close-up

Time-Lapse on Kinport Peak

Not quite a month since my knee surgery, I decided to head up the mountain to work on some time-lapse of the great summer clouds. Bear in mind, this is mid-June and lovely spring mountain flowers on the way up and they kept getting better the higher I drove (4-wheel). I was almost to the summit when I passed the 7,000 foot mark when I came around a bend on the north side of the mountain….snow! My last 100 yards were impassable! Needless to say, with my knee still hurting I wasn’t about to hike the rest of the way with all my gear.

Turning my truck around on an un-maintained single-track rocky fire road was certainly a challenge! Very much a white-knuckle affair and very slow going. At one point when the truck was perpendicular to the road with its ass-end just over the edge and the front end up against the mountain, I started having some doubts!!! Anyway, made it back down without too much damage, just ripped off the front license plate and holder from the bumper.

Once I was part-way down, I found a nice little pull out and parked to begin the time-lapse series and had lunch. This was my first official attempt at time-lapse outside my home. So, it was interesting. Also recorded some natural sound of the wind and birds. While the Nikon was doing its thing with the time-lapse, I took my Fuji x20 and placed it in macro mode. This allowed me to get the camera almost on the ground to shoot the wild flowers below.

Even though I didn’t reach the summit, it still turned out to be a productive afternoon a bit lower on the mountain at 6,400′ elevation.

Road Tripping in the Arco Desert, Moon Craters and Atomic Venues

Last month I had the opportunity to slip away from the university for a day and went on a photo road trip with fellow photographer, John Lowry. Our adventure began well before sunrise as we headed out to the Snake River Plain and headed northwest into the Arco Desert. First stop in the bone-chilling weather was Atomic City, a quasi-ghost town not far from the INL (Idaho National Laboratory). This entire region is an interesting mix of ancient basaltic lava flows, atomic wastelands, and current nuclear testing facilities.

My planned experiments for the day centered on the vast landscape to be photographed through my super wide-angle Rokinon 14mm/f2.8 lens. The objective was to use a 1.2 ND filter attached to the backside of the lens, which would reduce my exposures by 4 f-stops. Ultimately, the plan called for windy conditions that would allow for cloud movement during the slow exposures. Alas, the wind didn’t cooperate and the clouds stood still. Bummer. But regardless of Mother Nature’s lack of support in this endeavor, we did have a great time and created a variety of images. Enjoy!

Is there a difference between Micro and Macro photography?

Lately on Friday afternoons after my grading is finished (most of the time), I’ve been trying to head out on short photo safaris with my colleague Wilson Hurst and the occasional student. Last week the lighting and weather conditions were great, so we took off to the northeast from campus, about a half-hour drive, to a beautiful reservoir just outside of Concordia—Edwin A. Pape Lake.

The low angle of the sun was creating interesting light patterns throughout the well-manicured wooded park and I found some interesting fungi to do some macro work. I pulled out my trusty Nikkor 55mm f2.8 MICRO lens and proceeded to lie on the ground for the extreme close-ups.

Sometimes photographers wonder what’s the difference between lenses that have Micro or Macro stamped on their lens barrels. At the university’s photography equipment check-out gage, we have a number of Canon and Nikon lenses, with the former stating MACRO and the latter stating MICRO. Turns out, both verbiage is correct, provided of course the lens is capable of photographing an object at a 1:1 ratio. In other words: life-size.  If the lens isn’t capable of this type of rendering, then you are simply doing close-up shots and not life-size. So what’s the difference between the terms? It’s just marketing ploys between camera manufacturers.

The great thing about these types of lenses is that it allows the photographer to explore intimate, miniature worlds that commingle with our perceived “normal” world of human beings.

© 2010 Terry Ownby

© 2010 Terry Ownby

© 2010 Terry Ownby

Fading Summer and Alice’s Rabbit Hole!

Clear skies and a warm afternoon were a perfect combination for getting off campus Friday and photographing in the nearby state park of Knob Noster. So my colleague and friend, Wilson Hurst, along with one of our dedicated UCM Photo students, Phil Williams (who helped me extensively on my vineyard book project), headed off to visually explore the temporal moments of the waning days of summer. This semester is slipping by incredibly fast, as in just a few days we’ll experience the autumnal equinox, the day my Celtic pagan ancestors celebrated the turning of the seasonal wheel back in east central England and Wales.

