A Cute Mute Pt 2

It is dog show weekend and that can only mean one thing.. that’s right, plenty of time to type out a post which, by the way, completes my monthly quota.  February is always a tough month due to being ripped out of two full days.   But enough whining, I know you want to get onto the post.  Today we bring out the big guns.  The first set of the Mute Swan series (link here) brought you the pictures of Swan cygnets which are umber cute in my book.  Unfortunately, there was room for improvement on the execution of those shots for a number of reasons including distance and light topped off by I just failing to hit my marks.  Figured the cuteness factor would help compensate for the softness and the hard light in the later shots.  Truth is I put those in the first set because I had a much better offering and wanted to build on the excitement.  Going right for the jelly always dampens the experience of that tasty Mel-O-Cream Bismark doughnut.  Yum, but I digress.  Leading with my favorite and soon to be uploaded Gallery shot on the newly redesigned EddieSoft Photography site (link here):

The reduced size takes a little away from the eye.  Normally shots from the back do not work that well, but the fact he (also referred to as a Cob) was looking back at me with that smirky don’t even try to sneak up on me look provided a nice composition.  As with all the Mute Swan shots in this series, these were taken at Banner Marsh in Banner IL.  Thanks to our friends over at Wikipedia learned that this pose is known as busking and as suspected in this particular setting a display of threat.  No fear dude, just hanging out here on the banks of the marsh snapping a few shots… now my wife over there .. yeah, the one over there with that long stick trying to smack the Canada Goose she sees.. well she is dangerous – just ask the Geese that crossed her path on the golf course – the horror, the horror (just kidding, Linda was behaving herself .. or was she?)

Hit the jump to read the rest the Mute Swan series post

Continue reading A Cute Mute Pt 2

Book Recollection: Deadly Instinct

I bet you thought the next post would be Part 2 of the Mute Swan post.  I felt bad having to go back to the bird topic so quick after the barrage from Project Chekov so trying to ease you back onto the feathered features.  Instead figured it was about time to throw out another Book Recollection.  Today’s recollection comes to us thanks to Melissa Farris who compiled a product she called Deadly Instinct.  I can’t remember what made me aware of this book, but my guess would be one of the wildlife photographers I follow on Google+ brought it too my attention.  No need for a lot of convincing past the cover which had the National Geographic seal along with a Lion bringing down a Wildebeest – I’m in.   Big thanks to Linda who ended up getting me this book for Christmas.  Technically, coming in at only 180 pages, it is really more of a photography book than a reading book.  There was a setup at the beginning of each chapter that set the tone for the set of images.  Once that page or two was consumed, it was on to a nice collection of shots… umm let me correct that.  There were some FANTASTIC shots, a lot of cool wildlife shots and then some I simply put in the TOTAL CRAP category.  I’m sorry, but I like my pictures to be in focus and the attempt to show speed by throwing the shutter speed way low resulting in a blur you wouldn’t even know what it was unless they told you is not worth my time – trust me, there were more of these shots than I would have expected alongside the other quality shots.  I wouldn’t let the bad shots deter you from enjoying all the good shots, but note to author – there were plenty of better shots you could have used of the Gorillas. The best part of the book was it had a number of pictures from my favorite photographer – Joel Sartore.  If you recall I featured one of his books previously called Rare (link here).  I had a feeling some of his work would be included based on the National Geographic stamp on the cover.  Pretty used to his style these days and can usually pick out his work without seeing the credits first.  Was surprised to learn he started on his naturalist journey after seeing the harsh conditions of the Galveston coast.  Always cool to learn more about the background of photographer’s you spend a lot of time following.

I should probably mention something before people run off to purchase this book to see the “purdy” pictures.  The pictures are not all “pretty” in the hang on your wall and let your visitors gawk over mode.  The truth is the intent of the book is to show how lethal, dangerous and aggressive wild animal behavior is.  If you are weak of stomach or god forbid a PETA member save your money and go watch the Muppets Movie instead.  This book is full of violent, bloody wildlife on wildlife encounters.  Oh, and a lot snakes so Linda has been warned to never open the book herself – about 5 pages in there is a particular awesome picture of a Vine Snake that even made me hesitate when I turned to that page.  Also very appreciative of the heavy paper stock she used which helps maintain the quality of the pictures.  Kudos to the photographers that provided all the outstanding shots to this book.  It always inspires me when I see the work of photographers that are clearly on top of their field.  A pretty short recollection but the book only took me two nights of light reading before hitting the hay.

Hit the jump to see my takeaways.

Continue reading Book Recollection: Deadly Instinct

A Cute Mute Pt 1

I tried really hard, but I just can’t go that long without a bird post.  At least I gave you a little bit of a break, but as sure as the sun will rise tomorrow, we are once again featuring a feathered friend  .. wait, let me put a little more emphasis on that .. featuring a NEW bird to the blog.

