Thursday, December 29, 2016

Long Day's Journey into Black and White

At first glance, this image might not look like it might be a good candidate for conversion to black and white. I can almost hear you yelling at me from across the wire. "Are you crazy?!? There's a red chair in there. A RED chair. A RED chair! You must be nuts."Ahem. Yes, I see the chair. I still think it will make an ok black and white. It's got tones. Sure, red and green look a lot alike once everything is stone cold grey but, honestly, it's got tones. And tones, generally, make for ok black and white shots. Seriously. OK black and white shots. I'm going to try anyway, you can't stop me, right? Right?

I've been looking at converting a bunch of images over to the dark side, or maybe I should call it the dark and white side, since that's what it really is. It's kind of funny how sometimes images don't look like they'd be good in black and white but then they turn out ok or maybe you think they'd look terrible but you have a go anyway and wind up with, BAM! something that's not too bad. It's taken me a while as a photographer to spot what might be a good conversion and, yes, I know I do tend to shoot things with the thought of converting in mind later on. I'm like that you know. But, sometimes I like to play too and poke around afterwards to see what I can coax. A girl's got to have her fun, right?

Tonality has always been kind of difficult for me. I'm not a tone poet, not in the least. I'm more of a perspective kind of a girl, what can I say? Still though, I know to not discount the red chairs. Never discount red stuff, just because, well, just because it's red, right? Even though I don't shoot it a lot, I certainly don't go out and hunt it, I'm not going to pass it up when you hand it to me either. (As the great philosopher Lady Gaga once wrote, "I'm on the right track, baby I was born this way.")

If it works, look for the black and white conversion to follow. Until then, why, you'll just have to settle for being able to say you knew those chairs back when they were RED chairs. Oh, and if you're inclined to play around with black and white conversion, I recommend the NIX Silver Efex Pro conversion tools which are now available free of charge from Google. Seriously. Google, it would appear, purchased the Nik Efex and made them free so enjoy it while it lasts. I do rather like the conversion tools because they allow you to play around with different styles of conversion and get different looks. Am told the Alien Skin filters are good too, those would be a contender if I didn't already like the Nik Efex so much. To each his own, I guess and, for all, a RED chair!

Until next time...

PS This one taken in Dakota with the Canon 5DS and the walkabout lens. Was dusty in there but we survived.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

How To Become a Photographer - The Short Version

Maybe you got a new camera over the holiday and now your thoughts turn to learning how to work it or perhaps you find yourself one of the many people who decide that, come the new year, you're going to get back into your photography. Either way, you might find yourself in the shoes of somebody new or somebody wanting to get a bit more into this wonderful world of image making. Now, I don't often teach anymore but I have in the past and I get asked a lot about mentoring, often finding myself doing it sometimes (actually often) finding myself on the other end, being mentored. The entire learning bit is really a lifelong journey, especially with photography. I'll never feel I've mastered this but maybe I can offer up some advice for those just starting. Since I get asked a lot, I thought it might be a good time of year to share the basics of what I did to learn. Follow this at your own risk as it might turn you into a mad lady who hops fences and traipses thought abandoned buildings looking for just the right light. Alternatively, you might get bored and take up knitting. At any rate, here goes.

When I was starting out, I participated in a group that shared 3-5 images per week. We met in the auditorium of a middle school. Back in those days, we used a slide projector and shared slides, with every participant putting their own slides in the tray (don't forget, they go in upside down. I still know how to load a slide tray, thank you very much.) The projector made your image large and the room was dark, thereby forcing you to look, and I mean really LOOK at your images. Kind of hard to do when there's no other light in the room and the image got nice and big, warts and all. Also, the 3-5 was key. It really was 3-5, no more, no less. If you had 22, you got chopped down. So that is perhaps advice point number 1: learn to edit. There are no edit fairies. Learn to do it yourself and be brutal. When somebody days they want six images, give them six. If somebody says 3-5 shoot for 4 and see where you land, but keep it between the guidelines. The frequency of showing images was critical too. Each and every week, 3-5 images. It forced you to make new work each week and to edit new work each week. I can promise you, after about a year of doing this, you will be a better photographer. But, since there aren't many slide groups any longer, now that we are all digital, here's what I recommend.

Step 1: Get a camera. This is kind of obvious, but, to be clear, I mean take a camera you already have or get one you want to use. Get one. I mean ONE here and not like 42. Really, just one is all it takes. Much better to learn how to work one you've got then to try and futz with 5 or 6. One works just fine, especially if you really don't know how to work any yet. I sincerely recommend you start with simple equipment and learn to train your eye. You can always upgrade later and, by upgrade, I mean the camera, not the eye. Oh, how I wish I could upgrade my eye, but that ain't happening (perhaps rule number two for you there.) Alas, I've upgraded the camera many times, probably too many to count, still have the same eye, still the same photographer. My guess is you will be that way too so get used to it. The camera really is just a tool for seeing.

Step 2: Keep it Simple. I've hinted at this already with the one camera deal but really you want to keep equipment simple when you are just starting out. Avoid getting lighting rigs like strobes, fancy lenses, lots of flashes, etc. Maybe just start with a simple rig, something like a DSLR, one mid range (I tend to call them "walkabout") lens and a tripod. If you want to learn on your iPhone, use that but that's it. Don't get fancy and don't start shoveling equipment. Just keep it simple. Remember you are trying to learn to take pictures, to craft images, to become a photographer, not to turn into a camera collector. If you ask for a recommendation, I would opt for something like a Canon rebel series camera, or the equivalent Nikon offering, with an 18-55 kit lens or even a 50mm "nifty fifty" style lens. You want to keep it towards one camera, one lens, one eye and then add things as you need them. If you are doing iPhone, start by using the iPhone camera and avoid tons of apps. Just start with the camera and learn how to work that, you can app everything later.

Step 3: Get into a Routine. Remember I said I did the 3-5 images a week when I was learning? Yeah, I probably did that for about a decade. About a year into the 3-5 image routine, I started exhibiting my work. That means for probably 11 years, while I was exhibiting work and doing shows around the country, winning awards, getting published and the like, I was still doing the 3-5 images in the slide tray every Thursday night. That's 3-5 images a week. Say it with me, "3-5 images a week." You want to all but get that tattooed across your forehead. The trick here is getting into a routine. Force yourself to take 3-5 images that you like a week, each and every week. Commit to it. Keep doing it. If it rains, keep doing it. If it's hot, keep doing it. If you go on a surprise trip to Cancun with your cousin Fred, bring your camera along and keep doing it. Yes, you can take 3-5 images of Fred in Cancun but the trick here is 3-5 images a week, each and every week.

Step 4: Complete a Finished Product. What I mean by this is, well, when I was learning I did slides in the tray. Remember how I said they were blown up BIG and we showed them in a dark room? This is sort of "finished." If it was a test shot, it didn't make it into the 3-5 image pile. If I was unsure about it, I'd re-shoot until I got one worth of a slot in my 3-5. I went through a lot of film in those days, lucky you we now have flash memory but it's the same deal. Think of the 3-5 as being "finished" images. By this, I mean worthy of being printed or blown up large. I actually recommend you print them if you can and put them in a notebook, to look at later on. The important point though is you finish what you started. You craft 3-5 finished images each and every week. The difference between a beginner and somebody who is a working (or exhibiting) photographer is that the working stiff has a finished product in mind before he or she loads the flash memory into the camera. You want to start to think about what it's going to look like in your slide tray or in your notebook as you are working in the field or in the studio. Thinking about finishing it makes you focus on what you are making and drives you to shoot better.

Step 5: Evaluate and Refine. After you start shooting for a while, as your notebook becomes full of your work, you can look back upon your earlier work and see how you did. Look at what you've shot, what you didn't shoot, think about what you want to shoot and start to spot the trends. Remember I said I was in a group that shared 3-5 images a week? One of the benefits of the group is that you can get feedback from others, plus you also look at the work of others. It helps if you look at work. Look at as many images as you can and really look at them, with a critical eye. Look at your work and see how it compares. Look at your work and try to spot patterns or habits or "tells" if you will. As you work your routine your style will emerge. Learn to spot it and work with it, but let it grow over time. Think of it as organic and let it blossom but feed it as well. Basically, I recommend that you don't try to copy but rather you continuously refine the way you shoot to get yourself closer to where you want to be as a photographer.

If you follow all of these steps, you will probably become a photographer over time. You will learn to craft images and learn to refine the way you shoot. It's not an easy path and it's perhaps not the only path but it's one way to get to the other side. Regardless of your experiences, I wish you the best of lucky in your journey along the path to image making. Good luck or, as I like to say to my fellow photographers, "safe travels and good light" along your path of discovery.

Until next time...

