Archive for the ‘commentary’ Category

Earlier this year I joined a mysterious organization known as the Cult of the Spiny Hog, an offshoot of The Hedgehog Poetry Press, a United Kingdom-based poetry publishing company. For over a year I had heard whispers of this mysterious group, with hints and rumors of its Illuminati-like status, so with a certain amount of trepidation I submitted my application and was accepted into the organization.

Last week I received a package with the “holy writings” of fellow members of the cult, the nine books of poetry that you see in the first photo. If you look carefully at each volume, you will spot the shadowy silhouette of a hedgehog, the mark of the cult. So far I have not been asked to have it tattooed on my body, but I do not exclude that being a future requirement. The second image shows the way the bundle was packaged, with a mysterious face looking out through the translucent paper and the seal of the cult. The final photo shows different versions of the cult’s signature mascot.

How did this happen? How did I fall under the sway of this poetry organization? It began quite modestly when I subscribed to the blog of Irish poet, Damien B. Donnelly. A few months later I had the pleasure of meeting Damien in person in Paris in November 2019—you can read all about our encounter in my blog posting entitled Paris Portraits: Damien. If you too want to be throughly enchanted, check out this YouTube video called An Evening of Eating The Storms in which Damien debuted his poetry collection—it is an amazing performance.

Damien is an incredible poet and over time he and his fellow cult members have helped to reawaken in me a part of myself that had been dormant for decades. When I was in college, I immersed myself in French literature, spent my junior year studying in Paris, and made the totally impractical decision to major in French. As I now look back at those years, I hardly recognize that romantic dreamer as me. I am now beginning to dream again.

If you read my blog regularly, you have seen growing indications of poetry’s growing grip on my heart. In October 2020, I did a posting called National Poetry Day 2020 that talked about new poetry collections by Damien B. Donnelly, Gaynor Kane, and Katie Proctor, poets whose works I had read and seen performed at the Zoom poetry readings that I had started to attend regularly.

I knew that I was hooked in late December 2020 when I felt prompted by the pandemic to write a poem myself. I included it in a posting called Pandemic Poetry that also looked at a powerful collection of pandemic poetry by Gaynor Kane and Karen Mooney. One of the benefits of joining the cult is that I can submit poetry for free into the various competitions run by the publish, a step that I do not envision myself taking now, but can envision such a possibility in the future.

Why am I so smitten with poetry? If I reduced my answer to a single statement, I would have to say that it is because poetry speaks to my heart in a way that no other written or spoken words do. Contemporary poets express themselves in so many different ways and across such a wide range of subjects, that there is bound to be one that speaks to your heart—Amanda Gorman’s moving reading at the US inauguration opened the eyes of many Americans to the power of poetry.

I am not recruiting for the cult and I think there is a strict numerical limit on the number of members. However, I do encourage you to consider adding some poetry to your life. One of the easiest ways to to that is to listen to the weekly Eat The Storms podcast, in which the aforementioned Damien B. Donnelly hosts an hour-long show with poets and musicians performing from around the world. (The podcast is named after Damien’s debut poetry collection, which you can order directly from Damien at his website.)The podcast is already in its second season and new episodes come out each Saturday and are available on Anchor, Spotify, Podbean, Google, Apple, and other podcast platforms.

Here is a comment I left on the podcast’s website that gives you a feel for the scope of the poetry presentations in a single podcast—”Each of your podcast episodes, Damien, is an emotional rollercoaster as your poet friends explore a wide variety of themes in an amazing range of voices, both figuratively as well as literally (with accents from around the world). Where else could I letters to letters to Sylvia Plath juxtaposed with contemplations on Chagall; memories of Paris alongside perceptions from the parallel world of Wolf Planet; humankind’s fight with nature followed by personal memories from a Kodachrome image; greying mists of colorful memories with some black-and-white consequences of British archaeological discoveries? Those topics only touch the surface of this mind-expanding episode of this wonderful podcast.”

Let me end this posting with Damien’s signature closing line, “Stay bloody poetic.”

Hedgehog Poetry Press

Hedgehog Poetry Press

Hedgehog Poetry Press

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

Read Full Post »

So much of Paris merges together when viewed from the step of Sacre-Coeur in Montmartre, in part because new construction in Paris was limited to 121 feet (37 meters) as of 1977. One notable exception is the Montparnasse Tower at 689 feet (210 meters), which is quite visible in this photo from yesterday evening—the height limitation was imposed in reaction to the construction of this building in 1973, whose size and appearance were loudly criticised. (By comparison, the Eiffel Tower is 1,063 feet tall (324 meters.)

