A place for me to share my recent work, random musings on photography and reflect on my thoughts, experiences, ideas and revelations.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Looking Ahead

A little over a week ago my recent period of unemployment ended. I’m back to work, in banking where I have been for 30+ years, doing work I enjoy for people I respect and for which I am well paid. With that change comes the end of a period of time where I had the luxury of being able to work on my photography full time, while looking for work and “getting paid” by collecting unemployment compensation. It was not a bad gig, but it was never permanent. I knew that, and although I hoped and to some extent still wish it could have been different I knew it would eventually be time to go back to reality. As it turns out reality isn’t all that bad.

Photography had been my Plan B for a number of years. I had regarded it as something to do if my employment situation changed involuntarily, or as something to pursue full time once I hit the lottery or was able to retire of my own volition. I knew from day one of my unemployment that no matter how much I wished it was otherwise my ultimate destiny was to get back into banking as soon as the right opportunity came along. While I’m sure that I eventually could have made a steady income from photography it is unrealistic to expect that I would ever earn the kind of income I had - and now have again - in banking. No matter what my heart told me about how much I wanted to do photography full time and all the rationalization about whether it was “meant to be” I remained focused on what had been my goal from the time I started working full time and saving for retirement: to be able to retire on my terms. It’s not time yet!

The great thing about the period I had off was that I was able to devote almost 100% of my time and effort into the numerous projects and tasks that I had been trying to cram into a part-time hobby that had been busting at the seams. Processing old files, organizing and keywording images, preparing images for submission to a stock agency, submitting images to galleries for sale as prints, filing copyright registrations - the list goes on. Looking back I accomplished a lot. I assisted Nanine Hartzenbusch at The Light Factory’s Shootout, sold a number of prints, donated a print that sold for an exorbitant price at The Light Factory’s Auction, became an assistant for Kevin Adams on his return to the photo tour business, taught a couple of Lightroom classes, did some one-on-one Lightroom tutoring and am on the schedule to teach some classes at The Light Factory this winter. Wow! That’s stuff that it might have taken me 5 years of part time effort to achieve, and I did it in nine months!

Now I get to look forward, and I am doing it optimistically. One of my friends remarked that now I will be able to afford some new gear. That may be true. Ironic isn’t it that we need to have a job doing something other than photography to afford “professional” photography equipment? The great thing is that everything I have accomplished is something I wanted to accomplish, and while I have made a little money from it they are things I wanted to do anyway. Going forward, I only have to do the things that make me happy. If I want to shoot I wedding I can, but if I choose not to I won’t have to worry about paying the mortgage. If I sell a print I’ll use the money to buy more ink and paper. Next time I teach a class for the CNPA I can let them keep all the money instead of keeping a bit for me. The best thing is that going back to being a part-time photographer doesn’t make me any less a photographer. It will allow me to be an even better photographer because I do best those things that make me happiest, and I’ll do them better without the pressure of having to make money from them. Who knows, I may decide to sell my prints for $20 each. Some people may scoff, but if I derive the most pleasure from sharing my work and if selling prints for $20 means I can share my work with more people and that more people can enjoy it, so what? I won’t of course, but I could.

I just bought a new printer, the Canon iPF5100. It’s a fine printer that is capable of making real good prints. My goal this year is to master it and to master fine art printing. Not to become the next John Paul Caponigro, but to become good enough that I can print my own work and be proud of the results. Now I’ll be able to do it for me, and I can do it with the confidence that I’m doing something I want to do because I want to do it. I can take as much time as I need to get it right and know that once I am happy with the results that’s as far as it needs to go. If other people are happy enough to buy some prints that will be a bonus, but it doesn’t have to be a goal.

While I work on my printing I am going to be less focused on taking new pictures. I don’t feel like I need to be running all over the countryside chasing flowers and bugs and sunsets and water just to take more pictures. I’ve got plenty now and I know I’ll take a lot of new ones this year, but if I never take a new one I have enough to work on that it will take me years to go through them! The great thing is that as I continue to develop my vision my photography will improve, and as I learn more about printing I’ll learn to take pictures in a way that I will be able to make better prints. It’s all part of the process. It sounds like a lot of fun, and I’m looking forward to it. It’s a new adventure!

Photo is from our recent trip to Barbados, at a beach called Beachy Head. I'm going back there. Soon!

Sunday, November 29, 2009

The Price of Commitment, Continued

In the last couple of days I have been preparing to pack for our upcoming cruise, an annual tradition for the last 9 years. In recent years I have managed to convince myself that I was on vacation and took only a point & shoot camera - albeit a good camera - the Canon G9. With the exception of our first couple of cruises when I was still shooting 35mm film, and our one trip to Alaska where I had just purchased my Canon 20D, all I have ever taken on a cruise was a point & shoot camera.

A couple of months ago I decided, with Kathy's blessing since it does effect her, that I wanted to do some more "serious" photography on this cruise. We're going to visit several islands that we especially like, consider particularly photogenic and have only been to a few times. Given my current lack of gainful employment it is uncertain when we will be able to justify another cruise, so I wanted to get some "good" photos from this trip.

