Marion Owen Alaska

Light bulb moments: Photography tools and whale tails

I’m not a gadget gal, but when I find a great tool (one that improves, not complicates my life) I like to share with others. So during a photography workshop I recently lead  for Natural Habitat Adventures, I handed my Hoodman HoodLoupe to one of the participants who was squinting (and groaning) at the display on the back of his camera.

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Are snowflakes alive?

Janet was worried about my upcoming visit.
“I don’t know if you have heard, but we are experiencing a very dusty winter because of the lack of snow. Be forewarned that I have not started my spring housecleaning—which usually occurs just before

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Strawberry Reflections in Seattle

The rain had stopped so we decided have breakfast at the Pike Place Market in downtown Seattle. “Go to Lowell’s, you’ll love their lemon-blueberry pancakes,” the hotel clerk said. So lemon-blueberry pancakes it was,

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The edges of nature: When snow kisses the ocean

When it snows on Kodiak Island, something magic happens at high water. The black shale rocks are dusted with white, transforming them into tiny marshmallows. Then as the tide recedes, the snow is raked into the ocean, leaving a

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Celebrating salmon, ice and spring to come

If you live in California, winter’s passing is more of a transition. In Alaska, keeping tabs on day length is a statewide sporting event. As a gardener, I watch these things, even to the point of

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Are your decisions tainted by "analysis paralysis"?

Dan Burns is a professional sports photographer. To pay the bills though, he shoots “anything that moves,” from dance rehearsals and polo matches to brown bears and pro football games.

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Snowflakes: Pretty in Pink

Snowflake, snow crystal, winter, ice, Alaska, Kodiak, photograph, macro, microscope
Photograph of a real snowflake, taken in Kodiak, Alaska by Marion Owen. (Canon EOS 5D Mark II, ISO 100 1/4 sec)

Keys in hand, grocery list in my pocket, I head to the door for a round of errands.
While slipping on my gloves, I glance out the office window just long enough to watch several snowflakes make their way earthward. Finally, snow! I tossed the keys on the desk and scoot outside. Grabbing the black, 3-ring binder sitting on the barbecue, I hold it out at arm’s length like a beggar. One, two, three… the clear, individual snow crystals follow an air current down to the black plastic, and then touch down, oh so gently, like Apollo 11 landing on the surface of the moon. Magic fills the air as I prepare for what turns out to be 10-hour session of photographing snowflakes.
For five long days I had waited for snow. Outside, my camera-microscope waited by the barbeque, balanced on two milk crates in the wood shed. The weathermen teased me with forecasts of snow and single-digit temperatures, ideal snowflake conditions.
Snowflake, snow crystal, winter, ice, snow, photograph, macro, Kodiak, Alaska, cold
Photograph of a simple stellar dendrite snow crystal, by Marion Owen, Kodiak, Alaska (Canon EOS 5D Mark II, ISO 100 1/4 sec)

One after another the snowflakes come: Stellar dendrites, sectored plates, needles, double-plates, split plates, and snowflakes that look like cartoon characters. I work without gloves to allow for easy handling of the camera controls. But first I have to capture the snowflakes…
This is done by lifting a snow crystal off the notebook with the tip of a small paintbrush and transferring it to a glass microscope slide. While holding my breath I quickly focus and press the shutter release cable.
After 20+ years of practicing the art of snowflake photography, I still have a lot to learn. Lighting, for example, is very critical to illuminate an otherwise clear object. But I’ve picked up a few interesting factoids along the way. Like this one: Did you know that it takes only 15 minutes from the time the snow crystal begins to form around a tiny particle of dust (like a pearl around a grain of sand) to the moment it lands on my black notebook?
And that there are skinny snowflakes and fat snowflakes? Snowflake triangles and 12-sided snowflakes?
Snowflake, snow crystal, winter, ice, snow, photograph, macro, Kodiak, Alaska
Photograph of a stellar dendrite snow crystal, by Marion Owen, Kodiak, Alaska (Canon EOS 5D Mark II, ISO 100 1/5 sec)

I suppose it’s easy to overanalyze snow crystals, how they form, what controls their shape and so on. Believe me, my mind craves to go there. But I’m reminded of a quote I read the other day, which helped me let go of the restlessness.

