Reflections – My Answer To "What's Wrong . . . Ver. 2"

I recently posed the question “What’s Wrong With This Picture”blog about a modified landscape photograph of a foggy sunrise in Ten Thousand Islands National Wildlife Refuge in Goodland, Florida. It turns out Deborah Gray Mitchell, one of the commenters, was right; the image was upside down.

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Ms. Mithcell has her own website (, but several other sites have information about her. Just Google “Deborah Gray Mitchell”.

To be more precise, I flipped the image vertically and took steps to remove ripples in the reflection and such so that the answer wouldn’t be so obvious. The original picture can be seen at “Foggy Sunrise” on our website. Now I’d like to discuss reflections and the clues that should have given the answer away.


illustration showing different perspective of reflected image
Figure 1: Perspective showing differences between the direct and reflected image

. . . Of Your Subject

First of all, the reflected image should NOT look like a mirror copy of the unreflected image, because the photographer has a different perspective or viewing angle of the reflection. As your high school physics teacher may have told you, in reflections, the angle of incidence (e.g. α2 in Figure 1) equals the angle of reflection (α1), so the view you have of the reflected image would be the same as if the subject had been flipped below the reflecting surface, as shown in Figure 1 above. I know that may sound like I just contradicted myself, but it is the subject itself I just flipped, not the direct image of the subject. Notice in Figure 1 that in the reflection, the two trees appear the same height, as depicted with red sightline C, while in the direct image the far tree looks higher as shown by green sightlines B1 and B2. The further away the subject is, the less of a difference this makes.

diagram of perspective and angles associated with reflections
Figure 2: Alternate perspective of reflected view that’s better for showing effects on the sun

. . . Of Celestial Bodies

Here’s another way to look at the effects of reflection; it is as if you had been flipped below the reflecting surface, as shown in Figure 2, instead of flipping the subject. Although possibly less intuitive, this interpretation yields the same results, as shown by lines B1, B2, & C, but makes the effects of the reflection of the sun more apparent. In the image under consideration, as in most cases, the sun would have been your biggest clue. The sun is 93 million miles from us, but even our closest celestial body, the moon, at under a quarter of a million miles (say 238,900 miles), is much further than what your lens considers to be infinity. All light rays from the sun are virtually parallel (or come in at the exact same angle), no matter where you are.

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This detail helped Eratosthenes figure out how large the Earth was 2,260 years agoexplained and was crucial to celestial navigation. It is also important in the creation of rainbows. I might be addressing that aspect in an article about my quest for a midnight rainbow. Stay tuned!

This means that the sun will always be higher in the direct view than it appears in the reflection (compare the angle between sun ray A and line B1 to the difference between comparable sightlines D and C).

So There You Have It

I hope that clears things up. This information should make you better at spotting fake reflections, or as a photographer, help you create better forgeries by knowing what mistakes to avoid. Good luck!

Of course, you may share your reflections on this or any related material (or questions) in the comment section below. Thanks for stopping by.

What's Wrong With This Picture (Version 2)?

It has been almost sixteen months since I submitted my last suspicious photographannouced and I just don’t have enough material to make this a regular feature, but here we go. Nancy took this picture here in Florida. I made a simple change (and cleaned it up just a bit).  So what is wrong here?

an altered sunrise photo

All comments and guesses are welcome. You have at least two weeks to figure it out and respond but don’t dilly dally. Good luck!

Our Second Biannual Caption Contest

OK, so it’s actually been almost 27 months since our first caption contestprevious. The photograph this time is not part of our regular collection, nor will it ever be, most likely. Nancy took this picture on our trip with Natural Habitat Adventures to Uganda and Rwanda in 2015 to photograph mountain gorillasdetails. As you can see, we found some. We are just starting to process those pictures now.

Bruce and silverback
Your caption could be here

This shot was taken at Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda. We were told that we weren’t supposed to get within seven meters (23 feet) of a gorilla on this hike. I’m as far off the trail (which goes off to your left) as I can get, unlike the other three gentlemen, and I’m wishing I had a wider lens. The other three managed to get out of the silverback’s way just after this photo was taken, and we all lived happily ever after.

The winner of this contest will get ten dollars off any print or service of Bee Happy Graphics. Here’s how the contest will work:

  • For at least the next three weeks, you can enter your caption idea into the comments of this article below.
  • I will announce the close of the competition and the beginning of the voting process in another comment to this blog post. I may have a plug-in for that by then and will explain the voting process in that same comment.
  • At least two weeks after that last announcement a winner will be announced. If any entry has three or more votes, the one with the most votes will be the winner. If no entry has that many votes, then I will take an informal survey among my closest family and friends, and pick the winner. The decision of the judges (as defined above) is final. This prize may be combined with other promotions.

Good luck, and let the contest begin!

