Category Archives: bokeh

Reflecting on the Eighth Night

How many menorahs are there?

How many menorahs are there?

Yesterday one of my friends from high school and Sunday School, Calvin Rose, posted a photo on Facebook of his lit menorah. I loved how the eight candles plus the shamash were reflected in the window.

Hey, thought I! I’ve never taken a pic like that in all these years of trying something new every Chanukah. It was time . . . especially with it being the eighth night. Otherwise, I’d have to wait until next year, perish the thought.

So I placed a TV tray by the window in the dining room and moved the menurkey to it. Lit the candles as I chanted the prayer and then picked up my Nikon D700.

Notice something colorful in the background?

Notice something colorful in the background?

After I lamented not having one big, solid window, I snapped and then checked the result. What a surprise! Thanks to my neighbor Tony, his multicolored Christmas lights gave me some sweet accidental bokeh.

Bokeh front and back

Bokeh front and back

Naturally, I thoroughly enjoyed finishing off the holiday with my very own reflective (low) light show.

Focusing on Tony’s lights

Focusing on Tony’s lights

Hope Calvin comes up with another great idea for me to steal try next year!

Strike Up the Bokeh Band

Nothing up my sleeve. Presto! It’s a baton!

Need an excellent example of background blurring, aka bokeh? Just check out this series of photos I took last Saturday morning of our high school’s drum major, Courtney.

Here it comes!

I love how my Nikon D700’s total focus on her pulling her baton out of her uniform so brilliantly softened the musicians and dancers she was about to lead. My Nikon 300mm f/4 lens did a great job of providing that contrast.

Time to start the show.

It looks like Courtney is conducting an abstract painting!

Our work here is done.

Of course, I’m sure everything looked perfectly in focus for her as she led our wonderful band and Angels to another fine performance.

Wildflower Perspective

Mexican hats in the foreground, Indian blankets and sunflowerishes in the background

As I was shooting photos of a small group of Mexican hats the other day, my eye was drawn behind those wildflowers. The bokeh’d (blurred) background was as interesting as the foreground. I loved how the different colors livened up the picture.

Purple and golden yellow go together (my high school’s colors!)

Horsemint was growing near the Mexican hats. Look how the purple pops out from the bokeh’d coreopsis near it.

Now the coreopsis are front and center.

Want to see those same wildflowers differently? Change your focal point!

Sunflowerishes in focus and out

I’ll admit that I’m a bokeh fan, other colored wildflowers in the background or not.

Penstemons are pretty in pink

That lovely blurring gives depth and, dare I say it?, pizzazz to these kinds of photos. All it takes is opening up your aperture (putting it on the smallest f-stop number, like 2.8 or 4), keeping the foreground in focus, and making sure there’s something that will soften nicely in the background.

Sometimes it’s fun to change your wildflower perspective!

An Episode of NSI

Bluebonnets are easy to identify.

When I’m out snapping pix of wildflowers, something besides the bees always bothers me:

Pretty in pink, whatever it really is

Identifying what in the world I’m shooting.

Pretty in dark pink, too!

Take the above two photos of the pinkish flowers. I think they’re penstemon . . . or are they foxglove? Or does it really matter what they are . . . as long as they’re in focus with nice bokeh?

Budding sunflowerishes

Where I really get confused is with the sunflower family. I can spot a “true” sunflower (they’re usually pretty big).

Love this view of the sunflowerish

But what about the ones that look like sunflowers but really aren’t? Are they black-eyed/brown-eyed Susans (no relation to me, of course)?

Looks the same but is it?

Why do some have a few petals while others have many? Some petals are wide, some are narrow . . . but all are yellow.

The same but different

Some even feature red markings on the petals.

When I identify them in my photos, I call them “sunflowerish.” I guess it’s as good a term as any. I’ve tried Googling, but I don’t find concrete answers.

What I truly need is an NSI squad: Nature Scene Investigation. Forget all that CSI stuff . . . help me ID these wildflowers! STAT!


Wish all nature IDs could be this easy.

UTSA’s Wildflowers Wow Me

Photos don’t do the wildflowers justice! It’s best to see them in person.

When I decided to make a solo, one-day visit to see my older son in San Antonio last Saturday, I had four goals in mind.

Phlox show off their purpleness.

The first, of course, was to see my handsome collegian at the University of Texas at San Antonio. Even though he had been home a mere week ago during spring break, I never turn down the chance to spend time with my blue-eyed boy.

Here’s more purple!

Second, we both read “The Hunger Games” a month ago and wanted to see the movie together. It’s so much easier discussing the pros and cons of the film with someone who also enjoyed the novel.

Bluebonnets and lily-like wildflowers go together.

Third, we wanted to check out off-campus housing for the fall. Even though we weren’t able to tour our first choice, we saw it from outside and liked it. Good-bye, dorm!

A small bee flies near a coreopsis.

And, finally, I figured that Texas’ recent abundant rains had produced a bountiful crop of wildflowers. I hoped my Nikon 105mm macro lens would get a workout.

A bokeh’d Indian blanket background surrounds a lone bluebonnet.

Which, of course, it did! After I dropped my son back at his dorm in the early afternoon, I was curious to see what kinds of wildflowers were blooming on the UTSA campus.

A bee enjoys an Indian blanket.

Along a road behind the dorms, the grounds were bursting with beauty! Indian blankets, bluebonnets, coreopsis, and more fought for my lens’ attention.

Which Indian blanket will the bee pick?