Herein lies the dilemma: how much gear is enough? In keeping with the theme of my last post, once you decide to do "serious photography" there is a certain minimum level of equipment you are committed to. I want to make sure I have enough equipment to do what I want to do, without taking so much gear that it becomes a burden. I started by deciding which camera bag I wanted to take, figuring that the size of the bag would determine the amount of stuff I would take. Something more than a point & shoot but less than my entire large 40-pound airline-legal rolling bag, preferably. My rolling bag would be a good solution for getting stuff there, since it is easy to handle and designed for travel. But it holds literally everything I use, and that seems a bit excessive. I'd still have to take my backpack, which would need to be packed separately, because I would want that for carrying my gear with me on the islands. My backpack seemed to make the most sense, since it was the bag I took to Alaska with me, holds as much as I can reasonably carry but is not too much to handle.

When I start paring down my gear I long for the days when I shot with my Mamiya 7 rangefinder. A nice compact body, three excellent lenses and a box of 220 Velvia would get me through a productive weekend. For a trip like this I'd probably take 5 or 6 boxes of film, perhaps as many as 10, and it would all fit into a small doctor bag-sized bag. My 3 lenses were 150mm, 65mm and 50mm, roughly equivalent to 75mm, 35mm and 28mm on a full-frame 35mm camera. My favorite lens, the Canon 24-70, for all intents and purposes covers all three of those focal lengths, and while the combination is a bit larger than the Mamiya kit it doesn't take up a lot more space. So why do I need more than that? Let's look at what I'm taking:

Canon 5D Body w/ RRS L bracket
Canon 40D Body w/ RRS L bracket
Canon G9
Canon 17-40 zoom lens
Canon 24-70 zoom lens
Canon 24-105 zoom lens
Canon 70-200 zoom lens
Canon 580EX flash
Gitzo tripod with RRS head
3 spare batteries for the 5D & 40D with charger
1 spare battery for the G9 with charger
Spare AA batteries for flash with charger
7 - 4GB compact flash cards
4 - 4GB SD cards
2 polarizers
Remote release
3 bubble levels
Lastolite Tri-Grip reflector/diffuser
Various cleaning supplies: Sensor Loupe, Arctic Butterfly, Blower, Microfiber cloths
Various tools for tightening brackets and tripod heads
Apple Powerbook laptop with 2 card readers and an external hard drive
Business cards

This is traveling light? From all this it doesn't look like I'm leaving much behind, but there is still a lot of stuff left in my regular bag! Most amazingly, what would I leave behind? It all fits in my backpack, so if I take anything out I will have empty space. Can't have that! Besides, other than the 70-200 there isn't any single thing or combination of things that would make enough of a difference to matter, and I'm not leaving the 70-200 at home. No way! I'll use it all, and there will be something I don't take that I'll wish I had, like my 2X extender, extension tubes or closeup lens. But I think I've covered 99.5% of the situations I'm likely to encounter, and that's about as close as I can hope to get. Besides, I'm going to be doing a lot more than taking pictures!

It's amazing to me how much stuff I feel like I need to take just to take "serious" pictures. But given that I want to be sure and cover as many bases as possible, I just can't imagine getting by with anything less. Let's hope the results are worth the effort!

Sunday, November 22, 2009

The Price of Commitment

I don’t generally spend a lot of time on message boards, although I will admit to doing my share of posting. I recently contributed to a discussion on the CNPA forum about printers and printing. I made what I thought were some reasonable and well-explained opinions on the type of printer one might look for when getting started printing, the many types of papers involved and the importance of having a properly-profiled monitor so you would have some assurance that the colors on your screen would be well-represented on paper.

During the course of the discussion one of the posters stated that she had a printer that she “bought used 2 years ago. It is still in the box. All the horror stories about not calibrating printer and monitor before attempting to print scared me so much I dismissed all ideas of trying to print.”

First of all, CNPA is an organization of what, 2000 members now? And this particular person is one of the nicest, most social and outgoing people I know. She surely could have asked for and received help from someone in this organization! One of the dozens of people she regularly shoots with would have had exactly the knowledge she was looking for.

Secondly, how much does a colorimeter cost? In the context of the money we spend on camera, lenses, tripods, computers, printers and accessories, why would one not properly calibrate their equipment to get the best possible results?

That got me thinking about all the little odds and ends that we often don’t factor in when we sit down and calculate how much it costs to do what we do. Photography is expensive. Whether we do it as a hobby or as a profession, it costs a lot of money. And that’s not just the gear. The travel is expensive, too. We do it either because we love it, because we’re trying to make a living from it, or both.

There aren’t many inexpensive hobbies, at least not hobbies that I know of. Does a golfer spend several thousand dollars on clubs then shoot with “x-out” golf balls? I grew up in a town with the only (at that time, at least) free public golf course. I played with second-hand clubs and balls I had found. But you don’t become Tiger Woods playing that way. Would a musician buy an expensive guitar then listen to himself play through earbuds? I don’t think so.

