Forked Blue Curls (Trichostema dichotomum) and an Explanation of Focus Stacking

I know I posted some similar pics last year, but I can’t get enough of these flowers. Although we literally had thousands of these flowers blooming in the yard this year from seed I collected last fall, I didn’t get around to photographing them until on a WGNSS Nature Photo Group trip to Don Robinson State Park in early September.

Forked Blue Curls (Trichostema dichotomum)

These flowers are both tiny and deep in multidimensions. Because of this, a narrow aperture is typically required to photograph with enough depth of field to get all parts of the flower in reasonably sharp focus. However, stopping down the aperture needed for this greater DOF comes with a couple of problems. First, adjusting the aperture too much above f/14 or so begins to dramatically lower sharpness due to the diffraction of the incoming light. Second, and probably more importantly, a small aperture will also bring more of your background into focus. Depending on the closeness and business of the background, this can simply ruin a nice composition.

So, what’s another alternative to stopping down? This flower is a perfect example of when it is a good idea to use focus stacking. In focus stacking, the photographer takes several images at a lower aperture to get “slices” of the subject in focus. Depending on the size of the subject, the focal length of the lens you are using and the magnification you are shooting it at will determine how many of these slices are required to get the entire subject covered. Then, you combine the individual images, or slices, in the computer to hopefully get a perfectly sharp subject with the creamy out-of-focus background that makes a nice image.

Forked Blue Curls (Trichostema dichotomum)

For my macro focus stacking, I typically use a 180mm macro lens and shoot at f/8. Depending on the criteria mentioned above, I will typically need 10-50 images to cover a subject. There are a few ways you can go about taking the images needed for a focus stack. You can shoot them manually, typically taken on a tripod and moving the focus ring a little at a time, or by using a macro focusing rail, which you move your rig closer to the subject for each image. If you are using an autofocusing lens, there are also automated ways to collect the images needed for a focus stack. The one I use is a specialized extension tube that has a computer chip inside. I let the extension tube know what the focal length is of the lens and the aperture I have the camera set to, make sure my focus is just before the first part of the subject I want to focus on and then hit the shutter release. The camera will then take image after image, changing to a deeper focus with each one until either I feel I have covered the entire subject or the lens hits infinity. Finally, newer cameras allow you to focus stack using controls built into the camera’s software. These typically provide a wide range of options for the photographer to control. I imagine using this has somewhat of a learning curve. I have not used this in my Canon R5, partly because I like the simplicity of what I use and partly because you cannot use flash when using this feature in Canon cameras to date.

If you’re having troubles getting the types of images you want of small subjects under high magnification, give focus stacking a try. But, remember, your subjects need to be stationary!


A Very Vernal Venture

Happy Sunday everyone.  Don’t get too excited, Monday is just around the corner… 😉

Compared to the past several years, spring was a bit tardy coming around.  However, on the trails of the northern Missouri Ozarks, she showed in full splendor this weekend.  I started off yesterday morning wanting to visit a few places in the Steelville/Salem area and first stopped at Red-Bluff recreation Area along the Huzzah Creek.  I hiked the trail and listened to the Parula, Yellow-throated Warblers and Black and White Warblers as they advertized their newly forming territories.  I checked out the bluff and looked in vain for the Davidson Natural Bridge nearby.  If anyone has any information to pass on concerning how to find this feature, I’d appreciate it.

From there I headed to Zahorsky Woods, an approximately 50 acre, high-quality wooded lot owned by TNC.  I was having some trouble finding the trailhead I was looking for when a friendly man named Bob stopped and helped me out.  He explained he was one of the owners of the neighboring Wildwood Spring Lodge, and invited me to park on his property and use the trailheads not only to Zahorsky Woods, but to the trail network that runs on his property.  He gave me a quick description and directions to some interesting features, including Steelville Natural Bridge that sets nearby the Meramec River.  Thanks Bob!  The views from the bluffs on both of these properties were very nice and the flood plain within Zohorsky was full of ephemeral wildflowers and other interesting things to see.

My next stop was Sutton Bluff, which rests along the Black River.  Very birdy and a nice hike.  The view from the top leaved a bit to be desired due to the fact that the very nice campgrounds filled most of the valley!  It should be quite a site from below during autumn, however.