Our first encounter was a lovely grove of pine, possibly red pine. As we photographed in this beautiful setting, the drone of vintage propeller-driven fighter planes loomed overhead, as the flight of aircraft practiced aerial maneuvers for an upcoming air show at the nearby Air Force base. Immediately the combination of the vintage aural message from above, the heat and scent of the pine grove below, transported me mentally into the Spanish Civil War scene of Hemingway’s 1940 novel, For Whom The Bell Tolls; one of my favorite reads while attending grad school at Webster University in Saint Louis.

Next, our adventures took the three of us into the deciduous forest and peninsula extending out towards the lake. Here I encountered beautiful mushrooms and fungi on the forest floor hidden in its decomposing organic detritus. Fortunately, due to my thinking ahead, I switched lenses to my Nikkor 55mm Micro 2.8, for some extreme close-up portraits. This fantastic lens allowed me to focus on the fungi within less than 10” (0.25m). As I lay there on the moss and leaves, I expected to see at any moment little gnomes or faeries sitting on the brightly colored woodland thrones. Instead, suddenly my thoughts turned to Jefferson Airplane’s classic hit, White Rabbit with visualizations of Alice going down the rabbit hole into a surreal experience of the psychedelic Other World. This led me to experiment with temporal shifts in my image making by slowing down the shutter speed to around two seconds at f32 and moving the camera in varying directions and speed.

At one point the three of us rendezvoused next to the lake and ended up in a heady discussion on Sartre’s existentialism and Barthessemiological notions of myth and orders of signification. Had any of the rural locals overheard our philosophical discussions, they surely would have thought us all to be a bunch of crazy idiots babbling non-sense! C’est la vie,  such is life for the never ending visual academic!

Pine Toll, © 2010, Terry Ownby

Throne One, © 2010, Terry Ownby

Throne Two, © 2010, Terry Ownby

Alice’s Rabbit Vortex, © 2010, Terry Ownby

Falling Forrest I, © 2010, Terry Ownby

Falling Forest II, © 2010, Terry Ownby

Leaves Falling, © 2010, Terry Ownby

Summer Ice, © 2010, Terry Ownby

Return to the Flint Hills

Amazingly, I never tire of photographing the Flint Hills and the Tall Grass Prairie in Kansas. Wilson Hurst and I returned last week, sans students, and set up our base of operations at Emporia. Friday morning we hiked a portion of the prairie that was new to us, the Two Section Pasture, just east of Strong City. Basically it was just a very large pasture with several young beeves, which kept following Wilson! We did encounter one Horny Toad lizard along the trail and that provided some entertainment.

After working up an appetite, we headed down to Cottonwood Falls, where we had massive burgers at the Grand Central Hotel. From there, we did a driving tour heading south through Chase County, wondering back roads until arriving at an interesting ghost of a town called Bazaar. We happened across a unique looking cemetery from the 19th century, aptly named, Bazaar Cemetery. Something about the name just sounds bizarre! Anyway, that was the beginning of a new joint photo project on oddly named cemeteries and the following day we were fortunate to come across two more for the series: Welcome Cemetery and Pleasant Valley Cemetery! What are the odds?!

Around dinner time, we headed back into Emporia, checked into our room and then headed to one of the few chain restaurants we’ll eat at while on the road: Montana Mike’s Steakhouse. Fast service, good steaks, and reasonable prices, what else does one need! Since the days are getting longer, we decided to go back out to the Tall Grass Prairie to photograph the sunset and to await the night sky for some star trail shooting.

Being out in that sea of green at twilight is incredible and we were rewarded with great light, nighthawks, deer, coyotes, Evening Primroses, stars, and an incredible red full moon. It takes patience to do this type of shooting, something my students struggle with; but we were there in one spot from 7:30pm until almost 10:30pm, before calling it a day.

The next day started with a great breakfast at the Flint Hills Restaurant and then we headed north for the Konza Prairie. En route, we detoured off the highway and found Pillsbury Crossing and spent time photographing the waterfalls at the fording in Deep Creek. While there, we spotted what appeared to be a Cottonmouth snake, sunning itself on a flat stone in the river, not far from where we had been shooting. Then we were off to the Konza. Springtime flowers were abundant and we captured several images along the trail up to the summit of the ridge.