“One who mentally dissects and analyzes the botanical properties of a flower misses a full appreciation of its beauty. But one who focuses on how beautiful that flower is, allowing one’s intuitive feelings to respond to its pure essence, enjoys fully its loveliness.” — Paramahansa Yogananda

I hope you have a wonderful week. Thanks for stopping by. I’m finally off to do those errands I talked about at the beginning which includes mailing my seed orders for this year’s gardening season. Ah, the garden. That’s another story…
You can also find me on Facebook at Marion Owen Photography.

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Snowflakes and Chocolate

snowflake, snow crystal, flake, winter, kodiak, alaska, photograph, photography
Some people like to photograph penguins; I like to photograph snowflakes. Now you’d think that living in Kodiak, Alaska would provide ample opportunities to capture snowflakes with one’s camera. After all, we share the same latitude with Stockholm, Sweden.
Ah, but Kodiak Island’s weather is influenced by the warmish Japanese current, so we often end up with snow that resembles giant cotton balls; not the exquisite, 6-sided snowflakes you see in children’s books.
So to find snowflakes I must head north to Anchorage; more specifically, to Janet and Jerry George’s house. Once there, I set up my microscope + camera under a tarp, which has been draped over two sawhorses. It’s not the Ritz, but it works.
Photograph, snowflakes, macro, close up, snow, crystals, Kodiak, AlaskaWhen the snow is falling, I spend as much time as I can outside. To dress for the part, I zip, button, snap and Velcro on many layers of clothes. I could pass as the Michelin man’s sister. Then I get to work, using a tiny paintbrush to transfer each snowflake to a glass microscope slide. After double-checking the focus, I snap the picture. I spend a lot of time on my knees, and all this must be accomplished within seconds. Oh, and I breathe out of the side of my mouth, like a swimmer. When I no longer can feel the shutter release button with my fingers, I retreat indoors to warm up, grab a fresh camera battery, use the bathroom…
On Day One, the flakes were not great: covered with frozen water droplets which gave the snowflakes a warty appearance. Time for a break. Janet must have been watching me through the kitchen window. She met me at the door. “Come on in and have some coffee. Fresh pot. I also have these new Dove bars. Dark chocolate with almonds.”
I pulled off a glove with my teeth and reached for a candy. Fumbling a bit, I peeled off the purple foil wrapper and noticed a message printed on the inside. It read:  “Renew your sense of discovery.”
“Mine says, ‘Feel free to be yourself,’ Janet said. We both laughed.
The next day, after chasing snowflakes for hours and then sitting down to a savory dinner of scallops (topped with marmalade and caramelized onions), Janet set a small dish of Dove bars on the table. “Just a little sweet to finish the meal.”
We unwrapped our candies. “Satisfy your sense of surprise,” Janet announced. Mine was, well, a little vague: “Stir your sense of pleasure.” Hmm, okay.
Snowflake, snow crystal, photograph, macro, photography, close up, Kodiak, Alaska, AnchorageThe third day began at 3:30 in the morning after I woke up, sensing a good flurry was happening. I suited up and headed out the door onto the deck. The air was still. An owl who-who-ed from a tree close by. Snow crystals fell like mini tumbleweeds, shimmering like tiny mirrors reflecting moonlight. For 30 minutes I collected and photographed prisms, plates, stars and yes, the tree-like, stellar dendrites as the classic snowflakes are called. I even saw a rare, 12-sided snowflake.

Then it was over, just like that as the falling snowflakes started taking on the form of tiny white poppy seeds. Then a strong breeze blew snow all over my equipment. Still, I didn’t mind. I was ecstatic, having  witnessed and photographed Nature’s magic. I opened the sliding glass door and stepped inside.
A little while later, Janet appeared in her nightshirt. “Coffee?”
As Janet massaged Pigafetta (the cat’s) neck and sipped coffee, I described the 12-sided snowflake and the beautiful, jewel-like plates.
Janet smiled and pushed the bowl of Dove bars towards me. We both selected one and peeled off the red foil. The words printed inside seemed to leap off the wrapper. I looked up at Janet. Her eyes were sparkling with playful delight.
Here’s what both of our Dove bar “fortunes” said:
“Catch snowflakes on your tongue.”

