and want to make sure that the ball is frozen in mid-air or perhaps you are trying to capture a crystal clear image of a salmon leaping its way up some Alaskan river; either of these would be shutter priority images.

2.) Paralleling the Subject:
When you are creating a close-up photograph of a small subject camera position can have an incredible impact of the results that you get. Because depth-of-field is usually very limited when a subject is being photographed at 1:1 or greater, a movement of just an inch can drastically alter the composition. The photographer must identify the ‘important’ part of the subject that he/she would like to have in sharp focus and attempt to keep the back of the camera (or film plane/digital sensor) as parallel with the subject as possible. This process is very time consuming but can be made easier by using a sturdy tripod to hold the position of the camera.

IV. Composition Techniques–

1.) The Rule of Thirds:
This is one of the most widely used ‘rules’ in photography: Mentally divide the image the image frame into three equal pieces horizontally/vertically and place your subject into one of these spaces. This will help you to avoid placing the image in the center (which is generally not a good ideas but as with most rules, there are exceptions). This will put you on the right path towards creating an image that is interesting and visually pleasing.

2.) Horizontal or Vertical?:
Consider your subject before defaulting to a “horizontal” or “vertical” composition. Although we Westerners tend to scan information from left to right and find a horizontal composition to be a natural choice this isn’t always the best choice. Some images simply call for a vertical composition.

3.) Understanding the Relationship Between Positive and Negative Space:
It is human nature to just focus on the subject when making an image. However, the negative space –or space surrounding your subject– is often as powerful as the main focus area when it comes to affecting how an image appears. If used correctly, negative space can give the viewer’s eye a chance to rest and serves to guide the eye throughout a composition. In order to take an image to the ‘next level’ every aspect of the composition becomes a factor in determining the final outcome.

4.) Pay Attention to Backgrounds:
I cannot tell you how many times I’ve taken what I consider to be a great image only to revisit it later and notice a twig that appears to pierce my subject’s head. Often, only a minor adjustment in camera position is needed to make a mediocre image into a truly great one. Pay attention to what is behind your subject! Use aperture to control how much or how little of the background is in focus; little things done well add up to make a successful photograph!

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Intro to Macro Photography: Part 2 - Equipment

II. Equipment For Macro Photography–

Many thousands of dollars can be spent on gear for macro photography. However, with a few initial investments many great images can be made.

1.) Cameras:
Today’s market is flooded with an overwhelming selection of camera styles, makes and models. When searching for a camera, be sure to first define what you will be using the camera for and take the time to do the appropriate research that is needed to make an intelligent decision. Otherwise, one may be tempted to purchase a camera based on ‘bells and whistles’ that may prove to be unsuitable for a particular application.

There are two main types of camera body styles: Point-and-shoot and S.L.R. (Single-Lens-Reflex). Most pros use the S.L.R. style of camera because of the flexibility that it offers the user. However, if the price of an S.L.R. doesn’t fit within your budget then I would recommend purchasing a point-and-shoot which comes packaged with the following features: 1) A macro or close-up setting 2) a tripod socket 3) a timer (to alleviate camera shake on long exposures) 4) an option to shoot high-resolution images (preferably raw files for the more serious amateur) 5) The option to shoot in manual mode and 6) a variety of flash settings. Many fine macro images can be made with an off-the-shelf point-and-shoot camera if it is loaded with at least some of the these features.

The advantage of S.L.R. style cameras is that they allow the budding macro photographer to have more control over the types of images that they make. They are designed to give the photographer an opportunity to swap and stack lenses as needed to improve or alter magnification. This very important feature (which I’ll address in more detail later) is very desirable for the macro photographer. Other important features found on most S.L.R. cameras are 1) Depth of Field Preview: This allows you to view what the camera is actually “seeing.” 2) Through the Lens Metering (may only work with automatic lenses) 3) Cable Release Socket: Allows a cable release to be attached which helps to eliminate ‘camera shake’ during long exposures 4) Professional style tripod socket. 5) Metering mode options 6) Raw capture: essentially a digital negative format which is very flexible when outputting images. The following items are not critical for the macro photographer but can certainly enhance images if they are used in conjunction with the items above: 1) Mirror lock-up 2) Through-the-lens-flash (TTL) and 3) a motordrive.

2.) Lenses (for the S.L.R.):
There are a variety of different ways to get close to your subject matter. However, the best methods always start with selecting the appropriate lens for the job.. Since this workshop is based on macro photography, I am going to discuss the lenses that will give you the best shot at that unforgettable image.