It is possible to do photography well with used equipment (it’s all used, right?), old computers and even old printers. But for most of us that is an exception. There is a certain level we want to be at in order to enjoy what we do, produce results we can be proud of and go to the places we want to go. There is a certain pride and satisfaction that comes from pulling out a new lens or some gee-whiz accessory and using it. There is nothing like visiting a fantastic location for the first, or second or twentieth time and taking nice photographs. But then what? We want to share them, either by posting them online, selling them to publications or making prints. That’s all part of the fun, but it’s also part of the cost.

There was recently another thread on the CNPA forum where someone shared a checklist he had made to keep track of the gear for certain kinds of trips. That was great stuff and very helpful. I have my own checklist of things to take on various types of trips, from weekend get-aways to cruises. It’s a great way to be organized. How about a list of all the things we need to be photographers? How many people, if confronted with such a list, would decide to take up another hobby because of the expense? I’ll bet a number of people would, especially once they realized the cost!

Since we don’t have that list, at least not that I’m aware of, we sort of accumulate things as we go. We buy a camera and lens, then a polarizer. Maybe a nice bag. Then another lens, or a tripod. Then a bigger bag. We buy a computer but need a bigger hard drive, or some kind of software. I once heard Tony Sweet tell a group that “digital photography is really not that expensive. After the first $20,000.” For many of us that’s not too far off!

Everyone has to decide their own level of comfort based on their own personal situation. That can be determined by time, budget or other factors. But there are some things that no one should do without. One of those things is a properly profiled monitor, and it doesn’t matter which colorimeter you use as much as is does that you use one. There are many more things that are equally important or more so, but you don’t always have to buy the fanciest or most expensive version. You need to get the best one you can afford that does the job. Does everyone need a $1200 tripod or a $200 polarizer? Of course not. A good sturdy tripod is not cheap. My polarizers, and I have several of them, cost more than many of the cameras I see tourists carrying. In fact, that is often the response when someone asks me how much my camera cost.

I’ve always been a believer that whatever is doing is worth doing well. That’s why I gave up golf a long time ago. I was horrible at it and no matter how hard I tried I could never figure it out. I’ve had somewhat better luck with photography, but it is not any cheaper!

I'm also a strong believer in 'to each his own' but my personal opinion is that being the best photographer I can be means being able to own good equipment (not necessarily the newest or most expensive) that gives me good results, learning to process my own photos and competently print my own work. That carries a certain level of financial commitment. Not everyone shares my goals. For many people sharing photos on Flickr or Facebook is their aim. That’s great, but even then there’s still a minimum cost to play. Maybe not as much as some, but it’s there. Camera gear is great and I always want more, but to me, the ability to experiment with paper and processes and tweaking my photos to get them where I want them is part of the learning process. I consider a good printer to be an essential part of my photography equipment, and it is as important to me (or more so) than another lens or camera body. And that takes a certain level of commitment as well.

To wrap up, my point is that there are some things you just need to have in order to do any hobby. Some of them are expensive, some not. It’s sometimes hard to come up with another $75 or $100 or $500 when there are lots of other things competing for our funds, but some things are necessary, and some are just worth it. When it comes to printing, whether you print your own work or send it to an outside lab, you need to be sure that the file you are sending is accurate, and that takes “just another piece of equipment.” There are a lot of those, and as hard as it is, sometimes you just need to do what it takes.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

2010 Calendars!

My 2010 Photography calendars are now available for purchase! This year’s theme is “A Year of Special Places” and consists of 12 images from beautiful locations throughout North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia. The calendars are printed by Mpix, the same company I have used in the past. The size is 11x17" opened. A preview is available on my website, my blog and on Facebook.

The cost remains $20, plus tax and shipping. Calendars will be printed and mailed the first week of November, so there is plenty of time to get yours. And they make great gifts! To order more than one, e-mail me directly and I will send you a Paypal invoice for the correct number and amount.

To make your purchase easy, quick and secure, click on the “Buy Now” button and you will be taken to a secure Paypal page where you can complete your transaction. A Paypal account is not necessary, and you can pay with a credit card or electronic check.

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Looking at Good Prints

This afternoon Kathy & I visited The Light Factory in Charlotte to view their current exhibition entitled Group f64 and the Modernist Vision, which includes original prints from Edward Weston, Imogen Cunningham, Willard Van Dyke, Brett Weston and Ansel Adams. I've seen some of these prints before, but never tire of seeing them again and again. One of the things that The Light Factory is doing with this exhibit is offering personalized tours of the exhibit with Chief Curator Dennis Kiel. I organized a group tour with Dennis and offered it up to our nature photography group, figuring that an opportunity to learn something about the history of photography - particularly of this era of photography that has been so influential - with someone so knowledgeable as Dennis Kiel would be an opportunity no one would want to miss. Suffice it to say that I grossly overestimated the level of interest. After some cajoling and persuasion I did manage to attract 9 people, including myself, and I think those who attended are nearly as serious about their photography as I am and enjoyed the tour very much.

