Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Tall Ships Festival - 8.28.10 - Post 4 (The Red Witch)

So this was kind of ridiculous and I knew that going in.  Let's think about this:  it's *night* and the ship is *moving* and I want to take pictures.  But I gave it a shot, mostly to see how ridiculous it would end up being.

The Red Witch at Sunset
This is the Red Witch.  I took this shot from the Windy, and it's pretty much the only good shot of or from the ship, since there was still, you know, light.

This ship was much smaller than the Windy and I spent most of my time up on the top of the cabin, under the boom.  (I kept ending up under the boom... I think because a.) I'm short and I could and b.) it was the highest place to sit.

But like I said, it was night and I tried to shoot anyway.

Abstract Chicago

This is what happens when I tried to shoot Chicago.  A fast shutter got me absolutely nothing.  A slow shutter (in this case slow = .8 seconds) got this.  It's interesting in a very Picasso sort of way.

Waiting for the Nightboat
I got a few shots with the flash.  Most of them.. not so great because even with the flash (I only have my built-in) my camera still ran a long
 shutter.  So here's a kind of creepy shot of the sail.

Before I left on the Witch, I shot the fireworks on the north side of the pier.  And when you're on the ground, you can do it properly (I'll have those shots later).  On a tripod, 3-second shutter, 800 ISO, the whole nine yards.  You have no idea how much NONE of that works on a boat.  But I tried a few things and played anyway...

Heart in Motion
 This was a .5 second exposure with an f-stop of 3.5.  I seriously had no idea I could go down to a 3.5 with my kit.  Anyway, in just the half second, you can see how the boat jerked down and then back up.  But the heart shape is still cute.
Fireworks: Sun and Star

This isn't bad for a .8 second exposure on a moving ship.  What I find really cool about this one is that the yellow disk at the top was clearly moving slower than the bright blue in the middle.  You can see the ship's movement in the yellow one but the trails of the blue one went fast enough to be straight.

Shake, Rattle and Boom

Another .8 second exposure.  Look how different this came out.  It's almost like light painting with a long exposure.
Directing Traffic on Lake Michigan

This was done faster - a 1/8 exposure as you can tell by the little dots at the top.  The best thing about this shot, IMHO, is the 'traffic light' in the water.

Red Sky at Night, Sailor's Delight

Same exposure, similar effect on the water, different colors.
Eye Heart Chicago

Okay, I admit, I like this one because of the shapes in the sky.  The heart is obvious, but the left hand one seems to be a giant eye in the sky looking down on the shells being launched.

Once we got out there, I noticed I could see something I hadn't seen from Chicago... I don't think ever.  Stars.  Chicago is just too bright, even on the clearest nights.  I asked how far out we were and the crewman said about two miles.

The moon was gorgeous and there was this intensely bright light next to it.  We happened to have astronomer on board who told us it was Jupiter.

Not Your Typical Journey  Across the Night Sky

Couldn't shoot them though.  Obviously the bright scribble is the moon.  The lighter scribble, right of the moon, is Jupiter.  Again with the Picasso-esque art. :)  This bizarreness brought to you by a ten second exposure on a ship (obviously) moving from right to left..

Okay, on to the ships that were there for boarding (but didn't sail) in the next set of posts.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Tall Ships Festival - 8.28.10 - Post 2 (Tall Ship Windy, Post Beta)

Okay, these are the shots I took from the Windy.  I think we've all dealt with the problems of standing still while trying to shoot something moving.  Your kid, your dog, a dragonfly... whatever.  There are times it isn't easy.

Let me just say, for the record, if you think that's hard, try reversing it.  Your subject is standing still, but you aren't.  And you have no warning for when the 'ground' beneath your feet will pitch and roll.

I can't tell you the number of shots I had all lined up and ready just to find that as I hit the shutter we'd hit a swell and I'd get a whole different shot than I planned for.  Not to mention, you'll almost never get your horizon right.  I spent more time correcting the horizon on these shots than anything else I needed to do to make them blog-able.

