Black Widow Top

For whatever reason, the black widow population in our neighborhood has skyrocketed this year.

They are relatively non-aggressive and harmless when left alone, but they are a nuisance and can be a hazard.

One of the toddlers around the corner got bitten earlier in the summer. 2 days of all over muscle cramping followed by 2 weeks of flu like symptoms. The spider had taken up residence in the stroller and didn’t like being sat upon.

An accident, assuredly. While black & brown widow are voracious consumers of pest bugs, I would much rather have some other species of spiders around.

This particular critter had taken up resident in an antique toy truck that had been rusting in the yard for a while.

Beautiful creature. I hadn’t seen a black widow with such distinct markings on its back. That’s because it isn’t a black widow, but a brown widow (thanks, Mark!!). If there were any doubt that it is a widow, the picture of the spider’s belly below will lay that question to rest.

Black Widow Underside

I do hate to kill anything, but this one met The Big Squish in the middle of the street.

Snapping Turtle Hanging About

Yesterday, Roger and I decided to wade up the creek in the valley behind my parent’s house. The creek is healthier than I have seen it in decades; full of wildlife, including fish, frogs, tadpoles (big fat ones!), crayfish and the occasional turtle.

“Hey, Dad, there is a turtle over there!”, Roger exclaimed. I looked and I didn’t see a damned thing. At first. When Roger makes such an observation, I know better than the doubt him.

Now, you might look at the picture at the right and think, “well, duh, it is obvious”. That picture is the product of modern technology! The reality was that said turtle was under some tree roots (seen at the top of the picture) in a deep shadow near the bank of the river. Not terribly obvious.

Moving a bit closer, fortunately not too close, the turtle became quite obvious. It was a snapper and a pretty good sized one, too!

Roger and I had talked about snapping turtles earlier in the week and I said that I knew how to pick one up. Of course, that meant that I was going to have to pick this particularly ornery beast up.

Can’t disappoint the son on Father’s day, after all!

Angry Snapping Turtle

Snapping turtles are one of the angriest of critters around. These are some seriously bad tempered critters. And they are well armed.

When something said turtle doesn’t like (or wants to eat) passes within about 6″ of its face, it’ll sit motionless until the target is within range. Then the turtle will shoot its rather rock-like head out with jaws wide open and then snap them shut. Flesh and bone is no match. Neither are shovel handles, if the snapper is big enough (this one wasn’t).

Given that they can also move side-to-side fairly fast and those are some really big/sharp claws on its feet, the safest way to pick up one of these is by the tail.

So, tail grab it was!

In the photo at left, I’m actually holding the turtle by the tail with my left hand and shooting the photo with my right. It is a little over a yard long from tail to snout.

Little did I know that snappers can flex their tails enough to swing a bit to get a bit of extra range for their head-thrust-and-snap attack. That was an exciting discovery.

I really need to teach Roger how to use my camera. It would have been easier.

One thing that is not conveyed in this image is just how bad the damned thing smells. Think stirred up sewage lagoon in the hot sun.

Duck Landing on Water
Canon EF-S 50-250mm — 200mm 1/250 f/5.6

Of the handful of lenses that I had, none could reach further than 100mm. In the past year, I was kindly loaned a Canon EF 28-300mm f/3.5-5.6L, but simply could not justify dropping close to the $2000+ it would require to add such a beast to my kit.

Frankly, I’m cheap. I don’t make a living — don’t make any money to speak of — doing photography and can’t justify dropping huge wads of cash on my photo kit.

Fortunately, Canon caters to the cheap /frugal /broke /hobbyist prosumer crowd and my recent upgrade to the Canon Digital Rebel T1i also gained a significant boost in low light / high ISO performance vs. the Rebel XT.

Enter the Canon EF-S 55-250mm f/4.0-5.6 IS Telephoto Zoom Lens. This is a relatively new ~$250 lens that features image stabilization and can only be used on compact sensor bearing Canon cameras. Because it targets smaller than full frame sensors, the lens contains less glass and is of a cheaper build.

With a compact sensor, the lens is subject to the 1.6x multiplier and, thus, performs like a 88-400mm lens on a full frame sensor. Sort of (the full story on performance between EF and EF-S sensors is considerably more complex).

Great Blue Heron Walking on Dam
Canon EF-S 50-250mm — 250mm 1/250 f/5.6 — ISO 250

In the short time I have owned the lens, I have captured photos that would not have been possible with my other lenses or would have required more patience than is compatible with “fun photography”.

At left is of a Great Blue Heron. These are some seriously skittish birds and this was taken from 200 feet away.

