Carol Wolfe Photography

My Photography

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On this page, I will share a few thoughts about my photography. I'll talk about how my love for nature got me started in the first place, and why I enjoy nature photography more and more each year.

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Dutchman's Breeches, early morning, March 2012

Wildflowers and Cats
When it comes to photography, I have two favorite subjects: Wildflowers and cats. I also enjoy photographing landscapes and various scenic shots when I go to different fun locations with family and/or friends. For the most part, I avoid getting people to "pose" for my shots because I prefer natural expressions.
On this page, I will tell you a little bit about how I approach photography and the tools that I use. Though I started years ago with film cameras, including a Cannon AE and Nikon N90, I swtiched to digital during the fall of 2004. I started with the D70, then upgraded to the D200. I am currently using the Nikon D300. More important than the camera body itself is the lens. For closeup shots (like the one shown here) I absolutely must use my 200 mm micro. For senic shots and cats, I typically use one of two zooms, but sometimes my 85 mm tilt-shift.
A wildflower called Dutchman's Breeches appears to the left. I got this shot on a cool calm damp morning before the sun's light hit the forest floor. It had rained the night before so I knew the ground cover would be moist and I had been planning a shot this for several years. Finally the conditions were right, and I was there!  Below the wildlflower is a photo of Pussy Willow. She is a Tonkinese. She is soft and timid, with beautiful blue eyes. Her voice is nasal and resembles that of a Siamese.

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Pussy Willow, female Tonkinese, sitting by picture window, natural light

Me and My Stuff
It was a cloudy October morning when I went up to Bald Knob. When I reached the top, I took a moment to enjoy the view--after all, I'm not just there to do photography. I'm there because I like it. Then I attached my general purpose 24-85 mm zoom lens to my Nikon D70, and mounted the camera on my Gitzo tripod. If you look closely at the top of my camera body, you might see a little green spot: It's my "double bubble," which is a level (see below). I use it almost all the time for landscapes. With the D70, I used an infra-red remote to trigger the shutter. WIth the D200, I have a cable. Thus, I can snap the shutter without touching the camera, which means less vibration, and a sharper image.

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Double Bubble

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A diffuser helps soften the bright sunlight. I use it mostly for closeup wildflower work.

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My friends inspire me to get out before sunrise, thus catching some of the best light.

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Photographing a Landscape

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Click on this image to see my contact information.

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Sometimes I do photography trips with my whole family, and sometimes with either boy.

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Sometimes I go far from home and do photography with my friends.

How it Started
   I have been photographing wildflowers since the late 1980s, back when I began my graduate research in ecology at the University of Iowa. I’d decided to study wildflower pollination in the springtime forests of eastern Iowa under the direction of my advisor, Henry F. Howe. I’d been a chemist prior to taking on this task, and I knew next to nothing about wildflowers. So I started out with Newcomb’s Wildflower Guide, a notebook, and my $99 Cosina SLR camera with one zoom lens. The book helped me identify the species, while my notes and snapshots helped me remember what I’d learned.
   As time went by, I began feel more and more disappointed with the quality of my photographs. Sure, I could identify the plants (most of the time), but the pictures were often blurry, improperly exposed, and rather clinical. I got some screw-on close-up lenses that helped me do a better job of filling the frame with my subject, but the clarity of the images was poor. Around this time, I also began to think more about the background and how to make it less distracting, and where to place the subject within my frame. My shots remained clinical but at least they had improved.
   After a few years, I bought a second-hand Canon AE-1 and a few lenses to go with it. Most importantly, I bought a set of Canon macro lenses (a 50 mm lens with an extension tube adaptor to convert it to a 100 mm lens). With this combination, I could shoot “life size,” which means that the image on the film could be the exact same size as the object I was photographing. And the clarity was very good. For wildflowers that are as small as clovers and violets, this was extremely helpful. Macro was the way to go.
   And then a couple years later, on a trip to Colorado, I bought a Sigma 200 mm macro lens for my Canon AE-1. By moving to a longer focal length lens, I increased my “working distance,” and was better able to isolate my subject from the background behind it. My very first shot of a coneflower convinced me that I had found the lens for me. At least for now.
   Eventually, I decided to switch to Nikon mostly because I’d always wanted to shoot Nikon, and I had recently learned about the Nikon 200 mm “micro” lens, which was one of the best lenses I could buy for close-up work. So in 1998, I got the Nikon N-80, one of the medium-low end Nikon SLR film cameras, along with a couple zoom lenses (24-85 mm, and 70-300 mm). A few months later, I got the 200 mm micro. About a year after that, I got the Nikon 85 mm tilt-shift. I still use all four of those lenses now. Around this same time, I started attending Rod Planck photography workshops, where I learned many things, especially about composing high quality photographic images. As a bonus, I and also made a few photography friends who, hundreds of miles between us, I still hang out with as often as I can.
   In the fall of 2004, I traded my film camera for the Nikon D-70, a mid-level digital SLR, and in Dec 2006, I switched to the Nikon D-200. And now, instead of filling drawers with slides, I fill flash cards and hard drives with digital images. Instead of scanning slides to make digital images, they come directly from the camera. I love working with digital images because it’s so easy to use my images when preparing newsletters, pamphlets, greeting cards, prints, and websites. I also got an Epson Stylus Photo 2200, which allows me to make impressive large prints. I started selling my photographs this year (2007) at local festivals and art shows, and I feel pleased with the enthusiasm and compliments of folks who see my work.

