I’ve been home for three weeks now, enjoying some much needed time with my wife and kids. We’re all anxiously awaiting the birth of our 11th youngin who seems quite content to remain bundled up in the womb. Based on the images from the latest ultrasound, I expect at this point he’ll come out sporting a full beard and a crumpled up 40-week eviction notice stuffed in his pocket. All in God’s good time…
Throughout this period of waiting, we’ve aided the passage of time with frequent outings. This past week, I took two of my daughters with me to photograph birds at the Jordan Lake Dam, and a few days later, with the whole family, we drove out to the Blue Ridge Parkway.
I’ll start off with the Dam. A few evenings ago, I met another bird photographer who recommended to me the Jordan Lake Dam for regular encounters with Bald Eagles and Osprey. I haven’t had much success with finding them along the shores of the lake so I took his advice and went. Armed with my Nikon 500mm f/4 and 1.4x teleconverter I was excited to take a crack at making some bird-in-flight action shots with this old manual focus lens. Well, the day I went, the dam was barely flowing and apparently that is the worst time to go. When the low side of the dam is flowing, it stirs up the fish which draws in these magnificent predatory birds. Over the course of a few hours I think I counted two Osprey and they were both way off in the distance. Oh well. Maybe another day. Even though it was a scorching day, my daughters and I did do a bit of walking around and eventually found some other things to photograph:
All the afternoon rain showers have brought out of the ground a great variety of mushrooms. This bright red one was particularly interesting set against the verdant summer grass.
Shooting butterflies with that massive Nikon must have looked ridiculous. Just to get an in-focus frame around it, I had to stand back a good 15 feet. I didn’t bring any other lenses with me so I just shot with what I had. In review, I do think the added distance between us made the butterflies more “Butter” and less “Fly”. Usually, I would shoot a scene like this with a lens in the range of 100-200mm, not 700mm.
I love the way the light hit this flower. At that moment, it was very bright out with a midday sun shooting straight down on us but there was some deep shade in the background which went nearly black at the exposure required to capture all the color of the flower. It looks heavily post-processed but this is nearly straight out of camera with just a few slight nudges to the white balance and contrast.
It was the same lighting situation for this shot of the Appalachian Tiger Swallowtail Butterfly.
This female Ruby-throated Hummingbird was constantly harassed by another – a territorial battle I suppose. She would zip back and forth between the branches of this tree and the nearby flowering bushes, dodging and evading the attacks of the apparent owner of this area.
Part way through our visit, we had one big rain cloud come over head and dump its contents. I thought this was a neat picture in the way that the ultra-telephoto lens compressed about a half-mile deep background of rain drops against the bright-green leaves at the top of this tree in the foreground.
This isn’t a very good picture but it the first one I’ve gotten of a Carolina Chickadee. This one was puffing itself up and shaking the rain off its feathers. I would have liked to have gotten a sharp shot of it shaking off the water but it flew away before I could get a good one. Another day perhaps…
The girls and I had a nice time together, exploring the dam and the woods around it. What an excellent way to pass the day, out in nature.
On returning home, we spotted this big, healthy Whitetail Doe resting in the shade of the backyard.
A few days later, my wife and I took a notion to get out of the house for the day. We loaded up the kids and hightailed it to the absolutely breathtaking Blue Ridge Parkway. Here in North Carolina, we’re in the sweaty armpit of summer. It is so nice to be able to get in the van, drive 2 hours and be in weather that feels like spring. The day we went, the weather showed it would be raining but we just didn’t care. Cool, rainy days are our favorite. That’s usually when we go to the beach too (keeps this pasty ginger from having to drown himself in aloe sunburn ointment). We’re not new to the South and know well enough that even when the weather says it’ll rain all day, it rarely ever does. We’ll get 30 minutes of rain followed by an hour of overcast followed by 15 minutes of sunshine followed by a repeat of all the previous.
In this shot there is a mix of all three: Raining (left), overcast (middle), and sunshine (right)
Man do I love the Appalachian Mountains. I’ve been in mountains all around the world but none speak so well to my perception of beauty as much as these. Its distant peaks are perpetually swaddled in this fine blue haze, highlighted with wisps of white clouds crawling between the ridges. Come Autumn, when the leaves change color, it’s the prettiest place on earth. Along the Blue Ridge Parkway in North Carolina, there is a greater variety of species of trees than what can be found throughout the whole of Europe. This adds up to one of the most spectacular displays of the breadth and intensity of color that can be found in nature. I’ve missed it the past two years in a row but I’m hoping my schedule will have me home this time to enjoy it with my family. Hurry up, October!
A light rain falling on these Sunflowers.
Along the Parkway, we stopped off at an old cabin. I loved the color and quality of light on these gourds I saw inside it. The kids had fun there too, learning about traditional Appalachian basket-making and weaving. Anywhere I’ve been in North Carolina’s State Parks, the staff there are always so kind and helpful and a wealth of information.
A few final images from the day. For such an awesome day you’d think I’d have more photos to share. I think I spent more time gawking than shooting. The Blue Ridge Parkway sits like a ribbon of asphalt that has been gently draped around and between the mountains. With each twist and turn as you drive along, a whole new scene spreads out before you making the windows of your car (van) the ultimate viewfinder. Some days are just best left preserved with both eyes open.
What a pleasant, peaceful way to spend a Saturday and pass time waiting for the baby to pop out. We all look forward to going back once he’s born.
You might have noticed in the captions that I used a lens not previously mentioned on OutFor30. The Minolta MD Zoom Rokkor 24-50mm f/4 is one I’ve had for a few years but haven’t used all that much. I decided to take it with me on this trip just to give it a second chance at impressing me. The first time I messed around with it was right after I bought it and it left me feeling rather underwhelmed. I can’t say I feel all that different about it after this second round with it. It’s not awful but it has some issues: Wide-open at f/4, it’s not super sharp and the corners suffer quite a bit. Stopped down to f/8 it shows marked improvement but it’s still not on the same level as other lenses I own. In that shot of the gourds in the cabin, it did well even with the aperture set to f/4 but I was very close to the subject which kind of hides some of the lens’ ability to render distant, fine details. The focal range of this zoom puts it squarely in the realm of landscapes where you really do need excellent resolution to satisfy. It seems the further away from the subject I get with this lens, the resolving power – or lack thereof – becomes increasingly noticeable – not a good mate for the brutally honest 42MP sensor found in Sony’s A7RII. Any strengths? It’s very well built, it’s lightweight, and it does have a nice vintage feel to the images it produces but in my book those plusses just don’t warrant using it as a general purpose travel lens. For this focal range in zooms, I much prefer my Olympus OM Zuiko 28-48mm.
That’s all I have for tonight. I hope you all had nice weekend. Thanks for stopping by OutFor30!