Beating The Heat

Gracie and George go for a swim

The weather has been very hot in the Ozarks and across most of the country for the past few days.  The weather map shows two domes of high-pressure, super heated air that has caused stifling heat, reminding us that summer is here in full force.

When the temperature soars to triple digits, and the relative humidity hovers in the 50%-60% range, it can feel like a steam bath.  When the heat of the day threatens to cook all who venture forth outdoors, follow the animals, for they seem to have an instinctive sense of where and how to cool off.

Can You Stand It?

I can, with my new (but as of yet, unimproved) super-duper home-built photographic macro stand (SDHBPMS).  Past gentle readers of this blog might recall the “super-duper, multi-purpose, portable cartographic data collection machine”  (SDMPPCDCM) that I invented in order to do some digital mapping at our ranch in the post “If They Can Do It, So Can I.”  Well, I had a little free time on my hands today, so I set off to invent something to aid in my photographic hobbyist pursuits.  And every hobbyist with a camera capable of macro focusing should really have a macro stand.  “Why?” you may ask.  Because it’s a fun way to take macro shots of all kinds of interesting things.  Just use your imagination – you’ll think of some worthy subjects, I’m sure.  Here is my SDHBPMS, assembled with odds and ends that I found around the house.

super-duper home-built photographic macro stand (SDHBPMS)

I had an old flexible goose-neck clamp-on table lamp sitting unused in a closet, so I took my trusty tin-snips to the shade side of the lamp, cutting it in half.  I proceeded to flatten out the remaining part of the shade, creating a base which I attached to a piece of 1×12 board.  Now, I had a sturdy clamp at the end of a long flexible arm, all secured to a base capable of supporting many items suitable for macro photography.  Finding an old folding table and cork bulletin board in my “photolab” office closet, I created the setup you see above.  The cork board in the rear will allow me to pin up any background that I desire.  Shown in the picture are several different colored pieces of matte board.  Since I cut my own mats, I have a large choice in background colors to choose from.  The purpose for all the colors, as you will see, is to create a background that is substantially different from the subject matter that you are photographing.

Macro stand in use

To test out the new SDHBPMS, I grabbed a gladiola from the flower vase in the kitchen, and popped it into the stand.  I selected the black matte board to use as the background, and set my camera up on a tripod and composed the picture in the camera’s monitor.  My technique was to set the camera self-timer to 10 seconds, press the shutter to allow the camera to precalculate exposure and focus, and then use a simple hand held lamp to paint the subject with side lighting.  This resulted in the following photo, which is what the macro stand setup was intended to achieve.

Gladiola against black background

The goal of the contrasting background is to allow the magic wand tool of your photo editing software to easily and quickly isolate the subject.  The technique is simple.  Using the magic wand, select the background color.  Keep adding to the selection with the magic wand tool if necessary, until all the background is selected.  Now simply invert the selection.  There you have it – a simple method of isolating a subject.  If you have chosen a good contrasting background color when you shoot the photo, this process will be quick and accurate.

Once you have isolated the subject from the background, you can easily change the background to transparent.  Now you will have an image of the gladiola, for example, that is surrounded by transparency.  This is great!  With this image you can do many things, simply and easily.  How about adding a different background to it, as I did below? 

Gladiola with sumac background

This background is from a photo in a previous post entitled Landscaping, My Way, in which there was a picture of dwarf sumac flowering in the summer.  This background is just some of those sumac blossoms, blurred with the Gaussian blur function of my software, and pasted behind the gladiola that I just photographed on my macro stand.

Perhaps you are an artistic sort of person, and would like to create your own background?  Anything is possible once you have isolated the subject.  I am not particularly artistic, so I usually just rely on simple gradients for these type of backgrounds, as shown in the following photo-illustration-

Gladiola with simple gradient background

The point is, if you are the type of person who enjoys tinkering, and also likes the hobby of photography, you might want to consider constructing your own home-brewed macro photography stand, as I have done.  In the meanwhile, I’ll let you ponder the size of the macro stand that I built to create the following photo-illustration-

How did he do that?


Flashback Friday #11

The Most Effective Fence Ever Grown?

Fence post holes being enlarged

As you can see from the photograph above, we are in the midst of a multi-years long fencing project here at the ranch.  The reason for this undertaking is simple – much of the existing fencing on the property is in the neighborhood of 20-25 years old, and as a result of it’s age, maintenance and upkeep have become problematic for this middle-aged baby boomer with a recalcitrant back.