This trip wasn't too bad because even though the sun was setting, I still had enough light to use reasonably quick shutters.  That wouldn't be the case when I got on the Red Witch, but I'll talk about that when I get there.

Anyway, Chicago sure is pretty at sundown...

Here's an example of one shot before I corrected the horizon.  It's off just enough for me to notice it and be bothered by it. 

 I literally corrected it by 1 degree (which meant I had to recrop, due to the way my editing program works), but it makes a noticeable difference.  So here's a shot of Chicago through the ropes.  I was trying to get enough back-light that I'd get absolutely black silhouette of the city, but it didn't quite black out enough.  I could probably play with it in post and get the effect I wanted, but it's still a pretty cool shot of the city.
Sun Seen Through the Ropes
Chicago in Silhouette
This one was closer to giving me that 'cut out' effect, but I got the weird sun rays.  I have no idea how or why those happened.  I do love the way the light bounces off the water.

Light Powered Lighthouse

This is the lighthouse on the way out from the pier. If you look on the far right side of the platform you can see the solar panels that power it.
Lighthouse as the Light Disappears

Same place on the way back in.  Look at that gorgeous sunset behind it.

Roseway Behind the Rocks

This being Tall Ships Week, there were a number of, you know, tall ships out there.  This is the Roseway.  It stood out for quite a ways with those dark brown sails.

End of the Day - Chicago Style
 I may need to get a print of this one.  I've got the rigging in the foreground, the city behind and the sun is *right* on the horizon.  Though before I do, I may have to futz with the horizon just a little bit more.
Chicago in Light and Shadow

A few minutes later (and with a telephoto lens this time) The light and shadows are doing whole different things.

I'll do the Red Witch shots next.  That trip didn't even leave until 10:15 p.m. and there were fireworks, so it was a whole different shooting experience.

Tall Ships Festival - 8.28.10 - Post 2 (Tall Ship Windy, Post Alpha)

Okay, it's going to take two posts for me to cover just the hour I spent on the Windy.

The Tall Ship Windy is a local ship.  If you read these posts and see these pictures and you want to try this, you can!  Windy is at Navy Pier through, I think, September or October.  Check their Facebook (linked above, because it's harder to find than it should be) or their website.

Anyway, the crew was great and we got great weather so we really moved.  It was very cool to learn the basics of how the ship works.  I'd highly recommend this trip to anyone interested in sailing or Great Lakes history.  They normally do a whole pirate thing, but for the Tall Ships event, they were just doing quick cruises so they could accommodate as many people as possible.  There was a cute little moment where a kid on board got to 'fire the canon' at some 'pirates' we found 'at sea'.  This was very, very loud.  If you go specifically to shoot (and I'll talk about the interesting issues associated with that in the next post) I strongly suggest you try and get the cruise going out at sunset.  It really is gorgeous out there as the sun goes down.

These are the pictures I took of the ship.  You'll notice an absence of shots of the hull... I was kind of hurried on and then it was dark when we docked.  So these are taken from on the boat.  Ship?  Is this one of those things where people get uppity on whether or not the thing is called a 'boat' or a 'ship'?  And on that note, I tried to pay attention to what things were called and such, but I couldn't exactly take notes, so if I get any of the nautical terminology wrong, PLEASE feel free to correct me. :)

Anyway..  I started off on the main deck, but eventually realized I could sit on the top deck, in the middle, all but under the boom.  Actually, as much as I was scooting around up there, I'm sure I was under the boom several times.  Which was fine with the crew, until I stood up.  Then they were afraid I'd get hit with the boom and go... yeah, you get it. :)

It's also interesting to watch the sky change from light blue to dark blue as the sun went down.

Mast and Mizzen
 The mast and the mizzen sail.  I got to help hoist the mizzen.  Which is very cool.

Windy's Rigging

Throughout the Chicago Tall Ships event I found myself fascinated by the rigging.  I'm sure people who do this understand it completely, but I look at all the ropes and go, "I'd have knots where they don't belong in about two minutes flat."  Not to mention, "You want me to climb up where?"

