Mel Mann Photography: Blog en-us (C) Mel Mann Photography (Mel Mann Photography) Sun, 25 Feb 2024 21:55:00 GMT Sun, 25 Feb 2024 21:55:00 GMT Mel Mann Photography: Blog 90 120 The original blog is back! I'm happy to announce the return of my blog on Wordpress, the original version of this content.  You can see it again at

I will no longer be posting content to this blog ( so if you're interested in what I'm seeing in my photography please head over to the Wordpress blog.

As a reminder, if you originally started following me on that blog you had the ability to sign up for alerts when new content was posted, something this site doesn't provide.  If you did sign up there then you should have gotten an notification about new content I posted today.  If you don't see that notification soon it could be their system purged all the emails once the site went quiet.  To fix that please go to the wordpress blog and sign up again to receive notifications.

I will continue to post images to this site, generally unrelated to my blog.  Here I'm posting interesting images or collections. I don't know how often I'll put images here - mostly as I come across those I like!  Check back now and then.

Thanks for following me here.  I look forward to offering continued comments and images on my other blog and hope to see you there.



(Mel Mann Photography) Sun, 25 Feb 2024 21:53:09 GMT
Details, details I'm always envious of wildlife photographers whose images are so sharp it feels like you're right on top of the subject, able to see every feather or hair or scale.  I've come to realize there are three aspects to achieving this level of image quality:  proximity, focus, and equipment. 

A TV commentator, talking about the images of the outside world portrayed on their show each time, said they had lots of film showing wildlife walking away from them.  That's how I feel a lot trying to get close enough to make the subject more than just a dot in the image.  I've learned you can't zoom into sharpness - you have to be where you can see the sharpness before making the image.  Learning to be where the wildlife will come by eventually is a skill and patience to wait for them to show up and close is a virtue.  Practice, practice.

The focus part is making sure the details that are really important are the ones the camera is paying attention to when autofocusing.  I've many images where I put the autofocus spot right on the body of an animal or bird only to discover later that the head or eye is out of focus.  There's not enough depth of field to recover from making the mistake of literally focusing on the wrong thing.

What's been the best lesson is that not all lenses are equal when it comes to sharpness.  You just have to try them out, read about them, get recommendations from people who are more experienced with them, and then settle on the one that delivers what you're looking for.  I have half a dozen telephoto lenses and each one has a different ability to reach out and touch to the degree of sharpness I want.  I'm gradually learning the quirks of each one and determining when the conditions are such that chosing this one over that one is the best way to get the image I want.

The latest member of this collection is the Nikon 500mm f/5.6 PF (there are lots of other letters in the designation but PF is how I describe it).  From what I'd read, and the recommendation from a photographer who is much better than me, this lens provides me the focal length I want (don't have to get that close) and the sharpness I expect.  I've matched it to a Nikon D800 and am just wrapping up the fine-tuning of lens to camera.  After some shaky starts I believe I've got it where I want it.   Here are some of the latest images.

Each of these was made from 30-40 feet away.  I've cropped out a significant portion of the image, probably close to 75%. The aperture was f/5.6 or f/6.3, which is not as open as I would use to get the best sharpness.  My testing has shown f/8 or f/11 to deliver the maximum sharpness.  I didn't close the lens down that far because I needed to maintain a higher shutter speed without increasing the ISO.  Shutter speeds ranged from 1/400th to 1/1600th sec.

I'm pleased with the degree of sharpness the lens is delivering in these images.  The feathers are distinct, the eyes are clear and there is a realism to the images that I like to have.  The D800 has lots of pixels to use so cropping doesn't degrade the sharpness much.  Unless wildlife just walks right up to me the proximity thing will always be a compromise but this lens definitely gives me options on where to set up.

Now that we can almost see spring coming here in the upper Midwest I'm looking forward to more birds and animals to be subjects for this system.  Hopefully more pleasing images to come.

(Mel Mann Photography) Fri, 23 Feb 2024 04:52:34 GMT
Not everyone wants their picture taken OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

(Mel Mann Photography) Thu, 15 Feb 2024 21:59:57 GMT
What we don't see all around us Chatting with some camera club members today brought up the idea of making images of the crystals that form when solutions of something evaporate.  The effect is similar to frost forming on a window but the shape of the crystals is different depending on what chemical you dissolve in the water and how fast it evaporates.  Typically these images are made using polarized light, mostly because the resulting pictures are colorful and abstract.  But you don't have to make crystals to see objects in a different light.

Take two pieces of polarized film (or two polarized sunglasses), hold them up to a light and turn one while holding the other steady.  You'll notice the light darkens at some point.  This is because the first polarizing film lets through light that is polarized in a specific plane (imagine the film "flattens" the light into a sheet as it passes through).  Turning the other film also "flattens" the light but since the light from the first film is already "flattened" the second film just blocks out light as you rotate it away from the plane of the first film.  A photograph of this would be a dark or black image.

But put something between the films that also changes the plane of the light and now the second film doesn't block out all the light - it let's through that light that has been "flattened" by the object between the films, "flattened" to a plane different from the second film.  And because the object changes the plane of the light differently depending on the shape and composition of the object, you get color.  Here's what that looks like:


This is just a clear plastic disk that sits on top of a stack of blank CD's.  To the "naked" eye it's just a clear piece of thin plastic.  Put it between polarizing film, though, and it reveals colors from different areas where the plastic changes the polarized light coming through the first film.  The colors represent areas of stress the plastic underwent when formed into this shape.  A material that exhibits this property is called birefringent.  Lots of things behave this way, we just don't see them this way because the sun and light bulbs and candles don't emit polarized light.  It's sort of like being told bees see flowers different from us - it's right there in front of you but you aren't equipped to see it.

This is fairly easy to do if you have a polarizing filter on your camera lens and a pair of polarizing sunglasses.  Check out various pieces of plastic and see what you've been missing!

(Mel Mann Photography) Thu, 25 Jan 2024 04:59:43 GMT
There's been a bit of snow

(Mel Mann Photography) Tue, 16 Jan 2024 22:29:49 GMT
New toy for Christmas I do enjoy photographing wildlife.  What I'm not good at is getting close enough to make an animal the obvious subject of an image.  I find myself having to crop extensively to get that "up close and personal" look I admire from people who do this for a living.  So what does one do when one doesn't have a place to creep around in the woods or access to a blind in a place where wildlife lingers?  You have to reach out to a subject wherever it is with enough magnification to make it the star of the composition.

To that end I've filled out my lens kit for the Nikon D800 with their 500mm f/5.6 lens.  On the full format, 36 megapixel sensor (that gives me all the cropping space I need) this lens really excels at filling the frame.  Why this one?  Nikon removed some of the glass lens elements and replaced them with a single Fresnel element.  Fewer glass-to-air interfaces means less distortion and better contrast, and the removal of multiple glass elements means the lens is significantly lighter than comparable 500mm lenses.  So light that handholding is possible with a high enough shutter speed.

How good is it?  Here are a couple of images, both made on cloudy days and handheld.  I'm expecting with more light (and a faster shutter speed) the sharpness of these type images will improve.

The turkey almost walked into the lens' minimum focusing distance because when the flock is in my backyard and when I go outside they come walking toward me expecting birdseed.  It's odd to have an entourage of birds this big but they don't seem to mind.  This image is uncropped.

The sandhill crane was in a cornfield by the road in a small flock.  I pulled over and made this image through the car window.  Putting the glass down a bit gave me a nice support for the camera.  This bird was probably 20 feet away at the time and I've cropped out all the other birds to result in this image, which is about 10% of the original.  Staying in a car is the best way to photograph cranes in a field, otherwise you'll get lots of pictures of their back as they walk away from you.

My biggest challenge has always been birds in flight so I'm hoping to practice on the local Canada geese to be ready for the spring migration of all sorts of birds.  Very sharp subjects in flight are images I really like and I'm hoping this lens will help overcome the disappointment I usually have for my pictures!

(Mel Mann Photography) Sat, 06 Jan 2024 03:27:01 GMT
Stained (sort of) glass Some of the members of my local camera club have an interesting activity.  They put a mirror (or other reflective surface) in front of a flat screen TV, put glass articles on the mirror, display a wild background on the TV and then photograph the result.  The glass objects bend and refract the TV image, creating wild and interesting displays.  Some look like the displays used by '60's band at Haight-Ashbury whereas some look like the graphed results of complex math formulas.  Like snowflakes, no two are exactly the same as the chosen composition, lens focal length, angle of viewing, etc. result in different appearances even for the same subject and background.  It's a cool take on a still life.  Here are some examples:

(Mel Mann Photography) Fri, 05 Jan 2024 03:55:53 GMT
Best 2023 Images A day early - year ends tomorrow - but I won't be adding anything new so here's what I think were my best images for the year:

(Mel Mann Photography) Sun, 31 Dec 2023 03:20:58 GMT
Practicing enough? Winter continues to be a good time to work on my black-and-white skills, particularly with film.  My goal is to have interesting compositions that are sharp in focus and have broad tones.  The work comes from getting the right exposure and composition in the camera and then process the film properly.  Right now I'm sticking with Kodak TMax 100 film and Xtol developer, both because they claim fine grain and good detail for shadows and highlights.

I've done about all I can with the medium format camera, at least enough to realize the square format doesn't meet my type of compositions.  Now I'm working with an Olympus OM-1, the now antique film version rather than the modern digital one.  My lens of choice is the Zuiko 35-80 f/2.8 lens, possibly one of the sharpest lenses Olympus made for the OM series.

One advantage of the Xtol developer is it is ascorbic acid based, meaning it's not damaging to the environment like older developers.  Good for me - all my liquids go into a septic system and I'd hate for my work to cause problems there.  Although the developer is easy to use (around 6 1/2 minutes development time at 70 degrees) getting it mixed up is a little chore.  There are two powders to blend, one at a time, and the first one must be completey dissolved before adding the second one.  In the latest batch I'm seeing a precipitate that appears to be white flakes that just won't go back into solution.  Not sure what caused it but the issue shows up on other websites so it's not just me.  Other photographer's experience is to just filter the developer before use - apparently the flakes don't diminish the developer performance although they will stick to the negative and show up on the final images.  I'm seeing that in the latest roll of film so I'll be finding a fine filter to use before processing more rolls.

Here are a couple of the latest images:

This was around 3pm on a slightly overcast day.  The sun was there, just covered by a thin layer of clouds.  Thought it would be a good exercise in getting a properly exposed image and then post-processing it to give the contrast and detail I wanted.  The exposure here was probably around 1/250 sec. @ f/8.  I like the detail in the wood grain on the seats and the gravel under them.  The detail in the trees in the background makes it noisy - not enough contrast o make the individual trunks and limbs stand out.  There's still some grain in the shadows - not sure if that's the film or my processing.

A local park pavilion has set up these domes on their patio overlooking the lake, offering them to people who want to sit and chat.  Each has couches, chairs and an electric heater.  Guess they were purchased for the pandemic and now finding a use for winter fun.  Exposure here was probably 1/125 sec @ f/8.  The sun was just on the edge of thin overcast.  Again, good details in the bright areas but still some noise in the shadows, particularly the ceiling of the pavilion.  I'm pleased with the sharpness that shows up the pattern in the back of the couch.

I increased the development temperature from 65 degrees to 70 degrees to see if the contrast improved and it did.  So far I'm pleased with how the TMax is behaving and I think I know how to control the developer better.