To be honest, I kind of held back on this one during Project Checkov.  I had plenty of ‘S’s for that particular post, but I did wimp out and use the Mallard for the ‘M’ entry when in fact I had this water bird available.  Wait a minute, I might not have mentioned the whole basis for Project Chekov.  I think I at least hinted that there was a theme in a previous post but maybe didn’t state it for those that didn’t figure it out.  Each entry of that post started with a different letter in alphabetical order.  That element made the effort extremely difficult requiring a number of days to lay out that series with the photographs that were in the backlog.  If you didn’t catch that you may have underestimated just how hard that project was.  Oh and of course the name was a play on the fact I was trying to complete a bunch of CHECK OFFs on my bird list.  There isn’t a real check mark until a picture is taken and it shows up on this blog.  There was one and only one reason I didn’t go with this bird over the Mallard and that is due to the end of this title – there were too many shots I wanted to feature and why this post is really spread out over two parts.  Rather than get ahead of myself, let’s focus on the aspects of this set of Mute Swans!

All of these pictures were taken down at Banner Marsh in Banner Illinois over different visits to the marsh.  Every time we head down there, we are greeted by at least one Mute Swan hanging out among the weeds or enjoying a slow paddle on the water.  I never really thought much of it while taking the shots, but this particular Swan has a pretty narrow distribution in North America predominantly around the Great Lakes region.  They are  primarily a European and Asian Swan but introduced into North America in the late 19th century.  Some consider the Mute Swan an invasive bird due to their disruption to the natural waterfowl population.

Hit the jump to see a few more shots of these rather large birds.

Continue reading A Cute Mute Pt 1

12 Spots Check – That Was Easy … Ugh

Since I am a glutton for pain, figured I might as well make it two dragons in a row.  If you recall from the last post (link here), the pain part comes during the identification process.  In truth, they are such fun to photograph that the effort to identify them is a small price to pay.  If you can get them to stand still long enough you can usually pull of pretty impressive shots.

These dragonflies were also taken at the Jubilee State Park pond on one of those days when the birds decided to stay indoors in the cool air conditioning.  Never want to waste a day out in the field so anything with wings will due.  Case in point the two dragons featured here.  This particular shot .. which you will notice produced the two following shots .. came out nice from a texture perspective.  You kind of lose it from the base shot, but when you zoom in a bit it really produces a nice overall effect – not to mention the color palette with the dragon coordinated quite well.

So this is where it became interesting.  The obvious characteristic is the wing spots.  The body is a common brown and the eyes are not as unique as the previous Dragonhunter.  However, the fact that both of these have exactly 12 spots on their transparent wings was enough to go hunting on the web.  That hunt produced results immediately.  Turns out there is a Dragonfly named Twelve-Spotted Skimmer.  Taking you way back, a Widow Skimmer had made its presence known on the blog before (link here).  The first reference link was the Montana Field Guide (link here).  Their reference image was a little troubling in that it had white spots on the wings along with the darker spots.  As you can see, my specimen had nothing of the sort – just black spots.  That just means another validation with or friends over at Wikipedia (link here).  That produced a similar image labeled the male, however, they had another reference shot of the female and NO WHITE SPOTS!

Hit the jump to see some pics of the male .. and just maybe a correction.

Continue reading 12 Spots Check – That Was Easy … Ugh

Fly Dragonhunter Fly

Thought I’d go with a Dragonfly post for today since I’m still trying to give you a break from the barrage of birds you had to put up with last month.  Trust me, there are plenty more to come from our feathered friends but in due time.  Until then, let’s take a look at a subject that has a tendency to drive me completely bonkers when trying to identify them.

You would think that a creature with so many unique colors and distinct features would be a breeze when it comes to determining what it is.   Instead, I liken it to trying to trying to identify a specific type of Sparrow.  Countless hours are spent interrogating the web for any clear cut way to label them.   Too bad I can’t show you the number of tabs I have open on my browser right now – there must be close to thirty of them in all each providing  a close reference shot or pointing to a guided ID site.  Pretty sure this is the same troubles I had with identifying the previous set of Dragonflies (link here).  Guessing I gave up then since there was no identification there.  It was a different Dragonfly for sure so that would not have helped me much. My consensus at this time from all the references is this creature is a Dragonhunter.  Greg Lasley’s site (link here) had a sample which comes pretty close.  The coloring in his showed definite yellow on the bottom – hoping it is just the angle that makes mine look a little darker.

Then there is the problem with apparently everyone making up their own names for them.  I first found the Insect Identification site which referred to them as Western Flying Adder (link here).  Based on that I was searching high and low for a Western Flying Addr which just produced a bunch of snakes until I found a reference on What’s That Bug site where the moderator calls into question the name (link here).  Then we have the Illinois Butterfly site (link here) that has a similar picture that is labeled as an Arrowhead Spiketail.  This prompted an hour of tracking down that name until I took a close look at the yellow markings on the top of the body near the head and decided that was different.  Oh and of course on the same website they have a picture of a Lancet Clubtail (link here) which looks damn close as well.  Sigh, why is this so hard?  Decided to spend some more time there and did find their specimen for a Dragonhunter (link here). which again looks like the best reference.  A quick check of our friends over at Wikipedia list the Dragonhunter and then state is is sometime called a Black Clubtail or a Black Dragon.  Unbelievable.  I will say the region map at the Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center (link here) was pretty sparse in our area, but unless someone has other opinions I’m going with the Dragonhunter Dragonfly.  A pretty cool name actually.

