Tuesday, 31 July 2012
The view from the end of McDonald Rd., along the southeastern shore of the Salton Sea. Millet Island hides secret boobies in the distance. Not too long ago you could drive to the end of practically any road west of Davis Rd.
Somehow I've managed to avoid reading any hype, advertising or reviews related to the Salomon XT Wings 3. To date I've put about 60 miles on my first pair -- including a couple of 16-20 mile runs in the San Gabriel Mountains. Following are my first impressions of this $140 shoe.
Altogether I've run in about 20 pairs of XT Wings and XT Wings 2. I run almost exclusively on trails. Racing is not my focus, but I run a few ultras each year, as well as several 15K-30K races. Most weekends I do a longer run in the mountains. I have a D-width, neutral, high-arched foot. My foot strike varies, but tends to be more mid-foot than on the heel.
Wow, was I surprised when I pulled these shoes out of the box! Rather than a tweaked version of the XT Wings 2, the XT Wings 3 looked like a completely new shoe -- kind of a blend of the Salomon SpeedComp, SpeedCross and XT Wings 2. My overall impression was one of increased precision, performance and versatility.
After weighing the shoes (25 oz/pair - size 9), I compared the outsoles. Big changes here. Gone is the wider heel and platform that has characterized the XT Wings line. The sole now sports chevron-shaped lugs, similar to the SpeedCross. In my opinion this is a more versatile design, and traction should be improved on a variety of surfaces. The lugs should also help forefoot cushioning. I also noted the density of the heel strike pad appears to have been increased.
Twisting the shoe along its length, the XT Wings 3 appeared to be stiffer torsionally. There's a new toe cap, and since I've already kicked a couple of rocks, I can attest that it is more protective than earlier versions. Another change is the heel cup is now more anatomically shaped.
The fit of the XT Wings 3 is comfortable, but more snug than the XT Wings 2. Perhaps because of my high-arched foot, the reduced mid and forefoot volume in the XT Wings 3 is more evident. It fits me more like the SpeedComp or SpeedCross. I have to carefully adjust the speed-lacing to ensure there is not too much pressure on the top of my foot. The difference in the volume is particularly noticeable after running in the XT Wings 3 several days and then switching back to the XT Wings 2.
So how did the XT Wings 3 run? Very well! Other than having to carefully adjust the speed-lacing, I had no issues with the shoe. Cushioning, comfort, traction and protection all seemed good. It's difficult to evaluate in just a few runs, but the more narrow platform of the XT Wings 3 may make it a little less roll resistant on uneven surfaces than the XT Wings 2.
There are always trade-offs in design, and runners are VERY particular about their shoes. One shoe cannot be ideal for all runs and all runners. I have to put more miles on XT Wings 3 to see where it works best for me. Based on my initial impressions, I think I would tend to use the XT Wings 3 on faster paced runs where precision and performance are important. I still have several pairs of the XT Wings 2, and the longer the run, the more likely I will be to use the XT Wings 2 -- a shoe that has worked exceedingly well for me.
PhotographyontheRun.com Copyright 2006-2012 Gary Valle. All Rights Reserved.
This photo is a master piece in my humble opinion. It has light, depth, levels, the eye is just overloaded with wonderful things to view and ponder and enjoy!
If there ever was a photographer that I noticed, and was like wow, and thought for a moment....
This guy is about LIGHT.
I kind of want to shoot at sunrise and sunset or not at all after seeing these images.
Check out his flickr site and be amazed like I have been so far. I can't wait to explore some more.
The photograph above is of telescope "E1" of Georgia State University's six telescope CHARA optical/infrared interferometric array on Mt. Wilson. The long tubes extending from the telescope enclosure are vacuum light tubes. These carry light from each of the six one meter telescopes to a facility where the beams are processed and combined. The photograph is from a recent run on the Mt. Wilson Rim Trail.
