Tag Archives: plants

2013 Bald Head Island Photography Workshop Results

 

Some great images were created during the photography workshop on Bald Head Island last month. Bald Head Island is a wonderful location for nature photography, and each participant brought their own perspective to the subjects we covered.

DAY 1:

I like to begin photography workshops with difficult subjects where the image ideas are not immediately obvious. The lessons learned in the struggle to make an image in these situations help later when trying to find a unique approach to more obvious subjects. Also, observing the struggles of participants and talking with them about it helps me get a sense of how I can best help them with their photography.

I started the workshop by challenging the participants to photograph palmetto leaves. The sabal palmetto tree is rare in North Carolina and reaches the northern limit of its range just north of Bald Head Island. To me, the striking visual design of a palmetto leaf is an iconic symbol of Bald Head Island. We all struggled with this subject for over an hour. After a while I made an image to demonstrate how I approach a subject like this. 

Focusing a composition on one simple idea, such as the radiating lines of a palmetto leaf, make it easy for the viewer to understand and appreciate the image. Direct sunlight shining through a leaf gives it a spectacular glow and highlights the internal structure. Finding a leaf where you can see its simple visual design without distracting elements in interesting light is the first step. Once you find an interesting leaf in good light, making a good image is much easier. - David Blevins

Focusing a composition on one simple idea, such as the radiating lines of a palmetto leaf, make it easy for the viewer to understand and appreciate the image. Direct sunlight shining through a leaf gives it a spectacular glow and highlights the internal structure. Finding a leaf where you can see its simple visual design without distracting elements in interesting light is the first step. Once you find an interesting leaf in good light, making a good image is much easier.
- David Blevins

I mentioned that I was going to look for animals on the palmetto leaves because I thought it would be great to use the light shining through a leaf to create a silhouette of the animal, giving an additional element of interest to the composition. I did not find one, but Kim did!

David made this suggestion in one of our discussions of an image he was hoping to find. A few minutes later, there it was, an insect silhouetted against a leaf. Lesson learned: sometimes the obvious photo opportunity is not obvious even though it is right there in front of us.
- Kim Hawks

I noticed one of the participants was not making images so I asked her what she was thinking about. She said she was not very excited about leaves and was having trouble with this subject. I asked her what she was excited about photographing and she said, “the ocean.” I thought about it for a moment and suggested she could try to see an ocean wave in the shapes and patterns of a palmetto leaf. I made this image to demonstrate the idea.

Sabal Palmetto

An ocean wave in a palmetto leaf. Learning to see objects without their labels is an important skill to develop to free you from the prison of a left-brained and verbal way of seeing.
- David Blevins

After struggling with palmetto leaves, we headed to Cape Fear Point to work in the rapidly improving afternoon light. We spent a lot of time talking about how to take manual control of exposure to achieve effects like motion blur from a long shutter speed. As the sun set and the light faded, we were able to make some interesting images using long exposures of the moving surf.

I’d taken the obvious shots I had in my head and decided to shoot the waves in slow motion. Lesson learned: Slow motion waves really show motion/movement well! Lesson learned again: When you’ve made all the photographs you can imagine, there are still images to be imagined, seen and created.   - Kim Hawks

I’d taken the obvious shots I had in my head and decided to shoot the waves in slow motion. Lesson learned: Slow motion waves really show motion/movement well! Lesson learned again: When you’ve made all the photographs you can imagine, there are still images to be imagined, seen and created.   – Kim Hawks

While most of us were focused on the ocean, Maggie worked on the view in the opposite direction, where the sun was setting and the sky was most colorful. 

Sea oats at sunset.   - Maggie Zwilling

Sea oats at sunset.   – Maggie Zwilling

We worked well into dusk experimenting with long exposures. After dark, as we were hiking back up the beach, I noticed the light from the full moon reflected in the surf as it curved toward the horizon. Kim was walking beside me, and I knew she was interested in trying some photography at night, so I pointed out the opportunity to her, and she did a great job.