PS This image taken with the Canon 5DS and the walkabout lens, from the old schoolhouse tour out in Willow City, TX. This is the room they told us was full of snakes. Maybe I should add another step to my list: Get sturdy boots and watch where you plant your feet, eh?

Monday, December 26, 2016

Looking Back to Find Buried Treasure in Your Archives

Assorted items, abandoned church basement in rural North Dakota near the town of Rugby
As we wind down the last days of 2016, there are going to be a lot of "Best of..." articles and threads published, including, I'm sure, some of my very own. As a photographer, we get asked for portfolios a lot. We're constantly dealing in "bodies of work" so a lot of our time is spent pondering and actually preparing this body of work for that space or this set of images for submission over here. It's a daily grind and we don't seem to mind it, it's just how the work gets done, right? But, sometimes, there's something that can be missed in all of that. We're always packaging things it can be easy to miss individual shots and sometimes little gems, why, they can fall through the cracks of our workflow.

We have a connection to some of our images. Maybe we remember what the place smelled like, or how the flowers looked or whatever. This connection, while it can be a good thing, yes, it can also be a blocker for our own objectivity. What I mean by that is that sometimes, by allowing yourself space and time, by allowing yourself to "forget" the events behind making a particular image, you can look at your images with a fresh set of eyes. Maybe you see things you didn't see before, maybe you can go back on a stream of images and pull out some you had initially passed over. A lot of times, when I do this, I find myself whacking myself on my head. "What was I thinking?" I ask myself. "Why did I pass over this one in favor of that one?" It happens, I would guess, even to the best of photographers. Our emotions or the joy of the shoot can get in the way and cloud our objectivity. We are at are best sometimes when editing after the immediacy of the shoot has been forgotten a bit. I think this is just how the process works. Editing, at it's best, can require some space. It's hard, probably impossible, to have a truly objective eye but that space can sometimes lend a hand to helping here.

By doing some of these year end type "exercises" (for lack of a better word) we sometimes force ourselves to look back and edit again with a fresh set of eyes. Edit anew really perhaps by looking at what we shot or maybe by making additional decisions about post processing. It all comes into play and can all be taken up again now, at the end of the year, with a fresh set of eyes.

So, if you're having a wonderful holiday season or, heck, even if you're not, I would encourage you to sip some eggnog or hot cocoa, enjoy a quiet night or two by a warm fire, spend some quality time with the family and friends, all of that is good, but also don't neglect your images. This is a great time to look back on 2016 and take stock of how you did photographically. See what worked, note what didn't, even look over your raw files again, with a fresh set of eyes. You might find some hidden gems in there. At the very least, you will probably walk away with a fresh appreciation for what you did already shoot and edit as part of your 2016 processing. Looking anew, giving it one more once over can't hurt, right?

I wish you the warmest of holiday seasons and hope you find your share of wonderful hidden gems in your own processing.

Until next time...

PS This one from Dakota, it's the church kitchen, shot on long exposure with the Canon 5DS and the walkabout lens set at 24mm f/14 approximately 30 second exposure.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Top 10 List - Lima, Peru

Colonial architectural detail, city center, Lima, Peru
Now I know I've been back a little while but I had written this up and not published it yet so, without further ado, here is my Top 10 list from my trip to Lima, Peru. Enjoy!

Here are the top 10 things I've learned about Lima, Peru:

10. Lima is the "second largest city in the Americas." With almost 10 million people, this puts it just behind Sao Paulo, Brazil and before Mexico City. It's a big city, folks, larger than my hometown of New York City. I never knew it was so big so this clocks in at my number ten item on the list.

9. Lima has Inca ruins in the middle of the city. You can actually drive around them and, yes, they have Pokemon in them. (Ugh!) Seriously though, the way other cities have fountains or arches, Lima has cool Inca ruins. You can thank the good folks of the 15th century for that. They are still there and the city has grown up around them. Wonders to enjoy, they are.

8. Lima is located geographically on the Pacific Ocean, south of Ecuador, along the western edge of Peru. As you might guess from being south of Ecuador, it sits very near the equator and it is actually located in the southern hemisphere so, technically speaking, if you live in North America, you have to cross the equator to get there, but just cross the equator. It's literally just on the other side.

7. Lima is a culinary capital of the world. Many people travel to many cities, come back and say, "the food was good there," but Lima really is a king of the kitchen in this regard. During my visit, I dined at the 13th best restaurant in the world. The food is really fabulous with local fare including over 4000 varieties of  potato and over 300 species of edible fish. There is something for everybody in terms of food in Lima as well, including Asian inspired dishes, Italian, Mexico flavors and, of course, the local cuisine. All to die for, really that is. Bon appetit!

6. While there is a chocolate museum in Lima, most of the chocolate you eat there is cacao. I found this to be tasty and actually preferred it to the more traditional style chocolate. It is (typically) less sweet but I found it to be more flavorful. It's quite tasty.

5. There are several districts in Lima, Miraflores being a major art, restaurant, shopping district. I stayed in the Miraflores district during my visit. The area they call the city center hosts the President's house along with many examples of authentic colonial architecture. Miraflores is a wonderful area to visit, almost like a city unto itself. You could spend an entire trip there and not run out of things to do, with lots of shopping, activities, and, of course, great restaurants right at your fingertips.

4. The Monastery of San Francisco is an example of authentic colonial architecture. I was lucky enough to tour this monastery during my visit and it is really an amazing building. Below it the famous catacombs hold an estimated 25,000 remains. You can tour the catacombs to see some of the bones (I did!) and it's fascinating. I really enjoyed this tour and highly recommend both the Monastery and the catacombs.

3. The Mirabus is an open air double decker bus. You can ride up top and tour the entire city, enjoying the view from your seat. This is highly recommended as it was a fantastic experience. You can take photos from the bus and basically shoot the entire city from up there, getting a wonderful bird's eye view of everything. Wear a jacket as it's a bit cool up there and don't stand up, least a tree or low hanging stoplight take you out, but enjoy the ride. It's a great trip and you really can enjoy the entire city from up there.

2. The parks in Lima are fabulous. There is a park with a famous statue of a bull. Another park with a lot of cats is a wonderful stroll for an afternoon. There is another park with wonderful tile benches and a giant statue of a couple embracing. Lima has some great parks and I highly recommend making the most of them.

And, the number 1 thing I've learned on my trip to Lima, Peru is....

1. Pisco Sours, baby! Lima is also known for a wonderful drink called the pisco sour. It's fabulous. The drinks in Lima are really great. I enjoyed the pisco sours, which you really have to try from every restaurant and place that serves them, as well as herba buenas, and Inca colas. They make fresh lemonade which is really made with a sort of key lime style fruit that's very delicious, but there is nothing quite like the local ceviche served with a fresh pisco sour. Oh! Heaven! A must try for any visit. In Miraflores, there is even an entire street devoted to the pisco sour drink, called Pisco Sour Street. I took a picture of it and will share at some point. Great drink, great street, great city all around. Pisco sours really are a treasure in Lima and they clock in at my number one item I've learned about Lima. 

Some tidbits of information that did not quite make my top 10 list but might be worth knowing, should you happen to find yourself down Lima way, let's see, I'd have to include the fact that Lima has a mild climate. It's mild to warm year round. When I visited, it was winter time and the weather was very mild and pleasant with highs close to 80 and lows in the 60's or so. It's also cloudy, it can be a cloud city which you should watch out for when visiting. While this can make for great photographs, it's very easy to get a sunburn since it's so close to the equator but the clouds mask the sun from your eyes. Even when it's cloudy, the sun can sort of sneak up on you and you can find yourself getting sunburnt very quickly. I know this because I did. Pack sunscreen, folks! Pack sunscreen and enjoy Lima, Peru because it's a wonderful place to visit.

Until next time...

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

May I Take Your Picture?

Portraits from Day of the Dead/Viva La Vida festivities in Austin, Texas for Dia de los Muertos
For a sentence as simple as, "May I take your picture?" I am often surprised by how much drama it can manifest for photographers. For starters, the words themselves make so very many photographers utterly uncomfortable. It's like we can't even say them. The words, why, they just don't fall from our lips. It's not an easy task to get them out. If that were not bad enough, even if you do manage to sputter and spew them out, the response can be overwhelming. I think there are few topics as difficult for a beginner, heck even a pro sometimes, to master, yet this skill strikes at the very core, the essence if you will, of what we do. Even if you do not take pictures of people, at some point in your photographic career, you're going to have to ask somebody for permission to take a picture of something and this can catapult you into the complex world of dealing with people's emotions. I'll be the first to admit that, even when the process appears to work smoothly, it can be daunting and leave you feeling unnerved.

It's very complicated yet somehow easy as pie at the same time. It seems easy. It seems like it should be the easiest thing in the world, to just walk up to somebody and ask, "May I take your picture?" yet, somehow you can get these words so easily caught in your throat. We know it's a skill we need to master yet, somehow, when it's time to do it, we pause. It can be really hard to actually do.