Macro Lenses: These specialized lenses can often be one of the most expensive pieces of gear in your bag. Fortunately, a great majority of these indispensable tools offer incredible clarity and image quality. One of the best focal lengths for clarity is the 50mm macro lens (it also makes an excellent portrait lens). However, the shorter the focal-length, the shorter the working distance. Working Distance is defined as the amount of space that exists between the lens and your subject. This factor becomes very important when you are dealing with live specimens. If you don’t believe me, try walking up to a dragonfly in mid-day. Although field craft and knowledge of your subject-matter can greatly increase your odds of making a nice image –regardless of the working distance– some situations simply require a longer focal-length. 100mm and 200mm lenses offer a great amount of working distance and the quality will usually be there depending on the make and model.

Zoom Lenses: Zoom Lenses are incredibly popular amongst pros and amateurs alike because they typically present a great deal of flexibility when it comes to how a subject can be approached. A very popular range of zoom is 80-200mm. With this focal-length, most ‘macro-worthy’ subjects can be approached with relative ease. If used in conjunction with an extension tube (see below) and/or a teleconverter (see below) greater magnifications can be achieved. Another advantage of zoom lenses is that they ‘compress’ your subjects. For example, if you are photographing a group of wildflowers which are spaced apart, a zoom lens will create the illusion that the subject matter is closer together than it actually is.

Standard Fixed-Focal Length Lenses: Although fixed focal length lenses (50mm, 120mm, 200mm, etc) aren’t especially suited for macro photography, with the addition of supplementary diopters, teleconverters and extension tubes it becomes very possible to create some really nice images. This is especially true with longer lenses around 300mm.

3.) Extension Tubes:
Extension tubes are literally what they appear to be; tubes of differing lengths which extend the length of a lens. The extension tube moves the rear of the lens further away from the film plane or digital sensor. When this distance is increased, it allows a lens to focus more closely than when used in its normal range of focus.

4.) Teleconverters:
These handy devices –which are basically extension tubes with glass elements– can be a great way to increase the magnification capabilities of your lenses. They are available in two powers: 1.4x and 2x. By connecting a 2x teleconverter to a 300mm lens, for example, you will essentially upgrade your magnification to 600mm. This same multiplier (a term also used to describe teleconverters) can also allow you to increase a 1:1 ratio to 2:1 (or 2x life-size) when making a macro image. The downside of teleconverters is that they decrease the amount light coming into to the camera (because of the extra glass) which forces the photographer to either open up the aperture or slow down the shutter speed to compensate for this loss. There is also an increase in the amount of noise in the image. I have personally found that the issue with noise isn’t as noticeable with digital captures.

5.) Tripods:
A great tripod cannot be underestimated when it comes to making professional quality images. Although sharp images can be created by hand-holding a camera (especially when flash is used), a tripod becomes quite handy when photographing close-up subjects with available light. There are many, many models to choose from and choice is based on personal preference. However, for the macro photographer, a model that allows the legs to be extended to so that the camera can sit just inches above the ground is a very nice option. Most professional tripods do not include a tripod-head and, once again, a wide array of options are out there for the choosing.

6.) Cable Release:
This is an simple, yet invaluable, device that allows the photographer to activate the shutter without actually touching the camera. It basically consists of a long cord with a cable running through the inside. One end of the tool is screwed into the cable release socket and the other is held in-hand where a button is located. This serves to trip the shutter when it is pressed.

7.) Close-Up Diopters:
Diopters are glass elements which can be screwed onto the end of a standard focal length lens; essentially converting it into a macro lens. This option provides a photographer with a relatively inexpensive way to capture small subjects. However, the quality is often not that great and the resulting images often appear soft on the edges.

8.) Flash:
The use of a flash or flashes can really enhance a close-up image. Some subjects actually require the use of flash because of the lack of light that is often found at higher magnifications. There are many different ways to position the flash. When one off-camera flash is used the background will often appear black. Although in some schools of thought this approach has become undesirable I still believe that in many situations beautiful and striking images can be made. The black (or dark) background comes from light fall-off behind the main subject. For a more natural approach, dual off-camera or ring flashes can be used. This approach allows one flash to be focused in on the main subject and the other on the background which in-turn creates the impression of a more naturally lit scene.

Fill-flash is also a powerful effect to use on certain images. This technique employs a flash –not as a main source of light– but as an extra bit of illumination to fill in shadows and improve color definition.

9.) Using Reflectors:
Reflectors are white, silver or gold pieces of material which are used to bounce light into shadows or add warmth to an image. In macro photography –because of the small size of most subjects– something as simple as a piece of white card stock or the back of a hand can be used. If one is forced to make an image in mid-day harsh shadows can dominate your image. A reflector can really save the shot by opening up those blocked, dark areas with light

Tuesday, May 6, 2008


The following post is a Reprint from my March/April 2006 "Our Wild State" column in the South Carolina Magazine. This is one of the first plants that I've included in my sepia series and I'm really pleased with the way the image turned out. I can't help but be reminded of a cobra's hood when I look at the angle of the plant's spathe.