We were on our way back to the house; it was getting late. We were all marveling at the magic of the full moon. David told me to turn around and look. Lesson learned: when you think you’re done, there’s always another angle to consider.    – Kim Hawks

DAY 2:

Nights are short this time of year so no one had time for a full night’s sleep before we met at 5:30am for the sunrise shoot. I told everyone the night before that I was hoping for something special this morning. My friends at the Bald Head Island Conservancy agreed to let me know if the nightly sea turtle patrol found any sea turtle tracks on the beach. Right at 5:30am I received a text with great news; there were tracks on East Beach, not far from an access point. We sped off and made it to the location while the predawn light was still soft. 

Workshop participants photographing sea turtle tracks at dawn.   - David Blevins

Workshop participants photographing sea turtle tracks at dawn.   – David Blevins

The light was spectacular. We had everything from soft pastel light while the sun was still below the horizon, to soft and warm light while the sun was behind clouds, to hard warm light when the sun peaked out from the clouds. 

Kim photographing sea turtle tracks in the soft pastel light before dawn.   - David Blevins

Kim photographing sea turtle tracks in the soft pastel light before dawn.   – David Blevins

Kim made this image of the sea turtle tracks in the soft and warm light while the sun was behind a cloud. She used a long shutter speed to render the surf in a soft painterly way.

Sea turtle tracks.   - Kim Hawks

Sea turtle tracks.   – Kim Hawks

Janet photographed the sea turtle tracks in cooler light with a long telephoto lens to compress distance. 

Sea Turtle Tracks.   - Janet Hilton

Sea Turtle Tracks.   – Janet Hilton

Sydney made this image of the tracks using the warm hard light after the sun came out from behind the clouds to give the tracks more contrast. 

Sea Turtle Tracks - Sydney Cass

Sea Turtle Tracks.   – Sydney Cass

As the sun rose higher, the quality of the light began to change. Sydney made this lovely seascape that shows a rain shower on the horizon as the sun began to peak out of the clouds.

Morning rain.   - Sydney Cass

Morning rain.   – Sydney Cass

If you look carefully at the waves in Sydney’s shot above you can see what I was noticing at this moment; the sunlight was shining through the crashing waves, giving them a wonderful glow. I switched to a long telephoto lens and captured one of these glowing waves.

Sunlight shining through a crashing wave.   - David Blevins

Sunlight shining through a crashing wave.   – David Blevins

While I was using a fast shutter speed to freeze the motion of the waves, Kim was using the slow shutter speed techniques we covered the previous evening to create some interesting effects with the crashing waves. 

The sun was high & bright and not the best for landscape shots.  A few of us sat down with  David and began zooming in on the waves right in front of us.  Lesson learned: When the light is lousy, there is still something to photograph.   - Kim Hawks

The sun was high and bright and not the best for landscape shots. A few of us sat down with David and began zooming in on the waves right in front of us. Lesson learned: When the light is lousy, there is still something to photograph.   – Kim Hawks

One of my favorite images from the workshop was made by Janet while most of us were focused on turtle tracks. It just goes to show how important it is to not become so fixated on what you are working on that you miss the unexpected. 

Clouds.   - Janet Hilton

Clouds.   – Janet Hilton

When Janet showed us all her image I said, “it looks like when you die and go to heaven.” Sydney’s wry response was, “how do you know what that looks like?” I laughed and thought about it for a moment, “Hollywood” was all I could say.

2013 White Pines Photography Workshop Results

We had a great photography workshop at White Pines Nature Preserve a few weeks ago, and I thought I would share some of the results. I took the group to four locations in the preserve, each chosen because it presented different challenges. Most beginner photographers hike with their camera and wait until they see something that inspires them before making an image. I wanted the group to learn how patience and careful observation can help them find inspiration where they would have never found it before. This is an important skill, and once you learn it you will find that you no longer need to wait for inspiration, but instead can cultivate the creative process wherever and whenever you need it. 

