Saturday, January 6, 2018

Pics from the office window ... Episode 1

The room where my desktop computer is located, and where I work when I process my photos from various shoots, is on the upper level of the house and faces the backyard.

Immediately next to the four office windows overlooking the yard is the slanted roof over the sunroom. The roofs blocks my view of any yard immediately adjacent to the house, but I can see some of the rear yard and all of the wooded area beyond the property line. I also can see our detached garage, and the next-door neighbor's backyard.

Four days ago, while I was working on the computer, a cardinal stopped on the aforementioned roof -- about 10 feet from where I was sitting. I scrambled to get my camera and attach a lens with a long focal range (I chose the Canon 20-700mm f/2.8L). By the time I got back to the desk chair to shoot, the cardinal had disappeared.

I decided to keep the camera ready nearby in case the cardinal returned. It hasn't come back while I've been here, but a thought occurred to me two days ago while I was composing the post about the snow pictures. I happened to look over to my neighbor's backyard and the saw the chair on the hill as shown in the photo leading off the post. I liked its framing by the tree on the left and the neighbor's shed on the right.

The camera was still equipped with the 70-200mm lens, so I grabbed it and took the picture. Then I noticed snow formations on the roof ... and a striking shadow of a tree against the garage roof. And I started firing some more shots. I came back to the original shot -- the neighbor's chair -- and changed the orientation to vertical and focused on the lone leaf remaining on the tree in the foreground.

I got the idea to come back to this idea from time to time -- finding things of interest while looking through the office window --- presuming I won't run out of ideas ... or won't quickly become repetitive. We'll see.

All of the shots in today's post were taken with my Canon 6D and the aforementioned 70-200mm lens. I bracketed exposures for processing images through Photomatix high-dynamic range (HDR) software.

Above: A large sack of garden soil left out in the yard that I used as a marker last month. I'm going to have to remember to drag it into the garage at some point soon.

Above and next five below: Various slices of the sunroom roof and sunlight windows in various snow cover or reflection. The first shot below was intended as an exercise in exploiting depth of field.

The angular shadow of a tree on the side and roof of the detached garage (above), and a second frame to compose just the roof portion below. 

Above: Back to the direction of the original composition (the neighbor's backyard chair this time in the background), changing the orientation to vertical and focusing on the orange leaf from a deciduous tree stuck in the conifer in the foreground.  

Friday, January 5, 2018

A sunrise to toast first NC snowfall photos

One of the reasons I moved to North Carolina last summer was the allure of a slightly warmer climate than what I had experienced for almost 40 years in Indianapolis.

In Indiana, winters were not nearly as long as and/or brutal as those I remember when living in Wisconsin and, briefly, Iowa. There were about a half-dozen winters in Indy when snowfall for the season was what I would term "negligible," although Indy always got its fair share of cold temperatures. I think there was only one winter in all my years there when the lowest temperature failed to hit single digits.

Lee Ann and I both knew North Carolina and parts south of us weren't impervious to all winter weather; in fact, I'd already told myself I'd have no problem being reminded of the change of seasons from time to time. We just were counting on seeing a lot less of it ... and certainly not so soon after moving here.

So you can imagine my dismay when, in the very first winter in North Carolina, have we not only experienced low temperatures in the teens on several occasions (tonight it's possible the thermometer could even dip below 10 degrees), but the other day, we also experienced our first snowfall. Fortunately, it was nothing to lose any sleep over.

You may have heard or read about the so-called weather "bomb cyclone" that crushed the East Coast yesterday, particularly those people living on the northern end of it. The system hit North Carolina on its way north, and we were on the far western fringe of it. We received only an inch and half of snow, and it all came after dark Wednesday evening. I made a point to grab my iPhone before walking out to retrieve my newspaper Thursday morning so I could record anything picturesque.

It was picturesque, indeed ... and cold. I wasn't dressed with many layers to deliberate much with my compositions, so I snapped as many shots as I could as quickly as I could while circling the house to record our first-ever snowfall in North Carolina.

Just after I started, I was treated to the orange and yellow burst of rays from the rising sun slipping through trees in the yards of neighbors across the street, so I worked to integrate the sun into my compositions. The image leading off the post was taken from my driveway looking across the street. I liked the way the rays fall on and color the snow-covered pavement.

When I got back into the house and noticed that the majority of pictures were quite dark (again, it was just before and after sunrise), a thought occurred to me. I remembered that my version of Photomatix -- software that melds up to three different exposures of the same composition to form a singular, high-dynamic range (HDR) image -- allows me to make copies of a single image then designate exposures of two of three images to be adjusted as if they had been shot at various increments (of my choosing). Essentially, it's an artificial way to meld three "different" exposures of the same composition if you only have one exposure to work with.

