A few of my favorite things #8

Watching pelicans land on water.  Nothing more complicated than water skiing in cold weather.

An American white pelican (Pelecanus erythrorhynchos) skiing into a landing on water (2009_02_14_008604_n)
An American white pelican (Pelecanus erythrorhynchos) skiing into a landing on water (2009_03_07_011916_n)
An American white pelican (Pelecanus erythrorhynchos) skiing into a landing on water (2009_11_14_038345)

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All photos of American white pelicans (Pelecanus erythrorhynchos).

Watching pelicans land on solid ground isn’t quite as exciting.  They’re not clumsy or awkward about it, but it involves more aerial braking and some hopping-cum-trotting that ends quickly.

Say what you need to say

No one means all he says, and yet very few say all they mean, for words are slippery and thought is viscous.
— Henry Adams

Eastern phoebe (Sayornis phoebe) singing from a tree branch (2009_03_08_012482)

I’ve never seen a bird hesitate to speak its mind.  And that even in the absence of an obvious audience.  They say what they need to say, and they do so without fear or hesitation.  There’s much to be learned from this habit.

Walking on the bridge to nowhere has afforded me an opportunity to view life through a unique lens, one not used by most people I know.  One of the first things I noticed?  Unspoken words.

Do we assume things need not be said, that those we might say them to already know what we might say and we therefore have no reason to say them?  Do we think we’ll be seen as silly for saying the obvious?  Do we fear the response?  Do we struggle clumsily with language and think we can’t communicate what needs to be said, at least not with the depth of spirit with which it’s meant?  Do we assume there will be time later to say these things?

There seems more than certain logic in this axiom: it’s better to say too much than not enough.  Yet even I must admit a great deal has gone unsaid in my life, some of it now too late to say.  And part of that embarrasses me for I am an advocate of people recognizing the impermanence of life and the lack of time promised.  The only moment we’re guaranteed is the moment we’re in right now.  That’s also the only life we can live.  Anything beyond right now is nothing more than conjecture.

A male northern mockingbird (Mimus polyglottos) singing from a treetop (2009_02_20_010310)

For you see, setting foot upon the bridge to nowhere came unbeknownst to me.  I journeyed along thinking myself on the path I intended when in fact I had slowly come to be on the trail I now follow.  And when I made that known to others?  I discovered getting on the bridge came like a sunburn.

You lie happily in the sun turning yourself every fifteen minutes or so thinking about how gorgeous your tan will be.  Meanwhile, everyone around you is thinking you’re looking awfully pink and maybe you should head into the shade for a bit.  Each time they look, you’re a bit further along toward a burn, but for you you’re just toasty and in progress.  Only when the damage is done are you aware of it, yet so many saw it coming all along.

Don’t get me wrong.  I’m not laying blame.  I’m as guilty of this as the next person.  What I know stems from what came after I disclosed the bridge to nowhere.  “Perhaps that explains…”  “We had been thinking…”  “I noticed…”  Each response surprised me for each came like the onlooker who after the sunburn mentions how they thought you’d been looking like a freshly boiled lobster for the last hour.

Being on the bridge to nowhere surprised me.  It didn’t surprise many around me.  I wish I had known what they knew.  I wish someone had said something.

A male great-tailed grackle (Quiscalus mexicanus) calling out (2008_12_07_001616)

Yet it’s not just the question of what might have been had I known what others saw when they saw it.  It’s also the question of opportunities missed.

I lost a grandmother, an aunt and an uncle in the last two years.  I lost three friends just in the past two months.  Each loss reminded me that I had not said what I should have said, at least not recently.  Sure, each of them knew I loved them, but how long had it been since I reiterated that?  Had they known my feelings in light of maturity or only from past disclosures tainted by age?

Too much goes unsaid in life.  Walking on the bridge to nowhere made that very clear to me.  Like the birds who speak when they need to speak no matter if anyone is listening, we humans need to recognize that it’s better to say too much than not enough.

For me, words are a form of action, capable of influencing change.
— Ingrid Bengis

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  1. Eastern phoebe (Sayornis phoebe)
  2. Northern mockingbird (Mimus polyglottos)
  3. Male great-tailed grackle (Quiscalus mexicanus)

Like summer

Yesterday afternoon the high temperature reached 85°F/29°C.  I spent the day in shorts and a t-shirt.  Though this kind of weather does little to evoke the holiday spirit, it does bring out critters who take advantage of the warmth.  And though I’m hardly in a position to meander far from home right now, I do enjoy the show this urban wildlife refuge brings right to my doorstep.