A while back, I went shooting with a friend of mine. He is one of those photographers, I've known him a while and he's really pretty good. He came up through the ranks about the same time I did, even studied under some of the same people I did. We are friends, if for nothing else than we've been shooting buddies for the better part of twenty years. I consider him competent, if not seasoned as a photographer. While we we out shooting, I happened to notice that he simply could not ask permission to photograph anybody we encountered that day. We had been out walking around, strange city for both of us, and I had decided I wanted to do some street type shooting, a bit more portrait oriented from what I usually shoot. He's a buildings guy too, there's no harm in that but, when I told him my plan of doing some portraits, he jumped at the opportunity. As we were walking, I got into the routine, into the flow if you will, of stopping, chatting people up, asking, "May I take your picture?" He had a really hard time doing it. He would either try to sort of "mooch" off the opportunity, taking the same shots I did, after I had taken them, or he would just fall back and not shoot at all. At one point, I realized he just couldn't get the words out. I was a bit taken aback by this, as I thought of him a better photographer, but he just couldn't do it. He couldn't say those magical little words, "May I Take Your Picture?" The words, why, they just wouldn't come. I was shocked that somebody who was totally capable of climbing around musty old buildings and the like couldn't simply walk up to a random person and ask a simple question but there you have it. And, I really can't criticize him, as it's not always an easy thing for me to do myself. Perhaps working with models and attending a bunch of workshops has gotten me over my fear in this regard but I can recall a time in my own not too distant past when I too was morbidly afraid of those simple little words, "May I take your picture?" It's like kryptonite to otherwise very superman photographers.

It can be a really difficult technique to master, asking that is. Now, I can teach you all about aperture and you might take a while to learn that but, once you know it, you kind of get it down. This business of dealing with people though, man, it never seems the same from case to case and you never really feel like you are fully comfortable. As soon as you feel like you've got it, somebody or something throws a wrench into the works and, boom, you are back at square one. I have found in my travels that there are a few tips I can offer. Maybe these will help, maybe they won't. I do wish you the best of luck in either case. Anyway, here goes.

1. You are going to have to ask. Repeat after me: you are going to have to ask. You are going to have to ask somebody at some point so you might as well accept that fact and practice in the mirror if you have to. Ask your friends. Ask you dog. Ask your dog's friends. You get the idea. Just ask. Get over yourself and ask already. Accept this and move on. OK, here we go....this is us moving on then.

2. Somebody might say, "No!" Newsflash, not everybody likes having their picture taken. Perhaps we are afraid of failure and this is why we don't want to ask but, see #1, you have to ask. Once you start asking, well it naturally follows that you are going to get a "No!" every now and again. Maybe sooner, maybe later but, yes, Virginia, there really is a "No!" in your future too. My advice here? Accept this and move on. I like to respect people's wishes, so I don't push. I tend to ask but not push. If you are the pushy type, why more power to you, I guess. For myself? No means, well, no. I accept it and move on. I don't have to take everybody's picture and there are plenty of fish in the sea as it were.

3. You can shoot first and ask questions later. This is something people often forget. When I teach or even go out with fellow shooters, I'm surprised by how many people don't practice this. I get asked a lot of times, "but, how do you get a candid shot if you have to ask first?" For me, the answer is, "what makes you think I have to ask first?" You can shoot somebody without them seeing you then go up and ask, "May I take your picture?" It helps if, when presented with this situation you even fire off an extra shot once permission is granted, even if you don't use it. Flash memory is cheap, finding models is not. You can always delete it later, right? And then there's the matter of, well, what if they say, "No!" after you've already shot? That one's easy too, just delete or don't use that frame. Again, move on. Keep moving, keep shooting all the time, just slow down and ask in the middle if you have to.

4. You can ask first and shoot later. Just as with #3 above, the reverse is also true. You can strike up a conversation with somebody, ask them, "May I take your picture?" and, if they say, "Yes!" opt for a posed/canned shot. You can then follow them or wait a few minutes, even "shoot through" the situation and wait for them to relax, to catch them a bit more off guard, if you want something a bit more natural. There's not really a rule that says once you ask, you only get 1 or 2 frames. Well, I think maybe there is but it only applies to like the Queen of England and you're probably not shooting her anyway.

5. Somebody might say, "Yes!" I know this sounds odd, but be prepared for somebody to say, "Yes!" as well as no. They might want your business card. They might want more photos. They might have questions ("What are you going to use the pictures for?" is a pretty common one.) Sometimes your innocent little question breaks open the floodgates. Best advice here, I believe, is to just be prepared, be honest, answer their questions as best you can.

6. As my Grandmother used to say, "You Catch More Flies with Honey than you do with Vinegar." What does this mean? Well, as my Grandmother also used to say, "it doesn't cost a thing to be nice." If you are anxious about asking people to take their photos, I recommend chatting them up a bit. Find something nice about a person. "That's a pretty hat you have on" or "I like your sunglasses." Saying something nice to people often helps break the ice. A smile and a compliment go a long way. If you are asking a person to photograph them there's probably something that drew you to them as a subject. There really is no harm in sharing what that might be. "I love your smile" or "You've got bright eyes" really goes a long way. Make them feel special because, why, they are and it might just make for that something special to be captured more easily on film (or flash memory as it were.)

7. Try not to futz with your camera. Too much. Well, maybe just a little bit. What I mean by this is that, it helps if you have your camera settings down before working with somebody. It doesn't waste their time, it doesn't waste yours. It allows you to focus on what's important, working the subject, as opposed to setting the ISO. I recommend you set the ISO first, when nobody is around and then only adjust what you need to once you've managed to wrangle up a willing subject. Having said that, I find it to be a good idea to also try a few different camera settings once I get a willing model but, here again, I try to move through settings quickly. If you don't have a good mastery of your controls, you might want to skip this part. I will frequently try a wide open aperture, then stop it down, move slightly, watch the background, try to get a little closer, do a little dance in place to try and work the angles and the lighting a bit better. And, yes, some knobs will get tweaked here but I don't spend the majority of my time in front of subject working dials. I like to talk to people here, especially if they have been kind enough to stop and let me work with them as a subject. Which brings me to my next point....

8. Most people can't read minds. Communicate. What I mean by this is that you might be working a subject and even feel like you're getting great shots but, if you don't talk to the person, they won't know this. It's hard for a professional model to know if what they are doing is what you want, if it's "right" for you or not. It's even harder for somebody you have just randomly stopped on the street. They don't know you. They can't read your mind. If something is working, tell them. If something isn't move, adjust your settings, talk with them, work with them and, if you still can't get past it, you might just have to take what the camera gives you and move on. Move on, yes, but be thankful.

Always be thankful. It's a wonderful thing, an honor and privilege to get to take somebody's picture. I love doing it even if it means I have to ask first. May I Take Your Picture? Why, I hope I can someday.

Until next time...

PS This one from the Day of the Dead parade. I call it "Three Heads are Better than One." Taken with the Canon 5ds and the walkabout lens.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

The Great Post 2016 Awareness Puzzle

Since holiday season is in full swing just about now and this tends to introduce a lot of stress into our lives, I thought I would share a more pastoral landscape image tonight. In keeping with my hectic schedule, this week alone I have about five holiday parties to attend, some of which involve alcohol, food, or possibly both which is both fun and a bit daunting for me at the same time. If you happen to bump into me this week, I'm probably either running to a party, actually at a party, running to the liquor store, or wondering when exactly my next party is and how I'm going to get there. All well and good as these kind of things make our holiday time interesting, no?

This holiday business has me starting to think about the end of the year and all of the usual fanfare this brings to the photography community and my little world in particular. The end of the year usually finds us doing a disproportionate amount of navel gazing. What was your favorite image? What was your shot of the year? What did you do right? What did you get wrong? Where do you want to go next year? What are you going to shoot? Ah, the mind boggles as I try to wrap my head around some of these questions and even, dare I say it, start searching for answers.

On the whole, I would have to say 2016 was a bit of a mixed bag for me photographically. I mean, I feel like I didn't do anything earth shattering, maybe made a bit of progress, probably could have done more, a heck of a lot more, but, you know got some results. I found myself going to Dakota, where this image was taken, landing in Peru unexpectedly, taking a tour of old school houses, working a couple of model shoots, doing a band shoot at a local nightspot, and the like. I did less night photography (in general) more landscape photography (in general) and a bit of travel with some architecture thrown in for good measure. I did a bunch of portraits in the unexpected camp some of which I liked, some I did not. I wish I could travel more, shoot more, always want to shoot more, and I think even Flickr says my top image from this year was something like #18 which is, you know, ok, but, heck, I didn't even land in the top 10 really. All of this "Meh" is just killing me at this point.