Other things being equal, a telescope's ability to discern detail is determined by its aperture. In a conventional telescope the aperture is the width of the main optical element. The majority of telescopes used by amateurs have apertures well under 0.5 m. Larger professional optical telescopes can range from a couple of meters up to about 10 m. The Hooker telescope on Mt. Wilson has an aperture of 2.5 m and the 200" Hale telescope on Mt. Palomar about twice that. Hubble's primary mirror has a diameter of 2.4 meters.
The benefit of a telescope array is that when the light from two telescopes is combined, the combined instrument's ability to discern detail -- its resolving power -- is nearly the same as a telescope with an aperture equal to the distance between the telescopes. This distance is termed a baseline. The Y-shaped CHARA Array has 15 baseline configurations ranging from 31 to 331 meters.
The CHARA Array's large effective aperture, the successful application of leading edge optical technologies, and exceptionally steady atmosphere over Mt. Wilson have produced a number of astronomical imaging "firsts," including an image of the surface of a main sequence star (Altair) and images of an interacting binary star system with a suggestion of mass transfer between the pair.
The Altair imagery above is from a University of Michigan News Release that accompanied the publication of the paper "Imaging the Surface of Altair" by Monnier et al., 2007, Science.
The image above is from a remarkable animation of a sequence of images of the interacting binary star system Beta Lyrae. (Zhao et al. ApJ 684, L95)
For more information see the Georgia State University CHARA Array web site.
PhotographyontheRun.com Copyright 2006-2012 Gary Valle. All Rights Reserved.
Monday, 30 July 2012
One of the 3 Osprey chicks from the nest in Maryland.
With this blog post I'm going to show how I edit and crop for effect. Here's the original photo with no cropping and just my base Lightroom import settings. These Lightroom settings include - saturation, whitebalance, and defringe edge correction. I have a preset for the settings I like to use as my own defaults for import. It took me a little while to come up with them, nothing too special, I just got tired of doing the same settings every time. Once these defaults are applied I often tweak them more.
The nest is distracting and the twig on the right meant I needed to crop tight. If I had a longer lens I would have shot tighter...
Levels adjusted to white out the background and contrast added to make the bird's tones stronger.
The feathers around the chicks neck were also sharpened using Unsharp Mask in Photoshop. Generally I do a couple minutes in Lightroom, and then a couple minutes to reduce the image for posting and add the final adjustments like sharpening in Photoshop.
I think to be a successful nature/wildlife photographer you have to be judgmental! What do I mean by that? Well here goes...
To make animal photos that are more than snapshots, more than an "oh look, click!" type of photo it takes skill in observation. It takes time to see and think like the subject. To make predictions and try to either put yourself in the right spot at the right time or to let something play out the way you would like.
In my recent shooting of the osprey nest here in Maryland I've noticed a few things, and tried a few things, and had pretty good luck.
The first time I visited this nest, was a couple or more months ago when the female was on eggs, so no chicks yet. What I noticed was the nest was super close to land. Having seen a nest or two that was too close for the bird's comfort I was excited and a bit cautious. I decided to wait to come back. And by the time I came back again 2 of the 3 chicks were fledged.
When I got there a walked up near the nest, and got the usual yips from the chicks and more from the mom. After a minute she calmed down, and I also backed off a bit. After that and a little time it almost became hard to get a reaction from them. I didn't want to them to fly off the nest or anything, it was just odd that they didn't care so much, even if I was pretty close.
It was then that I knew they were used to people being in the area and while aware of it all, they could deal with it well. Later visits I'd get close, back off, other people would come by or a boat or a plane and the additional activity might make them fly.
Judging the circumstances and their behavior - on more than one occasion I backed away from the nest and sat down, or generally looked away did my thing to let them watch and come back to the nest, and not be bothered by my presence. This tactic worked.
If you've watch an osprey nest you are probably aware that the adults are big and can take care of themselves well, be it a crow or an eagle, or another osprey that is a threat. But they can also be skittish and fly away from the nest if bothered or not come back if a person is too close.
