Monday, December 28, 2015

The JPEG Zombie Apocalypse

There's been a lot of talk recently about the recent Reuter's ban on RAW files. What will this mean for photography? Will it really make a difference? Do people care? Will photographers follow the directive? Lots of interesting questions coming out of the wash on this one, I'd have to say.

For starters, most of the "general population" doesn't really get all of the hoopla. I would venture a guess that probably 70% of folks out there really don't know (and don't care) what a RAW file is. That's fine, that how specialization works, right? I mean, you don't have to be an automobile manufacturer to drive a car, right? So why should we expect Grandma reading the Sunday paper to care all that much about RAW files? All well and good, I suppose and, you know, she probably doesn't care all that much (most of the time.)

When digital photography started, many photographers were trained on the beauty of RAW files. They were the "direct from camera" equivalent of shooting a good negative. Many photographers (and I must confess, in the interest of full disclosure here, to being one of them) feel that it's best, it's always best, to try and get things right "in camera." By that, I mean, sure we use Photoshop, just as we used to correct things in the darkroom but the goal, the object of the game, you would start out your day in the field, trying to shoot the thing right when it was in front of you. Yes, you could always try darkroom heroics but really the universe was a better place, and we were all really better off, if you could just shoot it straight from the beginning. Many, many, probably almost all were trained on this at some point, even if we look like we spend hours a day with our collective thumbs on a clone stamp icon (trust me on this one.)

OK, so we've established RAW is good and most people don't care. Ah, life was sweet for a while there, wasn't it? We were living in the glorious land of the RAW file, where pixel dumps were kings and everybody could play all day in fields of magenta, cyan, and whatever other color correction they felt like at the time. Of course, there had to be a wrinkle in all of this and the wrinkle started during the Iraq war. Some photographer, you see, shooting in wonderful fields of RAW and army grit decided to upload an image of Baghdad all covered in smoke and that smoke, you see, was changed in the land of JPG. No more was smoke light and fluffy, no, it was now dark, black and sinister and no more was the photographer reporting "truth" no, this was evidence that the word had been "altered" somehow. Oh that evil clone stamp, how you've done me wrong! And, please, don't even get me started on those curves and levels. Surely, there must be some ulterior motive behind all of the evil in the world today, no? Who knew all along that curves and levels were really some kind of communist plot attempting to take over the world one histogram at a time?

If that were not bad enough, there was once a photo contest. (Oh the horror! Bear with me on this one.) Now, it wasn't just any old photo contest, no, it was one of those "nature as you see it" kind of contests, one of the ones where you are supposed to show us your world, warts and all, and we were supposed to find beauty in the mundane or at least, you know, some old crappy couch somebody saw fit to drag to the curb because, like, isn't that what everybody always photographs for those silly contents anyway. Yes, you can almost guess how this story ends. Somebody put a photo in a contest that had been, gasp, doctored, and this, why this, was a game changer. RAW files, once king of all the land would now be banished. Truth, it seemed, lies only in a JPG.

So, we've gone from JPG's being bad, to JPG's being bad, bad, bad, to RAW being bad, to RAW being banished. Reuter's recently issued a decree telling us to "phase out" RAW format files, opting instead to go with "straight from the camera" JPEG files instead. Now, again in the interest of full disclosure, I'm not a photojournalist (never have been maybe never will be) and I don't shoot or speak for Reuter's, but this war on the JPG file format, is it really justified? Should I even chime in on this really? Well, since I do shoot a lot and, of course, I have an opinion about this, I thought I would pass along my two cents. Take them for what they are worth, two pennies here, no more no less. So, here goes.

For starters, there is nothing "evil" or inherently "untruthful" about a RAW file. It's not the file format that speaks the truth, for crying out loud, it's the photographer. If you don't trust the photographer, what difference does it make if the file format is RAW, JPEG, or, heck, even a sketchpad and a crayon?

Next we have Reuters itself. They are a news agency. They make the rules for their agency. If they want to make a rule banning socks on Tuesday and RAW files all week long why, it's their right isn't it? Nobody is forcing you to shoot for Reuters. If you don't like their rules, you can always take your work elsewhere. They are free, at least they should be, to control their workflow if they see fit to do so. I don't begrudge them for this. If JPEG makes more sense for them then, hotdogs! Go ahead and use that. I'm a big fan, always have been and always will be, of using what works. It makes for better images in the long run.

Some folks are getting crafty out there and saying, "Well, this hoopla doesn't matter really, because you can make a JPG from a RAW file." Yes, you can. But, it's my understanding (and I may be wrong here, recall I did say I do not work for Reuters) they haven't only banned RAW files, they want photographers to shoot in JPG. The theory is shoot in RAW and JPG and submit the JPG to them for news coverage, so the little "I can just Photoshop it into a JPG" trick won't work (at least that's how the initial announcement was interpreted.)

Still other folks have commented that the entire discussion is ironic, seeing that RAW files are actually closer to straight from camera dumps than their JPG counterparts. While this may hold true, the news agency feels that RAW files require processing, which can both open the image up to interpretation and provide an extra time commitment to get to press. Again, their agency, their rules, possibly even their truth, make of it what you will.

The bottom line for me is that, if you have photographers working for you who are going to "doctor" images, they will "doctor" them even if you remove a file format from the bag of tricks. The discussion reminds me a little bit of a factory that doesn't trust their employees not to steal so they put up mirrors in the men's room. The entire thing begs the question, why do you need security? If you don't trust your employees, why did you hire them in the first place? It's like missing the forest for the trees, really that is.

As for myself, I am also reminded of the inconvenient truth that processing files did not begin, nor will it end with Photoshop. Remember Edward Curtis and the manipulated image? To put it another way, is an image more doctored if you ask somebody to "smile for the camera," if you clone stamp out a blemish on their nose, or if you shoot them in RAW and bump the curves and levels? Sorry folks but there just is no right answer in all of this.

As for the JPG file format, much like bell bottom pants, I'm almost happy to see it sprout up, be killed by the RAW format sword of justice, then rise up in the zombie apocalypse only to eat all of our collective brain cells in the end. Heck, at this point, I'd have to confess, the way I see the scoreboard from where I sit is about JPG file format: 1 human race: 0 but it's early yet and we could still screw this one up even more than we already have. Oh, and in case you are really wondering and it's not obvious by now, yes, I am still shooting in RAW format. Why not, right?

Until next time...

This image taken in Salado, Texas, with a Canon 5D Mark II and the walkabout zoom lens. Mmm. Big empty rooms, more empty than JPG files and I hope to keep them that way. 

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Simply Holiday Time

You know that song, "Simply Having a Wonderful Christmas Time...?" Yes, Snowflakes, that's what I've been busy doing. Now, I know you were probably expecting me to drop in and expound upon some great minutia regarding the current status of all things contemporary photographic but, sorry to disappoint, I've been too busy off relaxing a bit and working at my day job way to hard these past few weeks. Now, I know too that I always manage to pop in here at the last minute with details about a grand new trip or an exotic jaunt I'm about to take, maybe some exciting new photographic project I'm about to start. Again, here, hate to disappoint but, yes I have been working on a bit of an art project but, frankly, I'm enjoying it way too much to stop doing it and actually try to market it. Simply put, I don't want to stop making it long enough to actually do something about selling it, so bury my head in the sand I will and make lots more is what I shall do. (I'm too lazy to even describe it to you at this point though, if you've been following along, you can probably guess it's abstract and leave it at that.)

If you've been paying attention, it's also the time of year when I'm supposed to pop in and tell you what a great success 2015 was and how, of course it naturally follows, 2016 is going to be even better. I'll save you the guesswork on that one too. Taken in its entirety, 2015 was a mixed bag for me. While I sold more work that I have in year's past, which is (by all accounts) a raging success, I had to cancel a trip (which I hate) and, upon further reflection, all of this year end navel gazing has made me realize that I did not, in fact, leave the continent in 2015. Oh the horror! I so want to go somewhere but, alas, situations did not allow so 2015 found me stuck at the ranch more, much more than I would like. Normally, back at the ranch is not a bad place for me (I've said it before, and probably will say it again, I'm sometimes at my best when I bury myself in studio work even if I do wind up feeling like a trapped rat in a cage while making it.) This year has found me so preoccupied I have not been able to create, I've just been busy, way too busy, trying to keep my head afloat. Stuck at the ranch can be a good thing if you're stuck in the studio but just being stuck at the ranch has its downside too.

Now, I can also make promises of "someday, someday," but this too is starting to feel a bit, shall we say, "elusive" and leave it at that. I'm starting to feel like I'll never come out from under the daily grind and that, yes, Virginia, maybe all of this fashionable life is just not for me. Ah, the horror of self doubt and the trapping of our day to day existence. It so cuts into making great work, doesn't it? I wish I could shake it off but these kind of doubts seem to follow me around like a lost puppy dog, only they aren't nearly as cute.