The View Through the Ropes
 I did a lot of shooting through the ropes, I thought it gave the shots an interesting context.  I love that this one has ropes in the foreground in sharp focus, ropes in the middle ground in weak focus and the ship behind (which most people would have made the focus) is blurred.  It being sunset certainly didn't hurt the shot either.
Sheets Unfurled

  The mizzen sail with the next one over being raised.
Unclimbable Ladder

Time of day is everything.  I love the light and shadows in this.  You can see the shadow of the ladder and the shadows of the lines.  And the sail seems to glow.
Basic Geometry

Sails and lines.  A rope going vertically, a rope going on an angle and seems in the sail going horizontally. Reminds me of the math problems we'd get in 10th grade geometry.
Topsail Between Masts

Topsail and masts.  This all looks so complicated to me.  And yet, this technology (the basics of it anyway) are at least a thousand years old.
Come Sail Away

Sails near and far and a rope ladder to go with it.

Okay, I have to say, my favorite shots will go in the next post.  These will be the ones I took from the ship.  Chicago at sunset is really, really gorgeous.

Tall Ships Festival - 8.28.10 - Post 1

There won't be many pictures in this post, but there will be many posts about this event to follow that will more than make up for that. :)

This post is about the fact that it's amazing what you can get if you ask nicely.

I decided to spend the $20 on a viewing and boarding pass for the Tall Ships event at Chicago's Navy Pier.  I figured it would make for a good day of shooting.

When I got there, it looked like the entirety of the Midwest had dumped onto the Navy Pier grounds.  The people were so thick you couldn't move.

I was slowly shuffling through the crowd towards the ticket booth when I saw a poster like this one:

See that top middle one?

So I figured, hey, I have a blog.  Blogs are considered media.  It can't hurt to ask, the worst they can do is say 'no', right?

It took some time to figure out where to go and who to talk to.

I went to one desk, who sent me to a tent who sent me to the other end of Navy Pier.  Ever been to Navy Pier?  The other end is *way* down there.  Google tells me the pier is 1.5 miles long.  I believe it.  I took that trip about 7 times over the course of the day - and those were just the "I'm at this end and I need to be at that end" direct trips.  Never mind the wander-around trips.

So anyway, I walk the mile and a half to the media desk and... No one's there.
But there's a phone number to call. I call and say "I'm a blogger. Any
chance I can get a media pass?"

Guy on the phone says, "Sure, I'll bring you one."

He comes down, has me leave name, email and phone, blog name and my I.D. They wanted the lanyard back.

That was all it took for me to officially be recognized as a member of the fourth estate.

This thing was the magic key to the Whole Wide World!

A.) Priority Boarding. I didn't have to stand in one line all day. That was very handy when the line for the Bounty was pushing 4 hours.  Now, I didn't ask what all kind of access this thing gave me, which was a huge mistake.  I'd find out through trial and error, but I'm definitely asking what it lets me do in the future so I don't lose time.  I only found out about the Priority Boarding when I asked a volunteer where a particular line started.  She noticed my Media badge and said, "Oh, you're media.  You don't stand in lines."  And she pointed me up the exit path and hollered to the gatekeeper to let me in.  Excellent.

B.) This was an almost. One of the smaller ships was done up as a
pirate ship, but it was for observation only - no boarding. But
following my new mantra of "all they can do is say no" I showed on of
the crew my magic pass and asked if I could board to shoot. He went to
go ask the captain. Before he could come back the effing COAST GUARD
showed up and boarded. So yeah, that was out. But it was close.

C.) Free Sailing Trips.  These tickets started at $44. They'd been officially sold out for three days. But I was walking past the boarding area and someone official-looking was yelling that they had stand by tickets for the cruise on the Tall Ship Windy leaving Right. Now. I show her the magic pass and say (and I was sure I was pushing my luck) "This doesn't get me on the sail-aways, does it?" And she says, "Actually it does, go down there." And then hollers to the crew that she's sending down one media person.

1. Free freaking sold-out tour!
2. I got to hoist the mizzen sail.
3. Timing is everything. It was a sunset tour! I really do live in one of the most beautiful cities in the world.
4. The crew wants me to post my stuff to my blog and drop the link on their Facebook page. Yay exposure!