I've watched that series "In to the lions den" and I think a lot can be learned from it. The guys approach is to be super observant and to build awareness of animal behavior. Then to take that knowledge and try to build trust with the animals so you can come to a common ground where you just are there, and they don't get bothered by his presence. In the show he used this technique to go from roaring lions at 150 yards, to laying down on the ground unprotected at around 15 feet from the pride!
While I'm not him, and these aren't lions, observing osprey and trying to make all kinds of judgments as to their thoughts and your actions has led to some great chances at photographs.
This particular location is odd and great in that the birds are close and NOT bothered by people that much. They've become habituated to people being in the area. And the calmness of the adults has carried over to the chicks. This weekend the 3rd chick fledged (or had just done so the day before). Using past experience I'd say that birds which aren't comfortable - that can fly away - will fly away if bothered. This weekend the birds didn't fly away due to me being there at all I think. I even got as close as the shore would allow, and got the occasional stare but not much else.
Then came the male. I hadn't seen him all that much. In the week or so of observation I'd been wanting to see all 5 birds (2 adults and 3 chicks). When the male visited late in the day, he flew by and buzzed the nest and fly off. Having seen this same skittishness in the male from a different nest I watched last year, I backed off and waited and within a few minutes he came back and delivered a fish.
Last year when I saw this skittishness I tried to avoid taking shots after that first fly by on the nest. Holding off worked sometimes but he was still skittish. And this testing it out on my part was difficult at times because I wasn't the only photographer there. The other guys did try it too and it seemed to help but the birds were uneasy and with multiple people it is a hard thing to control and gain insight from. Imagine if that Lion guy was trying to get to be friends with a lion pride and was doing it while part of a group of 3 people!?@
This weekend when the male flew by I took the initial shots of him flying, backed off/away and he came back. Then he went and caught more fish and I repeated the same thing but moved off quicker and he came back quicker too.
The point of this is to be observant, be in the moment, watch for signs of discomfort in subjects and possible causes which you might control - like movement, distance from subject, noise you're making, etc. Animals will give signs of their comfort or lack there of, and often will do it before they are ready to fly away.
Watching nests can be pretty easy as a photographer, and pretty stressful on the birds if you get too close or don't watch for the signs and respond to them. It is a common things for birds to abandon eggs or even young chicks if they're bothered. When approached properly though getting to see the variety of behavior and interactions between adults and offspring can be very rewarding.
As a photographer I like to be thoughtful and question my own actions. I also like to watch others and then wonder to myself if I'd do it the same way or differently given the chance. To get close and get close photos takes more than a long lens. It takes time to observe and learn, and time to experiment and to try again and again.
This spring I spent more than a couple days hunting around for the new perfect spot to try to shoot osprey. I had two in mind and my fall back spot turned in to the better one. In a couple evenings and a couple afternoons I shot around 60GBs of stuff (osprey and a couple green herons). I'm going to try to go back and get more of the adults and especially the chicks fishing. I've seen 1 or 2 of the chicks hunting and been surprised how clumsy they are, but how well they do too.
Make plans! Summer will be wrapping up before you know it and Fall migration will be upon us. What will you do to see better things, take better photos and make this Fall your best? I'm going to visit some new spots, as well as some spots that were new to me last year.
We talked a few weeks ago about maintaining a file of good public shooting locations. But the longer you have been shooting/living in an area, the more likely you are to have built up a stash of good private locations, too.
One of my local favorites is this courtyard, which can pretty easily pass for Europe. Not surprising, as it was modeled after a courtyard in Assisi, Italy.
That's the benefit of having a collection of good private shooting spaces, which is usually a combination of active searching, luck and serendipity. Read more �
I've never seen a porcupine den other than in Jim's photos, so I was excited to make this trip. There were 2 trees within walking distance of each other, but we were satisfied to examine the tree that was closest to the road. The easiest way to find a porcupine den, I would say, is to look for a developing mound of poo at the base of a tree. This indicates a den that has been used for a good number of years. My National Audubon Society Field Guide to Mammals seems to indicate that the tree dens are used primarily during winter months, but if you read Jim's post about the tree den they encountered last year (in late May), there was indeed a porcupine in residence. In addition to using trees for shelter, they will also use crevices and caves.