I wanted to take a pic that truly expresses the feelings I have in the middle of a forest. The challenge, for me, was seeing through the complexity and busyness of a forest, to identify a non-cluttered view that expressed my emotions and feelings of peace, quiet, beauty, & magic.
- Kim Hawks

This photo was taken in the soft light of dusk with a long lens using a low light setting on my camera which actually takes four photos and stacks them together to reduce the noise caused by high ISO.   - Dan Harvey

This photo was taken in the soft light of dusk with a long lens using a low light setting on my camera which actually takes four photos and stacks them together to reduce the noise caused by high ISO.
- Dan Harvey

We spent some time working with the largest white pine in the preserve. Everyone had their own take on how to photograph this tree. Kim and I shot with a wide angle lens; Sue used a more telephoto perspective.

I made this photo of Kim while she was making her photo below. I shot it with a 14mm lens that has an almost 90 degree field of view. I wanted to capture both the photographer and what the photographer was working on in one image.   - David Blevins

I made this photo of Kim while she was making her photo below. I shot it with a 14mm lens that has an almost 90 degree field of view. I wanted to capture both the photographer and what the photographer was working on in one image.
- David Blevins

 

I learned during the workshop why a certain lens is better for a particular shot, based on what the photographer is trying to achieve. The Mother White Pine was shot with my wide angle lens which I learned makes distant subjects seem smaller and farther away.   - Kim Hawks

I learned during the workshop why a certain lens is better for a particular shot, based on what the photographer is trying to achieve. The Mother White Pine was shot with my wide angle lens which I learned makes distant subjects seem smaller and farther away.
- Kim Hawks

 

I liked the way the White Pine was framed nicely by the surrounding foliage.   - Sue Harvey

I liked the way the White Pine was framed nicely by the surrounding foliage.
- Sue Harvey

The most challenging subject I gave the group was a close-up of white pine foliage. This is the sort of subject most people would walk right past and take no notice of. We spent an hour looking in detail at white pine foliage, manipulating the light with reflectors and diffusers, and trying to find interesting compositions. Each person came up with completely different ideas. Sue moved in close to the new growth on the tip of a branch, Kim saw the patterns of one branch mirrored in another, and Maggie found a strong composition with radiating lines that draw your eye into the center of the frame.

This close-up of white pine needles required a tripod since the shutter speed was only 1/20th of a second.   - Sue Harvey

This close-up of white pine needles required a tripod since the shutter speed was only 1/20th of a second.
- Sue Harvey

 

There are lots of things we see every day, that we take for granted and do not see anything special about it.  David asked us to focus on photographing white pine needles.  It was an interesting process, I explored many thoughts that surfaced based on what I was seeing.  This one reminds me of a couple dancing.  It feels happy to me.   - Kim Hawks

There are lots of things we see every day that we take for granted and do not see anything special about it. David asked us to focus on photographing white pine needles. It was an interesting process, I explored many thoughts that surfaced based on what I was seeing. This one reminds me of a couple dancing. It feels happy to me.
- Kim Hawks

 

I tried to capture the delicacy and elegance of the white pine foliage.   - Maggie Zwilling

I tried to capture the delicacy and elegance of the white pine foliage.
- Maggie Zwilling

About half way through the workshop I found a white pine branch that had been blown down from the top of the forest canopy by a storm the night before. Unlike the white pine foliage we had been working on earlier, this branch had pollen cones that were bursting with bright yellow pollen. It is a rare opportunity to see and photograph a subject normally only found high out of sight in the forest canopy. We attached the branch to a tripod so I could use it to demonstrate a method of using flash to darken the background. Yes, that’s what I said, I use flash to darken. :-)

 

This image shows the white pine pollen cones with no flash, just using the available light. The problem with this image for me is the background is so much brighter than the foreground.   - David Blevins

This image shows the white pine pollen cones with no flash, just using the available light. The problem with this image for me is the background is so much brighter than the foreground.
- David Blevins

 