I'm continually amazed that for all people like to talk about their photography, and how serious people say they are about photography, that there is a general lack of interest in seeing work that is so important to the history of photography. This may sound silly to some, but just standing in front of some of this work brought tears to my eyes, it is so beautiful. No matter how many reproductions you have seen and how good they might have been, there is no substitute to seeing work of the masters in person. And to have the tour narrated by an expert in the field really appealed to me. Most of the others in our group seemed to think so as well, although after an hour and a half most people had reached the limits of their ADD. I could have stayed another couple of hours!

As I have written here previously I am currently on a personal mission to learn more and more about the history of photography, and am simultaneously trying to develop my printing skills. I have a long way to go on both, but seeing work like this is so inspirational and motivating that I want to do more and more. I'll never be an Edward Weston or Ansel Adams, but learning what really good prints look like and experiencing them firsthand gives me a much stronger foundation upon which to base my own work. All of a sudden I see things in my own prints that I want to go back and re-do. It certainly gives me something more to work with on future work. I can't get enough of this stuff!

Monday, September 28, 2009

Lightroom Workshop This Saturday - October 3, 2009

I am teaching a Lightroom workshop this coming Saturday, October 3 at the Charlotte REI store. The class will begin at noon and end approximately 4:30PM. I will be covering all aspects of Lightroom, from basics to more advance topics.

See the attached flyer for details.

Monday, September 21, 2009

I Am a Photographer

I am a photographer. I used to be a banker, a pretty good one too, until I fell victim to our planet’s financial collapse and was forced into a premature and hopefully temporary retirement. I’m probably a pretty good photographer too, but the measurement of ‘good’ is hard to define in either world. I made good money as a banker. I make no money as a photographer. I loved banking. I love making photographs.

During my recent hiatus from banking, it might have been easy to sit around and complain about all the things I’ve lost, the real retirement that was almost within my grasp, the financial goals that are now a few years farther away. Instead, I’ve turned my energies to filling my time with learning, educating myself about the history of art and photography, developing new skills and methods for making photographs. I’m as happy now as I have ever been, so even though I am not seeing a success than can be measured in dollars, I am the wealthiest now that I could ever have imagined. I’m glad I started into photography when I did, as although I have the time today it would be difficult to justify the cost of the equipment I own, even though by some standards it is obsolete. I am thankful that I have had something so stimulating and rewarding to keep me from going stir-crazy.

The toughest thing about the last few months is not knowing. I’ve sent out dozens of resumes, and have even had quite a few interviews. They’ve all went well, but there are so many people looking for work that the competition is fierce, and there are lots of people looking for work with the exact skillset that hiring managers are looking for. And while having 30+ years makes me valuable, it also makes me – at least in the eyes of hiring managers – expensive. Never mind that my current income is now zero! I’m really a heck of a deal to someone looking for someone who knows banking, but no luck so far.

A couple of weeks ago Kathy & I spent a weekend with Andy & Karen Fisher, who own a B&B in Belhaven, North Carolina. We’ve gotten to be friends with Andy & Karen over the course of several visits, and we have had the opportunity to go with them on their boat and have had dinner with them and some of their friends. This last visit Andy introduced me a couple of times as “Tom is a professional photographer.” The first time I thought, “well, not exactly.” But after the second time I though “dammit, he’s right, I am a professional photographer.” That made a real impact on me, and for the first time made me start thinking of myself as a photographer instead of a banker. Now I just need to figure out how to expand on that and make something of myself.

Image is from Far Creek in Engelhard, North Carolina.

Friday, September 11, 2009

SoFoBoMo eBook!

I've been playing around with online print-on-demand services in anticipation of publishing my 2010 calendar. Since I no longer have arm-twisting access to a large portion of my customer base (co-workers from whom I purchased Boy Scout popcorn and Girl Scout cookies) I want to go with a company that has the ability to do online sales. So far the front runner has to be Lulu, partly because I have experience using them from when I published my SoFoBoMo book, and mostly because their price and quality seem to be a good balance.

I was playing around with their site today and was interested in the idea of publishing eBooks. I'm currently working on updating a digital workflow presentation and am im the process of writing a tutorial on registering copyrights, both of which I would like to publish as eBooks. To see how the process works I decided to turn my SoFoBoMo book into an eBook, which I then published and am offering for sale at $10. Not a bad deal if you ask me, except for the fact that it is available for free at the SoFoBoMo website. I'd be interested in feedback from anyone who gives it a try.

Calendars will be ready for purchase (hopefully) around October 1.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Before and After

I spent some time this past Friday morning shooting on the Torrence Creek Greenway with CNPA member and photography buddy Don Brown. The ever-changing palette of wildflowers on the greenway never ceases to amaze me. Every week throughout the year brings something new, while some old friends say good-bye for the season. Just lately we've started seeing some of the late summer flowers - goldenrod and milkweed primarily, but if you look closely you can always find little patches of treasure that most people walk by. I think what amuses me the most is that I can be standing knee-deep in a patch of flowers, camera on tripod pointed right at a flower, and someone will walk by and ask what I am shooting! They don't even notice that there are wildflowers there!

