October 6-22, 2016
Dear Diary, Friends, and Families,
Written October 10+
This is another not-much-happening diary, but one I BELIEVE we need in
order to not look back and think October 2016 was a near-vacuum. I may
have become too dependent on these scribbles and pictures to have any
memory of current life events, but that's the way it has turned
out. And, we have 18 years of memories to review whenever our
soft, pink brains need refreshing.
As I was looking ahead at October, I knew we would have some
art-centered events on Marianne's side and I hoped to do some
photography on my side. When I started, this seemed to lend
itself to a two-column spread, so that's what I did.
John and Marianne
Marianne's Art World (Mostly)
On the first Thursday of every month, the Fresno ArtHop offers exposure
to a couple dozen local galleries and opened studios. Because
this is such a visual event, and because art is central to Marianne,
we've featured the event several times in these pages. This
month, we managed four stops:
Tree Gallery. Featured Stephanie Pearl, a local painter whose
works have textures and colors that our own in-house artist resonated
with. (The house photog was positive as well.)
Corridor 2122 gallery. Una Mjurka, a now-local immigrant from
Latvia, showed her works which she hopes give a sense of the
immigrant experience. (Interesting factoid: Since 1989, Latvia has lost
about a fifth of its population to emigration. Consider the the
effect of the USA loosing 80-million people.) Maybe we liked the
story more than the art, but perhaps that is the point of art.
Robert Ogata Studio.
Robert Ogata became Marianne's new favorite artist. Maybe mine
too. His large-scale paintings have a combination of imagination
and flawless technique that is mesmerizing. At the ArtHop, he
opened his studio and charmed anyone who listened as he answered
questions about his work and his forty-year career as a successful
artist. His is an inspiring example of great art being created
Our last Thursday stop was at Clay Hands Studio, a co-op of eight to
ten ceramicists. Several members were there, making use of their
open-studio time, making things and sharing their enthusiasm for their
co-op. Anyone want to join? (My favorite was a selection of
porcelain wine "glasses". Maybe I was just thirsty by now.)
ART AND WINE
Our next pure art
event is a charity event in Los Banos on the 20th, with a fine display
of some of Marianne's work! But until then, Our left-hand column
will show our Sunday treat: "Schizzo di Vino" at Cardella Winery, our
current favorite local winery.
We have driven an hour west to Cardella a pair of times before, most
recently with Marianne's mom, when we enjoyed a bit of wine, a picnic
on the patio, and a pleasant conversation with Suzanne, the winery
the "Schizzo", the crowds were bigger, and the winery provided music
and the "picnic" food, but the atmosphere was just as pleasant with
hundreds as it had been with just the three of us. (We have
joined their wine club, so we can look forward to similar events every
Fall and Spring. Join us next time!
BIG FRESNO FAIR - ART, MORE OR LESS
is the capital of Fresno County, one of the most important farm
counties in America. So, of course, it has a county fair. The
two-week extravaganza is humbly called "The Big Fresno Fair"
My thought had been to use the fair as an opportunity for more bird
photography practice ("birds are where you find them") and that part of
the fair experience is in the right-hand column. Over here are
the art experiences: exhibitions and food.
The first exhibition building showed art and photography, but I have to
say the paintings were not even as good as the monthly ArtHop
offerings. I did not take example pictures.
Photography was a better story. Several of the judged
prints were quite good and, in my view, the best ones were in the
display of the Fresno Camera Club ("the oldest camera club west of the
Mississippi".) I will try to join this club to provide my
self-teaching a boost.
The potter from Fresno Ideaworks was also showing (or showing off?), a nice
combination of art, craft, and friendly display of the concept of a
"maker spaces" where creative types can share space and ideas.
course, any good fair has its midway and the Big Fair has plenty of
midway offerings. In fact, I don't think I have ever seen a fair
or carnival midway this big.
There were booths selling kitsch, knick knacks, nice and not-so-nice jewelry, and food. Lots and lots of food.
The other "art" we sampled at the Big Fresno Fair were the farmy displays of award-winning fruits and veggies.
Animal photography from the BFF is over on the right.
LOS BANOS LIBRARY BENEFIT
October 20th, Marianne took a selection of her wood panels over to Los
Banos for a "Small Art Sale and Benefit" by the local Friends of the
Library. This is an annual affair and this year she was invited
via a complex connection with Patti, the chief organizer.
We didn't really know what to expect, but the setting was nicely prepared and Patti made us feel very welcome.
after its 5pm start, the small library was filled with people enjoying
wine, nibbles, and chit chat. Clearly, this group was mostly
regulars at the yearly event and they brought their small town
But, Marianne had art to sell. Expectations were not high, as we
have not really figured out the mass marketing aspect of an art career.
Nevertheless, before the night was over, she had seven new
customers! A sales bonanza at our normal scale.
A success story to end the art part of this diary!
(I expanded the photography part to use the extra space over here.)
