Fort Mountain State Park

Fort Mountain State Park…my latest hiking adventure. My trusty hiking companion, Dixie, and I set out for another grand adventure last Saturday. Two and half hours and one nervous Aussie Mix later, we left the comforts of civilization (meaning all cell phone signal was lost) and entered the mountain wilderness.

Atop the mountain are several trails that link and criss-cross and such. Now, the map shows that these trails should equal a little less than a mile; however, that only includes two of the five trails up there and certainly does not include walking them more than once. So, I managed to turn that less than a mile into somewhere between three and five. I’m not really sure how far I traveled as I was conserving phone battery and not using my handy-dandy endomondo tracker app. I managed a good many steps on my fitbit pedometer though.

Well, the first place Dixie and I checked out was the Stone Tower at the mountaintop. There was quite a bit of caution tape about the place. I’m not quite sure what they were working on up there, or even what was supposed to be roped off, but we explored a bit. I went to the right of the tower, and there was a window on the lower level. If you looked through the window, you could see straight through the window to the back of the tower and out into the woods beyond. I thought it made for a good photo opportunity, so I snapped a few shots. I tried one of the shots out in a chroma key software demo, and it makes quite a nice backdrop for a photo shoot. In fact, after trying out the software, I may see about doing some chroma key work for photo shoots. Rabbit trails…ok, back to the topic.

fort mountain-2 fort mountain-3 fort mountain-4 fort mountain-7 fort mountain-8

After, exploring and photographing the stone tower, Dixie and I decided to head down another trail to the back and right of the tower. The path led around and, I assumed at the time and correctly by the way, back across our original trail. We heard something crashing around in the trees out to our left. I saw the limbs crashing around, but I never saw what was causing the commotion. A little further down the path, we came across a family. As I was about to turn to the right down the Stone Wall Trail, the guy in the front calls out, “There’s a bear down that way! I saw it, and we headed in the other direction.” Of course, I was like, “Cool, I think I’ll go get a picture.” I headed, well, in the direction of the bear. (As a side note here, animals scare me way less than people do.) I had traveled about a hundred feet or so, when the family we met started in our direction. Now, whether that was to keep an eye on the crazy woman with the camera who wanted to photograph a bear to make sure she didn’t get eaten, or whether to get a closer look at the bear I didn’t seem afraid of, I’m not sure. But they followed behind, and sadly to say, we didn’t see that bear. I did, however, see a Great Spangled Fritillary and got several pictures of his pretty self. After all, who can resist a big beautiful orange and black butterfly.

Great Spangled Fritillary fort mountain-12 fort mountain-15 Great Spangled Fritillary Great Spangled Fritillary fort mountain-21 fort mountain-23

We explored the trail and the Stone Wall a bit, all the while keeping an eye out for bears. I say we, but I think Dixie was just interested in anything that moved really. We crossed over the Stone Tower Trail, and we headed on out the Stone Wall Trail. A little way down the trail, Dixie got a scent and kept trying to run after something. I’m not quite sure what she was after, but I heard a lovely little twitter in the trees in the direction she was heading, so away we went. I spotted a lovely little yellow bird flitting about and twittering, so we sat down on a rock outcropping and watched and photographed. It took me three days to identify this little guy from the photographs I took, but I think I finally identified him. I believe he is a Pine Warbler. He was quite lovely and had a captivating little tune to sing.

Pine Warbler Pine Warbler Pine Warbler

From there we headed out to the overlook. The view was breathtaking. The blue-gray of the mountains in the distance, the sun rays streaming through the clouds to bathe the mountains in light, and the hawk flying about looking for a meal. The sun was bright, and it was a bit warm out, but we lingered about for a spell to take a few photographs.

fort mountain-27 fort mountain-28 fort mountain-29 fort mountain-30 fort mountain-34 fort mountain-37

After leaving our lofty perch, we headed back up to the Stone Tower, then circled back down to the bottom where we were parked, and then we followed another trail that led us right back to the overlook. I took a few more photographs, playing with the exposure settings and such. Then we took one more trip around the Stone Wall Trail and headed back to the car.

fort mountain-40 fort mountain-42 fort mountain-45 fort mountain-52 fort mountain-54 fort mountain-57 fort mountain-59