Looking at the web, I can spot a bit of a trend here too. While Flickr does tell me I'm sitting at number 18, I also haven't uploaded all of my shots. I'm very behind in post processing, which is not entirely uncommon for me but it does seem like I can't seem to catch and break and catch up any. I haven't been blogging as much as I should, I've been on Twitter/Facebook possibly more than I should. I've neglected Instagram and I haven't been showing as much as I normally do. On the flip side, I landed a magazine this year, got a nod in a couple of award type things, managed to sell a bit more work than usual and kind of almost felt like I was hitting my stride a bit or, you know, trying to start down that path. I guess I should not really expect to land an image in my top 10 if I don't post enough of them, right? If I'm sitting on some good ones, some that I know are good, and not getting it out there, I shouldn't expect results, but there you have it. I want my cake and want to eat it too, right?

Technique wise, I've stopped using the Lensbaby a bit and have grown used to the "big girl" camera, the Canon 5DS, along with the walkabout lens. It's not a gimmick and forces me to make "real" work, whatever that might mean. I've dropped some of the experimental things I used to do-no more shooting digital infrared this year but still shooting iPhone. Pretty much narrowed my kit down to the Canon 5DS, lens of choice, and the every present iPhone for good measure. I've been playing with apps a bit more on the mobile side and doing some experimentation there. I have a strong desire to paint again but I know that stuff can be toxic and time consuming so trying to avoid it if I can, for as long as I can hold off. Managed to work on the studio space and spruce up the home a bit. Feel better about that, but there's more to do and I'm not even done yet with the mini studio.

Taken all of this into account, I'd have to say 2016 was a very bipolar year for me. Mixed bag, mixed results, mixed blessings, some curses, some demons left to slay, and a bit of looking forward to 2017 wondering how, exactly, I'm going to piece all of that together. I guess, if I had to sum it up, 2016 has left me with a little "Yeah, what's next?" taste in my mouth which I can't seem to wash out, but it wasn't maybe as bad as it could have been. Ah, now there's a ringing endorsement for you. "Wasn't as bad as it could have been but still, you know, it was what it was." If I had to say it, yup, that's 2016 right there in a nutshell, man. Phew!

I hope your year in review finds you in a better course or at least, you know, knowing which side of line you're standing on as we hit 2017 with a bang.

Until next time...

PS This one from Dakota, with the walkabout lens, Canon 5DS and an open road will do that for you.

Monday, December 12, 2016

Ode to Dust Bunnies AKA Room - Interior View

I really wanted to title this image, "Dust Bunnies Have Risen Up and Taken Over Our Universe. Either that or maybe like we should vacuum more often, eh?" but I figured that was probably just a wee bit too long so instead I went with the more mundane, "Room Interior View." Boring I know, but there you have it. This was from a house in Dakota. I don't know why, I'm just in a Dakota mood tonight, so you're getting some of it too.

Funny story about that house. It had this cabinet in it. The powers that be had told us to, "leave everything exactly as you found it." At the end of the day, somebody asked, "Were were supposed to open the cabinet again? 'Cause, like I found it open but then closed it. I wanted a picture of it closed and..." This person was quickly interrupted by another who said, "I found it closed but opened it." Somebody else, across the room, "I found it open but closed it." This went back and forth and back again until we had all determined that the cabinet in question had been opened, closed, open again, closed again, open yet again, closed again, open for maybe not even the last time and so on. We think we left it open, "Special Force Dan" probably closed it again but, at this point, your guess is probably as good as mine. If you must know, I think I was in the "found it closed but opened it to photograph it camp" although, if I'm being honest, I must now confess, I probably should have left it closed, as my images of said cabinet were not to my liking. Eh, maybe next time, right? Knowing Dakota (and Special Forces Dan come to think of it) the cabinet's probably still there. And, probably still closed (or, was that open? Oh darn!) All well and good, it's only a cabinet, not the end of the world, right?

In other news, I met with the photo group tonight and I'm going to have a piece of work in a show come January. I'm going to have one piece (yes, I know I'm lazy) up at the Corridor of Art in downtown Austin. Details to follow and I know it's minor but, heck, it's show news, right? Evidence I have gotten off my butt and done something, oh joy! Possibly a bit more interesting than a cabinet in Dakota that's now properly closed (or, um, was it open?)

Tonight, we had our annual holiday dinner at the Brickoven Pizza place in Austin. Was a lot of fun. I got to catch up with old friends, meet some new folks (well, new to the group anyway) and eat some yummie rigatoni. Who does not like rigatoni, right? Holiday time brings good cheer. I know it's been a while since I've penned last. Still here, still here, and, um, not trapped in a cabinet in Dakota with some tasty rigatoni (at least not as far as I know anyway.) Processing images, still working on Peru, Dakota, the school house shoots, and Day of the Dead type stuff. Hey, I have been shooting a bit this year, haven't I? All that and, well, I think I once opened a cabinet in North Dakota.

Cabinets or not, I hope you have a wonderful, magical holiday season, enjoy some good food, catching up with friends, and, yes, go make some pictures too.

Until next cabinet....

PS This one taken with the Canon 5ds and the walkabout lens although, as you can probably tell from the shot, there's wasn't much room to walkabout in that place (what with all the cabinets in there and such.)

Sunday, November 06, 2016

Yellow Clouds/My Backyard

A while back one of my good friends, Helen, challenged me to shoot something in my own backyard. I had the best intentions of doing it at the time, so I had written down what I was supposed to do and then, as life gets in the way, I had forgotten about it. Going over some old notes, I was reminded of the assignment and so I thought I would participate. Apologies to Helen for taking all but an eternity to get this done but this, Helen, is my take on what my backyard looks like.

Now, I realize some of you might be saying, "but...but...I can't see anything!" I never promised I would craft an image of something you "can see" rather I promised I would take a shot. There's an actual difference between those two tasks. As a photographer, I've always felt I don't have to limit myself to the "real" world, although there is an element of the "real" in every image we take. To put this another way, just because we bear the albatross of reality doesn't mean we have to constrain ourselves by it. Ive always felt our vision should know no boundaries. Because somebody is expected to see what something "looks like" doesn't mean we have to craft a reality that's close to what they might be expecting. Apologies, but that's just not the way art works (well, the way I practice it anyway.) To put it bluntly, you get what I'm dreaming, not what you think you want to see.

Another interesting thing about the assignment "shoot in your own backyard" was that it was, quite literally, the very first assignment I was given as a photographer. It's also an assignment I always love doing. There is this notion out there that in order to be a photographer, one has to travel to the ends of the earth and bring back shots from outer Mongolia, otherwise, well, it just isn't shooting. While I love traveling and would love nothing more than to traverse the world several times over and over again, it is entirely within the realm of the possible to craft wonderful images just sitting on your own couch. Now, it might require some imagination, some vision, some craft, but, truth be told, going on that trip to outer Mongolia and coming back with great shots also requires same. It's just that, you know, outer Mongolia might have a touch of "oh, that's what it looks like!" which may, or may not, be lost on the home couch. I guess you could call this "the away court advantage." It doesn't really make for better images, although, at first glance, they might look like better images, they really are only the same images just taken "over there" as it were.

Now, those of you who know me know that I live in a very boring part of suburbia. It's quite dull actually, although it's close to town and allows for ease in terms of getting rations and the like, not to mention it provides me ample space to be able to participate in activities such as painting in the garage or setting up a small studio in an extra bedroom. Yes, my home looks boring and dull and, well, quite suburban in nature but I'm ok with that. It's my little comfort zone and, when I'm not out trying to find outer Mongolia, I enjoy it as best I can. I try to, you know, make the most of it and all. Had I shot what you might have been expecting, why you'd see a tree or two, maybe a rooftop, a back porch, quite possibly the dog sitting in the yard, you know, the typical suburban stuff. But, I ask of you, why should my world be limited to that? Again, to put it bluntly, that's your vision, not mine.

Today, my world is filled with yellow clouds. I was going to head over to the water gardens to shoot but I got rained out so I managed to stay at home in an attempt at catching up with the piles of things on my plate right now. Nevertheless, the yellow clouds remind me of my own backyard, how I might see it anyway. I hope you enjoy them.

Until next time...

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Dia De Los Muertos/Day of the Dead - Viva la Vida

Went to Viva La Vida today, which is the Dia de los Muertos parade in downtown Austin. One of the photo groups in town sponsored a photo walk there and they were invited to shoot in what was called the "staging area" or the place where the parade participants all setup and put on the makeup and such. It was a lot of fun. Lots of interesting shots, met a lot of fun people, had a good time. Weather was perfect today too, a bit hot at times (the sun! the sun! Will autumn ever get here?) and we had some of that blasted out Texas light at times, in between the clouds but, overall, a really great day.

