Walkin' With the Wild Woman

Come go for walk with the Wild Woman and see what you will find .....

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Photo Art Using Only Lightroom??

I have to admit while I am huge fan of digital/photo art when done by others; it's just not something I do very often. I'm a little too skittery and simply don't have the patience to sit in front of the screen for the time period so often required to make those beautiful creations.

Dare I even admit that I rarely open Photoshop? I think that's supposed to be sacrilegious for a photographer or something.  I love Adobe Lightroom 4,  and have been a fan since way back in Lightroom beta testing days.  The naysayers in the crowd will go on endlessly about the need for Photoshop, and filters, and layers and plug ins and textures and  lions and tigers and bears OH my! .... all absolutely necessary for producing any artistic looking rendering of a photo. Or a well done photographic image even. Not exactly so say I.

This morning I was perusing my friend Judi's blog The Coal Miner and Me, this gal has mad Photoshop skills and turns out some incredible pieces of digital art. She does indeed inspire me!

Next thing you know, my friend Ken, who pens Waterdog Journal  turned me on to a northern Illinois photographer friend of his who had done some gorgeous transformations on autumn images. 

Oh dear.. I could feel a goofy artsy fartsy moment coming.....

So, since I've been a little obsessed with fall colors and photographing them of late -  I decided to see if I could render some artistic looking  images JUST USING LIGHTROOM.  You heard me.. no Photoshop.

I'll leave it up to you the readers to decide if I did good, bad, or downright ugly... All I can say is  it gave me a much need mental break this morning ditzing around with things, For me, producing  art is therapy.

And I doubt anyone will argue with my need for therapy...........

Just in case you should be so taken with any of these that you might want to own a copy, please click here to order! Prefer it on gorgeous ready to hang canvas wrap? Thanks to our our partnership  with Action Graphics and Signs  we can do that too! Simply drop me an email with your size preference and Action will hop right to it!

Monday, October 22, 2012

Focus on Fall: How to Take Fabulous Fall Photos

Bits of fall color can be used to accentuate any autumn image

It seems that the hills, hollows, bluffs and bottom grounds chose this past weekend to erupt with color. I love fall – for me it signals an end to the oppressive heat and humidity here in southern Illinois and the beginning of the hunting seasons/ The cool and damp mornings hold the promise of the cold crisp winter days ahead when the skies fill with  ducks and geese, and huge Illinois whitetail bucks begin their annual show of prowess. 

Including the road you travel upon can lend interest, depth and give your images a sense of place

A quick drive around the neighborhood yesterday told me that the fall color along the rivers that run through our county should just about be at peak,  so I checked my sunrise/sunset calendar and called a pal to schedule a late afternoon drive to photograph some of the gorgeous scenery along the Kaskaskia and Mississippi rivers. 

This wide view gives a look at the colors not only high above the river but across the wide floodplain as well

So often this time of year I receive many questions from other photo enthusiasts regarding the how to of capturing beautiful fall images.  Many times when I’ve been accompanied by a friend  or  aspiring photographer  they look images I’ve taken, then at images images they’ve taken and ask – “Why does mine look so blah compared to yours?” 

By underexposing a teeny bit, and increasing the saturation a smidgen, colors will pop much more

Here a few ways to improve your capture of autumn’s abundant color and have images of your own that “wall hanger worthy”. 

Time of Day – as with most photographic projects the best time of day is going to be the magic or golden hours immediately after sunrise, and right before sunset.  Some photographers consider this to be the first half hour of light and the last half hour of light, I tend to stretch this out to 2 hours because I often shoot in terrain where the steep hills, bluffs etc, block those first and last half hours.  A simple rule of thumb is the light is best when your shadow is longer than you are.

Early morning mist and overcast skies  can give your image  the chilly, damp, feeling yet still render good color
Work With the Sun  - Most of us remember the old adage “always shoot with the sun to your back” . While in general a good rule, when shooting fall colors that rule can easily be broken to achieve some stunning results.  By all means, snap some images with the sun behind you, but turn around and look at how the sun comes through the trees behind you, adding luminance and depth – backlighting and deep shadows can do much to add drama and impact to your scene.  In fact, I usually will shoot from several different directions when I fine an area with lush fall color. The angle of the light to the foliage can change the entire look and feel of an image.  When shooting towards the sun to achieve a backlit effect, position yourself so a branch, leaf,  tree trunk etc will block the the actual disc of the sun itself, and in turn will make exposing  the scene a bit easier.  Speaking of exposure, a very easy and quick way to give fall color just a little extra pop is to underexpose by about one half to a full stop.  