The negatives were scanned on an ancient Minolta film scanner that, like most devices of this type, is contrary and not generally intuitive.  It only works on an old PowerPC Mac I have running, mainly just to scan negatives with the Minolta and Epson flatbed I use for medium and large format negatives.  I fear the day it just stops because it's the only way I have to turn 35mm negatives into digital files.

(Mel Mann Photography) Fri, 29 Dec 2023 03:14:00 GMT
Winter = monochrome I found a roll of exposed 35mm B&W film in the freezer and put it into my developing process finishing off the 120 film.  Not sure how old the film is - probably 2-3 years sitting in the freezer after exposing.  B&W is more stable than color when kept cold and in the dark.  Still, not a good idea to let the film sit around.  Looking over the images it's hard to tell if the resulting poor quality is a result of me doing bad exposures, the film aging in the freezer or the developer not performing as expected.  Probably a combination of all three.  Now that I have fresh developer and film I'll get out with my light meter and make some properly exposed images to see where the issue might be.

Out of 36 exposures there were only a couple really worth further processing.  What surprises me is the amount of grain in the images.  Kodak TMax 100 is a fine grain film and the Xtol developer is designed to maximize sharpness while reducing grain.  Here's one of the "good" images:

I did a bit of post processing to improve the brightness and constrast, and then toned it with a slight cyano tint because I like the cool effect.  As you see in the sky there is quite a bit of grain visible, enough so that it diminishes the sharpness of the tree limbs in the center.  This was made using and OM-1 film camera with one of the sharpest lenses Olympus made so I know the issue isn't with the equipment.  Hopefully fresher film will take most of this issue away and I can spend my time working on improvements with the developer.

A little technical work for the holiday to get ready for the new year and more monochrome film photography.  At least until the colors come back in the spring.

(Mel Mann Photography) Sat, 23 Dec 2023 20:38:50 GMT
Just a few more square images Finally processed all the 120 film I had in the freezer and found a few images that were interesting.  At least in the way they show off the capabilities of the camera and film.  The TMax film is a fine grain emulsion but I think my developer was having a problem keeping the grain appearance down.  It's a challenge to keep the chemicals at a constant temperature in my basement and that's usually what causes problems with development.  The master photographers would know quickly what changes were allowed in the process to correct problems but I'm sticking to the guide method from Kodak for the XTOL developer.  That and getting a better exposure for the film!

(Mel Mann Photography) Sat, 23 Dec 2023 02:56:15 GMT
Last of the square images I'm finally getting around to processing the multiple rolls of 120 B&W film in my freezer.  Since the developer I use has a six month shelf-life I generally accumulate enough rolls to justify mixing up a gallon and doing them all at one time.  Then that forces me to get out and shoot more B&W film in order to use up the developer still left!  For me, winter is a good time for B&W because only the form and tones of subjects matter - no infatuation with colors. 

What I'm finding is the 6x6cm square format of 120 film really isn't conducive to my type of images.  I look for the broad landscapes or more intimate wildlife images, both of which dictate the use of equipment that is different from square.  The camera I use, a Mamiya 6, is a great instrument and fairly simple to use but it really is more suited to portraits or street photography.  Since I don't do that type of work I'm probably going to sell this camera and the three lenses.  It's been fun to experiment with the format but there's no reason to keep the equipment lying around if I'm not going to use it.  Besides, if I want medium format image size and quality my Nikon D800 will get as close as I need. 

I've still got a few rolls left to process so there may be more images coming.  Here are the ones I like so far.

I am a fan of good zoom lenses, which have improved in image quality significantly over my time as photographer.  One thing I have to keep reminding myself about is that zooming only magnifies, it doesn't change perspective.  The Mamiya doesn't have a zoom lens - you have to change lenses to get a different view.  For example, look at these images.

This used the 50mm Mamiya lens. 

This used the Mamiya 75mm lens.

And this used the Mamiya 150mm lens.

Although it appears I just walked closer to the sign for each lens the actual composition didn't really change.  Notice the relationship of the sign to the upper left branches isn't different across the images.  Their relative size changes, but not their relationship in space.  Same with the space between the top of the sign and the house in the background - the relative distance doesn't change, just the appearance of the size of the difference.  What does this mean?

Standing in one spot and magnifying a scene using a zoom lens means you'll get the same composition in each image because the perspective doesn't change.  The relationship between elements in the image will remain the same; it's just their perceive size that will look different.  If you want a different composition you have to move the camera.  Or as a photographer told me, zoom with your feet.  Then the relationship of the elements in the image will change.

I have to remind myself about this all the time, and usually do so by walking around looking at a scene from different places.  Zoom lenses are useful when you can't get as close as you want but they are no substitution for "working the scene" by looking at it from different places.

(Mel Mann Photography) Thu, 21 Dec 2023 18:28:13 GMT
Art Scenes around Town Once you park your car and start walking around small downtowns you discover all sorts of things people have done to enhance the experience.  Things that would just be a blur while driving along a busy street.  Things that reflect some of the "vibe" of the place that can only be experienced on foot.  Found these murals on local walls, most stashed away on side streets or small pedestrian paths. 

All made with TMax 100 medium format B&W film, Mamiya 6, 50mm lens.

(Mel Mann Photography) Thu, 21 Dec 2023 03:00:18 GMT
In flight This weekend was the 2nd annual CraneFest up near Baraboo, Wisconsin.  Two organizations intimately involved in cranes and environmental management offered a look at their work and the birds they love so much.  The International Crane Foundation and the Aldo Leopold Foundation are located within a few miles of each other near the Wisconsin River.  When these organizations were founded there were few if any Sandhill Cranes in the area around the river.  Years of hunting, predation and wetland conversion to farm land had resulted in very low numbers of these birds.  Over the years, both foundations have worked with education and environmental reclamations to create conditions leading to a significant increase in Sandhill Crane numbers.

To see large numbers of these birds you'd traditionally have to go over to Nebraska in the spring to see the migration.  Thousands of birds stop on the Platte around Kearney, NE on their trip north and are visible all over the local corn fields and on the sandbars in the river.  The results of efforts by these foundations, though, have returned the section of Wisconsin River near Baraboo into a similar gathering place for the fall migration.  So now there are two places in the Midwest and Great Plains where fans of cranes can see them in huge numbers.

This weekend the Aldo Leopold Foundation set up a tent next to woods bordering the river, along some sandbars where the cranes would take an evening break from their day of foraging in the nearby corn fields.  Around dusk they would come flying over the field where the tent was, headed for a landing in the nearby river.  Sitting next to the tent gave photographers a view to hundreds of cranes flying right overhead.  With the sitting sun lighting them up from the side and bottom there were great image opportunities.  I pulled the following out of lots of images I made, liking both the horizontal and vertical compositions.

(Mel Mann Photography) Sun, 12 Nov 2023 19:36:12 GMT
Again the season of color I really thought the fall colors this year would be less than usual because of the way the weather has been throughout the summer.  Drought in lots of places, temperatures too hot or too cool, stress on trees, etc.  Reading articles on "what makes great fall color" makes me believe no one really has a good grasp on what conditions will make the forests spectacular for reds, yellows and oranges.  No, you just have to get out there and see what's going on in the woods.  As it turns out, there are some very nice scenes.  And the sun cooperated several times as well.  All in all pretty pleasing.


(Mel Mann Photography) Tue, 24 Oct 2023 01:17:56 GMT
Northern Sights There's so much to see in Wisconsin that just daytripping around doesn't do it justice.  You have to get out and stay in a place so you can explore around and see where the roads take you.  It's also quite a drive from the southern part of the state to the Lake Superior area so once you get there it's important to take the time to look around.  This past week the fall colors were patchy depending on what area you wandered through but at times it was surprising how bright and varied the trees were.  The state's fall color map this year seems to be ahead of the change, indicating an area to be peak about a week before it actually is.  I guess they've gotten complaints about the map being behind, where people drive to an area expecting peak color only to find most of the leaves gone or brown.  It's a tough job to predict what will be colorful in what area and when - you almost have to live in an area and get out every day to judge how autumn is coming along. For me it's the driving around to explore and see where the color is that's the fun part of getting out this time of year.


Ok, most of these pictures aren't actually in Wisconsin but rather in the Porcupine Mountains in the far western part of Michigan's Upper Penisula.  With the number of Wisconsin license plates on the roads, though, it felt like an honorary part of the state and the colors were nice so it's where I made several images.


This is the Lake of the Clouds in the Porcupine Mountains, a shallow body of water left behind by the glaciers.  Just over the ridge to the left is Lake Superior, the biggest and deepest of the Great Lakes.  Quite a contrast.

Also in the Porcupine Mountains, these are the falls at Presque Isle.  An interesting part of this stream cutting its way through the very old shale are the potholes, seen in the lower center far bank.  The sediment picked up by the stream acts like sandpaper to grind out these eddies, resulting in a swirl of water circling on itself as it passes downstream.


OK, these are in Wisconsin, surprises one finds by just looking around.  This is the Crex National Wildlife Refuge in the far northwestern part of the state.  Over 32,000 acres of reclaimed marsh and logged-over prairie.  Lots of different ecologies here but mostly marshy lakes that serve the waterfowl during migrations twice a year.  There were lots of sandhill cranes gathering to head south but the standout travelers were the swans.  These three were swimming out of a small inlet into a larger channel and I liked how they resembled battleships steaming in formation.


The challenge here was actually finding the bridge.  It was mentioned in one travel guide but didn't show up on the large-scale map I used and the people in the nearest town didn't seem to know how to get to it.  Thankfully Garmin knew where it was so after a few backtracking visits to gravel roads there it was.  This part of the state was behind on fall color formation - should be very promising next week.


This is Copper Falls, one of many falls in the northern part of the state.  The Bad River has been cutting through this basalt for quite some time but it's not minerals that give the water a brewed tea color.  Rather it's the tannins extracted from the conifer needles that fall in the water.  So many evergreens mean not much fall color but there were a few specimens that could be put in the composition.

Lots of time on the road wandering around lakes and marshes.  It feels like there are few straight paths from one town to another but it's that something-new-around-every-bend feeling that makes photography fun.


(Mel Mann Photography) Sat, 14 Oct 2023 00:15:10 GMT
Becoming that time of year It's easy to get busy and not pay attention to the changing seasons.  It's been a summer of occurances and travel, always feeling like I've been getting ready for something or recovering from it.  There's a garden to tend, yard to manage, wildlife to watch, news to keep up with and books to read.  As a Saturday Night Live character said, "It's always something."  Looking at my Lightroom catalog I realize how little I've photographed these past months.

And now I look around and change is happening again.  Summer always seems so lazy and constant - and green.  Now there are hints of color all over the place but really still not enough to indicate a changing season.  Today, though, I came across definite indicators that fall is coming.  Not only is the temperature cooler but the prairie colors are getting more monochromatic yellowish. And the sky seems bluer as the green starts to fade a bit.  The signs of harvest are showing up as well, just to reinforce the calendar moving toward October.


(Mel Mann Photography) Thu, 14 Sep 2023 02:19:56 GMT
Totems in the woods Just walking through the forest can reveal interesting shapes and forms if one follows the advice and looks at trees instead of woods.

(Mel Mann Photography) Wed, 13 Sep 2023 02:31:37 GMT
Color memory Leaves are just starting to change color in some of the trees, a spot here and there but enough to remind that summer is closing out.  Given the drought and temperatures around this year it'll be interesting to see what kind of fall colors we get.  And how long they last.

Before that exhibit, though, I looked back over some summer excursions to see what colors there were in spite of the weather.  Quite a bit, as it turns out.  With winter on the way it's easy to forget how much showing off the plants did during the year.  Here's just a sample of what I was able to see.