In case you are curious, the giant ferris wheel is a temporary structure in the Tuileries Garden for what I think is a Christmas market. When I first arrived in Paris, the circular portion of the wheel was only partially completed. Since that time, the wheel was completed, cabins were added, and, as of yesterday, the wheel was moving, probably in test mode.

In recent years, the rules on construction have been relaxed and some taller buildings are planned, primarily on the outer edges of the Paris. I highly recommend an article at newweek.com entitled “Will Skyscrapers Ruin Paris?” that argues, in part, that the traditional architecture of the city is part of what sets the city apart from others in the world.

Here is one thought-provoking paragraph from the article:

“When a dense area has low buildings, it forces residents to interact and puts more life out on the streets—a large part of what gives Paris its character. According to Swiss writer and philosopher Alain de Botton, five stories is the ideal height of a city building because anything higher begins to make us feel “insignificant, small, and trivial”—all words rarely used to describe life in the City of Lights. It’s no wonder artists and scholars have flocked to Paris for years for inspiration. Would the same be true if the spirit of Paris were essentially locked away in modern towers?”

In the 1942 classic movie Casablanca (my all-time favorite movie), Rick (Humphrey Bogart) famously told his ex-lover Ilsa (Ingrid Bergman), “We’ll alway have Paris.” Will we?

Montparnasse Tower

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.



Read Full Post »

I am in awe of the way that children experience the world. This morning I read a wonderful posting about some of the lessons that we can learn from a two year old, written by Nick and Kate, a couple in a “typical English village:” with their “4 wild but wonderful children.”

Check out their awesome blogs tingsha.co.uk and carterandwild.com and be sure to click through  the link in this re-blog to see the text of the entire original post. I am confident that it will brighten your day as much as it did for me.

Read Full Post »

As I walked through frosty streets in the early hours of Christmas morning, I could see lots of colored lights adorning the houses of my neighbors. What really drew my eyes, though, was the sliver of the moon shining brightly in the darkness—it was simultaneously modest and spectacular. It brought to mind some words from the first chapter of the Gospel of John, “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”

As my pastor reminded us last night, Christmas comes in ordinary ways to everyday people like us and it is a season of hope and expectation. No matter what you believe or what you choose to celebrate, we can all use more light and hope in our lives and today is a good day to be reminded of that.

Christmas moon

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

Read Full Post »

Why were the Great Blue Herons (Ardea herodias) prancing about on Saturday with their heads tilted upward and their wings displayed? Surely this was some kind of elaborate courting ritual.

As Tina Turner famously sang, “What’s love got to do with it?” Apparently this is how these herons defend their feeding territories. Really? According to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, one of my favorite sources of information on birds, “Great Blue Herons defend feeding territories from other herons with dramatic displays in which the birds approach intruders with their head thrown back, wings outstretched, and bill pointing skyward.”

If only we could be so dignified in expressing our differences instead of squawking loudly and aggressively at each other.

Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

Read Full Post »

So you  think you can dance? You might have trouble keeping up with my great nephew, who showed off some of his amazing moves at this past weekend’s wedding. It was such a joy to watch the uninhibited movements of this two year old in action.

Most adults, including me, have lost that innocent sense of spontaneity, which is a little sad.





© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

Read Full Post »

For months I have observed this large screw-like tool partially buried in the ground at my local marshland park and gradually rusting with the passage of time. Was it deliberately abandoned during a construction project? Was it accidentally left behind?  Will it be used in the spring to bore more holes into the earth?

Is it a symbol of abandoned hopes and plans, of dreams that never came to fruition? I leave the interpretation to others.


© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

Read Full Post »

I recently experienced a sharp increase in the number of views of my blog and went from 628 to 4723 views in a single week.  One of my posts has had an amazing 3235 views to date. What happened? Have I learned a secret to boosting my viewer statistics?

As you might have guessed from the photos that I have reprised below, the post in question is my 4 November posting Rescue of an Injured Bald Eagle. Within my WordPress world, the post was reasonably successful and sixty viewers “liked” it, but that’s not enough to account for the boost.

The most important key to getting more viewers, I think, is finding viewers from outside of WordPress. I sometimes cross-post on Facebook account and in a few Facebook groups to which I belong and will get some additional views, but generally only a few.