D.) Second free tour.  I wanted to see (now that I knew of the potential) if I could get on another ship. But it was time to turn in my badge. So I hiked the mile and a half to the PR Room and asked if there was any way to keep my badge for a while and not only did the head guy say "yes" he took me down to the dock to try and get me on The Red Witch himself. (Which meant about a one mile hike back down to the boat.) There were some overbooking issues and they couldn't possibly have gotten me on the 8:30 sail, but they squeezed me on the 10:15.  And in the mean time I got to go shoot the 9:00 fireworks on the north side of the pier.

While the PR guy (I believe his name was John, but I'm not sure any more) and I were walking he asked if I was shooting "for anyone in particular".  I said I had a blog and he said that "blogs are important" and that it was a good way to get the word out about things like this.

And as a minor thing... there were snacks for us up in the Media Room. :)

I got about $115 worth of free admission because I had the Magic Media Pass.  The $20 general admission, and roughly $44 for each sail-away ticket.

So I'm going to go through the roughly 15 gigs of photos I took yesterday now.  I'm going to post in order of interest, not necessarily in chronological order of my day as I usually do for events like this.  The Windy wants me to post my shots from that trip and link into their Facebook page, so I'll probably start there.

And let me just say, I am asking for a Media/Press Pass anywhere I go that might have one from now on.  The worst they can do is tell me 'no'.  And the perks when they say 'yes', can be outstanding!

Friday, August 27, 2010

Saganashkee Slough - 8.25.10 - Post 2

Okay, here are the last shots from the hike on Wednesday.

Common Tern Overhead
First, there were two new species that I meant to add to the other post.  This is a Common Tern.  Not bad for shooting a bird in flight, eh?  If you look closely you can see bone structure of the bird's 'downstage' wing.  Who knew my camera could take x-rays? :)
Eastern Amberwing at Rest
I caught a new dragonfly, too.  This is an Eastern Amberwing.  Apparently what this species is famous for is being very small.  It's less than an inch from head to tail.  But it's not a damselfly.  The body is stocky, which is a dragonfly trait and it rests with it's wings open.  Damselflies rest with them folded back.  If you click on this picture to make it bigger, you can see the really fantastic markings along its tail.

Poisonous Pokeberry
I really liked the contrast between the stems and the berries on this plant.  We see green stems with purple berries all the time.  Here we have purple stems with green berries.  Now, to be fair, they're green because they're immature.  This is a pokeberry (or poke, pokebush, pokeroot, polk salad, polk salat, polk sallet, inkberry or ombĂș) and it's famous for being highly poisonous.  So, you know, no snacking.  However, when the berries mature they can be used for ink or dye.  I read that pokeberry ink was used to write a lot of battlefield letters during the Civil War.

Hymenoptera Grand Central Station

This is another shot worth making bigger to see the details.  It was Insect Grand Central Station.  There's two bumblebees and the green bee that I posted about in the first post, at least.  I can't tell if one of the brown spots is just a dead bit of plant or if it's a bug.  Either way... that's a lot of bees on one plant.

Clouded Sulphur Very Clearly

So I checked this guy out on several websites.  I thought he was a Little Yellow, like I saw at Midewin.  Turns out that he's a Clouded Sulphur instead.  I love his big green eyes.

Frog with a Tat?

Yet another Southern Leopard Frog.  I'm starting to think they're the only frogs living in Northern Illinois.  If you look at his left front foot, you can see his veins.  That's a little odd, isn't it?  Maybe he's the counter-culture frog and it's a tattoo.  This was the only frog out there who would let me take his picture.  Most other frogs I didn't see.  I heard them as they went 'plip' into the water as I approached. 

Someone Paid Attention in Geometry
 Another thing I saw a lot of were spiderwebs.  None of them had anyone home, so I'm not sure what kind of  spiders they belong to, but I love the geometry in them.  I have to wonder how something with the brain the size of a pinhead gets each strand to have exactly the same amount of space between them.  I also think that photographing something as ephemeral as spiderwebs is something that takes an insane amount of practice.