These two images are actually portraits of the same type of flower at different stages of its life cycle. They are both of a plant called Yellow Goatsbeard, aka Jack-Go-To-Bed-At-Noon. The yellow flower is the Goatsbeard as it initially blooms, while the puffball is the flower after it goes to seed. Both were found in the same patch mere feet from each other. They look a little like Dandelion but much prettier.

While I was shooting the puffball version I found myself thinking about what it was that was moving me. The flower was telling me "soft" and a little voice in my ear was telling me to "Shoot 'Soft.'" I took a number of frames at different apertures to try and get the right mix of "soft" and sharpness. The stopped-down versions are nice but have a bit of harshness to them because all the background starts to become prominent. This frame was taken at f8 and I feel it strikes the right balance between "sharp enough" and "soft."

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Why People Photograph II

I just finished reading issue #83 of Lenswork, which is a tribute to Bill Jay who passed away earlier this year. The issue is a compilation of Jay's End Notes column which has been one of my favorite reasons to subscribe to the magazine. I admit to being one of those folks who would read End Notes first.

Needless to say, a magazine devoted solely to writings of Bill Jay has a number of gems, but this one made me stop and re-read a number of times, as it echoes my own thoughts on why I love to do what I do:

There are some things you know but you don’t know that you know them – and then you do.

An earnest psychologist friend, for years puzzled by my devotion to photography, recently asked, “Why do you photograph?” The question held no trace of disapproval; it was a sincere desire to understand my motive for what to him seemed like an inconsequential act. I prattled on for some time, increasingly self-aware that my words were empty, not untruthful, merely similarly inconsequential. I felt uneasy.

Then I went out photographing. At the first sight of a potential picture my spirits lifted and I knew what I should/could have said if he had been with me:

“Look,” I would say, “This is life. It is everywhere, and it is here for the taking. I am alive and I know this, now, in a more profound way than when I am doing anything else. These sights are ephemeral, fleeting treasures that have been offered to me and to me alone. No other person in the history of the world, anywhere in all of time and space, has been granted this gift to be here and in my place. And I am privileged, through the camera, to take this moment away with me. That is why I photograph.”

Bill Jay

The photo is a recent gift I found on the Torrence Creek Greenway, about 1/4 mile from my house.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Bubba Jumps the Falls

Kathy & I spent this past weekend in the Brevard area, scouting locations for an upcoming outing I am leading in October for our CNPA chapter. While at Hooker Falls in Dupont State Forest I was hoping to shoot some stock photos of people cooling off in the falls on a hot summer day. One of the shots a got was this action sequence of some very ill-advised behavior. I thought about asking for a model release but decided he probably would not have taken kindly to my asking, although he (or his next of kin) might someday want a copy of the photo.

I'm guessing there won't be much swimming going on in October!

Photos combined using Lightroom's Print Module and outputting them as a single file.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009


I've about convinced myself that the time I spend cloning dust spots would just about pay for a camera with automatic dust removal.

Now I just have to convince The Boss....

She'll probably tell me to clean my sensor more often.

Image is a combination of 5 photographs of a tree that I shot during our visit to Hilton Head this past February. It was shot in different kinds of light with different sky backgrounds. I'm trying to figure out what to do with it.

Sunday, August 09, 2009

Staying Close to Home

I've written a number of times about the merits of photographing in one's "back yard." For me this often involves photographing in my "front yard" which is the Torrence Creek Greenway. I have an entrance across the street from my house, which is not exactly my "front yard" but is not much farther away than my mail box.

To many Greenway users, the plants and wildflowers are just something to walk past or for their dogs to pee on. They don't really pay them much attention. The few people who even notice me and my camera generally assume I'm photographing the deer, and wonder where they are.

In reality, the changing seasons and the constantly evolving variety of grasses, plants and wildflowers are fascinating. I love finding these gifts and going home and figuring out what they are. Most recently I have been taken by these Crimsoneyed Rosemallow. They're a type of Hibiscus typically found near the coast. What they are doing in little ole Huntersville, NC is beyond me, but they are quite beautious.

Saturday, August 01, 2009

Why People Photograph

I’m a lover of quotes, although I don’t spend nearly enough time digging them up, and I certainly don’t do a good job of remembering them. But I find knowledge and comfort in them.

In keeping with the theme of my previous post, I am reading books in an attempt to learn about photography history. The book I just finished, although I’m not sure my reading did the content justice as it is written in a style that requires a lot more concentration than I was able to give it, is “Why People Photograph, Selected Essays and Reviews” by Robert Adams. Published in 1994, some of the technology references are out of date, but the book is not about technology. The book covers topics from random thoughts on photographic subjects, to examples of success using real-life stories of successful photographers to the author’s personal experience and philosophies about photography and life in general.

