Thursday, August 9, 2012

National Geographic Daily Dozen - August 9th

I continue to enjoy the variety and unique perspectives that National Geographic selects from world-wide submissions as Daily Dozen winners.  Your Shot is a great site to check out if you enjoy diverse imagery.

Your Shot Link

It's an honor to have an image appear in today's selections.  This is a 4:1 supermacro of my friend's amazing eye.  I was drawn to the color and patterns in her iris during a portrait shoot, and appreciated her willingness to let me setup a tedious shot with off-camera lighting.

National Geographic Daily Dozen Winner - Week 2 Aug 2012

National Geographic Daily Dozen Winner - 9 Aug 2012

Click on the image below to see a larger size on Flickr:

Jazmine's Eye 4:1 Supermacro

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Man vs Wasp

About a week ago I was minding my own business in the privacy of my back yard, when a series of events kicked off that beggars the imagination.

It so happened that while mowing my lawn, I came into close proximity of a yellow jacket nest hidden behind a 4x4 fence post.  Driven by the prop wash from the mower blade, a stream of meat bees was hurled directly at my midsection.  Leaping back and employing the types of air kicks appropriate for the situation, I was somehow able to avoid getting stung.  The fight was immediately brought to the hive, and order was restored to my domain.

The very next day I got home from work and went to check the mail.  Imagine my surprise when, upon opening my sealed mailbox, a blast of black jackets swarmed outward mere inches away from my "vitals."  In this case I performed a maneuver that would later be described by onlookers as a swimmer's backstroke in mid-air.  The windmilling effect of my arms was successful in fending off the attack, due largely to my disciplined form.

Day 3 found me on high alert after back-to-back encounters with the stinging horde.  Emerging from my garage, my eyes probed the recesses of the yard for telltale signs of flying insects.  In so doing, my gaze settled upon a dry patch in the lawn.  Having satisfied myself that the coast was clear, I grabbed the garden hose (which is kept on one of those wall-mounted spools).  Peeling off about 6 feet or so, I cranked on the water.  Overall my sprinklers do a good job, so the hose had not been used in several weeks.  A species of wasp that remains unidentified had actually built a nest inside the tubing!  Instantly, I was holding in my grasp what amounted to a roman candle from Hell which was literally spouting wasps as the whole system pressurized.  Flailing the hose in a figure 8 I lunged backwards.  Parry, parry, thrust, thrust.  Good!

If you feel that such a string of events could not possibly continue into the 4th day, your abilities as a prognosticator leave much to be desired.

What happened actually defies description to a certain extent.  I will attempt to describe it in the interest of documentation, but everything happened so fast it's difficult to put the experience into words.

Towards evening, I went to let the dogs out into the back yard.  As my pointers ran out and the door shut behind me, the most horrendous whirring of wings became audible.  Looking towards the Huey-like sound, a W.O.U.S. (Wasp Of Unusual Size) attacked me seemingly from out of nowhere.  Now, I have spent a great deal of time in the outdoors and this was an alien species the likes of which I had never even conceived of.

Multiple inches long, and sporting some considerable biomass, the wasp came right at me and rammed into my chest.  After rebounding, it charged again without hesitation.  Flitting like a wood nymph around the yard, I grabbed a round-nosed shovel and adopted a batter's stance.  Still, the beast came.  I swung hard, and the blow connected with a sound similar to hitting a marble with an aluminum bat.  "DOOOOING!"  My foe was launched about 25 feet out onto the grass... and immediately rose up again on wings of hate.

I struck a second time, downing the fiendish creature yet again.  Without hesitation I delivered a Spartan-like stabbing motion with the blade of the shovel that cut the wasp in twain.  To my amazement, the front half then went airborne and seemed even more agile without the payload of its abdomen!  The horror!  The horror!  Leaving little to chance my next blow decapitated what I would later discover is the Giant Pigeon Tremex Horntail Wasp, Tremex colombo aureus.  It turns out this species, AKA the wood wasp, cannot sting at all and I was in little danger (they can, apparently, deliver a solid bite).