Shooting towards the sun allows the light to shine through sections of the leaves

Compose for Interest – While there is something awe inspiring about entire hillsides covered in color, look for items of interest to make a focal point – include a picnic table, an interesting rock outcropping, and building. Often times just snapping a wide view of that hillside alone ends up a little blah.  Find leading lines, patterns of light and shadow, bands of color that form patterns. Go wide, try out various compositions with a zoom lens at different focal lengths, look up, look down, and don’t be afraid to get close to a single leaf. All can be ways to show off the beauty of autumn. I usually carry a macro lens, a wide angle zoom, and a basic shorter zoom such as a 70-200 in my fall foliage kit.  From the closest look at a single leaf to a near panoramic view,  all the components of autumns color can provide you with  stunning images. 

Leading lines such as the fence in this image will help draw a viewers  eye into the  scene

Extra Helpful Tools – A graduated density filter and a polarizing filter can help you to achieve spme spectacular results. The graduated density filter can enable you to shoot a wide open landscape and sky, expose properly for the leaves and trees, and yet not end up with an over exposed sky.  A polarizing filter goes a long way to enhance fall colors.  Warming filters were commonly used in the film days as well, although many prefer to do that adjustment in post processing now.  A tripod is necessary for many folks to achieve level and tack sharp landscapes, go ahead. Pack it along; it may make the difference between a tack sharp stunning landscape and a slightly soft not so stunning landscape. 
getting close and using a polarizing filter can produce some interesting detail images with vibrant colors

White Balance – experiment with the white balance settings on your camera to achieve a slightly warmer tone. Another way is to do a custom white balance using the tried and true gray card method.  IIn general leaning towards warmer tones in the white balance will give you the best results.  You might also explore setting on your camera to enhance the colors; these may be labeled as vivid, landscape, autumn, or foliage. 

Experiment with vertical landscapes

Most of all get out there! Take your camera, invite a friend, explore, bend, stretch and snap away with abandon. Try lot of different approaches, settings, filters. Experiment and have a great time viewing and capturing these oh so short lasting glorious autumn days! 

And always remember - the outdoors is especially great when shared with a friend!

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Is Your Dog Ready to Retrieve?

This past weekend I was fortunate enough to spend two full days at the Retriever's Unlimited, HRC Fall Hunt Test.

at any hunt test... it's all about the dogs!

I love attending the Hunting Retriever Club hunt tests for several reasons. First - the tests simulate real live hunting situations that one encounters with a retriever. Be it land, water or upland, the tests  are designed to test the retriever and handler as a hunting team. Secondly, the dogs and handlers are not competing against each other in an environment that gives out firsts, seconds, thirds etc. The dogs and handlers are simply competing against the test in front of them  and demonstrating  the skills that all good  gun digs need to display when afield , as well as grading the individual handlers on their ability to work well with a dog. Participants  really on have two options at an an HRC test; pass or fail. If lucky they will acquire enough passes in particular class to title. Lastly, the spirit of camaraderie, one for all and all for one,  that permeates the test grounds.  Everyone there encourages each other, cares about each other and watches with bated breath as the dogs and handlers go through their paces. Any request for a hand, some help, or advice is always rewarded with an abundance of good will from other test participants.

Dongs and handlers play catch up while waiting on the test to begin

Attending this most recent hunt test, held at Peabody Fish and Wildlife Area in New Athens, IL  was renowned retriever trainer J. Paul Jackson owner of Lone Oak Retrievers and host  of Drake's Migration Nation . It's always a treat to see J. Paul at a hunt test. His good nature, and sense of humor go a long way to keep fellow test participants relaxed and on their game. He never turns away anyone with a request for a little advice or help with a training issue, and the dogs handled by J. Paul  are always a joy to watch work the land and water.

J. Paul's typical good nature and grin keeps everyone smiling at hunt tests

J. Paul always smiling at "the line"

While were enjoying the chilly foggy morning Saturday waiting for the hunt test to get under way, I had an opportunity to quiz J. Paul about some tips for making sure that our best friends are ready for the opening day that is just around the corner for many waterfowl hunters.

our four footed friend seems to be saying, "Can you believe these tall tales they are telling?"

J. Paul helped me to make my pre opening day check list.

Dog Equipment : Crates, vests, blinds, tables, vests,  all that dog equipment that goes along with every hunt  should be checked, cleaned and made sure that it is good working order. When you are ready to load and go in the wee hours of opening morning is no time to discover that the doge crate won't latch and the stand  table won't stay upright under your dog. If you use an e collar, make sure all the batteries a fresh and charged and that it is operating correctly as well.

