Wednesday, May 24, 2017

The Chickadee Post

Mom (or Dad) arrives with breakfast

From the title you might reasonably assume that this is a blog post about chickadees. And you would be right. At least in part. This tale does indeed involve lovable chickadees. However, the 'post' referenced in the title isn't a blog entry, it is an actual 4"x4" wooden post that anchors one corner of our deck. 

So why does this 'post' share the limelight with nature's little avian harlequins? Let me tell you, Better yet, let me show you.

One day while watching TV I noted a couple of chickadees flitting back and forth between a wooden post at the far corner of our deck and branches in neighboring trees and bushes. Eventually one landed on the top of the post and then suddenly disappeared - apparently down into the post! Upon subsequent inspection I discovered that the center of the post had rotted out, creating a cavity roughly 2 inches by 1 inch wide extending deep into the post. Curious, I watched the activity at the post for the next couple of weeks witnessing the chickadees' repeated disappearance down into the post followed by their re-emergence moments later. I was eventually convinced they were nesting in the post cavity.  However, even with the aid of a light I was unable to see to the bottom of the cavity (which I estimate to be at least 12 inches deep) so could not confirm the existence of nest, eggs or chicks. Confirmation of my suspicion about nesting would have to await stronger behavioral evidence of nesting so I continued to observe the behavior of this pair to harlequins. Lo and behold, one day one of the little birds arrived with a beak full of caterpillar larvae, as in the picture at the top of this post! Momentarily it disappeared down through the hole, popping up to the surface with an empty beak moments later. How they manage to turn around in that narrow shaft just blows my mind! Since then this routine has been repeated - steadily, frenetically -  with both partners taking turns popping in and out of their post home to attend to another generation of diminutive harlequins.

The following pictures document one such in-and-out cycle. The final shot in the sequence leaves much to be desired from an image quality point of view but I decided to included it since it completes the cycle and imparts a sense of the energy the adults expend in the process. Apologies to my bird photography colleagues who no doubt throw up a little in their mouth when they look at that shot.

Now I am anxiously awaiting the emergence of the fledglings from 'the chickadee post'.

Getting ready for the disappearing act.

Head first.


Is the coast clear?

First one leg then the other.

Off to gather the next course.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Perfection is the enemy.....

'Waiting in the Wings'  Olympus OM-D EM-1,;Lumix G Vario 35-100mm at 100mm
(200mm full-frame equivalent); f/2.8; 1/200 sec; ISO 3200.

"Perfection is the enemy of the good."

According to my photographic 'education' and instincts, acceptance of this old Italian sentiment when it comes to photography is near blasphemy.  Photographs, particularly 'good' photographs should be technically perfect - or nearly so - according to the dogmas that have guided my photography to this point.  

Strict adherence to the letter of the law would have precluded my posting the image I've included in this post - "Waiting in the Wings." The same masters of the genre who advocate technical near-perfection also extol photographers to capture images that tell a great story, that pull the viewer in emotionally as well as visually.  Well, what happens when these two ideals end up at odds with each other? That is the situation I found myself in when taking this shot.

I was photographing my grand daughter's dance recital this past weekend.  While standing on the far right hand side of the stage as a group of dancers were performing I saw this solitary young dancer standing just behind the curtains on the opposite side of the stage watching with anticipation.  To me this was a visual story worth capturing - one that I knew would be fleeting.  My first 'educated' reaction was to think of all the technical problems that would plague the shot under the circumstances, reasoning that argued against raising the camera.  The lighting was terrible, I was shooting at a very high ISO (3200), my aperture was wide open (f/2.8), I was using a 200mm (full-frame equivalent) zoom lens at its maximum reach (for the interested non-photographer and the photographer interested in brevity, suffice it to say that these settings all adversely impact image quality).

The left side of my brain argued the logical case for foregoing the shot while my artistic right side articulated the 'compelling story' argument for doing so.  Recognizing these moments of indecision might jeopardize capturing 'the moment', over-riding the control my left brain ordinarily exerts over my right shutter finger my right brain quickly directed the muscles controlling my right index finger to press down firmly on the shutter button.  

I was shooting at 5 frames per second and got three shots before the tiny dancer walked out of sight. Whew!

I will be the first to acknowledge that the shot is far from perfect; in fact it has some real flaws from a technical standpoint (soft, noisy).  On the other hand, the resulting image matched my 'warm story' vision even better than my right brain had originally rationalized. 

Although I always aspire to technical proficiency if not perfection, I have created very few if any technically perfect images. Even my very best are flawed.  On the other hand I have seldom captured an image that tells a story as well as I think this one does.  The masters recognize the primacy of 'story' over technical perfection in the creation of excellent photographs.  They constantly remind us that technically sound images devoid of a compelling story are little more than boring, technically sound pictures. Therefore, in the formulation of a successful image it seems that 'story' might compensate for some technical difficulties in the creation of a good (but perhaps not great) images provided the flaws are not extreme. 

This shot was my experiment with this logic.  I think that the image tells a great story and that the flaws are reasonably well controlled in the final processing.  It is a good image.  In aggregate the technical and story components contribute to a final image I am happy I envisaged and even happier I took the chance on capturing.