Later in the week I encountered another Pigeon Horntail in the same area and took the photograph you see above.  The sharp protrusion that looks like a stinger is actually an ovipositor for laying eggs in bark, and is what gives the wasp its name.

Since the events described herein, I have switched to offense - trapping and spraying all manner of stinging pests in my yard at an alarming rate.

They started it.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

SOG Trident

Fishermen and sportsmen in general tend to be blade-intensive personalities.  I am no different and over the years have accumulated roughly the bulk of an adolescent pachyderm in knives.

One of my favorites for all around use is the SOG Trident, which is available in a variety of finishes.  The tiger stripe version is particularly badass.

SOG Trident Tiger Stripe

Not only is this model a great size for EDC (every day carry), but it's perfect as a fishing, camping, or hunting implement.  I also really like keeping a Trident in each of my vehicles because it's an outstanding emergency tool.  The notched handle creates an ideal seat belt cutter, and the butt where the pocket clip attaches is robust enough to use for breaking glass if needed.

The handle is Zytel, which is a light weight polymer that affords an easy grip wet or dry.  Partial serration of the blade again adds to the versatility.  SOG has also incorporated an assisted opening mechanism making one-handed access to the blade very snappy.  A safety is present as a precautionary measure, locking the blade in the closed position when not in use.

SOG Trident Tiger Stripe - Vert

Going price: About $59 bucks - a nice bargain for an edge with this many applications.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Soft Water

We interrupt our regularly scheduled programming, because it's frankly still hard to believe that for the past several weeks I have been fly fishing mid-elevation stillwaters in Utah.  During February.  No ice holes required.  As in casting a fly line and having its entirety land on liquid where there would normally be 14 inches of solid ice right now.

The Hell you say?  Well, in all past years of my lifetime you would be entirely correct in calling BS - but not THIS year.  Hungry trout have been tearing the chenille off my flies right down to the bare hook because no one has told them there's another month of Winter supposedly going on right now.


It has been butt-numbing cold at times, but this is OPEN WATER we are talking about.  The cure to cabin fever. 

Not only that but in the town of Circleville a guy named Mike, proprietor of Butch Cassidy's Hideout, makes something called a Hash Stack.  It's a conglomeration of hash brown potatoes, ham, sausage, bacon, and 2 eggs smothered in country gravy.  One eats this breakfast, and then fishes all day with  no additional nutrient requirements.

The Hash Stack

Early in the season I am giddy to fish and don't spend much time behind the lens. While rivers are certainly available all Winter long, stillwater trout on the fly at 6,500 feet in February... it's just unheard of.

Here's to places of extremes.  See you on the water.

Hen Rainbow at Ice Off

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Apocalyptic Fishing II

Alert!  303 days remain until the end of the Mayan calendar on December 21st.  Yes, some experts do believe it's actually December 23rd, in which case we still have a very comfortable 305 days left.

It is now time for the second installment of Apocalypse Gear - the feature that helps you, the angler, prepare for zombies.  Today's episode is a double feature, and starts out with rod selection.

You'll want to travel light with the undead roaming freely around your favorite waters, so it may make sense to select just one fly rod that can do it all.  My pick is the aptly named Sage One, in a 796-4.  This stick will handle everything - trout, steelhead, muskie, bass, salmon - and it won't shun light saltwater duty either.  As an added bonus, the rod tube is solid enough to use as a bludgeon and will never give your position away with unwanted reflections due to the matte black coating.

Extrema Ratio 58 HRC Golem

It's a good idea, even pre-doomsday, to have access to a few handy pieces of cutlery when in the outdoors.  As survival knives go, I haven't found anything better than the Extrema Ratio Golem for taking into the back country.  The blade is 58 HRC stainless cobalt steel, an alloy that is often used for cutting other steel.  It stands up very well to chopping and prying, where knives that focus strictly on sharp edges often fall short.  The Golem has a tanto point, and the blade is partially serrated making tasks like rope cutting a snap.  It also offers a robust dorsal saw that, while definitely requiring some effort, cuts very well.  Even the lanyard loop is a solid piece of hardware than can be used for striking, glass breaking, etc.