In the chapter titled “In The Nineteenth Century West” Adams is discussing the photographic exploration of the western United States in the 1800’s and contrasting it with the present day noise, pollution and overdevelopment that is rampant everywhere, but is especially notable when looking at early views of the country such as those of Timothy O’Sullivan and William Henry Jackson and comparing them with the views we see today. He talks about how the change in our mode of transportation from wagon to automobile, and the speed at which we experience the passing countryside, impacts our perception of the size of the space through which we pass.

Adams says:

“To put it another way, if we consider the difference between William Henry Jackson packing in his cameras by mule, and the person stepping from his car to take a picture with an Instamatic, it becomes clear how some of our space has vanished. If the time it takes to cross space is a way by which we define it, then to arrive at a view of space “in no time” is to have denied its reality.”

And the line that grabbed my attention and made me stop and think:

“Little wonder that we, car-addicted, find the old pictures of openness – pictures usually without any blur, and made by what seems a ritual of patience – wonderful. They restore to us knowledge of a place we seek but lose in the rush of our search. Though to enjoy even the pictures, much less the space itself, requires that we be still longer than is our custom.

How many times, in this age of Twitter and cell phone cameras and 7-step bracketed HDR exposures do we go blasting through the countryside in search of some iconic trophy shot, completely ignoring the beauty of the scene through which we pass, only to arrive at our supposed destination to grab what’s there and move on to the next stop on our checklist? How many of us ignore the beauty in our own back yard while we go rushing off to some iconized destination to set up our tripod right next to 49 of our closest friends?

A few days ago I made an offer to our local CNPA chapter to come out and spend time on the Torrence Creek Greenway that runs through my neighborhood and has an access trail literally across the street from my house. A few of the folks who would otherwise have attended were out of town, and it was a Friday so a lot of people were working, but only one other person showed up. My good friend and shooting buddy John Schornak and I spent a couple of hours in one spot, shooting the beauty in my back yard, in an area about ¼ mile from my house. Did we come back with iconic shots? Probably not, but we had a good time and it gave us a chance to spend some time in nature. Undiscouraged, I plan to make the offer again soon.

This past weekend a few of us spent a day on the Blue Ridge Parkway near Linville Falls. We were there the entire day, some of us from sunrise until after sunset. Some of us didn’t even go to the falls, but we got some wonderful shots from right beside the road or, in the case of the image accompanying this post, right next to the parking lot in the picnic area! I have a whole database of sunrise and sunset locations in that area. Linville Falls is one of the most beautiful natural landmarks in North Carolina, but for me the beauty of the day was to enjoy where I was, what I was doing and let nature speak to me, not running around, dodging tourists and other photographers to try and capture the same images as everyone else.

So the next time you get ready to head out the door for that trophy destination, think about the “place we seek but lose in the rush of our search” and instead seek out that place where we can “be still longer than is our custom.”

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Depth of Focus

I’ve been spending a lot of time lately educating myself about the history of photography. It’s an interesting exercise, and anyone the least bit interested in the field would do well to take some time to learn more. In addition to Jeff Curto’s History of Photography podcast, The Online Photographer and other websites, there are a number of books available on the subject from your local library.

One of the things I have found fascinating, particularly in the history of landscape photography, is that it hasn’t always been a requirement to shoot at the smallest possible aperture and have everything in focus. Ansel Adams, Edward Weston, Imogen Cunningham and the rest of the f/64 gang changed the trend dramatically with their ‘everything razor-sharp and in focus’ images. I love that work and it has influenced me greatly, but prior to that, and to a lesser extent after, photographers like Alfred Stieglitz, Edward Steichen and Paul Strand often used selective focus and shallow depth of field to achieve remarkable results. I don’t pretend to be any of those people, but studying the various methods used throughout photographic history can give us a broader base upon which to build our own vision.

Today we can put a Lensbaby or zone plate on our digital camera and make things out of focus on purpose. And if we’d rather spend time on the computer and don’t want to mess with gear, we can even buy software that will mimic the out-of-focus qualities of lenses we don’t have! But just like it seems counterintuitive to buy software to make our digital images look like film (really!) I generally don’t like messing around with more gear. It just leaves me confused and then I stop seeing things the way I’ve learned to see them. Recently I started thinking “gee, what about if I just use a larger aperture and deliberately make things out of focus? I wonder how that would turn out?”

It is easy to overuse any creative tool, so you don’t want to make every image you take blurry or out of focus any more than you want to make absolutely everything sharp and in focus, but these are tools in our tool box that we can use when the scene or the subject warrants it. We all strive to achieve a personal style or “look” to our photographs, but that doesn’t mean they all look the same. It means that regardless of the style or technique used someone can tell it is your photograph. I believe strongly that you create a “look” by what you feel in your heart and see in the viewfinder, not by processing all your photos with the same software package or using some special lens. I want my images to look the way they do because that’s the way I wanted them to look when I tripped the shutter, not because I know how to run actions in Photoshop and do the same thing to every photo I take.

