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The Story Of A Shell

Sometimes the best and most artistic things come in really small packages. This is true for macro photography. Macro photography is the scientific art of taking the very small and making it larger. It effectively uses your camera as a type of microscope.

Often in the world of Macro photography we see impossibly small scenes of insect faces, bulbous eyes of flies or the death stare of the praying mantis. But, the artist doesn’t necessarily require such magnification to make an artistic statement. Often the subject itself presents the artist with a hidden mystery or story.

Often the beauty and structure of a story in nature exists in the smallest items. This month’s feature Shell in Sand shows the majesty of such a shell and the story it presents to us.

Shell in Sand
Shell in Sand

Indeed,  a magnificence found in this shell is the pink undertones and greenish brown highlights contrasted against the cold gray of the sand. Shell colors are determined by the diet of the animal or it’s genes. Often the color of the shell will provide camouflage against hungry predators looking to cut our story short with a rather dramatic ending.

Not just Color

Color in fact only tells part of the story of our shell. The ridges on each raised line reflect the age of the animal that once called this shell home.  It also presents the  mathematical precision used during its creation. The size of the ridges can make the shell look larger and provide structural support for the shell against attack. Was it to scare off potential rivals?

Then the story of our shell continues with the growth of the small barnacles at the edge of the shell. The mystery only deepens as we ponder whether these temporary slackers used the shell as their base before our aquatic friend met his end or after when the shell represented a lifeless husk of a once beautiful corporeal house.

Our story finally comes to the ageless time spent on the bottom of the sea. Drifting with the currents in a haphazardly fashion at the whim of the waves. How long did it sit before a storm at high tide disrupted its slumber and sent it tumbling with the surf only to arrive partially buried in the sand at a place predestined to change its story forever. There it waited patiently for my arrival and a chance to tell its story to my camera and then the world.

 

 

Local Community Art Show Winner

One of the key ventures that any thriving town government easily supports is the local community art show.   One small town north of Clearwater, Florida understands the importance that art plays in their community and it’s development.

I believe that it’s possible to know how successful a city is by the way it treats artists.  Artists support art galleries, and vice versa.  However, galleries tend to attract city visitors and tourists looking for a better souvenir than a t-shirt of refrigerator magnet.

New Port Richey

Recently, The City of New Port Richey hosted the Fourth Annual Community Art Show during the month of August at the Susan Dillinger Art Gallery in  New Port Richey City Hall.

Local artists submit their works for approval to hang in the show and then anxiously wait a month as the City encourages citizens to come to City Hall and cast a vote for their favorite art.

There is an award presentation hosted by Judy Meyers the City Clerk and the Mayor Rob Marlowe.  There are no submission fees nor any cash prizes. It’s not that kind of show.

It’s about the local government recognizing the talents of local artists and claiming them as an important part of the city’s landscape.

The Art Show Awards

American Oystercatcher art show
American Oystercatcher

Although our gallery has headquarters in Dallas, Texas,  I live in Florida and for the second year I’ve taken part as an artist in the New Port Richey Art Show.  Last year I entered “American Oystercatcher” and happily won a 1st place ribbon.

 

Award for “Cat Nap”

This year I followed up that win with a coveted People’s Choice!

People's Choice Art Show Award
People’s Choice Award for “Cat Nap”.

This female albino tiger had just had breakfast when she decided to do that most cat-like activity.   Cat nap.  Normally,  I’d want to keep a tiger picture in its original color form.  If for no other reason than to keep that classic tiger look.  However,  since she was an albino,  I felt

Cat Nap Art Show
Cat Nap

that the impact of a black and white format would be much more visually appealing.

 

The Building Storm

The picture Building Storm convinces us that nature is truly an awe-inspiring and captivating subject.   There exists a level of power in those columns of clouds that we as mere mortals just cannot seem to grasp.

Our own brains immediately channel part of that power down primal synapses and earlier embedded childhood memories that usually protect us. We see an image of danger and immediately feel a tantalizing sense of wonderment. Yet, in the tiny recesses of our mind there is also a touch of disbelief that such a storm could exist.

You might start asking questions. Is it heading our way? How long until it gets here? Or the infamous comment, “Damn, I just washed the car!” All are thoughts that course through our adult minds at light speed.

Building Storm
Building Storm

The Work Behind Building Storm

This picture really represents one of the nicer things about living close to an ocean. Near the ocean nothing exists between you and the horizon except the vastness of the water.  You can see the whole horizon right to the point where the perfectly flat waterscape meets the perfectly flat sky.

The problem of not having visual landmarks only adds mystery to the actual photograph. You can’t really determine size or distance very well when such a large object is dominating the sky. This also adds to an impending sense of dread.

I wanted to take that dread and feeling of raw power and enhance it. So, using heavy blue Cyanotype filter, I turned the picture into a blue and white not a black and white image.

The next issue was the crispness of the photo. This is a sort of irony for me because I suffer from a bane in the photographer’s world known as camera shake. This means that my fingers press too hard on the shutter button and the camera tends to shake thus causing some blurring to occur.  Usually, I have to take countermeasures so that it won’t happen.

Well, imagine my surprise when I discovered a situation where adding a bit of abstraction to the scene actually enhances the artistic flair!