Parry...Parry...Thrust...Cast  - Good!

Friday, February 17, 2012

Apocalyptic Fishing

As Fly to Water has alertly reported in several recent posts, the Mayan calendar ends this year.  The most likely cause of this situation is that the company building the calendar misrepresented it's financial statements, resulting in dramatic stock price deterioration and subsequent layoffs.  All of the Mayan executives, or chiefs, retired to the Caymans.  Calendar-building laborers were then faced with a large spike in temple foreclosures and ultimately relocated, leaving all the post-2012 work unfinished.

Alternatively, some kind of zombie apocalypse is going to take place this December.  The dead rising from the grave, human sacrifice, dogs and cats living together...MASS HYSTERIA.

While the media has buried its teeth in this topic like a gila monster on ankle flesh, the most important consideration has been totally ignored: How are we going to fly fish when the end of days arrives?

As a public service, I hereby offer up a series of posts containing gear ideas and recommendations for apocalyptic fishing.

Apocalyptic Fishing - 5.56 Nato Edition

First and foremost - at the moment of truth you don't want the heartbreak of reaching for your ammo and pulling out your flies instead.  My world's first concept combines a waterproof fly box with 5.56 Nato assault rifle ammunition.  One swift grab into the sling pack, and you've got access to Copper Johns and copper-jacketed .223 hardball.

Get some!

Sunday, February 5, 2012


If you are a dog owner you know that one of the 3 perils of the uplands is the North American Porcupine, or Rodent Of Unusual Spikiness.


Having a pup get a face full of quill pig is no fun, as I can personally attest.  Yesterday I was out in the field without dogs, looking for raptors with JayMorr.  When you don't have to worry about your pointers, these can be fascinating creatures to watch.

Sticky Situation

Ambling about in the unconcerned manner of an animal coated in acupuncture needles, Porky is easy to approach.  While the concept that quills can be launched is a myth, porcupines still have a chip on their shoulders because they place 3rd on the list of large rodents behind the capybara and beaver.  No one likes to be number three.  Use a little caution - as they will swat you with their tails if given the opportunity.

As wildlife goes, the quill pig is a relatively easy subject to photograph once located.  The main consideration is not to be lazy and fire away from a standing position (which creates an awkward, downward-looking perspective).  Go ahead and get dirty.  Sitting, laying on your side propped up with an elbow, or going prone are all options that will put you at eye level with the subject for a more engaging image.

Porcupine Portrait

It's hard to believe it's February out there with highs in the 45° F range, no snow at mid-elevations, and copious sunshine while it should be the dead of Winter.  I for one am not complaining.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Getting Started in Photography - Part 3

This week the eyes of world have been on CES, or the Consumer Electronics Show.  A huge part of the proceedings involves photography equipment which will allow you to get unprecedented shots of awesomeness.  Sadly, without the latest gadgets, your imagery is doomed to becoming a festering pile of digital offal.

In this installment of GSiP, Fly to Water saves you the cost of a brand spanking new Nikon D4 and spills the beans on how to get excellent, close-up shots of wildlife by:

Getting Close Enough to the Wildlife


(Photo of me:, Post: Me)

One of the biggest misconceptions out there is that prime lenses, like spotting scopes, are designed for high magnification.  It's wishful thinking.  Baboons probably wish they didn't have those garish, red asses all the time but it doesn't change anything.  Expensive glass is actually designed around a very large aperture, which allows more light into the camera and therefore expands the range of conditions that can be dealt with by the photographer.

In these posts I've tried to offer some low-cost suggestions that helped me greatly in learning how to advance my outdoor photography.  The single, most significant improvement you will ever see in your wildlife images will come from learning how to get closer.  Gear is nice, and over time you will find yourself upgrading.  Here's the bottom line: My best wildlife images have come from my closest encounters with wildlife.  A few weeks ago I captured my all-time favorite image a of a chukar partridge.  I was 6 steps from the bird, in good light.  The result would have been great with any SLR and 300mm lens, or point and shoot with 6x optical zoom.