Spiderweb with No One Home
 This one was 'messier', but I could get the center and more of the web to come in in focus.  But again, this kind of thing clearly takes a lot of work to get right.
Vervain Looks over Saganashkee Slough

As you may have noticed, I have a macro lens and I'm not afraid to use it.  But I did catch this landscape on one side of the Slough and I just loved it.  The tree and the vervain in front, the water in the middle-ground and the forest and sky in the back, keep your eye traveling throughout the whole photo.

Okay, that's the end of that trip.  Later the same day I went to the Hedge for a few minutes. I'll post those next.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Saganashkee Slough - 8.25.10 - Post 1

So it was another "Google Roulette" shoot. I Google my area and see if I can't find a place that looking interesting. This time I put in "Cook County" and got the website for the Cook County Forest Preserve. So I plunked around for a while and decided on Saganashkee Slough. Now, I'm not sure what the difference is between a slough and a pond, but basically, it was a big pond, maybe a small lake.

There isn't much online about this place. Including an address I can actually feed into my GPS. If you fish, there's some data, but otherwise not much.

The one site I did find was all "OMG ducks! 17 different kinds of ducks in one day!" Me? I didn't see one duck. Canadian Geese, sure (but I am so over them) and a couple of herons, and some gulls I need to Google, but not one duck.

Now, like I said, the directions to this place are a bit sketchy.  I basically went to 107th and Willow Brook Road in Palos Park and drove until I found it.  The FPDCC owns a lot of land out that way.  For reasons I don't understand, about every six square feet of forest preserve gets it's own name.  If you drive up the street, the parking lot on the left leads to one named woods, the the parking lot on the left will take you to some meadow.  Drive another half a mile and now you're at Some Other Woods on the right and A Different Woods on the left.  Very odd.  But it makes finding the places that aren't so well mapped a little harder.

When I finally found a sign that said Saganashkee Slough, I stopped at that parking lot, where people were basically fishing from their tailgates and trunks. There was a path into the woods off to the left, but there was a rope across it and it said "Closed".   I couldn't see a good reason for it to be closed so I hiked up about a quarter of a mile and turned back. I couldn't see a good reason to keep going through woods where the only wildlife was massive swarms of huge mosquitoes. And after The Obnoxious, Unending Tick Incident that still isn't over, I don't want to tempt West Nile disease. Because these suckers? Very unimpressed with the repellent I bought on my way out today.

Speaking of the Unending Tick Incident... I've apparently hit some kind of critical mass in the antibiotics they gave me.  I was told they might make me "a little photosensitive", but when I was out today, direct, unfiltered sunlight actually HURT.  I mean, this has to be what being a vampire feels like!  In the shadows, fine; step into the sun and my hands started to burn.  I'm going to be ridiculously glad to get off these stupid meds.

So I got in the car and drove up to the next parking lot. More people fishing, and talking and generally being annoying, no paths and no easy access to the water.

So I got back in the car and drove to yet another parking lot. If you decide to head out to this place, this is where you want to go. It's on 107th Street and is listed as the Boat Launch. Which, you know, is because it has a boat launch.  There were no boaters today, just some people fishing off the pier.

At first I was pretty disappointed. I could get to the water periodically, but I wasn't seeing much. I did get one frog and a few butterflies. I went into the Savannah area for a bit and got some butterflies and grasshoppers, but there was nothing there that I couldn't get at the Chicago Ponds.

But the path (which is to the right of the parking lot, when you're facing the water) was open, so I started walking around the pond. This path is clearly maintained, but it's done badly.  They cut down the trees that have started growing between the rocks, but they leave about six inches of wood sticking up out of the ground.  And they don't get to these trees until they stumps are about three inches across, so they aren't little avoidable things.  I don't know about everyone else, but when I'm shooting, I'm not concentrating on where I'm putting my feet.  So a number of these things caused me near-collisions with either the ground or lake below me.