Snowflake, dove bar, snow crystal, kodiak, alaska, snow, ice, winter, chocolate, sweet, photography, photograph, microscope

To see more of my snowflake and snow crystal images, visit my Snowflakes and snow crystals gallery. (You can even get yourself a snowflake mouse pad!)
To search for images on my website:

Thank you for stopping by,
Marion Owen, photographer, organic gardener, Kodiak Island, Alaska

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Saint Cottonwood

Cottonwood, tree, Kodiak, Island, Alaska, plants, sunrise

I pulled over to the side of the road and parked near a chain link fence. Last week’s snow squeaked underfoot as I shuffled around the car: setting up the tripod, locking the camera into place and dusting the front of the lens. When I left the house, the thermometer read three degrees (F). I fumbled with my gloves and rubbed my hat against my forehead to ease the wooly itch.
I stomped in place to keep warm. The sunrise colors wouldn’t kiss the snowy mountaintops for another 20 minutes and my subject, the gnarly cottonwood tree I’d found the day before, wasn’t going anywhere soon. So I used the time to scout out good positions for taking the shot. Picking up the tripod, I wandered around, zig-zagged to and fro, peering occasionally through the lens to line up the tree with the mountain peaks. (I could have passed for a drunk on an early morning binge).
When everything felt right, I pulled a stick from my pocket and set in on the ground to mark the spot. I repeated the drill until I had four locations staked out.
Only thing was, all the locations were in the middle of the road.
By now the Earth’s shadow was lighting up the peaks with a salmon-pink glow. I moved into a position, but just as I prepared to squeeze the cable release, a blue pickup truck appeared in the dim light and headed right for me. Should I grab my equipment and run, or trust that the driver will see my red jacket and go around me? I gulped, smiled and waved my arms like an airline employee guiding a jet on the tarmac.
Cottonwood, tree, Kodiak, Island, Alaska, plants, sunrise
Whew. For the next 45 minutes, I conducted my photo-dance in the road: Snapping pictures, smiling and directing traffic.
While driving home, it occurred to me that some of those drivers maneuvering around the lady in red, were probably not very alert (pre-coffee) or were distracted: talking on their cell phone or rushing to an appointment. I could have been hit by a car. What was I thinking?
I’m not trying to be morbid here, but consider this: In an instant we may be required to leave this world, cancel all our appointments. Just like that. Makes you wonder, where are our thoughts during the course of the day?
Brother Lawrence practicing the presence of GodSaints and other holy persons like Brother Lawrence (1611-1691) tell us that one of the best ways to get control over our random, runaway thoughts is to practice the presence of God (however you may perceive Him or Her). Brother Lawrence would go so far as to pick up a straw from the kitchen floor, all the while loving God.
This is not about religion, dear readers. It’s about improving our lot. Yesterday, while reflecting on that morning of photographing and directing traffic, I came across a quote by Mahatma Gandhi, a shining example of practicing the presence of God.
“If someone killed me and I died with prayer for the assassin on my lips, and God’s remembrance and consciousness of His living presence in the sanctuary of my heart…” Imagine, to possess that kind of devotion. (Gandhi died by an assassin’s bullet in 1948).
So my personal challenge is to hit the pause button more often — while photographing a sunrise, pulling weeds or stirring a pot of soup — to bless my actions, say a prayer for a friend or to simply give thanks for the cottonwood tree.
Thanks for being here.
Marion Owen, photographer, organic gardener, Kodiak Island, Alaska

More resources you might enjoy:

The Practice of the Presence of GodThe Practice of the Presence of God and The Spiritual Maxims by Brother Lawrence (Amazon)
Mahatma GandhiGandhi the Man, by Ecknath Easwaran available through Blue Mountain Center of Meditation and Nilgiri Press.
You can find dozens of articles, tips, recipes and essays by Marion on her original PlanTea.com website.
To enjoy more of Marion’s photographs (or to order canvas prints, mouse pads–you name it–using Marion’s photographs), please visit www.MarionOwenPhotography.com.

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