I recently returned from a backpacking trip to Panthertown Valley in the Nantahala National Forest. I almost cancelled this trip because Hurricane Hanna was forecast to pass right over the area while I was there. I realized several years ago there is always a reason to cancel a trip. If I am going to make photographs, I just have to go anyway. So I went, and the hurricane ended up arriving later and passing more to the east than forecast. I actually had beautiful weather the whole time.
On the last day as I was driving home, I stopped on the Blue Ridge Parkway to watch the sunset. I was amazed to see that I was right on the edge of the hurricane. Huge curving clouds from the spiral arms of the hurricane filled the eastern sky and caught the light from the setting sun. Being on top of a mountain is an exhilarating experience but to be on the edge of all that power was sublime.
The edge of Hurricane Hanna
I have always admired time-lapse photography but never gave it a try. This seemed like a good time to start. When photographing a sunset, I always make photographs over a period of time as the light changes. There is no way to know if the photograph you just made is going to be the best one or if the light will improve in a few minutes. This time I decided to make a photograph at exactly 30 second intervals so I could combine them together into a time-lapse movie. The movie compresses 20 minutes into 6 seconds. I think it came out okay for my first try.
Hurricane Hanna Time-Lapse
I visited my parents over the July 4th holiday. As evening approached my father asked me to take down the suet feeder so the flying squirrels wouldn’t eat it all. I thought… “hmmm, what if I don’t take down the suet and try to make some photographs instead.” Once it was dark the flying squirrels came swarming in. The flying squirrels basically ignored us and flew right by your heads and scampered around on the nearby trees. They moved fast and it was impossible to compose a photograph in the dark. I mounted a small flashlight to the bottom of my camera (enough light to compose by) and used the autofocus assist light on my flash to help the autofocus track them. The light was too harsh coming directly from a flash mounted on the camera so I asked my father to give me a hand. I had him hold the flash about 5 feet to the left of the camera shot through a diffusion screen to soften the light. The diffusion screen was a 3 foot diameter disc made of thin white fabric. When the light from the flash is sent through this diffusion screen the subject is lit by a 3 foot diameter light rather than the tiny flash head. This produced much softer and more pleasing light and helped the flying squirrel fur look much softer.
My father and I quickly developed a procedure to help us get through all the steps required to make a photograph with this lighting setup. First, I would say “focus”, and he would point the flash autofocus assist light at the squirrel. Once I achieved focus I would say “diffusion” and he would raise the diffusion screen about three feet in front of the flash. Then I would say “eyes” and we would both close our eyes as I tripped the shutter and fired the flash. Closing our eyes was very important because most of the light from the flash was reflected off the diffusion screen right back into our faces. The procedure worked great except for one time when I was a little fast on the shutter button and fired before we could close our eyes. I just caught a piece of it in my peripheral vision but my father caught the whole thing with his eyes wide open. Oops, sorry dad! Our night vision was ruined for quite a while after that. This procedure only really worked when the squirrels held still for a few seconds which they didn’t do very often. Although I suspect they were doing it more often than usual as they tried to figure out what those silly humans were doing by the suet feeder.
Southern Flying Squirrel
Brown-headed and red-breasted nuthatches have been visiting my suet feeder for the last few months, and I have been looking for an opportunity to photograph them. Just as I was working out a way to do it, a yellow-rumped warbler decided to claim the suet as his own and defend it against anyone smaller or with less attitude. This included, unfortunately, all the nuthatches.
At times like this I try to remind myself to just go with what works. The nuthatches were chased off when ever they came into the yard. The warbler, however, was present constantly as he chased the other birds with his tail feathers flared. I made lots of photographs of him over several days but I like this one the best because of the way it shows his attitude. I get the sense from this photograph that he is starring right at me and I am next on his list! Can you really blame him though? I mean, wouldn’t you develop an attitude if people kept calling attention to some obvious feature of your posterior?
Yellow-rumped Warbler with an attitude