To darken the background I used an off camera flash from the same direction as the sun, sent through a diffusion screen to make it soft, and balanced the flash exposure with the ambient light. The key is to balance the flash output so it is a little brighter than the ambient light on the background. This allowed me to use a slightly faster shutter speed to render the background darker, while the flash provided plenty of light on the subject. It might sound complicated but the most difficult part is holding three things (the diffusion screen, flash, and shutter release cord) with only two hands.   -David Blevins

To darken the background I used an off camera flash sent through a diffusion screen and balanced with the ambient light. The flash was positioned to provide light from the same direction as the sun, and the diffusion screen made the light soft. The key was to balance the flash output so it was a little brighter than the ambient light on the background. This allowed me to use a slightly faster shutter speed to render the background darker, while the flash provided plenty of light on the subject. It might sound complicated but the most difficult part was holding three things (the diffusion screen, flash, and shutter release cord) with only two hands.
- David Blevins

 

This photo was made by Kim as I demonstrated my technique for firing an off camera flash through a diffusion screen to create soft natural looking light. I am holding the diffusion screen and shutter release cord in my left hand, the flash in my right hand, and the camera is on a tripod. One often overlooked benefit of a tripod is it really helps when you run out of hands.   -David Blevins

This photo was made by Kim as I demonstrated my technique for firing an off camera flash through a diffusion screen to create soft natural looking light. I am holding the diffusion screen and shutter release cord in my left hand, the flash in my right hand, and the camera is on a tripod. One often overlooked benefit of a tripod is it really helps when you run out of hands.
- David Blevins

 

2013 North Carolina Botanical Garden Photography Workshop Results

A few weeks ago I led a photography workshop at the North Carolina Botanical Garden in Chapel Hill. We had a great time and plenty of soft light, perfect for spring wildflowers. I asked the participants to send me their favorite images from the day and share something they learned during the workshop. Below are some highlights from the responses I received.

KarenCarelli_DSCF1420blog

“Thank you for showing me that good photography requires me to slow down and pay attention.” – Karen Carelli

DavidHelm_IMG_7875blog

“I did not see the beauty and calm of this image until I brought the image closer which filtered out most of the background. The remaining branches in the background give a 3 D feeling to the picture. The two red berries became the focal point. The photo gives me the feeling of the quiet and serenity of a Japanese garden.” -David Helm

PhyllisDemko_4-12-13_012blog

“The most important lesson for me: in creative work, don’t discard a piece until you understand why it was bad – understand your mistakes! To me, this learning point applies to all creative work and explains why some people succeed and others don’t.” – Phyllis Demko

Green Anole

Green Anole

This is the only image I shot that day. I spent most of the time helping participants make their own images with their cameras so I didn’t even take my camera out of the bag until the moment this image happened. I created this image toward the end of the day as I was sitting in the garden with one of the participants, just chatting about photography in general, not working on an image. I noticed a green anole peeping out of the vegetation as a shaft of sunlight just caught his face. I am sure I did not complete the sentence I was in the middle of as I grabbed my camera and slowly moved into position to make this image. Often the best photo opportunities happen when you are just sitting and watching.

Species Novum

A new species of wildflower has been formally described this week in the latest issue of Phytoneuron. You might expect new botanical discoveries to be from an unexplored tropical jungle, but this wildflower is found in the Piedmont of North Carolina. You might also expect that living for so long in such a populated area without being formally described would mean this plant could only be appreciated by a botanist with a hand lens, but that is not the case. This new wildflower is a strikingly beautiful species of Barbara’s-buttons.

A goldenrod crab spider hunts for prey on the newly described Oak Barrens Barbara’s-buttons.

You might also be surprised to learn this is not that unusual, and there are other plants in North Carolina, just as spectacular, that have only been recently described.