The motif you might be noticing is: WORK.  There is no EASY button or quick fix.  It will take a lot of time and patience - patterning and stalking animals involves skills which must be developed and practiced.  Effort and dedication provide the pay off - everything else is secondary.  The best advice I can give:

Find a place where your subject wants to be, and habitually frequents.  Get there first, and wait.  It's that simple, and that complex.  Many are unprepared for the time investment.  As a somewhat general rule, the average is probably close to 1 good opportunity per full day in the field with wild subjects.  Understand that, and have realistic expectations.  Your commitment will pay dividends.

Bird's Eye View:

Shooting the Gap

( Photo of me:, Post: Me)

My View:

California Valley Quail - Side Light

California Valley Quail
Nikon D300, f/8, 1/125
Nikon 400mm f/2.8 VR
Nikon TC20-EIII Teleconverter
Distance to Subject: 8 paces

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Getting Started in Photography - Part Two

As Fly to Water alertly reported in our last installment, the world is anxiously awaiting events foretold by the ancient Mayan civilization in late 2012: Announcement of the Nikon D400 SLR.

In the meantime we all need to find constructive ways to occupy ourselves, which is why I am now threatening to demystify camera controls in part 2 of this wildly popular feature that has been read by not less than 1 resident of Gilbert, Arizona.

The main functions of a modern digital camera are difficult to understand due to: Math teachers.  Individuals identified through psychological examination as having a certain moral indifference will often select a career in mathematics.  It's not easy to fathom, but during key formative years children K-12 are exposed to fractional numbers.  No one knows why math has been chosen to blight an otherwise pleasant educational experience, but apparently it's been happening since the days of Peking Man.  Well into adulthood such trauma is often repressed, and fractions are avoided.

Aperture and shutter speed values, being fractional numbers, create unsavory flashbacks to things like reciprocals, numerators, and denominators.  Happily, it's all pretty easy stuff when you boil it down - much as the Frobenius Method simplifies finding an infinite series solution for a second-order ordinary differential equation of a given form.

Images are destinations, and cameras are the vehicles that take us there.  Just like a car, there are only a handful of really important controls that will come into play with high frequency. 

A – Aperture: Controls Depth of Field.  Settings are fractional numbers called f/stops.  The smaller the number, the larger the aperture.   In other words, ½ or f/2 is a bigger aperture than ⅛ or f/8.  Settings such as f/2, f/3.5, or f/4 are large, while small apertures are f/16, f/22 etc.  Large apertures give you shallow depth of field where the subject is in focus, but everything else is not.  Small apertures give deep depth of field (both foreground and background in focus).  Use large apertures for portraits where you want only the subject to be in sharp focus.  By contrast landscape images require both the foreground and background to be clearly visible, so you want to select a small aperture.

S – Shutter Speed: Controls Motion.  Fast shutter speeds freeze motion, slow shutter speeds blur motion.  Use this setting when you have a moving subject.  For sports, shutter speeds of 1/500 will freeze motion, while 1/100 will blur the action.  Capturing fast-moving subjects like birds in flight requires shutter speeds of 1/1000 or faster.  You can also employ very slow shutter speeds (1/4, 1/8, 1-sec) to intentionally blur moving water.  To use very slow shutter speeds, you also need to stabilize your camera on a tripod.

M – Manual: Aperture and Shutter Speed are Controlled by the Photographer.
  Use this setting when you need precise control of both depth of field and motion.  Manual mode has a wide variety of highly applicable uses depending on your own personal style.  I use it extensively when employing off-camera lighting, as one example.  It's less intimidating than you might think because most cameras have a bar chart on the display that tells you if the image is over/under exposed.  All you have to do is center the exposure and adjust as needed.

AUTO MODE/CAMERA CASTRATION: As with seemingly all modern electronics, many fine efforts have been made to allow the equipment to make decisions for the user.  These days Auto/Program modes do a great job of evaluating a scene and recommending a proper combination of aperture and shutter speed to expose the image correctly.  The problem is that the camera has no way of knowing what the creative intent of the photograph is supposed to be.  Going straight to the point: If you want to improve your imagery - forget Auto mode.  Take control of the tool, and make conscious decisions in order to obtain intentional results as opposed to guesswork.

