We just had a very unusual winter storm that dropped four inches of snow on us here in Bluffton, SC.  The name of the storm was Grayson, and the fact that it was named suggests that it was unusual.  But in case you don’t fully realize the unusual nature of this event be aware that the last time Bluffton had snow was about five years ago and the last time we had as much as four inches was some thirty years ago.

The snow was beautiful and, unlike those years when we were living in Boone and needed to go to work, we had no where to go so we simply stayed home.  We didn’t lose power so we were nice and warm throughout the experience and we binge-watched old TV shows.  Walt and Henry of “Longmire” have become new friends, almost as well-liked as Raylan and Boyd of “Justified” from a few years back.

Weather has returned to our usual temperatures this week and we are adjusting to being out and about in the moderate winter-time weather.  Maybe it takes an event like Grayson to remind us of how well we have it here in the southern tip of the South Carolina Lowcountry.

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Seven-Year Anniversary

It’s hard to believe, but today marks the seven-year anniversary of this blog and photo-sharing site.  I started this project as a way to share photos and ideas about photography, back when Billie and I first began to winter in Palmetto Dunes on Hilton Head Island.

My photography activity has  changed gradually since I began the blog, due in no small part to the Photography Club of Sun City-Hilton Head (PCSCHH) and the Photography Club of Beaufort (PCB).  I belong to both clubs and to the Carolina Nature Photographers’ Association (CNPA).  I have been most active in the PCSCHH, first having served on the Education Committee by scheduling classes for the club and most recently by chairing the Program Committee.  As Program Committee chair I arrange speakers for each of the meetings of the PCSCHH.

My shooting activity and skill level has changed since joining the PCSCHH and the PCB.  Before we moved here I did not have access to a photographic interest group which met regularly at the local level.  There simply was not a critical mass of photography enthusiasts to make local meetings a viable option, so my photo club experience was limited to CNPA which met monthly in a regional meeting in a neighboring town.  It has been a pleasure to interact with numbers of enthusiasts like myself and to participate in learning activities and print competitions sponsored by the clubs.

I joined the PCSCHH as a Novice photographer and through participation in the print competitions, classroom instruction, club outings, and creativity discussions I learned to be a better photographer.  My rating progressed through Novice to Intermediate between March 2014 and January 2015 and from Intermediate to Advanced by the end of 2016.  My progress from the Advanced level to the Expert level took only one calendar year as I won awards for my prints, and in November, 2017 I began to compete in the Expert category.  I earned Photograph of the Year in my rating category in three of those years.

It has been a fun time, learning about the skill and the art of photography.  I consider myself an advanced enthusiast of photography, fortunate enough to experience the thrill and satisfaction of producing award-winning images but also fortunate that I am not dependent on these images to put bread on the table.


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Winter Solstice 2017

The shortest day of the year!  It’s dreary Winter weather, having been cold last week, then some rain, several days of fog, and now just gray and damp.  Outdoor activities are at a minimum even though the temperature is fairly pleasant.

Both cars have developed issues with tire pressures, perhaps a leak but maybe just imbalance due to the change in the weather.  Those tire pressure valves that communicate with the car computer to identify one (or more) having a rogue pressure seem at first to be a good idea, but my experience has been that this is a great bother.  My 2010 Camry has notified me perhaps half a dozen times of out-of-range tire pressures, always at the most inopportune times, and almost always it has been the result of nothing more than the change in the weather.

I’ve given up trying to balance the tire pressures on my own, so I surrender to the local tire store to check the tires for punctures and slow leaks as they normalize the pressures all around, including the spare.  The Avalon, with its full-sized spare tire, requires all tires to be in the same pressure range but the Camry, with its high-pressure (70 psi) emergency-use-only spare, has different pressures so I’m really confused about how to normalize those pressures.

On days like this it’s best to try to get some errands done and dive into some indoor projects such as my photography work.  I’ve printed her favorite photo for Billie and I’ve entered a macro photo into the expert commentary line-up for the January Macro Photo Club Newsletter, so now I’ll have to look for something else to occupy my time.  Perhaps I’ll spend some time learning more about the alternatives to Lightroom for processing my photo files.  This could take hours, so by the time raise my head again the sun might have come out.

