Archive for the ‘Rockport’ Category

Charlotte Calls My Garden Home

Wednesday, July 24th, 2013

All In The Family

For the last couple of years I’ve had a garter snake living under the stone steps in my garden. I affectionately named him Charlie. Each spring I look forward to seeing him basking in the sun, as that signals to me that winter is gone and warmer weather is here to stay.

This year, I discovered someone new calling my garden home. I first spotted “Charlotte” on the far side of my yard on the edge of one of my borders. Having been out shooting flowers, I had both my camera and macro lens in hand.

At first I thought it might be Charlie, as I had seen him in this area the previous year. Once I got closer though, I could see this garter snake’s head to be smaller. I then assumed this one to be female and promptly named her Charlotte. Were she and Charlie a couple? Maybe. I knew I needed to say, “Hello.”

A garter snake curls to take a look

Charlotte curls around to take a good look at me

Introducing Myself

Charlotte was definitely wary of me as I approached her. Unlike Charlie who had gotten quite used to me, Charlotte didn’t know what to make of me. I gently spoke to her and kept a safe distance for a bit. I gradually moved closer, all the while speaking softly to her, and slowly coming down to her level. As trust was slowly building, she kindly gave me some great eye contact.

A close-up image of a garter snake's face.

Meeting eye-to-eye at Charlotte's level

I continued to speak gently to her  — always referring to her by name — but was mindful not to stress her out. After all, I was used to having a garter snake as a resident, but she was not used to me.

Knows Her Name

Every morning when I come down the stone steps, I always softly say, “Charlie… Charlotte… Good Morning.” From time to time a little head pops up to greet the sound of my voice. The first time this spring I thought it was Charlie. Since then, however, I’m sure it’s been Charlotte. Never have I seen the two of them together.

The other day when I was walking across the back lawn, I noticed something up against the porch lattice making its way through the grass towards the stone steps. Naturally I said, “Charlotte?”

A garter snake raises its head in the grass

Reacting to my voice

As you can see by her reaction to my voice, I think she clearly knows her name. Looks like my “animal whisperer” skills are still working.

~ Liz Mackney


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How to Create A Fauve Fine Art Scene in Photoshop

Wednesday, May 8th, 2013

Fauve fine art effect applied.

Fauve Fine Art Effect


If you’re not familiar with “Fauve Fine Art,” then perhaps this description from Wikipedia can be of some help:

“Fauvism is the style of les Fauves (French for “the wild beasts”), a loose group of early twentieth-century Modern artists whose works emphasized painterly qualities and strong color over the representational or realistic values retained by Impressionism. While Fauvism as a style began around 1900 and continued beyond 1910, the movement as such lasted only a few years, 1904–1908, and had three exhibitions. The leaders of the movement were Henri Matisse and André Derain.”

Family Influence

My grandfather was a wonderfully talented artist. He excelled as a painter in both watercolor and oils. I always loved his work, especially his watercolors. It wasn’t until a few years ago that I realized (through reading the Photoshop Fine Art Effects Cookbook) that his watercolors very much incorporated a Fauve Effect. It’s no surprise then why I was instantly drawn to this Photoshop Fine Art Effect.

Since I didn’t inherit my grandfather’s painting gene, I was very excited to learn that I could apply a Fauve Effect to my photography in post production. It was just a matter of learning the steps, which I’m happy to outline for you here.

Step-By-Step Instructions

Once you’ve selected the image you’d like to transform, the Photoshop steps are pretty straightforward. Note: For this image, I used Photoshop CS4. The filters and blending modes discussed below all come with Photoshop right out of the box.

So let’s get started. Here’s what I did, step-by-step, to create the Fauve Fine Art Effect shown above.

  1. Open your image in Photoshop and duplicate the image layer. Name the layer “Find Edges.”
  2. Convert the Find Edges layer to a line drawing by selecting Filter>Artistic>Poster Edges from the Filter Menu at the top of the screen.
  3. In the Layers palette, click on the “Create new fill or adjustment layer” icon (the half black/half white circle) and select Threshold from the menu that opens. Drag the slider until all of the color disappears and the line drawing looks how you wish it to be.
  4. Once the line drawing is to your liking, duplicate the original layer and then drag the new layer to the top of the layer stack and rename it “Multiply.” Now switch that new layer’s blending mode to Multiply, and slightly reduce the opacity. The image should now look like a line drawing that has been colored in.
  5. Now apply the Median filter to the Multiply layer by selecting Filter>Noise>Median. The purpose of the Median filter is to blend nearby pixels, therefore select a radius that is high enough to significantly distort the image in Preview. Note: For this image I used a radius of 20 pixels.
  6. With the Multiply layer still selected, activate the Move tool by clicking on it. Now hold down the Shift Key and use one of the arrow keys to gently shift the Multiply layer a few pixels in one direction. The goal is to produce a slight mismatch between the color and black lines so that it appears the image is slightly out of registration.
That’s how this Fauve Fine Art Scene was created in Photoshop.

