25 July 2008

A wilderness?

When I began this blog, I referred to my immediate boreal surroundings as a wilderness. That statement harks back to when I grew up, when the forest seemed more unyielding, mysterious, and of course also much larger, than it seems now. Its appeal had much to do with those factors. A trip into its shades was always loaded with anticipation. Would I come across any animals? Any plant species I hadn't seen before? Any path would do for exploration.

Today, the paths seem only well trodden. And not only by me. While the perceived size of the forest is reduced to the adult mind, the paths are wider than remembered. No wonder, perhaps, because there seems to be more people about. The human presence must have done something to the forest.

The attitude of the people I meet is different now. Thirty years ago was before the jogging wave, and fellow wanderers were more into relaxation through natural experience than into pure exercise. Fellow wanderers were always greeted with a smile.

Today I see only self-absorbed faces, some glistening with perspiration. Nobody says hello anymore, except me. I refuse to let go of that silly old courteousness, even to off-road bikers obviously detached from here and now by their MP3 players.

The geology in the area makes for interesting challenges to the bikers, but also limits the plant selection to hardy species not expecting much out of their soil. However, the species range seems smaller than it should be. I cannot recall the diversity from thirty years ago, of course, but I can compare to other areas of similar geology and climate. What's left in my local forest today are species enduring the frequent mechanical stress of humans stomping around. The more fragile ones are gone.

And even more pertinent, the forest is littered with empty soda bottles, plastic bags, and other human remnants. People use it like they would an urban public park. Maybe they're expecting gardeners to clean up after them, or just abandoning their stuff in want of a litter box. I just don't believe the joggers to run so fast they don't notice what they drop.

What's happened to the concept of responsability, I wonder. Probably evaporated along with the custom of greeting one another on the paths.

It's a sorry way to rediscover the places of childhood mystique.

21 July 2008

Another gross index

While on yet another business trip a short while ago, the international edition of Newsweek caught my attention. The cover story was about the 2008 Environment Performance Index (EPI), ranking nations according to environment-friendliness of their policy makers. Kinda like a Gross Domestic Product index for green-ness.

For a graphic overview of what EPI is designed to measure, have a look at the dedicated site from Yale university. The project is run by Yale and Columbia universities, by the way, and Columbia also has a site devoted to it.

The top ranked country is Switzerland. Then follows three of the Nordic countries, before Costa Rica. A lot of countries team up closely behind these, all achieving a EPI score above 80 on a scale from 0 to 100.

Newsweek's take on the EPI was interesting. There was first an editorial, then they picked 10 countries from various parts of the list, and presented them more thoroughly. There were quotes from interviews with the scientists behind the study, and sensible, level language describing how the different factors had contributed to this or that score in the overall index.

The index itself is quite interesting too. There are so many factors involved, and so many ways to weigh the factors into the total. Rather than compiling a set of hard facts, the EPI provides a perspective for discussion. Not among scientists, though I'm sure they will debate the methodology fiercely; just like they did two years ago when Yale/Columbia released a pilot EPI. For example, some Norwegian scientists protested loudly about the way to measure the impact of fisheries on the marine food chain. The main target group, though, is policy makers. The politicians and economists who really need such quantifications to make sense of anything environmental. Hopefully, this index will contribute to a better understanding among them.

On the other hand, it seems odd to rank the most-consuming economies in the world at a top of a list measuring environmental friendliness. It feels like there must be something important missing from EPI, allowing this to happen.

18 July 2008

Trip to Runde, day 3

This is the third and last post about Runde for now.

On our final day, fellow Pentaxian Tim Øsleby suggested we made a stand on one of the outermost rocks by the lighthouse at Runde, to capture in-flight shots of birds in transit between feeding grounds and nesting colonies.

This turned out to be a very good suggestion, and emboldened by a good night's sleep I decided to have a go at using the FA*600/4 for the purpose. I repressed the memory of previous failures with the FA*400/5.6, and convinced myself that yesterday's practice with the fulmars was all I needed to pull it off.

As if a gesture to that thought, a fulmar came slowly gliding past as if conciously posing as model. We didn't see any more fulmars after this one, but plenty of gannets, shags and kittiwakes. The latter were too swift for capture with the 600, but the gannets held just the right speed to allow some decent shots.