I’ve looked back at all that transpired and here is the “formula” that led to my “success.” First, take photos of an event that is newsworthy, has broad appeal, and preferably has police involvement. The police departments, it seems, are always looking for good news stories, and I sent copies of my photos to the officer who made the rescue. The Fairfax County Police Department posted my photos (with attribution) on their blog on 5 November and included a link to my blog posting. This got the ball rolling, it seems.

The next step is to enlist the aid of the mass media in publicizing your blog and keep them updated. I suspect that news outlets troll the police sites for stories and suddenly I started receiving requests from reporters to use the photos in the on-line versions of their television or radio stations—I don’t think the photos appeared in print. I gave approval each time that I was asked, but requested attribution by name and, if possible, a link back to my blog.

The local Fox station and the local NBC station were the most cooperative and did articles that used my photos, excerpts from the text of my blog, and included links to my blog. The Fox article brought in more than 750 viewers and the NBC article brought in over 100 viewers. WTOP, a local news radio station, was similarly cooperative. I made sure to keep these reporters in the loop when I first received information that the eagle was euthanized and all they did updates on the story.

What about the others? Several news outlets, most notably The Washington Post, used my photos with attribution, though they did not request permission or link back to my blog in any way. It was really cool to see the Post use one of my photos in articles on 5 November and 6 November, but it had no effect on my blog statistics. The local ABC station WJLA also gave attribution when they used my photo in an article. I ran across a couple of instances in which my photos were used and they were attributed to “a park visitor” or to the police department.

I came across the photos, with attribution, in several local community news sites and in a couple of other Fox site as well. The euthanization decision was carried by the Associated Press, but, alas, they did not use a photo.

I think I understand better now how I had such an increase in viewers, but I realize that the experience is not easily replicable and the results were short-lived. After the temporary spike in views, I have returned to more normal levels. I enjoyed the brief moment in the spotlight and learned a lot about how stories enter into the news cycle, but I am content to return to my smaller world of walking the trails, in search of new photographic adventure.


Bald Eagle rescue

Bald Eagle rescue

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.


Read Full Post »

When a dragonfly landed on a sign at my local marshland park, one of my favorite places for photography and reflection, it seemed to be sharing reminders with me and with fellow photographer and blogger Walter Sanford about the proper approach to observing wildlife (and life in general).

walter sanford's photoblog

Sometimes I jokingly refer to myself as a “Dragonfly Whisperer.” Well, as it turns out, the roles were reversed recently when a mature male Autumn Meadowhawk dragonfly (Sympetrum vicinum) whispered some words of wisdom about wildlife watching at Huntley Meadows Park. Here’s what the old-timer had to say …

Food for thought on the traditional day when we give thanks for our many blessings. I am especially thankful for the opportunity to be a frequent and careful observer of the natural beauty of the hemi-marsh at Huntley Meadows Park, and for many good friends with whom I share the experience. And thanks to WordPress.com for the free blog that enables me to share my sightings with others!

Copyright © 2013 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

View original post

Read Full Post »

Is photography an art or a science? One of the reasons why I enjoy photography so much is that it engages me on both levels—it speaks to my inner artist and to my inner geek.

Growing up, I remember watching Olympic figure skating and I was struck by the fact that the skaters received two sets of scores, one for “artistic impression” and one for “technical merit.” In many ways, I use a similar internal scoring system for my photographs.

Some of my photographs rate high on one scale, but fall short on the other. Every now and then, though, one of my images stands out, with high marks all around, like this shot of a Hummingbird Clearwing Moth (Hemaris thysbe).

I posted an earlier photo of this remarkable insect and I thought it was really cool that I was able to get a close-up with the wings open and frozen in action, a somewhat impressive technical feat. This image, shot from a bit farther away, gives a better view of the moth in action and is a more interesting pose. The background, which I recall was evergreen bushes, is uncluttered. Even the flower cooperated by following the “odd rule” of composition, with three clusters of tiny flowers.

It’s hard to be objective when analyzing my own work, but I know that I like this image a lot.


© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

Read Full Post »

One year ago today I made my first posting on this blog, an image of a Blue Dasher dragonfly in a pose that I later learned was called the obelisk pose, and it seems appropriate on this anniversary to post a similar shot that I took yesterday.