Dog Health: A pre season opener  check up at the vet never hurts a thing, and it's important that all vaccinations are up to date, especially if you travel or hunt with other dogs. A dog first aid kit should be put together and stashed with everything else in your dog  bag, including numbers for vets, micro chip numbers, and if you are really organized, a copy of your dogs health records  can be very helpful if heaven forbid you find yourself 200 miles from home with an injured dog. Don't forget a few treats, food and water when you are double checking the dog bag.

Dog Training: J.Paul was quick to remind me that dogs must be acclimated to hunting conditions and settings. The long summer days spent throwing marks and swimming around the family pond are great, but do little to prepare a dog for being in a duck blind  with 4 shotguns going off, birds falling, and the general excitement that goes with opening day.

Have a look at this great video from J. Paul Jackson and Delta Waterfowl that deals with this very subject:

So, as you prepare for opening day, what are some of your favorite tips and tricks for making sure your dog is ready to retrieve?

 "Diesel" is ALWAYS ready to retrieve!

Friday, October 12, 2012

Maple Apple Glazed Mushrooms - A Fall Foraging Treat

A few posts back I highlighted the Chicken of the Woods Mushroom, aka the Sulfur Shelf. This morning I'm sharing a tried and true favorite recipe at our house.

I'm guessing the thought of maple and apple glazing of a mushroom seems a little odd to some, but what better way to really enjoy the woodsy smokey flavor of a mushroom than to enhance with it other forest flavors such as maple and apple? Chicken of the Woods mushrooms have a light flavor on their own that works well to accept and take on the flavors used in cooking.

While we most often enjoy the mushrooms prepared this way as a sandwich type of meal, preparing this way also makes for a delicious side dish, stuffed into an omelet, or tossed with pasta,crumbled bacon and light cream sauce. Anyway you serve them will sure to be a hit. One early morning guest at our house was heard to exclaim, "Oh my God....Mushroom Bacon!", foloowed by request for more to be added to his plate.

Our family fall favorite - Maple Apple Glazed Mushrooms on toasted sourdough bread topped with some Gouda cheese

Here's where I have to insert the disclaimer that all measurements are approximate. I'm one of those a pinch, a shake, a handful kind of cook. I just rarely fiddle with measuring devices. 

Maple Apple Glazed Mushrooms
2 cups sliced chicken of the woods mushrooms
sea salt
fresh ground black pepper
olive oil
1/4 cup apple juice

Heat just enough olive oil in a heavy skillet on medium to cover the bottom. Add sliced mushrooms, and generous grind of the sea salt and black pepper
Saute until the color deepens and they just start to brown
Add several generous shakes of McCormick's Smokehouse Maple seasoning from the Grill Mates line of seasonings.
Continue stirring and sauteing until mushrooms become evenly browned and crispy at the edges and start to stick a bit to the skillet
Add apple juice to deglaze the pan and pick up any bits and pieces from the skillet then continue to stir and cook until all juice is gone.

       Delicious alone as is, folded into an omelet, diced and tossed with pasta, Maple Apple Glazed Mushrooms -  Mother Nature's Fast Food!

That's it - that's all it takes and you have a great autumn treat to enjoy be it breakfast, lunch or supper!

Thursday, October 11, 2012

With the Waders

There are days when in the midst of all my running to and from to meetings, events, and on assignments that I just have to find a quiet spiot to sit and rest my head, collect my thoughts, and get ready for the next adventure afield.
Some folks might search out a coffee shop or some place with free wifi  so they can multi task and update all the social media accounts etc.

Not me.

I find a park, a wildlife area or some equally tranquil spot. All of that electronic business that can really be a chore some day will just have to wait until after dark when I am back at my desk or settled in a motel room or cabin.

Let's face it - no one ever died from not updating facebook and twitter for 12 hours.

Yesterday I took my rest among the waders, the big blue herons and great white herons that populate a local fish and wildlife  area.  It's quite relaxing for me, watching the tiny life forms along the edge of the water, watch the blues and the great whites fuss and fight over prime fishing territory, marveling at how such elegant looking birds can make such decidely inelegant noises.  That's what relaxes, de stresses, and refreshes me on a hectic  autumn day.

What's your go to spot to recharge?

One of my "rest areas"

Aha... this is the sought after snack! Can you see the little fishies?

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Zoom, Zoom, - Shroom, Shroom

The rule of thumb around our house is I vaporize about the first of October and don't return until nearly the last part of February. That's the time frame that my life in the outdoors kicks in to high gear; fall mushroom flushes, deer and fall turkey season opens, fall trout season opens, and then there's waterfowl season that completely consumes my life while I run up and down the flyway highway chasing those migrating wonders.

Here's a look at the last couple of days on the road -

Lots of hen of the woods popping - can't miss harvesting them

So many  of "First Deer" photos to take during the past weekends youth firearm season

Another happy youngster with his first deer - and a "funny doe"..

