Sunday, May 31, 2020

Backyard Discoveries

The "Project"

Today is May 31st and I have been working from home since mid-March. I mention that because it is the reason I started my "Backyard Boredom Project" and if anything good has come of this pandemic, this is it. During this time I also found the following quote:
The goal is not to change your subjects, but for the subject to change the photographer. - Unknown
This project has definitely had a positive affect on me as a photographer. You see, most of my photography over the past few years takes place on my way to the office, during lunchtime hikes at one of the parks by the office or on my way home from the office. I will also take a break during a stressful day to walk around the office building and parking lot looking for something to point the camera at. Can you see a pattern? Add to this the fact that the parks all over the state were closed down for a number of weeks and I was left with my yard.

My Yard

I have about a half acre of land at the end of a cul-de-sac with woods one two sides, it is nice and quiet with plenty of tree and wildlife. My wife enjoys gardening and has planted quite an assortment of trees, shrubs, flowers and plants over the years but I've never really explored them before now. I usually get a few good images of daffodils we have planted around the yard but not much more than that. The past couple of months have changed that and a whole new world has opened up right outside my door.

I find that just having the camera in my hand can help improve my mood, it often leads to random shutter clicks with no "keepers" but a dramatic uplift of spirit. I was having a particularly bad day "at the office" and grabbed my camera, determined to find something. That first afternoon didn't result in any good images but it did give me a lot of ideas and avenues to explore. I decided to make it a point to get outside with my camera at least once a day, challenging myself to find print-worthy images. The next day gave me this dandelion.

The Lily of the Valley image has started another aspect of discovery for me. This time I was sitting on the front porch steps, camera in hand, looking for something to catch my eye. We have flower beds on either side of the porch filled with Lily of the Valley, ferns, hostas, and verbena. In the twenty-six (26) years that we have lived here, I have never photographed a single one. That has changed (see my post Lily of the Valley) and all because of the Lily of the Valley shown here. Looking to my right, thru the porch railing, I saw this Lily of the Valley; I grabbed the camera, leaned towards the flower and made this image. Hmmm.... what if I sit on the steps - front and back - with a single lens, looking for compositions without moving? Sounds like a great exercise. I now do that several times a week.

When I am working at the computer, I can look out a nearby window at a holly tree that is often the host to a bird or two. That same window overlooks some wild roses and sweet briar roses, like those shown here. When I am working, the camera sits within a few feet - armed and ready to go. The screen in the window has been removed so that I can open the window and shoot at a moments notice. While this hasn't exactly gotten me any great bird images, I have gotten some of the flowers and bees that frequent them.

This time has also re-ignited my interest in macro photography. I have always enjoyed macro work but have never had a "true" macro lens - I still don't. What I do have is a Macrofier (see Still-Life Macro Photography with the Vello Macrofier and Product Review: Vello Macrofier for Canon EOS (UPDATED!)) and that allows me to get some really nice macro shots. This brings me to the first image at the top of this post - if I didn't caption it, would you know that it is a common weed called white clover? This image is cropped from a larger one but not too much. I now spend almost as much time shooting macro as I do my other work.

I've really enjoyed working on this project and will continue for as long as I am working from home. It has opened up a world of new possibilities and made me more aware of compositions around me. I am thinking about similar projects - maybe a seasonal one or shooting a particular subject throughout its growth stages during the year.

I hope this has inspired you to get out and explore your own backyard, flower bed, planter, whatever you have around you. If you do, I would love to hear about your experience in the comments below.

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Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Lily of the Valley

Lily of the Valley

We have had Lily of the Valley growing in our front yard for as long as I can remember and for just as long I have made mental notes to shoot them. I finally got around to it this week.

I will often sit on my back steps, camera next to me, and watch whatever is going on. One thing I will do during this time is challenge myself to find compositions without getting off the steps; I don't often come away with much but it is a creativity building exercise. This past Sunday afternoon I found myself taking the bold step of sitting on the front porch! I have always wanted to travel.... 😉

After watching a rabbit and a few birds I looked around for something interesting to shoot. That's when I saw this little Lily of the Valley plant nestled among the big, green leaves. I liked the way they appeared to be peeking out of a hiding spot to see if it was safe to come out, with the one big leaf acting like a roof. The result was image #1. There were a few other reasonably good compositions from this exercise but I wanted to get closer. There was a slight breeze and the front of the house gets very little sunlight and since I was handholding, the ISO got bumped up to 1600 in order to get a shutter speed I was comfortable with and high enough to stop any movement of the flower.

The next afternoon I spent my lunch hour (I am working from home) looking to improve on the previous days' shoot. This time I was shooting macro and came armed with a tripod, extension tube and wired shutter release. It was a bit windier than the previous day so I was set at ISO 200 just to get a little more speed to stop the movement of the flowers; camera shake wasn't going to be a problem.

Images #2 thru #4 are the results of that macro shoot. Using a tripod for macro work in the field is great but can be a bit of a burden. When you are shooting macro, focus is often done by moving the camera but with the tripod you can't do that - unless, of course, you have a geared head that moves.

I am happy with the images, as a whole, and learned a lot from the experience. The next chance I get, I will be out front trying to get even closer and refining the compositions. I would love to get a frame-filling image of the inside of a flower; that is going to take a bit of ingenuity!

For further reading on my adventures in macrophotography, check out a couple of my previous blog posts: Still-Life Macro Photography with the Vello Macrofier and Product Review: Vello Macrofier for Canon EOS (UPDATED!)

