From Animal to Vegetable

The Desert Botanical Garden is right next to the Phoenix Zoo.  And while we don’t have a membership there, we have the next best thing – a membership card for the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum, courtesy of my mom.   Which happens to have a reciprocal arrangement that gives us free admission.  I love free stuff.  So, since we were in the neighborhood, we decided to stop for a visit after we left the zoo.  Unfortunately, they were offering free admission that afternoon.  Which means there were a ton of people there.  What there wasn’t a ton of was flowers.  It was about as stark and bare as I’ve ever seen it.  So I took lots and lots of cactus photos.  These two worked best in black and white.

As for the mineral?  We’ll get to that when we visit the Tucson Gem and Mineral Show in February.

Beyond the Critters

I think I’m started to get crittered out for now.  While the vast majority of photos I took at the zoo naturally featured members of the wild kingdom, there were a few oddball ones of things I found interesting.  I wasn’t carrying my 100mm macro, but apparently my 135mm f/2.0 can focus pretty close, so I tried a few flower shots.  The sign on the right is from a little fake Costa Rican village at the zoo.  One of my favorite photos (featured on my 8/18/10 post) is from one of the fake store fronts.  Sadly, the rustic little table and chairs that used to sit in front of it have been replaced by a very generic looking bench, which destroys the illusion.  Never pass up a good photo op, you never know if it will be there tomorrow.

Moonstruck

I’m taking a break from my zoo photos (yes, I have a few more) to bring you this full moon.  Getting a great image of the moon has been one of my photographic holy grails.  We were driving home from dinner Tuesday night and saw this beauty coming up.  By the time I had my camera in hand, it was high enough to see from our third floor balcony.  I tried again last night, when the moon was completely full, but wasn’t able to nail the focus and exposure quite as well.

Not Just Lawn Ornaments

The Phoenix zoo has a large stand of flamingos (that’s what it’s called, you can look it up on the internet).  I love photographing flamingos.  They are tall and graceful and yet exceedingly awkward at the same time.  Plus, being immortalized as lawn ornaments has given them a permanent kitsch factor.  Most of the flamingos at the zoo are not as brilliant a pink as I would like, I guess they need more shrimp in their diet.  I spent a ridiculous amount of time photographing them and was rewarded with a number of good images.  I still think I can do better, so I’m sure I’ll be visiting them again in the near future.

Apocalyptic

If you have paid any attention to the news lately, and god knows I try to avoid that as much as possible, you may have heard about some of the impending signs of the apocalypse.  This speculation has ramped up lately due to the approach of 12/21/12, which is supposedly the last day of the world as we know it.  According to the Maya, anyway.  I won’t bother going into a long explanation of the theory behind the world ending in 2012, based on the Maya calendar, because you can read a much more coherent explanation of it on Wikipedia.  I would get half of it wrong, from the sheer laziness of not wanting to do any research, and just plain lie about the other half in order to make it funnier or more outrageous.  Hey, this is a blog, not a reputable source of news.

Some recent events that have been touted as harbingers of the end of days include large flocks of birds dropping dead from the sky in Arkansas and Louisiana, large numbers of fish dying in the Arkansas River and Chesapeake Bay, dead crabs washing up on the beaches in England, massive flooding across all of Queensland Australia and well, I could go on and on but if you want a more complete list just google “impending signs of the apocalypse.”

So how much faith do you really want to put in an ancient calendar written by a long extinct civilization best known for practicing human sacrifice?  I wouldn’t advise anyone to quit their job and spend the next 23 months burning through their life savings to fulfill their bucket list.  But I’m also a big believer in seizing the day.  Life is too short and unpredictable to defer all of your dreams to a maybe someday future time.   So I’m checking the number one item off my own bucket list this year by planning a trip to the Galapagos Islands.

Because it never hurts to hedge your bets.

Pretty Bird

One of the nice things about our trip to the zoo last week is that it was fairly overcast outside.  Phoenix is known for its sunshine and cloudless skies, which is great except when you are trying to shoot photos.  The contrast is murder.  When we were last at the zoo, I took a number of photos of a pair of scarlet macaws.  The birds are gorgeous, but I didn’t really get a great photo of them and I blame the sun.  This time I didn’t have that excuse and I think the results stand for themselves.  Unfortunately, one of the birds chose to stay in the shade and hide, so I couldn’t get a photo of the pair.  But this one spent considerable time preening in the open.

Eagle Eye

There is one hard and fast rule when photographing animals or people.  The eyes must be in focus.  You can overlook softness anywhere else, but for a portrait to work, you need the subject’s eyes to be sharp.  This is not easy to do when you are using a long lens because the depth of field can get very shallow.  For our trip to the zoo I took lots and lots of photos that were good compositions with poor focus and lots and lots of photos that were poor compositions with great focus.  Occasionally I got lucky and both the composition and focus were good.  But not very often.  While the shallow depth of field can bite you when focusing, it can also be your friend when shooting through wire cages.  If you are close to the cage and the animal is relatively far away from it (meaning at least six feet or so) the shallow depth of field has the neat effect of make the cage disappear.