Photos from these location will follow in the near future.  My final stop was to Hughes Mountain near Ironton for a sunset and attempts at some “nightscapes”.  Steve joined me after his long shift at the hospital and kept me company on top of this windy Ozark peak.  The image below is probably my best from what I attempted last night.  Not terrible for my first serious attempt, but far from perfect.  Being reared and still residing in the big city, every time I can see a night’s sky like this is extremely special for me.  I can’t imagine what it would be like to see this on any clear night.  I can’t wait to try this some more!

You can find my, hopefully exhaustive, list of wildflowers in bloom and bird list below the picture.  I am still waiting to find a Brown Creeper in 2014.. 😦

Please enjoy your spring.  Like childhood, they do not last long enough.


“Sky Envy″

Technical details: Canon EOS 5D Mark II camera, Sigma 15mm f/2.8 EX DG, ISO 640,  f/3.2, 30 sec




·         Cutleaf Toothwort (on the backside of their season)

·         Harbinger of Spring (almost done)

·         Spring Beauty (in the spectacular peak of their season)

·         Pussytoes

·         Rue Anemone (in their peak.  Is there anything more precious than a bunch of these buds immediately before opening?  )

·         False Rue Anemone (near the peak)

·         Bloodroot (only a few remaining)

·         Dutchman’s Breeches (getting a nice start)

·         White Dogtooth Violet

·         Long-leaved Bluets

·         Leavenworthia

·         Saxifrage

·         Pale Violet


·         Hoary Puccoon

·         Large Bellwort

·         Celandine Poppy

·         Yellow Violet

·         Buttercup (Ranunculus)


·         Indian Paintbrush


·         Bluebells

·         Round-lobed Hepatica

·         Blue Phlox

·         Bird’s Foot Violet

·         Johnny Jump Up

·         Blue Violet



·         Canada Goose

·         Wood Duck

·         Mallard

·         Great-Blue Heron

·         Turkey Vulture

·         Red-tailed Hawk

·         Red-shouldered Hawk

·         Broad-winged Hawk

·         Cooper’s Hawk

·         Sharp-shinned Hawk

·         American Kestral

·         Barred Owl

·         Whip-poor-will

·         American Woodcock

·         Belted Kingfisher

·         Red-headed Woodpecker

·         Downey Woodpecker

·         Hairy Woodpecker

·         Pileated Woodpecker

·         Red-bellied Woodpecker

·         Northern Flicker

·         Eastern Pheobe

·         Great-crested Flycatcher

·         Eastern Kingbird

·         White-eyed Vireo

·         Yellow-throated Vireo

·         Red-eyed Vireo

·         Bell’s Vireo

·         Blue Jay

·         American Crow

·         Fish Crow

·         Tree Swallow

·         Bank Swallow

·         Carolina Chickadee

·         Tufted Titmouse

·         White-breasted Nuthatch

·         Carolina Wren

·         Ruby-crowned Kinglet

·         Golden-crowned Kinglet

·         Blue-grey Gnatcatcher

·         Eastern Bluebird

·         Mourning Dove

·         Hermit Thrush

·         American Robin

·         Northern Mockingbird

·         Brown Thrasher

·         Grey Catbird

·         European Starling

·         Northern Parula

·         Chestnut-sided Warbler

·         Yellow-rumped Warbler

·         Yellow-throated Warbler

·         Pine Warbler

·         Black and White Warbler

·         Louisiana Waterthrush

·         Ovenbird

·         Worm-eating Warbler

·         Kentucky Warbler

·         Eastern Towhee

·         Chipping Sparrow

·         Dark-eyed Junco

·         Song Sparrow

·         Swamp Sparrow

·         Field Sparrow

·         White-throated Sparrow

·         Northern Cardinal

·         Red-winged Blackbird

·         Common Grackle

A Hike Down Rocky Creek

I have been wanting to make the hike down Rocky Creek to its confluence with the Current since I read about the idea in Louis C. White’s Ozark Hideways.  This past Saturday, Steve and I were both aching to get on the trails, to be with nature on a beautiful late winter’s day.  This hike was high on the ever-growing list of potential day-hikes, so we decided that this was the day for this one.  As was the plan, we started at the Rocky Falls N.A. parking lot.  We found that the water level in Rocky Creek was a bit higher than we expected.  While this is fantastic if your goal is to get some nice flowing water shots, it can make for some wetter than desired hiking and stream crossing.  Although this stream is not officially in the St. Francois Mountains, the exposed red rhyolite reminds me of the scenery there to the north-east.  We would see three of the best shut-in areas to be found in the Missouri Ozarks, with Rocky Creek Falls being first.  This image was taken on a previous visit.