The plethora of flying and crawling arthropods shared all that sunshine with lizards and birds galore.  So much activity from the denizens of warmer times, all of it happening as we speed headlong toward the end of the year.  But it served to remind me of a true summer day, the air abuzz and the ground skittering.  So I wandered through my photo collection to see what patio visitors I had yet to share.

Taken in early summer of 2008, on a day not too unlike yesterday, these photos show what at the time struck me as an unusual example of its kind.  Sure, it’s a leaf-footed bug, but it’s not a little tank like so many of its cousins.

A leaf-footed bug (Merocoris distinctus) on my patio fence (20080629_08647)

I first spied this unhurried creature as it lumbered along the patio fence.  I gave chase, clicking away as I’m wont to do, all the while wondering about the ID of this little visitor.  It sure looked like a leaf-footed bug, femoral shape looking all too familiar in that regard, yet I’d never seen one that wasn’t all dark and broody and armored-like.

A leaf-footed bug (Merocoris distinctus) crawling along my patio fence (20080629_08653)

At first glance I failed to find a name.  I then set the images aside—always a big mistake!—and soon they became lost in the growing collection that I never get on top of.  Then in early October of this year I came across them and decided I’d do a little more digging.  But Ted saved me the work with his timely post on the same species.  So after confirming his lead based on our differing locations, I had the name without even trying: Merocoris distinctus.  I thought distinctus was quite appropriate.

A leaf-footed bug (Merocoris distinctus) crawling along my patio fence (20080629_08659)

As I chased the poor thing with the lens all up in its business, it meandered by a dry bit of bird poop.  At that point I had to stop and laugh since it would certainly look to the outside observer that I was indeed photographing bird droppings, especially given the bug’s small size and camouflage colors against the fence.

My first time

I purchased my first digital camera in October 2003.  It was a Canon PowerShot S50, a pocket-sized point-and-shoot job that had an optical zoom of 3x and could hardly focus on anything further away than the tip of my nose.  I used it for years on the automatic settings because I knew nothing whatsoever about photography.  Worse yet, I knew nothing about post-processing images and accepted what the camera spit out as being the final word on photo quality.

To explain how much of a novice I was, it was more than three years later when I found macro mode.  It was during that same year that I began experimenting with settings in an attempt to fuel my newfound passion for photography.  I still blew out the highlights on most of my photos and still had no clue how to edit an image to correct things like that, but I had begun the journey toward learning how to take reasonable pictures.

In May 2007 I visited the family farm in the Piney Woods of East Texas.  Mom and I, both quite interested in photography, meandered about the grounds looking for things to photograph.  (“Things to photograph” should be defined as “everything and anything.”)  That’s when I took this picture:

Littleleaf sensitive brier (a.k.a catclaw brier, sensitive vine littleleaf mimosa, native mimosa; Mimosa microphylla) (195_9522)

Nothing more extravagant than littleleaf sensitive brier (a.k.a catclaw brier, sensitive vine littleleaf mimosa, native mimosa; Mimosa microphylla).  It’s common around the farm.  And as you can see by the image, shown here just as it was posted back then, the brightness and contrast are terrible, yet the only thing I did before posting it was crop and resize (dimensions and PPI).  I wouldn’t consider it an award winner by any stretch of the imagination.

Imagine my surprise when, in October 2007, I received an e-mail which said this:

[W]e would like to purchase the use of a photograph from your website.  Please let me know how to proceed and I can send you further information about our company.

I still considered the vast majority of my photographic work to be lame and nonpresentable.  Only the least horrific had been posted to my blog.  So what photo was I being asked about?  The one above.  Shock!

The opportunity turned out to be quite real, not a joke as I assumed, and the company, Adventure Publications, turned out to be quite respectable.  They dropped names like Nora and Rick Bowers and Stan Tekiela.  They mentioned a nature field guide due for publication in 2008.  And they confirmed they did in fact want to use my photo.

Contract signed, check deposited, details worked out and photo delivered, I received my contributor’s copy in September 2008.  Right there on page 96 was my photo and right there on page 428 was my photo credit.  Wow!  The book, Wildflowers of the Carolinas, hit store shelves just a month later in October 2008, exactly one year after they initially contacted me.