Blue Dasher Undulate

I remember well that first day, when my photography mentor and good friend, Cindy Dyer, sat me down at her computer and helped me set up my account. She was pushing me to get more serious with my photography and she somehow sensed that a blog would be a good creative outlet. Given the fact that this is my 723rd posting on this blog, it turns out that she was amazingly prescient. I could not have done it without here constant support, encouragement, and inspiration. Thanks, Cindy.

I have learned a lot about photography this past year, but more significantly I have learned a lot about myself through all of these postings. I have also had the wonderful experience of being part of an incredibly supportive community of fellow bloggers, who have been extravagantly free in providing encouragement and assistance. I look forward to my daily interaction with so many of my readers.

Statistically speaking, I’ve had over 23,00o views of my previous 722 posts from readers in 85 countries. I am honored that 479 of them have chosen to follow my blog.

My audience is a diverse one—some of you take photos of the same subjects as I do, but many of you express yourselves in words and photos of different themes. I looked over some of the statistical formation that WordPress provides to see if I could determine what type of postings were the most popular, based on the number of views, and realized that there is no magic formula. Some photos with single posts worked well, but sometimes ones with multiple photos and a lot of text were equally popular. Creepy bugs and beautiful flowers—there seems to be an audience for all kinds of images.

I continue to follow the approach that I started with a year ag0, to post photos that I personally find interesting or beautiful and share some of my thoughts about the subject or the situation in which I took the photo.

Some of you may be curious about the posting that had the most hits this past year. I though about reprising the photos themselves, but I decided that it was better to include links instead, so that you could read the text that surrounded the images, in order to understand better the context.

Here are the ten most popular postings this past year on my blog, starting from the one with the most views:

The dominant theme that connects these diverse subjects my insatiable curiosity to know more about the world around me and to capture some of nature’s beauty in my photography. Somehow in the process of this ongoing journey of discovery, I have come to finally consider myself to be a photographer, and not just someone who takes pictures.

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

Read Full Post »

This photo leaves me a little confused, because the larval shell to which this damselfly is clinging seems too big for its body and looks more like it belonged to a dragonfly.

There are plenty of places on the internet where you can read about the life cycle of dragonflies and damselflies, but the short version is that they spend most of their lives in the water as nymphs. There they go through a series of larval stages in which they shed their skin that has grown too tight. Just before they molt for the final time, they climb out of the water and, once the skin dries, the damselflies emerge. They then have to rest for a little while as their wings unfurl and their legs get stronger. Only then can they fly away.

This pretty little damselfly seems to be in the resting phase on a little rock ledge at the edge of a pond at a local garden. I wanted to try to get a bit closer, but the embankment where the ledge was located was steep and muddy and I would have had to be standing in the water to get a better angle.

I like the photo a lot and find it to be weirdly fascinating. The landscape is simple and rugged, with some texture in the foreground. The moulted shell still seems lifelike and seems to be looking at us with a slightly tilted head. The damselfly itself has the only color in the image and attracts the viewers’ eyes. There is a kind of tension in the damselfly’s pose, as it hangs on with all of its strength, waiting until the moment when it can fly away.

Imagine what it would be like waiting, waiting for the moment when you take to the air for the first time, leaving behind forever your old life in the water.


© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

Read Full Post »

Yesterday, I was observing a Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias) as he flew to a new location. As soon as the heron landed, a male Red-winged Blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus) started buzzing him, obviously feeling possessive of the territory. I captured this photo as the heron took off in search of a more peaceful fishing spot.

I love watching the interaction between different species, whether it be birds, reptiles, animals, or insects. Sometimes there is a kind of peaceful coexistence and sometimes, as was the case here, there is confrontation. Previously, I observed a group of blackbirds harassing a juvenile eagle, but this time the blackbird seemed to be alone.

One of my favorite bloggers, Sue of Back Yard Biology, did a wonderful posting recently on the Red-winged Blackbird’s sense of territoriality that is worth checking out. She called it “Angy Bird” and the post includes some cool photos that illustrate her main point.

I tend to think of blackbirds as aggressive and herons as peaceful and prone to avoid confrontation. Another one of my favorite bloggers, Phil Lanoue, who posts gorgeous shots of birds and alligators in his local marsh, has shown me, however, that Great Blue Herons will harass other birds and sometimes steal their catches, including this posting that he called “Stolen Treasure.”

