Archive for January 2009

January 13, 2009 A Rainy Night in Washington

January 15, 2009

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For most of Earth’s several billion years, the night was a time for stealthy, quiet movements by night predators and prey. Other animals, creatures of the day, hunkered down until the return of the light. During the short history of people, our ancestors were the hunkering down kind of creatures, until the invention of fire began to 2009_wa_7029wppush back the blackness to the cave entrance. Now, fast forward a million or so years, and we drive fearlessly for long distances through the inky depths, thanks to headlights, taillights, neon signs, stoplights, billboards, streetlights, and lights in businesses welcoming us inside. We think of this as normal, but it was not a widespread part of human life until we entered the prior century.

For this series of pictures, created during an early evening drive from Shelton to Bremerton in the Puget Sound region of Washington, I wanted to capture an impressionistic view of the lights along the way.  This was a night of torrential rain, which caused flooding throughout western Washington. But with all the puddled and pooled rain on the roadways, it was a beautiful night of lights reflected off pavement.

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I set my digital camera to a high ISO setting, enabling me to fire the camera without agonizingly long exposures. I set the lens on autofocus, then steered the vehicle with my left hand while taking pictures with my right hand through the wet windshield. 2009_wa_7080wpWhen I later described this to my wife, her first reaction was: “Do you want to die?!” Well, no. And I can’t recommend this as a safe procedure. But I wasn’t looking through the viewfinder during any of the moving exposures, so my eyes were still on the road. Autofocus and autoexposure took the place of my normal fussiness about photography and, without looking through the viewfinder, careful composition took a backseat to instinct. The exposures ranged from perhaps half a second to maybe eight seconds (I couldn’t check while driving), and I bracketed to some degree. When stopped at a stoplight, I was able to get some photographs while quickly composing through the viewfinder.

When I got to my destination, I quickly downloaded the 100+ photographs and was pleased with the results. My favorite pictures, shown here, have a hint of impressionism and vividly portray the gaudy colors that greet us when we venture out at night. 

And, no, I don’t intend to do this again (at least in the near future), so you can feel safe on the roads, as long as you realize that the oncoming high-beams may hide a cell phone user, drunk driver, text messager, GPS follower, makeup applier, video watcher, face shaver, or some other modern multitasker behind the wheel!

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To see my web site, which includes photographic prints for sale, please go to LeeRentz.com

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Click on the photographs below for larger versions with captions.

January 12, 2009 Four Otter Morning

January 12, 2009

This morning I watched a family of four River Otters swim along the  shore of Fawn Lake, where I live in Mason County on the Olympic Peninsula of Washington. When I stepped out  on the deck to watch from above, I watched and heard one otter’s jaws crunching a fish after emerging from a dive.  Whenever I see a family of otters here, they dive closely together–usually just a few feet apart–not spreading out as they fish the lake. When they dive from the surface, it is an act of grace with barely a ripple, the tail arching as the animal slips into the depths.

Also today, I watched a Common Loon out on the lake.  Closer in, a  Double-crested Cormorant spent the night in the ragged Bigleaf Maple in front of our house on the shore, 60 or so feet away from the roost where many of its “colleagues” routinely spend winter nights. Then, this morning, a Sharp-shinned Hawk attempted to raid the feeder and  perched on my deck railing a few feet away, showing off its bright yellow feet.

A good wildlife day on an otherwise dreary day at home.

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December 27, 2008 Into the Mystic Midwest

January 12, 2009

 

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Today I was in the middle of Michigan’s Lower Peninsula visiting family during a Christmas trip. This year the traditional white Christmas visited with a vengeance: it has been a snowy December in this part of Michigan, with nearly 40″ of snow falling during2008_mi_6648wp the cold and icy month. But weathermen were predicting a letup from the cold–a front of unseasonably warm air was blowing in, creating a certainty of fog. I love photographing foggy landscapes, so the change of weather was just perfect. Less so the roads.

With my wife and mother nervously accompanying me as I drove our rental car on back roads glazed with ice, I set out to capture the essence of fog blanketing the wintry farm fields and maple forests of central Michigan.  We did a loop from Stanwood to Big Rapids to Mount Pleasant and back to Stanwood, passing through Amish country and the kinds of Midwestern small towns that politicians love to extol as being the heart of America. Though the temperature reached 54°F as we travelled, the sun was never able to burn through the fog. Just for fun, we decided to follow the GPS unit’s voiced guidance in our rental car. In soothing tones, the female voice told us where to turn. But computer woman had never been on snowy Michigan back roads in the middle of winter, and she led us over hilly roads completely covered with ice that had yet to see a salt or sand truck. 2008_mi_6616wpWhen she tried to lead us down a road that was, in reality, an unplowed trail, we drew the line. Fortunately, she didn’t get upset at us and simply recalculated our route. Nice lady computer.

