Mourning Dove

With the COVID pandemic widespread across the country, my wife and I have been staying at home this summer. My photography has been limited mostly to shooting in our yard. That has meant mostly shooting flowers and birds. Since we live in the upper Sonoran desert our yard doesn’t have any tall trees in it except for a couple we planted in the front garden that are still pretty short. There aren’t as many bird species in our yard as there are in many other areas. Even a few miles away as you go up into the Sandia mountains the number of species is greater.

We have eight bird feeders, a quail block and a birdbath next to the patio in the backyard. These attract several kinds of birds that I like to take pictures of. The most interesting in the summer are the hummingbirds. We get Rufous, Calliope, Broad Tailed and Black Chinned hummingbirds here in Placitas. We do have quite a few plants that flower in the summer that the hummingbirds like. The Red Yuccas are the ones that attract the most hummingbirds. Unfortunately, there are so many red yuccas in our yard the hummingbirds never seem to feed on the one I am set up next to. So almost all of my hummingbird photos have been taken around our hummingbird feeders. I either shoot the bird flying next to the feeders or sitting on branches close by. Hummingbirds are a particular challenge since it is always as trade off between high shutter speed to stop the wings from blurring which results in grainier pictures from high ISO and shallow depth of field or slower shutter speed which leaves some wing blur. I usually go with slower shutter speed and accept a little wing blur. Fortunately the hummingbirds are not very skittish and you can get pretty close to them with a camera. I have a 150mm – 600mm Sigma zoom which I use for all my bird shots except occasionally hummingbirds.

Rufous Hummingbird Flying

Of the other birds that come to the garden in the summer the other ones that I like photographing are the larger species. We get both Gambel’s Quail and Scaled Quail as well as Roadrunners, Mourning Doves and Rock Doves on a pretty regular basis. On rare occasions a raptor will show up but they usually just fly over and don’t land. I did have a Cooper’s Hawk land twice this summer when I was out with a camera.

Cooper’s Hawk flying

Most of the other birds are fairly small, what birders refer to as LBJs – Little Brown Jobs. They are harder to get good photos of since they tend to be skittish making it hard to get close enough for a good photo. Most of the photos end up being pretty heavily cropped which reduces the image quality. They are still fun to go out and shoot.

Sage Thrasher

I’m looking forward to the end of COVID so I can get out more. In the mean time the winter birds are starting to show up in the yard in the last couple weeks so I will at least have them to take photos of.

Cheers,

Mike

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I belong to a large photography club in Albuquerque called the Enchanted Lens Camera Club. The club has several hundred people and has a lot of speakers, trips and other activities. One of the things the club does is encourage individual members to form smaller groups for the purpose of developing individual portfolios each year. The portfolio groups meet from the fall until the following spring. Members work on their individual portfolios with input and suggestions from the rest of their group. Portfolios are twelve or fewer images with an accompanying artist statement. At the end of the club year (usually in June) all of the individual groups get together and each participating photographer shows their portfolio to the entire club membership.

 

This year was the first time I participated in a portfolio group. The experience was a lot more fun than I originally thought it would be. I wanted to do a portfolio on something that would stretch my normal artistic range. I chose to do my portfolio on Ethereal Flowers. I have on occasion done high key and soft focus flowers but that is not my normal style. Usually I rely on full dynamic range and rich, saturated colors. For this portfolio I used a mix of older images that I completely reworked with different post processing techniques and new images taken specifically with the portfolio project in mind.

 

The images in the final portfolio is are shown below. I hope you enjoy them. I am already thinking about possible subjects for next year’s portfolio.

 

Cheers,

 

Mike

 

 

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Soap Bubbles

I have been photographing soap bubbles in my studio on many occasions for more than ten years now.  Like some other types of photography, such as refractographs and wave reflections, there is a bit of a treasure hunt quality to photographing them. Their geometry is continually changing as they mature and finally pop. The interference patterns on their surface change even more quickly. With the COVID restrictions this year I have done some more soap bubble shots in the last couple of months.

It is the geometry and the interference patterns that make bubbles so interesting.  Soap bubbles always assume the shape with the smallest possible surface area for a given volume. This means single bubbles form spheres. In a plane two bubbles meet as circles intersecting at a line. For more than two bubbles in a plane the bubbles will meet in groups of three with all angles at the intersections being  120 degrees. This means they form hexagons (just like honey combs).