So, no, I'll spare you the gory details, the navel gazing, the year end retrospectives but end on a high note. The other day I popped up to Salado and points north, not for anything special, mind you, just more to get out of the house and into the field. While I'm pretty sure I didn't get any earth shattering results, I did manage to fire off more than a few shots and I feel like somehow, in the process, I managed to chase away my many-month-long loosing streak. Simply put, I *need* to take photographs or make some kind of artwork somehow and, if I go for too long without doing it (without doing *something* *anything*) I start to get a little stir crazy. At least, I'm happy to report, that now this clock has been reset and I'm feeling a bit better, even if I don't have the wonderful shots from Asia Minor to prove it to you.

Oh, and since I'm getting all happy on you and whatnot, I should also point out that this year I did managed to shoot something like my 4th most popular image on Flickr. I don't know how, frankly, I didn't think it the most earth shattering of shots but, I guess it goes without saying really, these days I have way more followers than contacts and (gasp!) actual friends so I guess the universe out in the wild blue yonder cared more for the shot than I had realized from my perch back behind the LCD panel on the baby mark. Hey, I'll take those kind of shots when I can get them, right? (Don't get me wrong, I love the perch from behind the baby Mark...I wouldn't trade that view in for the world although I do wish I could get the viewfinder more out into the world with me behind it.)

I hope you are having a wonderful holiday season yourself (even if you don't know me very well) and look forward to the photographic challenges (and opportunities!) facing us all in 2016.

Until next time...

This one shot in Georgetown, Texas on the town square with the Canon 5D Mark II and the walkabout zoom lens. Some rather nice shop windows up that way this year, I must confess, though I may have been blinded by my own stir craziness on that one.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Fumbling Towards Abstraction

Lately it seems like I've been fumbling towards abstraction. What I mean by that is that my work is becoming increasingly abstract. I find myself more and more wanting to work in the abstract and, perhaps more significantly, am increasingly drawn to abstract work. Looking at "straight" work almost leaves me cold-I want to find abstract in whatever it is that I see. I've been increasingly drawn to famous abstract painters, abstract music, abstract lots of stuff.

Now, there's nothing wrong with abstract work, no, I would have to say this is an interesting twist in my development as an artist. I guess it's a natural outgrowth from what I've been doing all along. It would be difficult to do so much with encaustics and *not* be pushed towards the abstract. Still, it can be a bit hard to swallow. Those of you who knew me when are probably going to be a little bit surprised by this sort of development. I mean, I seriously used to be crispy sharp focused girl, with little to nothing left for the abstract. And, I still do, from time to time, want to shoot straight. It's important to straighten out once in a while, isn't it? I guess I want to have one toe left on the "real" but I'm really drawn to abstraction.

Abstraction, you are calling my name.

Until next time...

Monday, November 02, 2015

The Wild Darkness

American born poet Galway Kinnell once wrote:
"I know that I love the day, The sun on the mountain, the Pacific/Shiny and accomplishing itself in breakers, But I know I live half alive in the world, Half my life belongs to the wild darkness." 
His poem "Middle of the Way" is about his solo hike up a mountain, but this passage, and much of this poem in fact, can be applied to many things. I see, in my life, how I too love the sun, love the day, but my heart loves the wild darkness. I'm no stranger to the wild lights of night, either and I believe it shows. In Kinnell's poem, to paraphrase, in reminding yourself that "half your life belongs to the wild darkness" you will bring yourself to experience, as Kinnell calls it, "An inexplicable sense of joy, as if some happy news had been transmitted to me directly, by-passing the brain." Akin maybe to an inner sense of peace.

It holds true that joy is often a determination of purpose. For me, this roughly translates into creating work with a strong sense of purpose. This can be hard to do as an artist. Believe it or not, we sometimes have to try very hard to be authentic, in part because we are led many ways, pulled in many directions. Doing night work itself is a good example of this. Many people don't understand why you would want to do night work and many people don't understand how, if you do night work, you would ever want to shoot both day and night. But, that's how the universe unfolds sometimes. We end up doing both, in part because our vision, our voice as an artist really, drags us in two different directions. I don't see my night work much different from the work I do in the daytime, it just comes from a slightly different place and it tells a slightly different tale, that's all.

Fragmentation aside, I do get the sense of joy reference from Kinnell. It's not lost on me, as I consider myself a creature of the night in many ways. I've always loved the night. I love the way cities look, I love driving downtown with the sunroof open, watching all the twinkly lights of the city flicker before me. I love the loneliness of it, the desolation, the lack of hustle bustle. I love the way shops look at night, especially after they have closed for the day, with mannequins illuminated waiting for tomorrow's customers. I love light trails and midnight subway rides, late night diners, and all night laundromats. It's in these sorts of things, this kind of night, where I really enjoy the wild darkness. I do, I honestly feel that half of me belongs in that environment, even if just for a little while. In some ways, I could not imagine being "only" a day photographer. I couldn't imagine putting the rig away the moment after the sun sets. I have to have my dosage of nighttime, really I do. In a way, it's what keeps me going.

I don't think my night photography is earth shattering, no, I don't think it reveals anything especially special or magical. In fact, you could say it's all a bit ordinary and, frankly, I would accept that. You see, it's not about finding the unusual. It's not about the different. It's about that quiet place inside of each of us-that solitude we each enjoy. For me, that wonderful place is, in many ways, the wild darkness. Half of me belongs there and I celebrate it fully.

Until next time...

Monday, October 19, 2015

Latest Obsession

Latest obsession: Artree. It's an app that makes trees. Very zen, very addictive. Artree into Diana is like some serious zen crack. Quite the addiction!

Somebody save me from this, maybe? Someday?

Until next time...

Monday, October 05, 2015

Night Shooting - Tips and Tricks

Caught up with a friend and went out shooting along South Congress the other night. Was a great shoot, a most excellent evening under the stars, but I was reminded how it's been a while since I've offered up any tips, hints, or tricks that I use in night shooting. I used to think that most people are better at night shooting than I am. Perhaps they are. But, lately anyway, it seems like I've been asked a lot for tips, ticks, and hints at how to do it better. So, I thought I might collect a few and post them here. (Please forgive me if these are too obvious and feel free to post any questions you might have if they aren't.)

For starters...gearing up. It helps if you have a sturdy tripod. Now, it doesn't have to be an expensive one, just one that doesn't fall over too easily. If it's not too windy out and your rig is not too heavy, you can usually get by with a cheaper one, like those available at most electronic stores. If you want to go all out, I highly recommend Gitzo tripods. They are quite good and worth the price of admission.

Tripod aside, you will need your camera, of course, and pack extra batteries, as night shooting can wear out batteries more quickly than daytime shooting. I tend to favor shorter prime lenses for night shooting. This is because there are (usually) fewer lens elements in a shorter prime (think a 50mm 1.4 here) than in a wide ranging zoom lens. This cuts down on reflections and noise at night. It's also a lot easier to focus a shorter lens as shorter lenses tend to be brighter which is helpful for night shooting. That said, use what you've got, as you can usually make it work.

If you want to shoot light trails, I usually expose for the scene and just let the trails blast out. Light against a dark backdrop is going to blast out anyway, you might as well not try to expose for it. You can also opt for spot metering on a bright part of the scene. I try to shoot at f16 as much as possible but don't like to switch to bulb in the city so I will find myself frequently switching to shutter priority and just going with the aperture that a 30 second exposure gets me. Again, whatever works here. I'm not above shooting in all manual mode at night either, being a big fan of whatever works, given the situation I'm in at the time.

Next up, the big question. To bump ISO or not to bump ISO? I'm old school here so I prefer not to bump whenever possible. Having said that, you can get a lot out of newer cameras these days. The ISO wars have not been lost of me. Even bumping up to 400 or so can buy you a lot of wiggle room at night. Just remember to set it back after your night shoot, before you tuck the camera away, as it's easy to forget to do this and you don't want your daytime shots ruined with a 1600 ISO setting (or some such thing.)

There's my favorite topic of light painting. You can do this in a multitude of ways. Some of my favorites? Meter the scene and move the camera about half way through. For example, suppose I take a reading of, say, 20 seconds at f16 at ISO 100. Fire away the shot, with camera on tripod, and, as I fire, start counting (in your head or aloud if you must) 1 Mississippi, 2 Mississippi, etc. until you get to 10 seconds or so (about half way in.) At this point, pick the tripod up and dance it around. Move the camera on the tripod for the remainder of the 20 seconds, until the shutter clicks again. This technique can give you some fun results. Of course, paint with flash is another option, and I've been known to have some fun with some colored flashlights too. You can also open the zoom if you didn't follow my advice about the prime lenses. Whatever works.

If you haven't got a tripod, don't let that stop you from shooting the night. Learn to pan and paint with your camera in hand. There is also flash combined with long exposure (think rear curtain sync here) and a few other tricks you can try. Don't feel limited without the three legged beast, rather learn to enjoy the extended periods of time with the shutter open no matter how you have to work them.