So if you have the artistic heart of the great masters, but not their innate painting skills, don’t give up on your fine art dreams. Photoshop just might help you create a few digital masterpieces of your own.

Note: Prints of this image are available at my gallery on Fine Art America.

The Original

And in case you are wondering, here is what my original image looked like before its artistic transformation back in time.

Motif #1 Original Image
The Original

I must say that while I’ll never be a great painter like my grandfather, somewhere I do believe he is smiling.

~ Liz Mackney


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March Brings The Full Worm Moon

Thursday, March 28th, 2013

The Full Worm Moon descends over Rockport Harbor

The Full Worm Moon bathes Motif #1 in moonlight

The Full Worm Moon Beckons

Yesterday’s moon was known as the “Full Worm Moon.” According to The Old Farmer’s Almanac: “The Full Worm Moon was given its name by the Algonquin tribes from New England to Lake Superior. At the time of this spring Moon, the ground begins to soften and earthworm casts reappear, inviting the return of robins. This is also known as the Sap Moon, as it marks the time when maple sap begins to flow and the annual tapping of maple trees begins.”

Ahhh… Hello Spring!

The Moon… The Sun… The Tide…

People usually notice a full moon on the rise while driving home from work, or sometimes through a window in the evening while watching television. When you’re a photographer, however, a full moon is an event. It beckons us. It’s pull is magical. We plan for it.

The Moon Doesn’t Just Rise

What many people don’t realize, however, is that moonset is just as exciting as moonrise. The deal breaker for some people is simply the time of day that moonset occurs. That time varies from day-to-day.

This year’s Full Worm Moon had me out the door at 5:00 a.m. I wanted to make sure I had allowed for travel time, parking time, walking time and setup time. The moon has its own schedule. It waits for no one. Better to be too early than too late when photographing it.

Rockport Harbor and The Headlands

This year in Rockport, Massachusetts, the Full Worm Moon was scheduled to set at 6:21 a.m. A quick check of The Photographer’s Ephemeris program showed me that the moon would set over the town behind Rockport Harbor and appear directly between the harbor’s two wharfs when viewed nearby from The Headlands.

Two Shoots In One

Sunrise was scheduled for 6:33 a.m. Again, a quick check of The Photographer’s Ephemeris program showed me that the sun would rise behind Straitsmouth Lighthouse when viewing from the opposite side of The Headlands. All I would need to do was be fast on my feet and get to the other side in time to set up for my shot. As you can see, the hustle was well worth it. The colors were breathtaking.

The blue hour of sunrise surrounds Straitsmouth Lighthouse

The blue hour of sunrise provides a beautiful backdrop to Straightsmouth Lighthouse

Know The Tide

The tide is also an important thing to check when shooting along the coast. High tide versus low tide can greatly affect such things as shooting perspective and reflections. Getting down low in a tidal pool at low tide will garner a shot much different from one taken from the top of a rocky cliff. Which is better? That’s up to you! I say try them both. Step outside of your typical shooting zone and see what new perspectives you can personally witness and capture.

Preparation — An Important Thing To Remember

When checking the times for moonset or sunrise, remember the horizon and surrounding terrain. Setting times refer to when the sun or the moon is no longer visible on the horizon. Rising times refer to when the sun or moon first becomes visible on the horizon.

To shoot the last of the Full Worm Moon here in Rockport, I knew that I had to be ready long before the moon actually set. I needed to be in position before the moon disappeared behind the elevated tree line in the distance.

The Full Worm Moon just before it dipped below the tree line in Rockport, Massachusetts.

Moonset is perfectly aligned between the harbor's two wharfs

My iPhone Apps

While some of the reference programs I used for this shoot (such as The Photographer’s Ephemeris) are readily available on computer, I like to have them with me at all times. That’s where my iPhone comes in handy. Here are the links to the specific apps I used to plan this shoot.