Rocky Falls

“Rocky Creek Falls″

Technical details: Canon EOS 50D camera, EF17-40mm f/4L USM @ 23mm, ISO 100,  f/16, 1/4 sec

The first half mile or so of the hike is spent walking alongside the creek, past an impressive beaver-pond until this little side-spur hooks into the Ozark Trail.  A right turn leads to Stegall Mountain, one of the “higher” peaks in Missouri and Peck Ranch C.A.  We turned left to keep along with Rocky Creek and head ultimately to the Current River.  The OZT comes and goes from within sight of the stream.  When possible, Steve and I strayed from the trail and kept close to the stream.  About a half mile from the Hwy NN crossing, we came across the next series of major shut-ins, those at the base of Buzzard Mountain.  The photo below was made on a previous visit.

Buzzard Mountain Shut-ins

“Buzzard Mountain Shut-Ins″

Technical details: Canon EOS 50D camera, EF17-40mm f/4L USM @ 22mm, ISO 250,  f/14, 1/20 sec

Continuing past these beautiful formations of rock vs. water we followed the stream.  It was difficult to make progress, as around every bend there were shelves of exposed, upraised porphyry.  These ~ 3.5 billion year old “benches” were perfect traps for lounging and loafing, snacking and passing the time philosophizing, all the while listening to the ever present sounds of the crystal-clear water fighting its endless battle downstream.  This image was made in between our breaks.


“Another World″

Technical details: Canon EOS 5D Mark II camera, Sigma 15mm f/2.8 EX DG, ISO 100,  f/14, manual blend of two exposures

A mile or two past Buzzard Mountain we came across the third and last of the major shut-ins along Rocky Creek.  These shut-ins are at the base of Mill Mountain, and the Klepzig Mill can still be found here.  Somehow, after several visits I have still not photographed the mill structure.  Oh well, another excuse to return.  Below is a photo of the shut-ins made on a prior visit to the area.


“Mill Mountain Shut-Ins″

Technical details: Canon EOS 50D camera, EF17-40mm f/4L USM @ 24mm, ISO 250,  f/16, 1/25 sec

About here we left the OZT to continue east with the stream towards its rendezvous with the Current.  The vast majority of the course of the stream has a very shallow base; in most places it can be forded without wetting your knees.  Once in awhile, pools deep enough to swim in would come about.  These pools held some decent sized fish and looked quite inviting for a swim.  Near one of these we stopped for a bite, including some tuna sandwiches that Steve brought along.  At one point Steve missed his mouth and a chunk of tuna  landed in the water along a shallow shelf.  We watched to see if a fish would come along for a free bite.  No fish found this piece, but in a few minutes this guy, smelling the oils leaching from the fish presumably, came out of the depths to scavenge our waste.


“Spothanded Crayfish″

Technical details: Canon EOS 5D Mark II camera, EF100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM, ISO 400,  f/4, 1/60 sec

Did you know…? The Missouri Ozarks are home to 25 species of Crayfish, seven of which are found nowhere else.  The ancient geology of the Ozark region has created spatially isolated streams, supporting varied aquatic habitats based on bedrock and erosional composition.  This has enabled high speciation rates of crayfish and other aquatic and riparian animals.

The Spothanded Crayfish is known to have specific color and other morphological differences between populations in Missouri.  In the western populations, such as this one found in the Current River watershed, the species is greenish in color and contains the dark spots  on the base of the pincers, while populations in the eastern drainages of the Meramec and Black Rivers usually do not show the spots and have red or orange tinted pincers.

Read more about the Spothanded Crayfish or any other of Missouri’s Crayfish by checking out this wonderful guide: The Crayfishes of Missouri, by William Pflieger.

Another two or three miles of stream-side bushwhacking, trail and forest road hiking and we found ourselves at the confluence, the now flat and tranquil Rocky Creek dumping its waters into the Current River.  The hike back was quicker and partially under the cover of darkness.  A highlight of our return was very close looks of an American Woodcock that we heard wobbling  among the dry leaves near the trail.  A favorite of mine.