One summer evening in 2007, after a thunderstorm, I was standing on the porch of an historic house in Beaufort, North Carolina with Misty Buchanan, a botanist with the North Carolina Natural Heritage Program. We were there with a group who gather twice a year to help with field work for the Carolina Vegetation Survey. My time in the field with this group helped me learn to see the North Carolina landscape through the eyes of botanists and ecologists so I could make the images for Wild North Carolina. But this group of enthusiastic and knowledgeable people inspired me in many other ways as well. While standing on the porch, Misty told me,

“few people realize that new species of plants are still being discovered in North Carolina. About 13 new species have been discovered but haven’t been formally described because there is no funding to cover the fieldwork, herbarium research, and molecular analysis that will be necessary to understand these species well enough to formally describe them. Until these species are formally described, no regulatory agency will be allowed to take action to protect them. Some of our rarest species remain completely unprotected because we can’t get the funding to describe them.”

That conversation inspired me to create a collection of photographs of some of the newly described plants in North Carolina as well as some plants that are being studied to determine if they warrant their own name. Finding these plants was not easy. First, most of these plants have gone so long without being described because they are very rare, some only occurring at one location. Second, only a few people know when to expect these plants to be at their most showy. I could not have made these images without the help of some of the State’s best botanists, advising me where and when to look for these plants and how to recognize them.

Dr. Alan Weakley of the UNC Herbarium was particularly helpful in either advising me or directing me to the appropriate expert. You can look up all these plants in his new Flora of the Southern and Mid-Atlantic States, available as a free pdf download from The University of North Carolina Herbarium website.

The important work of the UNC Herbarium, North Carolina Natural Heritage Program, the North Carolina Plant Conservation Program, and others is essential to assure that the full wonder of our State’s flora is realized and its conservation accomplished.

Oak Barrens Barbara’s-buttons (Marshallia legrandii). This plant had been known since the 1950s from a single specimen collected from a site where it is no longer found. In the 1980s, Harry Legrand, with the North Carolina Natural Heritage Program, discovered a small population of these plants growing on a site in Granville County North Carolina with an unusual basic soil. This plant is most similar to Spoonshape Barbara’s-buttons (Marshallia obovata) but blooms about a month later. Today these plants are known from only 3 sites, 2 in Granville County North Carolina and 1 in Halifax County Virginia.

 

Sandhills Bog Lily (Lilium pyrophilum). This “fire-loving” lily is one of the rarest species in North Carolina. Only 250 individual plants have been found, all in small populations. These plants were first noted in the 1940s, but for years were assumed to be just a variation of Carolina Lily (Lilium michauxii). Later, this species was thought to be the same species as a rare lily from the Gulf coast of Florida. Dr. Mark Skinner, a National Plant Data Center botanist, and Bruce Sorrie, a Southern Pines botanist and UNC-Chapel Hill Herbarium associate, were the first to formally describe the plant in 2002. Unlike similar lilies, the Sandhills Bog Lily grows in bogs, blooms later, and has smaller flowers and leaves.

 

Rhiannon’s Aster (Symphyotrichum rhiannon). This very rare plant is known from only one site in the southern mountains of North Carolina with unusual soils derived from a rock type known as serpentine. Although the site is on National Forest land, the plant was threatened by mining interests until it was discovered and protected. It was first noted as something different in 1980 by Laura Mansberg (now Laura Cotterman of the North Carolina Botanical Garden). Rhiannon’s Aster was formally described in 2004 by Guy Nesom, Gary Kauffman, Tom Govus, Alan Weakley and Laura Mansberg and is named after Alan Weakley’s daughter. You can read the story of how this plant was named on the Endeavors web site.

 

Hill Cane (Arundinaria appalachiana). This rare native bamboo was described as a variety of Giant Cane (Arundinaria gigantea var. decidua) almost 90 years ago. Botanists began to question that identification because, unlike Giant Cane that grows tall along rivers, this short plant was found on hillsides. It also drops its leaves in the fall after they turn a bright yellow while the other two native bamboo species are evergreen. Hill Cane was formally described as a distinct species in 2006 by Jimmy Triplett, Alan Weakley and Lynn Clark.