(Mel Mann Photography) Mon, 11 Sep 2023 19:39:44 GMT
Wading pool There's a millpond near me that used to provide the motive power for a grain mill in the small town next door.  The mill is still there and actively making feeds and other supplies but it has moved to electrical power to drive operations.  The pond remains as a place for fishing, boating, picnics and walks along the water.  It's also a nice refuge for waterfowl and other aquatic creatures as there's no development on the shores.  One side is a band of woods along a bike path and the other side is a small town park. 

Our rainfall this year is significantly below the average and the millpond depth shows it.  Not only have water lilies taken over a sizable percentage of the surface but herons and cranes are hanging out more since the shallow water makes it easier for them to wander around looking for food.  They must think the foliage provides some type of cover because they don't seem to mind people walking along the shore.

I was out the other day looking for any interesting photo compositions and noticed a tan spot among the green lily leaves.  The 300mm on my Nikon D800 gave me plenty of telephoto power and sharpness, and the full frame sensor allowed quite a bit of cropping to zero in on a sandhill crane doing some afternoon grazing.  It's hard to know if they are bothered by people watching them since they seem to move at the same speed whether they are "running away" or taking a stroll.  One benefit of being a big bird, I guess - not much to be intimidated by in the world.

Nikon D800, 300mm, f/5, 1/320 sec., ISO 200

(Mel Mann Photography) Tue, 15 Aug 2023 00:42:33 GMT
Moving on through As the days get shorter the migrating wildlife is starting to think about moving southward.  Not in flocks yet but individually you can see creatures drifting in that direction, grabbing a bite where they can along the way.

We see monarch butterflies passing through the local parks this time of year.  They usually check out the milkweed that's in bloom and the other summer flowers in the prairies.  At a glance the bit of orange drifting by on the wind usually triggers "monarch" in my brain but the other day I saw one that seemed not quite right.

Mimicry is a great natural defense, as this butterfly shows.  This is a viceroy butterfly, not a monarch.  What attracted my attention was the size - it didn't seem large enough and by this time of the year monarchs have reached their adult size.  I wasn't sure until I got to my computer for a comparison.  Here's a monarch.

A monarch doesn't have a line along the lower wing connecting the thinner black lines whereas a viceroy does.  Also, the average size of a viceroy is smaller than a monarch, just enough to be noticeable.

Monarchs feed on milkweed, which imparts a bitter taste to anything trying to feed on them.  It's why you don't see birds with monarch butterflies in their bill.  They've learned that orange and black color means "this doesn't taste good."  Viceroy butterflies evolved to mimic this warning, meaning birds and other predators leave them alone.  It is odd, though.  Birds have shown good eyesight and pattern recognition skills. You'd think they would have figured out this subtle difference in appearance between the two butterflies.  Guess better safe than sorry for the bird, and a benefit to the viceroy.

(Mel Mann Photography) Sat, 12 Aug 2023 02:26:07 GMT
Tone and textures Sometimes an image just looks better in black and white.  Gives the viewer a chance to look at other elements but the bright colors.  Also good practice to compose and process in order to bring out more dimensionality in the scene.  I'm not good at getting that result yet - images still look pretty flat.


(Mel Mann Photography) Tue, 04 Jul 2023 15:33:15 GMT
Summer color finally I was wondering if we'd ever see the start of summer flowers.  There's been little rain over the past month and a half, the sun's intensity has been cut down due to the smoky from Canadian fires, and the temperature goes from warm to cool seemingly every few days.  Much of what I've planted seems to have come up for a few inches and then doggedly refused to get any taller, much less put on blooms.  Fortunately the garden club locally has had more success with the "formal" garden they tend in a city park.  Every year there's interesting things blooming there and those colors are finally showing up.


(Mel Mann Photography) Mon, 03 Jul 2023 21:40:37 GMT
What stands out The key to a good photograph is an obvious subject.  You don't want the viewer to work too hard to identify what they ought to be looking at in your image.  Short of Photoshopping in an arrow pointing to the subject there are numerous other tools to use as a way to encourage people to "look here first" - bright object on a dark background, in-focus object on an out of focus background, leading lines from the edges to a specific subject, etc.

One of the easiest tools is to simply have a single subject located away from any other elements that might conflict with it being the subject.  The eye goes first to elements that are out by themselves, probably as a way to simplify the pattern recognition in our brains.  I'm always on the lookout for these composition opportunities.

Not only does the tree stand out in a grass field by itself but the light hitting the right side increases the contrast between it and the line of trees behind it.  I increased the clarity (mid-range contrast) in the grass to give it more texture and to make the roll in the terrain more obvious as it passes by the subject.  I wanted it in B&W because it gives me more control over the tonal values without having to worry about the impact on color values.

It's a simple image but a good example of giving the viewer something to notice almost immediately with just a glance at the photograph.



(Mel Mann Photography) Fri, 30 Jun 2023 00:38:41 GMT
Never know who you'll run into

(Mel Mann Photography) Tue, 27 Jun 2023 19:44:56 GMT
Summer start I'm always amazed at how fast peonies spring up out of the ground each year and throw open blooms almost overnight.  It's like they are in a hurry to get the flowers out of the way so they can move on to some other phase.  A local community has been having a peony festival this time of year and it seemed like a good chance to photograph these showy plants.  The day had plenty of sun and little wind so the blooms were at their peak.

The variations on red and white were expected - it's what you see in the yards around here.  What was a surprise were the yellow ones.  Not a color I've seen in peonies before but hope to see more.

(Mel Mann Photography) Sun, 18 Jun 2023 20:41:45 GMT
Nesting time Wandering around a local botanical garden I noticed a robin on the ground tugging away at something.  Turns out it was wrestling with some fine grass stems growing along the walk, pulling out separate strands until it found some that suited the need for building a nest.  It was interesting to watch for a few minutes as the bird added more and more stands to the collection it was building.  I didn't want to get close enough to disturb the work going on so I relied on my zoom lens to make the image and hoped I had enough resolution to crop down to an interesting composition.  Turns out I did.



(Mel Mann Photography) Wed, 14 Jun 2023 20:57:14 GMT
New Views Joined a couple of webinars lately aimed at stimulating new ways to see things and capture unique images.  The most recent one got me to looking through my camera manual to find a technique I've never used before - multiple exposures.  Essentially the camera stitches together multiple images into a single image, preserving much of the details from all the images.  The resulting photograph is certainly not something you would see with your eye.  I'll keep playing around wtih this as I'm discovering it's more than just changing the camera settings and pointing.  More on that later. 

Another technique discussed is one I've used in the past but not lately - motion blur (or intentional camera movement).  I'm sure my quest for very sharp images has resulted in pushing this technique to the background so it's good to bring it out to see what I can get with it.  This ones even simpler.  You just move the camera around while clicking the shutter.  The longer the shutter speed the more motion blur in the image.  Moving the camera in different ways results in different perspectives, even if the composition is of the same thing.  It's one way to ensure a unique image because two people standing next to each other with the same camera and settings will get different images based on how they move their cameras around.

One instructor showed some nice images of trees made with this technique and noted that vertical motion is best for straight, tall trees.  Here's an example of that:

This is very overexposed because my shutter speed was still not long enough to get good motion, even at f/22 and ISO 100.  You really need a neutral density filter on the lens to cut down on the light so the shutter speed can be over a second (this one is at 1/20th second).  It certainly shows some blur but it's not a very interesting image.  So I wondered if making it darker would help.  Easily enough done, just inverse the image.

Ghost ForestGhost Forest

Now it's much more interesting.  The combination of contrast in the trucks, motion in the limbs and the bluish blur in the middle really gives a sense of mystery.  Almost like a ghostly fire running through a dead forest.

Sharpness is not needed here and would probably distract from the mood.  I'll keep playing around with both these techniques and see if I can get as excited about the outcomes as I am with sharp images.

(Mel Mann Photography) Fri, 28 Apr 2023 22:25:58 GMT
Keeping an eye out There's a nice rails-to-trails biking path I use when it warms up a bit but I haven't actually hiked on it much.  Since it's not quite the temperature for me to bike I thought I'd walk along a section I usually speed past to see what I'm missing.  As usual, there are plenty of details that get missed at biking speed, as well as scenes I see all the time but never stop to contemplate.

I ride by this farm scene each time I'm on the trail and only pay it a passing glance.  There was good lighting today and plenty of clouds so I made this image.  I like the basketball goal mounted on one of the silos.

There's a small pond next to one of access trails and today there was this one goose just sitting out in the middle.  When I got out of my car to walk over to the trail, though, it came paddling over to the edge to check out what I was doing.  Obviously there is feeding going on with the people who come by this spot.

I liked this dead tree trunk that's been stripped of everything but the basic patterns and colors remaining.  The form is all twisted up from the elements and today the light was playing nicely on the texture.

I see these birch trees all along the trail but just noticed today (the benefits of slowing down) how at this particular spot they form a type of gateway leading down the path.

Always good to reduce  your pace and look at the details around you.  The world has a lot to offer at the "micro" level that whisks by at our usual speed.

(Mel Mann Photography) Wed, 26 Apr 2023 19:05:28 GMT
Seeing is important A recent webinar by a photography artist was all about telling a story through an image.  Not all photos are used this way but those that grab attention and encourage a lingering look definitely have this capability.  The artist discussed how they look carefully when they are out (they specialize in landscape art images) and how visualization of the final product is important even before the camera comes out.  Ansel Adams talked about this in his writings on photography.  His process was to envision what a composition would look like in the final print form, meaning he had to not only consider what exposure settings to use but also how he would process both the negative as well as the print.  While I'm rarely making film negatives this approach is still important because of the post-processing I do to digital images.

Looking through my landscape images over the years I do see a trend toward darker, slightly more moody photos.  I used to underexpose slide film to improve the saturation and I think that tendency has followed me into digital.  It's either that or a fear of blowing out the details in the highlights, even when there aren't any highlights!  I've come to accept this nature for my images and usually work on using it to the best effect for the "story" I'm telling with the image.  Here's an example:

This is just a scene in a local park.  The light is from a slightly overcast sky with the sun behind the subjects in the image.  When I looked at the scene I felt there was a story there - empty picnic table waiting for the season to progress and people to sit down and enjoy the outdoors.  For that the color actually gets in the way because it takes away from the mood i was "seeing" in the setting.  I liked the forms of the trees and table, as well as the texture of the grass and the blurred out background so the composition was what I wanted.  However, to get the feeling I wanted to convey would need post-processing.  Here's what I came up with:

Not so benign a view as the color image, but not so ominous as to turn the viewer away.  The promise of the approaching season is still there but with a tinge of sadness that it isn't coming along fast enough.

It's not landscape art but it has given me an opportunity to practice the visualization process in a minor way.

(Mel Mann Photography) Tue, 25 Apr 2023 02:34:34 GMT
Spring sprouting Looking closely at the ground there's finally evidence of an awakening for another spring season.  The warming ground and April showers are giving a nudge to all the perinnials that withdrew last fall, awaiting this time to come back.  The challenge for now is to protect many of them from the roving deer looking for a snack!

Even the trees are getting with the program, sending out new leaves and buds that will change the world from grey and brown into the overwhelming green we expect for summer.


