Bayscaping (Butterfly Garden) Redux

To me, photography is an art of observation. It’s about finding something interesting in an ordinary place…. I’ve found it has little to do with the things you see and everything to do with the way you see them.  — Elliott Erwitt

I first talked about Bayscaping — landscaping for habitat using native species — in April 2013, with an update in August of that year.  Well the garden has come along with fairly robust stands of Joe Pye Weed, Swamp Milkweed and butterfly weed and others which should attract numerous insects.  [Last year I mostly got a huge crop of aphids.]

Two years ago I saw 8 monarch caterpillars, but last year — nothing; very disappointing, but there was national concern about a huge kill of monarchs due to bad weather at the wrong time.  Hopefully this year will be better.  So far just some red and black milkweed bugs, that were not photographed.

Because I enjoy macro photography, my original intent in starting the garden was two-fold:  Provide a convenient (right outside my backdoor) location for macro photography of flowers and bugs and eventually to teach a macro class out of my home studio. So to start using it productively, I plan to update this blog post approximately weekly with at least 1 image per week (yeah, I know, not terribly ambitious, but hey, its summer and I’m retired).

May 29, 2015, mid-afternoon


D200, 55 mm micro-Nikkor with 1.4x Tamron Teleconverter, f/5.6, 1/640 sec, ISO400. Butterfly weed.


Milkweed Leaf Beetle, D200, 55 micro-Nikkor w/1.4X Tamron telextender, f/8, 1/125, ISO 400

Pretty warm, didn’t see too much, mostly those gold-bodied flies, so I shot some butterfly weed buds. Went back out an hour later and found this gaudy milkweed leaf beetle.







June 1, 2015, mid-afternoon

Experimented with a used 55 mm micro-Nikkor I bought earlier this year with a 52.5 mm Nikon extension tube (PN-11) that may have been made specifically to achieve 1:1 with this lens.  The tubes have their own foot, increasing the stability of the camera/lens on the tripod.

June 10, 2015D800E, ISO 400, f/16, 55 mm micro with 52.5 extension tubes.

Butterflyweed has opened.


55 mm micro-Nikkor with 14 mm extension tube on D800E


Delaware Horseshoe Crabs

While my interest in natural history has added very little to my sum of achievement, it has added immeasurably to my sum of enjoyment in life. — Theodore Roosevelt


Horseshoe crab eggs are a critical food source for migrating birds.

Every year a major ecological happening occurs along the shores of the Delaware Bay in Delaware and New Jersey:  Thousands of horseshoe crabs gather on the shores to breed.  Well, OK… but I really don’t care about a bunch of ugly, horny bug-like things that look like they crawled out from under something.  What makes this ecologically important? The eggs they lay are food for thousands of migrating birds, many of them major long-distance travelers that travel from South America to the Arctic.  Without this food source along their migration route, thousands may not make it to nesting areas.  Populations of horseshoe crabs, and therefore their eggs, have been decreasing due to habitat destruction and the capture of tons of the crabs (which aren’t really crabs, but are more closely related to spiders and scorpions) for bait by crabbers, who crunch up the horseshoe crabs to capture the much more lucrative blue crabs; they are also used as fertilizer.

The peak of spawning on the Atlantic coast occurs in Delaware Bay where thousands of crabs arrive on the sandy beaches in May and June. Delaware Bay provides an excellent spawning area for crabs because the sandy beaches are protected from harsh wave action. HorseshoeCrabs_D8E0491The beaches’ sand and pebble mixture is perfect for incubating horseshoe crab eggs. Crabs arrive on the spawning beaches during the high tides of full and new moons when the water rises highest on the beach.

HorseshoeCrabs_D8E0593I had time to check out 3 beaches:

– Kitts Hummock (3073 Kitts Hummock Rd, Dover, DE 19901; 39.102715, -75.402319).
– Pickering Beach (Pickering Beach in Delaware often has the highest densities of horseshoe crabs. In 2007 researchers counted a whopping 27 horseshoe crabs per square meter at Pickering Beach during the peak of spawning season (May-June) at high tide.  The beach is off Route 9 on conveniently named Pickering Beach Rd (Route 349). North of Kitts Hummock. (Clean Porta-Johns available 2015).
– Slaughter Beach, which is well-marked on the map and the furthest south of these beaches (real bathrooms available).

Port Mahon, east of Dover, may have been the best bet for birds, but we didn’t make it on this trip.  While the crabs are best closest to high tide, the birds tend to get better as the tide goes out and the eggs are exposed.

The long pointy tail is NOT a stinger and not dangerous.  It helps the clumsy crabs turn right side up when they are inverted in the waves.  The crabs are completely harmless and eat worms and shellfish they find along the bottom of the Bay.

A two hour trip from Baltimore, in season this is a great day trip for nature photographers and families that want to explore nature.

Update 6/10/15

Latest issue of the Nature Conservancy’s magazine says that rufa subspecies of the red knot, a bird that depends on  horseshoe crab eggs to refuel for the 18,000 mile round trip from Tierra del Fuego in summer to the high Acrtic is now listed as a threatened species.  I noticed this year that there were mostly gulls feeding on the eggs — in a past visit there was far more diversity at the feeding frenzy.


“Most of my photos are grounded in people, I look for the unguarded moment, the essential soul peeking out, experience etched on a persons face.” — Steve McCurry

Gina DeLucca at Blues Jam.

It has been a long-time since my last entry. I have been busy and doing a lot of photography but either I thought it would not have general interest or wasn’t quite ready to talk about it.  I think (hope) that split-toning black and white (monochrome) photos may be of at least some general interest.

Split-toning adds different color hues to the highlights and shadows.  Typically the highlights are warmed (reds and yellows) and the shadows are cooled (blue and cyan).  This was commonly done in the “old days” of wet chemistry using different chemicals to add the tones. The way to do split-toning is more obvious in Lightroom which has a split-toning panel in the Develop module than in PS.  However, in Photoshop you can easily use the Color Balance adjustment layer to achieve a split-tone image.

How much you tone and what colors you use is strictly a personal artistic judgement and will vary from image to image.  The starting values I used in Color Balance for the image above are:

Highlights:  +30 Red; -75 Yellow
Shadows:  +10 Red; +11 Blue
Midtones: -40 Cyan

Highlights, shadows and midtones are picked from a drop down menu in the Color Balance dialog box.

For the image above I also used the “increased contrast” curve in the Curves adjustment layer.

BluesJam_D8E9208BillBWI make the best possible black white image to start.  Many folks like to use the NIK Silvereffects presets as a starting point.  I checked out the presets and thought NOIR 1 wasn’t bad for the image above, but preferred what I could do directly in the BW adjustment layer. Final tweaks, a little sharpening and you are good to go!

The second image was processed similarly, but ended up with

Highlights:  +32; Red; -72 Yellow
Shadows:  +14 Red; +9 Blue
Midtones: -40 Cyan

I also vignetted (darkened) the edges significantly using a separate layer with blending  mode set to overlay and painting with black.

There are at least two additional ways to approach split-toning.  In more recent versions of Photoshop you can apply a camera raw filter and even do it as a smart filter so you can go back and modify the tones.  Split-toning is the fifth option from the left at the top right of the camera raw dialog.

A third way is to select highlights or shadows in Color Range.  An advantage to using color range is that you broaden or narrow the highlights or shadows using the fuzziness and range sliders.  This will create a selection when you select HSL or color balance adjustment layers.

Split-toning can be used with color or monochrome to further separate and accent highlights and shadows.  Go play!