Happy Halloween

It’s that time of year again, when on October 31st some people in the United States celebrate a silly holiday known as Halloween.

Well, that’s not entirely true. It seems what they are really celebrating is trick-or-treating.

At any rate, Barb and I don’t do anything to celebrate this holiday, except to be home from about 6:00 PM to 9:00 PM and hand out to the neighborhood kids that ring our doorbell. We don’t get a lot of trick-or-treaters; some years it can be as high as 120, but lately it’s been dwindling down to between 50 and 70 kids.

The photo above was taken on October 20th, an overcast Saturday morning here in Austin. I was out on my normal Saturday morning walk, and had my Olympus OM-D E-M5 camera with me. I was curious as to what types of flowers were still out after mid-October, and that’s why I had my camera. It turns out that there a surprising number of different plants that are still producing flowers at that time of year here. I’ll probably show many of them in a post next weekend. I’m getting sort of tired of photographing flowers right now (but I’ll never tired of their beauty). I think it may be about time to head back downtown Austin for another of my solo photowalks.

Temporarily Off The Air

I have been too busy lately to spend any leisure time on the internet or read anyone else’s blog. Right now I am too busy to put together a new blog post of my own.  Well, OK I did find the time to create this little post. 🙂

I did go out on my Saturday morning walk, and took my camera with me, but I haven’t had the time to do anything more than just get the photos onto my computer and back them up. Things should slow down to something more “normal” by this next weekend.

If you remember the Indian Head TV test pattern shown above, then you realize that this station is only temporarily off the air. Thanks for stopping by!

A Book of Flowers

For the last four weeks, I have been attending one of the Informal Classes at the University of Texas in the evenings. The course is titled “Publishing Your Photography”, and the instructor is Brian Loflin. Brian is also the president of the Austin Shutterbug Club that I have been a member of for over 5 years now. Brian has been a great teaching influence on me, as I have taken at least 5 or 6 of his classes over the years. Here is a link to Brian’s blog.

This Wednesday evening is our last class of this course. Our exercise for this last class is to create a book of our images, using the free BookSmart software that we downloaded from Blurb.com.

Reminder: You can always view any photo at a larger size by just clicking on it. You will then need to use your browser’s “Back Button” to return to my story.

For last week’s assignment to the class, we had to write a proposal for our book. Here’s what I submitted:

Proposal for a Blurb Photo Book, by Gregg Mack.

October 8, 2012

For our assignment for the class “Publishing Your Photography”, I propose to put together and publish a small coffee table style of photo book. This book would contain 20 photo of close-up photos of plants and flowers that I encountered during my frequent walks around my neighborhood, during the summer of 2012.

My intent would be to have approximately 35 to 40 of the books printed, where my wife and I would hand them out as Christmas presents to our family and close friends. I may even use a few of them as promotional material for my future photography business.

The book would be mostly photos, with minimal captions. This is not a scientific study of plants, and so the captions will be more of what thoughts I may have been thinking, or what photographic technique that I was attempting to use, when I took the photo. No attempt will be made to accurately identify the plant or flower.

Now to be honest, I am not certain that I will follow-through with what I stated as my intent in the 2nd paragraph. I usually produce a calendar that contains images with an Austin theme. But I had to come up with something for my class assignment. 🙂

All of the photos contained in this blog post have been shown in some of my previous blog posts. I am including them again here, simply because they are the photos that I have selected to put into my Blurb book.

All of the photos in this blog post were taken by me, with my Olympus OM-D E-M5 camera. All of these photos were taken as I walked around my neighborhood, and I did not bring a tripod with me on these walks. For the photos above, I used the 45mm f/1.8 lens, and I tried to keep the aperture open to create a shallow depth of field. The smallest aperture that I used in the above photos was the one with the two cacti in it; and the aperture was f/3.2. All of the other 6 photos used f/1.8 to f/2.8, and yes that does blur the objects in the background quite nicely.

All of the remaining photos were taken while using the 12-50mm f/3.5 – 6.3 lens. The aperture on that lens is capable of opening up to f/3.5, but the widest aperture that I used on all of these next photos was f/6.0; and that is what I used for these very next two photos.

As you can see, even a lens aperture of f/6.0 can result in a very shallow depth of field, when the object is fairly close to the lens.

