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Banners around the El Dorado Park Duck Pond in Long Beach, featuring my photography.

Banners around the El Dorado Park Duck Pond in Long Beach, featuring my photography.

(DEPT. OF CONTINUING SHAMELESS SELF-PROMOTION) For the past nine months I’ve been working with the City of Long Beach on a project conceived by Councilwoman Gerri Schipske called “Winged Wonders.” The project was to post educational banners around the El Dorado Park Duckpond, a location frequented by a large number of bird species, and an even larger numbers of human beings intent on feeding the assorted birds. Schipske reasoned that if people were educated about the specific birds in the park, and about the dangers of overfeeding them, then people would be more likely to act as responsible stewards of the environment rather than active participants in its destruction.

Pelican banner

One of the banners, before being posted

First a little background. El Dorado Park is a wonderful feature of Long Beach. A 450-acre greenspace, it includes a 105-acre nature preserve, lighted basketball and volleyball courts, softball and soccer fields, a skate park, picnic sites, a disc golf course, a tennis center, an 18-hole (non-disc) golf course, archery range, community center, and, of course, the duck pond.

So Schipske, whose district includes El Dorado Park, was dismayed by the growth of algae and litter in the duck pond, the direct result of residents feeding vast quantities of inappropriate food to the ducks, herons, and geese. Folks have been seen feeding the birds the usual bread, but also hamburger, chicken nuggets, corn chips, donuts, and candy. The birds, being basically driven by a single-minded interest in constantly eating, have very little self-control when it comes to effortless, free food, and eat all the crap they’re offered, regardless of whether or not it’s appropriate for their health. Not to go into too much detail, but when birds eat stuff other than the usual insects, waterplants, and small fish, they produce copious amounts of waste, which goes directly into the water and, in a closed system like a pond, encourages the rapid and rapacious growth of algae. The algae sucks nutrients out of the water, and the birds’ natural food sources disappear, and the birds die. Alternatively, the birds die sooner from eating too much, from poisoning, and from eating plastic bags. So soon, Schipske knew, the El Dorado Duckpond would be a big, dead pool of stagnant water.

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Banner

Banners, in situ

To avoid that, education seemed like the first solution, and the “5th District Lakes, Ponds, and Wetlands Taskforce” was created. Walling off the pond would be an unpleasant last resort. Initially, the plan was to commission local artists to produce images of the resident birds, which would be printed on large banners surrounding the pond. The results, while of fine artistic merit, failed to authentically look like the birds they depicted: rather, they were (as such things generally are) the artist’s impression of a duck, not any particularly identifiable species. While nice for a gallery, it was not the thing the duckpond project needed.

TV interview

Being interviewed for local TV with Gerri Schipske

So Schipske and her staff went to the Internet, as one does, looking for photos they could use. On the website of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology they found several photos not just of the birds they were looking for, but that had been actually taken at El Dorado Park by a local Long Beach photographer (ta da). (Cornell had posted my photos by permission, of course.) Schipske’s staff reached out to me, and a project was born. Over the course of the next few months, I worked closely with Schipske staffers Haley Mizushima, who coordinated the project, and Misha Houser, who designed the banners. We sorted through my existing portfolio, and I took some new photos of birds that either were missing from my archives or for which larger-size photo files were needed. (A few species, which the local Audubon Society insisted were in the pond–but which I’ve never seen in my years of photographing the site (they’re probably migratory, and I just missed their visits)–were represented by photos culled either from Wikicommons or Cornell.) The banners also include a number to call for more information about the bird depicted, including its call.

The banners were posted around the pond, and an “unveiling” held in late May. Because I’m a shameless self-promoter, you can read the press coverage by clicking here: Duck Pond Banner Project Takes Flight.