The fog was thick in the open hardwood forests, lending an atmosphere of mystery to a day in which tree trunks marched in ever-lightening shades of gray into the distance. Fog shrouds the landscape with quiet, and I think that feeling comes through in my photographs. This type of fog is known as advection fog, and it forms when warm, moist air flows over a snow-covered landscape. As this warm, saturated air chills near the cold ground, fog forms. My mind has a hard time comprehending the scientific explanation of this phenomenon which involves dewpoints at the interface of cold and warm air, but for those who need to know, there is a good website with a succinct explanation: www.theweatherprediction.com

I stopped the car repeatedly to get out and photograph, finding that the road was a sheet of  ice that threatened me with a hard fall.  But I remained upright and took numerous pictures all morning, until my wife and mother in unison shouted “No!” when I tried to park the car on an icy hill and get out one last time to take a picture. I relented under the pressure of their good sense and got back in the car. Good boy!

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The fog lasted all day, as did we on our adventure. When we drove home through the dark in early evening, a wind had come up and was blowing the fog sideways across the road at a high velocity. I’m used to driving in blowing snow, with the headlights piercing the mesmerizing and dazzling matrix of billions of big flakes. But I had never before driven through dense and blowing fog, in which the fog line kept disappearing and the headlights penetrated the mist barely a car length ahead. We never had to stop entirely, which was good because the snow was hard and crusted high on the road shoulder. We made it home, exhausted after the drive, but I was happy with my mystic Midwestern pictures of the day. 

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When I got home and looked at the photographs, I enlarged several to a high degree.  Only then did I see two White-tailed Deer bedding down in the mist, partially obscured by the trees. When I took the picture I must have been only 40-50′ away from the deer, yet they remained quietly hidden in the forest. It was a day of that kind of magic.

 

To see a variety of my photographic work, including photos for sale, please go to LeeRentz.com

Click on the photographs below for versions with captions.

January 5, 2009 On Thin Ice

January 6, 2009

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Understanding natural design is a right brain/left brain exercise. We sense beauty and become inspired through the artistic right hemisphere of the brain, and understand the reasons behind natural design through the rational and analytical right hemisphere of the brain.  This is oversimplifying, of course, but it does point out our varied ways of sensing the world.  Van Gogh was undoubtedly right-brained in his perceptions of the world, while the fictional Spock was completely left-brained. When I come upon an element of nature that I don’t 2009_wa_1756wpunderstand, my brain searches for reasons behind the beauty that I capture with my camera.   Nature is filled with patterns that are governed by physics and evolution.

I live on small Fawn Lake in the Puget Sound region of the USA, a place renowned for rain. Our maritime winters are indeed moist, with a climate resembling England or Scotland. I maintain a rain gauge each year, and in a typical year we get about 65 inches of precipitation–mostly rain, but occasionally we get snow. In December 2008, 17″ of snow dumped on us, closing schools and businesses and making roads almost impassable right before Christmas, when people wanted to be out shopping. Then our lake froze over.

I was out of town for the holidays, but when I returned, I noticed a strange pattern on the frozen surface of Fawn Lake.  There were hundreds of ice formations that looked for all the world like synapses in the brain: see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Synapse. 2009_wa_1753wpThese dendritic (think tree branches) formations each had a hole in the center with branching tentacles radiating out from the center hole. When I photographed them, the temperature was above freezing, and the water in the dendritic formations was liquid. It looks to me as if rainwater and meltwater flow from the tips of the tentacles to the hole in the center. But what caused these holes to begin with? And why are they fairly regularly spaced across the lake? Is water flowing into or out of the hole in the center? This inquiring left brain wants to know, and I would appreciate your suggestions. I will update this entry if someone has a definitive explanation.

This phenomenon has been observed before, and you can see pictures by other photographers from several locations at:  http://flickr.com/photos/91347191@N00/109697496

 

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To see a variety of my photographic work, including photos for sale, please go to LeeRentz.com

Click on the photographs below for versions with captions.