Anyway, I’ve found myself exploring this shallow depth of focus thing and finding that I like it a lot. It doesn’t always work, but there are times when it is better to suggest what is in a background (or foreground) than actually showing it. I can only imagine the comments at a photo critique session – “gee, it looks kind of soft” or “ those out-of-focus highlights are really distracting.” Well, maybe that’s the point! Don’t just assume that whatever is in focus is the subject! The subject might be the highlights!

Another recent trend, one I’ve tried and like a lot, is using camera movement to blur a scene and distill the elements into patterns of form, textures and color. I don’t do it all the time, but there are some scenes that really lend themselves to it. I have had a great deal of success with this at the beach, but finding suitable subjects on land can be a bit more tricky, at least for me. It’s really fun to take a “traditional” shot with the camera on the tripod, then pull it off the tripod and take a shot of the same scene using a different technique. Explore! You just might find something you like!

One of my grandmother’s sayings was something like “so what does that have to do with the price of prunes?” That was her way of saying “Tom, get to the point!” The point is, we would all do well to study our history, be inspired by the work of the masters – all of them – find things we like, be open to things we haven’t tried or maybe even make us a little uncomfortable, and have fun with this life we call being a photographer.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Looking Up

Things are starting to pop on the bank job front. This past week I had my second interview for a job with a small community bank that I would really like to work for. Tomorrow I have an interview for a position at my former employer that sounds interesting and promising. As opposed to a number of jobs I have applied for lately, I am well-qualified for both of these positions and - most importantly I think - have good connections behind me for each one. Details to come but fingers and toes are crossed!

This past weekend Kathy & I joined some of our CNPA buddies for a day trip to the Linville Falls area on the Blue Ridge Parkway. It seems amazing to say this, but we spent the whole day there and I never went to the falls! I did join part of the group in walking to Dugger's Falls, a little-visited but pretty little waterfall about 50 yards from the parking lot. I didn't take any photos there but enjoyed the view.

After lunch we spent some time hunting wildflowers in the Linville Falls picnic area. I shot some Bee Balm and sunflowers, but had seen some roadside Black-Eyed Susans along the Parkway near the road to the visitor center, so as the afternoon light got nice I went back and paid a visit to these beauties. When I saw them earlier in the day I had visualized this scene, shooting from below with the blue sky and puffy clouds in the background. I know this is way out of character for me, but here I was again laying down on the ground - shooting up through the flowers at the sky!

This is the shot I saw in my mind's eye and feel it is really close to what I was thinking when I first saw the flowers from the road. I think this scene may benefit from some judicious cropping, but for now I'm going to look at it full-frame for a while until I make up my mind!

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Website Update

I just added a "Recent Work" gallery to my website to showcase some of my favorite shots from this year to date. I occasionally use that when I have new work to show but haven't had a chance to refresh the individual galleries.

This image is another from June at a "Secret Location" along the Blue Ridge Parkway.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Thinking Big to Think Small

Last week I attended my second photography workshop with Les Saucier. The learning opportunities from an outstanding teacher are unlimited if you find someone who you connect with on an artistic, creative and inspirational level. Les is such a teacher, and I am still digesting the nuggets I gathered in just a few hours on the Blue Ridge Parkway.

The best and most important thing I came back with is a deeper understanding of the creative process. Les espouses, and I'm paraphrasing quite a bit, that the creative process takes three steps. The first is when one first starts out in art or photography and sees subjects. That is the step that most people are at and often stay at, because we are naturally inclined to look at things. We pay a lot of attention to composition and lighting, and our photography is all about our subject. I do it, we all do it, but there's more.

The second step is when we go beyond seeing objects as subjects and start seeing characteristics - lines, patterns, shapes and colors. This is an interesting phase, because we start thinking about relationships, as in how these lines, patterns, shapes and colors interact. These are the details that attract us to a scene, but we don't always know it and can't always identify them until and unless we take time to think about what we are seeing. Once we stop and look, we see all kinds of things that attract our eyes and stimulate our senses. Once we see those relationships we are able to work our composition to best express the things we see, and that translates into a more powerful and emotional photograph. Sometimes the things we think attracted us to a scene are not what we end up with, because as we explore we start to see smaller and more subtle details that were not immediately apparent.

The third step gets into the emotional response we have to a scene, especially once we have learned about how relationships attract us and how we respond. This step goes far beyond subjects and relationships and starts dealing with ideas. Les pointed out some flowers to one of the participants, who looked at them and responded, "I don't know, they look kind of spent." To which Les replied, "so shoot 'spent.'" Yikes! I made a comment about how the occasional breeze made it hard to get the shot I wanted. Les suggested that I should "shoot the wind." Double yikes! If you look at a scene and think "this is so peaceful," how do you shoot Peaceful? How do you create a photograph that best describes Peaceful? Or glorious, sad, cheerful or soothing? I'm not sure I'm able to go much beyond this point right now, but it's given me a lot to think about.