At the car, we looked at the map (which, by the way, I didn’t bother taking with me on the trails). The Lake Loop Trail and the Big Rock Trail were both near the picnic shelters and cabins, so we headed in that direction. The first trail we came up on was the Big Rock Trail. It was listed as a very long trail, only about three quarters of a mile, so I figured it shouldn’t take too long. We walked the trail for a little ways, and I was  beginning to get the feeling that the name might be misleading. I hadn’t seen any sign of a big rock, at least not one any bigger than the others I had seen. But then we found it. It wasn’t really a big rock, per se, but more of a stream along some smoothed rock that cascaded down the side of the mountain. Pools formed in the rock in places where the stream flowed, and someone had stacked some stones in the stream. (I’ve seen these little stacked stone towers in many places now, and I’m still not sure what they mean or why people do it.) It was so peaceful here, and I stood out on the rocks and got several pictures up and down stream. Dixie and I stayed here for quite some time before moving on.

fort mountain-67 fort mountain-70 fort mountain-75 fort mountain-78 fort mountain-81

After leaving the stream, we followed the trail on out to the roadway. There was a bench facing an open area near the storm drain outlet. I assumed, and rightly so after reading, that the bench was there to sit and watch for birds and deer (and squirrels). As we walked up the hill, I spotted a butterfly. It was a Spicebush Swallowtail. I got several pictures of this little guy before heading on. I have quite a habit of chasing butterflies.

fort mountain-82 Spicebush Swallowtail Spicebush Swallowtail Spicebush Swallowtail Spicebush Swallowtail Spicebush Swallowtail Spicebush Swallowtail in Flight

As we reached the top of the hill, I realized that we could cross the street and get to the Lake Loop Trail. It was late in the evening by now, and I decided that it would be a nice way to end the day. So, around the lake we went. It was a peaceful walk until we neared the beach. Being hot that day, many people apparently decided that going for a swim was a good idea. You could hear laughter and splashing all the way across the lake. There were several people enjoying the evening in kayaks, canoes, and on paddleboards. I don’t think anyone had the paddleboats out though. I took quite a few nice photographs around the lake.

fort mountain-92 Miniature Island fort mountain-94 fort mountain-95 fort mountain-97 fort mountain-101 fort mountain-103 fort mountain-104 fort mountain-113

By the time I got to the side of the lake where all of the people were, the sun was shining through the trees creating an ethereal glow. It was almost as if you could gaze through a veil into another world. It made for some lovely photographs, along with a canoe sitting just off of the beach awaiting its rider’s return.

fort mountain-105 fort mountain-106 fort mountain-107 fort mountain-108 fort mountain-111

All in all, it was not a bad day. In fact, it was quite a beautiful day. I can’t wait to go back and try out the Gahutti Trail (8 miles of wilderness beauty).

Small Wonders

A few mornings ago, I was sitting on the front porch having coffee, hoping to have a quiet morning watching the birds and squirrels fight over the bird food in the feeders. Unfortunately, it was the same morning my neighbor decided to do some work in the garage. Believing the morning to be ruined by the noise (as it would scare all of the animals away), I headed indoors to put my coffee cup away. Then, as I passed the backdoor, a yellow flutter caught my eye. My camera was right next to me on the chair, and the morning was not ruined after all.

So, what was that yellow flutter? Why, none other than an Eastern Tiger Swallowtail. Those are common you say? Well, yes. But three of those beauties feeding on my Black Knight butterfly bush…well, that’s just enough to make my morning. What better to photograph than that lovely yellow against a purple backdrop.

watermarked edits-4 watermarked edits-2

They flitted about for quite a while, allowing me to get some very good shots. I got close enough to get pictures of them feeding from the flowers, dipping their long tongues into each little bud, draining it of nectar.

watermarked edits-20 watermarked edits-21 watermarked edits-28

There markings were beautiful, though two of them looked a little battle-worn.

watermarked edits-14 watermarked edits-17 watermarked edits-31 watermarked edits-33

One of them even landed on a flower right in front of me. They were simply amazing to watch.

Returning to the front porch to finish my reading and coffee, I noticed a tufted titmouse and his mate. Camera still in hand, I attempted to capture these beauties, but alas, they were too quick. Since my camera was at the ready, I decided to zoom in on what I thought was a bird nest in the bushes.  A bird nest it was not. In fact, it was a chipmunk. He was sitting still as could be…now whether that was from fright or an attempt to wait me out to get to the bird feeders, I don’t know. But sit there he did, for quite a long time. I got several pictures of this silly little chipmunk, and I began to be concerned that he was hurt (perhaps dropped there by some unfortunate owl who lost his supper). But a little movement of the branches, and he proved to be more than alright. Away he scurried missing out on a birdseed brunch, not before I got several good photos of his cute little self, however.