It's a very family oriented event and so I wound up shooting a lot of kids. Those of you who know me know I don't always shoot kids. Well, sometimes, but I'm not any kind of "Mommy blogger" type. I like kids that are doing funky things, or kids, like this, that are wearing costumes or are just sore of more "colorful" than your average rug rat. All well and good, as the parade and it's corresponding "staging area" provided me with a lot of that. Lots of color, lots of hats, makeup, fun stuff to go around.

I hadn't planned on going to this event but wound up getting invited and decided to go at the last minutes. Those of you who know my work know that I've shot a little bit of Day of the Dead themed work before-I shot some in Santa Fe a long time ago. Didn't do much work but wound up getting paid for some of it as I got promptly contacted by a news organization and wound up selling some of it. Eh, that's old news. This year, I just enjoyed myself and added to the "muerto" pile as it were.

More dia shots to follow but that's the basics. I hope you have a wonderful Halloween, a glorious Day of the Dead, a fantastic All Saint's Day, and you happily enjoy whatever else it is you might celebrate this time of year.

Until next time...

PS This was the 5DS with the walkabout lens. Lots of walking about today so used only that. Oh, and some iPhone work but that's different.

Wednesday, September 07, 2016

Bless This House - No Actually Run, I'm Doing a Remodel

Bless this house and those who've sinned in it. Did I mention I live alone? Well, unless you count the dog and he's not talking. (Actually, come to think of it, there is this big white girl dog next door who barks incessantly at him. Maybe I'm not the only sinner in the house? Ah, we'll just chalk that up to the garbage men being overly loud and move on.) Pray for me, I'm remodeling. Though I know it's a brutal path, a path many stronger men have forged before me and lost (by the way-the insane asylum is filled with more than one person who lost the good fight here, I'm sure.) I'm forging ahead. Onward, faithful remodelers! Into the abyss we go!

So far, I've gotten a new roof, replaced the insinkerator, gotten a new fence, and replaced the shower head. Did I mention *I* replaced the shower head? That's *I* as in little old me. Yes, horror of horrors, I actually did something and it worked. Will the world ever survive? Eh, probably not but I can take a shower once again. Hooray!

Next up, I'm working in the master bath. A place where few dare to tread. Since I've replaced the roof, I have to now work on the inside of the house, the place where the roof leaked, and through the wonders of gravity, that would be the master bathroom. (As luck would have it, the leaking roof leaked right into the jacuzzi tub.) Now, to fix the previous leak, I am getting some new sheet rock installed over the tub, and, since I have to paint anyway, I've decided to replace the towel bar with a shelf and replace the lighting with some spiffy newfangled LED lighting. And, since it follows that we have to have painters into the house, it also naturally follows that I'm going to ask the painters to fix up the studio, to actually help me move some of my art shelving so I can get it up off the floor and use the newfound space for a home studio.

Yes, you read that right. Brought to you by convoluted Carol logic, but there it is. I'm in the midst of setting up (actually finishing the setup) of my home studio. Wish me luck, oh great and wise Internets, for I am going to need all of the luck, skill, prayers, sacrificial farm animals, voodoo dolls and chicken casseroles you can muster. I'm going in! It's going to be deep. It's going to be big. I may not come out the other side. If you happen upon me walking downtown somewhere, in a daze, complete stupor on my face with like a toilet plunger stuck to my head why, you can say you knew me when, and you can probably laugh at what happened. Don't say I didn't warn you. 

I'm probably going to be a mixed bag over the next couple of weeks in terms of getting back to you, responding to emails, and the like. I did mention this is deep, yes? And I seriously need to finish it. It's been going on for a while now, half finished projects, things all over the place that need work, little things that just add up. Yes, it's time to fix it, finish it, get 'er done as they say here in Texas. So, while you may be missing me in the near future, look on the bright side. I'm sure I'll have some funny stories to tell should I happen to make it out the other side of this. Imagine the blog posts that will come after this! I can hardly fathom the chaos that's sure to follow. Look on the bright side of life as well. Better me than you, right?

I've already had my share of funny stories and we're not that deep into this. I mentioned the new shower head, yes? A few weeks ago I went to take a shower and I happened to notice the water was hitting the wall and my head? Well, not so much. Upon closer inspection, I came to realize that my (now old) shower head had a hole in the line leading from the wand part to the wall. A hole? You know the type of thing that water leaks through? Yeah, that. So, I decided it was time for a replacement. I mustered up the courage to head into my local Lowe's hardware store and asked the clerk what to do. I told him I wanted a hand held shower head since I liked to feet. You see, I use one of those fancy pull-down shower heads that allows you to spray off your feet should you happen to get stuck in the mud. For some reason, the nice clerk at Lowe's thought it was pretty funny that I had stinky feet. I ended up getting a nice Moen shower head that has a magnet on it, so it snaps back into place automagically once you're done, you know, cleaning said feet and all. Nice. And, did I mention I installed it myself? By God, I've done something! Mic drop, world ends, film at 11! OK, so maybe it's not that bad but, still, you know, it feels like I never do anything anymore other than complain. And, I guess, install shower heads.

Now, I've got a lot to do before the remodeling crew comes to visit on the 19th and I'm very far behind in doing it so, again, I ask that you please tolerate my absence while this is going down. I'll be back soon enough with expensive tales of woe and plumber's crack the likes of which...well, let's just say it's going to be an adventure and leave it at that, ok?

All this and the shower head is just a start. Did I mention I was remodeling? What, did I get hit in the head with a falling brick or something? Somebody save me, please, I think I need a brain transplant stat!

Until next time...

This image from recent Peru trip, taken in Lima with the Canon 5DS and the walkabout lens. Miraflores district somewhere on a lost, forgotten wall. Oh, the house was being remodeled too (I feel their pain!)

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Notes from Lima, Peru

Back from Lima, Peru and I thought I would check-in. Had a wonderful trip. Really liked Lima, will have to go back again someday, if nothing else to photograph from the fantastic Mirabus. Was a lot of fun.

I started out traveling through Houston, which was eventful in and of itself. The flight from Austin to Houston was full, full, full and so the self-proclaimed "baggage Nazi" tried to get us to check every form of luggage we could possibly think of and even some that did not yet exist. I swear, she was just about to ask me if I wanted to check my left arm because, you know, "it's free! And so much more convenient!" Um, I don't think so. Managed to get on the plane with my laptop and camera gear. Of course, there were like six people traveling with guitars. Did they ask them to check these? Oh no! Only camera gear. The airlines seem to hate photographers for some reason. The flight to Lima was not so bad. It's about six or seven hours from Houston and a late afternoon flight which is fun, although I have a hard time falling asleep sometimes on the planes. I managed to stay up and watch a couple of movies, Creed with Sylvester Stallone and The Big Lebowski which was an event in and of itself. I swear, if I had done nothing else but watch The Big Lebowski, the entire trip would have been worth it. I don't know how but, somehow, I managed to never see that film, yet I heard a lot about it. It's one of those movies I have always wanted to see but somehow always just seemed to miss. Miss it no more, as I now can say that, as part of this trip, I not only visited South America (first time) crossed the equator (first time too) and finally got to see The Big Lebowski. What a trip even before it started. Big Lebowski aside, we landed in Lima, got stuck in customs, wrangled our baggage back from the hoarders, and made the drive to our hotels. Driving in Lima can be quite the adventure but we made it to our hotel without any excitement and the hotel was nice, photos of the bed to follow at some point.

Lima is know for it's food. It's a culinary capital and well-deserved. The restaurants we visited were all very good and the food and drink quite tasty. I tried my first pisco sour which was wonderful, almost like a margarita, very refreshing. They also have ceviche which was wonderful and I enjoyed a drink they called an "herba buena" which is kind of like a lemonade only more like a limeade but actually made with key limes. Since I love just about anything key lime, I had a lot of these herba buenas. They are bright green and make for interesting late night tweets if you are so inclined (I was.) I would imagine they Instagram quite well too, if you are into that.

I stayed in the Miraflores section of Lima which is kind of the arts district. It has very pretty houses that I got to walk about and photograph some. Really very interesting place. I could do a lot with that kind of architecture photographically. Managed to touch upon it some and it reminded me of my early days, shooting with Barbara and the crew, lots of windows and doors, careful with corners and edges, trying to optimize colors. Reminded me of my early days back when I first started shooting, not to mention I love colonial architecture. One of the the things that struck me the most about Lima was how the colonial architecture was sort of "mixed in" with the rest of the styles found in the city. It was not uncommon to see a very modern building right next to a colonial building, quickly followed by another modern building then two or three colonials right in a row. Most of the cities I've visited featuring any kind of abundance of colonial architecture have sort of sections where the colonial architecture is preserved. In Lima, not so much, it's all sort of mixed in across the city. This really made for interesting shots and was just fascinating to walk about and enjoy.