Experimentation and play is a lot of it for me. One of the reasons I love night photography so much is that things look so different and we can really try new things and play around a lot without feeling hurried. I love that. I hate chasing sunsets and hustling to get the right light. Shooting at night allows me to putter about and let the light accumulate on me. I love mixing it up like that.

One last final pointer. Cities, stars, things we shoot at night all have rhythms to themselves. Learn to watch for the timing of the stop lights to guess when a car might come by to give you a light trail. Learn which way the moon is moving in the sky. Watch as crowds of people walk, which way are they usually going? Photography is as much about anticipation as it is about being there when it happens. 

I hope you enjoy night shooting as much as I do. It really is a fun different world after the sun goes down on us all.

Until next time...

This one taken at Tesoros Trading Company, South Congress, with a walkabout zoom lens and the baby Mark. 

Monday, September 21, 2015

An Eagle Away, A Crow at Home

Listening to a podcast recently, the author used the expression, "an eagle away, a crow at home." This really got me thinking. As an artist, we are all, in some sense, eagles away and crows at home. What does this mean? Allow me to present my spin on it.

Everybody creates art (their art) in a local environment. Speaking for myself, I live in Cedar Park, Texas, which is on the outskirts of Austin, so my local market would be Cedar Park or the Austin area in general. Now, those of you who know me know that I sometimes do local shows. I've been known to show my work at "the DAC" as we call it (Dougherty Arts Center) or to participate in AVAA shows (Austin Visual Arts Association.) There's also the Georgetown Art Hop and the local 5x7 art show and splurge at the local museum, which I participate in almost every year. (There are others too, but this is not really about making a list and checking it twice.) These local shows are great, I love doing them, and I feel as if they are a big part of me-a part of who I am as an artist. Heck, I can remember my "early days" (if you can call the time "circa 1995" as "early days" but, heck, work with me here. I am a photographer) when I was overjoyed to be able to get into an AVAA show or some of these other local shows. Now, I'm still happy and I still enjoy these types of shows, frankly, I'm happily surprised when my work is accepted into anything (most of the time I'm a bit taken aback when I find there are other kindred spirits out there who see the world the same quirky way I do) but most of my "show joy" (if you want to call it that) comes from having my work accepted into a new market. Places like Los Angeles or New York or Toronto or...wherever, but you get the idea. As an artist, I have exhibited my work globally. This naturally dictates that my market has broadened and my backyard is a little less exciting for me (on some levels.)

When you go into these "other" markets, something happens. You suddenly become "exotic." I know this sounds strange, especially coming from a little old photographer living in rural Texas (actually suburban Texas-even worse!) but something happens. You are "special." You become different. The rusted old barns, the fields with long horns stuck in them, heck, even the tired old bluebonnet photos suddenly become "exotic." They don't have fields of bluebonnets with grazing cattle in New York City, ok? Yes, it's true, what you may take for granted, somebody else finds, *gasp* interesting. (Oh! Who knew?!?) This makes your work suddenly special. If you look at the course of say, a gallery in Los Angeles, why they have only shown so many pieces from artists based in Texas. They're off busy showing work from all over the world. There are photographers from Dubai and Romania and Luxembourg and places we didn't even know existed (rural Kazhakhstan, anybody?) When you stuff a Texas image next to an image crafted in, say, Luxembourg, you're going to get something that's...well...different, OK? You just will. Because of this, you suddenly become magical. And, I'll be the first to admit, you never get to wear out the phrase "exotic" believe me, you just don't. What might seem stale and tired to you suddenly has a "Wow!" factor to somebody somewhere else, and every place is "exotic" to somebody far away, that's just how the entire "exotic" thing works.

Fast forward a few years and you see what starts to happen here. It's easy to become a celebrity far away from home. It's easy to play that "exotic" card and make good things happen to your work in far away places. Los Angeles or Seattle or New York or....whatever the locale you think happens to be "exotic" suddenly finds you (and by "you" I mean your work here) "exotic." You're special. You're magical. You're a photography titan from a faraway, magical, distant land and everybody wants to rub your sleeve because, well, that's how this "exotic" thing works.

Meanwhile, back at the're still the same old suburban lady with the same bluebonnet images that everybody else seems to have. Nope, nothing special about her. She's, why, she's *local.* Oh the horror! You might as well call me vanilla ice cream and stab me in the eye with a spork! Over time, you can see what happens. It's easier to milk that "exotic" label. It's actually easier to build a following in your hometown by going far away and coming back. Seriously. You would not think this to be the case, but its' true.

I once shots stills for a TV show called "Trading Spaces." The host was a lovely lady named Paige Davis. An interesting thing about Paige, she always wanted to be...on Broadway! She never wanted (not once!) to become a TV star. So, how did she get to be a TV star? Easy. She went on audition after audition and got rejection after rejection. And then she met somebody who met somebody who knew somebody who told her he knew this guy who was casting for a pilot...for a "small TV show." Thinking it might be good exposure, she auditioned and got the gig. One TV role let to another led to another until she became a bit well known in TV circles. Eventually, she did make it to Broadway but only after doing several stints of TV shows. She's also on record as saying it was a lot easier to go for auditions on Broadway when she had a resume with lots of TV experience. She was, in fact, "an eagle away a crow at home." It's easier to go on a Broadway audition when you're "that TV star" then it is to hire people who are already playing bit parts on Broadway (oddly enough.)

A few years ago, I had applied for a local art exhibition. Now, I didn't think it was a big deal of a show, I had just read somewhere, maybe even online, that somebody was looking for work and I thought, what the heck, I'll send in a few pieces for consideration. As luck would have it, I made it into the show. Since it was a local show, I actually got to the go to the opening reception. Since I'm a "local" artist, I know a lot of other local artists, in fact, I can hardly walk into an opening reception in the Austin area without bumping into somebody that I know. It just works that way-there aren't that many exhibiting artists around and we all tend to hang out together. So, I walk into this opening reception and a local artist I know and respect (when I say "respect" here, I mean like really "RESPECT" as in, I've taken classes from her kind of respect and not just, "oh, yeah, I've seen her work and it's pretty good" kind of respect) comes up to me and confides in me that her work didn't make it into the show. I was a bit taken aback by this. I mean, how could this well respected artist not get into this show and yet there was my work sitting there on the gallery wall? Let me be the first to tell you, my work is *not* any better than hers, ok? No, this was not a question of quality, not by a long shot (if it had been left to quality, why, I'm the first to admit, I'd be sitting at the curb and they would have cleared the place out to hang up her stuff, ok? And I say that sincerely. She's a damn fine artist.)

When I got home, I was still reeling from the experience, so I typed the show into my search engine. On the web page for the show, they had me listed as an exhibiting artist, as you might expect, and then there was a blurb about "...recently shown work in Toronto and New York..." Yes, it's true, I had just come off doing a few shows in these locales. And, I have to say now that, in hindsight, it was not the quality of the work that got me into this show, no, it was the "eagle away crow at home" status of my work. Anybody who Googled me at that point would have come up with the words "Toronto" and "New York" and probably figured, "Hmm. She must be good," even without looking at my work. I was "exotic" and had that going for me, even if there was better local work.

Now, I'm not against showing work in the local market, no, just the opposite. I think artists need to cultivate local ties. I'd be the first to admit too that local shows have, at times, kept me sane. It's *fun* to go and see your stuff hanging on a wall, have a glass of wine, and hob knob with some local folks. It really makes for a nice evening, trust me on that one. You get wonderful feedback on your work, it's easy, you don't have to ship stuff, you can invite your friends to the opening. There are a lot of advantages here. But, you have to spread your wings too.

My advice to other artists is, yes, have roots. Participate in local shows. Network with other local artists. Invite local patrons into your studios and share your work with your neighbors. Have roots in your community, yes, but also, have wings. I think the most successful artists are just this, "an eagle away, a crow at home" or maybe it's more accurate to say, yes, they have roots, but they also have wings.

Until next time...

 PS This image from Port Townsend, Washington, taken with a walkabout lens and the baby Mark.

Monday, September 14, 2015

New Apps

I've been playing around with some new apps, just trying to learn a few more tricks. It's amazing to me how the iPhone has made it so you can manipulate almost anything to get something interesting. It seems like you don't even have to start with an interesting image, rather you can just jump in and play. This one started out as a random shot of my pillow and blanket, then put through iColorama. 

--Until next time...