(Mel Mann Photography) Mon, 24 Apr 2023 00:15:58 GMT
The birds are back in town You know that saying about a person with a hammer sees nails everywhere?  Well, I'm finding with my 300mm lens I'm looking for birds all over the place.  It's so pleasing to see the detail captured with this lens that I'm looking everywhere for opportunities to test its limits.  Here are three subjects from just this week:

(Mel Mann Photography) Wed, 19 Apr 2023 00:17:23 GMT
Seasonal appearance The warm weather we've been having has really accelerated the appearance of blooms around the area.  Driving through a local state park i glanced over to a trail and saw hundreds of blood root flowers.  Since there's little other growth under the trees right now this carpet of white really stood out.  I'm guessing they are gone by now, just popping up for a day or so only to vanish as the brief cold front came through.  Every year they show up in the same spot announcing that spring is really coming.

(Mel Mann Photography) Tue, 18 Apr 2023 01:08:02 GMT
Easter sightings Weather here has been nicely warm and spring is indeed busting out all over.  Trees are budding, crocus has bloomed and done, daffodils are opening up their flowers and the forsythia is painting splotches of yellow around the edges of yards throughout the neighborhood.  The surge of a new season is moving steadily along, pushing winter aside as fast as it can.

So of course the Easter bunny is out and around, probably catching a breath after a busy weekend.  I saw this guy lounging in the shade down at the park.  Didn't seem perturbed by me walking around.  Nice to have a long lens so I could make this portrait without disturbing his day.

(Mel Mann Photography) Thu, 13 Apr 2023 22:01:42 GMT
Spring for the birds I wasn't perfectly pleased with the whooping crane images from the other day so I went out to find similar subjects closer to home to use as subjects for some lens testing.  Fortunately the sandhill cranes are moving into the area more and more; finding them in cornfields is less chance and more certainty now.  They make great subjects for evaluating the autofocus on a lens because they are usually a similar tone to the background and their narrow neck is a good test for where in an image the camera is actually focusing.

What I found wasn't that surprising although it is interesting.  I'm comparing the Nikon 300mm PF lens on a D800 to an Olympus 300mm f/2.8 on an E-5.  The sharpness of cranes standing in a cornfield is OK but it is inferior to the sharpness of the same cranes flying against a clear sky.  It's almost as if the camera has a harder time finding a plane of focus when the image is messy and has a narrow tonal range (tan cranes standing in a tan cornfield) but when the image is clean and contrasty (tan birds alone against a solid blue sky) the focus is sharper.  Maybe it's just my imagination but it is frustrating - hard to know just what quality of shot I'll get at the time. 

Anyway, I did find some good subjects.  Here is a pair rooting around for insects in a mowed field.  This is with the 300mm Olympus lens from about 20 yards away, shooting through the window (they don't wander off as fast when I stay in the car!).  I don't have a comparable image using the Nikon 300mm because I overexposed too much for the images to be useful.  Still, it's a nice shot, don't you think?


This is another image using the Olympus 300mm, from about 100 feet away.


And here's the same subject using the Nikon 300mm, about the same distance.

Maybe it's just me but it seems the Olympus is slightly sharper than the Nikon.  Or it could be I'm just being picky.  Here's a different subject. First, the Olympus lens:


Then the Nikon lens:

For both I was focusing on the left steeple, meaning my subject was a different color than the background with high contrast.  Here the difference in sharpness doesn't appear that great.  Zooming in on details, though, there is a noticeable difference.  The Nikon lens is on the left, the Olympus on the right.

Granted, some pixel-peeping is needed to see the difference but it is there.  I'm still pleased with the Nikon 300mm given its ease of use and sharpness most of the time, especially when photographing flying birds while hand-holding the camera.  For critical sharpness at a distance where I expect to crop the image quite a bit and use a tripod the Olympus will be my first choice.

Always good to know the limits of equipment so surprises can be lessened.

(Mel Mann Photography) Tue, 11 Apr 2023 02:44:10 GMT
Whooping Cranes are back Short trip to Horicon Marsh today to see if any goslings are hatched out.  A little early.  Still cold there although the water level is high and unfrozen.  A strong and constant west wind was keeping all the birds on the water and probably hiding in the cattails.  I did happen upon two whooping cranes in a cornfield, though.  They were pretty forgiving of me parking next to their spot; gave me a few moments of shooting time before taking off and heading back toward the marsh.

Great to see them.  All last year I wandered around all sides of the marsh and never caught a glimpse of them.  Hopefully this year there will be more opportunities.

(Mel Mann Photography) Thu, 06 Apr 2023 20:35:32 GMT
Stroll around town Having lunch in a nearby town, wandering around to see what's interesting.  I need to do this more often.

(Mel Mann Photography) Sat, 25 Mar 2023 01:56:36 GMT
Film still matters Introducing myself to new camera club members included talking about equipment used.  I mentioned my use of Olympus and Nikon for digital, and medium/large format for film.  Just about all the membership has used film at some point in their photography but everyone but me has gone completely digital.  You get some interesting looks when talking about film.

Got me to thinking about my film images.  Here are a few of my favorites.  These are all from a 4x5 view camera, Ektachrome or Fujichrome slides that were scanned to digital.

Glacier SunriseGlacier SunriseGlacier National Park, St. Mary's Lake

St. Mary's Lake, Glacier National Park

Emerald Bay, Lake Tahoe

Palouse Region, Eastern Washington

Lower Yellowstone Falls, Yellowstone National Park

Clay Flower Arrangement

Devil's Tower National Monument, Wyoming

Red River Gorge, Kentucky

(Mel Mann Photography) Tue, 21 Mar 2023 02:30:03 GMT
Bird baths I was photographing a bunch of seagulls today as they hung around a local river.  Several people walking along the shore path were tossing food to them so there was a lot of birds really close.  Got several good images of gulls in flight and a few of two mallard ducks chasing each other around.  One good set I made was a lone seagull bathing out in the river.  You'd think birds that are around water all the time wouldn't need to worry about bathing but gotta keep those feathers clean and shiny.  To watch them it feels like the cleaning I would get just standing in the shower and letting the water run over me but I'm sure they make it work.  Since there is still ice at the river's edge it must be a cold bath!

(Mel Mann Photography) Mon, 20 Mar 2023 02:55:41 GMT
Winter infrared It's still at good time of the year for infrared, assuming you can find enough sun.  The sky has much less moisture than in summer so there's less diffusion due to water vapor, resulting in the camera "seeing" a much darker sky.  The snow reflects about all the light hitting it so the only tones to play with are in tree bark, wooden buildings and other random surfaces that reflect infrared light.  Compositions can turn out surprising since our eyes don't see infrared.  Checking the screen on the camera back is necessary to make sure what you compose is what you get.


(Mel Mann Photography) Sat, 18 Mar 2023 18:59:16 GMT
New orchid The orchid show in Chicago was a great opportunity to see a wide variety of blooms showing off their shapes, sizes, colors, etc.  In an effort to exhibit as wide a range possible the plants were a little crowded for photography, and the lighting was more to accent the blooms than to illuminate them.  I like plant images that are more portrait-like, which means getting them isolated against a neutral background and using different lighting to highlight their features.  Below are three versions of the same plant with different "poses", backgrounds and lighting effects. There's nothing exotic here except the orchid.  The different backgrounds are the same blank wall; the colors vary depending on whether the overhead light is on or not, or whether the shades are open or not.  The light on the flowers is either one or two LED flashlights, handheld to put emphasis where I wanted it.  The bright spots in the background are there intentionally to spotlight the blooms, again letting the LED flashlight beam wash over the wall behind the plants.  These are good examples of how lighting influences the way we see subjects and how to direct the viewer's eye. 


(Mel Mann Photography) Tue, 14 Mar 2023 01:12:05 GMT
Cranes bringing spring For a week now there have been squawks in the sky around here as the sandhill cranes announce their return.  Can spring be far behind these birds as they return to Wisconsin wetlands?  I'd not seen them until yesterday.  Driving around I saw a couple staking out some marshy area in a corn field.  Doubt they'll nest there but still nice to see them scoping out the neighborhood.  Gave me a chance to use my 300mm Nikon lens on the subject I purchased it for!

(Mel Mann Photography) Tue, 07 Mar 2023 03:52:00 GMT
Reflections The theme for the orchid show in Chicago was "Magnified" and the approach taken was pretty cool.  There were several displays with handheld magnifiers, each pointing out some near-micro aspect of the bloom and why it would be found on that orchid.  For some there were banks of fresnel lenses suspended in front of flowers to enlarge them to at least three times their normal size.  It was a way to get people to pause and look a little more closely at these unusual blooms.

One display in particular was very different.  individual orchids were placed in front of concave mirrors with the bloom facing into the mirror.  Like a carnival fun-house mirror these magnified the bloom with only a little distortion.  What I found interesting was the idea of an orchid admiring itself in a mirror.  Wonder what they thought?

(Mel Mann Photography) Fri, 03 Mar 2023 21:56:36 GMT
Orchid Show time You know spring is getting closer because the Chicago Botanical Garden's orchid show has arrived.  During the pandemic the show was either cancelled or scaled down considerably so it's good to see it getting back to the size and variety enjoyed in the past.

Lighting is always an issue at this venue.  The indoor arrangements use dramatic mood lighting of various colors so my ISO is around 1600 and aperture wide open just to get a shutter speed I can hand hold.  Then in the conservatory displays the full sun was out, giving either way too bright light or dark shadows.  It's not the best place to photograph orchids without additional equipment to control the lighting and exposure but it's great to see the colors and shapes resulting from grower's hard work.

(Mel Mann Photography) Thu, 02 Mar 2023 20:56:41 GMT
Shapes all around us Notice how the world is made up of all these interesting shapes?  We tend to see what's around us in large chunks - trees, buildings, clouds - but sometimes miss the details that go into making up our macro perception.  One great thing about photography is the camera doesn't discriminate between the whole and the details.  When you point your camera at a subject you get it all.  What that does is give the opportunity to really bring attention to the variety of shapes that make up things we may simply see as a whole.  Telephoto lenses are really good at pushing aside lots of elements that might make it into an image and really narrowing down what makes up a subject.  it's one of the reasons I enjoy playing around with architectural photos.  I get to see all the little things the designer put into the structure.

These gables are part of a larger Victorian-style building full of decorative elements.  To glance at the building it's easy to be overwhelmed by all the intricate design features.  The roofline of this building contains lots of gables, almost like a frieze around the top of the building.  Another detail that's easy to miss is the pattern of colored shingles.  In passing it almost appears they are randoming placed but on closer looking it's obvious there's a structure to their placement.

The Calatrava designed art museum in Milwaukee is famous for the bird-like form it takes when the "wings" are extended to filter light into the halls.  A closer look reveals the engineering details that go into supporting and moving all those shafts.  Each one has its own bearing for rotation while they are all connected to move in parallel.

The contrast of the geometric repetitiveness of the domes with the curvelinear entrance structure has a futuristic look that would look quite at home on another planet.


Telephoto lenses are also great as a way to get a closer look at wildlife that is shy around crowds.  This red-breasted merganser wasn't interested in joining the seagulls looking for a handout.  Instead it was slowly cruising by the docks on its way to some other destination.

(Mel Mann Photography) Mon, 27 Feb 2023 15:12:19 GMT
Mechanism There are all sorts of art installations around small towns.  It's fun to see what the citizenry choses to place in their public areas.  Some are indicative of the community and some are just fun to have around.


(Mel Mann Photography) Wed, 15 Feb 2023 21:55:17 GMT
Marsh Scenes Spent a morning at Horicon Marsh NWR to check on any returning birds.  No one is back yet, which is good since the marsh is still frozen over.  Even the stream running through the middle is completely iced over.  Should be opening up in the next few weeks, which is good since the waterfowl will be returning to the north for courting and nesting.