We finished the day by grabbing a couple of pies at Saso’s in nearby Ellington.  The pies were fine, but no homemade baklava was on hand… 😦

I’ll end with the late-afternoon view we had from the point of the confluence.  Rocky Creek is moving in from the right.  The sun was pushing its last of the day onto the hills and was partially obscured by rapidly-moving clouds.  This resulted in the dynamic light across the landscape on the opposite bank of the Current.  I decided to go with a bit of a pictorialist treatment, but I am not completely convinced it was the best direction to go.  I used the clarity slider in ACR RAW to give the image a softer, less defined appearance, hopefully bringing attention to the changing tones as well as to the calmness of the water, which is juxtaposed by the images made upstream that were placed earlier in this post.

Well, I hope this wasn’t boring, and perhaps makes you wish to witness some of these locations for yourself.  Until next time, make like a camper and go take a hike.



“A Place in My Heart″

Technical details: Canon EOS 5D Mark II camera, EF24-105mm f/4L IS USM @ 96mm, ISO 125,  f/10, 1/13 sec

Bill’s Day Nature Log 12/15/2012

  • Slept in a bit after reading the unpromising weather forecast.  Was out the door at 9:00 heading to Shaw Nature Reserve.
  • I was a bit concerned with arriving at SNR so late, but then I remembered, if the conditions are anything less than perfect the majority will stay away.  I saw only a few folks on the trails.
  • Weather conditions were quite poor for bird photography: very windy, mostly cloudy with fast moving clouds causing constantly changing light.
  • Not very birdy.  Even usual favorite spots were quite slow. Looking for winter sparrows and BRCR, but finding neither.
  • Officially one of my favorite things: walking through a recently burned area.  Love the smell of the wildfire, the still-smoking embers, watching the Flickers pick through the ashes, assuming they are picking up half-cooked grubs and other goodies.
  • I would love to take a year off of everything and follow the Flickers.  So many questions that I would like answered: Why does it seem that whole groups or population? move in and out of areas.  One week, I’ll see dozens, then I won’t see a one for a month.  Why are they so often seen on the ground, even in turf?  What is the nature of these relatively large groups they seem to stay in?  Are they closely related?
  • I did see a few Wild Turkeys plucking around a recently burned section of new savannah.
  • Water in creeks!
  • Spring Peepers being quite vocal.
  • Kentucky Coffee Tree seed pods were dropping.  Of course I took one.  Ate a bit of the resinous and sweet goo that covers seeds.
  • I noticed the large river bottom prairie has been planted with trees!  Something in the red-oak family.  I’m sure the expert habitat restorers know what is best, but I enjoyed this area and the habitat edges it provided.  Usually overflowing with birds and one of the best spots for insects I know of.  We’ll see what it will turn into.

“Eastern Bluebird, SNR, Autumn 2012”

Technical details: Canon EOS 7D camera, EF500mm f/4.5L USM lens, ISO 640,  f/6.3, 1/1600 sec
  • Left for RMBS and arrived with a couple hours of light left to photograph the Trumpeter Swans.  Lighting and background clouds were quite nice.
  • A distinct Tundra Swan could be heard constantly in the larger group.  It never did come close enough to take that “species distinction” shot.


“Changing Skies”

Technical details: Canon EOS 7D camera, EF500mm f/4.5L USM lens, ISO 640,  f/7.1, 1/2000 sec
  • First good workout with complete gear package of 500mm and the new Sidekick mount.  Worked beyond expectations.  So glad I decided to get the Sidekick, although I hated to make another expenditure so soon following lens.  So much better than trying to use ballhead alone for lens support.
  • Worked great on monopod and BH-30 ballhead for ~4 mile hike.  Very stable support for monopod.
  • Also worked great on tripod with BH-40.  I can’t imagine a much better support for this combo.
  • Many thanks to Iris Dement for the lyrics to use for the title of the pic below.  These are a pair of obviously worn birds.  Most of the birds today came in with muddy feet, being out in the fields feasting on “wasted” grain.


“I Never Dreamed Today Would Come, When Love Was Young”

Technical details: Canon EOS 7D camera, EF500mm f/4.5L USM lens, ISO 800,  f/5.6, 1/1600 sec