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Color and Quirk

Colorful mannequin in a shop window in downtown Coupeville, Washington on Whidbey Island.
So, I've been looking a bit at color lately. An interesting thing about color, it's both a design element and, sort of, a design non-element both at the same time. What I mean by that is that as artists, when we make compositions, we think of points, lines, shapes, sometimes even contrasts, yes, but not always color. Yet color plays into that mix. Color often defines how we see points, lines, shapes, even contrasts. Perhaps the most important "color" of them all is in fact black since it serves as a backdrop for all the other colors. Tints, tones, shades, shadows all get combined by mixing hues with white, grey, or black. Color never exists in a vacuum, no, colors are always (well, almost always) reflected off of one another. It's incorrect to speak really of "color" in fact, a more accurate assessment would be to discuss palette, as colors interplay with one another, and our perception of one color is, almost always, tampered by it's neighbors. There are so many aspects to color, it's so complicated, yet it's also really so very simple as well.

Good artists work with color a lot, even if they limit their palettes to a more monochromatic likeness. Think black and white photography is not about color? Try working tones someday. You still have to know all about color because we live in a color world, even if you do try to reduce it to its black and while elements. Simply put, you cannot be tone poet if you don't know how to work with color, even if your work itself is black and white.

Artists can have "color signatures" as well. We tend to favor certain palettes, for whatever reason. Some of us love the bold, splashy stuff while others prefer a more muted palette. But, muted colors are colors too. They can reveal as much (or as little) as we would like them too. Biology and psychology both factor into our color choices. Pink tends to calm us, red makes us hungry. Other colors, like purple, have an association with things like royalty, which comes more from psychology than biology. As predators, we tend to see our prey in contrast with its surroundings and other predators in different colors. There's a reason the deer look like the bushes and the tigers look orange with stripes to our eyes-colors serve to help keep us alive and well fed!

When we talk about color, we talk about things like contrasts and harmonies. There's an interplay of color, sort of like a great tango that happens while we aren't really noticing. Colors dance with one another to form patterns, lines, shapes, and other design elements that we see, but we often neglect the color aspects of design. Of course, we often go the other way, and focus only on the color aspects of design, while neglecting the "big" picture. (I've been guilty of this myself...oh, look, shiny red!) It's easy to use color as a sort of "cop out." One could make a career out of shooting say red things, but is that really good design and composition? Would a more selective color palette be more meaningful and provide more of an emotional connection? (I don't think there's a blanket yes or no answer to that question really.)

I would have to say my color signature tends to favor the browns and neutrals more, especially cooler toned colors like blues. At least, that's how it feels now. Of course, I still love quirk-shooting oddball things, and these things tend to be more brightly colored (like the image you see here.) Being a photographer, I don't always get to pick my reality, sometimes, you have to take it when you can get it. While I'm no stranger to that, I have been trying to work with color a bit more recently. Paying attention to my color palette, trying to think about adding design elements, about how I work with contrasts and tone. It's just all more to think about when shooting or crafting a composition and something I hope will eventually bring my work to new levels.

The process has me learning to describe my work a bit more too. Color and quirk, slightly minimal with hints of tension. Playing with scale, working line. It's just kind of what I do, how I tend to see the world around me. Well that and, I'd guess, a bunch of little houses. (I like to shoot little houses for some reason.) Have you thought about the role color plays in your work? It can be an interesting exploration for artists of all levels.

Color, it's not just for breakfast anymore.

Until next time...

Monday, September 07, 2015

Photography as a Performing Art

Lately, I've been thinking about photography as a performing art, not just a fine art. What I mean by that is that there is a quality about certain photographers, and you know who they are, who are just compelling when they work. It's like watching a story unfold before your very eyes. They work, they travel, they shoot, and the entire universe sort of emotionally "buys into" what they are doing. They are captivating, not just in the way they produce images, but they possess a certain je ne sais quoi which memorizes people. People like to watch them work and, in turn, they have an emotional buy into what they are doing which, in turn, makes the images that come out at the end almost irrelevant. Nobody cares about the end result, in a way, we're all more captivated by the process, the actor on the stage, so to speak. There are certain invisible factors that come into play which make the entire world seem to want to live vicariously through the eyes of the photographer in question, not just enjoy the finished product (images.) I suppose you can say the same and generalize this to all artists, not just photographers as well.

Maybe an example here would help. I recently watched an episode of Art Wolfe's "Travel to the Edge" where he went to Japan in the wintertime to photograph snow monkeys bathing in the hot springs there. Now, I'm not a super fan of snow monkeys, at least I wasn't until I watched this show. I mean, don't get me wrong, I've no secret desire to round them up and kill them all but, had you asked me, "is this something you want to photograph?" an hour before I saw the program I would have quickly responded with a, "Heck no!" Yet, I found myself watching the show, watching Art Wolfe as he traveled, watching the quiet barren snow covered Japanese landscape, and I was captivated. He photographed the snow cranes in Japan, he talked about the bare bones hotel he was staying at (I believe he had to sleep on a mat on the floor rather than an actual bed.) We saw the beautiful pagodas and enjoyed the quiet meditative snowfall as he worked. The entire show had me emotionally hooked. I wanted him to get the shot. By the time the end of the show came around, I wanted that snow monkey, sitting there in that hot spring, to just smile for the camera and I wanted Art Wolfe to capture him in all of his glory. Of course, Art Wolfe is a great photographer and, wildlife being his specialty, he got a fantastic shot of the snow monkey bathing in the hot springs in the end, but it was more then just the shot that captivated me. Kind of like the whole being more than the sum of the parts, it was the entire process that had me hooked. When you enjoy a program like this, in a way, you are letting this person into your home. You are letting them into your life. For a moment, no matter how brief, Art Wolfe was in my living room. I let him in. Perhaps, more importantly, I bought into the whole process. The entire snow monkey thing, I was into it. I wanted to see the monkeys. I wanted to see him with the monkeys. I wanted him to get the shot of the monkeys. I wanted to see the finished print, yes, but it's less about that. I let him into my life for a brief moment and emotionally connected.

Now, you can say what you want about me, or Art Wolfe or monkeys for that matter. Maybe it's shallow, but I don't think so. I think there's an energy that connects. I think there are photographers who share a certain energy, who are capable of building a certain excitement, who just are capable of making that connection, that emotional connection, that draws the people into their world. If you're not a fan of Art Wolfe, there are other photographers who do this quite well too. I think Joe McNally could have an entire series of TV shows, called the "Wild Man Joe Chronicles" or, if you want to be more polite, maybe bring his concept of the "Hot Shoe Diaries" to life on my TV screen. I would so binge watch that, let me tell you. I'm even buying into this without it coming to pass, already imaging in my head what such a show would look like should it ever come to my TV screen.

I really think this connection is, in some ways, like a performance. Perhaps it's a dance we all do, not sure about that, but there is a certain performance aspect of it. Maybe Shakespeare was right when he said, "all the worlds a stage and all the men and women merely players." Photographers, when they are good, I think they do this dance. They hook people, they bring them in. It's about an emotional connection. It's a dialogue, a conversation, not just a single image. There's something more there, something that cuts deeper on some levels then just your typical shallow, "Nice shot!" Not that there's anything wrong with getting nice shots but, well, you get the idea.

The line of thinking has me contemplating other issue as well. In my own work, am I captivating? Probably not so much. How do I become more captivating? (Or, heck, even captivating at all?) How can I better draw people in? How can I make more of an emotional connection with my work? I never said there were easy answers, only that I've been thinking about this more recently, at least a bit. I don't think I'll ever be as entertaining as somebody like a Joe McNally but, maybe adding a bit of drama into the way I shoot, maybe doing work that's a bit more compelling, maybe being a bit more aware of the entire performance aspect of things, might not hurt so much either. (Heck, maybe I'll just buy myself a new scarf. That would add a touch of something, wouldn't it?) Seriously, I'd be curious to hear from other photographers. Have you thought about this at all when shooting? Is it something that has crossed your mind or am I just blowing smoke yet again?

Until next time...

Tuesday, September 01, 2015

Follow the Energy

Have you noticed in the art world that, where the energy is excitement is sure to follow? What I mean by that is, I love to watch exciting things unfold and love it even more when I get to be a part (even a small part) of that excitement. For me, lately, the most exciting things I've seen have come from the iPhone world. Allow me to explain.

When I first started in photography, everything was new and there was a lot of exciting, new work. Well, I'm the first to admit that, what was shiny and new back then, now seems very tarnished and old. Rusted. Should be put out to pasture. Well, ok, maybe not that bad but like you get the idea. We all (collectively) grew sick of shooting the same stuff over and over again. 

Fast forward to the digital realm. Suddenly it was possible to shoot everything we shot before without the hassles of film. Oh the joy! Oh the humanity! (For those of you who never shot film, you'll just have to trust me on this. It was a burden we are all so glad has been lifted. Phew!) So now the challenge became shooting everything again only digital this time. That was great, it lasted for a while, and, frankly, I still have more shooting I want to do with the "big girl" camera. But, a lot of the excitement is gone. All that's left is clocking it in. Some days anyway it seems like it's all later, rinse, repeat. There is no fun there, there is no there there. Heck, it's drudgery only without the stink of film chemicals (believe me, they really did stink! So, I guess it's still a net gain but boring now nonetheless.)