John's Picture-Taking (Mostly)
I enjoy taking pictures. I keep intending to take some
photography classes or workshops, but I never seem to get around to
it. In the meantime, I just keep plugging along the self-teaching
Last month, I tried night pictures of the Milky Way, and that effort that
was great fun, even if the products were not so successful.
Clearly, there needs to be a repeat night.
For now, however, I am teaching myself about bird photography, not
because I am a aviary fan particularly, but because I just want to
get better than feathered snapshots.
Of course, there are any number of internet sources for instruction,
but in all cases, the suggested key is practice, practice, and then
more practice. That's what I am setting out to do, once I have
obtained all the appropriate technology I can afford, because I ALSO
like techno gadgets.
I had already bought a big-but-barely-affordable zoom (150-600mm
Tamron, in case you want to know details) and, based on one of the
internet suggestions, I now had a "Better Beamer" flash extender.
A gadget with a cute name, I could not resist.
Then, I needed birds. My photographer friend Larry does very nice
bird pictures, but he lives in coastal Florida, so his subjects are
just around the corner. Lucky him.
In the Spring, we have a fair selection of birds at our backyard
feeder, but by now they seem to have moved on to feast in the abundant
farm fields surrounding us. I did manage a picture of this bird
which we regularly see flying above our neighborhood. It's that
sort of neighborhood.
Lessons learned: Birds are where you find them and it's not so easy
pointing a 600mm lens at anything that is flying, even if it is big and
BIRDS AT THE ZOO
The next step in
sophistication involved a two-mile trip to the Fresno Chafee Zoo, the closest
safari destination we will manage for some time. I needed an
hour-and-a-half excursion to get in some fun practice and, despite myself I think, I did learn lessons.
First, some example products and then a summary of those lessons learned.
(Kind of) wild geese. Closeups are easy with a long lens, but I still should have knelt down to get a clearer eye.
No-flash versus flash. The artificial light allows a lower "film
speed" (ISO 400 instead of 2500) and hence less grain. But, color
may not be as nice.
The "Better Beamer" cannot be used too close to the subject or only part will be lighted.
Light and dark birds, with flash. Without flash, the images would have been faded or fuzzy.
Flash makes the cage screen visible, but without flash, the high ISO (6400) introduced a graininess.
Two more condor pictures without flash, but ISO above 5000 made things "soft".
(my day's favorite)
The Emu. Taken with the lens at 500-600mm, from just a few feet
away. Flash or no-flash did not change things much. There
is no substitute for eye-level shooting.
Egret (I think) without flash (left) and with. The flash pushed
the "film speed" from ISO 6400 to ISO 400 and got rid of graininess.
Flamingos are flashy, no matter what. Zooming in on the pinpoint eye is harder than it seems, but yields a better picture.
Feathers, from a Flamingo and the Emu. Natural light was plenty to keep the ISO speed reasonable.
This guy shared the Flamingo enclosure. The head shot is at 600mm
and the flash helped give a reasonably sharp picture, despite my tired,
shaky hand. A tripod or mono-pod would have helped, but I can
only lug around so much gadgetry.
Lessons learned: A seven pound camera-and-lens-and-flash gets heavy
minutes. Get low to birds that are low. Concentrate on
eyes. Flash helps by avoiding high ISO "graininess".
Remember a second
camera for broad shots.
BIG FRESNO FAIR - ANIMAL PHOTOS
Complementing the BFF
story on the left is a collection of not-so-wild-animal photos over
here. I am not convinced this is educational, but I know it is fun.
So, that was another practice session for bird (and animal)
photography. Lessons: Eyes still matter most and, for
fast-moving birds, take lots of shots.
Wild beasts in glass cages. The Bearded Dragons seemed
particularly photo-worthy. Maybe some day I will spend weeks and
thousands of dollars finding them in their natural environment.
Birds. I wonder, are they less pretty for being in a big tent
instead of a big forest? I don't think so. Again, an
in-the-wild photo excursion would be nice, but until then, I will
settle for BFF practice. (Lesson: flash helps in back lit
|Animals were in the aptly named "Cow Palace", just not the famous one.
For photography, it was hard to be inspired. The sheep were
pretty cute, especially little Yoda here, but cows were too big and
dull and the little piggies were just brown lumps. I guess one needs
to be a farmer to appreciate some of this.
Chickens were colorful and hence good photo subjects. They were
hard to capture because their heads bobbed around all the time.
(Lesson: take lots of shots.)
This "ring neck pheasant" stayed still enough, but would not face the
photographer. The little chickies were pretty dynamic, but cute
enough to be worth all the throw-aways. (Lesson: lots of shots.)
Pigeons were perfectly happy to just sit and pose (or sleep).
This "Pigeon Club" reminded me of stories of stuffy men's clubs, after a heavy
lunch. (Lesson: some dull pictures reflect dull parts of
life. That's OK, I guess.)