I had never used Photomatix to do that with a full shoot before because I normally use my digital single-lens reflex (DSLR) camera when I compose extensive landscape photos. I prefer to make my own multiple exposures at the point of shoot. I delved into this feature of the software for the first time Thursday morning with my single-frame iPhone X shots of the snowfall, and the images you see in this post are the result.

I did very little other editing of the photos; I boosted all of the "green" color saturations in each image (Photomatix allows users to adjust the strength of various colors at the end of processing), and I occasionally increased lighting (but only slightly), but that's about it. Photomatix did the rest.

Above and below: The same neighbor's house taken from different angles. Above, you can spot the colored burst of sun rays behind the home. Moving down the road a bit, there's nothing blocking the sun anymore, not even the trees. 

 Above and below are two slightly different angles of my street, looking up a hill.

Above: Sun rays hit the top portion of the trunk of this tree in my backyard.

Elsewhere in my backyard, my big-people swing looks chillingly isolated (above). The fence you see in the background above is pictured below at much closer range. If you look closely at the left side of the fence in the image below, you can catch spots of orange sun rays bouncing against it.  

Shots integrating the sun or its rays, or the sun's reflections and shadows on the snow were my favorites in the shoot from Wednesday morning. Above, you can see the sun peeking thinly through a couple trees, casting the tapestry of lines, brightness, color and shadows on the driveway. A closeup of the driveway appears below.  

Above: A spot of light and color splashing the midsection of a house front.

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Why does 'life with dogs' have to have
an episode of 'hurt and loss'?

I went more than 60 years of my life never owning or caring for a dog, cat or any other four-legged pet. That changed after I met Lee Ann in Fishers, Ind., in 2014.

Lee Ann owned two dogs. Molly, the elder, is a purebred Australian Silky Terrier and the smaller of the two dogs. Molly also was the mother of Bear, Lee Ann's other dog. Bear was the product of an unplanned union between Molly and a Maltese mate. So by association, I became a pet owner, even though I frequently teased Lee Ann about how those pets were hers when there was cleanup or other time-consuming tasks needing to be done.

Last month, only three years into my "life with dogs," I went through another, more dreaded "first," something no pet owner wants to go through. We had to put Bear down.

Molly and Bear were already up in years when I entered Lee Ann's life and the dogs' "life with humans." Molly was 12 and Bear 10 at that point, and Molly was already showing signs of slowing down. Lee Ann told me stories about how Molly, in her younger years, used to romp about at their rural Henry County home, chasing one yard squirrel after another like crazy. Molly was nothing like that when I first laid eyes on the dogs. Molly lumbered about, showing obvious signs of mobility impairment; Lee Ann said it was arthritis. In addition, Molly had growths on her abdomen that Lee Ann said vets had diagnosed as cancer. We assumed Molly would be the first we'd have to part with.

Bear had always been pert, bouncy and eager to buddy up for as long as I've known him. My favorite memories were hearing his loving whines on the other side of the house door when he heard us pull the car into the garage after being away for a while, or watching him sprint a loop course around the living room and hallways -- leaping from floor, to couch, to floor and around again -- in excitement when we'd say just the right "good dog" kinds of things he needed to hear at a particular moment. Or maybe he did it simply to work out some pent-up energy.

While living in Indianapolis, I'd occasionally walk Bear through Garfield Park, and he would trot about happily, often even pushing the pace a bit so he had time to "mark" things ahead of me before I caught up and pulled past him. (Lumbering ol' Molly, on the other hand, while she loved going outdoors to explore, wouldn't move very far at all when we gave her outdoor time; she had to investigate and smell everything in her sight range, so we rarely made it to the park).

At some point in 2015, Bear started to trickle blood during bowel movements. The vet opined that it was irritable bowel syndrome, so we experimented with various dietary remedies to hopefully resolve the issue. Those helped somewhat, for a while. But the bleeding resurfaced every so often, until the past year, when it came a lot more often.

The new vet here gave us various medicines to help ease Bear's IBS and numb the pain that we all presumed he was experiencing. The meds worked for a while to stem the new wave of heavy bleeding, too, but Bear wasn't himself most of the time he was on them. Then in October, Bear had a horrific episode while sleeping in the dogs' quarters overnight. When we went to greet the dogs in the morning in our usual ritual, there was blood everywhere in the room.