Doesn't mean there was nothing there, though.  Lots of good shapes to use in compositions.  Here are a couple I liked:

(Mel Mann Photography) Mon, 13 Feb 2023 03:23:10 GMT
Snow shapes This weekend was Winterfest in Lake Geneva, WI, which includes the annual snow carving contest.  The weather is usually more favorable for this but this year, almost as soon as the figures were judged, the temperature got above freezing for the rest of the day and into the next.  I was there on Sunday morning and several of the carvings had already lost pieces while some were collapsing completely.  It's an interesting art form, more impermanent than ice carving because the snow isn't structurally solid.  Between the sun and warmer-than-freezing wind the delicate parts of the sculptures just couldn't hold their shape.  At least the participants were able to complete their work in time for the judging!

Here are images of interesting versions.

(Mel Mann Photography) Sun, 05 Feb 2023 21:54:50 GMT
Winter scenes Still a lot of snow on the ground, and clouds have rolled in for a few days.  Thought I'd get out and see what structures are local, playing off the recent workshop photographing barns and such.  There are more interesting structures than I thought - amazing what you just don't see unless you're paying attention!

Here are a couple of finds from this afternoon.

These are typical silos found around local farms but unusual to see them all lined up like this.  The composition seemed too plain with the grey lighting so I ran it through some filters to accentuate the lines and colors.

Drove by this scene and had to turn around to see if it was as interesting as it appeared in the corner of my eye.  Turned out it was.  The line and color of the grass, along with the stubble left in the field, made a nice comparison to the blue sky in the distance and the jagged shapes of the trees.

(Mel Mann Photography) Fri, 03 Feb 2023 23:18:01 GMT
Details Photographing old buildings like barns needs an element of context - what is the setting, what is around the structure, what else can be included to tell a story in the image.  Other than straight architectural imaging a good building photograph gives the viewer something to explore and think about.

Sometimes the whole structure isn't actually needed as there are interesting compositions to be made using just a small portion of what you see in front of you.  I like to explore these details after working on the whole building, and sometimes while working on these more intimate images I find aspects of the building I'd simply missed.  Textures, shapes, colors, etc. are all around us if we just pay attention.

(Mel Mann Photography) Thu, 02 Feb 2023 04:05:12 GMT
Winter barns and such This past weekend I joined a workshop touring SW Wisconsin to photograph barns in the winter.  We were fortunate to have snow on the ground, and falling snow for most of the places we visited.  Sunlight was sparse but it was still great to visit locations I would not know about and make some images under somewhat challenging conditions.  The workshop was one of Keith French's programs - you can see all their workshops here:

Although it might seem redundent to photograph one barn after the other once you spend some time at each location it's apparent the differences among the buildings.  Most of the barns in this part of the state are similar in construction - stone foundations for a "first floor" with the wooden structure built on top.  Some are large while others are more moderate in size.  And although the traditional red barn is the typical appearance you see while driving around the county, there are other color options.  In the end it's a functional building but farmers have a variety of perspectives on how to adapt the structure to their business.

Here are a few of the properties we visited, and some of the details I liked.

Not all our travel was to barns.  This was an interesting church sitting in a cemetery.

And there was this old grist mill.

(Mel Mann Photography) Tue, 31 Jan 2023 01:44:26 GMT
Combinations I was on a webinar today and the photographer showed some ideas on combining different "looks" to create novel views.  The combinations explored today were photographs merged with line drawings, something that is easily done in Photoshop using the Filters and Layers capabilities.  Here's an example:

This is simply two layers.  The bottom layer is the original image and the top layer is the image put through a Filter that renders a sketch version of it.  I chose a blending mode (Darken) to combine the two and then ran the final image through a couple of NIK filters to lighten it up and bring out some details.  I like how it delivered a sort of pastel look to the image along with some false colors.

Playing around with photographs it's easy to forget there are other visual means of portraying a composition.  In the early days of photography some painters would paint over their prints to give color (the days before color photography) as well as bring out specific details they felt were important to the composition.  Today I saw some examples of city skylines that were enhanced with this technique and it really gave dimensionality to the image.  Something to keep in mind for other types of photography.

(Mel Mann Photography) Tue, 24 Jan 2023 19:42:04 GMT
Best of 2022 I've put up a few images I feel are the best I've made in 2022.  To view, go and click on All My Photos, then click on the Best of 2022 to see the images.  Looking forward to interesting images in 2023!


(Mel Mann Photography) Mon, 02 Jan 2023 00:48:43 GMT
Snow shapes It's been pretty cold around here for several days, right after we got some snow on the ground.  It was nice to have a White Christmas but sub-zero temperatures make it hard to enjoy getting out to photograph the dynamic scenes snow creates.  In addition, the wind has been blowing fairly well for what seems like a week, giving us wind chills approaching record book levels.  Finally, though, it appears all that is moving out of here to torment someone else.  The sun started coming through the thinning clouds so I decided to get out and see what I could find.  Just north of us is a nice state park lake that is a haven for ice fishing and a wide open area where the wind creates all sorts of interesting artifacts with the snow.  Here are a few of the more exotic looking ones.

(Mel Mann Photography) Tue, 27 Dec 2022 22:42:57 GMT
Food portrait I seem to be doing a lot of individual images lately.  It's enjoyable to get really close to something and see what emerges.  A photography quote I like is that you should show people things they haven't seen before or things they see everyday but in a new manner.  Well, that's what this image is all about.  How many times do you walk through the produce section of the grocery store, right by the butternut squash, and not give it a passing glance?  Other than its interesting shape there really isn't much to attract anyone to spend time looking over it.  Still, when that moment in time is frozen and you can really get a look at it the form, color and texture is pretty interesting.



(Mel Mann Photography) Sat, 17 Dec 2022 03:31:25 GMT
Winter fruit The birds that hang around for the winter are roaming around a lot, looking for bits of food to get them through the cold weather.  Most of the autumn seeds are gone now, either consumed or fallen to the ground to grow in the spring.  Fortunately there are a few trees with berries left near the prairies.  I'm guessing the bright colors of the fruit is not an evolutionary accident.  How else would the seed find a way to get spread around if not by birds plucking them off the tree, eating the fruit and leaving the seeds all over the place.  I found some remaining berries lingering just before the first snowfall and like the way sunlight was hitting them to highlight against a nice blue sky.  These are probably gone now, serving to nourish a pack of waxwings passing through.


(Mel Mann Photography) Tue, 13 Dec 2022 22:49:24 GMT
A little winter travel One small town in Wisconsin seems to be world renown for a couple of reasons.  New Glarus is a very Swiss village in an upper Midwestern setting.  The architecture, restaurants, shops and parks all reflect a Swiss character.  Apparently even the language has a hint of a Swiss accent, although didn't talk with enough people to confirm that.  Everyone I spoke with sounded like they live in Wisconsin.  The other aspect the town is famous for is their small brewery, which has been turning out award winning beers for a few decades.  They offer a self-guided tour of their manufacturing facility, a tasting room to check out their products, and an open-air beer garden that I'm sure stays full and busy when the weather is warmer. 

There were painted cows all over town, reflecting the influence of different businesses and artists.  Dairy is also an important part of the region, mainly for its contribution to award winning cheeses.

Here are some quick images of our short visit there.

(Mel Mann Photography) Fri, 09 Dec 2022 04:16:17 GMT

The Christmas cactus is starting to bloom.  Amazing how fast the little buds turn into these complicated floral displays.  This image was made using light painting techniques.  I held the shutter open and waved a small LED flashlight over the bloom from different directions.  Then in Photoshop I stacked two of the images with the most interesting lighting and blended them together to create this image.  The texture, color and dimensionality of the bloom makes it look like a strange insect was caught in flight.

(Mel Mann Photography) Wed, 23 Nov 2022 03:34:19 GMT
Turning Leaf Spotlight Can you imagine early man, migrating northward into Europe, encountering their first autumn.  All these trees, so green during the warm summer, now suddenly changing color and leaves dropping off in the wind.  The thought of death must have passed through their mind, this strange country where the wind has a chill and the vegetation dies as the sun slowly gets lower in the sky with each passing day.  What brave individuals lingered on through winter, to see the green return with the warming.

The image below was a surprise, fall coming much earlier than expected.  I'm walking along a path under a green summer canopy only to look down and see this yellow leaf on the ground.  Looking up I see many other yellow leaves waiting to drop.  Fall here already?  Where did that come from?

The dappling sunlight caught the leaf in a spot of light, highlighting it against the grass and ground.  I elected to put everything not in sunlight into dark shadow, keeping as much detail on the leaf as possible.  The resulting image is what I wanted - a mostly dark, shadowy image with just a few points of light, the main focus being on the leaf and its color.  With this effect it's almost as if the leaf is illuminated from within, providing light to the surrounding ground and objects.


Fading SummerFading SummerFading Summer

(Mel Mann Photography) fall leaf shadow Mon, 07 Sep 2015 02:56:05 GMT
Colorless appeal I've been ignoring the reason I blog here for quite some time.  Been too interested in simply putting images up on my other blog.  But here is where the rest of the story comes out so I want to get back to talking about the images.

This is becoming one of my more favorite B&W images.

Details in light and darkDetails in light and darkDetails in light and dark

It's a crop of a larger composition and as I look at it I understand why I selected this version.  First, the details in the flower are very nice, with plenty of texture and dimensionality in such a bright object.  As a subject, it is balanced by the curve of leaves in the upper left, its brightness countered by the dark area the curve encircles.  That curve has a nice light on it, bringing out the edges of the leaves to display their shape and depth.  Both of these subjects, the flower and leaf curve, stand out against the darker, less detailed background.

When I saw this setting (around springtime at Heron Haven in Omaha), I liked the light/dark contrast and the arrangement of the subjects.  For me it constitutes one of those intimate landscapes I've been pursuing.

I usually expect to get this amount of dynamic range with B&W film so I was pleasantly surprised to find it is a digital image.  The capture contained enough information for post processing to bring out details in the light and dark areas I wanted.  I haven't printed this one yet because I'm concerned it will never look as good on paper as it does on the screen.  It would make a very nice large print, though.

Close behind on my list of B&W favorites is this image:

Organic architectureOrganic architectureOrganic architecture

This one was made intentionally to be infrared (special filter, long exposure, specific post-processing).  In addition to the typical IR cues, what I like about this one is the detail in the bright leaves in the center and in the shadow of the post above them.  The gradual change from very bright to deep shadow, all while displaying the details in each, is a very pleasing effect.  It's very close to what your eye would see standing there at the time.  To me a great photograph, especially B&W, looks so natural in all aspects that you start to forget it's a photograph.  Many of my images don't have this natural transition from dark to light and end up looking like a photograph posing as a natural scene.

Another aspect of this one is the vine curving along the surface of the pole, casting a shadow on the pole that looks like another vine.  I didn't notice this in the original composition but am glad it's part of the final scene.

I have to admit this image starting becoming a favorite as I was processing it.  The infrared image is hard to really see on the back of a camera, or even on a computer screen.  By that I mean it's hard to realize the potential until you work on it and bring out the IR nature.  I knew I'd exposed it well and had everything in focus, but once I saw how the tones were developing it really started to grow on me.

The lesson I'm learning is how B&W can elicit emotions about a composition.  Rid of the colors our brain is so used to seeing, the image seems to act on our perception in an alternate way, causing a reaction to an un-natural scene that is different than what we encounter all the time.  Not shocking or jarring, just odd enough to make us pause and consider.  Still not sure what I'm considering but it feels pleasing.