Most scat I choose to poke at with a stick. This stuff, however, was so dry that I had no qualms holding it in my hand.
Porcupines are strict herbivores, so there's not really much that would make their poo smell bad. In fact, this scat had no real odor to it at all. I have no idea how fresh it was, though, so it's possible that any smell it may have given off had faded long ago.
Yessir, this is what being a naturalist is all about. Not only holding the poo in your hand, but being willing to go on record with a picture that shows that it is, in fact, YOUR hand that is holding it! No snide remarks from the peanut gallery, okay? It doesn't show up well for some reason, but please note the "No Trespassing" sign on the tree. The porcupine, if it was in there, may have been annoyed by us rooting around in its toilet, but we did have permission from the property owner to be there.
Nina got in on the poo exploration, too. Have you ever seen two ladies so happy to be surrounded by scat?
Here's Jim sticking his camera into the entrance hole of the den, in hopes of finding someone home (I haven't yet heard the verdict on that photo), while Nina examines the pile of excreta.
As I mentioned above, porcupines are herbivores, and in addition to feeding on leaves, twigs, and plants such as lupine and clover, they are also fond of tree bark, especially the inner layer of the bark (known as the cambium). Here's an interesting fact presented by the aforementioned Audubon guide to mammals:
"Fond of salt, the Common Porcupine has a great appetite for wooden tool handles that have absorbed human perspiration through use."Better keep your wooden-handled trowels and shovels locked safely away in the shed if you live in porcupine territory, which covers most of the western United States, almost all of Canada, northern Michigan, and most of Pennsylvania, New York and New England. (Interestingly, there was no mention of how they otherwise work salt into their diet.)
After we had thoroughly exhausted our exploration of the mound of excrement, we set off to look for other things. As luck would have it, though, perhaps our greatest find of the evening was a real live porcupine located in the up-most portion of a small, spindly aspen tree. This quilled creature was nowhere near the den we had investigated, so we did not find the resident of that specific den, but this was still a great sight to behold.
I spotted this "porky" up in the tree, and as we edged closer, we fully expected to see the tree simply bend over under his weight. The tree was smaller in diameter than my arm, and the tree - along with the porcupine - swayed easily in the breeze. After reading up on them, I learned that they are adept climbers, and actually spend a lot of their time in trees, sometimes even resting there during the day (they are primarily nocturnal, or active during the night). They are slow and deliberate in their climbing, as our small group observed. This porcupine would back down the tree a few feet, and then inch back up and return to the spot where he was when we found him. He seemed a bit baffled by our presence at first, but soon forgot about us and began foraging on the leaves of a neighboring aspen tree. He would used his long claws to hook onto a nearby branch and then draw it towards him, at which point he commenced stripping the leaves from their stalks.
We watched him feed for at least 15 minutes, wondering if he would ever come down. He never showed any inclination to descend while we had our eyes on him. Dusk was coming on quickly when we found him, so he was probably just beginning his nightly routine. We were very lucky, indeed, to be able to observe him like this. It's certainly an experience I won't soon forget!
Sunday, 29 July 2012
What's neat about shooting at Chincoteague is getting to see some new behavior.
On a previous trip I was watching the herons and egrets and noticed how the gulls group up with them. The gulls don't seem to bother the herons and egrets much but they do key off of them - some times stealing their catch. What was interesting to watch though was how the gulls imitate the snowy egrets. The egrets will use their feet to stir up the bottom and get critters to reveal themselves. I saw a gull using its feet in the same way, it had to have learned it from the herons and egrets.
Shooting across from the visitors center out near the beach is surprisingly good. I would have thought the traffic or other visitors might detract, but it worked well.
I have this low LL Bean chair, it sits about 4 inches off the ground and makes for a nice seat to use and stay low, and off the sometimes wet/muddy ground.