On Saturday, we took something called the "Mirabus" which is an open air double deck bus which rides through Lima. We managed to get a long tour on the Mirabus (somehow the shorter one was sold out) and wound up taking a 2 hour tour through downtown Lima. It was really very wonderful. We visited the older part of Lima, saw the presidential buildings, the fountains, and visited the catacombs in the church of San Francisco. Although they did not allow photographs, that was really something to visit. The catacombs were really fascinating and the building itself was a well-preserved example of colonial architecture. It was a wonderful experience and I hope to go back to visit again someday.

The return from Lima itself was interesting. I met a teacher from my hometown on the plane and we chatted for a while and then, of course, the flight from Houston was a disaster and a half. For starters, I had to clear customs in Houston which is not that bad, although I was reminded of how Houston has all of these long hallways. It's like a bowling alley in there, I swear. It's like hallway after hallway, with signs that say things like "United States next left." I swear, what a trip! If that were not bad enough, I get on the plane which was sort of half empty, and try to sleep but, nope, not happening this flight. Right after takeoff, almost *during* takeoff really, some lady gets up and starts screaming at one of the flight attendants. When I say "screaming" I mean like I actually thought they were going to come to blows, it was that bad. Seriously, I thought they were going to turn around the plane of force us to land somewhere like College Station (half way between Austin and Houston.) In the days post 9-11 they can do this now, as we're supposed to take our seats when the little seat belt light is on and they can actually turn the plane around if a passenger becomes too out of control.

The flight itself is less than an hour but, man, what an eventful forty minutes that was! If the screaming passenger from Hell (nay, San Francisco) were not enough, the pilot came on and announced that we were expecting turbulence for most of the flight so they would not be serving beverages. Now, I can live without my free orange juice for forty minutes, no problem, but what I didn't expect, what none of us expected, was that the bouncy flight somehow combined itself with an overhead bin that was not quite closed all the way. End result? Just as the screaming demon lady was doing her thing the plane hit what felt like a large "bump," the bin was forced open and stuff started flying out. Some poor young girl was almost taken out by some flying debris and the cabin was filled with that "joyous" crashing sound nobody ever wants to hear on a plane. Lucky for us the pangs and screams of the demon lady drowned out the din of the bins crashing. Oh, what a flight! Almost makes me wish I'd hitchhiked home from Houston, really that did.

Last leg from Houston aside, Lima really was wonderful. This trip was "The Big Lebowski. Here's your food!" of trips and I hope I get to go back again someday. I recommend you visit Lima if you ever get the chance, although I might recommend you avoid a connection in Houston if at all possible. Oh, and it goes without saying really but watch out for some screaming demon like lady en route to San Francisco. What a trip!

Until next time...

Friday, August 12, 2016

Another Day, Another Bed

Bed in hotel suite, Minot North Dakota
Realizing I owe you a bed from the last trip, I thought it wise to post before I go off and make more beds. At least I thought I should post a bed from my last trip before I head off onto my next one. This bed is in North Dakota, in downtown Minot to be precise. We were wise and got a suite which was wonderful. The bed was quite fluffy but firm. I have to say, as far as beds go, I really liked it. Now, I may not get to do a bed in Peru but we shall see. It would be kind of nice to go off and get a South American bed but I might not have the time or energy to pull it off. We shall see.

I'm gearing up and packing out so expect some possible notes from the road or at least a few tweets from the airport. Again, we shall see. This is not my usual trip. Not going crazy with the photo gear but will try to bring back something other than cookies.

In other, completely unrelated news. I hear the cookies are really good in Lima. At least, I've been told to bring back some. Again, we shall see, if time and tide permits, eh?

In the meantime, I hope you enjoy your bed, wherever it might happen to be.

As we photographers sometimes say, here's wishing you safe travels and good light.

Until next time...

Sunday, August 07, 2016

Enter Froggy Friend

This weekend I got to tour the Willow City historic schoolhouse as part of the Friends of Gillespie County Country Schools Tour. Willow City is a small town located out near Fredericksburg, Texas, about an hour and a half from my current home. The school itself is an historic building, dating back to 1905. It's a two story brick structure with several rooms downstairs and a large auditorium style room upstairs, which served as a classroom for the high school students. Inside one of the downstairs rooms there was something called a "sand table" which is sort of like a giant sandbox, elevated on a tabletop like setting. That's what you see pictured here. This is a close up detail of some toys in the sand table. I guess they used the sand table when it was raining or too hot for the children to play outside. Another interesting tidbit about the Willow City school was that it was actually a replacement school. The original school, dating back to the early to mid-1800's washed away in a flood and in 1905 they built the two story brick replacement structure which stands today, included as part of the historic schoolhouse tour. I was enamored with the little toys and especially liked the expression on the little "frog man face" so I setup and took this shot while I was touring the building. They had a very interesting piano in the upstairs room so look for some shots of that to follow as well.

It was great to get to tour the old building, although I have to say it was a bit hot. I wasn't too hot inside the building itself, as they have some mighty ceiling fans going and, being a brick building and all, it's out of the sun, but, dang, it was over 100 degrees this weekend. It was hot. I've jokingly been saying that Hell called and they want their weather back! Yes, it really does get all that hot in central Texas in August. I suppose I should have grown to expect this but, somehow, when you are out in it and the sweat starts pouring off the back of your neck and your boots get filled with puddles of sweat from it rolling down your leg, why, it just kind of feels especially hot and sticky.

Even with the heat, it was a nice weekend. The trip out there is nice. It's an actual drive out in the country and I must confess that part of central Texas is a bit more green than the Austin area. More cows (real cows, not just the ones you see here in small form,) especially longhorns, more green, more open roads, more space, less traffic, and fewer people. Oh, and a lot of wineries. When I say "a lot" I mean we must have crossed paths with about 50 of them. Seriously. There is even one called "Fat Ass Winery" (I can't make this stuff up!) Who knew there was a whole "Tuscany in Texas" movement complete with wineries and fake Italian style castles out in the hill country? (I sure didn't!)

All in all it was happy but hot shooting. And I got to introduce you to my nice little froggy friend who's probably still out stuck in the sandbox. It's not easy being green, well, not in this heat anyway.

Until next time...

Monday, July 18, 2016

Little Houses

Been busy but wanted to check in. I've been playing with the iPhone a bit and came up with a couple that look like this one. Funny thing about that house, it was cold the day we were there and it actually started to snow a little bit, like flurries. I managed to take a couple of shots with the big girl camera but ended up somehow liking what the iPhone churned out instead. Go figure. It was 27 and snowing so, heck, I'm happy I got something out of it.

I'm up resizing some images to submit to something so I figured I would post and let everybody know I'm still here. Been busy but managing. I'll be getting a new roof on the house hopefully this week, so that's good, and I have a shoot lined up this week as well. Might be some travel in the near future too but it's early and I don't want to jinx it so I'll just say, "don't be surprised." And, yeah, this one involves a passport so lucky me, mine didn't expire just yet.

Still haven't processed all of the Dakota images but it's all good. They have been coming off the stack little by little and I have a couple that I like so all good, right?

Until next time...

Friday, July 01, 2016

April in July

Went to one of those "pass the pocket wizard" style photo shoots the other day. You know the ones, where they basically setup the lighting and everybody takes a shot at, well, taking a shot. The model (seen here) was April. She was really very good actually, I liked working with her a lot. May have to hire her in the future, if I ever get my portrait project off the ground. She was preparing for a body building type competition and needed some shots for that so she volunteered to pose for us. Was a fun shoot.

The thing about model shoots like this is that, why, I sometimes feel sorry for the models. You could hear the clicking of the shutters, the impressions being made but, poor April, nobody was talking to her. I felt so bad, at one point, I had to just strike up a conversation. I tried to talk a bit, at least to try and give her some feedback. Luckily, she was good about posing and didn't need a lot of feedback from us but still, talk to your models, people. Models are people too!

Another interesting take away from the shoot was that it wasn't a true "pass the pocket wizard" style shoot in that we had continuous lighting setup, rather than strobes. Now, I'll leave the discussions about strobes and strobists and how I feel about all of this for another day but, suffice it to say, I much prefer floods. I like continuous style lighting, what can I say? I just like it better, it fits my style more, and I like working with it so that was good for me. They had a nice portrait ring light that was only about a hundred bucks. May have to pickup one of those in the future, as it was a sweet light and not a lot of clams to bring it home. Of course, this is how they get you, this is how they get us all, right? It's a crack house in there, they are just really dealers, and we're the unsuspecting "user community." (No, really I can quit at any time. Honest! Ok, so maybe not so much.)

Was a fun shoot and I managed to wrangle a few workable shots out of it. Nothing earth shattering but you know I met a nice model and all. Can't think of a better way to spend part of a day really then playing with my camera, can you? Nope, didn't think so.