watermarked edits-42 watermarked edits-45 watermarked edits-68 watermarked edits-69

Before this little cutie ran off, I called my daughter out to see him. She was amazed at how still he sat. After he ran off, she decided to join me on the porch. As I had my camera out, she decided to ask me if I had taken my water photos for a weekly photo challenge. I explained that I had not, so she pointed out that there were water drops on the blades of oat where the birdseed had dropped and sprouted. Obviously, she has a keen eye, because I never even noticed the water. So off to get my macro filters I went. And the results were satisfactory…

watermarked edits-51 watermarked edits-56 watermarked edits-58 watermarked edits-59 watermarked edits-60

Later in the day, as she was finishing up her schoolwork, we headed out to the patio. My camera was still close at hand, and I took a couple of shots of some water drops on some jars on the posts (poor lonely jars that were meant to hold herbs that, alas, were never planted).

watermarked edits-70 watermarked edits-72

Then, as we headed inside before the little biting bugs bled us dry, I noticed something zipping around the butterfly bush. It was my little friend, the bumblebee sphinx moth. Now this little fairy is quick and hard to capture on camera, but capture him I did. A few of the pictures turned out good, though most of them were quite blurry as he flitted from flower to flower drinking nectar.

watermarked edits-75 watermarked edits-77 watermarked edits-80 watermarked edits-81 watermarked edits-83 watermarked edits-87

And so, a day I thought would be dull, turned out to be a day filled with small wonders that brought a smile to my face and joy to my heart.

The Art of Color and Light (Part 3)

(Part Three)

Light Magic

Well, now that we’ve made our beauty a star, how do we put her in the spotlight? Well, by adjusting the available light of course. A little more contrast, a little more highlight, and a little more white, and Voila!, our star is in the spotlight.

Eastside Trail-9 Eastside Trail-19

But are butterflies the only glimpses of the fairy world we see? How many more are masquerading in the guise of the ordinary? Does their light shine out on occasion for the world to see?

To answer this, I go back to an older photograph of my beautiful niece. I think she must be a fairy princess masquerading as a little girl. When I adjusted the contrast and highlights in this picture, a beautiful fiery angel appeared.

Eastside Trail-2

And even in the most ordinary of pics, she is surrounded by a halo of light.

Eastside Trail-1

So is she a fairy princess, or does that hidden world merely shine its light on her and other children every once in a while? And are there others? More fairies among us masquerading as people? Or even adults who are bathed in the spotlight of a fairy glow on occasion?

2014-03-24 09.46.16-1

I’ll never tell. 😉

Catch the light source just the right way, adjust the contrast and highlights, and you can reveal the surreal world that the ordinary light does not see. The world of light and fairies (and even ghosts if you’re brave) comes to view through the camera and the eye of the artist. So, be on the lookout, because you never know where another world may be hiding. Keep your eye on the lights.

The Art of Color and Light (Part 2)

(Part 2)

More Monochrome and a Little Color Accent Magic

Here we have a butterfly. I’ll not call her ordinary, because we can all see without a doubt that butterflies are extraordinary creatures. Their delicate beauty captivates even the hardest of hearts. The way they flit and float on the breeze and move from flower to flower drinking of the nectar and pollinating as they go. Without the lovely lepidoptera, we would likely have none of these blossoms to pick for our loved ones to smell and adore. The strength and perseverance it takes for this lovely creature simply to move through its life cycle is completely astonishing and worthy of notice. But how often do we take the time to notice the intricacy of their color patterns and ability to reflect light?

These magical creatures contain a vast array of color, but often we miss it because of the color of the flowers they feed on. So let’s let one of these beautifully disguised fairies stand out from the world we see. Perhaps then, we can catch a glimpse of their light and the fairy world that perhaps they slip in and out of.

This eye-catching specimen is called the Red Spotted Purple. I’m not certain as to how it gained this name as I see a blue-black butterfly with red-orange spots, but I suppose we all see color a little different. I often argued with my father on red versus orange and orange versus yellow. Perhaps when I was young, I should have invited my father to explore the 64-count crayon box with me with all its many shades (and today there are even more with incredibly more interesting names). Anyway, returning from the rabbit trail down memory lane, here’s the butterfly in all it’s natural beauty…

Eastside Trail-10 Eastside Trail-22 Eastside Trail-18

Beautiful, aren’t they? A male and a female I think. We found them playing along the walking trail, dancing and flitting (and perhaps flirting) about. My husband was very patient and managed to get them to sit on his fingers, which made for some stunning photographs as you will see.