Having accomplished publication of a photograph without even trying—heck, without even knowing what I was doing with a camera—I became very excited about the possibilities and very serious about learning the trade.  So a new camera was purchased by the end of 2007 and I forced myself to not only read the manual up front, but also to get out of the automatic modes and start taking responsibility for settings.  Oh, and I also purchased image editing software and took the time to figure out the basics, like brightness and contrast, sharpening and noise reduction.

As for the original photo post, it will remain as it is, but the intervening years have taught me a thing or two about presentation.  Knowing the camera overcompensated for dim light on a cloudy day, hence the blown out highlights and lack of contrast, I took the liberty of editing the original photo so you can see what it really looked like when I snapped the picture.  With just a hair of an increase in contrast and a hair of a decrease in brightness, this is what Mom and I saw that day:

Littleleaf sensitive brier (a.k.a catclaw brier, sensitive vine littleleaf mimosa, native mimosa; Mimosa microphylla) (195_9522)

It goes without saying that I have never actively sought to license my photos.  I considered this experience a fluke, albeit a pleasant one that set me on the path toward better photography.  Nevertheless, since that time I have licensed more pictures for a broad range of uses, each of them discovered here on my blog without one bit of work by me.

The experience taught me about crowd-sourced materials in the age of the internet.  Whereas organizations years ago could only license work from those advertising and selling their wares, the web has made it possible to not only tap into a global supply with just a few keystrokes, but it also increased competition by making the professional and the amateur compete via the same search algorithms.  Now when someone hits Google to find a photo for use, say, in a textbook or on interpretive signs, there’s every reason to believe they’ll have a plethora of choices that come from people who just wanted to show their friends and family something interesting.

With apologies to Mom

Wildflowers of the Carolinas

Two years ago when my first published photo hit the market, I had already prattled ad nauseam about the subject due in no small part to the ebullient enthusiasm I felt at being contacted about, let alone paid for a picture that would be included in a book.  And when I received my complimentary copy of Adventure Publications’s Wildflowers of the Carolinas, I spent the first week permanently creasing the pages by flipping through it and looking at the image that carried my name and copyright.

Um, page 96 if you’re curious.

Since then my photography has been licensed several times for several uses, and by organizations as diverse as Cornell University and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.  And in one case, the pictures and corresponding blog post were licensed together.  But did I mention those things?  Did I jump up and down and post about the good news?  Did I even send an e-mail to Mom to let her know?

Um, nope.

I don’t know why I stopped doing those things.  Part of it I can blame on the convenience of Facebook and Twitter.  Tidbits like these events became easy fodder for social networks, small soundbites that could be tossed out with nary a consideration.  But what of those who don’t use social networks?

Um, oops.

So when I recently changed by blog’s theme and added my Twitter feed to the sidebar, this error came back to get my attention.  Mom noticed a little something about one of my photos being on the cover of a book.  In response, she sent an e-mail that included this:

You never mentioned one of your photos was on a book cover. Anything else I would be interested in?

She meant it with all the pride a doting mother could bestow on her beloved child, yet her phrasing was eerily biting in directness.  I laughed at myself because it smelled of the oft sarcastic tone I employ when ribbing someone, a skill that earned me kudos many years ago by my employees and bosses who spoke in terms of my ability to insult someone in a way that left them thanking me for it afterward.

Yet childish giggling aside, Mom’s missive did remind me that I’d grown all too comfortable with throwing such news into the social network queue with the idea that everyone would see it.

Um, not so much.

Heck, I even started putting together a new gallery on Facebook where I could show which photos were licensed and for what, a project in direct response to many people there who congratulated me each time while asking to see the photos in question.  It seemed like an appropriate blog chapter as well, but did I even think about doing that here?

Um, uh-uh.

So with apologies to Mom for my slacker tendencies in this area, I’m now acting to correct this error.

First, I’ve created a new category called Photo News that will include all relevant material, including old posts (once I move them over there) and all future posts (as I create them).

Second, I’m beginning a new series of posts to cover all licensed photos.  I intend to show the whole original picture along with the previously posted image that brought someone to my table with their photographic cup held out with hope.

And third, I will use the new series as the basis for my new Facebook album that will show to those folks which images I’ve licensed and to whom those images were licensed.

Um, yippee!

Oh, and I promise to do a better job in the future of sharing that information here as well as on social networks.  I owe it to the innumerable fans who throng outside my home waiting for yet another visual crumb from my vast yet elusive photographic table.

Um, whatev!