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Sunday, December 16, 2012

Having Fun in the Dark

The first night of the Gemini meteor shower was really nice to watch. However, catching a falling star with the camera proved to be like chasing a fleeting shaft of light thousands of miles away. It's literally a shot in the dark. I did manage to capture a couple of faint trails, but not the bright streaks that my eyes saw.

On Thursday night, I decided to try something a little different. First I set up the camera in a different spot where more of the sky was visible.  I wanted to do some test shots before I set the camera for continuous shooting. After a few shots of the new moon at sunset, I waited until the sky got nice and dark.  

What ended up happening was not part of the original plan. A plume of smoke from a nearby fire began creeping in from the right of the scene. It was too dark for the smoke to show up in the picture until I shined the flashlight on it. Then look at what happen:

I turned the camera in the direction of the smoke and painted it, along with the trees in the background, with a flashlight.

The second starlight show turned into a painting with light experiment. I had fun standing in a dark field with the flashlight pointing it at the trees and pressing the shutter button. More practice is needed to get better results, but hey, it's a great way to spend an evening doing it in the dark.

See Errors? Report them to me

All images and content are Copyrighted © Kelvin Taylor


Light is the first element of creation

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Buy a Print, Save a Plant

This time of year is the time for giving. If you are so inclined to give to a worthy project, here's an idea. The North Carolina chapter of the Nature Conservancy is to raising money for a baseline survey of the Venus flytrap population in the Green Swamp preserve located in the southeastern corner of the state. This plant is found no where else in the world except in a radius of about 75 miles of Wilmington, NC

I'm helping the cause by donating 100% of the profits from the sale of items from my online photo gallery at from now until December 15th. The project goal is to reach  $5000. For compete details check out this site Venus Flytrap - A charismatic...plant?!
 which includes a video about this amazing plant hosted by Sara Babin. Sara has a blog A Place Like No Other where she talks about her work with TNC. Her recent post  is about me and the Buy a Print, Save a Plant campaign.

If you would like to contribute, visit my gallery at and click on Shop to see the list of products including cards, prints, and posters. Redbubble guarantees 100% satisfaction for all products you buy. I'll be happy to answer any questions you may have.

PS: you can make a direct contribution to the Venus flytrap survey project and receive a complimentary gift from Sara. Below are the different funding levels and gifts:

Fund $20 and more
A Nature Conservancy sticker and a thank you card from Sara!

Fund $50 and more
A copy of North Carolina Afield, a guide to TNC preserves of North Carolina (amazing book), and a thank you card from Sara!

Fund $100 and more
A signed and framed photo of a Venus flytrap by Skip Pudney, a copy of North Carolina Afield, a guide to TNC preserves of North Carolina, and a thank you card from Sara! 

Fund $500 and more
Guided Green Swamp tour with me and Skip Pudney to see Venus flytraps and other carnivorous plants in their natural habitat, a signed and framed photo of a Venus flytrap by Skip Pudney, a copy of North Carolina Afield, a TNC sticker, and thank you card from Sara!


Light is the first element of creation.

Monday, October 29, 2012

New Hiking Book Review

Last week I got an email asking me to review a guidebook about hiking in the North Carolina mountains. I have never formally reviewed a book before, but the subject material was right down my alley. I said yes and got my complimentary copy in the mail a few days later. So here you thoughts and opinion on the book without any research on “how to write a book review”.

Title: Hiking the Shining Rock & Middle Prong Wildernesses
Author: Tim Homan.
Published by Peachtree Publishers, Atlanta, GA. 
Copyright 2012


Good guidebooks are the ones where the author covers the subject material in such as way that gives the reader interesting, relevant details from a personal perspective. Many books I've read over the years are more of a listing of topics with little personal experiences. This tends to makes book dull. I'd rather read from someone who makes the experience memorable.

Tim Homan writes an informative, well organized guidebook about hiking trails in western North Carolina. The scope of the book covers the Shining Rock Wilderness, Middle Prong Wilderness, the northern Blue Ridge Parkway corridor from Richland Balsam in the west to US 276 in the east, and the pocket FS property boarding the Shining Rock Wilderness.

The introductory section includes a brief and interesting history of the region, followed by “Things to Know Before You Go” where Tim writes about blooming dates for wildflowers, camping areas, and weather conditions. Next is the “How to Use Guide” listing trail descriptions, driving directions and maps.