In three dimensions the same principle of minimum surface area for a given volume applies. Two bubbles will meet at a common circle with the angle being 120 degrees. As with the planer case we can see from experiment that bubbles always meet as triples of lines with all angles being 120 degrees. Interestingly, while the geometry has been know for thousands of years, even the simplest planer case was not proved mathematically until 1993 and the proof for three or more bubbles in space is still open.

Thin-film interference is a natural phenomenon in which light waves reflected by the upper and lower surfaces of a thin transparent film will interfere with each other. Certain wavelengths (colors) are intensified while others are reduced depending on the thickness and index of refraction of the film. This constructive or destructive interference produces narrow reflection or transmission bandwidths. The observed colors are rarely separate wavelengths but a mixture of various wavelengths. Thus, the colors observed are rarely those of the rainbow, but rather browns, golds, turquoises, teals, bright blues, purples, and magentas.

I have shot bubbles using many different  set-ups in the studio. My favorite set-up uses four sheets of translucent Plexiglas about 2 ft. x 2 ft. to form a shooting tunnel. The rear of the tunnel was closed off with a sheet of black mat board. A spray can lid is placed in the tunnel and filled with bubble solution. The camera with a macro lens was placed in front of the tunnel and focused on the front edge of the spray can top. I have used various combinations of flash units underneath, above and to the sides of the tunnel along with gels and colored mat board to get different effects. This type of set-up gives the largest possible range of results.

I have tried many other set-ups shooting either a single bubble, multiple bubbles or a bubble film. The images created can be very striking. The whole process is fascinating to me since you never can tell what kind of pattern you will get or how it will change with time.

Cheers,

Mike Stoy

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Silverleaf Nightshade

We live in the village of Placitas, New Mexico which is about twenty minutes north of Albuquerque. Our house is on the north side of the Sandia Mountains at 5,400 ft. in the upper Sonoran ecosystem. Although most people think of the desert as being sand dunes and cactus very few of the desert regions of the world are actually like that. The area we live in has lots of low Juniper, and Pinion trees along with many other desert plants including some cactus and yucca species and quite a few wildflowers.

Palmer Penstemon

Tulip Prickly Pear Cactus

Trumpet Gilia

Desert Willow

 

 

 

 

 

 

The development our house is in has a nice walking path along side the roads and in the springtime, if there is some rainfall, there are an amazing number of wildflowers that bloom here. I always like taking wildflower photos but this year with the COVID-19 stay-at-home order here in New Mexico I have spent a lot more time around the neighborhood and taking flower photos than in most years.

Broom Dalea

Red-whisker Clammyweed

Yellowspine Thistle

Devil’s Club Cactus

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

None of the flowers around here are particularly large. Certainly nothing like the Rhododenrons that we had in Seattle. The largest ones are some of the cactus flowers which can be several inches across. A lot of the photos I take of flowers here end up being pretty tight macro shots. I have a 150mm Sigma macro lens that I really love. It has a larger stand-off distance than the more common 90mm or 105mm macro lenses. That doesn’t make any particular difference with wildflower photos but it is really helpful when taking photos of butterflies, lizards ad the like. I use extension tubes on the lens a lot for the wildflowers around here to get enough magnification to fill the frame on the smaller ones.

Common Beehive Cactus

Wooly Prairie Clover

Threadleaf Groundsel

Tamarisk

Spider on James’ Holdback

Blanket Flower

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Unfortunately the most of the wildflowers are fading now that the warmer and drier weather of June is here so I’ll have to find other things to take photos of.

Mike

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A type of photography that I have become fond of in the last few years is refractographs. These images are created using a camera without a lens on the front of it. First you need a really dark room since any stray light can muddy up the image. Next you need a piece of glass or some other transparent material. In my experience thin, high quality glass works best. I have been using the bottom of crystal wine glasses. The glass is fixed in place with a light stand and clamp or something similar. Then a small bright point of light is set up about  ten feet away from the glass with the light shining on the glass at about a forty five degree angle. I am using a bright LED flashlight with a piece of aluminum foil over the front of the light. I poke a very small hole in the foil with a needle. Do not use a laser since it could damage the camera sensor.  Finally the camera is placed on a tripod very close to the glass.

 

If you turn off all the lights except the flashlight and turn on live view on the camera you will see a pattern of light appear on the image sensor. The light from the flashlight is refracted through the front of the glass, part of the light is then reflected off the rear surface of the glass then refracted again as it bounces toward the camera. It takes a lot of experimentation with position of the glass and the camera to find interesting patterns. Since there is not very much light the exposure will typically be fairly long. Most of the time I end up between two and six seconds. These patterns will initially be white. In order to get color into the images I take small pieces of colored plastic, called gel filters, from my macro flash heads and hold them in front of the camera between the glass and the sensor.