"Unveiling" the banners with Councilwoman Schipske

“Unveiling” the banners with Councilwoman Schipske

http://www.ebutterfieldphotography.com

I have to confess that I’ve been a resident of Southern California for only about six years now. Nonetheless, I have somehow fully embraced the smugly self-satisfied attitude that comes from basking in warm eternal sunshine by the seaside while the rest of the country gets slammed with the freezing slushstorms that bury everyone for three months under what northeastern PR masters and ski lodge owners in the 1940s  managed somehow to get popularly labeled a “Winter Wonderland.” Well, I lived most of my life in the vicinity of Chicago, so I speak from many years of experience of the delights of what non-Californians like to argue is all the “real weather” they’d miss ever so very much in a terrible wasteland where it’s essentially always 70 and sunny (well, except for the month-long “June gloom”–which occurs in May–during which the mornings are somewhat overcast; and the occasional temperature spikes into the 100s; and the rare dips into the 50s, during which Angelenos don their parkas and designer snowboots and whine incessantly about how bitter, bitter cold it is).

Well, those non-Californians lie. Or at least they don’t know, really, what they’d miss.

I used to be that way. I moved to Long Beach in 2008 to take a new job, assuming California would be a terrible, awful place to live: full of shallow, vacuous, image-obsessed people living in a characterless, vast suburban sprawl, their brains softened and their blood thinned by too much comfortably moderate weather. The distinct seasons of the Midwest, I confidently lectured at the time (there are, actually two: one humidly hot and the other bitterly cold, separated by a week or two of phenomenal loveliness referred to as Spring and Summer) made people sturdier, sharper, more creative, more self-reliant, more acutely aware, and generally superior to the idle Eloi of the West Coast.

And then came my first winter here, and sitting on the balcony on December afternoons, and walking on the beach on New Years Day, and visiting the butterflies and peacocks at the LA Arboretum in February. I converted. I drank the Kool-Aid. I succumbed. It may well be a place full of shallow, vacuous, image-obsessed people living in a characterless, vast suburban sprawl, their brains softened and their blood thinned by too much comfortably moderate weather, but by golly it’s nice outside.

Which brings me, after a long and winding preamble, to the point of this post, which is that I spent my Christmas morning this year at the lovely Bolsa Chica Wetlands, about a fifteen-minute drive down the coast from my home in Long Beach, with my husband (yes, that happened in December, too, thanks to a majority of the United States Supreme Court) and the D7000 with a Nikor 80.0-200.0 mm f/2.8 on a stick. And jacketless, in short sleeves, we wandered the paths of the sanctuary, exchanging Merry Christmases with other coastal nature-lovers, and being both humbly thankful for our good fortune in finding ourselves in such a place as well as (and I’m really not proud of this) smirkingly delighted that the only snow we’d see this White Christmas was way, way off on the horizon, up on top of the San Bernardinos where it belongs.

Anyway, enough about the weather. Here are some of the birds we saw on Christmas Day by the ocean. Ho, ho, ho.

Reddish Egret (Egretta rufescens) at Bolsa Chica Wetlands

Reddish Egret (Egretta rufescens) at Bolsa Chica Wetlands

iridescent ibis

Glossy Ibis (Plegadis falcinellus) at Bolsa Chica Wetlands.

Willet's Curve

Willet (Tringa semipalmata) leaving a cloudy underwater sandtrail as it hunts, at Bolsa Chica Wetlands

Reddish Egret (Egretta rufuscrens) hunting at Bolsa Chica Wetlands

Reddish Egret (Egretta rufuscrens) hunting at Bolsa Chica Wetlands

Pair of White Pelicans at Bolsa Chica Wetlands

Pair of White Pelicans at Bolsa Chica Wetlands

It’s holiday time, and that means it’s time for the shameless shilling of stuff folks can spend their hard-earned on, as part of the general giving-and-receiving frenzy driven by the awesome power of marketing and celebrating some vaguely religio-pagan festival now buried deep beneath several cubic tons of stringlights, plastic Santas, snowflakes, animatronic elves, tinsel, Internet banners, and catalogs. In the spirit of the holiday, and not being above a bit of shameless shilling myself, I’ve partnered with a website that offers my photos in the form of various-sized prints, greeting cards, phone cases (and presumably t-shits, mousepads, tea cozies, and festive personalized facial tattoos).

In my defense, at least I’m telling you right off the bat that this post is a blatantly self-promotional advertisement, so you can ignore it at your leisure.

