A photoblog about gardening in the confines of Brooklyn, NY

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Photography Best Of 2012

First off, I haven’t updated this blog in a really really long time.  Who knew being a blogger was such hard work?  Luckily I have been putting time into getting out and taking photos.  I obviously am drawn towards wildlife photography, which in this part of the world lies heavily on bird photography.  I feel like I’ve come a long way, and yet, while reviewing my work for the year, am pleasantly surprised how many shots I am proud of from early in the year, when I was just getting my feet wet.  The super-telephoto has quickly become my lens of choice.  Considered a beginner’s lens, the Sigma 120-400 mm OS has served me pretty well.  It has its limitations, but you learn to work for your shots, and that’s part of the satisfaction in getting the good ones.  I’m still amazed that so many wonderful wildlife opportunities present themselves in urban Brooklyn, NY.  I want to thank my girlfriend Caroline for her support, as well as the community on Flickr for always inspiring me to try to improve.

With that said, below find some of my favorite photos from 2012.  I hope you enjoy them and I hope 2013 brings even better results!

 

Brooklyn Birding

Female House Finch

The first thing that really dragged me into the world of photography was the fascination of the small.  Insects, flowers, leaves, the diminutive objects all around us, when expanded and blown up on a big screen, are absolutely fascinating.  The challenge of even spotting the subject matter, then carefully approaching it, with caution as not to startle it, and then, once in, dealing with the tremendous challenges of incredibly narrow depth of field, an often sporadic and highly mobile subject, and quite usually inferior lighting, all add up to an addicting hobby (so maybe I do have a sadistic streak after all).  The fact that all this was on hand in a small patio garden in urban Brooklyn, New York, was both an eye opener for me and the inspiration for this website.

Well, as Fall passes and December envelops us, the luster of the patio continues to wain, with most of the plant life no longer exhibiting any life.  Up close Macro work is what grabbed my initial attention, but there was always wildlife that remained out of reach.  Upon acquiring my first modest telephoto in September, up and away I went to see what critters I could capture with 250mm at my disposal.  The first creatures that come to mind in Brooklyn are probably Pigeons and Rats, perhaps in the the opposite order…two species I’ve happily avoided snapping off pictures of at this point.  What is interesting is that I’m located both by Prospect Park and Green-Wood Cemetery, both of which I’ve come to learn are prized birdwatching havens, with more than 200 species (and up to 300) spotted annually.  I would say going into this I was “pretty good” at identifying birds, but I’ve really been humbled.  Even with my trusty Sibley’s Field Guide at my disposal, I’m still at a loss much of the time.

My first thoughts on capturing wild birds on film will be altogether, and in hindsight predictably, repetitive.  The challenge of even spotting the subject matter, then carefully approaching it, with caution as not to startle it, and then, once in, dealing with the tremendous challenges of the limits of the lens’ zooming ability, an often sporadic and highly mobile subject, and quite usually inferior lighting, all add up to an addicting hobby.  I still have a lot of respect for a crisp macro shot, but even getting a barely presentable shot of some of these birds is downright frustrating!  That said, I think 250mm is a bit shy for this particular hobby, yet I endure.  While certain birds like swans and ducks will happily approach, looking for a handout, most are very wary animals that you literally have to use stealth and cunning to near, and all while trying to keep the sun at your back.

Here’s a selection of some of the better bird pics from my first season in the field.  Though there were many, my highlight this first season was finally witnessing some bluebirds, the State Bird of New York, for the first time in my life.  There were quite a few species that didn’t make the cut (ie, I couldn’t manage to get a decent picture), and even here not all are the highest quality, and some remain unidentified, yet some are still posted just to demonstrate and celebrate the diversity of life present right on our doorstep here in Brooklyn, NY.  And sorry, no pigeons.

 

Mexican Sunflower

One of the things I’ve always been cautious about is getting anything “too big” for the patio.  For one, we don’t have that much space, and purely from a growers standpoint, the roots don’t have much space to settle in the small pots and containers that we grow them in.  Even if they manage to hold themselves upright, often the limited soil results in a stunted plant.  I’ve always loved the strength and power of a tall blooming sunflower, but frankly didn’t think it was a good match for the shallow pots and limited space on the patio.  I didn’t want to tie them up, and it all just seemed like it would result in  a failed experiment.

For two seasons now I’ve planted Dwarf Sunflowers, and they are fun for awhile, but tend to die off early and never really impress.  So, this spring when I was seed shopping I came across what looked like a perfect solution, the Mexican Sunflower!  As the Burpee seed pack reads:

Tithonia, Sundance

Orange, daisy-like flowers.
Also known as Mexican Sunflower. Large, showy, compact plants bear radiant scarlet-orange, daisy-like 3″ flowers. Plant in the back of the annual flower border. Hummingbirds and butterflies love them. Very heat tolerant.

