Weird, Wild Winter

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This winter has been fairly mild, but if weather can be called bipolar, then that’s what we have. Last week we had temperatures of almost 70 degrees and within two days the temperatures were back down in the 30s, with tremendous wind gusts. Is it summer? Winter? Noooo …. it’s all-seasons-in-one. These meteorological mood swings are hard enough on people, but the spring flowering trees and bulbs don’t know whether to bloom or not, and this wreaks havoc on the cherry blossoms.

Nevertheless, it’s “crocus watch” season here. Sooner or later those cheerful little flowers are going to appear. I never see them coming. I look and look for their green leaves amongst the leaf litter, but I just don’t see it. And then, one day when the sun is out — Presto! It’s a crocus. I swear they pop out of the ground overnight! So, I’ve been keeping an eye out but it’s too early. This lovely purple and white crocus photo is from a few years ago and I’ve doctored it with Topaz Impressions filter and added some texture.

In other photography news, I’ve just bought a light tent and two LED tabletop lamps to do some still-life photography. The tent is much bigger than I thought it would be and frankly, the thing is big enough I could crawl into it. I’ve ironed the nylon backdrops but they’re still a bit creased, so I will deal with that when the time comes. This is where controlling aperture is a good thing — and that’s something phone cameras don’t allow you to do.

I’m assembling other things for the still-life photo shoots, too, such as art papers for backgrounds and an assortment of tools and clips for holding the papers in place. The lamps came with yellow and blue filters, but I’ve also ordered a swatch book of filter gels and hope they can be cut to fit the lamps. Stay tuned for more posts on photography in the near future.

Is it finally spring?

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The weather has been so strange this year. Just a week ago it snowed. I went to the Mid-Atlantic Conference on British Studies in Baltimore and on Saturday afternoon we were treated to snow flurries. Plus, it was bitterly cold and windy. Walking from the conference center back to the hotel where I had parked my car was nearly unbearable. The only thing that kept me from running back to the garage was the thought that I would fall prey to cold-induced asthma, so I pulled my scarf over my ears and kept trudging.

Today the temperature is in the 70s and I’m ready to turn on the air conditioner. As soon as it gets warm here in the Washington metro area the humidity shoots up and it just gets gross. Of course, it rained today so the humidity is high, but pretty much from now until next October it’s going to be humid. Ugh.

On a positive note, it looks like spring is finally here. My lone yellow crocus survived the cold snap and has been joined by about twenty other crocuses in a variety of spring colors. I think the harsh winter gave me spring fever, because today I went to a local nursery and got a narcissus plant for indoors and a new planter for my African violet. And a pair of pink flamingos for the front yard. I may have spring fever, but it seems that I’ve been bitten by the retro bug, too.

Photographing the Office Plant

It’s that time of year again: the Christmas cactus (or holiday cactus, if you prefer) is in bloom. But this isn’t one of the plants I’ve had for years. Around February I accidentally knocked a segment of two leaves off one of my established plants, so I potted them up and took them into the office. Within a few weeks the two leaves became four, then eight or nine, then twenty. I stopped counting at 87 leaves because I figured the plant was pretty well established by then, plus it was getting harder to keep track of them. In November the plant started setting buds, so I did a flower watch and took my camera in to work once the cactus started blooming.

In the top image is the original photo, which I photographed with a Nikon Coolpix S6200, using the selective color mode. It’s a fun tool to play around with. I like the image, but the red is a bit too vibrant against the black-and-white for my tastes. It’s actually harsh, and it doesn’t convey the feeling that I want. So I loaded the file into Photoshop and started playing with the Topaz BW Effects filters. I applied the “Hand Tinted Chiffon” preset from the Opalotype Collection, and then clicked on “Simplify” in the Creative Effects menu. The result is a nice dreamy image that accentuates the plant by vignetting the edges. The fiery red is toned down to a pale color, so it’s a little easier on the eyes. And the simplify changes the sharp focus into an artistic rendering by reducing the number of colors in the image.

Cactus Flower

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This flower belongs to a Christmas cactus (also called a “holiday cactus”). We have two plants that we bought at a hardware store a couple of years ago. Although I don’t fuss over them they’re pretty hardy plants and have bloomed every year. They start forming buds sometime in mid to late November and usually bloom for several weeks. A single flower seems to last about a week before it shrivels up.

I wanted to take some photos of the plants but didn’t get around to pulling my SLR out of my camera bag. Pretty much we came back from vacation and just stopped doing anything with the cameras. I guess the work routine just takes too much effort. I decided to try Retro Camera, a free phone application that I have on my Droid. I think this was taken with the Little Orange Box camera.

The cactus has drooping foliage so the flowers tend to hang down. The way I got this shot was to lie on the floor and photograph the flower from below. Sometimes you just need to try different angles to get an interesting photograph. Taking shots of the flowers from the sides just didn’t give me the image that I wanted and there was too much background. The Retro Camera is fun but the phone camera doesn’t give you the option to play with lens aperture so that you can control the depth of field like an adjustable SLR lens does.

If you find yourself stuck with a phone camera or other non-adjustable camera, try low-tech approaches to your photography. Change the angle of the photograph and be selective of what you allow in the background. With a plant or something small you might be able to pick up your subject and reposition it so the background isn’t a problem. With landscapes you obviously can’t do that, so you need to move. Try to envision what you want your final image to be and take a good look at what you’re actually photographing. You don’t want to get back home from that once-in-a-lifetime vacation and find that all the people in your photos have trees sprouting from the middle of their heads or that you just didn’t quite focus the camera.