Initially I was focused on catching this heron in the air, but I am glad that I kept my eyes and camera trained on the bird after he landed, for it turned out that the most exciting action was just starting.


Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

Read Full Post »

Temperatures were forecast to soar yesterday, so I arrived early at the marsh—about 6 o’clock— and was treated to many stunning examples of spider art. The early morning light and the dew made it possible to get these shots.

I had thought that it was a bit early in the season for spiders to be active, but I was thrilled to be proven wrong. I never fail to be impressed by the handiwork of the different kinds of spiders and how they are able to adapt their webs to the environment.

I shot some webs with my macro lens and others with a telephoto zoom. In virtually all cases, I focused manually and used my tripod.

Only a few of the webs had visible spiders and I chose to highlight one of those in the first image, which is a close-up of the web shown in the final shot. The webs themselves are not perfect and have gaps and breaks in some places, an appropriate metaphor for the lives that most of us live.


Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

Read Full Post »

What do you do when you find a baby bird on the ground? That was the dilemma I faced a couple of nights ago, when I found this tiny baby bird on the lawn of a neighbor’s townhouse.

Earlier in the week another neighbor had alerted me that there were baby birds in a tree a few doors down from my townhouse. I live in a suburban townhouse community and each of us has a postage-stamp size front lawn and a mandatory tree, mostly small crab apple trees. The baby birds were in a cavity of one such tree, a mere two feet (60 cm) above the ground and there seemed to be three or four babies.

When I returned home from work, I checked on the babies and suddenly heard a squawk. I looked down at my feet and saw one of the babies in the grass. There are all kinds of views about the advisability of putting baby birds back in a nest, but I was genuinely concerned that this tiny bird was in an incredibly vulnerable spot (among other things, we have some cats in the neighborhood).

A little fearful of doing it myself, I called my friend (and fellow blogger) Cindy Dyer, who was both willing and able to place the small bird back with its siblings in the cavity of the tree. Yesterday evening, I made a quick check of them and they seem to be ok.

I was mostly focused on dealing with the situation, but did manage to get a few quick shots of the little bird, which I can’t yet identify.


Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

Read Full Post »

There is a spot in a back corner of my marshland park that I love to visit in the early morning, when the light produces beautiful reflections in the still waters of a small pond.

It’s accessible only by an informal muddy trail, so I don’t have to share the moments of tranquility with the baby strollers and power walkers that interrupt my conversations with nature when I am on the boardwalk. Sometimes I will see ducks and geese here and I have even spotted a bald eagle perching in a tall tree, but the main draw for me is not the wildlife—it’s the sense of peace that envelopes me when I am here.

Sometimes I like reflections in which you can easily identify the objects being reflected, like the two trees in the first image. Other times, I get lost in the reflections themselves, which can result in a Monet-like abstract image like the second image below.

All of us are looking for an inner peace—this is one place in which I am able to experience a few moments of that peace.


Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

Read Full Post »

Are Barn  Swallows normally hostile toward each other?

As I was looking over once more the shots that I took on Monday, I came across this little series of images of two Barn Swallows (Hirundo rustica) interacting. I had passed over these photos when I did my first sorting, because they were seriously underexposed. Unlike the photo that I posted earlier this week of a confrontation between two swallows, I was not using a flash for these photos, which meant, however,  that I was able to take a burst of photos. (When I used my pop-up flash, I had to wait for the flash to re-cycle in order to shoot again.)

I tweaked these photos in Photoshop Elements (and cleaned up the background a little) and was amazed to discover that this confrontation seems to have escalated a bit beyond the previous one. The flying swallow seems much more aggressive and threatening, going beyond the squawking I had seen before, and looking more like he was ready to attack the sitting swallow, who seems to be paying attention to the incoming bird.

These photos would have been better with a higher shutter speed and better light, but I am amazed that I was able to capture this moment. I love interactions between members of the same species (and between different species) and I enjoy trying to catch those moments.


Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

Read Full Post »

I almost always take photos of nature and wildlife, but every now and then a man-made object will catch my eye, like this rusty, industrial-looking clamp.

I was visiting a friend as she was cleaning up her back yard, preparing for the flowers that will soon be blooming there, when I caught sight of  clamp. It was sitting on a rough-sawn stump and, as she told me, is used to attach a plant stand to another object.

The shape reminds me of a question mark, an industrial question mark. I really like the solidness of the piece, a solidness from which the rust detracts little. The light casts an interesting shadow and the scattered red buds are a nice complement to the rusty tones.