When photographing moving wildlife, the key is to dial in a shutter speed that can capture the animal. Having a camera with decent high ISO performance compensates greatly for the relative slowness of this lens, obviously.

Black Widow Reflection

At left, is tight crop of a Black Widow that I found this morning.

If you look closely, you can see my reflection on its back (below the mouth bits — it is upside down).

The ring like reflection is the ring flash on my the Canon 100mm macro lens used to take the picture. The bluish-white blob to the right of that is me; my shirt, mostly.

Black Widow Stalking Prey - Version 2

Same shot. Not so cropped.

This particular Black Widow is living in the neighbor’s bed of clover. She is clearly quite hungry in that Black Widow’s are rarely so aggressive. This one would pop out of her hidey-hole at the slightest bit of motion on the web.

I got this particular shot by using a stick to jiggle the web like an insect would.

Beautiful creature, really. Just wish it didn’t live quite so close to where the neighborhood kids play. Thus, it’ll likely be dead by sundown.

15 MP of Black Widow!

A went back and visited Ms. Widow a bit later and discovered that I could get her to come out in the open by jiggling her web with my finger. Slightly unnerving as she approached my finger, but then she decided to hang out in the open.

Thus, I was able to capture the image at left. It is an uncropped, full 15 megapixel, image of the black widow as she hung upside down in her web.

Best viewed at full size and then scaled to fit your monitor.

She then proceeded to hang out and fix her web. Thus, I ended up with a gallery of action shots, spinnerets and all. I didn’t know that black widows have hairy backs.

The Final Crabby Melty Yummy Item

At left is one of my favorite styles of sandwich (in the strict “once slice of bread w/stuff on it” definition of sandwich…), the open faced sandwich with cheese as the top structural element in lieu of bread.

This particular melt was built on top of a slice of home made bread with heirloom tomato slices, dungeness crab, and cabernet finished goat cheddar cheese. It was seasoned with black pepper, mayo, italian seasoning, and a touch of fresh squeezed lemon juice.

Done right, it can be picked up and eaten like a regular sandwich.

The key to doing it right is in the construction. Yes, I take my sandwich making very seriously.

Detailed construction techniques after the fold.

Red Stapler
Canon EF-S 18-55m IS – 1/40 f/4.5 – ISO1600

After 4 years, Canon has released an upgraded camera in the Digital Rebel series that has compelled me to replace my Digital Rebel Xt.

The Digital Rebel T1i, which started shipping in North America this month, is quite an extraordinary camera and a huge upgrade over the Xt. Excellent low light performance (high ISO performance), extreme versatility with the ability to shoot entirely automatic through to fully manual, and lots of usability upgrades.

I won’t be positing a detailed review. That has been covered far more effectively than I ever could by the folks at DPReview.

At above-left is the first image I shot with the T1i. Nothing terribly special, but I couldn’t have taken the same with the Xt without a tripod or switching to the relatively special purpose Canon 50mm f/1.4 lens (but that would have yielded a very narrow depth of field). Since someone asked, I added a link to the Amazon product page, too.

Eddie Scorching Scallop Nigiri
Canon 50mm f/1.4 – 1/125 f/1.6 – ISO 500

While there are many features and refinements of the T1i that I’m looking forward to leveraging, the high-ISO / low light performance is the one that yields an immediate benefit to me.

I like shooting photos in restaurants and the like, but I hate using a flash. Beyond making the food look artificial and destroying whatever natural ambiance the restaurant has tried to achieve, the flash is a huge annoyance to everyone — staff, customers, chefs, etc..

The photo at right is another shot that I could have done with the Xt without the flash or disruptive use of a tripod and posing.

Certainly, I will also leverage the upgrade from an 8MP to 15.1MP sensor, too. While the whole megapixel wars thing was overhyped and appears to now largely be over, there are some serious advantages to having a lot more pixels.

On the interactive front, it means that you can zoom into a photo and see some interesting details that wouldn’t be apparent with a lower resolution image. Looking at the full sized version of Eddie searing scallops reveals the slight haze caused by the scallops scorching under the flame.

But the biggest advantage of lots and lots of pixels is that it stretches the value of your lenses. In particular, I can shoot a shot with the Canon 100mm macro lens, crop nearly half the picture, and still end up with an image that is of the same resolution as a full framed image from the Xt. That would have been very handy for pictures like this, this, and this.

While the camera is brilliant, the software is not. At least, not so much when you want to work with an all RAW workflow.

Whenever a new camera is released, there is a lag between the release of the camera and when Apple or Adobe releases updates that include RAW support for the camera. Thus, I can’t currently shoot in RAW and import directly into Aperture (or Lightroom).