In the iPhone world, however, we have artists moving in. And, move in they did. The iPhone has opened up photography to a lot of people who didn't (or couldn't, or didn't want to) use the stinky darkroom. They also maybe didn't (or couldn't or didn't want to or couldn't afford to) use digital technology. Suddenly, there's no need for the stench of the darkroom, there's no need for the massive outlay of computer gear and the steep learning curve Photoshop has to offer. It's all just click, play with app, post online. And lots of artists and would-be artists are getting it. Not only that but, thanks to the wonders of the Internets, these same artists are banding together to form groups and these groups are doing interesting things. It's all very exciting. There's a newness about it, an energy, it's like it's almost electric. You can feel it in the air. There's exciting work coming out of these little digital hovels. The exciting work breeds hot exciting new apps which in turn breeds hot, exciting new gadgets which in turns makes the artists want to play even more, and so on. It's a positive energy cycle that's resulting in an upward spiral which is all just leading to some very exciting work.

Now, I can't say I'm going to quit shooting my "big girl" camera In fact, all of this iPhone stuff might make we want to shoot it more. Maybe I'll shoot it just differently-like with purpose. It's hard to say what the future holds. For now, I've been treating the iPhone work like just another medium. Like any medium it has its advantages and disadvantages. Neither good nor bad, I find it just different and try to make the most of what it is.

Today, while I was looking over some material for, I felt most excited about putting up iPhone work. I updated the old website, yes I did a bit, but I added about twenty iPhone images. And, frankly, I want to make more. I even want to get an iPad so I can make bigger ones and work more easily on a new digital "easel" of sorts. I'm also super excited about the new iPhone 6s coming out soon-rumored to have a 12 megapixel camera. How cool is that?

Of course, all of this uploading, updating, and the like has made me realize that I might just need to do an iPhone show sooner rather than later. Now, I had always planned on doing a show of my best iPhone work at some point-heck, I've already been included in some invitational shows for this work before-but lately I've been thinking about doing a one-person show somewhere. Maybe organizing the work, seriously putting it together, doing a book or a project or a show or a...something. More on this to come, I'm sure, but, for now, I must confess. The energy is there. I'm actually excited about the iPhone work I'm seeing in groups like Dogsitter's App Circus and even on Flickr. It's fun stuff. I can't wait to join in the fun and hope to contribute in some small way at some point.

Yeah, I'd have to say, if you want to see where the excitement is, follow the energy and, right now anyway, it seems like the mobile stuff is all the rage, all the noise, all the energy, all the excitement. Join in the fun! All the cool kids are doing it!

Until next time...

PS This one taken with the iPhone (in keeping with the theme)

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Ladies who Landscape

I happened upon a link today discussing landscape photography, in fact, questioning why there are so few female landscape photographers. Turns out there is a wonderful website called Landscapes by Women which I checked out and thoroughly enjoyed. While the website was wonderful, the issue still remains. Why are there so few women in landscape photography?

In the old days, it used to take a lot to lug a camera around. It's no coincidence that Ansel Adams had a pack mule! Nowadays, however, we seldom need that much in the way of equipment. Heck, some people are even working with their iPhones. Still the stigma remains. Why so few women? I think it's not just relegated to the field of photography, I think it's true in the art world in general but photography is starting to address it, specifically in relation to landscape and outdoor photographers. It's no longer, or at least it won't be for much longer, a man's world, folks. Women are involved in all aspects of career life and choice-everything from holding down some of the most dangerous jobs, to racing fast cars, to running more inanimate objects, like money for banks. Ladies are holding their own and it's high time we allow them to shine in fields such as the arts and photography in particular. Why should this be a man's world when women are just as good, if not better (in some ways) then men at the whole communication thing?

So I say, go ahead. Make room on the gallery walls for some ladies. Let us in, we deserve a spot at the table. Seriously, we're pulling down the work, right? It's not a question of equipment anymore, no I think it boils down to women don't like to take as many risks and maybe aren't as "pushy" about getting their artwork out into the wilds. Men are more go-getters in this regard but that's ok too, it's changing, we all know it's changing. The men are going to have to, as a matter of course, start making room for us women.

I've never been one to identify myself as a "female" photography, although I have touched upon more feminine themes in my work. Given that, I do think it's a good thing, that women are to be more represented, given more gallery shows, maybe the imbalances will finally be addressed. Some women photographers do work that's so worth seeing, it really should not be denied. Let's see to it that it doesn't get denied, shall we?

No, I think it's time, it's high time, some ladies had their day to shine. Rather than the typical "ladies who lunch" maybe we can start a field of "ladies who landscape" and do more to promote websites, raise awareness, and just celebrate a women's voice in photography. When all is said and done, it shouldn't matter really who took the image, so long as you like it, right? As long as we keep it about the image, about quality, about the craft, I'm all for it. Let's celebrate, ladies, our time to shine has come!

Until next time...

Monday, August 24, 2015

Bumbling Towards Perfection

Today I shared a video clip from Jay Maisel on "How to Be a Better Photographer." Really interesting clip, that is, as it really speaks to the process at least the process I follow. In the clip he talks about "bumbling and fumbling" (excuse me if I paraphrase here. I do wholeheartedly recommend you view the clip in it's entirety for the exact words.) Photographers are always "bumbling and fumbling" indeed. It's always a process. You walk around, you walk slowly, you're on the hunt, you see what you see, you feel what you feel and, in the end, you hope you craft images that halfway live up to all of that. Seriously. Nobody knows what they are doing and, if they do, they should go back and question everything they think they know. Nobody knows, for certain, what something will look like photographed. Sure, most of us have ideas but they actually fall into the realm of the "educated guess" more than the certainty factor. We all bumble, it's part of the process. It's hard work to get good shots and the best of the best, why, they make it look so easy, don't they?

Some days, frankly, I just don't know where photography comes from. Is it inside of me wanting to get out? Is it outside of me wanting to come in? Do I have a thought, share a clue or am I just enjoying the innocent hapless wanderings that life throws my way? These are really difficult questions to answer and, again, frankly, I doubt anybody really has a solid answer. We do what we do because we must. It's some kind of drive within us that makes us take pictures, yes, but it's never quite the process, it's not quite the journey we set out for it to be.

On some levels, we are indeed all bumbling towards perfection. We want the perfect shot and bumble our way halfway there. What was that Ansel Adams said? Twelve in a year is a good crop? A really good crop indeed.

Bumble on, my fellow photographers, bumble on!

Until next time...

PS This one shot with the new Lensbaby Velvet 56 on the Double Bluff driftwood beach. Man, I told you that stuff was golden. Love me some fresh driftwood when the light gets all soft like that. Fun stuff for a good bumble, don't you think?

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Notes From the Road - Whidbey Island

Colorful abstract light patterns on a wall, Whidbey Island, Washington state, near the town of Langley, Washington
Some notes from the road from Whidbey trip. Let's see. Got in on the ferry on Saturday morning, after an un-Godly early flight out of ATX. The flight was smooth even though I could not sleep managed to push on through. Made it to the airport and almost got lost in Sea-Tac a couple of times. Turns out there is a train inside there and you have to get to another terminal and, yada, yada. Been there before, done that (Dallas, Texas, anyone? Anyone?!?) OK, so no surprise there. Finally made it to the shuttle desk about an hour early. This is the thing I was calling the "floating van" on account of the fact that it was an airport shuttle which also went over the ferry onto Whidbey and dumped us at a Valero gas station. Interesting concept on paper, worked even better in real life, in fact, I'd have to say, if you are traveling to Whidbey, the floating van (aka shuttle) is your best bet. It cuts off mountains of traffic at the ferry stop and goes right on the ferry to Whidbey.

At the terminal itself, I was afraid my friends would not recognize me, but my fears were put to rest when Taz ran up, out of the blue, with a look of happiness to see me and surprise on her face. It was like we had met yesterday. In fact, highlight of the trip for me was catching up with everybody. This was so much fun. To go shooting and just catch up with photographer friends was a joy for sure.

So, we made it onto the ferry, shuttle, floating van thing and made it over to Whidbey and met up with Helen who picked us up at the gas station and then we drove into town to visit our new little town, aka home away from home for the week. Turns out Langley is a very cool little town, another on my highly recommend list for Whidbey. Totally cool, totally cute, even if overrun with bunnies. (Seriously. Bunnies.) Ended up shooting around Langley for the first part of the trip and it was worth it on account of being so cute and easy walking distance.

We wound up shooting Coupeville on Monday, which was also fun, and doubled back to a beach called Double Bluff which was also fun. Turns out Whidbey Island is also a place I've dubbed "Driftwood City" as there is a lot of driftwood on all of the beaches. Now, don't get me wrong, I love the stuff. I love how it looks like monsters and monoliths, how it washes up on the short, how it floats around and gets washed up looking but still kind of cool. It was very cool and we had perfect weather. Got home to find out I Borked my 5DS (only to eventually return to B&H photo in an exchange) and had to switch back to the 5d Mark II. No worries there as I think I managed to drop a card but might be able to salvage it at some point. I've always loved that 5d Mark II anyway. It's a favorite camera on mine, so it felt like going home again.