Naturally, something else mirrored my wildflower love: Those darned, stinkin’ bees. As always, I moved in as close as possible, shot fast, and quickly walked away before the little buzzers could target me.

Thistle pollen covers a bee.

After about a half hour, I was ready to continue my drive back to Houston, where more of my state’s natural beauty distracted me until I just had to stop and shoot.

Which I’ll share in Thursday’s blog!

Feeling Fuzzy

My younger son puts his all into a drive.

Last week while my #2 son was practicing for a disc golf tournament at our local park, I took the opportunity to go photo exploring. I wasn’t sure what I would find, because of the Houston area’s long drought as well as it being what passes as winter. Just because it’s been mild doesn’t mean that much has been growing.

Love the sepia-ish quality of the plant, as well as the background bokeh!

What did my Nikon 105mm macro lens find? A lot of fuzz!

A close-up view of the fuzzies

It looked like some of the wildflowers had gone to seed, leaving them looking fluffy. I couldn’t help but reach over and feel the textures.

A cattail shows off its fuzzy side.

I know that in a month or so all those fuzzy plants will be replaced by new growth, ready to tantalize my macro lens. Before long those sown seeds will be sprouting around the park.

A seed pod promises new beginnings.

Looks like that time is coming soon!

Happy New Year, Texas Style

My younger son blows on a punk.

Here in Texas, people set off fireworks on New Year’s Eve. I don’t remember that being the tradition in Chicago when I was growing up—all that noise and beauty was reserved for the 4th of July.

Looks like fireworks on Mars.

But we look forward to seeing bursts of color in the air and on the ground twice a year, not that we buy and set them off, of course. We’d much rather sponge off someone who isn’t worried about setting half the neighborhood on fire.

Fireworks light up the ground and surrounding air.

Last Saturday night that “someone” was my friend Karen E. (aka, Cody’s mom). They live within walking distance in the next subdivision in our master-planned community.

The fireworks brighten the night.

It was 70 degrees at 10:30 p.m. as my younger son, the Mister, and I watched the kids light up the night. Love when our winters are so mild!

An eerie red glow

To document the fireworks show, I used my Nikon D700 and Nikon f/1.4 50mm lens. I upped the ISO from 1600 to 4000 in order to get a fast-enough shutter speed to stop the action.

A fast shutter speed (1/500th) gives the ground fireworks an interesting look.

And then I snapped, snapped, snapped! I was pleasantly surprised at the great bokeh (blurred lights) and clean results that I got without any planning (as in totally dumb luck).

What goes up . . . .

My favorite shots? The rockets! I was able to capture the action as they left the ground . . .

Makes us oooh and aaaah!

And burst high above us! Happy 2012!!

The 2011 Retrospective: The Chanukah Lights

An end view of the boys’ menorahs on the first night of Chanukah.

My favorite childhood memory of Chanukah was lighting our family’s menorah. All four of us kids had to share those lighting duties, which meant we cherished our chance to kindle those candles twice.

My older son computes on his MacBook Pro illuminated by the second night’s candles.

My sons are lucky, because they have their own menorahs to light. And I’m fortunate, because that makes twice as many candles for me to photograph each Chanukah (well, except for last year when my older son was at college for the entire holiday). A recap of our 2009 Chanukah is here, hereherehere, and here. Last year’s illuminating experience is here, here, and here.

The long view of the third night’s candles.

As always, I tried to document this year’s holiday with unique photos every night. Which can be hard to do when you consider there are only a few variables to manipulate: My two sons, menorahs, and candles.

Interesting how the candles shrink at different paces on night four.

Fortunately for me, the candles burn for a long time and at different rates on both menorahs. That gave me more opportunities to change things up.

I snapped away looking up at the menorah on night five.

Having the menorahs on the dining room table where my older son set up his MacBook Pro made for some interesting photos, too (although I think he got tired of me turning off the overhead light so often).

More candles make the sideshow more interesting on the sixth night.

It also helped that he was home for the entire holiday. The more candles, the better photo ops!

The candles brightly burn very low on the seventh night.

The last two nights of the holiday were the easiest to capture via my Nikon D700 and Nikon 50mm lens.

My #1 son puts the shamash (helper candle) back on night seven.

More candles mean better lighting, although I still often used a +.03 or +.07 exposure compensation.

Both boys light their candles on the eighth night.

The action usually was fast and furious as I snapped away while the boys lit their menorahs.

My younger son makes sure his candles are snug on night eight.

Once you reach the eighth night, there aren’t an opportunities for retakes. You’ve just got to hope you’ve done your best in photographing eight wonderfully illuminating evenings.

Smoke trails off after a wick meets its maker on the last night.

And now it’s over!

Lighting Up

Yesterday’s third night of Chanukah burns brightly.

From the candles flickering in the Chanukah menorah . . .

The bokeh’d lights shine on our block.

to the outside Christmas bulbs a-glow in the dark,

I’m partial to multicolored lights.

may your holidays be filled with bright lights, fun, and love!

Lots of colors shining here

That’s my holiday wish to you, my readers, with all my heart.

Enjoy your celebration!

Holiday Wishes

Cute reindeer wait for Santa.

To my readers who will be celebrating tonight and tomorrow . . .

Focusing on a multicolored ornament resulted in wonderfully bokeh’d lights!

A very

Snowmen lights all in a row

Merry Christmas, y’all!

Snoopy and Woodstock rest up.

Happy holidays to everyone!!