Although we covered a lot of miles in two days, it was incredibly relaxing and great to get away from urban life. Great photography, great food, and great landscapes: the Flint Hills is my favorite for all of these!

© 2010 Terry Ownby, Sunset at Tall Grass Prairie

© 2010 Terry Ownby, Looking North from Tall Grass

© 2010 Terry Ownby, Pillsbury Crossing

© 2010 Terry Ownby, Bazaar, Kansas

© 2010 Terry Ownby, Evening Primrose on the prairie

© 2010 Terry Ownby, Annual Fleabane, Erigeron annuus L. & Blue Hearts, Buchnera americana  L.

Photographing a cookbook in Wisconsin

A family friend has been cooking up some of the most incredible dishes for quite some time. Julie O is a native Wisconsinite, living in Madison and I’ve known her for well over a decade. Her fascination with cooking goes back to her childhood when she and her siblings would sit on their little colored stools in front of their mother’s oven to watch the magic of baking popovers. Her love for cooking eventually led her to being a part-time pastry chef at Quivey’s Grove on Madison’s southwest side. Today, at her day-job at Wisconsin Education Association Council, she has endeared herself to countless fellow employees with culinary treats. Often times she spends hours baking and cooking tasty morsels for fund-raisers and charities.

Not surprisingly, her friends and co-workers have pestered her for years to share her kitchen secrets. This past fall Julie decided to take the plunge and write a cookbook. Her co-workers and friends immediately started placing orders for a book not even written or produced! After hearing about her project, I pondered at length the idea of possibly getting involved. And so, I volunteered my photographic expertise, which happens to be food photography. Needless to say, Julie’s response to my offer was one of excitement! So, during my winter holiday break at the university, I headed up to Madison with a truckload of studio gear and transformed her dinning room into a Hollywood set! We only had a short time to stay up north (with 1.5 feet of snow and more falling), so we produced 24 food shots in three days’ time. No food stylist or photo assistants like in the old days. Just me and a driven chef! Below are some samples from our endeavor. Enjoy!

© 2009 Terry Ownby

© 2009 Terry Ownby

© 2009 Terry Ownby

Photographer Harassment

I have been professionally photographing more than three decades and during the past two years since moving to west-central Missouri I have never seen or experienced photographer harassment as I have here. When I first moved here, I started going on short, local photo trips with some of my university colleagues and noticed while we were out, usually someone from the local community would stop us (typically my friend) and begin to aggressively question what we were doing. We could be photographing something entirely mundane, such as the side of an old weathered building, yet people around here seem compelled to take it upon themselves to function as some kind of “photo police”, as though the act of photographing public spaces is a crime. I truly don’t understand this mentality! Sadly, this is not only happening in the USA. Here’s a link to Thomas Hawk’s Digital Connection, and watch this video of this craziness in the UK!

Today while I was riding my bike to the university to teach a morning studio class, I stopped on the neighboring street to create the image below. Just a simple close-up shot of a flowering American Tulip Tree. How benign can this subject matter be? Regardless, I’m minding my own business trying to get my little point & shoot (Nikon Coolpix S210) focused when I noticed one of the locals sitting in his sedan in the middle of the street staring at me. I consider myself to be a very open, accepting person of others’ chosen lifestyles so I don’t want to sound bigoted, but this guy fit the stereotypical rendition of a “redneck”, of which there are plenty around here.

At any rate, I finished my shooting and was getting ready to get back on my bike and he yells at me wanting to know if I was just photographing the “flower”. I’ve seen this episode play out too often with my photo buddies, so I was in no mood to go down this road. I put on a stern face, mustered up my old Army master sergeant voice and challenged him by asking him “was there a problem”? He smartly rolled up his window and sped off!

What is going on here? Why is that people think they have some kind of obligation to interfere with photographers working in public spaces? Certainly there’s no national secrets to safe guard near the campus of UCM! My personal theory is they must confuse everyone with a camera as being “paparazzi” and maybe they think they’re going to save the next Princess Diana!

© 2008 Terry Ownby, Flower from an American Tulip tree (Liriodendron tulipifera).