In Case You’re Wondering…

The next full moon is April 25th and it’s called the Full Pink Moon. If you’re in the Rockport area, moonset is 5:26 a.m., sunrise is 5:45 a.m., and low tide is 5:09 a.m.

And Don’t Forget…

Conversely, don’t forget to consider the times of a full moonrise and sunset. When both of these events occur close together, the shooting possibilities are again only limited by your imagination and perhaps the speed of your feet.

Warm weather is coming! No more cold weather excuses. Get out there and capture the celestial magic!

~ Liz Mackney


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The First Signs of Spring Come to Cape Ann

Wednesday, March 13th, 2013

Snow Melt…

After a feisty February of back-to-back blizzards here on Cape Ann, I was thrilled to discover the snow melt of the last few days revealing the very first signs of spring!  Considering an enormous mound of snow remains piled at the top of my driveway, the emerging growth and subtly changing color of various plants made my heart sing. February was most definitely a lion — and another 10-inches of snow last Friday continued the trend —  but I am very hopeful the rest of March will be a lamb.

Walk the Gardens

With my beloved dog following closely behind, I took advantage of the warm temps today and strolled my gardens. The first thing to catch my eye was the green hue beginning to fill the leaves on my azalea bush.

Azalea leaves show the first signs of spring.

Azalea leaves begin to turn color

Not too far away, bulbs were proudly emerging from the damp soil and up through the remaining bark mulch. The rays of the sun seemed to be urging them on.

Flowers stems emerge from their bulbs.

Flower shoots begin to emerge from their bulbs.

In another border that gets full sun, the last bit of snow that had been covering the plants melted completely the other day. However, it was only today that I could see the color of my lavender plants shifting from winter gray to a delightful sage green.

Lavender leaves begin to turn color as spring approaches

Dormant lavender begins to awaken

Not too far away — and perhaps influenced by the warmth held by my stone walls — were signs of rebirth from my several blankets of phlox. They certainly didn’t look like they were going to return to slumber any time soon.

Phlox begin to turn green as winter gives way to spring.

Phlox begins to come back to life

Even my stonecrop today looked antsy to get going. This particular bud seemed to be calling out to me — with his cronies in the background cheering him on. Their collective red has deepened a bit and seems a bit more vibrant.

A red stonecrop bud grows towards the sun

Stonecrop bud reaches out towards the sun

Taking A Chance

I may be tempting Mother Nature, but I can’t help but say, “Bye-bye winter.”  I am so ready for Spring!

~ Liz Mackney


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Finback Whale Rides The Tide To A New Life!

Wednesday, November 21st, 2012

When you live by the coast, you never know what the incoming tide may leave behind before it retreats back out to sea. A few weeks ago I was dumbfounded. I never imagined that the carcass of a huge finback whale would come to rest on my town’s shoreline.

Finback Whale Illustration by LG Design

It didn’t take long for me to become spellbound by this magnificent creature. Little did I know that we would soon form a very special relationship. Let me explain…

October 8th… First Spotted

The whale’s carcass had first been spotted in Boston Harbor on Oct. 8th. Nature had its own plans, however, and the carcass was pulled back out to sea. It then traveled — for almost two weeks — all the way to Rockport, Massachusetts, before becoming stuck on a rocky stretch of beach off Penzance Road. Needless to say, the finback became an instant attraction.

Finback whale comes ashore near Penzance Road

A nearby footpath provided viewing access for fascinated residents and visitors, but the whale’s beachfront location proved inaccessible to large machinery. Removing the carcass from that location was next to impossible, so Town Officials had little recourse other than to let nature take its course.

October 26th… My First Encounter

Once I learned of the whale’s exact location, I set off with camera in hand. When my eyes first caught a glimpse of the carcass, I was amazed. Finback whales are far from tiny. This whale’s carcass was reported to measure somewhere between 54-70 feet in length — a truly jaw-dropping site to see.

Determined to be a young, adult male, the finback’s decaying aroma was what I would politely describe as… “memorable.” I quickly learned to hold my breath when standing down wind. Still, nothing was going to deter me from studying the physical details of this fascinating creature.

A fin is still clearly visible

Even though the whale had been deceased for quite some time, my photographic eye could see much waiting to be captured with my lens. This was truly a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. After all, how many times does a finback whale practically land in your own backyard?

He Deserves A Name

After seeing this magnificent creature with my own eyes, I felt an instant connection. Those who know me will not be surprised to learn that I felt he deserved a name. Naturally, I gave him one.