For this, I used the Canon 5DS with the walkabout lens and the existing lighting rig. 

Until next time...

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Schoolhouse Rocked

This weekend, I had opportunity to attend the Gillespie County schoolhouse tour. The tour is itself both a conference and a tour-they invite teachers to come from all over Texas, attend workshops, and tour the historic schoolhouses of Gillespie County, Texas. You probably could have guessed most of that without me telling you but, what you might not have guessed, is that Gillespie County has a disproportionate number of schoolhouses. When I say "disproportionate" I really mean a record number, as in almost more than any county in the United States. There's some mention of "world record" or some such thing, but you get the idea. There are a record number of these small, historic schoolhouses dotting the rural Texas landscape out that way. To get inside of these places and shoot is quite a treat. They are historic buildings, crafted in the style of the early 1900's typically, very central Texas in their construction. Think lots of old stone, wooden floor places and you've pretty much got it.

The trip itself was a bit of fun. We drove out to Fredricksburg by way of the Texas Hill Country so we got to pass through many of the small towns. There are a host of new wineries out that way and lots of building and construction going on as well. At one point, we hit traffic! That's a trip, let me tell you, as it's usually nothing but quiet, empty country roads out that way.

Once we got out there, we went to a few schoolhouses. The first school we visited, I got to talk to a man who had attended the school as a child. He also served as Sheriff of the town for a while (more on Sheriff Milton in a future post.) Next up, we visited a school that had a new school in the front with the older, original school out back. We were originally told the old, historic school was "filled with snakes," but this turned out not to be the case. One of the nice ladies from the historical center walked us back there and pushed open the door. We found no snakes but, in what was described as the "snake pit" we found a wonderful place to shoot. Really the best shooting of the day in that little schoolhouse (more on this to follow as well.) One of the walls was pink and had a chair and another wall had a green door with a green chair. It was awesome and reminded me a bit of the recent Dakota trip. Really fabulous finds there, I tell you, great shooting.

Then, we finished off the school tour by going to Luchenbach, Texas, the town made famous by the song ("Waylon, Willie, and the boys" were not there, I can assure you.) We got stuck in the rain and I shot off a few "car windshield in the rain shots" (more to come on this later, I promise) before we toured the last old schoolhouse before heading back to Austin. On the way back, we stopped in Stonewall, Texas to hunt for some peaches. The hunt was a success, at least, as I returned with a small basket of fresh peaches. Yum!

All in all, a great trip. Some great finds, I got to meet the Sheriff, got some peaches, and fired off more than a few shots I might actually like. Oh, and in perhaps even better news, I managed to find a flash card from Dakota I hadn't uploaded yet so, on top of all of this, I got to check out more Dakota images as well. Cool beans.

You know it's shooting season when I am shooting way more than I can upload! I've been invited tomorrow to shoot a model. Going to try to make it over to Precision Camera for the lunchtime model shoot so maybe look for some shots from that to come soon as well. Happy shooting season, y'all!

Have a peach!

Until next time...

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Abandoned School Tour

Possibly heading out tomorrow to shoot the Gillespie County schoolhouse tour. Every year they have a tour of the abandoned schoolhouses in Gillespie County, Texas (think Fredricksburg here.) That's right, I'm going out near places with names like "Stonewall," "Johnson City," and the oh-so-famous Luchenbach. Yes, that's right. I'm headed to Luchenbach, Texas only without Waylon, Willie, and the boys (they'll have to head out on their own. Sorry, fellas!)

This shot is from our recent Dakota trip. It's from Rugby, North Dakota, on a farm. As part of my Dakota trip I did manage to shoot a couple of old schoolhouses and so, what can I say? I just can't get my fill of them. Out to Gillespie I go, "God willing and the creek don't rise." (It's supposed to rain tomorrow. Here's hoping the weather holds.)

In other, almost unrelated news, I have been doing battle with my tripod yet again. Got it together, sort of. Managed to attach the foot back to its rightful place, after "Special Forces" Dan was kind enough to mail it back to me from Dakota. All well and good, but then the damn head got loose, so I had to tighten that, and then it pinched me and pissed me off. Damn tripod, how I curse you so! Still better than the alternative, so I'll shut up now but, c'mon man, did you really have to pinch me? Must you draw blood like this? What's next? Care for a pound of flesh to go with that, you utter vampire you!

Couldn't manage to find my kick plate yet again. Somebody asked me on the Internets what a kick plate is. That one's easy, man, it's the part of the camera I keep loosing! Seriously, it's also called a "quick release plate" or a "side kick" and it's the part of the tripod that attaches to the camera so that you can remove the camera more quickly from the tripod head. Annoying but necessary in proper tripod operation. Of course, the little "quick release plate" is prone to getting lost, especially in my camera bag. Always seem to loose the freaking things. Managed to find it only after totally emptying my camera bag and scouring the bowels of the old girl. Managed to find almost everything *but* the kick plate (old boarding pass, stale crackers, about five old pens, spent flash memory, the list goes on. Geesh, what do I keep in there?) Finally found it. Of course, it's always in the last place you look, right?

Seriously, I so should do a blog post on what's in my camera bag, just so I embarrass myself into cleaning it out some. Why do I carry around all of this crap? I need to strip down and do the visual artist equivalent of "an acoustic set" sometime soon. It's either that or get a freaking pack mule and, frankly, I don't want to go with the donkeys, m'kay.

Who am I kidding? Even if I were locked in a room with nothing else, I'd still misplace the freaking kick plate. Man, I so hate that thing, it's not even funny. 

Until next time...

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Dakota Road

This is a road in rural North Dakota. This is what the roads look like there. This is the vast expansion, the big open sky, the heartland of America in all its glory. An interesting thing about my trip to Dakota-when I was young I would have never wanted to go there, to this place, to see roads like this. Nope, not me. I was much more of a city kid. Always wanting to be near the action, flying by the seat of my pants, hanging on with friends, jumping stoplights, and partying in nightclubs until late at night. There's something about being in this kind of land, seeing this kind of place, that really changes you. I can feel it in my bones. Maybe it's just me getting old. Maybe I'm wiser now than I once was. Those friends who jumped stoplights and dressed up in goth clothing to hang out downtown in nightclubs seem all but a distant memory to me now. Now, why I welcome sights like this.

I didn't grow up in this land. It's not in my blood, not my bones, not a deep set part of me, no, but I welcome it. I enjoyed seeing it. A funny thing about image processing from this trip. Yes, I photographed a lot of empty rooms. Heck, I always do that, don't I? But, the images that really speak to me seem to be more of this nature. This big open sky. Those fields, That rural icon that, to me anyway, just screams "Dakota!" at the top of its lungs. Yes, there's something about that place that attracts me, but it's not really, or perhaps more precise to say not *only* in the abandoned architecture and the essence of the farm people. It's the land itself. I'm somehow drawn to the land itself.

It sure was different anyway.

Until next time...

Thursday, June 09, 2016

What's Upstairs?

More work from our recent Dakota trip. There's something about images that have a little mystery to them that can kind of do it for me. I mean, you don't really know a lot about this place. What's on the table? Where is this place? Where do those stairs lead? What's with the light shining through? More questions than answers perhaps, but does that make for good images?

Sometimes, I feel like I want to get all mysterious on you all the time. Like, I never again want to take a single shot which lays it all out bold. Prefer to hide in plain sight and leave a little off the table for a change. But then, too much mystery, why it leaves people scratching their heads, doesn't it?

I guess maybe the best is to leave a couple of open questions on the table. Not put it all out there, but too don't leave everybody guessing everything all at once. Striking a balance is usually the way to go, even if we often find it hard to do just that.

Do your images ask questions? Do they lay it all out there for the viewer? Do you wish you could add some questions or maybe take some off the table? It's a curious circumstance that, but maybe good to pose these questions as we go out into the world shooting, no?

As for the "real" answers, why, I almost don't want to tell you, but here goes. (Spoiler alert!) This was taken in a church basement. For some reason, I don't know why, it reminds me a bit of that old joke, "when you die in an elevator, be sure to push the UP button!" This actually is a church basement and, yes, somebody left the door cracked. That is real light coming in, nothing fake about this one. There were other photographers wandering in and out as I was shooting in this little hallway. Not sure what was left on the table, but it's a really old church, been abandoned for a while now, so not surprised something was left. The basement itself had a big kitchen in it (more to come on that later.) This was the hallway, leading from said kitchen to the outside world. Yes, it was a bright sunny day out there, if not a bit cold. So now you know. Shot with the Canon 5dS and the walkabout zoom lens, on a tripod, stopped down a bit but not too much because I like to do that sometimes.

Until next time...