So we had an ultrasound done, and it showed Bear had a large mass in a very bad spot of his colon. The vet said such masses are almost always malignant. The two options the doctor presented were not at all appealing: either submit Bear to an expensive surgery that promised a less than 40 percent success rate (it might prolong his life, but not add quality to it) or to put him down. We realized the latter was the fair thing to do, especially given how much of a different dog Bear was when under the influence of the medicines we would have to continue keeping him on ...

We decided to take Bear home and try to make the most of our time with him for as long as we could. We hoped he would make it to Christmas.

At that point, I also decided to photograph Bear when I could in the days ahead. It occurred to me that I possessed only a couple dozen iPhone shots of him and Molly, and I wanted to make some quality images while I had the chance to get them. I had a decent shoot on Nov. 1; when I say "decent," I mean I took a lot of photos. But in retrospect, Bear was in the throes of his medicine for most of the images that day, so he looks a bit un-Bear like. Bear was doing OK when family visited for Thanksgiving, and thankfully, I had a much better shoot of him that weekend.

Bear weathered November and the first two weeks of December without a lot of serious issues. But on Dec. 21, four days before Christmas and the day after Lee Ann's birthday, we awoke to find he had another overnight bloody episode, and Lee Ann and I both knew it was time.

Lee Ann slipped Bear his pain meds for the last time that morning, to help ease the discomfort during the drive to the vet's office. The meds must have made Bear's throat dry; he panted heavily while resting in Lee Ann's lap in the waiting room.

Today's post is a tribute to Bear. The lead-off picture is my favorite shot of him of all the ones I took. It's the only one I could get where it looks like he might be smiling -- or looking happy. It was from the shoot Thanksgiving weekend; everyone was outdoors enjoying the nice weather, and Bear was enjoying it with us. Or just enjoying being around us.

Above: Among the happiest days I've seen Bear (and Molly, too) was in July 2014, when Lee Ann and I returned to her home in Fishers from a long trip to two North Carolina beaches. That also happened to be my first time in the state. I took this, on Lee Ann's back patio, with my iPhone during their reunion.

The photos above and below were taken on different occasions, but the location is the same -- Bear and Molly's sleeping spot at the house in Indianapolis. 

Above: For a spell in 2015, we tried to use this body wrap to help calm Bear, who at the time had been mired in an inordinate fit of constant paw-licking. The wrap seemed to help ease the stress that we suspected prompted the licking, but I just think that Bear, Molly ... and perhaps many dogs ... have always turned to paw-licking when bored and/or left alone while owners are off running errands. 

Above and next three below are some more shots from the outdoors portion of the Thanksgiving weekend shoot.

Above: Bear was watching someone in the kitchen on Thanksgiving, just around the corner from the dogs' primary sleeping and eating quarters through the door opening on the right.

Above: Molly in her bed at the North Carolina house.

Bear looks sad in the photo above, I know. He probably was on his meds when this was taken. I include it here because I was also experimenting with a wide open (f/2.8) aperture on my Canon 24-70mm f/2.8L lens and was curious to ascertain the depth of field at this distance. Bear had made a point to park himself under the chair in the background when kitchen traffic was heavy, and that certainly was the case a lot when family was around Thanksgiving weekend. It was the safest place for Bear to keep track of everything -- and everyone -- without getting in their way. A shot of Bear actually under the chair appears below.

I've read that the pose you see Bear strike above is how dogs signal (to other dogs ... and humans, if they know the body language) that they mean no harm or want to play. But on this occasion, which was the Nov. 1 shoot, Bear had just awakened from a snooze on the bedroom floor, and I think he was simply stretching. If he was telling me he wanted to play, I totally misread it ... and missed an opportunity.

Two more frames from the Nov. 1 shoot, Bear resting outdoors during the day while I raked leaves off the driveway (above), and at night in the master bedroom (below).

Above: Bear was panting the majority of the time in the waiting room of the vet's office the morning of his last day. Lee Ann and I took turns comforting him in between Lee Ann's efforts to answer phone text inquiries from friends and family who were aware of what was going on. Lee Ann had a difficult time getting through those hours at the vet's. I tried to let her lean on me as much as she needed, but I'll admit that my eyes welled up bad at one point in the waiting room, too. Probably because I was thinking of Bear's last long gazes at me, like the one pictured here. I've read that when dogs make prolonged eye contact with their owners, they are telling them they love them. I really want to believe that was his unspoken message that morning. He surely loved Lee Ann, who I know misses her Bear very much.