As I had shot a bunch of the initial images in RAW, I decided to install and use Canon’s RAW processing software to convert the images to usable form.

I summarized the experience with this tweet:

Canon’s camera software is a gigantic turd in the box containing an awesome camera.

Red Pincushion Protea (Leucospermum cordifolium) Full Stem in Vase

At left is one of my [many] favorite flowers.

If I’m not mistaken in my specificity, it is the Red Pincushion Protea (Leucospermum cordifolium), a flower native to Southern Africa.

The red pincushion flower is generally available year round as it is a long-lasting, woody stemmed, bloom that is apparently quite easy to cultivate in a hothouse environment.

In general, I’m trying to keep our house with at least one random bouquet of fresh flowers in a prominent area at all times. With our local farmer’s market, this has proven to be quite easy and, given California’s climate, there is always some locally grown bloom to be had.

But, I do like to occasionally mix things up with a bit of a bloom from something grown on other than this hemisphere. Fortunately, there is one vendor at the farmer’s market that has the occasional bit of imported oddity and, thus, I brought home a red pincushion for the first time in a long, long time.

I first met this particular flower when we lived near the corner of North, Milwaukee and Damen in Chicago. Yes, a six-way intersection. One of said corners was an amazing florist shop that continually stocked random exotica as if it were roses.

The blossoms are simply fascinating. Inordinately complex with thousands of little bits all arching together to form an almost alien like bloom.

In the photo at left, the blossoms are illuminated by bright sunlight streaming in through our kitchen skylight.

Perfect light with an interesting flower sounds like a great combination for a bit of a photo study….

Climbing the Hill to the Great Blue
Tossing a Log

Consider the two images at right. Neat images. Nothing spectacular, but special to my family in that they tell a story of part of an adventure to Bean Hollow State Beach (an awesome beach near Pescadero, CA).

And I would have neither those two pictures are a slew of others from the same trip if I hadn’t had CardRaider. Entirely due to PEBKAC (i.e. bbum was a dumbass), I reformatted the compact flash card after downloading only half the images — downloading just the images from the first beach we went to.

Now, fortunately, “reformatting” a compact flash card does very little other than mark the space as free for a variety of reasons that are quite interesting but more than I’ll reiterate here (including that the flash filesystem tends to be a lot less “chatty” than, say, a hard drive with log files, caches, VM, and the like).

End result? $20 and a short download later my photos were recovered via CardRaider .

Not much to say about the product. I have no knowledge about the competitors. CardRaider seemed highly ranked on various review sites and a search of weblogs revealed other folk who lost images for less stupid reasons than me who were quite happy.

It just worked.

And it just worked again. My wife has been dragging around a camera full of photos for over a year now. For whatever reason, all the normal means of downloading the photos didn’t work — i/o errors or some such nonsense.

CardRaider had no problem finding all the photos, including a couple that had been deleted that were save-worthy, and downloading them, apparently intact.

Christmas Lights & Lit Building At Oakland Hills Temple

Over Christmas, our son Roger sang his first opera in a vocal concert put together by his voice teacher and held at the Oakland California LDS Temple.

He sang the part of Amahl from Amahl and the Night Visitors. Roger did a great job and, since it was fairly late in the evening, most folks thought his yawning was all part of acting out the role of tired little boy!

While there, I took a handful of photos, including several multiple exposures that I then ran through the Hydra HDR plug-in for Aperture.

Christmas Lights at Oakland Hills Temple

Frankly, the results were “meh”.

When Hydra 2.0 shipped at MacWorld, I upgraded and re-processed the images. The results were much better!

Specifically, the images are considerably sharper with a better balance of light and dark.

Overall, I’m quite happy with Hydra. Fewer fiddly knobs and it serves my needs exactly. With Hydra, I can create an image that looks good in a situation where my Digital Rebel XT would simply not produce a usable single image. Indoors, Hydra compensates for my lack of professional grade light sources combined with a camera body that performs well in low light situations.

Emphasis on compensates. I’m not remotely claiming that someone with a clue and better equipment couldn’t take better pictures. Heck, someone with a clue could take better pictures with the equipment I have!

Overlooking the Bay from the Oakland Hills (Mormon Temple)

The Temple also overlooks Oakland and San Francisco Bay.

So, of course, I had to take a long exposure of the bay bridge.

OK image. It was pretty windy, thus it isn’t as sharp as I would like.

However, the gorilla pod did do an admirable job of anchoring the camera to a random railing.

Beautiful view.

This image is not an HDR image. I did take a set of photos and process them through Hydra. Interesting; it basically blew out the fog over the city!