(Mel Mann Photography) black and white composition flowers infrared Sun, 30 Aug 2015 23:58:27 GMT
The Texture of Things Rock Ghosts

While in Colorado during a photo tour for sandhill cranes we took an afternoon to explore a local canyon, looking for some interesting sunset exposures.  I was hiking back to the vehicles when I saw this grove of aspens next to the rock wall, the mottled surface of the trees mimicking the various tones of the granite and the trunks complementing the cracks in the stones.  There's no direct sunlight here as the sun had already set behind the canyon walls - the bright areas are reflecting the clear sky above.  When I saw the scene I knew it would be a black and white image, that any color would be superfluous to the scene.

As much fun as photographing wildlife can be, given the challenges of finding, approaching and composing quickly while managing the right gear, much of my most pleasant times behind the camera are with the quiet, unassuming areas of the outdoors.  The grand landscape is awesome and breathtaking, but the smaller, more intimate views can be equally thrilling if you slow down and search them out.  I could have easily walked right by this scene - it's just a few trees next to some broken rocks - but there was enough glow and depth as I glanced at it to stop me and make me take a longer look.

My quest for dimensionality in my images requires this type scene with layers of tones and textures I can use to compose intentional foreground and background subjects.  The even lighting with just the right amount of shadows and highlights isn't as dramatic as a Grand Canyon sunset; it provides a less - shall we say - jarring impact when seen and offers a gentler invitation to the viewer to look around and explore all the aspects of the scene.  As I worked on the composition and final image I saw how emphasizing the various textures found in the image really helped explain all the smooth to rough textures, why they were important to the overall image and how they describe such a world.

I used to wonder why the black and white images of the early masters were so compelling to people.  I was fascinated with high contrasts that would scream out the detail in an image and the colors that dazzled the viewer.  I've learned these were effects I wanted to have in order to hide my image's lack of content or story or character.  The masters are teaching how the simpler images are harder to create, how you really have to study a scene to find the meaning that attracted you and that can be turned into a photograph equally enticing to other viewers.

It has never been an interest of mine to create startling or provocative images, much less photojournalism images of war or crime or terror or drama.  My desire is just the opposite - the scenes people turn to in order to remove themselves from the startling or jarring or agonizing.  To show there are still parts of the world we can turn to in order to find our balance once again.

(Mel Mann Photography) aspen black and white quiet rocks sunset tones Mon, 25 Feb 2013 20:30:45 GMT
Dawn on ridge line Waking Giant

Part of the enjoyment I get from the mountains is the awesome immense presence they have, a permanence that requires you to acknowledge they have seen so much more than you will ever imagine.  Capturing this in a two dimensional image has always been a challenge for me.  I used to think a composition showing their size or span conveyed that spirit but I've come to realize it's not that I'm admiring.  It's the details of their construction, the ridges and columns that go on forever to make up the whole. 

We were out early one morning in the Tetons waiting for the sun to come up and the fog over the cliffs was just breaking up, revealing this ridge line.  As the sun peeked through the breaking clouds it swept across the face of the rocks, lightening some and leaving some in shadow.  I suddenly realized this was the three dimensional look I wanted to capture and that the light was almost perfect to convey that in two dimensions.

Watching the sunlight play on the mountain was like a private light show as nature showed off one spectacular sight after another.  The fog would reveal a part of the ridge and the sun would spotlight it, then the show would move to a new part of the mountain to repeat the sequence.  it was a great revelation for a photography student, a wonderful lesson right where the application could be made.

(Mel Mann Photography) fog mountain ridge sunlight teton Mon, 18 Feb 2013 04:50:52 GMT
Window on Wood Window on Wood

I am fascinated by the texture of natural things.  Our world is three dimensional at all levels of size and our senses are well adapted to immerse ourselves in the varied textures around us.  Walking in the woods one day aching with no other reason than to play around with a new lens I noticed this scene.  The snow was very new, just fallen that morning and the sunlight was slicing through the woods at a very low angle.  A single sunbeam opened through the tree trunks and put this log in the spotlight, revealing not only the hidden world under the snow but also the fragile texture of the powder itself as it blankets and softens the objects where it accumulates.  With only light and shadow we change our perspectives and see the world from a different frame of mind.  Although I knew the snow was covering a limb in front of the log it appear instead as if the snow blanket was wrinkled as it draped over the tree.  Although I realized the warming sun found a dark patch of the log and was melting snow away it looked like some fairy creature had pushed open a window in the white wall covering its dwelling in order to look out on the winter world.  A picture window to allow the warming sun to come in and start lighting up the inside for the short day.

(Mel Mann Photography) log snow sunbeam texture winter Tue, 12 Feb 2013 00:31:21 GMT
Turn back and see what you missed Fuzzy Trees I almost drove by this scene without stopping.  Traveling back home from a photographer's conference I was wondering about the conditions of the road ahead of me but just as I passed this line of trees faint sunlight came through the overcast and made the highlights in the trees glow.  It was a mile or so down the road before my conscious brain reacted - what did I just see?  Turned the car around, drove back to this strip of windbreak and pulled off the road just as the sun came out again to remind me.  Conditions the previous night were just right for hoarfrost formation and the wind had coated the leaf-less limbs with ice, which captured the subsequent snow to put icing on the scene.  Had the sun not hit at just the right moment I would have disregarded the landscape but part of my mind was still working through exposure lessons I'd learned just that day and the combination of highlights on the tips of the limbs and the dark bark of the trees enabled me to see what it ought to look light through the camera.

I set up my gear on the edge of last year's corn field and worked the composition to get the right elements in the scene.  Then I waited for the right sunlight to come back, to revisit the impact that had originally intruded on my consciousness.  The wait was worth it.  Behind me cars were whizzing by on the highway, drivers as intent as I'd been on reaching their destinations safely, or at least quickly.  But I was entranced by the scene, the mystical nature of how water can transform the basic elements of life on the plains into a wonderful portrait of the season.  I was thankful to the settlers who had the foresight to plant these trees and marveled at how well they performed their function.  Wind brought the ice and snow to them and they received it effortlessly to provide me with a fairy tale image.


(Mel Mann Photography) frost. glow prairie snow trees Mon, 07 Jan 2013 04:38:57 GMT
Lines in the snow Winter Tree Farm

Just about any photography book describing composition will talk about leading lines or other design elements.  These are tools used to guide your eyes as you scan an image and explore what it's showing.  These tools help bring order to an image, helping it fit into our need for symmetry and boundaries.


The park near our house was simply agricultural fields years ago, rolling hills of furrows and crops.  As it has been converted to a public space trees have been planted in various areas to provide a sense of forest.  Following the sensible nature of Plains land managers, the trees are all planted in rows.  There's no productive reason for doing it this way; these aren't fruit trees that need tending or harvesting.  I think it's just the way land managers here think.  I doubt the deer and turkeys mind - they are just happy to have some shade and hiding places.


I do like photographing in this park and one reason is the way the trees line up.  I can use these lines for a variety of purposes in my compositions but mostly they give a clear indication of this being a park, not a forest.  Sometimes in the few real forests around the area I find myself searching for a way to bring order to the composition.  Trees in real forests have no need to line up nicely, dropping their seeds at random around their roots.  Or having their progeny spread by birds and animals to farther reaches of the woods.  They thrive on chaos, creating chaos with each spring.  Survivors are those able to grasp sunlight, nutrients, rainwater from among all the competitive siblings.  How to order that struggle in a single frame?


No, parks are much better behaved, where each tree has its allotted space with no need to wrestle with a neighbor for survival.  Clones all growing at the same pace, each mimicking the other to provide a graceful span for the observant photographer.  What attracted me to this scene is the way each trunk leads to the next one, creating a horizontal line of vertical elements.  And how this orderly flow moves upward in the image to the chaos of limbs tangled one among the other.  So much like our plans for living - we start out so clear in our direction and then later find ourselves bent this way and that as life happens to us.  But isn't success in life predicated on a firm foundation, an anchor in the soil of our heritage, culture and ethical instruction?  The tangle of limbs above wouldn't exist without the ordered line of trunks below.  And the truck is dependent on the limbs (and leaves) to capture sunlight and convert food into energy for survival.  Our past directs our future, and our present rests on our prior growth.  Who knew that could be captured in a photograph?

(Mel Mann Photography) lines snow trees Sun, 30 Dec 2012 18:15:34 GMT
Nostalgia without the inconvenience The Barn Next Door

Part of a local workshop a couple of years ago was an opportunity to visit a farm where barns and work buildings are being refurbished, the intent to offer visitors a view of what life there was like when it was a working establishment.  We photographers were granted permission to wander around the grounds and buildings without other visitors being present.  There were maybe half a dozen of us so each got plenty of quiet time in the buildings and on the grounds.  As you see in the image there was plenty of snow around that really muffled any sounds present, giving the impression we were far out in the rural area.

Since the refurbishing was in progress, many of the buildings retained a worn look to them, years of service showing in their joints and beams.  The scene above came after I glanced out the window across the yard and noticed the contrasts in the barn across the way - white surrounding all the openings and edges against a dark painted surface.  I made the image from here because I liked how the dirty window gave a sense of utility, that this isn't a museum yet where surfaces have to be pristine and protected.  It could be a scene from many working places across the Plains and upper Midwest, and anytime in the past century. 

As well as dirt on the window there was the haze formed by the condensed, warm air hitting the cold glass plate.  Looking through that gave me a sense of comfort, of being in a construction designed to keep the winter weather out and protect all that was inside.  Part of winter's challenge is how you deal with it, whether it be synthetic fabrics, stone walls or roaring fireplaces, and farmers have probably tried just about all of them in order to secure their families and livestock against the northern assault of winter's elements.

Eliciting a sense of coziness is probably easier with a fireplace scene or candles in the windows of a cabin in the woods, but I like using this type of contrast, looking out from inside and letting the viewer arrive at the same feeling when they realize keeping "out there" where it should be is the purpose of our search for shelter, home and hearth.  Peering through a frosty window where the cool air drafts across your face can offer a cozy feeling as you realize that by turning around you can walk into shelter and away from the harsh conditions just outside the glass. 

(Mel Mann Photography) barn building glass snow window winter Mon, 03 Dec 2012 00:27:26 GMT
Glow in the forest Sometimes what I see on the camera's screen simply surprises me, enough to wonder what alien device I'm holding that it perceives what's right in front of both of us so differently.  Many times that surprise leads to a more thoughtful examination of just what am I seeing.

Shadow Blooms This image was made on a cloudy, slightly rainy day right on the edge of the woods.  I liked how the flowers were bright against the dark background so I composed this and pushed the shutter.  How amazing to see on the back of the camera these glowing pieces of spring jumping out at me.  I liked the intensity of the composition.  Then when I experimented with turning it into black and white, the combination of flowers and leaves against the darker setting was almost three dimensional.

What drew my attention to this scene initially was the light color of the flowers and I knew that could be a prominent part of the image but I was very taken aback with the leaves.  Their soft light against the deep background.  Their smooth surface, some dotted with raindrops.  The way their veins dimpled the surface to show just a little shadow and relief.  It's an image that helps me realize the beauty black and white photographers talk about when an images is stripped of color and relies only on the shades of grey to produce the appropriate shapes and luminosity.

Through the years I've looked at photographs the appeal of grey shades has eluded me but I realize now I was simply bemoaning the lack of color and ignoring the subject shape and textures offered by this way of creating images.  I'm understanding how it distills to the essence of the subject, forcing the photographer to pay attention to the details that make or break wonderful images and not hiding lazy technique behind vibrant colors.  This is an OK image of white flowers on what is essentially a sea of green, the original contrast that caught my attention.  But now I see it as a true subject standing out from the blurred background and taking center stage for the viewer to admire and examine.