Tuesday was fun as we got invited into an old Victorian home owned by an interesting lady. I don't know which was better, frankly, the lady or the house. It was an old B&B not converted to a private home for a lady who filled it with antiques from her travels around the globe. Had an interesting conversation about Montevideo, but that's a blog for another topic. Uruguayan city discussions aside, we also had Champagne and truffles. I mean, come on, who would not like some Champagne and truffles while shooting an old Victorian house? What a shoot that was, let me tell you.

Wednesday we did a night shoot which was filled with hooting and howling of laughter. Really had a grand time with that one, even if the images don't reflect it. Have to do that again sometime, as it was so much fun. Thursday, we braved the Puget Sound ferry system over to Port Townsend and got in a teeny bit of shooting before having a nice dinner and catching the last ferry of the day back to Whidbey. Friday was met with more class time, some discussions, and the like while Saturday we made it up to Desolation Pass to check out the north side of the island and the cool bridge and park up that way.

All in all, great trip. Some great friends, some great food (highly recommend Penn Cove mussels, man those were yummy, as well as Useless Bay coffee company) fantastic weather and the like. Didn't shoot as much as I would have liked, shame about the 5DS which is now on it's way back to Canon-land via B&H and wish I could spend about a summer up that way just shooting and eating my weight in mussels.

Notes from the road, indeed. Happy to be back home, almost done with the laundry and started the process of uploading to Flickr and other points on the web.

Until next time...

PS This one shot with the 5DS before it Borked, in Langley with the walkabout lens.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Seeing Double

I've been doing a lot of 2X lately. Just seems to sort of sink in my mind. I love double exposure type work. It's fun. We tend to approach it differently too-some people just jump right in and sort of randomize it while others more carefully plot out their real estate. 

Do you find you want to do more of it? Less of it? Hate it? It's kind of like HDR or Hemmingway's whisky-a little is too much and so much more is never enough! 

Until next time...

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Today's Office

This is a shot of me working it. On location today near Coupeville, Washington, watching the ferries go by, shooting both the Canon and the iPhone. I really liked the reflections and found that I was able to do a two fisted selfie. Go me! Seriously, spent some time today at the beach shooting and got invited into an old Victorian home that was just fabulous. It's been a simply fabulous day and the weather is nice. Oh, we had good food too. Another incredible day at the office.

Until next time...

Monday, August 10, 2015

Langley Today Coupeville Tomorrow

We took a walk around Langley today. Look bunnies! We have some serious hare action going down in our 'hood. Seems to me they are multiplying like, oh wait, they *are* bunnies. Explains why there are so many afoot perhaps? Must have seen four today, hopping about.

We have a coffee shop of sorts. Useless Bay coffee house appears to be our local watering hole of choice. This is, pretty much the view from the front yard. Getting settled into the house and gearing up for Coupeville tomorrow. More notes from the road soon, I promise!

Until next time...

Sunday, August 09, 2015

Fly Me to the Moon

Actually, just as far as Seattle, please. First night in Washington State. Notes from the road to follow. 

Until next time...

Monday, August 03, 2015

Mash Up

One on the things I love about the iPhone is the mash ups. This image was made with a finger tracing app, a Diana double exposure app, and then finally an app called trimaginator which works with geometric shapes. It's so fun to mass things up.

Until next time...

Sunday, August 02, 2015


Focus turning towards cleaning and packing now that I have my folio ready. Still a lot to do before my trip but things are moving along nicely. The more I have to do the more stress I feel but also the more excited I get as I inch closer. Can't wait to get out and do some shooting again!

The iPhone will be coming along for the ride too. Don't worry, I intend to generate  a lot of raw material on this trip! 

Until next time...

Saturday, August 01, 2015

Conversations about Clouds and Portfolios of Sorts

I was doing my homework tonight. What do I mean by homework? Well, next week I'll be taking a workshop with Arthur Meyerson, noted photographer of all things color and author of the book The Color of Light. As with most workshops, the instructors want to see a few of your images so they can determine what sorts of assignments you should get. Lordy, my stuff is all over the map as usual, but I've decided that I'm going to give up a few brightly color images, so I'm going to include some punchy colored shots along the lines of what you see here, in order to give him a feel for how I try to work with color.

Going into my homework assignment, I thought I would have a lot of architecture, but it seems like I'm actually getting more nature into the mix. Maybe I'm just in a more nature-y kind of a mood but I've managed to select icebergs and water reflections peppered with one or two architectural shots like I always do. Maybe this workshop will help give me some direction and offer up some new subject matters to explore as well. Since I've not been to the Pacific Northwest before, I'm looking at is a new territory to explore, get out, see the world, catch up with old shooting buddies, and get a break from the summertime heat. It's a blamy 77 degrees up that way these days, at the very least I'll be enjoying that part of the trip. Plus, I'll get to meet some new people, get out and explore a little bit. Doesn't that sound like fun to you?

I guess you could say I'm looking for some direction, lots of information about color (color, color, and more color!) and a nice break with a lot of shooting. We should all be so lucky!

Until next time...

Thursday, July 30, 2015

A Box within a Box

Architectural abstract, taken looking up at a window, layered with iPhone camera and apps

Noted architect Frank Lloyd Wright once called a Victorians style farm house, "a box within a box" Now, I'm not a noted architect so it took me a while to figure out he did not mean this as a compliment. A box within a box, a trap, a  tribute to the claustrophobic inducing hell we have to endure as home. No, in fact, much of Wright's philosophy was defined as a war on the box. Walls and roofs were intended to be stretched and redefined. He saw the architect as making patterns for civilization.

Nope, no boxes here. Nothing to see, just please move along.

Until next time...

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Layered Today

So, I've been playing around with the iPhone a bit, using layering and double exposure type stuff. Came up with this...a bit of bokeh and some soft grunge added to the mix.

Going to see if I can get mobile blogging to work again too. Been too long but good to be mobile, right? 

Until next time...

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

What Do You Mean No Picture Today?

The tagline for Carol's Little World has always been, "Because somebody had to replace Pluto." In case you haven't been following recent news from the world of science, we've recently received images from Pluto and now have a better understanding of Pluto than ever before. There's a giant heart shaped form on the surface of Pluto. I rather like that. Pluto, once a planet, later reduced to a mere "planetoid" (whatever that is!) has always had it's heart out to us. Sure it's a small place, and so far away, but I like to think that we here on planet Earth have a special bond with Pluto. I mean, yes, we removed it rather handily from the list of "official" planets but I like to think too that it remains in our collective hearts a "planet" in the true sense of the word. Heck, we named a Disney dog after it, right? So it can't be too out of mind.

So today, on this day we celebrate the images of Pluto, rather than cluttering things up with one of my own, I'd like to encourage you to go and check out some of the wonderful images of Pluto. Maybe sit back, have a cold one, and reflect upon our place in the solar system. Maybe not but, heck, at least enjoy the heart shaped view, right?

If you are so-inclined, here is a link you can check out to see the planet I've been trying to replace for going on fourteen years now:

Until next time...

Thursday, May 28, 2015

The Tornado vs. The Screen Door

Fine art image of lawn chairs next to a swimming pool, taken in Austin, Texas on South Congress Avenue
Before I get into my usual rant about good old fashioned Texas weather, I should preface this post by telling family and friends in points afar that we here in Central Texas are all OK. The recent storms have not done any damage to our little hideaway although the greater Austin area is feeling the impact of the recent floods (and continues to do so-we are anticipating more storms, and floodwater, tonight, unfortunately.) We are tucked away nice and dry at least for now. Thanks for all of the well wishes, as we are all fine and dandy.

Saturday night, however, was a different story. You see, I've recently had the flu, so I've been a bit stuck in bed, feeling under the weather and all. These recent storms did not help matters much either. Allow me to explain.

My house, for those who have not been there, has a back porch. Between my living room and my back porch, I've installed a screen door. As luck would have it, my couch faces the back of the house and, since the porch is elevated, I've discovered that, should you happen to open the back door, with the screen door in place, you get this wonderful cool breeze. Mmmm. Cool breeze. Did I mention it's the most wonderful of wonderful cool breezes? OK, so back to my cool breeze.

I've also developed this bad habit lately of not only opening the back door (cool breeze! You with me here?) but of falling asleep on the couch. Don't get me wrong, I set out all well and good. "Not tonight!" I proclaim to myself, "tonight, I'm not going to fall asleep on the couch!" But then I go ahead and open the back door (cool breeze alert!) and kick the old shoes off, put the feet up, Chase gets comfortable, and, BAM! before you know it, I'm dozing off. Dreamland for me. Ahh. Zzzzz. (Hey, at least I've got a cool breeze where I sleep. Don't judge!)

