Saturday, July 29, 2006

My Sensor Finally Died

(Click on the jacked-up photo to enlarge)
My beloved Sony F717 has finally died.
The CCD sensor was from the bad batch produced a few years ago, and after a couple months of random weirdness it went completely bad about 30 minutes ago.

And I'm totally OK with this!
Up until now, I have been worried that whatever was wrong might not be the sensor, and therefore not covered by Sony's free repair program.
At least now I'm sure of what's wrong, and also sure that the fix won't cost me a penny.
Sony has already been notified and is sending me a special shipping label with instructions on getting my camera to the repair facility that is here in Texas.

Coincidentally, today I received a badass new tripod for my birthday.
It'll be a few weeks before I get to really use it, but I'm OK with that, too.
My previous one was twenty years old, and a complete piece of junk.
This one has every feature I wanted, and after trying it out for a few minutes today I proclaim it to be a Titanium Dream.

I'll try to find older photos to post here while my camera is in the shop, and I also have a borrowed 2MP Sony Mavica that I can use, although it's a pretty poor substitute.

Friday, July 28, 2006

Cicada Emerging

(Click on the photos to enlarge)
Like the title says, on Tuesday night I found an adult cicada emerging from it's previous state. After a year of living in the dirt and eating tree roots they crawl up a wall or fence at night and spend a few hours busting out of their skin.

In these times of high gas prices it was a real treat that this one was doing it's thing on my front porch. Some species' larval stages last up to 17 years, but here in South Texas they usually only spend a year or two underground.

The 'pumping up' and drying of their wings is the all-important last step. Here you can see the smaller rear wings through the mains. The body is still soft at this point, 2-3 hours after the process began.
Among the largest insects, they are also the loudest. Surprisingly there is a species of wasp that preys upon cicadas. After stinging one to paralyze it, the wasp drags it up a tree that is on a direct glidepath to it's ground nest and leaps into the air, flapping furiously in an attempt to slow the inevitable crash-landing since the cicada outweighs the wasp by a good margin.

I don't know what happened because i was inside processing the previous photos, but my cicada fell to the ground and was quickly turned into a banquet. Ants are already at work on the still-living giant, and the pillbugs were closing in. By the next day nothing was left but a dry, empty exoskeleton.

Let's talk about depth-of-focus.
I would have loved to stop-down my aperture to get more, and tried that at first, but there were a couple of problems with that.
The cicada was 2" from my porch's ceiling, about nine feet in the air.
It was nighttime, and I was holding the camera high over my head in one hand while trying to light the bug with an LED flashlight in the other, standing on a folding chair.
The shutter speeds with this combination were around 1/30th of a second (at f2 and ISO100, WB=Flourescent because LED flashlights are bluish) which is my personal limit for handholding under the best of conditions, which these weren't.
When your lens is within an inch or two of the subject, even going to f8 won't help DOF much anyway, so getting a noise-free and detailed exposure at maximum resolution was the direction I went.
All in all I thought these came out pretty nicely, and were well worth the acrobatics involved.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

South Padre Island Day 3

(Click on the photos to enlarge)
One of the great things about the shore is the clouds that form in such an unstable climate. Before packing up and heading home I shot this from our fifth-floor balcony, pointing south.

And to the west were some thunderstorms with 30,000' cloud tops.

I saw an excellent sunlit dead tree on the way inland that had black stormclouds and lightning for a background. Didn't stop to shoot it because of the powerlines that were also behind the tree, so I settled for this one I remembered from the drive down. I hate powerlines because they ruin hundreds of otherwise great photo-ops every year. Sometimes you can get rid of them in Photoshop, but depending on the situation this isn't always possible.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

South Padre Island Day 2

(Click on the photos to enlarge)
This one is from after 5pm on the first full day there.
Any earlier and the sun is too high, too bright, and too damn hot.
I first thought this was complete junk until I adjusted the levels in Photoshop.
Now I can live with it.

Here, I returned to the location of a previous favorite from May's trip, with two important differences.
There were no lovebirds watching this
sunset who would be annoyed by me popping a flash towards them, and I had as much time as I felt like taking. Instead of a couple of quick shots, I planned ahead for the luxury of refining my exposure and composition for 30 minutes. The light changes constantly and dramatically before and after sunset, so it was fun to capture this while experimenting.

(Here is where another photo from this series would go if I weren't saving it for something....y'all will see it soon)

This photo marks a departure for me.
While I own a good assortment of filters that screw-on to the end of my lens for special situations, I rarely use any besides a circular polarizer. (In fact, my CP was probably on the camera more than it was off it during this trip.)

To get the look I wanted for this shot, I added two ND4 neutral density filters.
These reduce the amount of light entering the lens, so to bring the exposure back to where I wanted it the shutter had to be open for a much longer duration, resulting in the smoothness of the water you see here. Waves and ripples average-out during long exposures giving an eerie calmness to moving water, but waiting until it got darker would have cost me the colors.

Friday, July 21, 2006

South Padre Island Day 1

(Click on the photos to enlarge)

We went to the island again this week, so here are
some photos from our first day there.
These first three were taken on the western shore, so the still
water seen is the Laguna Madre.
The sun was setting as we ate dinner in a large group on the
restaurant's patio, and I was dying for the chance to slip away
for some photography.
The exposures aren't too long so not having my tripod
wasn't a problem. I used whatever I could find as an
improvised rest, and nearly every photo was sharp.