The images created can be very striking. There is also a bit of a treasure hunt quality to the process since you never can tell what kind of pattern any given piece of glass will create.

Cheers,

 

Mike Stoy

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Flowers are one of my favorite subjects to shoot. My wife and I have always had extensive gardens at al of our houses (you can see my website for our last garden in Seattle here: www.stoygarden.com ). In addition to enjoying gardening I have also taken advantage of the garden as a photography opportunity. Since we moved to our new house in New Mexico a little more than four years ago we have been working on our new garden. Our current lot is quite a bit smaller than the last one we had in Seattle so the garden is smaller as well. In addition, the climate here in the desert at 5,400 ft is much more challenging to grow plants in than Seattle was. We have small walled gardens in front of and behind the house which are watered a couple times a week and have more familiar garden plants in them. The remainder of the gardens are either xeric or native plants. That means a lot of cactus, yuccas, sage and the like. Although there aren’t as many flowering plants as we had in Seattle there are still different flowers that bloom from March through October.

I had planned on doing some woodworking this spring after I packed up all my studio photography gear from my winter shooting. However, the COVID-19 problem has prevented me from driving out of town to get rough sawn wood for my projects. So , I decided to do some more shooting in my studio/woodshop. We have some Daffodils in the yard but for some reason most of them didn’t put up flowers this year. There were still enough to bring some into the studio. We also have a fair number of different Bearded Iris and Siberian Iris which I also brought in for some photos. Hopefully the social distancing restrictions will be lifted soon so I can get out and shoot at  some other places I was planing on visiting this year. Till then – stay well.

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I have always loved abstract patterns found in nature. In particular the patterns created by the reflection and refraction of light fascinate me. Over the years I have shot a lot of images of soap bubbles, refractographs and waves. Reflections in waves can create some beautiful images that range from slightly distorted, nearly realistic images to completely abstract images.

A dozen years ago or so was the first time my wife and I stayed at the WorldMark resort in Indio, CA. This resort has a lot of man-made ponds, streams and waterfalls. The outsides of the buildings in the resort are all stuccoed in a range of colors some of them pretty bright. I noticed on that first trip that near sunrise and sunset the light hit the building walls but not the water in the ponds in a lot of places. That created really vibrant reflections of the buildings and surrounding landscaping in the water.  Over the intervening years I have taken reflection photos of the buildings in the ponds on numerous occasions. Even though I have done it in the same location many times I still find it endlessly engaging.

There are typically only a few spots and a few angles in the resort that produce interesting reflections. On some occasions there is a fair amount of debris like

flower petals and grass clippings in the water. If that collects at the spots where the reflections are good then you can’t get any decent images. When the conditions are right however the images can be striking.

On this trip most of the week was fairly typical so the best images were near the waterfalls and the edges o f the pond. The waves were of a fairly long wavelength – maybe six inches to a foot. This produces images with larger areas of color. I also like to occasionally include something on the surface of the water to give the image some extra point(s) of interest.  My favorite thing for this is the bubbles that are created by the waterfalls.

The morning of the last day of the trip, just before we packed up to leave, I went outside and the wind was blowing really hard. That created some very different wave patterns with much smaller wind waves superimposed on top of the longer wavelength normal waves.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Since the images are rather random I usually shoot three or four shot bursts. All told I probably took a thousand images of waves on three separate mornings of shooting during the week. After reviewing them all and deleting the ones that weren’t as good I still ended up keeping about one hundred images. A few of them are shown here. I hope you enjoy viewing them.

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My wife and I just returned from a one week vacation to Indio, California. The Coachella Valley (in which Palm Springs is located) is one of my wife and my favorite vacation spots. We have points in the WorldMark (now Wyndam) condo system and they have a really nice resort in Indio on the east end of the valley.  Nearly every time we stay there we visit the Sunnylands Center & Gardens. I have taken a lot of color photos there in the past but when we were there last week I took along only my infrared camera. Currently I am using an IR converted Nikon D300. The nature of Sunnylands makes it an ideal subject for infrared. Even if you aren’t shooting during magic hour you can still get nice images with IR.

Sunnylands is the former Annenberg Estate, in Rancho Mirage, California. The entire estate is 200-acres and is currently run by The Annenberg Foundation Trust. The part of Sunnylands I like best is the nine acre gardens. The landscape was designed by The Office of James Burnett, with horticultural consultant Mary Irish. The garden design was inspired by the Annenberg’s collection of Impressionist and Post-Impressionist paintings which they bequeathed  the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1991.