But first things first. I will start with the middle photograph. This one is more natural with the sunlight reflecting on the leaf beneath, and the butterfly’s shadow is cast just below its body. It also has a nice bokeh effect with the leaves blurred in the background. With this photograph, I was able to discover many of the details of these little fairies through altering the color and enhancing the light.

Eastside Trail-24

First, I tried a true monochrome effect. This first photo reflects a low contrast black and white filter. In this photo the light in the background becomes more visible; however, the light reflected on the leaf beneath the butterfly is lost. You can also see how the light shines through the uppermost portion of the wings where they are most transparent.

This second photograph reflects a high-contrast black and white filter. With this filter the black veins in the wings and the black coloring on the body stands out more, but it is almost overpowered by the shadows in the background. The light reflected in the leaf and on the foremost antennae of the butterfly really pops, however.

Eastside Trail-26

In the end, I discovered the selenium filter. It adds almost a bluish-gray contrast to the photograph, highlighting more of the silvers. It added a perfect blend to bring out the dark-colored veins without losing the reflection of light in the leaves, the antennae, and even the white spots.

Eastside Trail-23
Then, just for good measure, I tried a sepia tone which was also very striking.

Eastside Trail-25

These of course were presets in my editing program. My phone also has some interesting features in editing that allow different aspects of the photo to come alive. One of these is called selective color. You can go in and select a color to be accented, and the photo will be saved in black and white with only that color remaining. With this I was able to accent the oranges…

Eastside Trail-13 Eastside Trail-21

Or the blues…

Eastside Trail-7 Eastside Trail-12 Eastside Trail-17 Eastside Trail-3-2

But what if I want orange and blue? Can I make the butterfly stand out in it’s entirety against a background of black and white? Can I make it look as if this creature in all it’s beauty stands apart from the world we know as if it is from somewhere we do not see?

Then came the discovery of another aspect of my editing software…color saturation. I found that I could take out certain colors almost entirely and increase the intensity of the ones I wish to highlight. And here is the result…

Eastside Trail-16 Eastside Trail-6

And now this lovely actress is the star of the show. Let’s give her a little more light shall we?

Well, we’ll save that for Part Three.

The Art of Color and Light (Part 1)

Light is fascinating. Everything about it is mesmerizing, the way it reflects, the way it bounces, the way it plays, and the way it transforms the ordinary into a surreal fairy land of color and glow.

In this digital age with millions of devices using pixelated light to display images, the screen is my canvas and light is my medium. My tools are my camera, my computer, and my imagination. And my inspiration… the world around me and the world of dreams and fantasy just at the borders of its reality.

For as long as I can remember, I have been fascinated by light and color. The joy of seeing rainbows in the sky, in mists of water, and even in oil on the pavement brings a sparkle to my eyes and turns my thoughts to leprechauns, fairies, unicorns, and Pegasus. A rainbow in the sky turns into a road that I can soar over on the back of Pegasus. A rainbow in the mist becomes a magical doorway to the world of fairies and elves. And at the end of the rainbow always sits the pot of gold. Twirling a prism around to bend the light into bursts of color seems magical.

The more I learn about my camera and my editing software, the more the artist in me emerges. Through the manipulation of light, I can transform the ordinary into the magical. Light and color changes to reveal the ethereal beauty of a world hidden to the naked eye.

So, what does this world look like, and just how, pray tell, do we see it. Let the magic begin…

(Part 1)

Monochromatic Magic

Take this ordinary little walnut left cracked and broken on a lonely wooded walking trail by some cute, fluffy little squirrel who devoured its insides and carelessly dropped it to the ground.

Eastside Trail-1 Eastside Trail-3

Increase the contrast, adjust the saturation, increase the highlights and white levles, increase the black levels just a tad, and decrease the shadowing just a bit. Then add a white vignette to take away the rest of the road and Voila!…

You are left with a monochromatic masterpiece in a world of pure light with only the shadow of the nut to determine the source and direction of its source of illumination.

Eastside Trail-2 Eastside Trail-4
Then zoom in a bit to get a little more detail and a better view.

Eastside Trail-5

And now, what was once seemingly plain, ordinary, and unnoticed, is a thing of profound interest and beauty. Is that because it wasn’t beautiful before? Absolutely not! It, like all things made by our Creator, was a thing of many extraordinary layers of depth and beauty. I, the artist, have merely uncovered one of those magical, intricate, magnificent layers through the manipulation of light and color. Now what was once perhaps unseen, is seen.