Actually, beyond that, there’s not much else to say that wouldn’t come across as Home Shopping Network filler bloviation (“Oh I seriously can’t say enough about all the wonderful things you can do with a print of this photo of a duck: why, you can hang it on your wall–and not just one wall, mind you, but virtually, literally any wall in your house, and I don’t mean just tastefully cookie-cuttered single-family detached homes on cul-de-sacs  in the suburbs, no: you can hang this on a living room wall, or a kitchen wall, or a bathroom wall, or a hall wall in any sort of house at all, from the tiniest New York studio to the most magnificent hundred-thousand square-foot beachfront palace in Malibu, and every trailer house, walk-up, duplex, condo, rent-controlled apartment, or barracks in between; and if you don’t like ducks at all that won’t make any difference either, since we also have photographs of mountains, flowers, grasshoppers, shirtless men, and people in vaguely Victorian costume wearing goggles and looking menacing…”) so it’s best I don’t say anything at all.

Here’s the site: Fine Art America. More photos will be uploaded over time.

Here are the direct links to some of the site categories, and some samples of my photos in each category, because the holiday time is all about giving.

steampunk prints

antiqued steampunk image

aerial photos

Aerial View, Great Salt Lake, Utah

bird photos

blue jay on a fence rail

nature photos

Wet Water Avens

close-up photos

Close-up view of a snail

male photos / nude photos

Nude male model with black censoring bars

travel photos

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<a href=”http://fineartamerica.com/art/all/steampunk/all&#8221; style=”font: 10pt arial; text-decoration: underline;”>steampunk art</a>, <a href=”http://fineartamerica.com/art/photographs/male/all&#8221; style=”font: 10pt arial; text-decoration: underline;”>male photos</a>,<a href=”http://fineartamerica.com/art/photographs/aerial/all&#8221; style=”font: 10pt arial; text-decoration: underline;”>aerial photos</a>,<a href=”http://fineartamerica.com/art/photographs/bird/all&#8221; style=”font: 10pt arial; text-decoration: underline;”>bird photos</a>,<a href=”http://fineartamerica.com/art/photographs/nude/all&#8221; style=”font: 10pt arial; text-decoration: underline;”>nude photos</a>,<a href=”http://fineartamerica.com/art/photographs/nature/all&#8221; style=”font: 10pt arial; text-decoration: underline;”>nature photos</a>,<a href=”http://fineartamerica.com/art/all/travel/all&#8221; style=”font: 10pt arial; text-decoration: underline;”>travel art</a>, <a href=”http://fineartamerica.com/art/photographs/close-up/all&#8221; style=”font: 10pt arial; text-decoration: underline;”>close-up photos</a>

OK, back for a bit from featuring current work, to the world of the randomized photo (for those who like to know how the sausage is made, today’s methodology was thirty mouseclicks on the advance arrow at the bottom of my Flickr site’s Organize page).

Today’s photo is a macro view of the Calico Telescope Goldfish who lives its (presumably) happy and uneventful life in an aquarium in my condo, which it shares with three more conventionally-eyed freshwater fish. Sadly, it doesn’t have a name, since I’ve found it’s fairly pointless to name my goldfish: they seldom come when called, anyway. I love the clarity of the close-up, especially considering it’s shot through glass, and the bokeh. (Photo taken with a Nikon D90)

Macro view of Globe-eyed Goldfish

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It was Teddy Roosevelt, 26th President of the United States (1901–1909), who coined the expression, “Speak softly and carry a big stick.” At the time, he attributed its origins to a “West African proverb,” which may or may not have been a fiction designed to give his wisdom a little ancient enhancement. The phrase itself refers to a political policy of avoiding bluster and confrontation, but being known to have the foreign or domestic policy power to thoroughly enforce one’s softly-spoken point of view. It’s sort of the opposite of the full-throated sabre-rattling sort of foreign policy that defined the 43d President’s term. (I’d be historically remiss if I didn’t mention that in 2012, when speaking about President Obama’s foreign policy, Vice President Joe Biden referred to Roosevelt’s aphorism when he said “I promise you, the President has a big stick.” This statement, of course, resulted in significant viral giggling, as so many of the Vice President’s utterings do.)