What I saw, but couldn't shoot:
• A pair of male and female green hummingbirds. I'm so disappointed that I didn't even get a *bad* picture of these things. But if you know hummingbirds, you know how fast they are.
• A falcon or eagle. Some large bird of prey. I could hear it at all three stops, and I saw it at the first stop, but it always stayed too far away to get it "on film".
• A water snake. As I was walking around the edge of the pond I heard a splash and saw a snake slither along the 'coast', duck under and slither across some more. I didn't even know Illinois HAD snakes that could swim!

These are the things that make me think that going back to this place wouldn't be a total waste of time, but overall, I'd give the place a C+ for now.  Maybe during migratory season it'll be more interesting.

I did manage to get some good shots.

For me the big thing that makes a trip a success is finding something new.  A new species or variant or something.

Today I found...

Green Bee, Purple Flower
A Green Bee.  Kind of like the Green Frog, it's just called "Green Bee" - it's the species, not just being descriptive.  From what I've found online, basically they're a species of sweatbee.
Green Bee, Purple Flower II

Here she is a little closer.  This is likely a female since her abdomen is darker than her head and thorax.

Little Red... I dunno What.

Here's a creepy little dude.  A grasshopper with a stinger?  Not really.  It's a species of long-horned grasshopper with an ovipositor.

All the Google in the world couldn't find me a species name.  Anyone have an idea?  She was pretty small and her wings are pretty underdeveloped, so it's possible that she's a juvenile.

Not So Common As They'd Have You Think
This is apparently a Common Whitetail Dragonfly.  Though, he's the second one I've seen and the tails always look more blue to me.  Just as I was about to write the whole trip off as a loss, this guy landed on the path right in front of me. :)

Text Book Perfect Pearl Crescent

Like Midewin, the Pearl Crescents were out in force.  I love this shot, you can actually see the stripes on his antennae.  And he was showing off his wings so very nicely for me.
Lone Bird

There weren't many birds sitting where I could catch them.  There were herons on the banks *way* far away from me and the hawk overhead, but here a female Red Winged Black Bird sat and posed for a minute.
Big Bee on Row of Little

I love this shot.  This is probably the closest, clearest, largest shot I've gotten of a bee.  I love how you can see his legs between the flowers and how he seems to be holding on with his antennae.
Stamens Throw Shadows

The chicory flowers are starting to wither.  But This one still had very prominent stamens that were giving some great shadows today.
Thistle Starts to Seed

Bull Thistles are starting to go to seed.  Oddly this plant's higher blossoms had dried already and the little fuzzy seeds were starting to blow away, while this lower flower was still in bloom.
Two Prickly Characters

And while they're blooming, the bees are still visiting.

More pictures tomorrow.  And less rambling narrative. :)

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Lincoln Park Conservatory - 8.21.10 - Post 3

This will be a short post to finish up the LPC part of the trip.

We were told these are dates and when I Google dates, they certainly look like dates in the "crunchy" stage.  (Personally, I had no idea dates had stages more than 'ripe' and 'not ripe' until I was checking this, but there it is.)  Anyway, dates grow on Palm Trees, and this doesn't look at all like a Palm, so I'm not quite sure what the deal is.  Anyone?  Bueller?
Verbena.  I love how the cluster is made of complete little flowers, but that the individual flowers aren't all the same color.  We have these growing outside my apartment building and for the longest time I didn't know what they were.  So another thing I learned by taking the tour. :)
This is the flower of a Chinese Lantern Tree.  I think the reason for the name is pretty obvious.  What I found really interesting was that the bottom part of this flower is so much like the insides of a hibiscus.

 Here's one of the hibiscus shots I put up yesterday.  Notice the similarity?

This is called a Lollipop Plant or a Golden Shrimp Plant.  As I'm not a huge fan of seafood, I'm going to go with Lollipop. :)

I *thought* this yellow part was the flower...

Until I saw the actual flowers coming out of another stem.  Turns out the yellow part is actually called a bract and is made of specialized leaves, not flower petals.  See, another reason to take the tours when you can.

Okay, that's it for the LPC.  Next I'll get up the shots from the walk through the lily pond and the North Pond that I did after we left the LPC. :)