SAN LOUIS NATIONAL WILDLIFE REFUGE
Marianne was setting up her art at the library benefit, I drove out to
the San Luis National Wildlife Refuge (NWR). My plan was simply
to plan a future bird-photo session, some time when I would have enough
time and when the winter vacation session for the migrating birds
I stopped by the visitor's center and learned that the migrations had
not started much yet, although there were signs that the Merced NWR, a
few miles east, was starting to see cranes, geese, and other early
travelers. Maybe tomorrow.
Instead of migrating birds, I headed out on a two-mile "auto tour"
route that encircles the fenced Tule Elk enclosure. Since I had
my camera with me, and my purpose was birds, I did try a few shots of
fence-sitters. Not great, but more practice at handling the
camera and long lens combination.
(Lesson learned: Even local birds are cute.)
Continued from right (pink) column
one point, I got out of the car alongside a "riparian corridor" (small drainage) and discovered
other flying animals: mosquitoes and dragonflys. The mosquitoes
were unbelievable, but too small and quick to photograph. Trust
me, they out numbered the birds. (Lesson learned: bring bug spray.)
I worked to get dragonfly shots, but I failed on two key points: clear focus and eyes. Oh well, it was fun anyway.
However, the main attraction would be the elk. In the 1800's, an
estimated 500,000 Tule Elk
were found throughout the Central Valley, but, by a century later, hunting
and loss of habitat had decimated the elk population to as few as 20 to 30
individuals. In 1974 conservationists set up this 780-acre paddock with 18
animals to rebuild the herd
and today there are over 4,000 here and transplanted to other
refuges in the valley. Nice story.
MERCED NATIONAL WILDLIFE REFUGE
breakfast with Ted and Nancy, we headed to the Merced National Wildlife
Refuge where yesterday's ranger had said the first of the migrating
cranes would be found. There are three refuges in the area,
yesterday's San Luis NWR, today's Merced NWR, and the San Joaquin River
NWR, a bit north. The 45,000 NWR acres are winter home or rest
stop to 30 species of waterfowl. Each refuge seems like a small
island among the hundreds of thousands of acres of the San Joaquin
Valley ranches and farms. The refuges are funded by "duck
stamps", taxes paid by bird hunters, and illustrate the complex support
system for conservancy.
Friday was intended to be a scouting visit, in preparation of a longer
excursion in a couple of weeks. The idea is that really good
pictures require considerable preparation and practice. Where to
go. Where to park. What is car-accessible versus
hiker-only. When birds will be most active. What
compositions work? How reachable areas are in the preferred
sunrise/sunset lighting. (The NWRs are open 30 minutes before
sunrise to 30 minutes after sunset.) Then there are all the
camera-technical things: which lens; what speed and "f-stop"; tripod or
not; "film" speed. Honest, it's harder than iPhone selfies. And I
am an absolute amateur when it comes to birds.
The first observation was that the Merced NWR is easily accessed by
car, about 30 minutes outside Los Banos. Right at the entrance is
an observation platform. Not much wildlife was visible in the sparkling
wetlands, but the warm sun was very pleasant.
the sun from this observation point was a problem. The glare was
everywhere and the birds almost disappeared in the back lighting.
I suppose bird silhouettes might be pleasant, but I doubt it. Any
All the rest of the pictures would come from the five-mile "car route"
that runs along the outer edge of the refuge. Marianne drove and
I shot from the backseat window. It is a productive setup, with
the window ledge substituting for a tripod. Now I could get down
My first composition question was the merit of pictures of groups of
birds versus one or two by themselves. The following group shots
seemed ok enough, especially the graceful flying cranes.
And who can object to ducks-in-a-row? Reportedly, there can
be great sunset shots of hundreds of cranes lifting off the water en
mass as they head off in search of night roosting trees. That
needs more planning, more patience, and more birds! What's
On this day, I think I preferred single birds or pairs. Maybe
that was because it was a lot easier to concentrate on one or two
birds, especially for the ones who were just standing in mirror-calm
water. Here is a set of those guys. Opinions?
of the Merced Auto Route is "no parking", with the expectation being
that shooting from the car is good enough - and generally it is.
However, on the southern edge, there is one small blind, with a single
parking space. I can picture aggressive birders fighting over the
spot, or is "aggressive birder" an oxymoron? When I come back in
a couple of weeks, I'd like to spend a sunset here, despite the
abundance of bugs!
The most challenging pictures came from the birds in action, flying
action. They do not take direction well at all. No matter
how much I urged them to fly toward me, eyes visible, they generally
didn't listen. And then there is the whole question of focusing
on a moving target. Nevertheless, there is no substitute for
OK. Bottom line, lessons learned: Work on lighting, even
fill flash; work on moving focus (my camera has great capability, but I
need to learn and practice); bring bug spray; bring water; learn about
And that's it for now. Stay tuned.