However, for my purposes I prefer to take Roosevelt’s quote literally, especially now that I have become the possessor of a life-changing piece of equipment: A monopod. (Like so much in my life, photographic and otherwise, I have my partner of more than a decade to thank for this new delight. I was possibly more excited about the monopod than I was about the D7000, which cost roughly twenty times more than the collapsible stick.)

The monopod in question is manufactured by the Italian company Manfrotto. It’s a 290 Series (MM294A4) that, when extended, is 59.4 inches tall and held firm and stable by three sturdy clips. Collapsed, it’s 19.3 inches. It weighs 1.2 pounds, and attaches tightly to the standard threaded socket in the base of most came

Manfrotto 290 monopod

Let me be utterly clear: While I may be wildly ancient and decrepit, my hands are nonetheless quite steady. I’ve taken many hand-held photos of which I’m particularly proud. You can peruse some examples of those [shameless plug alert!] on my website, EButterfield Photography.

However, the monopod is a wonderful thing. It attaches firmly to the bottom of my Nikon D7000 (see my previous blog entry, “Fancy Ass”) and in its collapsed form doesn’t particularly get in the way of my handheld shots. But extended, it offers a whole new dimension of stability.

closeup

Look at this photo, for instance (click to embiggen, to better observe):

Gimli the cat, hand-held and monopod photos compared

My ever-patient cat, Gimli, cooperatively posed for both a hand-held and a monopodded portrait, which are combined here into a single image for comparison purposes through the wonders of Photoshop. The light conditions in my living room yesterday were not particularly good (muted sunlight and overhead incandescents), and other than resize and slide the photos together, these are pretty much how they came out of the camera.

I took the photos in ambient light, with no flash, using an AF-S Nikkor 18.0-105.0 mm f/3.5-5.6, with the aperture at f/5.3 and a shutter speed of 1/6 second. The image on the left is hand-held; the image on the right is using a monopod. For the excruciatingly long exposure, the monopod’s stability clearly had a beneficial effect: Gimli’s fur is sharper, and his eye is crystal clear. While the hand-held image might be acceptable, the one using a monopod is pretty crisp right out of the gate.

I suppose this comes as no surprise to veteran photographers (I have distinctly heard a collective and dismissive “duh” from my vast readership), but it’s an epiphany for me. Oh sure, I’ve used tripods before for portraits, but I’ve always been a little put off by their clumsiness and lack of mobility. Still, I’m sure I’ll continue to use them. The monopod, though, offers pretty much the best of both worlds: it provides the stability of a tripod, while still letting me sprint around my subject like a little gnat (much to the delight of my subjects, who have in some cases taken to swatting me away). It’s become an essential part of my standard equipment, and I couldn’t be happier with it.

So next time I’m out in the forest or the desert, I’ll be following Teddy’s advice to the letter: I will speak softly (as I always do in nature, unlike the screaming children and cell-phone shrieking adults I encounter on the public paths…but more kvetching about that another time, perhaps). I will also, like Presidents Roosevelt and Obama, be equipped with a nice big stick.

El Dorado Nature Center, Long Beach CA

This weekend I went for a walk in a local forest preserve with Durrell, and as is usually the case I brought my camera along. One never knows, after all, when one will stumble across something photoworthy out in the big, broad world. Normally, I take a general-purpose lens, like a Sigma 70-300, or Nikon 18-105, because, as I said, you never know what you’re going to see rising up out of the marsh, or startled into flight from the tall grasses. Herons, turtles, the occasional snake or hummingbird: I’m all about the nature stuff. (Oh yeah: click on the images to see them embiggened.)

Red Skimmer dragonfly, up close

This time, though, I thought I’d try an experiment. I brought only one lens, a Sigma DG Macro 105mm 1:2.8. I’d been given this lens as a going-away gift when I resigned my previous job in Chicago before moving to sunny Southern California to take up a glamorous day-job in the nonprofit sector (oh just go read my bio if you care so much), and to pursue an increasing interest in semi-semi-pro photography as I prepare for those latter days that loom increasingly large and darkly ominous in my ever-nearer future.