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Savannah Waterfront Sunset

I joined some friends to photograph the Savannah waterfront at sunset a few days ago and found that my favorite shots actually came after sunset.  We arrived at the Hutchinson Island  location of the Westin Hotel and Savannah Convention Center shortly before sunset.  This location provides free parking across the river from the waterfront night life of Savannah, and it’s only a free ferry ride away from joining in on the festivities.  It also gives an unobstructed view of the entire waterfront area and the Talmadge Bridge upriver, and ships going to and from the Port of Savannah pass by in clear view.  The only negative, from a photographer’s point of view, might be the mosquitoes and other no-see-ums along the waterfront.  Bug spray is required!

Georgia Queen docking in Savannah

The Georgia Queen, a rear-wheel paddle boat based in Savannah, carries tourists on evening cruises down and then back up the Savannah River, perhaps serving food and drink along the way.  It departs before dark but returns fully lit after the twilight hour, providing a colorful display as it chugs along on its way to docking near the Hyatt Regency Hotel.  I couldn’t identify ridership from our vantage point, but it certainly looked inviting from across the river.

The sunset was spectacular, outlining the Talmadge Bridge in a colorful display, and the “blue hour” following the sunset provided a gorgeous backdrop for panoramic views of the waterfront night life area.

The fading twilight provided an opportunity to experiment with exposures of interesting subjects, enabling the generation of star effects for the lights on the bridge.  The effect is interesting in both color and in monochrome:

This was an altogether satisfying outing with photographer friends.  I look forward to other opportunities like this in the future.

Photographing the Waterfront Lights

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The competition theme this month at the Photography Club of Sun City-Hilton Head is “Still Life” and I am entering a photo titled “Sunflowers” which I took just last week.  The subject of the photo is a large wine jug with sunflowers which Billie arranged a few years ago from purchases she made at Pier 1.  It sits on one of Billie’s favorite small tables in a corner of our breakfast nook.
The photo is an HDR image produced from three exposures bracketed at one f-stop apart.  I used Lightroom CC to blend the HDR exposures, and I then ran the resulting image through Viveza to balance the exposure.  Finally, I used Nik Color Effects to give it the “glamour glow” treatment.  I’m pleased with the result, and I’m hopeful that the judge will agree with me!

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Brunch at Soho South

Had a great brunch at Soho South Café in Savannah on Sunday. This restaurant continues to be one of our favorites, even though parking is somewhat of a problem. But that’s true everywhere in Savannah, isn’t it?

Check out this restaurant when you get a chance.


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Fiber Optic Cable Installation

20160520-135517This employee of Coastal Power and Electric, contracted by Santee Cooper, is suspended from a helicopter as he is moved from one utility pole to another as he and a coworker replace existing wires with fiber optic cable on Friday, May 20, along Bluffton Parkway in Bluffton.  Moving the workmen by helicopter allows them to replace the cables without having to take the line out of service, according to newspaper reports.  The workmen will be replacing a little more than 7 miles of cable.

20160520-134910 20160520-135107The first step in the process, after the linemen are secured to the poles, involves delivering the hardware they install which enables installation of the fiber optic cable.  These two pieces of hardware, a bracket (shown being installed in the picture to the left) which is bolted to the pole and a pulley which attaches to the bracket, will be used to pull the cable and then secure it permanently to the poles.

20160520-135311After the pulley is secured to the bracket, this workman’s job is done on this pole, and he will be moved down the line to repeat the process.  After installing a number of brackets and pulleys along the line, a cable will be pulled through the pulley system and secured to the poles.  At this point the pulleys are removed and reused further down the line.

20160520-135449 20160520-135504The helicopter returns to the pole, dropping a line which the lineman grabs and attaches to his harness.  Then it’s “Up, Up and Away!” as the helicopter moves the men on down the line.

I could definitely NOT do this job!


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Pileated Woodpecker

The pileated woodpecker is one of the largest forest birds in the United S20160515-083926-2tates, being almost as large as a crow.  This woodpecker has distinctive markings, mostly black, some white, and a flaming red crest that is unmistakable in the field.  The male also has a streak of red on its cheek, making it easy to distinguish the sexes.

Once you have seen this bird in the wild you immediately recognize it as the model for the cartoon character Woody Woodpecker.  Even the call of the pileated woodpecker is mimicked in the cartoon character.

We h20160515-083916-3ave a healthy population of pileated woodpeckers here in Sun City-Hilton Head, and morning walkers along the SCHH Nature Trail are often treated to the raucous call of this bird and, if lucky, a visual treat watching the bird tear into rotten logs in search of insects and their larvae.  I have photographed these birds on the Nature Trail and on the boardwalk trail that spans the swamp between the Aviary neighborhood and the Hidden Cypress parking lot.