I do not know what the plant above is named, so I just refer to them as Dr. Seuss Plants.

This next plant is called the Pride of Barbados, and they seem to grow exceptionally well here in the central Texas climate.

Now I am not a botanist, or even all that interested in studying plants. As I result, I really do not know what variety of plants that are shown in the majority of these photos.

I do know that the following yellow flower is from a Prickly Pear Cactus that was just blooming here in mid-August.

I think this next cactus is a Barrel Cactus, but I should probably ask my instructor, Brian Loflin, as he and his wife Shirley have published a book on Texas Cacti.

For this next little purple flower, I changed my position so that the white limestone landscaping brick was in the background.

Here’s a nice red one, with a few strands of a spider web attached to it.

I don’t know what these massive yellow flowering bushes are, but they are still in full bloom 2 months later in mid-October.

The blue color in the background of this next photo is a neighbor’s swimming pool. Our neighborhood is rather hilly, so I was able to see over their 7 foot high fence, while I was standing on the sidewalk! (There is only a 4 or 5 foot area where that is possible.)

These next little white flowers were hard to capture, as they were swaying freely in the gentle breeze. Even my shutter speed of 1/320 of a second didn’t quite eliminate all of the motion blur.

I’m pretty sure that these next red flowers are from an Oleander bush. They are popular landscaping plants here, as the deer will not eat them.

And finally back to the Dr. Seuss plants right outside of our front door.

I’ve got all of these photos gathered up and put into a folder on the desktop of my laptop, and ready to take to my class this Wednesday evening. If the book turns out nice, I may actually order a  few.

If you have actually read all the way down to here, then I simply want to thank you for stopping by and looking at my photos!

Homestead National Monument

During the week of September 2 – 7, we were in the little town of Beatrice, Nebraska (which my Dad grew up near). The day before we were to make the 13 hour drive home to Austin, TX, we thought it would be interesting to go out and see the Homestead National Monument of America, which is located 4 miles west of Beatrice on Highway 4.

What is this Homestead National Monument of America, anyway? Let’s start with a short review of some U.S. History.

From the web site:

The Homestead Act of 1862 was one of the most significant and enduring events in the westward expansion of the United States. By granting 160 acres of free land to claimants, it allowed nearly any man or woman a “fair chance.”  This act, which was brought into effect during The Civil War, when Abraham Lincoln was president, brought about significant and enduring changes to the United States. By giving government land to individuals in 30 states this law allowed nearly any man or woman a chance to live the American Dream. Over 1.6 million people rose to the challenge and claimed 270 million acres.

The U.S. Bureau of Land Management has also created a website to commemorate the 150th Anniversary of the Homestead Act. To visit it, click here.

The Homestead National Monument of America, located in Southeast Nebraska, commemorates this Act and the far-reaching effects it had upon the landscape and people. Why is this monument located 4 miles west of Beatrice, Nebraska? Because this is the location of the very first homestead, which was settled by Daniel Freeman.

The Homestead Act became the law of the land on January 1, 1863. it remained in effect until 1976, when the Federal Land Policy and Management Act repealed it (though a ten year extension through 1986 was authorized in Alaska).

Over the entire 124-year history of the Homestead Act, four million people filed for 160-acre parcels of the public domain. Of these four million, about 1.6 million (approximately 40 percent) were successful, fulfilling all the requirements of the government and earning the title to their property.

The requirement was that they had to actually live on the land, and improve upon that land. Every single one of these four million, regardless of success or failure, had a personal story. Here is my short photo story of our visit to this national monument.

Reminder: You can always view any photo at a larger size by just clicking on it. You will then need to use your browser’s “Back Button” to return to my story.

On the morning of September 6, 2012, we left the motel at 10:00 AM sharp, but due to a low tire pressure indicator on the car’s dash coming on, we took an hour long detour to investigate that issue. Turns out that the Honda dealer in Austin had underinflated all 4 tires by 8 pounds of air pressure (but I thought we got great gas mileage on the 800 mile trip to Nebraska). Anyway, no real problem to deal with – except the hour delay had let all of the softer morning light vanish before we arrived at the Homestead National Monument.

We were greeted outside the Heritage Center building by park ranger, Mark Engler. Turns out that Mark is the Superintendent of the entire Homestead National Monument.