I grow old…I grow old…I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled. I should have been a pair of ragged claws, scuttling across the floors of silent seas.

Little blue flower, up close

Well enough of that; I apologize for the brief lapse into self-pitying literary allusion: it’s the fate of the liberal arts major to become ever more obnoxiously pedantic. There’s a direct relationship, I’ve observed, between the length of time since the MA was awarded and the level of showoffery exhibited by the erstwhile graduate student. Probably a not-so-subconscious desire to cling to the sunny intellectual days at the university coupled with the brain’s tendency to pay more attention to the increasingly distant past the closer to the inevitable end it is (“look at this shiny object over here, hon, and ignore the looming cold presence of inescapable mortality”).

Oh dear; how the hell did I end up on my deathbed? I think we were talking about macro lenses.

Bee on Salt Marsh Fleabane

So I decided this time to limit myself to looking closely at the little world of the forest; to eschew the bigger picture—the herons taking flight, the sun glinting on the algae-greened pond, the path winding through the shadows—and see what I could see when I was limited to peering closely at the leaves, watching for spiderwebs, and really just looking down.

I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.

Yikes, someone make me stop.

OK so where were we before we went to Walden? Oh right, the woods, with a macro lens.

Red Skimmer dragonfly on a dry stem

Once I got over the feeling of panic that I couldn’t photograph birds, or use the telephoto to capture dragonflies perched on dry stems by the pond’s edge, I settled in to a lovely and contemplative stroll, punctuated by long pauses to try to focus on vaguely wind-swayed flowers that steadfastly refused to come into focus and stay there while the shutter opened and closed. Durrell is ever-patient with my shenanigans and occasional outbursts, and so makes a perfect travel companion in all possible ways. (It must be pointed out that he, too, spent many long and seemingly interminable interludes with his camera focused on light-and-shadow patterns on the path, so we all have our little interests. I perhaps lack his patience and kind nature, and may possibly have whined and complained a bit about standing around places where there was nothing interesting for me to take pictures of.)

Close up of yellow primrose, with pollen on the stamen

So what did I learn from my foray into the Little World? Patience, in large part, and stealth. I was actually still able to photograph dragonflies with my macro lens, but I had to get much closer to them than I normally would. This involved sslloowwllyy maneuvering myself down rocks on the edges of ponds, shamelessly lying belly-down on the trail, striking alarmingly precarious poses, and generally showing little or no concern for my dignity. I learned to focus my attention more, to walk more quietly than usual (we are, generally, quiet hikers: we talk of course, but use our inside voices, and frequently the topic of our discussion is the unruliness of other peoples’ children, their insistence on beating the bushes with sticks, and their obnoxious screechings that frighten away the wildlife. Of course, complaining about families bringing their children to walk in the woods is perhaps as churlish and cranky as our grumblings about the omnipresence of infant annoyances at the miniature golf courses we occasionally frequent. Being annoyed that there are children at a place that features gaily-colored windmills and garish fiberglass dragons on the putting greens is, admittedly, perhaps not the height of reasonableness.)

red sap oozing from a tree, up clsoe

Flower parts. Busy bees. Oozing sap. A hike with a macro lens becomes less about the woods and more about the trees, as it were. Less about the big picture and more about the interesting beige stripe on the pistils in a white wildflower, or the suddenly visible bits of pollen in a primrose. It’s less about the majesty of a heron rising from the water, and more about the delicate stillness of a dragonfly, and the exposed wing mechanics on its back.

close up of beige-striped pistils

A walk in the woods with a macro lens is a reminder that we live in the little world more than we do in the bigger perspective; that we are tiny, tiny beings on the back of a whirling globe that spins around a star that spins around a galaxy that’s just one of billions of galaxies all hurrying away from each other. The spider in its web, the dragonfly on a leaf are riding that same rock with us, marginally aware of our existence only as large and probably threatening objects. We are the killer asteroid to their Earth, the black hole to their sun, the unknown and unobserved phenomenon. It’s all woven together, but we so rarely look at it. The little world or the bigger one, they’re all the same: repeated patterns and relationships, over and over again; ourselves as part of a patterns that’s at once so much smaller and so vastly bigger than we are. There’s the stuff of immortality; there’s a little joy for the Prufrock in me, and a dose of humility for my inner Thoreau.