The core of the book is arranged by region with a list of trails in each part. I like how the author lists trail specifics like length, difficulty(both for day hiker and backpackers), if the trail is blazed and if so what color, usage(foot traffic only, multiple use, etc.) and features. Tim explains in delightful detail about what makes the hike interesting like views from different points along the way, what wildflowers you are likely the see on the trails at various seasons, and the forest types you will encounter from beginning to end. With theses detailed notes, species profiles, and botanical drawings in the “Nature Notes” section, you the reader can see the beauty right on the page.

Below is a sample chapter:

Whether you are a occasional day hiker or diehard backpacker, I recommend this guidebook for anyone who loves to hit the trail of the North Carolina mountains.

Disclosure: I received no monetary compensation for my review only a complimentary copy of the book.

Light is the first element of creation.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Cool Plants for Hot Days

(This post has been revised since it's original posting on July 16th, 2012. Additional photos and information including hyperlinks have been included.)

With the heat of summer here in full force, it's time for a favorite plant of mine to show its stuff. I'm talking about hibiscus or mallow by another name. This is one cool plant! I remember the first time I saw the native swamp mallow(Hibiscus moscheutos) in bloom along a roadside in eastern North Carolina. The creamy white flowers have a red center or eye atop of a leafy stem. The native habitat, by its name, is wet areas like swamps, wet ditches and pond edges.

Swamp mallow (Hibiscus moscheutos)
Hibiscus are perennial plants that start to bloom in June, peak in July and continue with fewer flowers into late summer/early fall. To see them in bloom you have to be up early. The flowers of native species open a hour or so after sunrise while many of the garden hybrids actually open at night provided the night temps are above 68° F. Unless the mornings are cool(below 60° F) all hibiscus flowers are fully open by 9 a.m. The flowers are short lived lasting less than a day. On hot,  windy days the flowers will close quicker than normal.

Bee visiting a hibiscus flower
Shooting tips:
Photographing a hibiscus in bloom requires perfect timing plus the right weather conditions. Since the flowers last only a few hours, I'm up by 7 a.m. to capture them at peak condition. At this time the air is still so using a longer exposure is possible. Over the past couple of weeks I've been out photographing the various varieties I have growing in my garden including a couple of rare natives.

Depending on the location lighting can be tricky. I have a large group of plants with an open exposure to the east so shooting at this spot requires doing so before 8 a.m. At this time I can make use of the soft, early morning light. Another group of plants in the garden are shaded until much later in the morning. Here I can wait at least another hour and a half before the sun creeps over the hedges. White flowers photographed in soft light or shade show up much better since direct sunlight will burn out the finer details in the petals.

A rare pink form of Hibiscus moscheutos
The best shooting conditions would be on a cloudy day with temps below 80° F. The light is nice and even, no harsh hot spots. From sunrise to 10 a.m. is when I shoot. By afternoon expect the petals to start closing. I love the days when it remains cloudy throughout the morning and after a previous night's rain. Everything is fresh and vibrant. Another point to remember is bees love hibiscus. These insects began to forge for nectar as soon as the flowers open so expect company to be buzzing around. One thing I don't really like is the bees are messy...they spill pollen all over the petals so a little cleaning may be in order.

Where to find hibiscus:

In previous years I have traveled to locations where hibiscus grow wild, but some of these spots proved to be a bit too risky. Since they typically are found along roadside ditches in standing water, stopping along a highway(especially busy ones) to shoot is less than ideal. There is usually not a lot of room between the edge of the road and the ditch. Combine that with zooming cars the plants rarely stay still. Most drivers take notice of someone standing along the road with a camera so this can be a distraction to a driver. Now I only shoot from locations with a good buffer zone from the highway.

If you want to go out looking for hibiscus, visit parks, botanical gardens, local nurseries, and of course natural environments like swamps, river floodplains and roadside ditches. Remember to get out early. Starting at sunrise and the next couple of hours are prime time. Take a morning drive along a country road or hike a trail along a river in mid-summer you are likely to find mallows saying “Good Morning” with open flowers.

Cultivated hybrids:

          Hibiscus 'Dunmoyer'                                   Hibiscus 'Cranberry Crush'

Hibiscus 'Pink Dazzle'                                      Hibiscus 'Peppermint Flare'



Native hibiscus species of the southeast: 

Hibiscus moscheutos 
swamp mallow

Overlapping creamy white petals with dark red or wine colored eye. 