One thing that I try to avoid is shooting from head high, tripod high, for no reason. Often I will collapse the legs on my tripod to the shortest height and then sit down, or I will extend the legs just slightly and kneel or crouch. I've only gone in to a full horizontal shooting stance a few times, but getting that low makes a difference. The two main things are the angle is more intimate, being closer to the subject, and the other thing it does is makes me less imposing - so I am not towering over a 1 feet subject standing 6 feet tall. Staying low can make a big difference like this. A couple of trips about at Chincoteague I slid closer to a group of herons and got within 20 or 25 feet of them. THey knew I was there but over time I slowly got closer and didn't trigger their fear and they stayed put, hunting, unbothered. When I was done shooting and stood up - every bird flew away. Many came back as I walked away, but that just shows the contrast of standing vs. sitting and the way birds might respond.
This Redish Egret had just caught and ate a crab - and then proceeded to stick its head underwater so it could slowly look for the other bits (legs and claws). It was neat to see and the undisturbed water made for some nice reflections...
I've now been something like 5 or 6 times to Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge in Virginia.
It is a pretty cool refuge - with pools and areas protected from the coast, as well as the beach right up on the Atlantic Ocean. In the summer it is a hotspot for beach goers and folks looking for wildlife too.
Compared to Blackwater NWR the mix of animals if very different in the summer. Blackwater has lots of eagles and osprey, and some herons. Chincoteague has the ponies (!) and a couple eagles and a few osprey, but most of what I saw were herons and egrets of many varieties. Things like Little Blue Herons,
While I've seen a handful of Black Skimmers there, I heard that over on the "NASA beach" there's like a billion. Which I would guess translates in to actually thousands, but I don't know. From what the person said it is only accessible by NASA employees. :/
In August I got some shots of the Cattle Egrets working from the backs of the Ponies! It was pretty darn cool to see. I need to review the images again and post one to flickr, they're ok but so far I wasn't super jazzed about any one image based on composition, details, behavior, etc. But here's a preview where an Egret is jumping off the back of the pony and heading to the ground to catch something. The egrets hunt for the critters that the ponies reveal as they walk around.
I'm still learning the refuge and the ins and outs, and what works best and when - both time of day and time of year.
One of the challenges is that it is pretty crowded, so it is tough to have a quiet and controlled encounter. The Wildlife Drive is open to foot and bike traffic all day, and then also car traffic after 3pm. The wildlife drive has proven cool, but I don't think I've gotten ANY of my favorite shots from there, except for a few skimmer shots. Most of what I like has been taken along the road to the beach or adjacent to the beach itself.
I'm sure the wildlife drive is better in Fall with more migratory birds there, and less people traffic. Many people I've spoken to talk about visiting in Fall and NOT summer. I like to explore and come up with those rules myself - so I visited a few times this summer, and did ok, but now hope to do even better in Fall...
While I will occasionally take a short break from either shooting or posting, I generally like to always be active and shooting and harvesting images.
This past long weekend I was very active and drove 600 miles plus, and visited 6 different places including 3 refuges, the DC Zoo, Rennfest and Susquehanna River.
I think I must have taken more than 3 or 4 thousand images. Given that amount of shooting it becomes a lot easier to have stuff to work with and find what looks best, what worked well, and process and post something.
Part of what keeps me motivated is a desire to always have something new to post and share.
This time of year, in between summer and fall - I am trying to hit as many spots / places as possible to check in with locations and see where they are during the changing seasons. In past years I'd try to make it to a couple locations very frequently and now I am trying to cast a wider net. Going some place super frequently has its benefits as far as learning the location and specifics. But now I am doing more than that, and often will also do over night trips to extend my reach - for example like visiting Chincoteague NWR.
I can't wait for fall to kick in to full gear.
Lemon lilies (Lilium parryi) are beginning to bloom in Southern California's mountains.
The California Native Plant Society lists these showy, fragrant flowers as being rare, threatened, or endangered in California.
From today's Three Points - Cooper Canyon - Mt. Waterman loop.
PhotographyontheRun.com Copyright 2006-2012 Gary Valle. All Rights Reserved.