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Preparing to Make Fisheye Photos

Here I am back in March of 1987, leveling the camera so that I can take a fisheye photo of the sky above the forest floor. The fisheye lens captures a 360-degree view of everything above it. By digitizing the images, I could then get a relative estimate of how much light the wildflowers got each day as the season progressed. If you look closely, you can see plastic red tent pegs, which I used to "stake out" my plots.
One advantage of studying wildflowers as a graduate student was the limited amount of time during which I could collect my data. Unlike my buddies who worked nearly 24 hours a day (it seemed) in a lab, my workday was limited to the daylight hours, and only lasted three months per year. This left lots of time for hanging out, shooting pool, and taking graduate level writing classes on the side.

The Fisheye Perspective
Here's a sample of what the camera saw through the fisheye lens. To see how the fisheye lens approximated the "wildflowers' perspective," please see my page called Woodland Spring.

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March 7, 1987

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April 25, 1987

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May 12, 1987

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HIllside in an Eastern Iowa Woodland (4/18/87)

This was the view in mid April 1987, looking up a wooded slope from one of nine plots where I studied Spring Beauty in eastern Iowa. The leaves had started to fill in the branches and the forest floor held scattered patches of green. This was a slow year for the wildflowers. Usually mid April sees more growth. I used to spend hours at a time out there in the woods, counting flowers, observing pollinators, and later counting seeds.
On a cool but sunny day, I would stop working for a while, lie down, and look up. Sprawled flat on the ground beneath the wind, I could feel the warmth rising from the leaf litter and the heat of the sun beating down. 1987 was the year when I first learned about these wildflowers, and the first time in my life that I felt truly inspired.
 

Snow Trillium
Here is a wildflower that I've only seen in eastern Iowa, not far from the Coralville Reservior. I've heard that snow trillium grows in certain forests of Ohio and other midwestern states, and eventually I hope to find it again so I can get a better shot. I made this photograph back in the days when I was shooting both slides and negatives, typically one type of film in each of two Cannon AE-1 bodies. I probably used my Canon 100 mm macro lens. Slide film was good for the wildflower presentations I used to give during the springtime, but negatives were better for making prints. In addition to presenting slide shows, I used to lead nature walks each spring in a forest not far from where this snow trillium grew.

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Snow Trillium (April 1994)

THE FOLLOWING SECTION IS STILL UNDER CONSTRUCTION. PLEASE COME BACK SOON.

 
During my early years of photography, I learned mostly by trial and error, and mostly on my own. I read a few books, which explained some of the more basic information, and I took notes in the field and later reviewed my notes when evaluating the prints or slides. Nowadays, digital makes it easier to check the exposure right there in the field, and is especially useful in tricky situations. Nevertheless, I think it's important to start with a basic understanding of how to set up a shot. In recent years, I learned a lot about photography by attending workshops led by Rod and Marlene Planck. The workshops have been interesting and fun. Among other things, I have learned about composition and lighting. And not only that,  I also met a few new friends.

Also check http://woodlandspring.blogspot.com/ for more of my photography.