Grows in swamps, marshes, wet ditches and pond margins.

Occurs from the mountains to the coastal plain.


Hibiscus moscheutos (pink form)
rose swamp mallow

Overlapping light to dark pink petals with dark red or wine colored eye. 

Grows in swamps, marshes, wet ditches and pond margins.

Known only from the coastal plain.                


 Hibiscus moscheutos (white form)
 white swamp mallow

Overlapping white petals with a very faint pink eye. 
Very rare. 

Grows in swamps, wet ditches and pond margins.

Only known from single location in the coastal plain.


Hibiscus coccineus
scarlet mallow 

Separate petals, bright red.
Uncommon north of FL. 
Escaped from cultivation in NC appearing native along roadsides and wet ditches. 

Available at nurseries, garden centers and botanical gardens.  

Hibiscus coccineus (white form)
scarlet mallow 

Separate petals, solid white.

Sold in the nursery trade as Hibiscus coccineus 'Swamp Angel'

Available at selected nurseries and botanical gardens.

Hibiscus laevis: halberd-leaved mallow – overlapping petals, pink or white with a purplish eye. Common

Hibiscus aculeatus: savanna hibiscus – overlapping petals, light yellow with dark purple eye. Common

Kosteletzkya virginica 
seashore mallow 

Slightly overlapping pink petals.
Grows in brackish to freshwater tidal marshes in the coastal plain. Blooms late August into September. 

These species has smaller flowers than hibiscus.

For more images of Cool Plants for Hot Days, check out my photo gallery at Flickr

See Errors? Report them to me

All images and content are ©2010 Kelvin Taylor

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Attempting to shoot the transit of Venus

After reading a post on Kevin Adams blog about the upcoming transit of Venus, I wanted to give it a try. I had only a day to prepare for the event and the weather forecast wasn't looking very good(mostly cloudy with chance of rain). Luckily the clouds broke just capture the rare event. The transit was to occur late day starting a couple hours before sunset. 

Oh, for those wondering what the heck is the transit of Venus, here's a short explanation: When a planet, in this case Venus, passes directly between the Sun and Earth becoming visible against the solar disk. During the transit Venus will appear as a small black dot moving across the face of the Sun.

Photographing such an event isn't your typical photo shoot. The objective was to capture a sunstar and the silhouette of Venus with other elements in the scene. Typically these celestial events are photographed using either telescopes or long telephoto lenses. Kevin wanted to see if he could capture something a bit different from the usual closeup of the sun with a tiny black dot on the surface. So following his suggestion I went out in open field and pointed my camera towards the sun then pressed the shutter button.

What was the end result? I got some nice sunstars, but not with the Venus silhouette or so I thought. I took 102 shots and nothing...until I looked closer at my images on the computer. Below is my first shot. See any planetary black spots? Nope.

                                                                           sunstar @ 22mm F/25, 1/3200s, ISO 320

I knew I wasn't going to get the effect I was looking for until I zoomed in magnifying the sun in the composition. BUT, doing so would completely brightout the photo unless there was something that would shade the full brightness of the sun. Call in the clowns.. I mean clouds.

Clouds were moving in and out during the shoot at times blocking the sun from view. For a brief moment a thin veil of clouds moved in front of the sun, but it wasn't enough to completely block it from view. It was at this point I got a couple shots that may show Venus as a dot on the face of the Sun. Problem was I couldn't see it on the LCD. I would have to wait until I viewed them on the computer to know for sure. Below is a image I took when the clouds partially blocked the sun.

                                                          Venus transit @ 85mm F/25, 1/500s, ISO 320

Once on the computer I viewed the images full screen. YES! I did get the transit, but you can't see it in the whole image. Time to use the virtual scissors. Below is the cropped photo from the same image above.

                                                                        Cropped image of Venus transit

These conditions quickly changed and all the other shots I took afterwards didn't turn out at all. In fact about 6 minutes later clouds completely covered most of the western sky. This wasn't the shot I was expecting to get, however, I'm pretty pleased with recovering something from this rare event. A hundred years from now I'll try again.

This is my first blog post since 2010. I have been out on the trail exploring, but found using blogger a bit of a pain so instead I just posted pics on my web galleries. However, I decided to start posting here again my adventures since you can't really give lengthy details under a image caption. 

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