This was a case of shooting what caught my eye, without too much thought at the moment. I simply knew that I liked what I saw.


Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

Read Full Post »

Standing at an apparent crossroad, I was struggling to decide if I should continue to focus my attention on birds, as I did much of the winter, or switch back to the insects that populated so many of my photographs last summer.

This photo of a Red-winged Blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus) from yesterday suggests that maybe I don’t necessarily have to choose one or the other, that maybe I can live in both worlds at least some of the time.

I wonder how often in my life I set up these kind of false choices, when I would be better served by thinking more expansively and creatively.


Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

Read Full Post »

Most often I see small woodpeckers high up in the trees, pecking at the smaller branches there, but this male Red-bellied Woodpecker (Melanerpes carolinus) seemed determined to take on the challenge of the trunk of this substantial-sized tree. I really like his pose, as he appears to be contemplating how best to tackle this problem.

Does he dream of great things, like excavating holes in trees like those in the second and third photos? Maybe he was an orphan and was raised by a family of Pileated Woodpeckers and doesn’t recognize any limitations in his size.

I am still trying to get photos of the larger woodpeckers that made the impressive series of holes. I hear a jackhammer-like sound when they are working, but they manage to elude me each time.

For now, I am content with my photo of the smaller woodpecker, attempting to punch above his weight class.


Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

Read Full Post »

Spring has complicated my life when it comes to bird identification. I started photographing (and trying to identify) birds last fall, when many of the birds had already left the area. Over the winter, there was a limited set of birds that I gradually became accustomed to seeing and I learned to identify them. Even when we had lots of different kinds of ducks, I could look in the section of my identification guide and figure out what they were.

Spring has brought all kinds of new species that have left me baffled and confused. Some of the birders are all excited by the return of warblers, including the Yellow-rumped Warbler. I can’t even see the birds when they point them out to me, much less figure out what color the color of the bird’s rump.

Here’s a recent photo I took of a pretty little bird that I have not yet been able to identify. I’d welcome any hints about what kind of a bird it is.


To add insult to injury, leaves are starting to appear on the trees, which will future challenge my ability to identify birds. I may have to go back to photographing insects.

Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

Read Full Post »

Do you aspire to photograph extraordinary subjects in exotic locations or are you content to shoot ordinary subjects in nearby locales?

This past winter (well, it’s almost past), I have really enjoyed photographing birds. At times, I have longed to be able to capture awe-inspiring images of hawks and eagles, of ospreys and owls and have thought about the travel and equipment that might be required to do so. Does that make me an adrenaline junkie, always searching for more, someone who requires increasing amounts of excitement to be content?

For the moment at least, I know that the answer is “no.” My pulse still quickens when I see a robin or a cardinal. I will take shot after shot of geese and ducks flying and landing. I am willing to kneel in the mud to try to get yet another shot of a sparrow. Here is one such shot of a Song Sparrow (Melospiza melodia) from earlier this week that I really like.


I am content with the ordinary and strive to capture and display its beauty. Cristian Mihai, a wonderful, easy-t0-read blogger, wrote a posting yesterday on beauty, entitled Beauty will save the world that I really recommend. It caused me to think more deeply about my photography, about my goals and motivations. What is is about beauty that prompts a desire to respond, to share it with others?

I started this posting with a false dichotomy, with alternatives that are not mutually exclusive to stimulate thought, the kind of inner examination that I have been conducting. There is no simple answer—sometimes it is sufficient to simply think about the question.

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

Read Full Post »

This past weekend, I made another trip to the orchid exhibit at Lewis Ginter Botanical Gardens in Richmond, VA, in part to hone my macro-shooting skills that have atrophied during the winter months.

I have grown accustomed to photographing birds and small mammals at the far end of my telephoto range in situations in which I don’t have much time for decision-making. If I am lucky, I am able to quickly check the direction of the light and adjust my camera’s settings, but sometimes there is insufficient time for even those rudimentary checks.

When I am shooting with my macro lens, my camera is usually attached to my tripod and, if I remember to do so, I have time to think about the exposure, the settings, and the angle before the shot. More importantly, I can look at the results and take a second shot. Birds and animals rarely give me a second chance.