And what else but that could have been the intent of those giants of photography all those decades ago?

(Mel Mann Photography) black and white flower tones Mon, 26 Nov 2012 06:25:58 GMT
Stuggling for a new perspective Professional photographers - that is, photographers who make a living from their photography - consistently tell me people who want to buy or license or display my photos are not interested in the story of how they are made.  The amount of effort or time or expense needed to make an image is irrelevant to them; all that's important is whether the image will be effective where used.  I understand.  They are busy people who have thousands of images thrust upon them weekly, from which they must retrieve those few truly useful for their needs.  A poor picture is just that regardless of the sweat required to make it; a great photo possibly the snapshot of a moment.  Still, I think where the photographer fought to get the shot because it had such an emotional impact the effort does come through and the image would be less without it.  As examples I urge you to search out and look at the Pulitzer Prize images.

Mountain Sailing

I've talked about this image on my blog ( so I won't repeat the story of my efforts to make it here.  Suffice to say I'm not good at pre-visualization but this image resulted from my doing just that, knowing what I ought to get when the conditions (light, weather) were what I wanted them to be, seen from a specific location.  Mostly, though, it's an image attempting to capture the emotion of the moment when everything came together.

Light playing across mountainsides is magic to me as it brightens some areas and darkens others, revealing the definition of the slope, rocks and vegetation.  The right light, pointing out features and bringing depth to an image, enables a photographer to think like a painter, pointing out certain features with brilliance or outlining others with the negative space of shadows.  And where the two contrasts meet - light and dark - defining lines and shapes intrinsic to the landscape.  Light playing across a seemingly static landscape can take your breath away at the beauty of the location.

By the way clouds were sweeping across the sun it was obvious there was potential for such a scene once I reached the spot where I decided to shoot.  But would the fickle wind place the clouds where I needed, allowing the sun to spotlight the island, sandbar and cliff faces while keeping the other elements in the dark as a background canvas?  Frustration and joy are the landscape photographer's devils and angels.  The inability to make the light do what you want means long moments watching, waiting, stamping feet and clenching fists in resentment at the spirits preventing you from simply getting the composition you want.  But then, as you see what you envisioned starting to emerge in the scene before you, all those negative emotions turn to rapture as you revel in the creation you have been waiting on.  Will it materialize complete as you've seen it in your mind?  Will some elements be out of place?  Will you accept only 80% of what you want or wait for the 100% complete scene?  Are conditions getting better or worse?  Am I in the right place? 

Wait, look, it's all coming together!  That shaft of light is moving right into place on the mountainside, the shadows around it taking their position to envelop their assigned spots.  The wind is picking up nicely and whitecaps forming on the wavelets around the island.  The sun is penetrating the water enough to bring out the deep blue color that complements the sky and clouds.  Finally a beam of sun spills down onto the island, just wide enough to spotlight the trees while leaving the surrounding lake somewhat darker.  Another ray glances on the white beach behind while a small streak touches the peak of the mountain to brighten the edge against the sky.

Wow, it looks just like I expected, a marvelous symphony of wind, water, light, rock and foliage.  What a great place to be and to enjoy and to capture so it can be shared with others.  It's the perspective I wanted, worthy of the struggle to find and capture it.

Perhaps it is just another photo to many, one to be glanced at and moved aside.  For me it's a memory of a place and time and effort that merged into a creation of my own.



(Mel Mann Photography) glacier island lake park sunlight waves wind Mon, 22 Oct 2012 03:52:21 GMT
Table Salt Table Salt When you drive from Salt Lake City west toward Reno, you pass along the edge of the Great Salt Desert, near the Bonneville Salt Flats of speed record fame.  There's a rest area off the interstate where you can walk right out onto the desert, like onto an iced over lake in winter.  It's an eerie place for someone raised in the east around forests and lakes, a place incongruous with even the surrounding terrain of mountain ranges and basins.  Behind you is the roar of traffic speeding westward to the Pacific; in front of you the silent, white expanse drawing your eye to the distant mountains.

My immediate question was why?  Not why this desert is here but why does it exist?  Apart from the geological and meteorological explanations, the science of the salt desert, I wondered why would the planet need such a place to happen.  A reservoir of salt in anticipation of some biological need?  Nature's gift to dining tables the world over?  A raw material for integral chemical reactions feeding a myriad of life sustaining processes?  There's no immediate answer while standing there on the glistening surface.

I made this particular image to reflect the contrasts I saw that day:  clear blue sky with clouds hinting at rainfall, the distant mountains laughing at the flat, salt surface, the ridges in the incrustation pointing off into the distance as if to entice the naive traveler to visit far away destinations that could never be reached.  At a glance all the elements seem to belong together at this place; a longer examination ponders the question of how they actually co-exist.

Much of nature seems to make sense in how it all fits together but every once in a while you stumble upon a small enclave that managed to stand apart from the perceived structure, a rogue environment defiantly making its own way through the world around it.  Sometimes for a landscape photographer it's the rogue element that gives the most interesting images.

(Mel Mann Photography) clouds desert mountains salt sky utah Tue, 16 Oct 2012 19:30:46 GMT
The totality of being Awaiting the Harvest The Great Plains stretch out to the horizon and just keep going from there.  Sunrise and sunset really emphasize the vastness of the area as the sky changes colors from horizon to stars.  The line separating ground from heavens serves to horizontally frame any subject rising above it.

I drove around one afternoon looking for a sunset composition that gave a sense of this bigness but in a context appropriate for this part of the country.  I saw the cloudless sky starting to give this range of colors from warm to cool at about the same time I spotted these grain bins.  It was the type of image I was thinking about.

So here's the scene.  A field that has been harvested, shown by the furrows empty of crops.  Grain bins that ought to be full but are empty - why?  The leafless tree, leading role of a windbreak line stretching behind it to protect the fields, just as man-made as the bins and plowed field.  The huge bowl of sky that everything is silhouetted against with two contrails sketching across it, emblematic of people who consider this the fly-over territory.  It's a cooling, autumn evening anticipating the time when all I see will be snow covered, crisp with the understanding of its role between summer and winter.

I got all my equipment set up and then waited for the light, wanting the last rays to just cut across the top of the ground.  As I paused for those minutes urging the sun to position itself to my designs, it was a moment of Zen as all the elements in the image came together in my mind to deliver an understanding of both the vastness I could see and the connection I was making.

(Mel Mann Photography) barn contrail field sky sunset tree Mon, 24 Sep 2012 04:36:13 GMT
Watching nature's actions Shore Patrol

After a couple of days photographing Lake Tahoe I realized all my images were looking the same - the grand landscape of water, mountains, trees and clouds.  It was time to stop doing that and start looking for a new perspective.  I decided on the more intimate view.

There's not many truly sandy beaches around the lake, just pebbles resulting from the water pounding large rocks into smaller ones.  I sat down on one of these shorelines just to watch the water lapping and noticed the larger rock just away from the water's edge.  As the different sized waves came up, they would roll over this rock and coat it with a glistening layer of water.  The waves were coming fast enough for the rock to almost always be encapsulated in this watery sleeve, smoothing out the remaining irregularities in the rock's surface and making it glisten in the bright light coming from the sky.  Each little wave would lap over the rock on its way to shore, leaving a little of itself behind to cloth the rock in a transparent coat.

In contrast was the smaller rock on the shore.  Above the line where waves consistently covered the shore, it showed me a dry surface, a view of what its partner further in the water would look like were it not for the constant rolling waves.  A contrast of conditions - the rock in the waves would feel the continual impact of water whereas the one on the shore would be preserved from it.  An that difference would make all the difference, as Frost would say.

I watched this action for a while, marveling at how the simple movement of water on the large rocks would eventually catalyze a change in size and shape, delivering the smaller pebbles of which the beach was composed.  It was a gentle action (little wind that afternoon), rhythmic and consistent that didn't seem to delivery much power against the sturdy, solid nature of the rock but there I was sitting on the result from many waves working on many rocks.

The grand landscape awes and amazes at its size and scale; the intimate one shows us how the two are related through time and space.

(Mel Mann Photography) beach lake pebbles rock tahoe water waves Mon, 17 Sep 2012 03:37:21 GMT
Colors in the Sky Prairie Rainbow

Photographers love rainbows.  What a great way to accentuate what would otherwise be a dull, grey sky.  It's almost as if rainbows were made to help landscape photographers create images on dreary days.

Traveling in the Great Plains means two things:  the odds of a spring thunderstorm is pretty good most of the time and predicting where a rainbow will appear is easier than you think.  For this one, driving into the sun away from the dark clouds meant all I had to do was turn around and look behind me to see the rainbow, and then drive to where the composition would be interesting.  With the rain and clouds off in the distance, and the foreground in the sun, the colors come through nicely.  I remember the day every time I look at this image.

You see these types of photo all the time as people capture them and share them widely.  There's obviously some sort of collective joy at seeing rainbows, for the individual at the time and for people the images are shared with.  For me such pictures give a positive sense of the place and time.  Maybe it's because of the colors splashed onto the dark, ominous clouds, or the way the arc connects sky with earth, or maybe it's just all the good stories that surround rainbows in general.  We haven't seen our fair share of them this year, unfortunately, as the drought just keeps the rain away where it's needed most.  Odd, just when we need their positive presence the most they stay away from us, gracing other places with their energy.  I hope they come back soon.

(Mel Mann Photography) colors grey prairie rainbow sky storm trees Sun, 09 Sep 2012 23:21:51 GMT
Palouse in Autumn Wood Grained Fields I'd seen many photographs of eastern Washington's Palouse region before knowing where it was.  Rolling hills covered with terrain following furrows, lit from the side by rising or setting sunlight - scenes from here have graced calendars, post cards, screen savers and even movies.  I'd even heard the name - Palouse - but just assumed it was in Europe or some distant Asian landscape.  Once I was enlightened on the location it became one of my destinations for a trip west.

The usual photographs of the Palouse show it in spring, verdant hills covered with multicolored crops in bloom, a velvet landscape of illuminated hilltops and shadowed valleys.  I'm an autumn person - browns, reds and yellows are my preferred palette.  Being in Montana one fall I took the time to visit the Palouse to see what that season would offer.

Harvest season, that's what.  The cut fields show off the rows where crops once stood, following the curvature of the hills like a relief map.  It's as if someone laid a topological atlas on the ground and you could see the rises and falls in three dimensions.  Wait for the right light and it jumps out at you.

There are only a couple of places you can get high above the farmland, ancient buttes left by volcanic activity thousands of years ago whose cores are resistant to the erosive force of rain and wind.  These are gathering places for photographers, much like the California beaches are havens for sunset watchers.  Pick a spot, pick your lens, compose, set exposure, and wait for the light to paint your image.

Sometimes, even standing there, it's hard to not believe it's all a painting, the creation of an artist working at the junction of realism and impressionism.  Broad strokes interleaved with fine details, with the occasional man-made structure to provide perspective.  Notice the barn on the left casting a shadow onto the field?  It would house two of those great big tractors you see in corn, wheat or soybean fields on the Plains.  I placed it there, along with its shadow, to give a sense of size for the surrounding fields.