Giant Swallowtails (Papilio cresphontes)

Last updated on September 9th, 2019 at 06:27 am

For the last couple of summers, Nancy has been working hard to ‘branch out’ with a larger selection of (native) butterfly host and nectar plants around the yard to bring a greater variety of butterflies to the neighborhood. It is starting to pay off. Besides our Monarchs, we’ve seen more Zebra Heliconians (our state butterfly, formerly known as the zebra longwing), we’ve seen Polydamas and Giant Swallowtails, we’ve seen one of the Duskywings (the Zarucco, I think), a few Sulphurs, and even some Atalas. We’ve recently seen chrysalises of the Atalas and then the Giant Swallowtails. Earlier this month, I expanded our explanation of the Atala Butterfly life cycle on that page of our website ( Now I’m going to tell you a few things about the life cycle of a Giant Swallowtail Butterfly.

The Egg

For this discussion, we will start with a single, 1 to 1.5 millimeter (just under 1/16“) cream to brown colored egg with orange secretions, on the upper surface of a leaf. It is laid on members of the citrus family, the giant swallowtail’s host plants, represented in our case by wild lime. The egg lasts four to ten days before hatching, depending on the temperature and host plant.

The Caterpillar

Small Larva of Giant Swallowtail Butterfly
Figure 1: early phase (instar) of giant swallowtail caterpillar. Its head is to the right.

The larva (a.k.a. caterpillar) then goes through five instars (periods between molts) which, unlike the monarch butterfly instars, all look different. The first instar has hairs. The next instars have been compared to bird poop. The younger instars are more realistic-looking as bird droppings with more contrast than the later instars (shown in Figure 2). They rest on top of the leaf and are nocturnal (which makes sense – being seen moving around during the day could blow their disguise). The more mature instars rest on the stems and have been theorized to resemble small snake heads. These caterpillars also have a red, antenna-like osmeterium, which is not usually visible (and which we have not yet seen).

Larger Caterpillar and Chrysalis of Giant Swallowtail Butterfly
Figure 2: larger giant swallowtail larva on the left side of the branch (head up) and chrysalis on right side.

The Chrysalis

After three or four weeks, when it reaches a length of about two inches (5 cm), the larva will pupate. It could form the chrysalis (not to be confused with a ‘cacoon’, which is just an outer protective cover spun by a moth larvae for their chrysalis) right on the stem of the host plant (unlike the monarchlife cycle, who because its host plant is an easily devourable species of milkweed, must travel up to twenty feet to find a safe place to pupate, or the Atala, for which all sibling larvae pupate together so they don’t have to worry about their late-developing siblings coming by and eating them onto the ground), or it could travel a short distance to a vertical surface. As seen in the above picture, the chrysalis hangs tail-down at an angle of about 45° to the structure with its top suspended from silken threads. The pupa (a more general name for chrysalis that can be also applied to all metamorphizing insects, not just butterflies and moths) will last from ten to more than twelve days before emerging into an adult. Unlike the monarch, we have not noticed the giant swallowtail chrysalis changing color over time.

The Adult

Giant Swallowtail Butterfly
Figure 3: adult giant swallowtail butterfly. (Notice chrysalis below it.)

As shown in Figure 3, the adult is black with yellow trim on the top, and could possibly be confused with other black-and-yellow swallowtails like the Black Swallowtaildescribed (and very-rarely-seen species like the Schaus’described and Bahaman Swallowtailsdescribed). The underside of this butterfly (not shown (yet)) is predominantly a light yellow. The adult lives six to fourteen days. This butterfly lives in the near-coastal areas from Florida through the Carolinas (compared to the black swallowtail, which extends north just beyond Massachusetts).


Nancy took all of the pictures shown in this article. As you noticed, we haven’t yet photographically documented the entire life cycle of this butterfly, and I don’t know when Nancy will be satisfied enough with her pictures to add an image of the giant swallowtail to our commercial collection. We’ll just have to wait and see.

Besides our personal experience, we have relied on a number of resources, including University of Florida Entomology and Nematology Department and Butterflies of the East Coast: an observer’s guide by Rick Cech and Guy Tudor, as well as the links highlighted throughout the article.

My Answer To “What’s Wrong With This Picture”

Last updated on December 13th, 2019 at 12:27 pm


Several days ago, I showed a photograph and asked: “What’s Wrong With This Picture”.  Here is more information.

Sideways Moon (overview)

Nancy took this overview a minute later. Both were taken in March 2016, while we were on a trip to Antarctica. The mountains (and snow) in the first picture should have told you “we’re not in Kansas (or Florida), anymore.”video The moon in both pictures is waxing (growing) gibbous (more than half full), meaning the full moon would be five days later. Those are Gentoo penguins you see in this picture. She took these photos on the way back to the ship after our morning excursion, as I remember.

My Answers

Although I was a bit surprised nobody mentioned that the moon, as the subject of the first picture, was too centered, thus violating the rule of thirds, one member of my camera club did think the image confusing because she wasn’t sure what the subject was.  That was a completely valid point and was probably why Nancy had to be coaxed into taking that picture.    The overview shown above might be better in that respect, but here is why I (the technical support guy) found the image interesting:

The moon and the sun follow similar paths across the sky and the lighted part of the moon always points directly toward the sun along that path.  Every time I’ve ever seen the moon just above the horizon, it was pointing almost straight up (or down).  The moon in these two pictures is pointing to the left, a difference of almost 90° from my normal.

The mountains give almost no locational clue, but the snow at sea level tells you that we are not that close to the equator and the penguins tell us which hemisphere we are in (the specific species will narrow down the possible locations even further).  The angle of the moon does the best job, however, of narrowing the geographical possibilities – showing that we were close to the (Ant)arctic Circle.

To get the same effect with Photoshop wouldn’t be that hard, but would take more than just cropping.  And this effect doesn’t fall in the impossible range, like a star between the tips of a crescent moon, or maybe either type of eclipse during the quarter moon, so it is unlikely to be found in a unicorn shot or the like.  It is just a very unusual perspective that I wanted to appreciate for what it was and share with my friends.

By the way, this is the third article (set) I’ve published in the last three weeks involving the moon.  But fear not, I’m ready to move on.  Thank you for listening.

Two More Eclipse Questions

While we are on the subject of astronomy, I’d like to share just a bit more about eclipses.  Here are my questions (those who follow us on Facebook may have already seen these questions.  Try not to blurt out the answer before your friends have had a chance to think about it):

Question 1:
If the sun and moon both travel from east to west, why was the total solar eclipse last August seen first in Seattle and last in Charleston?
The simple answer is that as the sun and moon race across the sky, the sun (on the outer lane) is overtaking the moon (on the inside lane). Here is an illustration of that.

Solar Eclipse Diagram
This drawing is not to scale

Since the surface of the Earth is moving from west to east as the Earth rotates, the big question for some of you is which is moving faster. Turns out it is the shadow. (Actually, the Earth’s rotation is reflected by the movement of the sun in this picture, but the question is still valid).

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Here is an Earth-centric partial drawing of our solar system showing most of the details/numbers that needed to be considered in arriving at this answer.Solar System Diagram
The above ignores details like the fact that the Earth’s axis of rotation is not the same as the axis of its orbit around the sun or the axis of the moon’s orbit around the Earth. These factors affect the path of the eclipse across the Earth. Here is a map of the paths of all the total (and annular (defined in next note)) solar eclipses crossing North America in this first half of the 21st century.

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Because of the elliptical nature of the moon’s orbit, sometimes it seems larger than the sun and sometimes smaller (Based on the average distances shown in the second drawing (hidden in the previous note), the moon would be smaller). If the moon appears larger than the sun and completely hides it during an eclipse, it is called a total eclipse and its path is shown in blue on the map. When the moon appears smaller, the sun can peek out all around it, and it is called an annular eclipse. Those paths are shown in yellow.

Paths of Solar Eclipses
I derived this from other maps found at a NASA website. This information is courtesy of Fred Espenak, NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center, from

Question 2:
Which side of the country would see a lunar eclipse first? Why?
This could be considered a trick question. As the second drawing (hidden in first note) suggests, the geometry of a lunar eclipse is totally different from a solar eclipse and so the relative sizes of the shadow and the object being shadowed are completely different.
Animation of Solar Eclipse
Our last animated illustration shows the relative size of the Earth and moon (shadow) from the sun (under specific conditions) during a solar eclipse, but for a lunar eclipse imagine the Earth is the Earth’s shadow as the moon (in the place of the moon’s shadow) goes behind it. As the moon flies into the shadow, that event is visible simultaneously wherever the moon can be seen. For another (possibly better) view, see the second illustration in “A Nighttime Solar Eclipse?”.

Well, that should just about cover everything you ever wanted to know about an eclipse (and more). If you have any questions, you can ask in the comment section, or you may just want to consult an astronomer.

A Nighttime Solar Eclipse?

When I tried to print our second 26″ by 36″ canvas copy of “Eclipse Over Long Pine Key”, the colors were as shown below. I thought one of the ink cartridges must be empty or the printer had a clogged nozzle or something. I pulled out the roll of canvas, performed a cleaning, and did a nozzle check, all of which went well, so I did a small (5″ by 7″) test print on luster paper. It turned out the same way. It was late so I just shut off the printer and went to bed. The next morning the printer passed all tests and I was able to make the correct print with no problem. I’ve never had that problem before or since. I was intrigued by the picture and kept the small print as a memento.  I have no idea how to duplicate this image.

Nighttime Solar Eclipse?

Often, when people see the original version hanging in our booth at an art festival, many of them think it shows a time-lapse of the phases of the moon.  I assure them that although the moon plays a crucial role, it is not directly visible in the image. Below is an animation showing the three different celestial events involving the moon.  A solar eclipse happens only during the day when the moon is new, while the lunar eclipse only happens on a night with a full moon.  In the animation, both of those are total eclipses, while both versions of our “Eclipse Over Long Pine Key” show only a partial solar eclipse.  The third part of the animation shows a complete lunar cycle with all the phases of the moon.  In this case, unlike the other two events, the edge of the obscured part of the celestial body will always touch both poles.

Moon Animations

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While all parts of this animation are drawn to scale as seen from the Earth, the time compression is different for each celestial event.