This one was taken later that night on the
Gulf Of Mexico side of the island.
Exposure was 30 seconds and I intentionally made the tripod's
shadow part of the image itself to add a needed point of interest.
Kind of like when actors suddenly talk directly into the camera,
it breaks 'the wall' between the image itself and the creative

Monday, July 17, 2006

Big Tex Grain Co.

(Click on the photos to enlarge)

Just south of downtown SA is an old industrial area featuring
the LoneStar Brewery, Alamo Ironworks, Pioneer Flour and
Big Tex Grain Co. (The 'Art Silos' are part of Big Tex, too.)
Numerous sidings connect the businesses to the switching
tracks that connect to the UP mainline nearby.

Big Tex is long out of business, and is slated to be demolished
soon to make way for Yuppie housing. Toxic asbestos on the
site isn't as bad as the alarmists claim according to test results
made public last week, so I feel perfectly safe taking pictures here.

In fact it's one of my favorite spots due to the diverse types
of images I can capture within a short walk of my car.
Once condo construction begins this may change so I'm going to
keep returning as often as possible in the next few months.

Friday, July 14, 2006

Water Is Life

(Click to enlarge)

Just days away from mandatory water restrictions (again), and
it doesn't look as though a last-minute storm system will bail
us out like the last two times we were in this predicament.

Water Is Life, and we're dying here.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Potter Wasps

(Click on the photo to enlarge)

I took this photo in late May, and even though I had never
seen anything like these little mud pots before, assumed
they were some kind of wasp nest similar to the well
known mud dauber's.
A bit of Googling tonight confirmed my theory, so I present
to you the nests of The Potter Wasp.

Here's some info, in my own words of course:
Unlike the hated yellowjacket and common paper wasps which
form communities, the potter wasp is a solitary creature.
Adults feed on nectar and are considered non-aggressive.
They build these clever little pots out of mud, usually
on twigs but they can also be found on buildings.
They were in the mortar crevice between two standard bricks
on the front of our house, so the thumbnail image above is a
little bigger than actual size.
After stinging caterpillars (to paralize them) they stuff
'em into a pot, lay an egg inside, then seal the top.
So the three on the left are complete, with life and death
inside, while the newest one on the right is waiting to be
When the eggs hatch, the wasp larvae feed on the caterpillars
until grown enough to break out and start the cycle anew.

Some historians believe that the pot's design and materials
influenced the Native Americans in their own pottery

Sadly, a brutal thunderstorm a few days later destroyed
these nests, so follow-up photos and a mid-cycle dissection
will have to wait until I can find some new ones next spring.

After much searching for similar pictures online I have
concluded that my photo has raised the bar several notches
due to it's size and clarity, thanks to the excellent macro
capabilities of the Sony F717.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Big Red and Barbacoa

(Click on the photo to enlarge)

Those of you from Texas will know what this is all about.
If you aren't from Texas, you'll just have to ask.

Friday, July 07, 2006

Fireworks Part 2

(Click on the photos to enlarge)

Just a few more to kill time until I have to either
raid my backlog of photos again, or go out and
shoot something new.
It all depends on what the weather looks like
tomorrow afternoon/evening.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Fireworks 2006

(Click on the photos to enlarge)

Despite the thunderstorms rolling through town for most
of July 4th, we had a really good Independence Day.
Picking a location to shoot the Six Flags Fiesta Texas
fireworks that was a little too close for comfort was
just icing on the cake.
Rain on my lens was a constant problem but there were
more than enough keepers to satisfy me.
The smoke that frequently engulfed us wasn't a big deal
The lightning just made things even more interesting.

Sony DSC-F717 on tripod
Manual focus= Infinity (no shutter-lag due to autofocus)
Aperture= f8
Shutter= 2 seconds
White Balance= Sunny day
Zoom = Not much if any (Like I said, we were close!)

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

The 4th Of July

My July 4 List of things to do:

Burgers, Dogs, Potato Salad...done

Fireworks and Beer...done

Take a moment to think about how smart and brave
our Founding Fathers were, and how lucky I am to
have been born in the United States of America...done

What's really great is that I can repeat this list
whenever I feel like it, and there's nobody who can
stop me or make me feel guilty about it.
Take that, terrorists and US-bashers!
Lighten up and try to enjoy your life and culture and
leave me and mine alone, because you're just wasting
everyone's time.

Monday, July 03, 2006

Halfway There

(Click on the photo to enlarge)

I have been saving this photo for six months, then forgot
all about posting it on June 25th, so we're more than
halfway to Christmas already.
This was taken across the street from the Alamo
just after taking a cellphone call asking me to
join my current band, so I was feeling pretty
jolly at the time.

Another man would use this opportunity to drop some early
hints about 'the perfect gift for me this year is...' but
to be perfectly honest I have everything I need already.
Love, health, home, work, hobbies.
Life is good.

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Railroad Signal

(Click on the photo to enlarge)

This was a photo from last year that I never did anything
with until yesterday, when I needed it for a contest.
A quick run through Photoshop and the deadline was met.

The textures in the sky are kind of cool, proving that a
humid and hazy day can be more photogenic than you think
provided you shoot for the condition's strengths instead of fighting them.

The new thing I mentioned will have to wait.
I got evicted from my intended location by a security
guard two hours ago. My explanation almost had him on
my side but he called for a ruling from his supervisor and
I lost.
Enough work was done to advance my knowledge base before I was
run-off the premises, so it wasn't a total waste of time.