Malicious

I was hit with a nasty virus this week.  Well, not me personally, but my computer was.  Which is actually worse.  First of all, it’s an embarrassing thing for a former IT professional to admit.  Secondly, even if you do eradicate it successfully, it leaves you with a lingering doubt about the safety of your computer.  It’s like driving a Toyota and constantly worrying that the brakes might fail.

I’m not careless in my computer usage.  I have anti-virus software installed and running constantly.  I don’t visit websites if my browser warns me of concerns about their security.  I use Firefox instead of Internet Explorer for purchases or financial transactions online because it’s less vulnerable to security attacks.  Most importantly, my primary userid doesn’t have administrative rights to my computer.  So I can’t accidentally install anything.  If I need an update I have to logon as the administrator.  In theory, all of those precautions should protect me.

I was alerted to the presence of the virus after my computer automatically downloaded an update for the Microsoft Malicious Software Removal Tool.  The newly downloaded update immediately sent out a warning that it had detected PWS:Win32/Zbot.gen!Y.  According to the Microsoft Malware Protection Center, PWS:Win32/Zbot.gen!Y is a generic detection for a password stealer and remote access trojan.  Unfortunately it wasn’t able to remove the malicious software.  So I guess Microsoft needs to rename it the Malicious Software Detection Tool.  It didn’t even pinpoint where the software was hiding, just that it was lurking somewhere in my computer.  So I ran a full scan with my (shall remain nameless) free anti-virus software.  This pointed me to the location of the virus but failed to remove it.  Great.  Now I’m just freaking out.

So I downloaded a free version of Malwarebytes Anti-Malware software.  I ran a full scan and it appeared to find and remove the trojan.  I paid for a full version, which includes real-time monitoring.  Then I uninstalled the nameless free anti-virus software.  So everything is okay now, right?  Unfortunately, I’m not really sure.  I ran another program (Spybot) which looks for browser cookies that are spying on you.  (Many are harmless and used for advertising, but I object to them on principle)  It flagged a trojan in a different location but couldn’t remove it because I ran it under my id without admin rights.  But when I ran it under my admin id it didn’t find anything because cookies are specific to the user.  ARRRRGH!

Deep breath.  So I gave myself admin rights and ran Spybot again.  It found nothing.  So I ran Malwarebytes again.  Another trojan found and removed.  I’ve now done multiple scans with both plus the Microsoft version and it looks clean.  But I still feel violated and unsafe.  Right now I am using my iPad to access banking and credit card sites and update my passwords on all of them.  I think I’ll need to see a clean scan every day for at least a week to feel safe.  I am hopeful that the damage was limited because the trojan couldn’t install itself in many spots without admin rights.  Many thanks to my husband for setting up my computer that way.

So remember, always practice safe computing.

Don’t Touch the Monkeys

We went to the Phoenix Zoo on Tuesday.  We decided to go ahead and purchase a membership because we will probably make at least one or two more trips there and the membership pays for itself after the second visit in a year.  This was our first trip to the zoo since 2003 (excluding Zoolights), when I rented a digital SLR and a 300mm f/4.0 lens to try them out.  As I mentioned in a previous post, the images from that outing convinced me to make the switch from film to digital.  I still own multiple film camera bodies, but I haven’t shot a single frame of film since.

Because our trip to the Galapagos will be heavy on animal photography, the zoo is a good place to practice.  So I went with a full photo geek setup, close to what I expect to be carrying while we are there.  I need to be sure I can spend most of the day on my feet and fully loaded with gear.  One of the things I have read is that you will miss a lot of great photos if you are constantly changing lenses.  So I bought a double strap camera harness, which allows you to carry two camera bodies at once.  It makes me look like an idiot.  That will probably be less of a concern when we are on a trip with a bunch of other photo geeks (our tour is specifically aimed at photographers) but it’s a little uncomfortable when you are touring a zoo and small children are staring at you.  <sigh>

It was actually a pretty comfortable way to carry some heavy gear.  On my right side was a 7D with a 70-200mm f/4.0 and 1.4 tele-extender and on my left side was a 5D Mark II with a 135mm f/2.0.  I’m just telling you that to show off.  For the actual trip, the 135 lens will be replaced with a 16-35mm f/2.8.  Apparently you often get so close to the animals in the Galapagos that you need to have a really wide lens.  The long range is for shooting smaller birds.  I’m sure I will debate what I actually take right up until we leave.  And don’t even get me started on the camera bag.

Anyway, back to the zoo.  They have a number of new exhibits, one of which is a large enclosure filled with spider monkeys.  You actually go into the enclosure with the monkeys, so in theory it’s great for photos.  If only the monkeys didn’t spend most of their time huddled on a high platform, barely peeking their heads over the edge.  Of course we were warned going in not to touch the monkeys or get the camera within three feet of them.  HAH!  Like a 70-200 is going to focus that close, buddy.  The photo on the left was taken inside the enclosure and the one on the right was taken outside of another monkey cage.  I vote for inside the cage.  And I didn’t even get pooped on.