I saw his eye and a connection was born

Had I discovered him when he first appeared in Boston Harbor, perhaps I would have named him “Finnegan.” A good Irish name for a finback whale washing up in Bean Town.

However, it was here in Rockport that I discovered him resting on this rock-covered stretch of beach. Only one name could therefore do him justice — “Rocky.”

October 28th… The Day Before Hurricane Sandy’s Arrival

This year’s Hurricane Sandy will be remembered for a long time. As the storm barreled its way up the coast and was forecasted to converge with another weather system and form a Super Storm, I knew Rocky’s future was questionable. As I saw it, the waves would either throw his carcass further up onto the nearby resident’s property, or the storm’s force would carry him away never to be seen by me again.

Early waves from Hurricane Sandy pack a punch

On this day, Oct. 28th, several photographer friends were visiting me. As part of my tour of the area, I took them over to see Rocky. We were not alone. There were many visitors simultaneously saying both “hello” and “farewell” as time was limited and the hurricane was quickly approaching.

What condition would Rocky be in after the storm? Only time would tell.

October 30th… Sandy’s Aftermath. What Happened?

By now everyone knows the devastation Hurricane Sandy brought to the East Coast. I feared for Rocky’s condition. The ocean’s power was certainly formidable during the storm. As soon as Sandy had passed, I grabbed my camera and headed off to learn Rocky’s fate.

As I walked down the footpath to the beach, I kept my fingers crossed that he was still intact. However, when I reached the end of the path, I heard myself gasp. He was… gone. Hurricane Sandy had taken him with her.

Rocky disappears after Hurricane Sandy

October 31st… A Solitary Hour

The next morning I went into town to the Red Skiff — my favorite breakfast joint. While chatting with the staff, I mentioned Rocky’s disappearance. That’s when the miracle happened — I was told he was still in Rockport!

It had been reported that he had washed up on Cape Hedge Beach near South Street. Needless to say, I grabbed my camera equipment and headed off to find him.

Our Special Time Together

When I found him, I was startled to see that he was all alone. No residents. No visitors. No crowds. No one — except for me. I think that’s the way it was meant to be. I spent the next hour with him, up close and personal. Hurricane Sandy had definitely battered him up quite a bit, but this was now my third time photographing him and he was decidedly familiar to me.

Rocky comes to rest on Cape Hedge Beach

Although decomposition had continued since I had last seen him, it was not at all disgusting in any way. I didn’t even notice a smell this time. Instead I felt incredibly blessed to have this opportunity to be alone with him. It allowed me to really study him in-depth and to photograph a great deal of intricate detail. Such a fascinating creature packed into… 50 tons!

Remains further battered by Hurricane Sandy

It was through the newspaper that I discovered Rocky’s impending fate. His relocation to Cape Hedge Beach meant that heavy equipment would now have access to him.

Incredible flesh detail still remains

As reported in the Gloucester Daily Times, Tom French, a scientist from the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries planned to extract the whale’s bones for a museum exhibit at the Seacoast Science Center of Rye, New Hampshire.

Physical details abound long after the finback's death

The 6-hour extraction process was to take place the next day, Nov. 1st, beginning at 8:00 a.m. I knew I had to be there. I couldn’t abandon Rocky now.

November 1st… Farewell

I arrived at Cape Hedge Beach first thing in the morning. From a distance I could see a front loader and group of people already at work. Rocky’s dismantling had begun.

The dismantling team at work

I approached cautiously, as I didn’t want to interfere with their process in any way. I began taking photos from a reasonable distance before gradually moving closer. After shooting for a bit, I was approached by Jim Chase, VP of the Seacoast Science Center. He had noticed me photographing the dismantling process and asked if I would be willing to share my photos with them. Without hesitation I told him I would be happy to do so. Rocky deserved no less from me.

Removal of the jawbone proves labor intensive

I reviewed all of my photos from my multiple days of shooting and selected 88 shots that I thought best represented Rocky and the work of the diligent volunteers. Those photos have been shared with the Seacoast Science Center as promised.

Blubber is very thick and removal requires a true team effort

Front loader gives size perspective to the finback's jawbone

Rocky’s New Life…

Whether the bones will be in good enough shape to reconstruct the skeleton is yet to be seen. Regardless, that which has been salvaged will be on display in one form or another next year at the Seacoast Science Center in Rye, New Hampshire.

Both jawbones successfully removed

All I know is that one way or another, I will see my pal Rocky again!

~ Liz Mackney


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