So Saturday night, there I was awake and totally alert, ahem, I mean, dozing off on the couch, screen door open, cool breeze maximus blowing in, slumbering away into dreamland. All was well in the world except for one little detail. There were several tornadoes in Cedar Park, Texas this Saturday night. Tornadoes, it would appear, are a bit stronger than my usual cool breeze and I almost found this out the hard way. Picture it. I'm fast asleep on the couch. Screen door open. Chase by my side, secretly hoping a rabid squirrel attempts to run up the back porch right through the screen door, when I was rudely awakened by a sound that somewhat resembled an oncoming freight train.

Now, being in Texas, I've been told that tornadoes sound a lot like oncoming freight trains. In fact, almost every TV broadcast of almost every tornado in Texas starts out with some newscaster standing in some long forgotten field interviewing some farmer or rancher who picks a thread of grass out of his mouth long, looks straight into the camera, and proclaims, "It sounded just like an oncoming freight train!" I've heard this interview many times before and I know how this story ends.

So, there I was. Freight train, aka, friendly neighborhood tornado twisting my way, me sound asleep on the couch in dreamland. It was...a bit odd that, really. As I rubbed my eyes and looked around, all I could think of was, "if I didn't know any better, I'd swear that was a tornado." Of course, my kind and friendly weatherman didn't call for any tornadoes that night so I was pretty sure it wasn't a tornado but then, this is Texas after all, and the damn things do tend to sprout up at the most inopportune of times. Not like there's really a good time for a tornado, mind you, but there you have it.

That's when my phone went off.

We have these Amber Alert type messages on our cell phones now that beep rather loudly when approaching weather events and the like happen. Saturday night was no exception. Over the course of about three minutes, I got about six weather alerts, all very loud and increasing in severity, all waking me from what was left of my sleep as the freight train/tornado rumbled into earshot. The first one said something about flash flooding, the second one said something even more severe about flooding, the third one suggested something about a tornado, and the last one said something along the lines of "a tornado has been spotted in your area. Seek shelter immediately!" Ok, so maybe it wasn't a freight train after all, but there I was expecting a cool breeze and winding up with, well, let's just call it a bit more than I had bargained for and leave it at that, Ok? Even the freaking iPhone Amber Alert thing rose up from the dead and yapped at me, "Wake the Hell up, it's a tornado!" I would have been in a panic only I was too groggy and hadn't quite woken up yet, with the silly iPhone Amber Alert sound ringing in my ears and the rumbling freight train growing louder and louder by the second.

They say just before you die you're supposed to see your life flash before you eyes, at least we've all heard that story many times before from the movies and such. I suppose there are people out there, maybe even some poor lost souls on Saturday night who didn't see the storms coming and got washed away, twisted away, or just didn't survive the weather. Texas is a formidable climate, it's not for all, I'd be the first to admit that, and I hesitate to insist that I'm stronger than the next, not by any stretch. But, dag nabit! I'll be damned if I'm going to let some stupid silly tornado take my cool breeze away. Damn you, tornado! Damn you and the horse you rode in on! My screen door may not be much, heck the good folks over at Home Depot probably even installed it slightly crooked, but it's all I have and I'm not giving it up. No, not me. Though I did (eventually) get up and shut the door on Saturday night, I'm going to use the screen door again and I'll probably fall asleep on the couch again and, heck if a tornado comes to take me away so be it. I refuse to give up my cool breeze, sorry tornado, you'll just have to go twist in the wind (or some such thing.)

Yes, after Saturday night, I suppose it's safe to say, "Stand back! I've got a screen door and I'm not afraid to use it!"

Until next time...

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Lensbaby Velvet 56 Initial Thoughts

This past weekend, I had opportunity to break out the new Lensbaby Velvet 56 lens and so I thought I would share my initial impressions of the new lens. For starters, let me say that I'm a Lensbaby fan and have been for a while. I had the original Lensbaby lens, now called "The Muse" for a long time, finally upgrading to the glass optic swap out system and now the Velvet 56. I won't bore you with details about myself here (you can look that up if you really want to know) so let's get started with the review (of sorts.) I will also point out that I normally don't do gear reviews-I'm not the paid reviewer type of person so this is my honest impressions of the new lens, without any preconceived notions of trying to sell you anything (this is a free website and, as such, you get what you pay for and all. Apologies if this review comes across as less than polished, but that's life inside my little world.) 

The packaging on the lens itself is wonderful. It came in a nice little box with Lensbaby images on the side. Perfect for gifting, although, with it's $500 price tag gifting might be out of the question for some folks. The lens itself feels wonderful in the hands. It's metal and it does not feel like a cheap or kit lens at all. If anything, it has more a retro feel about it, reminding me of some of the old Zeiss style lenses in terms of looks. It has a manual focusing ring and a manual aperture setting ring on the lens itself, so you can see from the front what f-stop you set it at. All well and good, as I would expect this of a "real" lens. My biggest gripe has been that, being a Canon shooter, the lower f-stops are usually at the other end of the scale. This one seemed backwards to me but again here that's just me getting used to it. There was nothing about the lens that would put me off, in fact I rather liked it. The feel will come in time.

I should also point out that I got the silver model which, I'm told, does not have the stickers but has engraved aperture and focus markings. I believe this is the only difference between the two lenses so those on a tight budget might want to skip the silver in favor of the black model.

First shots off the card were interesting for me. Being a Lensbaby shooter for a while, I've been doing a body of work where things are very out of focus, like nothing in focus in the image at all. The new model will allow me to do that nicely, as the aperture settings allow you to control the amount of focus. That sounds really great on paper and I can tell you that I will someday get a better feel for the lens but, right out of the box, it's hard to know what f-8 is going to do, for example. So, I found myself setting it wide open and then stopping down until I got the out of focus effect I wanted. Again, this is more of a learning curve than any fault of the lens. Overall, I'd have to say it's the type of lens I will find myself shooting some and probably going to in my bag again and again.  I'll have to play with it some more before it gets totally comfortable but I love what I've seen so far. That's really the best you can get with a new lens right out the box, isn't it?

Some other tidbits about the lens. It comes with a pop on style metal lens cap, which is really nice, but not perfect. I'm a bit old school and so I like to use UV filters on the front of my lens for protection. If you go the UV filter route with this Lensbaby, the lens cap will no longer fit. Now, I know there are easy workarounds for this but, at $500, I kind of feel like they should have thought about this better. Of course, the fact that the lens is threaded for filters is itself interesting news. Imagine the filters you can add to a Lensbaby. Infrared? ND Grads? See where I'm going here? This is big news that's been overlooked in all of the reviews I have read on the lens so far (of course, there aren't many of those yet, as this lens is new to market.)

Some of you will probably complain that the lens is manual focus. It is. It's a manual focus lens. Manual focus. Say it with me. Manual focus. Don't buy it and expect it to auto focus. It won't. It's a manual focus lens. Got that? I'm sure you do but not everybody will. I can hear the complaints already. "But, it doesn't focus right!" Yeah, it doesn't focus at all-you do. Turn the flipping ring already. It's designed to make it easy for you to turn the ring so just do it and quit your griping. Having used a manual lens in the past, it really doesn't feel any different from my old Nikon or Mayima or Hassy lenses in terms of focusing. There's a nice track, it's smooth, and you focus it by turning the ring yourself. The ring is easy to grip with your free hand and I was able to focus without having to stop looking through my camera pretty easily. I did mention it was manual focus, right? Works as designed, really that does, and I have no complaints. 

As a proud owner of the glass optic system, I had some of the optic swap devices Lensbaby makes. These can produce great images, the pin hole one is especially fun, but the entire swap device system left me a bit cold. It was hard to swap out those "lens guts" as I call them. It just wasn't an easy system to use in the field, especially given that most of us wind up using the Lensbaby as a second lens anyway. It's hard enough to swap out the lens itself and then, on top of that, I'm expected to swap out the optic system too? That was never my favorite, despite the fact that I loved the pinhole optic. What I ended up doing was shooting a second camera, leaving it setup with the optic system lens and then just swapping out the optic swap choices as I saw fit in the field. It was still a bit cumbersome to have to do that, as it was never as easy swapping out the optic swap device as changing an actual lens. I also had to deal with the burden of an extra camera body which is a hassle but it's always good to have a backup anyway. These are just the choices we make and not really anything reflected upon the quality of the Lensbaby systems.

Fast forward to the new Velvet 56. It doesn't support the optic swap system. Now, I'm not entirely sure this is a bad thing but I do kind of feel there's a hole where the pinhole used to be (so sorry for the bad pun there but it had to be said.) On the one hand, I kind of miss my easy access to a pinhole camera, on the other, I did mention the new Velvet 56 takes filters, yes? Filters. Mmmm filters. My brain (well, ok, what's left of it) is still swirling over that one. To paraphrase Dr. Seuss, "Ah the places you will go, the filters you will use!"