Talk about work.  If they weren’t so cool to photograph I’d probably just throw in the towel and focus on the frogs at the pond instead.

EddieSoft Photography Website Released

It’s kind of a big day around here and not just because we can see the sun and it isn’t snowing for a change.  Why are the corks popping about the house and the party favors distributed?  This is the answer!

The new EddieSoft Photography site (link here) is now finished and released to the world.  For the last 6 months at least, SmugMug (our chosen photography website provider)  has been urging us to switch to their new framework.  It took me awhile to get the first version up and running so going through that again didn’t really excite me.  Kudos to their marketing team who managed to get a banner on my management portal nagging every day to get converted.  This is the same banner that overrode my exit button whenever I looked at an image forcing me to use the back button on the browser – uber annoying but at least there was a workaround.  The plan was to take on this project during the Christmas holidays but Project Chekov consumed all my free time instead.  I put web work right up there with plumbing – only start when you have plenty of time and during Menards business hours.  No matter how much you prepare, not matter how much you test and validate, Murphy is going to happen!  Unlike plumbing, SmugMug did something quite awesome by allowing us to work on the new site without impacting the legacy site so our customers were not impacted in the least.  Kudos for that feature but this did have an interesting side effect.  If you wanted to have the legacy users see new content before the modified website was released, you had to be sure and use the legacy tools.  This bit us when we created a new folder for a Dog Show Linda shot and it took us awhile to figure out why our customers couldn’t see it.  Beyond that, the dual sites worked out quite well.  For those not familiar with our legacy site, here is a screen cap of that.

That version also took awhile to get right but Linda wanted a more professional look to our business presence now that is getting orders on a regular basis.  The main issue is that our legacy site was multi-purpose providing the engine behind this blog and any of our personal and family shots we wanted to share.  We certainly didn’t want customers stumbling on these – ESPECIALLY the shots that enrich my non-photography blog entries since those can get a little edgy.  Because of the heavy use of the site to host most of the 6+ years of blogging the biggest concern was breaking the links when we reorganized our galleries.  Hat tip to SmugMug again for implementing a master identifier for the images.  Even though the initial folder location is built into the external link, the image identifier is key into their database so as long as we used the proper link (which I did), any movement was transparent to the published link or in this case to anything referenced in the blog.

With that concern out of the way, it was on to figuring out the look and feel of the new site.  Credit goes to Linda on this one.  She scoured the internet and would send me samples of things she liked from the various templates she found.  I just needed to figure out a way to implement that in the new SmugMug customization tools.  Having done web programming in a former life, I can appreciate the difficulty in providing a flexible set of tools and templates that meets the needs of all their customers.  Because of that experience, I am pretty accommodating of glitches and nuances encountered when trying to realize Linda’s concepts.  For the most part everything went pretty easy.  The master template was created with the preferred coloring and fonts and then started building all the individual links and required pages.  The Home page was a piece of cake as well as the About, Pricing pages once the create pages feature was figured out – had to go into the organize area to make those new custom pages.  The folder areas like the Browse, Portfolio, Dog Events, Portrait sessions etc. were slightly more difficult since I wanted a different look and feel beyond the standard template as well as hiding some of the folders.  Once I broke them into separate customized folders instead of trying to use the master folder layout it went a lot better.  Main problem was getting the thumbnails to look right and the order.  After a bit of work those were all manipulated into a very close approximation of the original vision.   All that was left was to figure out how to do the Blogging capabilities.  Having used WordPress for a looong time I have expectations on how a blog toolset should work (LifeIntrigued is a breeze to manage thanks to that software).   This is the area that SmugMug needs the most work.  They really do not have a blog solution but rather a toolset to create pages that you can cobble into a blog.  You literally have to create each blog entry from scratch – and an image section, add a text section, and this block and that block and eventually you have a page put together you can write your blog on.  Hopefully they will improve this functionality in the future but with that said, let’s all welcome Linda to the wonderful world of blogging (link here).

I guess the biggest disappointment was the pre-built Contact page.  Way too much time was spent trying to get that page to look right.  Their pre-built page can be quickly added to your homepage link but it refused to inherit the overall site design master template.  This prompted an online chat with the SmugMug Heroes who quickly informed me that page wasn’t customizable and recommended I build my own custom page – they confirmed my response that I was unable to make a page with the standard submit buttons and pre-filling of the user’s email address – why in the hell would they not allow you to do that!?!  Who would want a contact page that didn’t match the rest of the site?  Needless to say I left them with an enhancement request.  The new contact page was created but forced to just give them the addresses to reach us rather than the customary email page.

Linda released the new website this morning!  Take a look and let us know what you think.  Best news of all is the LifeIntrigued blog had zero impact.  Another project in the books.