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Wednesday, May 13, 2020

Monmouth County 9/11 Memorial

11 September 2001

"Are you ready? Okay. Let's roll." - Todd Beamer, passenger on Flight 93⁠

“If we learn nothing else from this tragedy, we learn that life is short and there is no time for hate.” - Sandy Dahl, wife of Flight 93 pilot Jason Dahl, in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, in 2002⁠

“I will never forget seeing what hate can destroy… I will never forget seeing what love can heal…” - Steve Maraboli⁠

“It was as if real life had been canceled for the day.” - Jennifer Weiner⁠

⁠These are just a few of the many quotes concerning the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001. The eagle in this image sits atop a marble base engraved with the names of the 147 men and women born, raised, or residing at the time in Monmouth County who lost their lives in the attack.⁠ You can read more about the memorial by visiting the web page - here.

The Memorial

When you arrive at the park, drive around the parking lot until you get to the staircase. When standing at the bottom of the stairs you can see the eagle perched atop the memorial and a part of the twisted beam in it's talons. The twisted beam came from one of the Twin Towers. When you get to the top of the stairs you will begin a walk along the timeline of the attacks, beginning at 7:30 AM and ending at 10:29 AM when the North Tower of the World Trade Center collapses.

There are engraved stones in the sidewalk with times and engraved plaques along the side explaining the significance of the time. Unfortunately someone stole some of the plaques and, as of this writing, they haven't been replaced yet.

The park, itself, is rather small but quite beautiful. There are two seating areas where you can look out over the river to Sandy Hook and beyond to New York. If you wish to get "up close and personal" you can use the coin-operated binoculars situated in front of the benches. On a clear day, the view can be quite stunning.

If you are in the area, I encourage you to stop by and visit the park. It is quite a solemn place and a very nice tribute to those who lost their lives on that tragic morning.


  • FROM GARDEN STATE PARKWAY: Exit 117, follow Hwy. 36 East (about 13 miles) to jughandle signs for "Red Bank/Scenic Road." Follow signs to Park.
  • FROM SANDY HOOK/SEA BRIGHT: Hwy. 36 (Ocean Ave) North over Highlands Bridge to Navesink Ave./Scenic Road. Stay to right and follow signs to Park.

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  • Thursday, May 7, 2020

    Behind the Image: Leggett's Sand Bar

    For a full index of posts in this series, check out the "Behind the Images" page - here. Be sure to follow the hashtag #JoeValencia_BehindTheImage on Instagram and Twitter to learn of new installments.

    Leggett's Sand Bar

    Leggett's is a bar and restaurant about a block from the beach in Manasquan, New Jersey. It also was host of the AFSP Jersey Shore Out of the Darkness Walk for a number of years. I became involved with the walk in 2014 when I volunteered as an event photographer. I soon found myself on the committee.

    Since Leggett's was hosting the walk, we would have our committee meetings in the restaurant. The restaurant being a block from the beach gave me an excuse to spend time photographing the beach, boardwalk and whatever else caught my eye. I would also look around to see if there was a spot that I wanted to use on the day of the walk. The image shown here is from February 2016 and I had just finished shooting some light painting images on the walkway at the beach. (Note: the images were my first attempt - you will never see them....)

    The meeting was to begin at 8:00 PM, which in February is pretty dark, and it was only about 7:30 PM so I decided to play around with some images of the outside of the bar. I was attracted to the neon sign, the two "stripes" below it and the reflections on the parked cars. For some reason I was using the Nikon that I carry as a spare camera and I don't have a remote for that so I had to use a 2-second timer to trip the shutter. This was done to help reduce camera shake during the long exposure.

    I took five (5) or six (6) shots at various exposures, packed up the camera and headed inside for the meeting and pizza. I didn't get a chance to upload and look at the images until the next day. When I did I was reasonably happy until I got to this one. While the shutter was open a car drove by leaving an interesting streak across the bottom of the frame. Though this is a 15 second exposure, the people inside were reasonably stationary making the other images rather static; the car moving thru the frame made it more dynamic and gave it a little extra pop.

    I was still rather new to Lightroom so I was playing around with some of the presets that came installed with it. I don't remember the name of the one used for this image but it may have been "Hollywood" or something like that. It was supposed to give it a "cinematic" look. Once I applied the preset and made a few adjustments I was happy with the way it looked but there was something oddly familiar about it. It was almost like I had seen this before. It took a while but I realized that, to me, it had the same type of "feel" as Edward Hopper's Nighthawks. I know that they are not even close to similar but that is just the vibe I got from it.

    I have included the original image here to show the difference the preset made. I like the original, it is much more vibrant but the streak left by the moving car is not as prominent and is just somewhat lacking in some way. I also tightened up the crop just a little bit.

    2016 turned out to be the last year that the walk was hosted by Leggett's - it had just grown too big. The walk moved to Bar A in Lake Como in 2017 where it is still held each September. I last volunteered in 2018.

    If you are in the Manasquan area, check out Leggett's - I can personally attest to their pizza. Very good!

    Image made @ 7:38 PM on 25 February 2016

    Technical Information

    Exposure: 48mm - 15 seconds @ f/14 - ISO 100
      Equipment list
    • Nikon D60 body
    • Nikon 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 lens
    • MeFOTO RoadTrip Classic tripod

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