 

Yadkin River Goldenrod (Solidago plumosa). J.K. Small discovered this species in 1894 growing on river-scoured rocks along the Yadkin River. This rare goldenrod was believed lost when it’s only known habitat was flooded by the construction of two dams in 1917 and 1919. In 1994, almost 100 years to the day after it was first (and last) seen, Dr. Alan Weakley searched for and found these plants growing along a small rocky stretch of the Yadkin River that had escaped the flooding. The only known site for this species is currently unprotected.

 

Savanna Onion (Allium sp. nov.). This rare plant was originally collected by Steve Leonard, former curator of the UNC Herbarium, in the early 1980s. It is only known to grow on a rare type of longleaf pine savanna underlain by limestone. The unusually high pH of these soils support many rare species. This plant is similar to nodding onion (Allium cernuum) which is only found in the Piedmont of North Carolina and west, while savanna onion is found in the outer coastal plain. This plant also flowers at a different time, and the leaves are a different shape. Dr. Alan Weakley and Richard LeBlond are currently working to formally describe this plant. This plant is protected on only one site in Pender County managed by The Nature Conservancy.

 

Batson’s Lobelia (Lobelia sp. nov.). This species found in wet streamheads and seepage slopes in the Sandhills of North and South Carolina is under study by Dr. Bert Pittman, a botanist with the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources’ Heritage Trust Program. It will be named Lobelia batsonii in honor of Dr. Wade T. Batson, former curator of the A. C. Moore Herbarium at the University of South Carolina.

 

Meditation on a Cypress Stump

A few weeks ago I visited New Lake in Hyde County North Carolina with the Carolina Vegetation Survey. We were looking for natural lake shore vegetation, a type of natural community that grows along these shallow bay lakes. No one in our group had been to this lake before so we hoped the community was in good condition. I had seen natural lake shore vegetation at other lakes and they can be quite lovely, large cypress trees marching out into a shallow lake with grasses swaying in the waves. We were disappointed to discover that the cypress trees had been cut long ago. Weathered stumps marked the places where ancient trees once stood. A new forest of young cypress now lined the lake shore.

If I had been alone I might have turned around and gone somewhere else, but the team I was with decided the rest of the vegetation was in good enough condition to sample so we decided to stay the rest of the day.

Carolina Vegetation Survey

Carolina Vegetation Survey

The trees I had hoped for were gone and the light was too harsh for landscapes. After a few minutes of dreary thoughts that were not producing photographs I decided I should see what sort of macro subjects I could find. It did not take long to discover tiny sundew plants growing in the shade of the young cypress trees.

Water Sundew

Water Sundew

 One advantage of young trees is the foliage is easy to reach. These trees were mostly pond-cypress, very similar to the better known bald-cypress but the foliage is more like a rope than a feather and it points up from the stem rather than out.

Pond Cypress Foliage

Pond Cypress Foliage

 After making the pond-cypress foliage photo I was out of ideas so I decided to sit quietly and observe until an idea was revealed to me. There was just one problem, there was no where to sit. The ground went from damp to soggy to shallow lake. The only dry place I could see to sit was the old cypress stumps along the lake shore. Most were weathered into very uncomfortable shapes, but after searching I found one with a very nice dry top that fit my bottom quite nicely.

Meditation on a Cypress Stump

Meditation on a Cypress Stump

My photography process has a lot in common with meditation. I sit quietly without thinking and just let the images I see wash over me. I try not to judge or think, I simply observe. After a time an idea for a photograph is usually revealed, provided I can remain open enough to see it.

After sitting there for a time I realized the images of all the stumps I had searched while looking for a place to sit were running through my mind. When I first arrived at the lake I looked at them in a negative way, they represented the loss of something great that once existed. But now I was seeing them without judgment, just the physical objects detached from their meaning. Each was different, weathered, and spectacular in its own way. The Universe had spoken, I needed to photograph the weathered cypress stumps!

Weathered Cypress Stump #1

Weathered Cypress Stump #1

Weathered Cypress Stump #2

Weathered Cypress Stump #2