I love the way the late afternoon sun highlights the crest of each hill, drawing a bright line right at the top as a way to distinguish it from the valley behind.  I love how the fields are variegated, even where the same crop was growing, showing the differences in soil types across the hills.  I call this image Wood Grain Fields because it reminds me of the items you see at art fairs, the product of the woodworkers who laminate different woods and the cut, carve and polish them into fascinating shapes.  An example of man's mimicry of nature.

(Mel Mann Photography) Palouse autumn colors fields sunset textures Sun, 12 Aug 2012 23:36:38 GMT
Joyful Noise Joyful Noise This is one of those photographs you want to make, don't expect to be able to, and then are surprised with the result.  It's one of my favorite images from the time I spent as artist in residence at Homestead National Monument, wandering the small prairie and getting to know the residents on a daily basis.

I love to photograph birds.  It's an extension of the feeling I've had for them as long as I can remember.  They seem to be so complete in themselves - going where they want, living where they want, taking things as they come.

Prairie birds are always on the go.  Looking for food, mates, nesting sites, finishing a migration or getting ready to go on one - these guys have a full day and rarely sit still.  A typical songbird of the prairie, this dickcissel is in full mating plumage and letting females know he's available through the sharp sounds he makes from his perch.  It's apparently the only time he takes a break from hunting for seeds and insects.

The prairie being restored at Homestead is small, just a part of the 160 or so acres representing the original homestead.  I found simply wandering through the tall grasses, watching the wildlife around me and listening made me familiar with the more common residents.  Of course it helped to have a staff biologist to tell me what I was seeing!  Frustratingly the vast majority of birds are pretty small and very skittish - getting close was mostly out of the question.  Like much of life, however, it turned out if I stood still and waiting, they would get close to me.

Out in the field away from the visitor's center (that's the brickwork in the background) I watched this guy flying around singing.  He'd stop on one twig and give voice for a short time, then fly to another and start over, never spending more than a couple of minutes in any one place.  Even with my longest lens it seemed there would never be a composition close enough for the details I wanted.  Nonetheless, it was relaxing to watch him make his rounds through the grassland.

I guess he decided I wasn't going to be a threat because his pattern of landing sites started getting closer and closer.  Maybe he was getting some positive feedback from potential mates in that particular area or maybe he thought the acoustics were better nearer to me.  For whatever reason, he landed on this branch not more than ten feet away and started his song again. 

One lesson I'm learning with wildlife photography is you can be excited later - at the moment it's time to get the technical stuff right and make the image.

The sun was behind him providing a wonderful rim light on his body and the clear sky was radiating plenty of light to make him easy to expose against the darker background.  I had my settings on open aperture because I wanted a fast shutter speed and that gave me the shallow depth of field that would put the background out of focus and make him the obvious subject in the frame.  He pretty much ignored me as I fired off several shots while he sang, then hearing something attractive over by the tree line he left me looking down at the back of my camera to see what I'd made.

This was the best of the bunch.  A little cropping to make him the star of the image, a little sharpening and here he is - another guy in the world just happy to be there and letting everyone in the area know about it.

I never got a better opportunity the rest of the time I was there.  Perhaps he took pity on me as I hopelessly watched his colleagues zip around me or maybe he just one of those animals that loves to have his picture taken.  I can't say for sure but I do know it was a great experience to be there and share the moment with him.  After seeing the final image I felt like throwing my head back and singing as well!


(Mel Mann Photography) bird dicksissel joy prairie sing Mon, 06 Aug 2012 02:37:39 GMT
Dramatic Weather Here in Nebraska weather is an integral part of our landscape, whether you're a farmer or a photographer.  In a mostly horizontal world it's nice to have something interesting above the horizon at times.

One day the weather report indicated a front moving slowing across the area so I drove away from the city to find a place where I could see the "big picture" away from the close proximity of houses, trees, etc.  There was this small country road running by cornfields that gave the best perspective so I set up and waited.  Watching the clouds moving and the sun setting I believed there would be a time when the light and shapes would be very interesting.  A great dance slowly happening above me as i waited for the players to assume just the right positions.

There's something grand about weather formations.  It's a scale we just about can't grasp as county-wide clouds stretch to the horizon and light plays around in areas bigger than sports stadiums.  From airplanes you get a sense of endless architecture; seeing it in the context of more earthbound structures you realize immense can often trump endless!

A great photographer once told me to wait until the scene "clicks" into place, where the elements reach positions that seem right for the composition.  I fear sometimes waiting too long, delaying my shutter action until the moment passes.  It means I end up taking a lot of images but in the end he's right - looking back over them all only one or two truly seem right for the moment.  With experience hopefully I can anticipate those moments and reduce the number of images I have to cull through!

As it turned out, the image below is what "clicked" for me.  It has dimensionality as the light draws the eye along the stream of clouds to the back of the image only to return through the cornfield to the fence and near grass.  It has detail throughout - from clouds to grass to distant trees.  The arrangements of elements looks natural and the lighting portrays objects as I saw them.  I look at this one and can immediately recall the moment. 

Storm Front

One thing I've learned with digital photography is to shoot in RAW, capturing the information that comes right off the sensor without any processing in camera.  The second thing I've learned is that RAW images will look flat when properly exposed so judging the image at first glance is not a good idea.  You have to "develop" the image to get the look you intend.  When the above image first came up on my computer it was pretty flat with little contrast in the clouds and not much drama in the lighting.  But with a little work you see what came out.

I started developing the image by separating the part above the horizon from the part below.  Different software handles this in different ways - in Photoshop I selected all the image above the horizon and created a mask.  A mask is a device that lets you selectively process parts of the image rather than the whole image.  For my mask I blocked off all the image below the horizon so I could work on the upper part.

By increasing the contrast I brought out details in the clouds and also increased the difference in appearance between the lightest and darkest areas.  This immediately gave me more drama, especially in the part of the image near the horizon where the clouds are trailing off into the light.  I also decreased the brightness of the sun in the upper right to bring out some detail in that area.

I reversed the mask so I could work only on the part of the image below the horizon.  Here I increased the brightness just a little, to bring it more in line with the brightest part of the sky.  I also increased the contrast some to bring out the texture in the grass and cornfield.

Light and dark - those are the hallmarks of dramatic weather and usually what our eye notices immediately in such a scene.  My goal was an image that looked very realistic, just like what I was seeing when I made the image.  This one is pretty close.

(Mel Mann Photography) Sun, 29 Jul 2012 19:07:15 GMT
Shyly curious Shy Spy I've always liked this image, both for the subject and the composition.  I made this way back in 2007, soon after purchasing my first "real" digital camera system.  Following some good advice I invested in lenses that gave me my desired focal range as well as sharpness because I knew I'd be photographing wildlife.  One frustration from earlier photography years was looking at an image and seeing that the animal I wanted to be a bold statement in the picture only took up a small percentage of the overall image.  With longer and sharper lenses I expected to remedy that problem.

Near our house there's a local park that surrounds a flood control lake and the whole thing is big enough a herd of deer pretty much make it their home.  They're only partially wild - carloads of people cruise the park roads in the evening to watch the deer graze on the edge or up on the hills and they rarely give the vehicles a passing glance.  Stop and get out of the car, though, and they will trot away pretty quickly.

Which made me feel very lucky this day.  I'd parked at one of the picnic areas to just walk around and see what might show up.  It was autumn and the prairie grasses were very tall, almost over my head.  I was literally standing at my car getting the camera gear together when I saw this doe slowly sauntering along the edge of the parking lot, periodically glancing through the grass to see what I was doing.  She wasn't particularly perturbed at me being there as long as I stayed by my car.  Fortunately I'd mounted my long zoom lens first so I was ready to reach out and touch her - the focal length was around 250mm for this shot.

This was before my summer in photo school but I did know enough to set a somewhat wide aperture (f/5) to get most of the grass in front of and behind her to be blurred.  My shutter speed was 1/30 sec. and I was concerned she'd not stop - that's not fast enough to prevent blurring of a walking animal.  Lucky for me as I rested the lens on my open car door she stopped to see what I was doing.  I made 4-5 images and this one was the best, catching her eyes through the stand of grass with just a hint of the rest of her body fading into the prairie.  I remembered to place her face in the upper right third of the frame.  As her eyes are at one of the "power" spots of the composition and about the only element sharply focused, the viewer's eye goes right to her face first.

It was a late fall afternoon and with my white balance set to sunlight the original image was pretty cool in appearance.  I warmed it up in Lightroom to give it a more natural appearance, did a little sharpening and very little cropping to make sure the doe was the obvious subject (no more small animals in my photos!).  And that's all that was done.

What a joy to download the image and see it on the computer screen.  I'd intentionally purchased a camera system to photograph wildlife such that the subjects would be a big part of the composition and now here in front of me was the fruit of those decisions.  I felt putting my camera on the shelf out of frustration would no longer be happening.


(Mel Mann Photography) deer portrait prairie Mon, 23 Jul 2012 22:37:54 GMT
Film has benefits Emerald Bay Summer Here's an image that is NOT digital.  This was made with a 50+ year old folding view camera using 5x7" Fuji Velvia 50 slide film.  What you see here is pretty much what you'd see looking at the slide directly - little post-processing after scanning the slide.  Definitely not a point-and-shoot; setting up for this shot took about 15-20 minutes.  Patience is a virtue for landscape photographers!

Emerald Bay is located in the southwest corner of Lake Tahoe, one of the few completely enclosed inlets around the lake.  It's probably one of the more photographed scenes of this area because it is easily accessible from the road circling the lake.  I visited this area at least three times during the week spent photographing the lake and realized quickly I would be unable to get a truly unique perspective.  Not that I didn't have options.  Behind where I've set up here is a steep, rocky slope I could have climbed for a perspective looking more downward, but the gear I used for this shot is clumsy and difficult to hike with.  There is an easier trail leading down from this spot to the bay's edge but I wanted this seen-from-above perspective.  All in all this was the best spot for the image I wanted, which was to be more of a postcard view of the bay. 

I wanted the full view all in focus, from rocks in the foreground to the distant mountains.  I especially wanted to get the color of the water, which is why this was made in the early afternoon.  With the sun high in the sky it's light penetrates deeper into the lake, reflecting back as this deep, cobalt blue.  And this perspective gives more layering than the more traditional view looking right out the bay.  Here I've got the foreground, then the bay, then the sloping shoreline beyond, and finally the distant mountains.  The perfect final element for this image would be big puffy clouds in the sky but the whole week all I got was clear, alpine air.

What probably made it unique for the people around that day was the equipment.  I got several intrigued comments from the tourists milling around - you don't see many people with view cameras these days, photographers with a black cloth draped over their head and a magnifying glass in hand to check the focus on a ground glass screen.  You actually don't see many photographers using film - digital is the convenient tool of choice for the casual image maker.  I use film because I know it forces me to think more about a scene (do I really want to haul all that gear out for this?), it provides a tactile connection to the process of photography (setting up, focusing, adjusting exposures, etc.) that helps engage the creative side of my brain, and the resulting image provides me more detail than I would ever get from my digital equipment.  It also connects me to the photographers of the 19th century, people who designed and developed the craft we so casually take advantage of today.  Being a part of that heritage is important for my photography.


(Mel Mann Photography) bay film lake tahoe water Tue, 17 Jul 2012 17:08:26 GMT
Welcome to my website I hope you enjoy the images you find on my website.  This blog will be where I give more details about individual images and why I've put them on my website.  It will be less of a technical discussion and more of a background on why THIS image exists and the reason I'm sharing it here.  Photographs capture stories whether we intend for them to or not and I've learned the stories can make the image more meaningful at times.

(Mel Mann Photography) Tue, 17 Jul 2012 16:24:20 GMT