The youngster above was quick to show me his doe's "funny mouth"

checking for tracks and sign so I can plan ahead for trapping season

Just plain lots and lots of boots on the ground time, scouting, foraging, and watching as autumn begins it segue into peak winter hunting seasons 

 Best of all, taking a rest and watching  the early arriving geese move at sunset; heralding the waterfowl season ahead

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

The Succulent Sulfur Shelf / Chicken of the Woods


an example of an absolutely prime specimen of the chicken of the woods

Fall mushroom season is in full swing here in southern Illinois, and a long time favorite  is the sulfur shelf, or as it more commonly, called chicken of the woods. Many people are frightened at the thought of eating the chicken of the woods, given it's bright orange and yellow coloring. How could something colored like that be good eat?

Trust me, they are very good to eat!

A very young specimen just beginning to flush, these are the most tender and succulent, although I usually leave this size for a day or two to grow. Chicken of the woods grow VERY fast!

The chicken of the woods (Laetiporus sulphurus) is a polyfore, which means it has pores on the underside versus gills. The cap can range from two to as big as 20 inches or more across, and is normally anywhere from about 1/4 to an inch and a half thick.Hard to miss  when  in the woods; the cap is a brilliant bright blaze orange, with a bright yellow margin and underside. Chicken of the woods caps grow in stacks, or shelves.. usually overlapping and giving the mushroom and "stacked up" appearance. they can range from as small as 2 inches across to as large as almost 20 inches across. It is important to note that the color fades toward whitish tones with age. The caps also thin out tremendously with age giving the older specimens a somewhat ruffled edge look.

This specimen would be considered "past it's prime" and not collected

Chicken of the woods are usually found from late summer through frost. I have found them as early as late June when weather conditions are just right. The chicken of the woods frequently fruits on the same tree season after season until it depletes all nutrients in the tree. If you find a great specimen. Make a note to revisit that tree or log  the next year about the same time. You will likely be rewarded with another year's harvest.

Again, it's hard to miss this mushroom - the brilliant blaze orange and yellow coloring combined with it's size and propensity for very large flushes, is easily noticeable when walking through the woods .It grows on many types of dead or mature trees with hardwoods such as oak, or beech being more likely than conifers.  The best tasting younger specimens can have a large amount of clear or bright yellow watery juice/sap pour out of them immediately after cutting. These with the "sap" or " juice" running from them are the absolute choicest specimens for eating. It can run almost like a faucet from the best specimens.

Note the "stacked" or "shelf" like appearance

 The edibility of the chicken of the woods is excellent, and yes, it really does taste like chicken! I use these mushrooms just as I would a chicken breast. You may have heard from some people who have harvested and older specimen , that the chicken of the woods has bland taste and tough chewy texture. A rule when harvesting that will help you always  take the best and most choice specimens, is that your knife should easily slice through the mushroom. Literally like a hot knife through butter. While older specimens will not necessarily make you ill, they are often tough, trending towards mealy and just not that great of a culinary experience.  To avoid having any "tough" pieces simply trim away the outside edges of each cap versus taking the entire cap. It's important to always cut the mushroom away from the tree/log and leave a couple of inches. Simply ripping the whole bundle away will likely result  in the mushroom never appearing there again.

One of my families most favorite ways to enjoy the chicken of the woods is to simply slice them into strips,  saute in olive oil with a good grind of sea salt until they are browned and crispy around the edges , add a little italian seasoning and a healthy shake of McCormick's Smokehouse Maple seasoning from their Grill Mates line.  The maple flavoring really seems to bring out the earthy woodsy flavor of the mushroom.

Once prepared in this fashion, the mushrooms can serve as an entree  to replace meat,  can be mixed with pasta and bacon in light cream sauce, or perhaps the true favorite at our house,  piled onto a big, toasted  whole wheat roll,  with a thick slice of munster slipped under the broiler just long enough to melt and brown the cheese.

Since chickens routinely flush in such large amounts,  I often have way more than I can possibly eat while fresh. The best way I have found to preserve them is freezing. Over the years I have experimented and found that the most satisfactory way to freeze them is to chunk them up or slice them and lightly brown /saute in butter prior to freezing. While this isn't absolutely necessary,  it does seem to really improve the end product  when using during the dark cold says that lie ahead. The chicken of the woods can also be sliced thin and dried. The dried ones are best used in long cooking soups and stews as they tend to take quite awhile to rehydrate, and can have chewy texture when re-hydrated.

Keep your eyes peeled when you are traversing the autumn forests, and when you see that splash of brilliant orange,  scurry over to investigate. You may find your self with a huge chicken of the woods!

I was sure happy to find this nice fresh bunch!