Park Ranger Mark is also my cousin, so I’ll try not to write anything that would embarrass him…. other than to mention that he played on the Nebraska Cornhuskers football team way back in the early 1980’s. Mark played on the defense, at  the position of middle guard (across from the center – the guy that snaps the ball). He wasn’t the starter, but he once showed me his Cotton Bowl watch. Very cool! Alright, enough of that…

The building has an unusual pointy tip in the roofline at the far end. Mark explained that when the building and the wall leading to the building are viewed from the highway, it takes on the shape of a farmer’s plow furrowing the field. I’ll buy that.

On the wall leading up to the building from the parking lot, are metal silhouettes of the 30 states that participated in the Homestead Act.


Within each metal silhouette, as square is cut out of the center. The size of that square cut-out shows the percentage of that state’s land that the U.S. Government gave away to successful homesteaders.

We headed up to the entrance to the Heritage Center building.

Once inside, Mark introduced Dad, Barb, and myself to some of the other park rangers as National Geographic photographers that were here to photograph the place. After a few minutes of awkward silence, we all laughed and then admitted that we were just some of Mark’s relatives from Texas.

One of the lady park rangers made sure that I photographed this contraption.

Evidently that machine was used by laundry people to press multiple items of clothing at the same time. The clothing was somehow placed under the rollers, while weight of the rocks pressed the layers of clothing.

We then went into the nice “movie room”, where we watched a very professional 23 minute movie about the Homestead Act, how the U.S. Government basically gave away land that it didn’t really own, and the hard life that the Homesteaders endured. The American Indians basically lost everything….

Inside of the Heritage Center are tons of interesting displays about the American West, and what life was like more than a century ago.

I particularly liked this exhibit, showing a goat on a treadmill, which was used to power small machines like a butter churn.

We could have easily spent a couple of hours looking at all of the exhibits of old tools, utensils, and photographs that are on display, but we only did so for 15 minutes or so before going out the door to the back of the building.

Mark suggested that I get a better close-up photo of the pointy tip of the building, which I was happy to do. The photo that I took next was the one that I showed at the top of this post. I really like that curvy-swoopy tip of the roofline!

Out behind the Heritage Center building is this old log cabin, which was moved 14 miles to this location. Note the old farm implements on both sides of the cabin.

To the right of where I took the previous photo, there is a little sidewalk that takes you over to a nice display of barbed wire. One the fence to the left of this photo, they have strung several types of the barbed wires.

We decided to head on down to the old cabin, and I took this photo with Barb in front of it, just to get the perspective of the size of this tiny home.

To the right of the cabin, sits these two old farm implements: an old plow on the right, and horse-drawn implement that raked up hay.

This plaque says that at one time, a family of 12 people lived in this cabin.

Here’s a view looking straight in from the front door.

That’s a wide an angle of view that I could get with my Olympus 12-50mm f/3.5-6.3 lens on my Olympus OM-D E-M5 camera could show, so I had to take a couple more photos to show everything worth seeing in this spacious abode. Here’s a view to my right, which includes the wood burning stove.

And a view to the left, which shows the kitchen table, and the stairs leading up to the other sleeping quarters.

How the heck did 12 people live in this cabin at the same time?

Turning around near the front door of the cabin, I thought this was an interesting view of the Heritage Center building.

Mark asked if anyone wanted to go see the tombstone of Daniel Freeman. Remember, he was the first Homesteader, and this was his land. Dad and Barb declined the offer, so they waited under the canvas awning shown in the previous photo. It was only a short 50 yard (meter) walk to get to the tombstone.

I must admit that I did some post-processing on this photo. The subject (the tombstone) was strongly backlit, so I used the Adjustment Brush in Lightroom 4 to increase the exposure by + 1/3 stop on the face of the stone with all of the wording on it.

We then drove down to the Education Center (see the map above), which used to be the main visitor center to the national monument.

We went out back and examined the displays of the old equipment, covered wagons, etc. that they still have there. For some reason, I thought it would be nice to put the camera on self-timer and get a photo of our little tour group.

Mark then asked if we would like to go see a “steam tractor” that someone had on loan to the national monument. It was not located where the normal tourist would be allowed to see it, but we could, if we wanted to. Of course we did!

This 22 ton (20,000 kg) steam tractor operated just like an old steam-powered locomotive does. The operator loads wood into the back end, it burns, which in turn heats water in  a boiler, which creates steam, and the energy from the steam is used to propel the tractor.