The gardens are unlike nearly any other public gardens you will see in that each of the beds are composed of a single species of plant. All told, there are more than 70 species of native and arid-adapted plants from North and South America, Africa, and the Mediterranean. The adjacent beds blend beautifully together to create a wonderful and very sculptural garden.

If you are ever in the area I highly recommend a visit to Sunnylands. Oh yes, I forgot to mention that admission is free. Pretty amazing in today’s world!

 

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Sandhill Cranes flying at the Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge

Winter in North America is a time when a lot of birds migrate to their winter locations. New Mexico hosts a lot of migratory birds. Perhaps the most famous of these are the Sandhill Cranes and Snow Geese that winter over at the Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge near Socorro. In recent years the refuge has had issues with the available grain and the number of birds there has been down. On the other hand, another refuge about an hour to the north of Bosque is the Ladd S. Gordon Waterfowl Complex and it has seen increasing numbers of birds for the last few years. The Ladd S. Gordon Waterfowl Complex is composed of the Belen, Casa Colorada, Bernardo, and La Joya Waterfowl Areas. The Bernardo Waterfowl Area contains a wildlife trail complete with viewing and photographic towers and is open to the public. It has become a popular site for birders and photographers.

For the last few years I have made trips to Bernardo with the birding group I am a member of and with other photographers. This year was no exception. In addition to the birders trip, three friends and I made a two day trip to Bosque and Bernardo in mid January. The weather was perfect for that time of year and we got some really nice shots. The pre-dawn was really good but the morning blast off from the main pond at Bosque happened pretty early. I’m not sure what spooked the birds but there was too little light to get and good mass ascension shots. We still managed to get quite a few nice images over the two days.

Sandhill Cranes flying south over a pond at the Bernardo Waterfowl Area at sunset

 

Sandhill Cranes flying in to Bernardo

Snow geese flying in to the Bernardo

Sandhill Cranes and Snow Geese at Bernardo

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Closer to home there are several nice locations to photograph birds in the winter. One of there is the Albuquerque Biological Park. There are three areas at the park that I like in the winter: the back ponds at Tingley Beach, the duck pond at the Albuquerque Zoo and main pond at the Albuquerque Botanic Garden. This winter I have gone on photo shoots a couple of times to both Tingley and the zoo. The weather was great for all four trips and we managed to get some good images each time.

Canada Geese flying past the moon

Male wood duck

Female wood duck

American Coot

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The migratory birds have already started heading back north so soon it will be time for the summer species to show up. My favorite among those are the hummingbirds. More about that later…

 

Mike Stoy

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Feather and water drop on plexiglass with gel lights

For me winter is a chance to shoot in the studio. I have a large woodworking shop and every December I like to do a complete cleaning of the shop (a good idea once a year on general principles). This is long effort spread over three days since every time I make a cleaning pass I need to let the dust settle for eight hours or so before the next pass. I don’t want to leave any wood dust around to get into my camera body when I change lenses.

Since my studio work is all  what would be called table top work I set a full sheet of plywood on my table saw to act as a shooting table. Next I bring all my studio gear into the wood shop. I don’t have the kind of gear that a portrait studio photographer would use. Instead I have a lot of small stands, clamps, table top tripods and the like. I do have three normal sized mono lights but most of what I do is done with Nikon’s macro light system.

Scotch bottle and glass

Stop motion water drops

Bowl and plate with marbles on plexiglass

Wine bottle and glass

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Soft focus Alstroemeria

I am interested in shooting a wide range of small objects with different lighting set-ups. A lot of what I do is very high contrast or back lit images with fully saturated colors. I like the bokeh of my primary Sigma 150mm macro lens so I shoot quite a few shallow DOF images as well. I also really love to shoot flowers although the selection available in the winter in Albuquerque is a bit limited. I am a member of the local photography club, the Enchanted Lens Camera Club, in Albuquerque. I am also in one of the portfolio groups in the club and my project for this year is “Ethereal Flowers”. I’ll try and write a post about it when I finish the portfolio.

 

Refractograph

Another of my favorite subjects is reflected and refracted light. Over the years I have done a lot of experiments with this from water drops to soap bubbles. Just last year I tried doing refractographs for the first time and found that fascinating. I am planning on doing some more of them next winter and I may choose that as a portfolio project for next year.

 

 

 

I just packed up all the studio gear for this year so I can tackle some woodworking projects. So unless I get really motivated I won’t be doing any more studio work until next winter.

 

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