Here are shots of a couple of the orchids that at the exhibition. I don’t know the names of the orchids, but one of my Facebook friends told me that the red one is from the Cymbidium genus. As I was working on the images, I noticed that I photographed both of them from almost the same angle. Perhaps I liked that angle, but most likely I was desperately trying to get an uncluttered background and this view allowed me to minimize distractions.

I can tell I need to retrain my eyes a bit to look at the tiny details as I prepare for the insect and flower season. Baseball is not the only activity that requires spring training.



© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

Read Full Post »

In the orange glow of the sky, the trees cast their reflections on the black granite surface of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial wall.

It was a moment to reflect on the names of more than 58,000 men and women whose names are inscribed on the wall. I am old enough to remember the conflicted mood of the country at the time of that war.  In the late 1970’s I enlisted in the U.S. Army and served on active duty for twenty years. With that experience, I can’t help but be humbled by the memorial to the sacrifice of so many Americans for the common good.


From certain angles, I could see reflections of the Washington Monument in the wall. It proved to be very difficult, however, to capture that reflection in a photograph. I used my tripod and a long exposure, but never quite captured the feeling of the moment. I am posting one of those efforts as a kind of aspirational shot, one that I hope to shoot better in the future.


© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

Read Full Post »

Lately I have been playing around with the auto-focus settings on my camera, trying to figure out how they work and deciding when it is appropriate to use each of the modes.

After doing some reading and watching some videos on the internet, I decided to remap one of the buttons on my camera. As a result, I no longer engage the autofocus by pushing down halfway on the shutter release—I engage it by pushing on the * button with my thumb. If you are interested in the reasoning behind this process, you can Google “back-button autofocus.”

Next I decided to experiment with AI Servo mode, which is supposed to be the best mode for moving subjects. Previously, I had been shooting in One Shot mode or AI Focus (which is a hybrid mode). Most of the time, that meant I had to achieve focus separately for each image. I am still having some difficulties with the Servo mode, in part because it’s hard to know for sure if the focus has locked on the subject, since, unlike the other modes, the camera will shoot even if nothing is in focus.

The way that it is supposed to work is that you focus on the subject with the center focus point for 1-2 seconds and then the camera will follow that subject as it moves. In the situation below, I focused on the front goose that looked like he was about to take off. When he took off, I took a sequence of six photos, only two of which were in focus. They were the second and fifth in the sequence and they came out pretty sharp.

I may be overtaxing my ancient Canon Rebel XT by shooting in RAW, shooting bursts, and having the autofocus engaged continuously. Still, it’s fascinating to experiment with the different settings and see what works best for me.


© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

Read Full Post »

Using a borrowed Nikon D300 camera with an 80-400mm lens, I was able to get a lot closer to birds than I am used to, permitting me to  to get shots like these ones of a Mourning Dove (Zenaida macroura).

Yesterday was a mostly sunny, spring-like day and Cindy Dyer, my photography mentor, and I made a brief visit to a local nature center to shoot some photos. She was excited to photograph the purple crocuses (or is that croci) that were in bloom. (Be sure to check out her blog regularly as we move into spring for lots of gorgeous flower images.)

I, on the other hand, was eager to play around with the camera that she had lent me. Most often I shoot with a Canon Rebel XT and a 55-250mm zoom lens. It is a lightweight combination that has served me well, but it has some limitations. Cindy shoots with Nikon gear and is a self-professed “gadget girl,” so she had more than enough gear to share.

It took a while to get used to the settings on the Nikon, but the real challenge was learning to shoot with the large lens. My hands and arms were not used to the weight of such a lens and I definitely would need a lot more practice to take fuller advantage of its capabilities (and I probably should have put aside my male ego and followed Cindy’s recommendation to put the camera on a tripod).

Here are two images of a Mourning Dove that I photographed. Cindy tweaked the first one in Photoshop and it is striking to see how she was able to bring out the details in the dove. I produced the second image, working in Photoshop Elements. The starting images may have been of equal quality, but it is clear to me that Cindy’s greater experience in Photoshop helped her produce a superior final image in a shorter period of time.

What did I learn? Well, I think that the most important lesson to me is the value of constant practice, whether it be in using camera equipment or in using photo software. There are always new things to learn—and that helps to keep me energized about my photography.

Mourning Dove lorezmourning_blog© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

Read Full Post »

Last weekend as I was hiking along the Potomac River in Virgina, following the narrow, rocky Potomac Heritage Trail, I came several large metal objects that appear to have been abandoned. They are shaped like some kind of water or fuel tanks and have lots of bolts and/or rivets. To me, they look very industrial. There also was a large wheel-like object. Although I was only a few miles from Washington D.C., the area where I saw these items was very isolated.