There are no rubber tires on a 22 ton steam tractor. The wheels, and the “tire treads” are sturdy metal. The rubber band that you see surrounding the wheel is in place just to prevent the grounds and parking lot from being damaged.

We must have spent 10 minutes photographing the various angles and features of this old steam tractor. I liked this photo of this old control wheel.

That last photo was taken at 1:10 PM, so we had been at the Homestead National Monument almost exactly 20 hours. Even we had missed the softer early morning light, we still left with some very nice photos that we were pleased with.

I appreciate the special guided tour that we were given by Mark Engler, as I’m sure that he does to all of the other National Geographic photographers that drop by every now and then.

Addendum: Before this post went live, I asked Mark to proof-read it for accuracy. He could not see the photos, and he did make three minor correction. Mark also added this comment in his message back to me: “You might also find it interesting, a National Geographic photographer, Joel Sartore is a friend of the monument’s and has had an exhibit at the park, as well has given a talk.”

Now that’s very cool, too! I wish I had known that when we were visiting, as I would have loved to see Joel’s exhibit.

Thank you for visiting my web site, and I hope that you enjoyed seeing my photos of The Homestead National Monument, just west of Beatrice, NE.

CowParade Calendar – October – Blazing Bovine

Today is October 1st, and if you have my 2012 CowParade Austin calendar, you probably flipped over to October, saw a very colorful cow, and headed on over to my blog site to see what the story is with the cow named Blazing Bovine, which was painted by Doug Naugle.

If you “dig” this cow, then you might also enjoy visiting Doug’s web site, which has the URL of “Dig Doug’s Art” in it, or you might want to check out his Facebook page.

On Doug’s web site, he says this about his art: “With my acrylic paintings, I like to create patterns out of chaotic lines while letting my subconscious be the guiding force. With bold bright colors and stark contrast the images buzz with electricity. The outcome of my work is like lightning striking the canvas and electrifying the soul.”

Blazing Bovine was on public display here in Austin, TX during August through October 2011 on the west side of South Congress Avenue, between Gibson St. and Elizabeth St. at Guero’s Taco Bar.

Unfortunately, I really don’t have much of a story to tell about my experience in photographing this cow.

This was the last one of eleven cows that Dad and I photographed on the morning of September 10, 2011. As a result, we didn’t get to Blazing Bovine until 11:30 AM, and the cloudless Texas sky had the direct, harsh sunlight doing some serious blazing of its own.

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This cow was positioned near the edge of a very busy sidewalk, with parked cars very close to it. The photo above was taken from the west side, and so this is the shady side of the cow. I did use my Canon 580EX II flash on top of my Canon 5D Mark II camera to take that photo. You can clearly see how close the parked cars were to it.

I was determined to get a photo of both sides of this cow, so I struggled around a bit and finally got my tripod positioned down between the parked cars and took this next photo of the sunny side of the cow.

Even though I was still very close to this 8 foot long cow, I did manage to back-up between the parked cars far enough to get my 24-105mm f/4.0 lens zoomed out to 55mm. (I was trying to avoid the perspective distortion that occurs from being too close – and using a wide anlge lens.)

The photo above was the one that I used for my calendar. Why did this cow end up as “Miss October”? Because the color scheme seemed to be a Halloween color scheme, with the strong blacks and brilliant orange.

In the bright sunlight, it is difficult to really see the picture on the LCD on the back of the camera, so just in case my first photo wasn’t exposed optimally, I went back to the other side of the cow. I dialed the flash exposure compensation down by -2/3 of a stop, and took this photo.

There is nothing appealing with having all of those parked vehicles immediately behind this (or any) cow, so I just made sure to get a photo of the plaque before we packed up our equipment and headed home for lunch.

We had only been there for 10 minutes, and I had spent the majority of that time simply waiting for people to get out of my way. Even then I never really got what I thought was a “great” photo of Blazing Bovine, but in the end, I did think that the photo that I took of the sunny side of the cow was worthy of being in my CowParade Austin 2012 calendar.

Thank you for reading my blog. I you would like to leave a comment, just click in the “Leave a Reply” link immediately below, or on the cartoonish “word bubble” way back up at the top of the post. Thanks!