Purple Sage plant

I have become obsessed with snails.

As obsessions go, that one’s fairly harmless, but still a bit on the odd side. I added two Golden Mystery Snails (also known as Apple Snails, and in any case the most common petstore snails available in the US) to the small aquarium I’d set up in my kitchen. It currently contains the aforementioned snails, along with three goldfish who were transplanted from an outdoor water feature on my balcony due to some upcoming construction. There are also a number of small brown pest snails that came along for the ride with the plants.

Anyway, so I added the snails, which are between about an inch and an inch and a half long (the female is larger). We selected the two we did because they seemed most active in the pet shop–to the extent that snails can be called “active,” I suppose. As it turns out, their activity was mostly related to pretty incessant mating behavior. And it’s not just recreational: the female deposited two egg clusters on the side of the aquarium just above the water line, each about an inch and a half long. Typical Apple Snail clusters contain between 70 and 200 eggs; but I suspect the goldfish who share the aquarium will assist in preventing a population explosion in the snail community, the circle of life being what it is.

All of this does, in fact, have to do with photography. I’m experiencing a lull in human models, and the demands of my day job are preventing a lot of excursions into the photogenic desert, but the photographic void in my life has been utterly filled with watching the snails, and photographing their goings-on.

To photograph events in the relatively small world of a ten-gallon aquarium, involving even smaller critters, I’ve been playing around with a 105mm 1:2.8 Sigma DG Macro lens, and various manual and pre-set settings on the Nikon D90 (auto and close-up presets, for instance, as well as manual and auto-focus on the lens). I’ve been using and not using a tripod, and using the camera flash, a Nikon Speedlight SB-700 flash attachment, and ambient fluorescent light in the kitchen where the aquarium lives. The some of the results, seen here, are pretty successful, particularly considering that the two of snails were taken through glass and water:

close-up of Apple SnailApple Snails mating

Snail egg cluster

What’s been most interesting about this foray into macro photography is how phenomenally interesting the little world is. The geometry of the egg cluster, for instance, was unexpected and surprisingly (at least in my view) beautiful. All the intricate flowing parts of the snails, the gracefulness of their movements and, well let’s be honest, their voracious sexual appetite, was not really aligned with what I thought of as snail-ness.

It’s been good to pause and look closely at a world that has no idea that I’m here.  That thought gets me all philosophical about the nature of being, and the limits of human understanding even as we sit around thinking we pretty much know it all. There’s a quote attributed to the Buddha, which I love: “Our theories of the eternal are as valuable as are those which a chick which has not broken its way through its shell might form of the outside world.” We think we know everything there is to know at any particular point in time, but subsequent centuries generally demonstrate that we were foolish in our presumptuousness, woefully ignorant in our misunderstandings of science and the world. In the past, the most shining, brilliant minds knew the inarguable truth that the world was flat, that the sun, planets, and fixed stars revolved around in in a series of nested crystaline spheres, or that the world was spontaneously created in six days.

In my aquarium, the snails go about their (photogenic) interests blissfully unaware that they’re in my kitchen, that I’m taking pictures of them, that those pictures are being posted on a website and viewed by (one or two) people all over the world. As history has demonstrated, as the Buddha has said in other ways, as we somehow know, we’re living in our own little aquarium (albeit one whose limits are defined by the Hubble on one end and CERN on the other). We may be equally unclear about what’s going on right around us, and will no doubt be utterly shocked and amazed at the silliness of what we “knew” as we slowly peel away layers of misconception and ignorance, working toward an ultimate understanding that always lies a little beyond our glassy wall. 

Well that was a digression, and I apologize. But one thing’s utterly clear: Snails are cool. 

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