Jack-in-the-Pulpit (Arisaema triphyllum) Profile

Rising up from the damp forest floor, a strange “alien-like” plant has begun to unfurl itself in forests all across S.C. This botanical wonder redefines the imagine that most people have in mind when the word flower is mentioned: its smell isn’t sweet but fetid like carrion; its blooms are so tiny that they can barely be seen by the naked eye; and it is pollinated by flies instead of butterflies and birds. However, despite the aforementioned anomalies this “objet de nature” is a glorious plant worth seeking out and studying at ground level.

The Jack-in-the-Pulpit is a member of the Arum family of plants. While this name may not be familiar, most gardeners might be more familiar with its better known cousin the calla lily. Found throughout the world, Arums typically feature a flamboyant hood-like structure called a spathe—in this case the “pulpit” —which surrounds a pale spike called a spadix—our “Jack.” As with most Arums, Jack-in-the-pulpits can be male or female depending on its growing conditions and produces beautiful red berries at the end of its annual cycle.

Like many plants found throughout our state, the Jack-in-the-pulpit (nicknamed the “Indian Turnip”) was used as a food source by the Native Americans. However, it can cause severe stomach problems if ingested without being cooked first and will leave a lingering burning sensation in the mouth and throat. This plant should be considered poisonous unless properly prepared and is best to be enjoyed as a feast for the eyes.

The ideal time to look for the bloom of this unique plant is between April and June. Search areas where the moisture content is high such as stream banks and wet hardwood forests. There are several color variations within this species so be on the lookout for plants which range from a pale green to green with purple streaks. Because of this spectrum of appearances and other minute differences some scientists believe that this species should be divided into three sub-species. By autumn, the spathe (or hood) will likely be absent making discovery and identification much more difficult.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Macro Art in Nature

Fellow South Carolinian, Michael Brown has a really nice macro photography blog called. "Macro Art in Nature." If you are looking for inspiration check it out! He has some really nice work featured on the site and posts new content often.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Intro to Macro Photography: Part One

If there is one facet of nature photography that I enjoy the most it would have to be macro photography. I'm often asked how do I get so close to my subject matter; particularly when they happen to be of the slithering kind. Folks tend to think that it is often a result of expensive equipment and this just isn't the case. Although it is true that any investment in photographic equipment can be pricey, good field-craft, including a knowledge of your subject matter, will greatly increase One's ability to venture into the "miniature kingdom" that sounds surrounds us wherever we may be. As a result, I have decided to post, in several installments, a very basic introduction to macro photography in hopes that others may have the courage to venture into this very exciting –though often overlooked– photographic pursuit: macro photography.

Part One: What is Macro Photography?
As humans, we tend to believe that we are the norm in terms of size, body type, etc. However, this just isn’t so. In the natural world we are, in fact, looming giants gazing out across a thriving world that largely goes unnoticed by most. In his book, “The Smaller Majority,” biologist, author and photographer Piotr Naskrecki writes:

“Most of animal life on Earth is small. Over 90 percent of known species are smaller than a human finger, smaller, in fact, than your fingernail. Our perspective on reality is severely handicapped by our gargantuan size, rare giants surrounded by the smaller majority. Our enormous size prevents us from appreciating, or even noticing, most of what shares this planet with us...”

For the nature photographer this is exciting news! For the nature photographer who wishes to pursue macro photography, it is even more exciting! One’s awareness of this amazing fact opens up a portal into a world of many incredible photographic opportunities which lie just outside our back doors. In fact, I truly believe that there is as much beauty, action and excitement within walking distance of any our homes as that which is found on the Serengeti () plains of Africa; we just need to learn how to embrace this new perspective. Over time, I feel certain that it might just change your way of looking at life as we know it.

The purpose of this overview is to arm the beginner with the knowledge to 1) define macro photography, 2) learn how to select the right tools for most macro photographic opportunities, 3) apply the basic compositional and technical approach to making an image and 4) select some of the best times and ways to approach a given subject.

Before you get started on this adventure you first need to understand the true definition of macro photography which is: The process of photographing a subject at life size (1:1) up to 25x. This means that if you were shooting a lady bug on film, for example, you could hold the living subject next to the subject captured on film and the sizes of both would be identical.

Part two will focus on a more in-depth look at some basic equipment that can be used to photograph small subject matter.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Swiss Picture Bank

I saw this in the May 2008 edition of Outdoor Photographer Magazine and thought that it was pretty interesting. Basically, the Swiss Picture Bank is a service that allows you to upload images through a web-portal for just cents per image –three cents per compressed images and 15 cents for uncompressed. The Bank will then "make multiple copies of every picture, encrypt them and secure them on redundant servers housed in data centers located throughout Switzerland." If you need to retrieve a lost image you can download it at any time. This is a certainly an innovative way to archive your images and you can tell you friends that you have a "Swiss Bank Account." The only downside to this concept is that I didn't think of it first.