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Eastern Fox Squirrels

The eastern fox squirrel (Sciurus niger) is the largest species of tree squirrel native to North America.  Despite the differences in size and coloration, they are sometimes mistaken for American Red Squirrels or Eastern Gray Squirrels in areas where both species co-exist.


Figure 1.  Typical colorations of the Eastern Fox Squirrel.

Typically the total body length measures 45 to 70 cm (17.7 to 27.6 in), tail length is 20 to 33 cm (7.9 to 13.0 in), and they range in weight from 500 to 1,000 grams (1.1 to 2.2 lb).  There are three distinct geographical phases in coloration: In most areas the animals upper body is brown-grey to brown-yellow with a typically brownish-orange underside, while in eastern regions such as the Appalachians there are more strikingly-patterned dark brown and black squirrels with white bands on the face and tail.


Figure 2.  Natural Range of the Eastern Fox Squirrel

We have a native population of the eastern fox squirrel here in Sun City-Hilton Head and I have observed and photographed these animals both here and on Callawassie Island.  The first two photos here are from Sun City-Hilton Head and the last two were taken on Callawassie Island.








These squirrels are fun to watch as they forage for nuts.  When they climb a tree their long “fingers” make them look like monkeys.









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Topaz Remask 5

Several years ago I took a marvelous close-up image of a great egret in full breeding colors during a trip to the Everglades.  This egret was almost tame and allowed me to get really close, so I was able to get a genuine portrait of him.  You know the routine—fine detail, perfect exposure, impeccable focus, excellent framing, and then you notice that background!

20080122_Everglades_057-EditI’m almost ashamed to show you what I brought home, but to make my point I must.  The shot did indeed have all the marvelous characteristics I named above, but my excitement with getting the shot generated tunnel vision so that I didn’t notice the bright green railing and the water and boats beyond until it was too late and I was already far away.

In the years since that bright green railing slammed me back to reality I have learned to look for distracting elements in the photo before clicking the shutter, but I don’t always have time or the freedom of movement to get a shot with a perfect background.  Despite warnings to perform a “border patrol” or to “count the corners” as part of the process of composing the image, sometimes you just have to take what you can get.  In those cases you have only one option, which is to try to clean up the background later in post-processing.

Adobe Photoshop offers the opportunity to replace entire backgrounds if one has the skill and perseverance to work with layers, but this is a skill which requires much patience and lots of practice.  I’ve tried it, but I’ll be honest—I gave up many times on this very photograph.  My hand with a mouse isn’t nearly steady enough to enable me to carve out the egret from this photo, and the margins always looked crude and artificial when I did try it.  I eventually bought a Wacom tablet to attempt finer control of the selection brush, but that method didn’t work for me either.  I found that I tried to use the Wacom pen like I’ve always used a mouse, and I never did unlearn those movements.  Long story short, I sold the Wacom tablet for about half what I paid for it, and I was glad to be rid of it.

But now I’ve found a solution which even I can make work pretty well.  In July I went to a workshop in Beaufort, SC sponsored by the Photography Club of Beaufort and taught by Kate Silvia of Charleston.  Kate demonstrated the Google Nik Collection and a few of the programs in the Topaz suite, and I was particularly taken with the capabilities of Topaz Impressions which I wrote about in my previous blog entry.  She also demonstrated the capabilities of Topaz Remask, and I decided this week that I should give Remask another try.  Remask 5 is a 64-bit program which functions just like Remask 4 as a plug-in for Adobe Photoshop, Adobe Lightroom, and Adobe Photoshop Elements.  The big news is that Remask 5 now also functions as a stand-alone program so that it can be used by photographers who don’t have either of those host programs.

20150203-065548I began a 30-day trial of Topaz Remask 5 to see what I could do with it.  After viewing a short You-Tube video I felt that I would be able to use the program, so I began the process.  My first trial naturally involved the egret photo above, and I picked a background image which I had shot at Donnelly Wildlife Management Area in February.

The background is an ordinary image without distinction, showing one of the small islands along the access road.  When I shot this image I was preparing to get closer to shoot some black-crested night herons that were roosting on the island, but I didn’t get any usable photos from that effort.  I kept the image, though, because it was sharp and had a tinge of the sunrise color washing across it.  This became my background for the new egret image.

In a surprisingly short time and with very little effort I was able to remove the distracting background from the original egret photo and replace it with the Donnelly WMA image.  I shifted the Donnelly image around, trying different orientations, and eventually settled on this combination for the final image.  I think it’s a pretty good portrait!


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