Nature played her part well; it was her work of art in the first place, by selecting the perfect colors and shading to help transform a typical thunderstorm on the horizon to an enhanced beautiful monster of a storm.

Texture Makes It Better Art

This time we visit the beach to make art and discuss texture.   It is an obvious yet often overlooked component of art. Is a work of art smooth? Or, does it have a tactile feel to it? Is that tactile feel genuine or an illusion? Complex questions answered when dealing with art works of any size or variety. Actually, texture regularly makes or breaks the uniqueness of a particular work to the viewer.   In photography, good  texture often happens by using by a simple method.

 

An easy method of finding texture to apply in a work of art is to simply find a subject with that interesting texture already present. At first this may seem like an oversimplification. But an artist often looks deeper into physical relationships of their subjects.

 

So finding the right subject to portray what the artist wants to say is usually much more difficult than most people assume. The reason for this is that the eye-catching nature of the texture, as applied to the work of art, is often up to the individual artist. This is where an implied artistic interpretation impacts the story the artist is attempting to tell.  If this seems to be almost metaphysically philosophical in nature, it’s because it is. It is art after all.

Truly, texture becomes a necessary part of the artistic vision used to make any work of art. This selected interpretation develops thru a specific application.  In the painting arts, it often appears as gobs of thick paint. Drawing a certain way, or even the use of different brushes and washes accomplish the desired artistic effect.

 

Seaweed and Shells
Seaweed and Shells

However, in photography, the artist has to apply other means to accomplish this same goal. So often, the photographer looks for the visual aspects of a shot that will provide these needed textures naturally.

Seaweed and Shells

Perhaps the artist is attempting to show the smooth skin of a person to showcase beauty or youth. Or, as in the case of Seaweed and Shells, texture adds a sense of conflict between the gritty sand, the spongy seaweed and the smooth interior of a shell.   When I took this shot, I fell in love with the notion that the rich textures provided a sort of glue that made the picture work.

 

The Unnamed Equipment Guide For A Tufted Titmouse

It’s spring in Florida and the gators are mating, Cardinals are nesting, and the Tufted Titmouse is flittering though the trees.   It’s true that these birds are found year round in the forests of the Eastern U.S. However, in the spring they notoriously seem more prevalent.

These little songbirds are small. They easily fit in the palm of your hand, and in fact are members of the chickadee family.   They are also extremely quick and curious. The little bird will not stay in one spot for very long. So how do you get a decent picture of this little bundle of feathers?

Remember that good artistic pictures depend on three major components; equipment, photographer, and finally luck or opportunity. Let’s deal with the equipment side of the equation.

Equipment

I know there are many photography purists out there who insist that film cameras the only way to capture a true picture. Let me hereby declare that it is possible to take a picture of a Tufted Titmouse with a film camera.

However, I’m going to go digital here. Why?   The reason is money. My picture of this Titmouse is the result of a lot of failed attempts. Attempts that include blurred streaks with slightly focused wing parts and a tail feather or two, or three, or four. Those failed attempts mean wasted film and that means wasted money. It’s not easier to use the digital camera but it is a lot less vexing on the wallet.

It’s important to mention that this is a wildlife photograph taken in imperfect conditions. You are at the mercy of the elements such as wind and, in this case, the bright tropical sun. You are also requesting a small animal with a brain about the size of a seed to sit still and pose for you.

Tufted Titmouse
Tufted Titmouse

There is another point of necessity that requires mention. By using a digital camera, I am in no way referring to phone cameras.

Yes, I‘ve seen the awesome pictures in those commercials that phone cameras make but I’ve also read the fine print of how those images were actually made.

The mobile phone cameras produce incredible pictures but they have a fixed lens. This means that you will need incredible luck to get a focused close up shot of the titmouse. Impossible? No it’s not impossible, but if you have that sort of luck take my advice and go play the Powerball lottery instead.

So my camera of choice is a DSLR camera. One setting on a DSLR that definably gives the amateur an advantage is the use of a sport shot feature. I’m hard pressed to remember a DSLR camera that does not have this feature. The camera uses automatic internal settings to take action shots with a quick shutter release and multiple pictures taken every time you push the shutter release. If you combine this with the usual autofocus the camera does most of the guess-work.

Lens

Another advantage of the DSLR is the lens choice. Unlike the fixed lens of camera phones and most point and click tourists cameras, the DSLR allows you to choose an appropriate zoom or telescoping lens. Fixed lens can’t be changed out so you only have set focal length. This translates into you having to get unrealistically close to a wild animal to get a good focused shot.

Of course, this doesn’t mean that you need a bazooka looking 800 mm $8,000 super telescope. The subject is a small bird in a tree not Phobos orbiting Mars. Again, think of the environment.

Your outside, on uneven ground, in a forest, chasing wild animals and probably quite some distance from you vehicle.   Do you really want to lug around a heavy lens? I created this work with a readily available 55-250mm lens attached to my camera strapped around my neck.  Seriously nothing special.

So, in the case of equipment it is a wise thing to consider function over form. Especially in the case of wildlife photography, I go for what works, what I can afford, and more importantly what gives me the greatest chance of success with the least investment of time, money and my physical well-being. As true in any work, always strive to work smarter not harder.