Product Details

lifecycle: Annual
Uses:
Borders
Sun:
Full Sun
Height:
36  inches
Spread:
14-16  inches
Sowing Method:
Direct Sow
Bloom Duration:
10  weeks

 

Great, so a sunfloweresque plant that grows a bushy 3 feet, I’m in!  Threw a few seeds in a 12″ pot with about 10″ of soil and waited for the magic.  Like any sunflower it germinated strongly, with robust cotyledons.  And then it proceeded to grow.  And grow.  And grow. And GROW!

I wish I did a better job documenting its marathon run of patio dominance, but there was just nothing to take pictures of at the time.  Instead of its marketed “flowery and bushy” nature, we had a tall, mangly, and weedish looking plant with not a flower to be seen.  I think it didn’t create its first bloom until it was around 8 feet tall.  Yes, 8 feet.  I’ve scoured the web, and read reports of 6 foot specimens.  Well, to cut the story short, mine is currently at around 13 feet tall.  It’s breached the balcony of the neighbors above us, and it’s just a giant of a plant, in a tiny tiny pot.  I feed it about 4-5 gallons of water every day!  It wilts without it.  It never really flowered as expected, but as of this posting it looks like there are around a dozen blooms in the making.  That said, it’s now early October, it’s getting colder, and sadly, the season is nearing its end.  I apologize for the very unprofessional looking collage I took to best exemplify the sheer size of this creature.  It’s 8 pics photoshoped together (rather poorly).   Luckily, the sunflower allowed for a few good closeup photos this season, which I’ve posted below.

13 Foot Mexican Sunflower

 

And these are its brilliant orange flowers:

The Neighbors

Our neighbors have a great little back yard.  It’s not very little, in fact it dwarfs my patio.  The one nice thing about a yard is actually having ground soil to plant in.  They also have a spigot, which makes watering things a hell of a lot easier than filling up one’s watering can repeatedly in the bathtub.  No matter….  So they have a big tree in their backyard that I only know as a Butterfly Tree, or maybe Butterfly Bush, depending whom you speak to.  It draws in Monarchs, in particular, from regions unknown on a continual basis.  Right now is their migration time, and I routinely see over a dozen at a time flittering around, mostly obsessed with said tree and its white blooms.  Here are a few pictures I thought came out nicely, taken with the Tamron telephoto I am testing out.  These were taken from my patio, looking down unto their tree.

 

Messing With Zoom Lenses – Tamron

After not being entirely impressed with the Canon EF-S 55-250mm IS, I decided to try out something with a little more range.  The Tamron SP 70-300mm Di VC USD has been getting a lot of positive press.  At around twice the price of the Canon, I was hoping for twice the lens.  It’s a much bigger and heavier item, one that makes you feel like you have a powerful piece of equipment in your hand.  First impression is that the extra 50mm does not make a very dramatic difference in the zoom capabilities.  I really like the way this lens handles, and frankly I feel like I got more “keeper” images out with this one.  The colors are great and solid and I like the overall quality of the images.  That said, sometimes the backgrounds can get very distracting, instead of pleasantly blurring, and I’m really not getting the sharpness at full zoom that I had hoped for.  Is this lens worth twice the investment?  You can be the judge…

 

Messing With Zoom Lenses – Canon

After much deliberation I’m trying to decide between the Canon EF-S 55-250mm IS telephoto or the Tamron SP 70-300mm Di VC USD.  This is my one day experiment with the Canon.  It’s light and small, which can be a positive, but also feels a bit frail.  AF is pretty fast, in my opinion, and the resolution is not bad.  This is my first experience with telephoto lenses, and I was expecting more reach, but I guess that’s not really how they work.  Despite many many pictures, there are only a few that really won my attention.

 

The East End is fun, even without power!

So what?  Irene knocked out the electricity at the summer retreat.  We STILL had fun.

 

Hurricane Irene puts a hold on the patio…

Despite a less than anticipated showing by Miss Irene, we thought it best to take in the patio for a good 24 hours…

 

Temporary terrarium!

Got to go to the countryside for bit…

…and just got extension tubes for the camera, with the hopes of better macro-type photography.  My girlfriend and I visited the Atlantis Aquarium which happened to have a butterfly exhibit.  That’s always an easy way to snap off some exotic looking photos without really doing a lot of legwork.  As it was 105 degrees over the weekend, the humid butterfly environment really didn’t seem so bad.  However, the most fun for me was being back at the lake and stalking the dragonflies, which let me tell you, is not an easy thing.

 

Welcome to my patio!

This is a story of one man learning how to destroy plants, and photographs, one at a time.

These photos in this set are all from my humble patio in Brooklyn, NY.

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