The shags, however, turned out to be a very interesting challenge. While not really much faster than the gannets, they flew very low over the waves, and the autofocus missed them most of the time. With white foam on the wavecrests, the camera constantly latched on to the background rather than the dark brown birds. However, persistance paid off, and I got a couple I was happy with.

Just like the first time I was there, it was hard to leave the lighthouse. It's such a beautiful spot, and such a hard uphill to mount when turning back. At any rate, I'd love to go back as soon as I can.

Pentax K20D, FA* 600/4, tripod

Pentax K20D, FA* 600/4, tripod

Pentax K20D, FA* 600/4, tripod

Pentax K20D, FA* 600/4, tripod

This is where the lighthouse keeper lived until 2001, when the light became automatic.
The light itself is just outside the frame on the left hand side.
The rusty stump is the fundament of an old light, decommissioned around 1930.
The occupying Nazi forces nicked most of the steel for their own purposes during WW2.
Pentax K20D, DA*300/4, ISO 200

06 July 2008

Trip to Runde, day 2

On the first day we were late back from the puffin colony. Then we spent half the night chimping, chaffing over canned beer, and enjoying an over-late dinner. Those activities put a bit of a clamp of the next day's activities, but the weather was against us anyway. We took it easy and had a long, noon-ish breakfast before strolling over to one of the fulmar colonies. Fulmars are very charming birds, displaying various kinds of both benign and hostile social behaviour. Curiously, I was not always able to decide which was what. Fulmars are also, relatively speaking, predictable in their flight paths. So they are excellent subjects for practicing birds-in-flight shots.

I ended up shooting most of the social interaction with the FA* 600/4, and flight shots with the DA*300/4. The autofocus of both cameras (K10D and K20D) performed very well, and my success rate was higher than I had ever hoped for with the flight shots.

After the fulmars, we proceeded over to the lighthouse to spend the night there. A good night, as far as sleep is concerned.

Here are some of the fulmar shots:

04 July 2008

Trip to Runde, day 1

This is the first in a series of 3 posts.

Reverting to old sins, AlunFoto has traveled far to photograph.

Runde is about 10 hours drive from Oslo, and yet the nearest seabird colony. Which was the first reason for going there. Second, it is almost in the backyard (relative to Oslo, at least) of fellow Pentax photographers Tim Øsleby and Øyvind Hopland. And third, I needed some real-life experience of lugging the FA*600/4 around, to get the full appreciation of its size.

As it turned out, I've come to appreciate both its weight and its optical properties, but the week-end started off with and adventure without it. The first thing we did was to take a guided boat trip around the island. The 600mm was just too large for wielding in a small boat packed with birding tourists. So instead, I opted for the DA*300/4, which also turned out to be a stretch on my capabilities for hand-holding long lenses. The constantly rocking boat confused both the "predictive" autofocus and my balance organs, and peering through the viewfinder all the time didn't make things any better... Fortunately, the birds were quite unafraid and studied us as much as we did them. Without their cooperation I don't think I'd have any successful shots at all. Here are a few pics from the boat trip:

Pentax K20D, DA*300/4
f/8, 1/250, ISO 400

Pentax K20D, DA*300/4
f/8, 1/250, ISO 400

Pentax K20D, DA*300/4
f/8, 1/180s, ISO 400

Pentax K20D, DA*300/4
f/8, 1/250s, ISO 400

After a late lunch we headed for the puffin colony. The ascent from the camping grounds were about 1,5 km long and 250 m up from sea level, and provided the first real appreciation of the weight of the 600mm. But bringing it turned out to be very worthwhile. We had a good time while waiting for the furballs, who didn't find time to return to their nests until sundown at around 10:00 PM. A fog came rolling in from behind the cliffs at that point, and made us some spectacular light for a short while.

Pentax ruled the grounds that night. :-)
Pentax K10D, DA*16-50/2.8

Pentax K20D, FA*600/4
f/5.6, 1/180s, ISO 400

Some people challenging their fear of heights on a
neighbouring outcrop, with the sunset fog rolling over
the cliffs behind them.
Pentax K10D, Sigma EX 70-200/2.8

The fog acted like a huge softbox, giving extremely warm
tones to the highlights. This one seemed to enjoy the last
rays of light as much as we did.
Pentax K10D, DA*300/4
f/8, 1/500s, ISO 400