20 year old cedar fence posts

Although there are numerous potential problems with old farm fencing, we were primarily faced with deteriorating cedar fence posts, as shown above.  The posts still retained their structural integrity, however the outer layers of wood have degraded to the point that they will no longer hold a fencing staple or nail.  As a result, frequent maintenance has been required to shore up sagging woven field-fencing and lengthy runs of barbed wire.  A by-product of this fencing project is that we now have a new batch of clean and well seasoned firewood to burn this winter, after I cut and split the old posts this fall.

We have opted to convert our horse pasture fencing to a modern, polyvinyl 3-rail equestrian fencing.  The draw of this type of fencing is the promise of a long and maintenance-free useful working lifespan.  When the project is finished, we shall have erected approximately 3000-4000 feet of 3-rail fence, which will enclose the barn and paddock area, and three grazing pastures.  The picture below shows some of the fencing that has already been completed to date –

Polyvinyl 3-Rail Equestrian Fencing

Okay, so how does our current fencing project relate to a “Flashback in Time?”  Well, as I sat one day observing our new fencing, I began to think about all of the fencing systems I could remember seeing in the past.  There are many materials included in my mental fencing inventory, and many construction methods are represented.

Hand-hewn split-rail fencing

Perhaps the closest cousin to the polyvinyl 3-rail fencing that we are installing is the split rail fencing shown above.  Constructed of naturally occurring regional timber, this was a common type of fencing used around farms and homesteads throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.  This style of fence is relatively strong, easy to build, and somewhat durable.  The main disadvantage of this type of fence is it’s susceptibility to rotting, as you can see in the upper left in the photograph above, and the fact that it will only contain a limited variety of livestock, due to the large gaps between the rails.  It will certainly not deter entry by human interlopers, nor will it keep small critters out of your garden.  A split-rail fence like the one shown above is low on the durability scale, and offers some of the least intrusion protection of any fencing construction styles.

If the split-rail fencing is among the least effective types of fencing that I have seen, then what type of fencing construction tops my list?  It is a type of fencing that few of you worthy and knowledgeable blog readers have probably encountered.  Some time ago, I had the good fortune to travel to the island of Bonaire, in the Dutch Antilles region of the Caribbean Sea.  This was a scuba diving trip to tropical waters, but the diving was done a little different than on most tropical islands.  Because of the topography of the island, the serenity of the waters on the leeward side, and the proximity of the fringing reefs to the shore, Bonaire is an ideal venue for beach diving (that is, entry from the shore rather than from a dive boat).  Because of this, I rented a vehicle to use for the purpose of transporting myself and my dive gear to the various dive sites.  This afforded me the opportunity to sight see as I traveled from reef to reef.  One day, as I was driving to a dive site at the southern end of the island, I came across the following sight –

Effective natural fencing

Along the roadside, and surrounding a small farm, was a row of cacti.  Having spent an appreciable amount of time in the deserts of the southwestern United States, I was familiar with many types of cacti, but I had never seen such a uniform and closely spaced row growing in the wild.  It sparked my curiosity, and I stopped to take a picture of this sight.  As luck would have it, the owner of this farm happened to be entering the property at the time, and he came over to talk with me.  I asked him about the cactus, and he explained what this was all about.  Many farmers on this desert island built their fences initially with barbed-wire.  Immediately, they plant small cacti along the fence line.  By the time the original barbed-wire fence has reached an age when maintenance would be required, the cactus will have grown to a point that it acts as an effective barrier.  The beauty of this type of fence construction is that the longer the fence exists, the better it is at fulfilling it’s intended purpose.  Not only does this fence resist deterioration with time, it provides perpetual intrusion protection and livestock containment.  Would you attempt to gain entry to this farm by penetrating the fence?  Do you think a cow, horse or hog would challenge this fence?  I think not.

Mature natural cactus fence

Here is a picture of the gated entryway to the farm I encountered.  The farmer explained that these gates were the only part of the fencing system that ever needed maintenance (not counting the time a drunk driver managed to plow his car through the cacti).

The cactus fencing on the island of Bonaire is the most effective and durable fencing that I have ever encountered, but I don’t think Retta will approve of it here on our ranch.  She detests skin-lacerating, flesh puncturing barbed wire enough as it is, and I am certain that she would approve of cactus spines even less.