WB - White Balance: Cameras need to know what is neutral (gray) in order to correctly interpret colors.  This control probably should have been called something like "color balance" but as you can see we are sticking with confusing terminology throughout.  Here's the bottom line: If you don't like the way colors are looking on your LCD, you probably need to adjust the white balance.  Once you understand this principal it seems very intuitive.  When someone is standing in the shade, there are more blue tones present.  In direct sunlight, tones are warmer with more reds and yellows.  Many cameras do a very good job of automatically determining what the WB should be, but it's a setting that can also be used creatively.  Using a shade white balance (adding red) to photograph Southern Utah red rock landscapes is one example.  The following modes are probably present on your camera.  Use them and see what they do:

Probably the most valuable book I read in the early going on this topic was Understanding Exposure by Bryan Peterson.  It's about $17 bucks in hard copy, and simplified several concepts that had previously seemed hazy to me.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Getting Started in Photography - Part One

Here we are at the beginning of 2012, less than 12 months away from the END OF THE WORLD on December 21st according to the Mesoamerican Long Count Calendar.  As a major socioeconomic force, Fly to Water will now respond to these most weighty of matters by discussing: How I got started in photography.

In the Fall of 2005 I was contemplating a great truth: There were people who could take a quality photograph, and I was NOT one of them.  At the time my definition of "quality" was somewhat limited, but I knew that certain images were engaging, held my attention, and struck me as art.  By contrast my work was as attractive as an uncorked bung hole.

Of course I had the option of going out and buying a nicer camera than the Nikon D70 I was shooting, which would make an immediate difference by doubling the file size of my schlocky snapshots.  Oddly, many people believe in the mathematical formula E = GP², where E is an expensive camera and GP is a constant called "good photos."  I call this the Kopi Luwak delusion: You'd think I was making this up, but there are actual people who profess that because coffee beans are eaten by a civet cat and shat out in the jungle, they make a phenomenal beverage.  Now the civet cat is a fine animal, and my Nikon D70 was a solid camera, but it turns out both can be sorely misused.

This leads me to my point: Dudes are out there selling palm civet dingle berries for $160/lb. 
If you're getting started in photography or looking to improve prior to December's sweet release, consider this:
  • Anyone can take great photos, regardless of what you feel your natural talent/ability level might be.
  • You will need to work at it, with the same kind of dedication that it takes to sell cat crap coffee.
Very early on I came to the realization that successful images happened because of the human elements of photography.  More importantly, I began to discover that many of the qualities generally described as "artistic" were acquirable.  There were principals, camera controls, and techniques which could allow me to get the results I wanted - if I was willing to educate myself.

Step One: Composition

We live in a 3-dimensional world, and from the youngest of ages our minds are conditioned to connect with an environment that involves depth, distance, and perspective.

I was fascinated to learn that the human mind naturally imposes 3-dimensional thinking on flat, 2-dimensional images.  It turns out that fairly straight-forward guidelines exist which help broker the connection with the viewer.

In a general sense, this is called "composition," or the way in which objects are arranged (intentionally and creatively) within the frame. There is nothing about composition that should be left to chance. Inclusion, exclusion, angle of view, position relative to the subject(s), portrait vs. landscape orientation, foreground, background, and many other considerations play an enormous part in how the viewer will interpret a 2-dimensional image.

It took some reprogramming for me to begin seeing in 2 dimensions - actively thinking about how I would use the spacial relationships in the frame to hold attention rather than create distraction.

The topic is too broad to cover in a blog post, but here is the take away: Regardless of your equipment, there is a FREE way of making your photos more engaging with simple compositional techniques that can be learned and practiced at home.  I started by reading Photographic Composition, and Brenda Tharp's excellent Creative Nature and Outdoor Photography - both available on Amazon for about $15 bucks.