Does anyone have any idea about what these objects were used for and why they might have been abandoned?


© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

Read Full Post »

Can you figure out what is going on in this photo of a goose posing in an unusual position?


The pre-spring season is a often a period of transitions, as winter gradually looses its hold and gives way to spring. The old lingers, but is gradually replaced with the new.

In the first photo, the goose is transitioning from the ice, which still covers much of the pond, into a small pool of open water. I captured him at the moment when he took the plunge and gradually eased his body into the icy water.

I watched him as he approached this area slowly and cautiously, staring intently at the ice, as shown in the second photo. He seemed to hesitated, uncertain about whether to continue to move forward.


I know that I approach transitions in much the same way as this goose, hesitating and cautious, frozen in uncertainty. He had the courage to move forward and embrace the change. Will I be able to do the same when these moments arrive?

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

Read Full Post »

What is this thing? If I squint my eyes a little, it looks like a weathered sandstone formation on the side of a steep mountain, with beautiful colors and textures.

When reality intervenes, I have to acknowledge that this is only a tree with some kind of growth on its side. I suspect that it’s a mushroom or some other kind of fungus, but I am not sure. Maybe it’s the tree version of a tumor.

Mostly, though, I don’t worry about answering my initial question—it’s not that important for me to identify what this is. I can enjoy its beauty in an abstract way by focusing on its shape and color and texture, by looking at the highlights and the shadows.


© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

Read Full Post »

Earlier this week I managed to photograph this male Mallard Duck as he secretly practiced the ancient art of Zen levitation. Note his closed eyes and relaxed concentration as his body is gently lifted out of the water. With sufficient practice, Zen master ducks can take off and land in this position,  like a helicopter or a Harrier jet.

Zen levitation

Zen levitation

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

Read Full Post »

Birders, I’m finding out, are an excitable breed. Sometimes they travel in flocks and sometimes alone. You can often identify them by their binoculars and spotting scopes and sometimes their cameras with enormous camouflaged lenses. They have special apps on their smartphones and frequently can be observed with their heads buried in one of the numerous identification guides they may be carrying.

I encountered a very excited member of this species as I passed by the bird feeders at my local marshland park this past weekend. He had his camera—with a large lens and flash—set up on a tripod pointed at the feeder.  Crouching in the shadows with a remote release in his hand, he was obviously waiting for something.

Before I could pose the obvious question, he asked me in a whisper if I also was there to photograph the Wilson’s Warbler. He must have mistaken me for one of his own kind, probably because I had a camera with a telephoto lens around my neck. I got the impression that this bird was rarely seen here and that word had circulated in birding circles of this find. Suddenly he snapped a few photos and went rushing off into the underbrush, saying that a fellow birders had alerted him that the bird had also been seen near one of the benches in the park. His closing words to me were that the warbler had been timed as coming back to the feeder every four to five minutes.

Caught up in the excitement, I waited near the feeder with my camera. The only problem was that I did not have a clue what a Wilson’s Warbler looked like. How was I going to photograph it if I couldn’t identify it? An assortment of Downy Woodpeckers and nuthatches arrived and departed at the feeder and I was beginning to despair that I would see this elusive bird, when all of the sudden I saw a flash of bright yellow. It was a small yellow bird, a welcome sight on a gray late December day, and over the course of the next fifteen minutes or so I attempted to take his picture.

When I arrived home, looked at my photographs on my computer, and did a little research, I realized that I had photographed a Wilson’s Warbler (Wilsonia pusilla or Cardellina pusilla). Judging from the range maps on the Cornell Lab of Ornithology website, Virginia is on the migratory path for these birds, which breed in the northern and western parts of North American and winter in the tropics.

I am not used to photographing birds at a feeder, but managed to get a few interesting shots of the Wilson’s Warbler. To avoid scaring off the bird, I was at a pretty good distance from the feeder,  so I had to crop the images quite a bit. I am quite content, though, that I have managed to capture some of the essence of this happy little bird.

Wilson's Warbler Walking

Wilson’s Warbler Walking

Wilson's Warbler Hovering

Wilson’s Warbler Hovering

Wilson's Warbler Feeding

Wilson’s Warbler Feeding

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »

%d bloggers like this: