Friday, December 28, 2007

Moving On

First off I would like to apologize for being so unpredictable when it comes to blogging, but I'm lazy about some things (most things?) and blogging happens to be one of them. That being said, though, doesn't make it ok.

When I started this blog a year ago it was never my intention to post in a scheduled way, but then I never figured anyone would be reading it either! And now that some folks do, I feel the need to adhere to some sort of regular schedule. If not for myself, then to at least keep my faithful readers from wasting precious time by checking to see if mcmurma has done anything lately. Heck, if I can get to work on-time 99% percent of the time, then surely I can post in a regular fashion!

So what kind of time frame should I work on? Once a day is out of the question, I would never make it. Even though I greatly admire those who do. So I have decided to shoot for once a week--every Monday. It's more or less what I have been wanting to do, even though I have missed the mark more often than not.

Anyway, enough reflection, self-loathing, and what not... on to the last of the Utah images.

Now, about these Utah images. Frankly, I'm glad to be done with them. It was a great experience, to be sure, but it happened almost 6 months ago and it's time to be moving on.

This first image is of the Colorado river, shot a hour or so before sunset at Dead Horse Point. It's not the classic gooseneck shot (which was already in deep shade) but a view more to the east, towards Colorado.

The second is one was taken just minutes before sunset from a viewpoint along the scenic Islands in the Sky drive. Both parks are within a few minutes drive of one another, and Islands offered a much better all around view so we raced over there after taking in Dead Horse Point.

I still have an image or two I'd like to share from our visit to the Black Canyon of the Gunnison in Colorado, but for Utah, this is it. I reserve the right scare up the odd Utah image on some rainy day, but for now, I hope you all have had a Merry Christmas, and are looking forward to a Happy New Year!

Addendum: Ok, so I am slow. I just tried Advman's idea of saturation and clarity increase and I must say the results are much better than what I initially came up with. I had already increased saturation a little, and also done a clarifying, so I was skeptical that even more could still look so natural. Well, I was wrong. I really like the results. Compare for yourself... as if there is any real comparison.

Thanks Andreas. I was willing to leave well enough alone until I tried it. Now I'm glad I did :)

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Arches Part Two


As our afternoon at Arches wore on it became increasingly evident that we were going to get some rain, the only question was how much? The wind was blowing fiercely as we scrambled through the park to take in as many locations as we could before the storms hit. In fact, I can't even recall exactly where we were when I took some of these images.

I believe the first image was taken near the Cove of Caves area, but I couldn't swear to it. I took dozens of shots of this scene trying to get one where the wind wasn't moving the brush too badly, but it was impossible. This was one of the few images where the wind effects weren't too bad. (In my previous post Ted noted that one of the images was over-sharpened. Can't argue with that, it was. I hope this is not as bad, but I suspect it may be a bit oversharp as well.)

The next shot was one that I was seeing in black and white even as I took it. There was so little color present in the original that using monochrome wasn't much a stretch. Besides, there was a parking lot in the foreground and I couldn't see any good way to blend it into this scene:)

The last shot is one of Balanced Rock. There was very little light actually on the rocks, so it made sense to treat them in silhouette. Also, the color is a bit fanciful. (As if you couldn't tell!)

The next stop will be a few shots from the Islands in the Sky area of Canyonlands. It's a wonderful drive that gave us an opportunity to look down upon the White Rim Road that we had taken earlier in the week.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Arches National Park


Ok, ok. So I have been absent for a while. Sorry about that. Things have been rather busy around here what with children coming home from fall classes, my sisters wedding tomorrow, a rather whirlwind couple of weeks at work... Well, you get the idea.

Now, back to Arches. It's a lovely place, it really is. We only spent a day in the park, which was a full half-day more than we had originally intended, but we did get a nice bit of weather while we there.

The morning started out with a hike through the Devil's Garden area under mostly overcast skies, mild temperatures, and a near gale-force wind. Not to mention several hundred other tourists.

The first image is Landscape Arch. It's one of those hard images. It was the only one I was remotely happy with, so I worked an HDR from 9 images out of a single RAW. Which is not a method I can recommend. That eerie HDRish thing is going on and I can't say that I'm overly pleased with it, but it will have to do.

The arches in Devils Garden (and the entire area for that matter) have eroded from a mixed set of what they "fins" and "slots", which are basically long slender rock formations cut by cleft valleys that parallel one another as they run through the park. Water and wind have undercut the fins in many places, leaving the magnificent arches behind.

The next image is from Double Arch. If you look closely you can just make out the smaller arch beneath the large one.

After Devils Garden we stopped to check out Sand Dune Arch, which was hidden deep between two fins and surrounded by so much sand that it was difficult to walk.

I've got a few more Arches shots to go before our day in the park was over. Hopefully these will do for now :)

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

A Change In Plans


Our original plans for Utah included several days at a remote campsite in the Needles District of Canyonlands National Park. To be more specific, we were going to stay at back country site called "Horsehoof" (of all things). The problem was that the site is situated deep within the back country and requires that you either hike in (we weren't prepared for that) or traverse a rather serious 4wd trail known as "Elephant Hill" to get there. Our intentions were good, but one look at the weather report (forecast was for rain) and a good, long look at the first section of the trail sent us looking for, well, shall we say, less cumbersome adventures.

I had planned to spend my time there in relative seclusion (few tourists visit due to the difficult access) photographing in an area of the back country known as "Chesler Park." The place has been described as a photographers paradise, and getting into it will be at the top of my list next time I visit, even if I should have to hike in. But as we surveyed our situation at the gates to Elephant Hill (arriving in the park with only a few hours before sunset didn't help) we all decided that it was best to head back to Moab and Negro Bill, where we couldn't get rained-in if the weather turned foul.

So a new plan was hatched. One that would keep us safe regardless of the weather and allow to spend more time in Arches National Park than we had originally planned. On the way out of the Needles section we stopped at a site known as "Newspaper Rock." Hundreds of years of signs and symbols have been pecked into the patina of the cliff walls here, and no one has any good idea of what the symbols mean, when they were created, or even exactly who left them.

The first of today's pics was literally taken roadside as we were leaving the Park. The second shot is from NR, and it's one you wont see in the guidebooks. It was taken to the left of the main panel as I was trying to show the whole environment rather that just the rock art.

Next stop, Arches NP.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Dealing with Flare


The Zenitar 16mm is not the kindest lens with regards to flare. In fact, as you can see in today's photo, it's pretty bad. As a rule I try to accept flare and work with it when I can. After all, it's a natural part of the photographic process, so why fight it? Besides, all those funky little spots intrigue me. And sometimes I think they can look pretty cool.

This image shows another arroyo, this time looking down towards the Colorado river. Its another HDR that has had more cosmetic work done on it than Phyllis Diller, including the addition of grain and lots of selective sharpening. (and a little blurring in the background)

This is the last shot I'll be sharing from the White Rim Road. It was taken the morning we drove out and the next stop will be an image from the Needles section of Canyonlands.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

The Big Dipper


One of the neatest thing about being in the desert was the relative lack of light pollution. It really made for some starry skies. Had it not been for the waxing moon, which rose well before sundown, I'm sure things would have looked even better. We all talked a couple of nights about setting an alarm to get up early after the moon had set, but it never happened.

This shot was taken at the Airport camp along the White Rim Road, and I believe the tower on the left is the one they refer to as "Airport Tower", but I couldn't swear to it.

In this image the rising moon puts just enough glow on the tower and the surrounding cliffs to make it interesting. This was a 30 second exposure at f4, using iso800 with a 16mm Zenitar lens. The Zenitar is kinda fishy, so I did defish it a little so that it didn't look so twisted. But frankly, now I'm not sure I like the image as well. The defishing led to some cropping and it looks quite different from the original frame.

Also, I did run neat-image through the shot to clean it up. So some of the smaller stars were no doubt gobbled up in the noise reduction.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Undecided


This is an image of one of the many arroyos that wind down to the Green River. I initially chose the sepia treatment because the color version seemed so tame, but then once I had them both it was really a tough decision. I like different aspects of each.

Then I got to thinking... there is nothing to keep me from posting two images. So there ya go.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

New Directions?



In a way I surprised even myself when I started thinking seriously about making moving pictures instead of stills. It was an idea that came out of left field, as I have never fancied myself the producer/director type.

But a couple of things happened recently which have me looking in that direction. The first was the purchase of the little fuji f31 digicam. It takes video, but I never bothered testing it out until the Utah trip where I took a few small clips. And like the iso800 stills, the low-light movies look pretty darned impressive... well, for digicam movies anyway.

The second was stumbling across a site the other day where they were discussing the merits of various lens adapters used on camcorders to achieve cinema-like shallow DOF. They accomplish this little trick by focusing regular 35mm lenses (usually old, MF lenses) on a matte screen in front of the camcorders regular lens. The camcorder sees and records the image on the matte screen, and because the lenses producing the image are 35mm, you get all the DOF that you normally get with with 35mm on a camcorder. Nice idea, I thought. And then I saw some of the sample footage taken with prosumer 3-chip camcorders. Impressive stuff.

Then I started thinking about a couple of screenplay ideas that I have had for awhile (doesn't everybody have a few?) and how I could actually write and produce something that at least "looked" kinda like a steak dinner on a 99 cent value meal budget.

The last piece of the puzzle is that movie making is not a solitary pursuit. And if you have followed my blog then you know how lazy I am. So maybe collaborating with some others on a few projects would help keep me focused and allow me to explore some new directions.

Oh yea, todays image. It was taken the next morning just up the river from Labyrinth camp. In fact, if you look closely you will notice that the rock formation is the same one seen on the left hand side of the river in the previous post.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Labyrinth Canyon



Todays image is another from the Labyrinth camp, this one taken at sunset. I must have taken a dozen or more different compositions of this same basic scene. Some with a crescent moon that was rising just left of the frame, some without moon, with tent, without tent, etc....

What I like about this one is the inclusion of the tent. It was the only tent shot that worked, but for me it works well. There is something about the human element that seems to ground everything. It lends it a sense of scale and contrasts nicely with the geological layers.

This is an HDR image. Three RAWs worked to TIFFs before merging in Photomatix. Sometimes it seems to work better that way. Other times working straight from the RAWs seems to work better. You just never know.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Making Mugs



All this chat lately about clich├ęs and what not has me looking differently at the Utah shots. Which is a good thing. Because after living with them for the past month I had about decided that for one reason or another they all sucked and that there wasn't a mouse farts worth of decent images in the whole bunch.

This tends to happen from time to time when I get lazy with my image processing and expect these RAW captures to magically give up the goods with only minimal effort. Now, I'm a Photoshop guy, like I know most of the regular readers of my blog are, and we all process RAW files and manipulate them to our desires. Which, of course, is not always an easy thing to do. Even if you do it every day for years you can still find yourself faced with compositions that you may like but are at a loss to get looking the way you want. Happens to me, anyways.

Then something, somewhere, got me to thinking about a small plaque that rests on the wall in our kitchen, and how it relates to the way I process images. It belongs to my wife (she had it before we ever met) and it says, "Men are of clay, and Women make mugs of them." And while it may make perfect sense to you, I puzzled over the meaning of that plaque for years. Then one day it hit me... women take something worthless and make something useful! Duh. I knew there was reason I always hated that plaque.

What it doesn't mention is how much hard work it's gonna take to make that mug.

I have liked this shot from the moment I saw it, but initial attempts at processing didn't do a thing for me. To finally get a handle on the image I used one RAW file, processed through Photomatix using 3 differently exposed Tiff's, gave it a very delicate tone-mapping (if there is such a thing) and then tweaked it using Color Mechanic Pro, The Shadow/Highlights in CS, selective color adjustments, and all kinds of groovy things. Took me three tries and as many hours to get it right. Insanity. And I'm still not happy with the clear blue sky. Part of me really wants a cloud in there.

Anyhow, this image was the first to get printed. Printed it big too, 12x18, biggest my printer will go without going borderless. Looks pretty good. I guess you could say I finally threw a mug from the clay.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Place Names and Introduced Species


Our first night in Utah was at one of the many campgrounds outside of Moab that sit alongside the Colorado river on highway U-128. A nice little BLM operation called Negro Bill. Lots of other campgrounds were available just down the road, but this was one of the cheapest. Besides, it happens to be situated right next to the trail-head for Negro Bill Canyon, which supposedly makes for fine day-hiking and mountain biking.

The name of the canyon (and later the campground) Negro Bill, became of interest to me as I was planning the trip, not only because of its relatively cheap price, but also because the name had been amended at some point (the 70's?) from its original place name of "Nigger Bill Canyon" to the more politically correct "Negro Bill Canyon." Seems Bill was a settler of the region back in the late 1800's who held the proper name of William Granstaff. For several years he grazed his cattle in the canyon before being run out, supposedly for selling liquor to the local Ute Indians.

Now, why change a perfectly good place name? I personally find the original place name much more endearing and characteristic of the American West. But, I suppose such a name just couldn't fly in this day in age, as I don't think there is another single word in the entire English language that carries as much baggage. (If you were to shout SNAKE, or FIRE, in the midst of a large crowd the reaction would likely be good. But try shouting NIGGER. You'll be lucky to get out in one piece.) And why not just change the name to Granstaff Canyon?

I can't help but wonder what Bill would have thought.

Today's image was taken through the Tamarisk trees that surrounded our camp. These low-growing invasive trees were reportedly introduced for erosion control in the 1800's and have been gaining ground every since. Now every major waterway and perennial wet spot in the Southwest is getting overrun.

A project is underway to control them with another introduced species, the Tamarisk Leaf Beetle. These pea-sized buggers strip the Tamarisk of their leaves and choke the life right out of 'em. The project has worked so well in other parts of the west that they started introducing them into the Moab area this year. They had nifty little signs about it posted all over the place.

As a riverside companion the Tamarisk seemed pretty harmless to me. They grew so closely together that they created a dense canopy, shading us from the desert sun. They also shed a nice bed of fine needles that were perfect for pitching camp over, and a handful of the fresh boughs made for a great makeshift broom. These were quite useful for sweeping out the tents and dusting off our gear.

The problem is that these trees also suck up billions and billions of gallons of water each year from an already water-starved area. And the fine needles that made for such a nice camp are so laden with salt that nothing else will grow where they fall. No wonder the natives want them gone.

Next time I visit I'll try to remember to bring my own broom.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Processing Wonderland\Nightmare


Rarely have so many images of such (hmm, what's the word I'm looking for...) let's call it-- "usefulness," been available to me after a shoot. Usually I'm rather experimentive when I'm shooting locally. After all, I can always return later and my primary goal is usually to get something different from anything I may have shot there before.

Not so with the Canyonlands trip. Most the shots I took were with the lenses in MF mode set to the best hyperfocal distance for maximum sharpness and DOF. I charted this out pretty well before the trip, and went so far as to make little marks on a couple of the lenses just to help me remember where the best settings were. Boring, yes. But it worked like a charm.

The cheap Sigma 18-50mm DC f3.5/5.6 saw the most use. It's a capable performer from f11-f16, and diffraction is just starting at f16... barely. It's not the sharpest lens in the world, but it's not like anybody is gonna know the difference but me. After careful processing I don't even think another photographer would be able see the difference between it and a 10x more expensive lens, even in a large print (at least to 11x17, which is the largest I'll likely go). Seriously, if used carefully it is one heck of a worthy little lens.

The problems is that, knowing these things made much of the work rather boring. I was rarely tempted to "get off course" and experiment, preferring to go with the settings I knew would deliver good shots. So be it. Now I have over 1000 images, all of them decent technically, and with many of them differentiated only by a change in location.

So now the real enchilada has been in the post-processing. I can't go back and redo the shots, so I have to bring the best out of what I've got. It's been a frustrating challenge.

Today's image was one of the first I tried a B&W to sepia treatment with. Again, I don't see it as a great shot or anything, but I do like the way the treatment works for it. I'll be doing it with some others soon.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Recapitulation


The night before I left on my "Canyonlands" adventure, my son asked if I was excited. "Yes," I replied. He, after all, had watched all day as I rushed around, packing my bag, making last minute arrangements, etc.... There was no denying the fact.

Then I paused for a moment, considering the deeper implications of my answer (lest he should get the wrong idea) and added, "Unfortunately, it will all evaporate too soon... it's hard to get overly excited about such things anymore." (How's that for a wise-ass, old-fart answer?)

Now, just over one week later, the adventure is over and the realities of my day to day life are, once again, about to come back into focus. Off to work, dealing with projects, both unfinished and unstarted, caring for ailing loved ones (myself included) and everything else that makes life so grand. Little is left of my Canyonlands journey but a pocketful of shared experiences, a few personal insights, and a 7 gigabytes worth of flash memory.

Now, about that flash memory. I took around 1200 photos, in all, between my pocket camera (which I used far more than anticipated) and my aging DLSR. The pocket cam captured the JPEGs, and the DSLR the RAW. It will take weeks to get through the processing of the RAW images, as so many will also require HDR conversions. A tedious chore, to be sure, but also a labor of love. Even though I can see already that not many of them will be that good.

And really, what else do I have left?

To be honest, I'm not yet sure. Some things just take longer to digest than others. A trip such as this could take months, or even years to fully develop. The memories and insights, like the unprocessed RAW files, are not yet realized. They're in there, just like all the ingredients in that spaghetti sauce, but they have yet to be printed, framed, and mounted.

The image presented here was taken at Labyrinth camp B along the White Rim 4wd trail. A hot, dry, and windy place where the ground is so hard that rocks must be used to anchor ones tents. It is a truly desert environment where shade from the mid-day sun is a premium commodity. This is an HDR image, one of the first I saw fit to muck with. As usual, I have attempted to keep the HDR tom-foolery to a minimum in order to present a more natural looking image.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Of logs and blogs


Today's image is an oldie. I took the shot some several years ago while visiting my aunt and uncles cabin.

There a week left yet before I embark upon my "great adventure." Some may see it as a trip to the desert filled with little more than lizards, rocks, and canyons, but for me it stands out as one of those "adventures-of-a-lifetime". A phrase whose very meaning has become suspect of late.

Now, I've had my fair share of adventures by some folks standards. I've floated rivers, hiked and climbed in high mountain places, probed the depths of many of Arkansas' wild cave systems, and a few other things along these lines. Nothing too outrageous, though. And I'm sure many, if not most, other adventurers would view the things I have done as being completely pedestrian. I'd have to agree.

My point is, though, that the most recent of these trips was some 15 years in the past. And like it or not, years make a difference.

I keep telling myself I'm not too old for this kind of crap. Not yet. I can do it. And it's all about the desire. After all, if you want a thing badly enough, you can get it... despite the condition you may be in.

Heck, it's even been awhile since I so much as curled up in a tarp under the stars without a tent for protection. 20 years, perhaps? I can't recall the date. Fortunately, though, it wasn't so long ago that I forget what it's like.

I hope I never do.

PS. Almost forgot. I plan to blog out my trip a few posts at a time once I return. Should be fun.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Another Macro


OK, I admit it. I have a fascination with getting up close to things. Macro (or micro if you're using Nikkor) is one of my favorite areas of photography.

Perhaps it's because of the way macro photography allows you cut the clutter of the rest of the world, allowing you get more intimate with your subject. Or something like that.

Or, maybe it has more to do with the way the close-up image can render the world. Sometimes things are in focus, sometimes out of focus, it's all possible... depending on the effect you're after.

Todays image is rather flat. I've tried to tease a little depth into it--for all the good it did. Still, I'm pretty happy with it. The colors are relaxing and the composition, though rather standard, is engaging enough for me to decide it's worth sharing.

Now, about that up-and-coming trip to the Canyonlands. Details are finally finalized. Getting all the backcountry reservations we wanted (well, most of them anyway) proved to be a ongoing lesson in why you should reserve sites really early if you want to do things right!

We wound up only getting one night along the White Rim road, a 4wd track that makes a 100 mile loop around the Islands in the Sky section of the park. If we had managed a site closer to the middle of the track it would not be as big a deal, but we got one of the only ones available and it happens to be a scant 25 miles in. Even the Rangers I have spoken with did not care to speculate on how many hours it might take to traverse the 75 miles of road we'll be obliged to travel in one day. Evidently there are just too many variables to estimate the time with any degree of accuracy. I translate this to mean, "Get up early and drive--see how far you get by noon--drive faster if you must."

Luckily, though, the second leg of our trip in the Needles section of the park is looking far more laid back. We have the same site reserved for two nights in a row, and the only pressures we should have are what to cook for supper and where to hike.

Should be a lot of fun. I hope to get a few nice pics. Something other than macros.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

A Nasty Habit


Yep, today's photo is nasty. No doubt about it.

But (no pun intended) the thing is... I like this photograph. A lot. To me it's just one of those images that, despite the subject matter, contains all the elements of good photo.

So, for my own sake, I'm gonna try to break it down and see why it works.

1. Decent Composition

For some time now I have been convinced that this single elusive quality is the ultimate deal breaker (or maker) when it comes to presenting a good photograph. Some folks can find the best compositions with their eyes closed... I can't. So it's a big deal for me when I stumble across one that I feel really works.

Now, I'm not gonna try to dissect leading lines, discuss the rule of thirds, or any of that other stuff, although these things can certainly be elements of a strong composition. Of far more interest to me is the raw appeal. The evocative, visceral, emotional impact (or repulsion) that some images can convey.

This one makes me feel dirty, lonely, lost, and discarded. Like a failure. Pretty strong stuff. Due in part, no doubt, to the fact that I was a reformed smoker that has now relapsed. Now I get to give them up again.

On the other hand, it also gives me a sense of community, connectedness, and hope. And I find it fascinating that this image can pull me in so many different directions at once. That's cool.

2. A Clear Subject

Sometimes the subjects can get lost in a composition, and this usually not a good thing. Except maybe where abstracts are concerned and the subject becomes the abstraction itself. For most images, though, it's usually best to find some way to point out the subject and leave little or no room for misinterpretation.

3. A Sense of Space

By this I mean that there is some sense of depth to the image. A clearly defined foreground, subject, and background. This is not necessary for every image, of course, but when it comes to defining images that appeal to me the most, it's usually there.

So, what has this little exercise taught me? I'm not sure. I knew these things already. But it might interest you to know that the egg is one of nature's most perfect foods. And I knew that already too. Maybe sometimes you just need to be reminded.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

I've been remiss...


In most everything I do I have been remiss, of late. Except for work. This is the one area that has been getting the lion's share of my attentions.

Oh well. And so it goes.

Today's pic is another oldie. I have some pics of limited merit on my camera, but I'm not excited enough about them to copy them to the PC just yet. So for now I hope you enjoy this image of a friends cat. I forget his name, but he is a loveable piece of work. Always willing to pose for the camera.

One good thing to report is that I will taking some time off of work soon. Planning a trip in September to the Canyonlands. I won't be there for as long as I would like (such as, months) but it should be a blast nonetheless. Details later.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Morroccan Carvings


Well, so far as I know theyr'e really Morroccan. I snapped this last summer at Epcot in the Morroccan village. It's one of many pics from that vacation taken with the Canon s30. I didn't want to carry a DSLR... and frankly I was glad I didn't. Theme parks and loads of camera just don't mix well, imo.

It was my second time at Epcot, I first visited back in the mid ninety's, and I must say the experience was a lot more enjoyable the first time around. Last years visit was ok but it was plagued by crowds. Lots and lots of people. So many, in fact, that it made moving around the park a full-contact physical chore.

We had a much better time at Busch Gardens. It was busy, but nothing like Epcot. My brother and I took a chance and payed and additional fee to join this guided roller coaster tour for the day, rather than take our chances with the lines... what a deal that turned out to be. It was well worth the cost. Our group wound up being downsized due to a family of "no shows" so was even smaller than normal, and our guide proceeded to put us at the front of the line for every roller coaster there... and they have a bunch of them.

I suppose I'm reminiscing on last years trip because there won't be one this year. (boo-hoo) Besides, I'm overdue for a post again and the month is getting on.


Tuesday, June 26, 2007

The Odd and the Satisfying

When I posted to my blog last night I was quite torn over what image to post. I have about a dozen I want to include at some point, but they are all from days gone by. So, while a part of me wants to keep my postings current, it really doesn't matter... does it?

My satisfaction with this image comes from scarcely remembering what it is. I recall that, around christmas time, I had the camera out one evening for something and snapped this scene that had been setup on our end table. It was an odd collection of tiny christmas balls and tall wisemen figurines with this bit of oriental flavor thrown in. I have no idea what its supposed to represent, and the chances are that my Wife, or my Daughter, whichever one of them is responsible for putting it there, won't recall either.

But I like this image. It's kind of dark and mysterious and oddly satisfying.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Practice, Practice, Practice

This is what tell myself everytime I post an image that I know is little more than a study in something. In fact, this is what I tell myself "everytime" I post an image... whether I think anyone else will like it or not.

I tend to beat myself up pretty badly for being lazy with my photography, and for being lazy with pretty much everything I do, for that matter. The thing is, I still don't know what I want to be when I grow up, and so I do this in hopes that I "don't" get too cozy with everything I'm not doing.

It's all practice. And you know what they say about practice. The problem, though, is that if you don't even know what it is your practicing at, how can you possibly get any better at it?

Anyway, today's image is another from the daily file. Taken with the new little Fuji f31 at work. (I carry that little sucker with me everywhere.) I have always enjoyed trying to exploit the quiet drama in the mundane, the excitement in the ordinary, all without resorting to spending too much time in front of the computer to achieve the look I'm after. Post processing is a necessary evil as far as I'm concerned, and my laziness dictates that I keep it as simple as possible. Here I actaully did quite a bit. Transformed to straighten the lines, cropped, adjusted for B&W, added the tone, then resized and sharpened an itsy bit.

Whew. I need to lay down.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Implied Depth


The image presented here is from this spring. A friend of mine purchased this new FJ last year and then waitied patiently for it to make the trip here. Of course, when it arrived it wasn't equipped the way it was supposed to be, but he was happy with it.

I blurred the edges a bit to give the vehicle more pop, and it makes a rather nice portrait... for a truck. Not sure what the appeal of this image is. I think for me it's FJ envy, even though I wouldn't buy one even if I had the money. I'd probably be more inclined to by an old International Harvester Scout instead, which the FJ reminded me of quite a bit.

Thursday, May 31, 2007

The Elusive Elements of Visual Style


Whenever I edit my photo shoots I'm on the lookout for images that stand out. Usually I have some in mind from when I viewed them on the little screen after taking them, but often these fail to materialize in the way I had imagined. In fact, more often that not, it's those images that were captured in a rather lazy and ho-hum kind of way that get my attention first.

Now, I'm not saying that I don't ever get lucky--which is to see an image and frame it up while previsualizing the final product and nail it, but it is rare. Very rare.

Today's shot, for example, was one that I took this past weekend while on tour of the U.S.S. Razorback, a WWII Balao class submarine. It was an offhand shot, as most all the pics I took aboard the sub were, and I had no idea this image would stand out from the rest until I got home and began editing the pics.

When I came across it I was immediately attracted to the lines... the sweeping curves and the way the wheel spokes point loosely to the four corners of the images. But even more than that, I realized later, was that the image had a quality I very much enjoy in photographs, and thats one of depth. The black and white treatment was done to accentuate this, but it really wasn't much of a stretch as there was little color in the photo to begin with.

Now, I've known that I like depth in images for some time. My first foray into the DSLR world was with a Sigma SD9 because the examples I saw from that camera most often contained the depth that I liked so much. Later I came to realize that while the SD9 (and other Foveon imagers) are special in this way, it really wasn't so much the equipment used as it was the vision of the photographer that used them.

And somewhere along the way I realized that depth was an element of style, my style, and that it was something I wanted to strengthen and exploit.

So take a good look at your "Keepers" and see if you can figure what it is about them that makes them special to you. Whether you know it or not you probably do this already. The trick then is to see it, feed it, and do what you can to make your images uniquely your own.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Finding the Cost of Freedom


...photographic freedom, that is.

For me it has arrived in the form of a nifty little pocketable digicam from Fuji, the F31fd. The "fd" tagged onto the end stands for "face detection" and I could pretty much care less about that. What initially attracted me to this cam was its outstanding performance at high iso.

Fuji have created a series of F cameras (F10, F20, F30, F31fd, F40) that literally break the mold regarding high iso performance. Most digicams are good up to maybe iso 200 before the images begin to drown in their own noise... these Fuji's deliver results up to iso 800 that look better than most competitors at 200.

Today's image was taken at iso 800. And although it may not be the cleanest file I could have had (I could have used a DSLR) it was a spur of the moment shot taken during a quiet moment beneath the bridge during a local festival this past weekend. The shot was 1/4 of a second at f4, taken handheld, after dark, and that alone is cause enough for pause. Until now this just wasn't possible with a digicam.

Oh, and no noise reduction software was employed. I did jerk the color around a bit in PP, but that's all I felt the need to do for web viewing.

The thing I like most about this cam, though, is it's size. It's not much larger than a deck of cards and that makes it easy to carry everywhere, all the time. And the battery life? Supposedly it's rated to around 500 images or better on a charge. Now that's freedom.

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

My Favorite M42 Lenses



While I'm feeling the need to post something again (its been two weeks already) as usual I'm struck rather dumb on the subject of subject matter. Truth is, the camera has not been out that much lately so in order to post a pic I'm obliged to throw out one from last month.

The flower is called Fire Pink (Silene virginica) and this is the most representative shot I have taken of this species. They are not uncommon around here, but I've only encountered them a few times with a camera.

This time I happened to be carrying my favorite M42 lenses: an old MF Tamron f2.5 90mm macro (model 52B), an even older Yashinon DX f1.4 50mm, and a Focal f2.8 28mm lens (yes, I think it was a K-mart brand). I honestly don't recall which lens I used for this image. Not that it matters. I like looking at it just because it was taken with one of my favorite lenses, which one is kind of irrelevent. Silly, I know, but that's the truth of things.

Over the years I have had a number of "favorite lenses." When I was using film I grew ever fond of an old 55mm Nikkor macro. Later, using digital, I got a case of the M42 lens crazies and waded through about half a dozen favorite lenses in just a few years. No longer. I have settled on this core of three that I shoot with most everytime I go out. (I'm still looking for a WA prime to fit into the mix, but I havn't found one yet that works the way I would like.)

Three is a comfortable number. I like the way they fit into my little bag with plenty of room for them, all the other junk I need, and no wasted space left over. Adding another lens upsets the natural order of things and forces me to make choices... either leave something behind or carry something extra. Neither is appealing. Oh well, at least I have something to angst over.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Surprise!


To this day hardly a photo shoot goes by without revealing some surprises. Sometimes good surprises, sometimes not. Today's image was a good surprise. On the one hand it's a nice cute kid photo, but on the other I believe it goes a bit further.

I dunno, there is something about her expression, her interaction with the balloon, the turn of her right hand... for me it all comes together to create one of those images that take it a step further than the typical cute kid photo. One that not only the child's parents and relatives may enjoy, but one that just looks cool.

The original was shot in RAW at iso400 and rescued from a 1.5 stop underexposure. And while I try to get exposure right whenever possible, the benefits of adjustment for exposure and white balance during the conversion process make getting the nice surprises from RAW a lot more likely than with JPEG. Thank goodness for RAW.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Mayapple

Some years ago I started taking photos of things in our local wood for the purpose of identification. Especially things of color or unusual texture: flowers, trees, shrubs, vines, fungi, whatever.... I wanted to learn more about the natural world I was photographing and it always irritated me to be asked "what kind of "x" is that?" and not have the answer. And later, when I started submitting a few images to stock agencies I thought I would include some the better ones despite their limited commercial appeal.

So, as boring as they may be, I take them. In fact, I cannot seem to get through a spring season without taking a goodly number of these "woodsy"photos. I usually only hang onto those images that represent new items to my collection or that show an item in a way that I have not managed before.

This spring I happened to get today's image, which I believe does a fair job of representing the Mayapple. All of my previous Mayapple images focused on the flower and gave no sense at all of the unusual shape of the plant. This one at least gives you a clue.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Experiments in HDR


The topic of today's post revolves around "high dynamic range photography" or "HDR." I'm a fan of HDR in principle, though I was initially quite disappointed in most folks use of the technique. In short, I don't care for HDR imagery that looks like HDR imagery!

To my eyes any HDR image that looks at first glance like an HDR image is just wrong; a veritable crime against nature, a form of visual heresy where the photos take on a decidedly alien aura that is simply not natural. Much of this is due to heavy-handed technique and can be avoided, but like so many of the PS tools where there is ample room for interpretation, I suppose there will always be those that insist on pushing things to the edge, and over, in search of their own personal brand of photographic enlightenment. Which is fine, I suppose. Nobody said I had to like it.

Still, I do hope this overindulgence will prove to be nothing more that a passing fad and that these otherwise excellent photographers will eventually come to their senses and begin using the software in a more sensible manner. One only needs to look through the HDR offerings on photo sharing sites such as "pbase" and "flikr" to see what I mean. You'll find some nice images that are tastefully rendered, true, but you will also find the bizarre aura that accompanies those that aren't as well managed. Gack! To my eyes, anyways, many of these are decidedly overworked.

This alien aura made me very leery of the process at first. For a time it was so prevalent in HDR images that I thought it was an unavoidable by-product of the process, like so much manure in the stockyard. Eventually, though, I saw enough good of the technique to spring for the software. (Of course, if you use CS2 you get this built in, but I am still using CS.)

I quickly found that using the software to blend the images is not hard, but learning how to get images that looked sensible takes time. Several interesting things happen in the image merging and tone mapping process that I don't begin to understand, and I will probably have to tinker with the technique for while before I am truly comfortable, but it is fun.

The image presented here represents one of my more worthwhile attempts. I still find the saturation a bit garish, but otherwise it looks too flat. Colors seem to get heated up and overcook really fast, especially the reds and greens, and keeping these looking more or less natural is a real concern.

Wednesday, April 4, 2007

In The Garden


One of the highlights of some recent time away from my usual work-a-day life was a visit this past Sunday to Garvan Gardens. It was my first trip to a botanical garden and it made for a wonderful afternoon in the outdoors.

The camera came along for the trip but the cloudless, bolt-on blue skies made photography in the shady woodlands of the garden a bit challenging. (Whenever possible I prefer at least partially cloudy skies for flowers, but sometimes you just don't have that option.) Still, I felt lucky enough to get what I thought were a few good shots by the time we left the gardens. Many of these "good shots" turned out to be botched by spotty exposures, and so once again I was reminded that exposure should never be taken for granted in harsh lighting. If you change lenses (I did) and don't take into account that it will gather light differently than the one that was on the camera before (it did) you may get some surprises when you review the images at home (I did).

Now that I'm all energized and back to work I hope to get my posts back onto a more regular schedule. At least once a week is what I initially planned to shoot for, and I have missed about 3 at this point. Oops!

Thursday, March 15, 2007

'Round and 'round

I guess I'm just an easily excitable guy. Doesn't take much to fire my imagination and get me spinning and dreaming and bobbling ideas about in my head like a pinball in a loose machine. It keeps me entertained, but I find myself on constant watch for the specters in the shadows. Those ideas and thoughts whose basis is fundamentally flawed before the spinning even starts. Chasing these can lead to some pretty ugly stuff.

To combat this tendency I have tried to make note of this fact (over and over again) so that I might better learn to check myself before the fall. Then, perhaps, I might have a fighting chance to get a hand-up or turn away before I wind up face down in the pavement. Sometimes it works, othertimes, well... I end up spitting blood and licking broken teeth, knowing full well that it was probably my own damn fault.

To be honest, most of the time my twisted ideas never get so far, I'll toss them up long before they have a chance to fester. But every once in a while, I seem to average about one a year, an idea will come along that keeps me spinning until I have either had enough, or understand the process clearly enough to file it away into my "gee, that's a neat thingy... wonder what better use could be made of it" closet.

Which brings me to "Howstuffworks." It's not a site I visit everyday, but it's always there to shine a bit of light into the darkness of how our physical world works. If I get a wacky notion, or want to get the skinny on how something works, I'll check here first. Their authors usually present the material with a no nonsense approach that is just what I'm looking for.

Now, four paragraphs deep, we finally come to today's starting point, Refrigeration. It all started like this: The local electric company announced a rather severe rate hike in our area, and with summer coming on strong I'm thinking it's high time to get that extra insulation into the attic that I have been putting off for years. This led me to how our aging air conditioner system is overdue for a checkup, and then to how a good friend of mine recently finished building a house with a geothermal heating/cooling system built into the design from the ground up.

Basic refrigeration is interesting stuff, as I had never really understood quite what was taking place. I knew there gasses and pumps and all that, but I had never considered how the system as a whole worked. All in all, it wasn't too hard get a handle on. Then I came across the bit about the Peltier/Thomson/Seebeck effects, which are basically different spins on the same electrically charged principle that describes the heating and cooling properties induced when electricity is applied to various metals and combinations of metals. Now that's cool!

The math is way over my head, but the basic principles are simple enough. I'm still absorbing all this new information and hopefully I'll go ahead and get the insulation in the attic before trying to take out loan for a whole new heating/cooling system.

Wednesday, March 7, 2007

Abducting Color


My work with B&W over the past year has led me to new revelations about the subtleties of color and tone and how these can play any number of complementary or even destructive roles within an image. Today's image, for example, was not working for me in B&W in the way I intended it too. The color version worked better, but I didn't like it either. Neither conveyed the sense of reaching into the forest that I felt was essential for this image.

I tried various desaturation techniques and in the end I decided to try switching to lab mode and abducting the a channel with a fill of 50% grey. This gave me a range of color that was much more in keeping with what I was looking for in the final image. Specifically, it altered the role of the tufted green grasses and converted them to shades of yellow and gold, which more closely matches the leaf litter present on the forest floor. This makes the forest floor more homogeneous, and I believe it helps lead the viewer through the image with less distraction. Also, it preserved much of the blue that I enjoyed in the full color version.

This image was shot with the mini-view setup, of course, and it represents to a "T" the kinds of focal plane voodoo I plan to explore in the future. I know it's gimmicky, and I know it will not be everyones cup of tea. That's ok. I like the effect and am hoping to capture some unique images.

Friday, March 2, 2007

Love over Gold


I have been reading a little book titled "Art and Fear" by David Bayles and Ted Orland. I'm only about halfway through at this point but it has provided some interesting insight into the process of making (or not making) art.

Much of it is nothing new. If you have been involved with creating art on any level, for any amount of time, their dissemination of the process will come as no surprise. Seems the modern road map to art is the same for everyone, and it makes for a most introspective read. Thanks for the suggestion, Ted.

Today's piece is brand new. I shot it less than an hour ago. It's one of about 30-40 frames that played around with using the mini-view setup. I wasn't very concerned about the settings I put the lens, I just knew I wanted to bend it around a bit. So I did, and pointed it at an old copper pitcher that I keep laying around. Like my previous image, its nothing special, but I like it. (I decided to keep the tilted framing when it just "came out that way" as I was trying to find the angle I liked in PS. Now, I know both Ted and Andreas have used this kind of framing, and I don't mean to copy, so I'm stealing :)

When my mini shoot was over I was surprised to find that there were a half-dozen or more images that I rather liked. (highly unusual for such a small number of frames) This is no doubt due to my ongoing fascination with this new toy and it may well dwindle in time. Until then, I'm enjoying it as I can.

Monday, February 26, 2007

For lack of anything better to say...


One of the things I wanted to do when I got up this morning was to get together a new post. I didn't have any new images, or anything in particular to spin on, so I wondered if I should even bother or simply wait for stronger motivation.

In the end I decided to simply start writing and see where it went. I even found an old pic to share. If this image pleases you at all I'd like you take a moment to think about why you like it, before you finish reading my thoughts about it.

I don't remember much about this pic. Not the location, the lens that was used, my motivation when I tripped the shutter, nothing like that. But it is one that I saw fit to keep rather that delete along with all the other garbage that accumulates on my PC.

What makes it different? What qualities does it possess that make it a "keeper"?

I suppose I was initially attracted to the vibrancy of the greens, the sense of disconnectedness, and the way the tones, along with the bokeh, frame the focal point. Beyond this I can't say that it did much for me, but these things were enough to make it worth keeping. Until now, though, I haven't bothered to share.

So I kept it, shouldn't that alone make it worth sharing? Was the time not right, did I just not like it well enough? Was it not worthy?

When I look at the finished photo in a critical manner I can see that it doesn't really go anywhere. It's green and gray. The simple, amateurish composition is decidedly centered around a teensy focal point. (It's a lousy macro of a latch, for heavens sake.) What more is there to see?

But then, when I look it with a non-critical eye I see that there is a bit more. Not much, perhaps, but a little. This is where the tones that frame the focal point get my attention. They're creamy and rich. I like that. The latch seems to be hanging in midair. Shouldn't it be attached to a door? The colors are rich, and the patina on the latch tells a little of its age.

So now I share. Not much, perhaps, but a little.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Chained Justice


I spent the day as a juror in civil court yesterday and was presented the opportunity for this capture as I passed the time out front during recess. I knew at once that it would likely get a black and white treatment and in this I was not disappointed. It came out so much like I imagined that I was utterly pleased with myself. It's one of the few black and white images that have lived up to my expectations, my vision, before the shutter was even tripped. And as an artist that has been struggling with monochrome, this is cause enough for celebration.

Also of significance, at least to me, is that I did not capture this image with my DSLR. It was done with my lowly little Canon S30, an aging 3mp camera that is still quite capable of stunning me with the quality and depth and of its captures.

Treasure Swapping


Today's pic is a simple one. Just some stuff in the corner of our garage. It's one of those things that I see all the time but dont bother to try and capture. After all, it'll be there tomorrow.

You see, I live in a house endowned with years and years of accumulated wealth. Nothing exotic or expensive, mostly furnishings, cast-off appliances, and lots of other "stuff" that has never found a home more suitable than a dusty corner of the garage or the darkened corner of one of our many "store rooms" (in addition to closets and 1/2 of a two car garage, we have 2, ahem, store rooms... one doubles as a bedroom).

You might think that that with all this "stuff" laying around there would be no need, nor desire for me to peruse the local second-hand stores and flea markets in search of treasures. But you would be wrong. Indeed, I believe it's my strong acquaintance with "stuff" that leads me to find other collections of it so interesting. Besides, most of our stuff technically belongs to my Wife, and she doesn't like it when I try to get rid of her stuff; no matter how useless, broken, or ugly it may be.

She says the kids might need it one day when they get their own houses. Maybe. In the meantime, I'm slowly gathering my own hoard of stuff. When we run short on room and something has to go... I'll ferry off one of her pieces and replace it with one of my own. She never even misses her old stuff when I do it this way. After all, it's not like she really knows what she has.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

The Last One


As I've often mentioned through this blog, it has been a good while since I put in any serious time behind the lens. I have missed it, but have felt somewhat stifled by any number of factors that made '06 a difficult but rewarding year. But enough of that. I'm ready to roll.

Today's image is an old one. The last one rendered in color that I liked from the get go. Most everything else I've been marginally satisfied with through the whole of '06 wound up in black and white. Not sure why. In any case, I actually captured this pear in late '05 and presented a similar print to my Mother for Christmas that year. I still consider it one of the best prints I have managed to produce, it has a wonderful texture and richness. The title for this image, even then, was "The Last One."

The pear was the last of a batch given to me by a friend, and they were exceptionally delicious. In fact, the best pears I have ever tasted. The image was taken with a home-made lens baby, of sorts. It was actually a rather ugly combination of duct tape, an old extension tube, and an 80mm CZJ biometar. Through using it you can impart a painterly quality to the image that I have always found pleasing.

I'm hoping to move in this direction again very soon.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Searching for the validity in validation.

Often I am forced to write before giving my subjects enough proper thought and maturation time. Other times I wait too long and end up rambling through a twisted and often incoherent maze of ideas that bears little resemblance to the original thought. Such is the way my mind works. Part of my goal with blogging is get better with this kind of thing. Just don't expect it to happen right away.

Today's topic was prompted, in a roundabout kind of way, by two photographers in cyberspace whom I have never met but whose works I nevertheless admire, Ted Byrne and Andreas Manessinger (well, ok. I have kinda met Ted through email and such. A cyberspace intro, if you will). I believe Ted provided the seed of the idea, and somehow, reading through a couple of posts on Andeas' blog watered it and set it free. The idea revolves a central question for me, which is to say, simply, Why do I do this?

I'm not out for profit, and if not to profit, then why? Fair enough question, and for myself, at least, I will attempt to answer it. (Eventually, of course, you will have to bear with me.)

Now, you could argue that profit comes in many different coats and colors and that it need not revolve around the dollar. And you would be correct to say just that. It's certainly true. Or, it could be as simple as "I like taking pitcher's," as another of my online acquaintances, John Setzler, has been known to say. I also know of those who feel so strongly about photography that they would be lost without it. For them this form of creation has become so overwhelming that it could be likened to the needs of an addict, with shutter clicks, photoshop, printmaking and what not providing the regular fix. I believe we can all be just as serious about the work we produce, and we all seem to desire some form of validation. Something to let us know when (if?) our efforts have connected with someone else.

So we seek validation. Through online forums, blogs and art shows and in sharing prints with friends and relatives, we all seek to validate our work. If not, and these photographers may well exist, we would simply take our photos and keep them to ourselves, never letting them beyond our own light boxes or computer screens.

In my case, part of the pleasure of re-discovering photography through the digital realm was the ability to share them so readily. A print or slideshow was no longer required and the audience, though not as intimate, was much broader. Often, the validation was not of a high-quality (hey man, nice shot!) but it was validation and in that respect it was all good. Like so many others, I participated for time in the free for all of photosig, once the ultimate "you pat my back I'll pat yours" forum for sharing. I also participated in a few daily photo contest sites and a much more interesting weekly challenge site. All were good, at least for a time, at providing me with the needed validation and for keeping me busy with working photos, exploring photoshop, and equally importantly, with learning to hone my skills at commenting and in understanding the validation process. What makes a comment a good comment?

As I learn more and more my thoughts on this have changed considerably. Comments I once perceived as insightful, were, in fact, often not applicable to what I was after. These are the comments I learned to handle with care. Both with acceptance and delivery. Not every blurry photo was meant to be sharp, after all. The problem is that, in a technical sense, we often can't know what the artist meant. But as long as the image has some meaning for us in its final vision, whatever insights or thoughts on the image we may have need not be what the artist intended to be valid. For as far as I'm concerned we should always be free to describe our impressions to whatever end works for us. I know I like that kind of thing, and I'm sure others do as well.

So when I comment these days I try to do so in a manner that benefits both me and the artist, and my criteria is pretty simple. 1) If I comment at all I like it. 2) If I try to explain why I like it then I like it a lot. I try to stay away from technical issues unless they have some real bearing on what I like.

So, yes, I comment only on those pieces that I like, those that move me in some way. I don't see the need for attempting to hand out "constructive criticism" where I may be off the mark in my interpretation of the work. You may consider this playing it safe, I consider it giving the benefit of doubt to the artist. Does this make my commentary less useful or constructive than it could be? In certain forums I'm sure it does, but in others I'd like to think that it makes for better validation overall.

I comment in this way because they are kinds of validations I most like to receive. It helps to remind me of why I picked up the camera in the first place--to communicate my vision to others. And only when I feel that I have succeeded on some level do I feel comfortable moving on to the next. Whatever the heck that may be.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Stately Elegance


I figured it was high time to figure how to post a pic or two.

This image was captured at the Arkansas state capital building. When I first looked at this scene I was attracted to the lighting. I setup and took the photo with a 300D and Sigma 12-24 at 24mm. When I went to process the photo there were strong flares and I initially felt it wasn't worth mucking with. Still, I went back later and tried a B&W conversion to see if it would quell the flares any.

Lo and behold, not only were the flares effectively masked, but it really brought out all the strong textures in the woodgrain. It wound up being my favorite shot of the day.

I'm still not fond of the way the indoor lighting caused the spot in the center. It looked all wrong when I tried to mask it, and cropping it out spoiled it altogether. Still, it makes for a pretty print, imo, spot and all.

'06 was a rather lean year for me photographically. I spent more time building a new mini-view camera rig than I did taking photos. This year I hope to put the new rig to good use, I'm just waiting for the weather to warm up a bit.

Wednesday, February 7, 2007

Camera? I don't need no stinking camera....

In an earlier post I billed myself as a "part-time photographer," and this is true. I have the equipment but often don't make the use of it that I probably should.

So what.

I was keen observer of the world before I ever picked up a camera. In fact, I didn't purchase an SLR until I was the ripe old age of 20. It was a purchase made, in part, to try and record some of the natural beauty I was experiencing on my nearly weekly sojourns into the Ozark mountains. Another part of me just wanted something new to fiddle with, and a 1967 vintage Nikon F filled the bill nicely. The camera was nearly as old as I was when I made the purchase.

Problems quickly ensued. The F, though a wonderful camera in many respects... fully manual, built like a tank, just plain cool to look at, also weighed about 10 pounds when the 85mm f1.8 lens that came with it was attached. Not to mention the fact that the 85mm lens was not the most ideal choice for landscapes. So I picked up nice second-hand 35mm f2 lens. It worked better for landscapes, but still didn't bring down the crushing weight of the F by much, especially since I now felt utterly compelled to bring both lenses along! Add a tripod to the mix and my weekly outings became rather encumbered with gear. Not fun.

So very soon I learned that, on some trips, the camera would be staying at home. This is when I began to wax philosophical about not having the camera with me for every outing. I told myself then, and have even grown to believe, that, at times, a camera can actually impugn ones deeply personal connection with all things of natural beauty.

Having the camera was great, but not having it became no big deal. (It no doubt helped that after going through my first several dozen rolls of film I had produced only one or two images that I felt had any merit whatsoever.)

Eventually I purchased a newer, much lighter camera and lenses, but even then I kept the bag at home on some trips. On others I'd have the bag, but the camera might never come out of it.

I got in the habit of pausing over scenes that interested me. I would size them up and make a decision on how well I thought I would be able to capture it photographically before making the effort. Along the way I learned not to worry so much about the photograph, and concentrate first on enjoying the moment.

It works for me.

Saturday, February 3, 2007

Atlantis Found!

If I had a dime....

Atlantis is surely one of the most sought after ancient cities of lore, holding the fascination of young and old alike in the centuries since Plato first wrote of its existence in his dialogues. I'm no different. I love this kind of stuff. Enough to devote a significant amount of time to postulating about its whereabouts in a modern, Google Earth powered kind of way.

A real city? Perhaps. But it may be one that defies discovery.

Now, I'm familiar with all the usual suspects... Crete, Santorini, Cayce's Bahamas, the Canaries and the Azores, etc.... And while reasonable cases can be made in evidence for each of them, ultimately, they all fall short of the mark. At least when you try to factor in the words of Plato in a literal fashion.

Beyond the Pillars of Hercules

For me this is one point that we ought to pay attention to. The Pillars of Hercules would seem to be a pretty a hard-to-miss landmark that have presumably been known and referred to since folks first started sailing about the worlds oceans. Not only do they guard the waterway to the Atlantic, they are comprised by the Rock of Gibraltar on one side and either one (or both) of a couple of not-insignificant hill tops on the other. Perfect stuff for ancient lore.

If Atlantis ever did exist, and if Plato was in possession of any handed-down knowledge of this mythical place, surely he didn't mix up this vital point! To place Atlantis in the Mediterranean, then, is surely wrong. Despite the evidence to the contrary.

As for the rest of his account? Well, it gets pretty weak, in my opinion. For starters, it mixes the Atlanteans and the Athenians in the same context as if they had been contemporaries and sounds more and more like allegory than a recounting of fact. And as for any measurements he mentions, including time.... well, I wouldn't be so bold as to presume. It's 2007 and we still can't agree worldwide on a system of measurement (ok, so the rest of the world is metric, but the US has never jumped fully aboard. ) Indeed, if this was all there was to his account I would be inclined to dismiss it as such and call it good. But that's not all the stuff this myth is made of.

Plato is said to have heard of the ancient civilization from some Egyptian priests. Now we're talking. Not to put down the Greeks, but did they build any pyramids? I think not. So coming from the Egyptians makes the possibility of Atlantis seem more real. At least to me. Plato may have simply bent the myth to match his audience... as any good storyteller might do. Can't blame him for that.

Ok, enough flap. Working on the presumption that Atlantis lies reasonably close to the Pillars of Hercules in the Atlantic ocean, I took a look at the prevailing currents. They flow south. Then I took a look at what is possibly a stronger factor, the prevailing winds... they flow north. Given that ancient mariners probably relied heavily on wind power (just a guess) I decided to look northward for any underwater features that would be: a) large in size, and b) shallow enough to have been exposed in the past.

I quickly noted the large, relatively shallow features between Iceland and Ireland that are known as the Rockall and the Hatton banks. Directly northward from these lie the Faeroe Isles and some other rather prominent underwater banks.

Obviously I'm not the first to notice these features, but there has been little written about them (at least that I could find) and how they may fit into the Atlantis myth. I'll be looking at them more closely later.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Fine Art Photography -- What is it, really?

While I'm sure this is a question that has nagged at many photographers, the answer seem to be as elusive as ever. It seems there is no hard and enduring definition, but a few points do seem to surface over and over again.

I'm going to list what I believe are some of the more important aspects, and I am going to do it without images to support the text. If you know enough about photography to even care about a definition for "fine art photography," then you should be comfortable enough exploring the canyons of your of own mind in search of supportive imagery.

The image must be in black and white or some other monochrome tone.

This point is subject to debate, of course, as I'm sure lots of fine art photography is created in color, but for me one of the more salient points of the "fine art" definition is that it be "black and white." Color is fine when it's not used as a crutch, as is often the case.

The image must be evocative.

Again, subject to debate, but for an image to be successful I feel that it has to touch you on a gut level. It doesn't have to do it right away, but it should stir you up a bit inside emotionally. How an image does this is varies greatly. Some are subtle, some are downright harsh. And while responses will vary, and not every image will work for everyone, the better ones will often have a broader appeal.

The image must be printed in an appropriate size.

I feel that some images actually gain strength as they are printed larger, while some hold more appeal in smaller formats. It all depends on the image.

The image should not be offered for sale at a "cheap" price.

It's an interesting bit of human nature that an items price tag often carries with it a perception of worth. It doesn't have to be real.

These 4 points, for me, spell out the essence of how I view fine art photography. You may see my viewpoint as shallow since it so clearly revolves around "commercial" appeal. So be it. But for an image to be successful it has to be seen. To be seen it has be on display. And to put ones work on display one should always present in a manner that is consistent with their own beliefs.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Adventures in Wiki Land

A few days ago we set up a wiki at my workplace and I'll be responsible for populating the thing with our technical help documentation. I'm excited about the project and hope that it can give us better access to our materials.

The first hurdle comes with getting the existing documentation into the wiki. Some of it is in MS Word, but most of it is bound into a couple of help utilities that simply don't work well. The Word docs are easy to drop in and don't require much massaging (wiki formatting is not nearly as labor intensive as html) but the other stuff will probably need to be formatted more extensively to retain a uniform look. This will be no small task, and has had me scrambling for any helpful utilities I could find.

At present I'm experimenting with WordtoWiki, a Word macro that does much of the markup for you. It does a fair job, but the resulting documentation still requires so much cleanup (I'm picky) that I may simply start performing all the wiki markup by hand.

I also tried, and quickly abandoned, a similar macro called Word2MediaWikiPlus. It works, but I didn't care for all the "extra" html markup it generated. Wiki markup accepts a lot of plain ol' html markup as "valid," but it looks messy, and in the interest of future editabilty I wanted to keep the text as clean as possible.

The next step will be to start uploading images and graphics into the wiki, and figuring out how to get it all playing well with the text.

Now that sounds like fun, eh?

Friday, January 12, 2007

The part-time photographer

That's me, the part-time photographer.

I have a pretty good assortment of camera lenses and a good DSLR but I rarely take up the opportunity to use them these days. Still, I do think about photography a lot, like all the time, usually trying to come up with a suitable project to work on next. Part of me understands that this is just a game I am playing with myself, that the real reason I don't pick up the camera more often isn't for lack of dedication to a particular project, it's laziness. Knowing this, however, doesn't seem to help much.

It might be different, I suppose, if I was depending on this hobby to generate any real income; but I'm not, and I prefer to keep it that way. No financial pressure keeps my efforts anchored to being just a hobby, and allows me the freedom to pursue it or ignore it as I see fit. I do charge a modest amount for portrait services and sell the occasional print, but I do the work more for kicks than to try and turn a buck.

Part of my problem is simply lack of focus (no pun intended). I first picked up a camera to shoot landscapes as a relatively carefree college student that spent a large amount of free time in the woods. Few of my pics back then were that great, but I knew what trying to accomplish, even if I didn't hit the mark that often.

These days my interests have shifted considerably. I rarely bother to get out and capture landscapes anymore, and I'm finding that I like getting people in the picture more and more. Either in portraits or simply as another element of the composition. I also enjoy taking still life images, especially food (not sure why, exactly, but I love the shallow DOF effect in the best food photography), and I still shoot the occasional urban landscape. Most recently I found that I like shooting live music shows as well.

Whatever to pursue with this eclectic mix swirling around in my head?

Frankly, I have no idea. But I do know I'm looking forward to this new year in hopes that I will find some direction. Something that will get me excited about shooting again.