Read up before 12/21/12, when it will be human sacrifice, dogs and cats living together... MASS HYSTERIA.  If this has been helpful, drop me a line.  I've got a few more pre-cataclysm thoughts brewing.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Chasing Quail

When all else fails...NEW TACTICS.

Around Thanksgiving I wrote HERE about a covey of jittery, rural quail that have unabashedly given me the bird for years.  This group and I have a certain understanding: I foolishly attempt to approach them, and they in turn show me their asses at 100 yards.  It's not an equitable arrangement. 

As the new year approached, I began wondering if a tried and true upland hunting technique - using a blocker - might work on the photo front.  Thinking back, I believe my wildlife photography has benefited greatly from a lifelong background as a sportsman.  Understanding animal behavior patterns, body language, vocalization, and other factors seems to provide me at times with an edge behind the lens.  The idea of pushing/blocking upland game is not new, but shotguns have an effective range of about 50 yards - a distance that needs to be cut in half with a camera.  Still, it was a concept that seemed worth testing out.

I gave Jason Morrison a call, and the game was afoot.  Jay is a guy who I knew had the skill to nail a fleeting opportunity that would last only seconds.

Arriving at the scene, an old farm in Northern Utah, I was disappointed to find that the birds did not pass the night in their usual spot.  It was a downer, because the golden light of morning created a perfect stage upon which there were no performers. Preparing to seek other possibilities, we suddenly noticed the covey near an old corral that had not seen use in ages.  It was at this point that long experience with upland birds kicked into gear, and I knew even before our approach that the situation was ideal.

It was my feeling that the covey, upon seeing my voluminous biomass heading in their direction, would sprint along the corral's contour for some 75 yards.  Here, they would reach a dead end and begin flying up onto some aged fencing and an old, rock wall.  Doing so would give them an escape route to the wheat fields beyond.  If Jason could position himself near this natural collection point in advance, he would have front row seats as 30 quail paraded past him at about 8 paces.

Morrison took the road less traveled, going far out of his way and remaining concealed from view until he eventually circled back about 20 minutes later and got into position.  I knew the birds wouldn't let me get close, so in the meantime I dug out my Nikon TC20-EIII, a 2x teleconverter that would double the focal length of my lens.

Getting the ready signal from Jay, I emerged from cover and vectored towards the corral.  I say "vectored" because it's something of an art to advance on animals without appearing as if you are necessarily headed directly at them.  It's one of those "look casual" things.  As the pusher, I carefully observed the birds in the covey to watch for signs of nervousness, and paced myself to avoid a flush.  The quail moved deliberately, but not in a panic, towards the blocker position.  A few stragglers occasionally tried to double back, and afforded me several medium distance shots from perhaps 20 yards.

Male California Valley Quail - Fence Rail

Female California Valley Quail - Barn Wood

At one point I was able to lie down and capture a unique image as this male passed into a natural frame created by the bottom rail of the corral and 2 posts.  Shadows from the fencing formed a number of leading lines, drawing the eye towards the well-lit subject:

Male California Valley Quail - Framed by Old Fence

The day nearly ended in tragedy as JayMorr encountered a rare, silent killer: A quail stampede. 60 tiny feet, possibly descended from the velociraptor's, bore down on the blocker position.  From my perspective the whole thing wound up looking like some kind of avian flash mob dancing a Spanish Flamenco around Jason.  True to form he did not miss the opportunity.  Be sure to drop in and see some of his fantastic imagery - shot from 8 paces (HERE).  If you haven't attempted to photograph wild, rural game birds - it's difficult to articulate how extraordinary a situation like this really is.  The aggregation of great light, point-blank subjects, correct position relative to the sun, and very little time to work with all combine to make Jay's photographs remarkable.  It was the ideal way to spend New Year's.  A big congrats to Morrison on his first wild California Valley Quail images, and all the dues that were paid leading up to the moment.

Nikon D300
Nikon 400mm f/2.8 VR - f/8, 1/320, ISO 400
Nikon TC20-EIII Teleconverter
Distance to Subjects: 60 Feet/20 Yards