Playing with Photos

billboard photo of a cockatiel

I used PhotoFunia to put Zim on a billboard poster.


I’m trying to break through the pack ice of my creativity and see if I can break loose a few ideas. The problem with getting caught up with the idea of trying to sell your creative work, whether it’s writing or photography, is that you start to think in terms of whether or not you can sell a piece. I’m trying to back far enough away from that mindset so that I can take some throw-away pictures and see if I can come up with something fun. I’m trying not to think of it as a waste of time, because it really isn’t.

Having a smartphone with a camera has given me a “toy” to play with, as far as photography is concerned. Since I’m not carrying around my big camera I don’t feel like I have to produce a really good photo. It’s no big deal if the photo doesn’t turn out well because there’s no danger of it being “wrong.” So I take pictures of my birds occasionally simply because they’re available as (more or less willing) models. This usually gives me a bit of a challenge because they tend to move around a lot, and they can change from oh-so-cute little fluff balls into the meanest, angriest birds you’re likely to see this side of that popular game. Small they may be, but let me tell you, they know exactly where to bite your hand. And forget that nonsense about not biting the hand that feeds you — these birds have never heard that expression and wouldn’t understand it, either.

Zim poses for a Xolaroid 2000 portrait.

This is the original photo taken with the Retro Camera phone app, using the Xolaroid camera.


Okay, so on to photography. I used my Droid smartphone and Retro Camera to take the picture of Zim, and then I used the PhotoFunia application to upload the image and paste Zim’s photo into this billboard. You can see some of the graininess in the black-and-white image compared to the smoothness of the color part of the image. The whole thing is a bit silly, but it might be useful for a creativity prompt. I’m thinking of experimenting with some more of my informal pictures to use them for the Thursday Writing Prompts posts. This one would be a bit of a head-scratcher for a story, but maybe that’s what creative folks need — a bit of a jolt to get pushed off from those mental icebergs.

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Enter the Bison

We went to Yellowstone National Park the first week of September, so it was not prime tourist season. There were a few traffic jams during our time in the park. One was caused by a huge motor home that hadn’t quite made a U-turn and apparently got stuck trying to maneuver underneath a tree branch or something. Fortunately that didn’t last long, but looking at the bumper of the car ahead of me is not really what I’m after on vacation. At least there were pine trees out the side window to look at. Other traffic jams were caused by people trying to find places to pull over so they could take pictures of bears, bison, or elusive elk.

herd of bison

Bison grazing on the river bank.

We saw one bear that was very far away and only looked like a speck. Even a telephoto lens wouldn’t have been enough to make taking its picture really worthwhile. I think we saw one elk as it disappeared behind a grove of small trees. But the bison were nearly everywhere. The first afternoon we spotted a herd on the opposite bank of the river. Fortunately, there was a parking area here so we were able to get out of the car and walk down to the river. The area was big enough that people weren’t elbow-to-elbow trying to take pictures. The area was nicely wooded but wasn’t so dense that it made for a difficult trek.

They warn you to stay away from the bison. These are big, heavy animals and they’ve been known to charge cars. In short, don’t piss them off by poking your camera or finger into their faces. Since they were on the other side of the river it was probably not too dangerous to walk around a little, and I’m sure we could have sprinted for the car if any of them had decided to cross the water. But they were pretty interested in grazing and relaxing and didn’t seem to pay attention to the puny humans scattered on the opposite river bank.

American bison

An American bison in Yellowstone National Park.

Later, we were driving along the main road and there were a few bison off to the right-hand side of the road and a few more up ahead of us. We were watching the ones ahead, because the cars in front of us were slowing down and traffic was becoming a bit intense. I saw a movement out of the corner of my eye and found a bison standing about ten feet away from our car. He wasn’t moving very fast, and I was able to roll the window down just enough that I didn’t have to take his picture through the glass. I managed to get a couple of good shots of him as he strolled by the car.

Empty Nest

So, what happened to the robins? That’s what I’d like to know — one afternoon I came home from work and the nest was empty. No shells, no mess anywhere, no sign that the nest had even been disturbed. But all of the eggs were gone.

I have a few theories about what kind of animal got to them. We’ve seen opossum and raccoons in our yard often enough, so they are the most likely suspects. The neatness of the empty nest makes me think that whatever got to the eggs was able to lift them and carry them off, which is why I don’t think that a dog or cat got to the nest. They would have needed to scoop out the eggs, and would at least have disturbed some of the twigs. And a dog big enough to reach the nest would have had a hard time not destroying the nest with its paws. A cat could have nimbly scooped out the eggs, but then would it have been able to carry the egg neatly away, or eat it without leaving a mess behind? Squirrels are also a possibility, but I’m not sure they could pick up something as big as a robin egg without dropping it.

Anyways, with the nest emptied, the robin never returned to it. It remains a mystery.

Robins-to-be

A robin built her nest on this roll of electrical wire.
This is the nest that the robin built on a roll of electrical wire. Last weekend the nest was empty, and by Monday there was one egg. Tuesday there were two eggs, and by Thursday there were three. I took the photo of the eggs then. By the end of the week, the robin had laid another egg, for a grand total of four.

She’s been afraid to enter her nest when we’re out on the porch, but she’s going to have to get used to us being there. Yesterday we moved the box away from the corner of the porch so that it’s almost underneath the bathroom window. I thought I could be clever and take photos of the robin and her brood from inside the house. I went into the bathroom and looked through the venetian blinds. I don’t know if she heard me, or else she has really, really good eyesight, but the robin immediately looked up at me when I got near the window. And I thought I was being quiet!

I looked up some robin information, and found out that the Latin name for them is Turdus migratorius. No, that isn’t a joke! The Latin word turdus means “thrush,” and the American Robin is actually a species of thrush rather than a separate species.

Three robin eggs in a nest built on a roll of electrical wire.

Robins will eat fruit as well as insects and worms, but they’re frequently seen hopping through the grass looking for earthworms. It’s a common misconception that robins can hear worms moving about underneath the ground. When they stand with their head inclined to the side, they are actually just looking at the ground.

Because their eyes are on the side of their heads, robins have a very wide range of vision, but they don’t see very well directly in front of them. Their binocular vision is limited — unlike humans, cats, or owls — which have eyes on the front of their faces rather than off to the side. The robins can’t move their eyes the way we can, either, so they have to move their whole head. It’s just easier for them to look at the ground with one eye, and this is why they tilt their heads.