So, bottom line, do I like the lens? Yes. Is it worth $500? Depends. To me, yes. I think of it as a "real" lens and welcome the aperture settings. (Ahem, repeat after me, "Real photographers stop down!" Thank you very much!) It does not feel cheap and I think there are a lot of creative uses for it. If you like the soft dreamy effect, let's face facts, you're going to need to manual focus anyway, and this lens will not disappoint. I love the filters. Did I mention it has filters now? Filters, yes indeed! I sort of miss the glass optic system, but then I only loved that for the pinhole. (There might be a way to weasel a pinhole option out of the new Velvet 56, although I haven't really thought about that yet.)

One last note about the new Lensbaby Velvet 56: I did not have a good chance to play around with some macro images yet. I'm sure this is one area where it will really rock the house. Clocking in at a 56mm very nice useful focal length, having a wide open f1.6 available, and also being able to do macro work is quite a powerful combination. Overall, this makes for a light and bright soft focus lens. I would be even happier if they would make a filter threaded lens cap that was convertible into a lens cap pinhole filter. Now, that would really make my day but, hey, I can't ask for the sky, the moon, *and* the stars, right? Right? (Ahem, Lensbaby folks, if you are reading this, kaleidoscope lens. Say it with me, "Kaleidoscope lens." It's not just for breakfast anymore, m'kay? It's what all the cool kids really want for Christmas this year! Um...please? Pretty please with sugar on top? Don't make me turn this blur around!)

Until next time...

Monday, May 18, 2015

I Took A Walk

I took a walk. What do I mean by this? On Saturday, I attended a photo instructional walk with Austin resident, noted Magnum photographer, and all around nice guy, Eli Reed. He's a fabulous photographer, I've always loved his work. You should check it out if you are so inclined. But, back to my walk.

So, we assembled at Precision Camera for the meeting and spend a few hours looking at work, discussing images, and hearing lots of tips and tricks from Eli Reed. Then, we assembled into various cars and headed down to the South Congress area of Austin. For those of you who do not know Austin very well, South Congress is a funky cool part of town. There's now a boutique hotel (the Hotel San Jose) as well as lots of cool shops, restaurants, and the like. It's quintessential Austin at its finest. Great place to go people watching and do some serious street photography, not to mention just funky cool stuff, even if you are into stuff like architecture or scenic photography. There's something there for almost everybody. So, we headed down, I did some people watching, and tried out my new Lensbaby Velet56 lens (more on this in another post.)

It was a very humid day. We've had a lot of rain lately and, lucky for us, the rain held off. The light was a little higher than I would normally like it but still it was so wonderful just to walk about with camera, new lens, and Eli Reed. It really was a wonderful excursion. I feel so refreshed, even though I was sticky sweaty hot. Just getting out into it a bit reminded me how I have not been out in what feels like ages. It was really great to walkabout with camera in tow, checking things out, taking a few shots. I don't think I got anything earth shatteringly good but it was just refreshing to be outside shooting for a change. (More on the new Lensbaby and the Hotel San Jose to follow.)

Did you ever feel like you just wanted to get out of the house? Then, when you did it was like being released from a cage? Yeah, it felt like that. Oh so nice to be out in it again. I feel like I've traveled only this time I went to my own city to explore. Such fun new things and so great to be enjoying it before the absolute heat of the summer sets in. I hope you get out and enjoy yourself this spring as well.

Until next time...

Friday, May 15, 2015

Remembering the King

Eric Clapton and BB King live onstage in London, England as part of 24 Nights series of concerts. Earl's Court, London.
Yesterday marked the passing of a blues legend. BB King passed away at the age of 89. This is a photograph I took of him playing with Eric Clapton in England, original on film, taken with my old trusty Nikon.

There's something different about the passing of BB King. For those of you who don't know, I met BB King several times over the course of my life. I know everybody now is mourning the loss while also celebrating his life and legacy but, somehow, it just feels different when you know the person. Of course, BB King was wonderful with his fans. I'm sure there are many fans out there who have many fond memories, probably ever better ones than I, of BB King.

Not many people can say they once bounced on BB King's lap, but I can. Now, before you go thinking bad thoughts, let me explain. I was four years old when I first met BB King. My aunt, you see, was a huge BB King fan, way back from before I was born. When I was four, she had gotten tickets to go see him in concert somewhere out on Long Island, NY. This was back when I still lived in Queens. (Boy, am I going back in time, or what?) The day of the concert, as luck would have it, there was a big blizzard. Almost all of New York was snowed in. The baby sitter called to cancel on account of the snow. Believe me, in New York, this almost never happens but it did that night. So my aunt called up the theater and asked if the show was going to go on or not. They said, yes, in fact, the show was going to go on. BB King was there and ready to play. Sitter or not, my aunt was determined to go, so she packed all of us kids into the car and we drove very slowly out to Long Island. When we got there, the theater was not full, probably on account of the weather, so they let us all in. It was my first time going to a "nightclub." They severed me something called a "Shirley Temple cocktail" which was probably just overpriced juice, and I got to see BB King play live in a small theater. In fact, this is one of my earliest memories. I can still remember being in that dark club, the chairs around a table, sitting there with my feet not touching the ground, listening to the music.

For those of you who don't know, BB King liked to come out and talk to people at the end of his concerts, and this night was no exception. He came around, table by table to chat with all of us. When he got to our table he sat down and asked if he could talk to me. They put me on his lap, he pulled my pig tails and made me cry (well, not really but, heck I mentioned I was four years old at the time, right?) That was my first encounter with BB King and it would not be my last, although he didn't make me cry (or pull my hair) after that.

Many years later, I ran into him in Austin. I had gotten a flat tire and made it to Sears just in time, just before they closed. As I was pulling into the parking lot, I saw this big honking tour bus and thought, wow, what they heck is that? I met him cutting through Sears on his way from the bookstore. BB King, you see, learned how to read as an adult but wound up being a lifelong reader. He was walking out with an armful of books. I spoke to him only briefly, he wished me luck with my car and told me he was playing in Austin that night. I've also seen him play in New Hampshire with Robert Cray and in London, pictured here with Eric Clapton and Bonnie Raitt.

While I'll miss him personally, he's also been quite an inspiration to me on an artistic level. Now, I don't play the guitar like him, that's not what I mean, but I have picked up a few tricks from watching him over the years. For starers, he's very good with his fans. He always stopped to talk to people who took the time to appreciate his art. That's important to an artist. Respect your patrons. Get to know the people who appreciate your work. It's not just good business sense, it makes you a better person.

Something else I've learned from him...if you watch him when he played, his whole face would light up when he played his guitar. He had this beaming smile every time he picked up and started playing his guitar. Even if you didn't know him, you could tell he was really very happy. He was doing what he was supposed to be doing, as Joseph Campbell would say he was, "following his bliss" and it really showed. You can tell when you do something you're supposed to be doing because it makes you happy and that happiness beamed from within him. I've never seen anybody else so happy singing the blues and I probably never will again. You might think that blues music is sad and, why yes it is, but it's also cathartic. There was a jubilance about his playing. It's hard to describe but you will spot it too if you watch him play for a bit.

There are also some things about BB King you might not know. For example, did you know that he couldn't really play the guitar and sing at the same time? It's true. He almost never did that. On occasion, he would forget and actually do both but then he would catch himself and go back to the one at a time bit. Technically speaking, BB King was not a great guitar player at all. Many "experts" will tell you that he was actually lacking in technical skills. Of course, many "experts" will also tell you that bumble bees cannot fly. It's a great theory on paper but reality had other plans. Many guitar players will rank BB King as one of the best guitar players who ever lived.

They say that BB King was not technically such a great guitar player because he could not play musical chords. It's true, he didn't play musical chords. What he lacked in chords, he more than made up for in tone. BB King probably had the best guitar tone you will ever hear in your lifetime (mine too for that matter.) BB King had a singing guitar tone with some really great vibrato. Eric Clapton once said that he tried to play vibrato like BB King and it took him an entire year of practice just to get almost good enough to be able to start thinking about incorporating vibrato into his work. And he's Eric Clapton, imagine how long it would take the rest of us?!?

BB King was not a technician but he had a great spirit, a wonderful charm, a passion for music, and a gift for tone. If only I could paint like that! That's what really made him such a great artist. You don't have to excel at every aspect of your art, no, but he did something so well that he could not be denied. That's the mark really of a true artist.

So, even if you don't takeaway anything from the King of the Blues, BB King himself, I hope you have a new appreciation for his music and his legacy. I was saddened to hear of his passing but he's left a wonderful legacy, sharing the gift of music with very many people. The thrill is not gone, in fact, it's just starting for some younger folks who might be now just be discovering his legacy, so tonight I say long live blues music and long live the legacy of BB King.

Rest in Peace BB King, you will be missed.

Until next time...