Wednesday, June 01, 2016

Minot Downtown

Talking with my crew the other day, I said something like, "Maybe I'll put in something from Dakota," to which they replied, "we haven't seen any of your work from Dakota yet!" Actually, come to think of it, neither had I, so I thought it might be appropriate to post something here. This is still not "the real work" as friend Tazz calls it but, you know, it's something kind of closer than what you might have been expecting.

This was taken in downtown Minot with the walkabout lens and the Canon 5Ds. Funny thing about "blue sky" days such as this one, they traditionally don't make for good picture taking opportunities. Those pretty blue skies often don't photograph well, but then, I swear, there is something so cheerful about a blue sky that it makes you shoot better. There's something "happy" that transcends the light and contrast, at least I sometimes try anyway and sometimes, with luck, grace, or skill, somehow manage to make it work in the end. That blue sky can really cheer me up and a cheery Carol makes for a better photographer somehow. (Well, in all honesty, maybe I just suck a little less at that point.)

Back from Dakota and now my thoughts turn to all of the projects I want to do. I have some along the lines of the mundane: get a new roof, fix up the house, take the dog to the vets, etc. and some more photographic oriented: make a new little book, put up an ebook, update the old website, etc. We'll see how much I can manage. I do feel like things are starting to come together, at least I have started to put the house together a bit. A new roof is in the works anyway so there's that.

Besides, shooting in a blue sky like this is a lot better than shooting in the pouring down rain, isn't it? (Well, maybe not but, like, work with me here, ok?)

Until next time...

Monday, May 09, 2016

Notes from the Road Day 2 - Peeling Paint Nirvana

Come on now, who does not love a really good blue door? This is one of the early shots from our property walkabout today. What can I say about that? I know I have not been tweeting and facebooking as much as usual. This is because I've been working it, folks. I've been out shooting. We toured 12 properties today, each one fabulous in a different and exciting way. I used only iPhone and it held up fairly well considering what I put it through. Good stuff in these abandoned playgrounds. It's like peeling paint and old couch nirvana and you know, you just know, how much I love that kind of stuff. Heaven!

Biggest note so far is a feeling. I feel oddly energized. Those of you who know me know I always do this kind of work, I started doing this kind of work, architecture done differently, lots of abandoned spaces and big, empty rooms. I cut my teeth on this kind of stuff and I still eat it up for breakfast (yum!) So, yeah, it feels like going back to my roots but then also, BAM! new environment, change of place change of scenery. Old but new, fresh and I feel so invigorated. I really feel alive on days like these. Good times, good shots, good food, good people, good places, and the work just seems to fall out like it should. I hope I can keep up the pace.

Had breakfast at our hotel, got an early start, felt like I could have used about three more hours of sleep but seem to be holding up ok. Morning was spent going to the properties and getting a feel for the locations. Wonderful stuff. We had lunch at Rockin Relics in town (good eats there as well) and now it's a bit of rest while the light sucks but also gearing up for late afternoon shoot. Back to some of the properties, back to the fun. Here we go, wish us luck.

So, yeah, it's what I do, it's what I always do but somehow better. Wish you were here but hopefully I'll have some shots to share real soon now. Let's hope the light and the weather and our aching backs hold up as best they can, eh?

Until next time...

Sunday, May 08, 2016

Greetings From Dakota

Hotel room in Rugby, North Dakota at the Northern Lights Inn
Continuing in this series of "Bed" this is the bed I'll be sleeping in tonight. I'm currently hold up in the small, rural town of Rugby, North Dakota shooting abandoned homestead farms and out buildings (think barns here, folks.) Trip promises to be different, a lot of fun, slightly different shooting from what I'm used to and also some new scenery.

So far the trip has been going pretty well. Had to get up in the middle of the night (3:30 am!) to catch the blue van to the airport. Didn't hit any traffic and got to see parts of Austin I had forgotten exist. Flight to Minneapolis was bumpy (storms afoot!) but otherwise ok. There is a tram in the Minneapolis airport, so chalk that up to learn something new everyday. I had to take a smaller "commuter" jet and it was most cramped and bumpy but luckily only about an hour of flight time. Pretty crazy how they have small jets like that flying out of Minnesota but then I guess not that many people find themselves in North Dakota now, do they? Besides, I'm so over transportation. This photography thing has trained me well. I don't care if you stuff me in a rickshaw, if I ride a pony, an elephant, an emu, or whatever else happens along. I'll ride anything. OK, that didn't exactly come out right but, like, you get the idea. I'm over transportation, just get me there already.

The airport in Minot is brand spanking new and we were in and out pretty quickly. Got a nice rental car, grabbed some grub at an Irish pub in town and then headed to do some grocery shopping, just to pick up supplies for the road. A little strung out from the trip, we then headed into Rugby which is going to be our base for the rest of the week. Found out they have white trees here. Didn't know I missed them so much until I saw them again.

There are some auroras afoot but the recent (giant) fire up Canada way might be blocking our view. Might try to do some night shooting, depending upon how things go. Got a lot of properties lined up to check out so might not make it into the evening hours.

Also found out we made the local paper. "Photographers descend on Rugby!" is what they are saying about us. Yes, um, we're here, ok? Thank you for the welcome.

Until next time...

Wednesday, April 13, 2016


Close up of George Washington's face on the American dollar bill. Not one dollar, some money.

Have some and want more? Don't have enough? Today my world is all about money. Paid taxes, getting a new roof, getting a new fence, need a new laptop. It's all expensive crap but I have to do it. Oh that giant sucking sound. Oops there goes my wallet! I hope you have better luck with the stuff than I do! 

Until next ca ching.....

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Flower Power

"Time and tide waits for no man." "Seasons change." We've heard the old adages until they become cliche. But, there is more than a glimmer of truth to these old sayings, in particular (as of late) the wisdom that seasons are in fact changing. I can see it on my morning walks, I can see it in the afternoon sunlight, I can see it in the way the sun hangs in the sky just a little bit later each and every evening. Spring is starting to bloom its way into our hearts and minds.

I've been visiting my garden center as of late, paying attention to the subtle differences each day brings this time of year. I've spotted new growth trees arriving, awaiting planting in the fertile soft soil. I've seen the wheelbarrows full of flowers arriving too. First the early arrivals, the pansies and the like, then, slowly, the spring blossoms are starting to arrive, as if by magic, showcasing the vibrant colors this season has to offer. Bright reds and oranges greet me in my garden center now where once barren and dark landscapes did appear mere weeks ago. It's starting to come alive in there, and I must confess, I'm loving it.

Yes, spring is on its way to my little neck of the woods. I have to say I've been enjoying the blooms, although not as much possibly as I should be. I really should get out more time time of year, as it can be nothing short of magical. The red bud trees give way to black eyed susan's and eventually, if we're lucky and rain and weather cooperate, fields of Texas bluebonnets grace our landscape. It's a wonderful time spring is, I hope you get out and enjoy it as best you can. I know I am trying my best, even if I feel at times it's not good enough, I still try, I still manage to get out as much as I can in this fleeting season. Even a short time in the outdoors is a reward to me these days. It feels so magical and light just to be outside this time of year.

Spring is springing up all over the land. Are you starting to feel it yet? Starting to enjoy it? Here's hoping this season brings you magical colorful blossoms of your own.

Until next time...

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Me, Myself, and Her

Got an email recently from the good folks over at Artsy who are putting together a collection of Cindy Sherman's work. From their description,
"Our Cindy Sherman page provides visitors with Sherman's bio, over 65 of her works, exclusive articles, as well as up-to-date Sherman exhibition listings. The page even includes related artist & category tags, plus suggested contemporary artists, allowing viewers to continue exploring art beyond our Sherman page." 
They invited me to check out the page and I thought I would share it with you.

For those of you who don't know, Cindy Sherman has been a big influence on my work. Her exploration of self, her ability to redefine herself and play with her own self image has not only made her a titan on the photographic stage but has left quite an impression on artists both currently working and for many decades to come. The notion that an artist can play or experiment with one's own self image makes for compelling artwork. If you don't believe me, you can ask countless artists who cite Sherman as an influence, probably most recently Madonna and Lady Gaga, although there have been many others. The notion that a woman can redefine herself, can change not just her appearance but her role in society, that she can play up or experiment with facets of herself is probably most directly attributed to Sherman more than any other contemporary artist. It really makes for compelling artwork, this notion that we all have facets of ourselves. The modern notion that a woman can change from this to that, can explore who she is and actually play with or present certain facets of herself is very empowering as well.

This image is from a series I did, inspired in part by Sherman's work, called "Pieces of Me" where I insert myself into previously photographed images and rephotograph the images, each of which plays up a facet of how I see myself. It was a great project to work on, challenging at times, but most rewarding.

I would encourage you to go and check out Sherman's work if you have not seen it already. It's worth a second look and that artsy page is a wonderful collection for you to explore.

Until next time...

This image from the archives, previous series "Pieces of Me" it's called "The Horrified."