Turk's Cap Lilies are my favorite summertime wildflower. Their curves and colors have a sensuous beauty that I just love. I tried to make an image that captures "sensuous beauty" and goes beyond the typical documentary photograph. This image may not be technically perfect and probably won't win any contests but I think it goes a long way toward expressing what I feel when I look at a Turk's Cap Lily.

I don't generally talk about gear, but the setup for this was a monster so I have to tell. 70-200 zoom at 150mm with a 500D closeup lens, 2X teleconverter and 25mm extension tube at f32 (my metadata says f64 because of the 2X converter), 1/3 second at ISO 1000. Les says this qualifies for "damn close." It's amazing how much dust shows up at f64!

Saturday, July 04, 2009

Thinking Small

I've been working on a number of projects lately and have gotten a bit behind in my posting. I've got lots of ideas so please bear with me while I extract them from my head without doing any major damage!

A few weeks ago I attended a macro photography workshop with Les Saucier, and I'm attending another one with Les this coming week. He is the master when it comes to macro, and he teaches a way of seeing that is quite a bit different than my normal view. Since the last workshop and in preparation for the next one I have been practicing macro and close-up techniques to add some variety to my own shooting and add another arrow to my quiver (as it were).

Fellow photographer and CNPA member Edgar Payne stopped by this afternoon and we spent some time shooting summer wildflowers on the Torrence Creek Greenway, which runs through my neighborhood. I got a few good shots, but mostly ones that will help me improve for the next time.

This is a close-up of Queen Anne's Lace. The radial pattern reminds me of fireworks, which makes it an appropriate image for this 4th of July holiday.

Enjoy, and stay tuned for more of these close-up images in the near future!

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

My SoFoBoMo Book is Done!

I participated in this year's Solo Photo Book Month project, a group event where a bunch of photographers all make solo photo books start to finish, in 31 days, at more or less the same time. The idea of SoFoBoMo is to make the photos, write any needed text, layout the book, and produce a PDF image of the book, all in 31 days. The book portion of my effort fell a little outside that 31 day window, but I felt it was important to do a good job while still getting it done by June 30. I made it.

The theme for my entry took a number of turns, as I was originally planning to shoot a series of photos out of my office window, using light and architectural details to make a series of interesting pictures. Since I don't have a job there any more I didn't think the building security folks would be too keen on letting me in there to take pictures, so I decided to do a series of photos using my W.T. Duck plush doll in various locations during our travels this spring. Due partly to yucky weather at the beach and a strong reluctance to the idea carrying around a stuffed animal and taking it's picture in public locations (not that it stops some people!) I didn't get the inspiration I felt I needed to do a credible job on that project. I finally decided to just make a book of favorite images from my various photo trips from mid-May to mid-June. It's what I do and what I am most passionate about, and I think the final result shows that.

The electronic version is available for free download here and there is a hard copy available for purchase from Lulu here.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

More Roan Mountain

I shot some traditional landscape stuff but also played around with motion blur while I was there and came up with this image that I feel captures the softness of the early light and the drama of the surrounding landscape.

Aliens on Roan Mountain!

Kathy & I spent last weekend with a bunch of CNPA folks at Roan Mountain, Tennessee. The rhododendron there were not quite at peak, although they were amazing at Craggy Gardens, just down the road on the Blue Ridge Parkway. The display there was the best I have seen in years. I'll be posting some more images from that trip in a few days as I get them processed.

Sunrise on Round Bald is one of the highlights of a trip to Roan Mountain with or without the rhododendron, and this year's sunrise morning did not disappoint. While we were there, however, I came across this other-worldly looking creature. I didn't find the mother ship, but I'm certain that beings not from this planet had also come to Roan to experience the beauty of this wonderful place.

Actually, this is CNPA member and Charlotte chapter co-coordinator Edgar Payne in his hunting attire, out to shoot the bald with the rest of us!

Friday, June 12, 2009

The Great One (Buried Treasure 5)

As Kathy and I prepare to head off to Roan Mountain, TN for the weekend to (hopefully) shoot some Catawba Rhododendron, I thought I'd share another Buried Treasure.

This is an image of Mount McKinley (aka Denali - The Great One) from Stony Hill Overlook in Denali National Park & Preserve, Alaska. This is the best view we had of the mountain during our stay there. I like this image because of the lines and layers of the foreground terrain, and the mysterious shrouding of the mountain by the clouds that surround it.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Buried Treasure 4

If there's such a thing as a Tom Dills Signature Image (and I believe there is!) it's a scene with dramatic light and lots of sunbeams. I'm still back in the time machine in 2005, but now I'm up to August!

This sunrise image was taken along the Blue Ridge Parkway near the Green Mountain Overlook, near MP 301. The view is of the upper Yadkin Valley and the town of Lenoir. It's a favorite summertime sunrise spot of mine!

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Fuzzy Logic

I've been playing around with camera movement to create impressionistic images for a while now and have had a fair amount of success with water as my subject. I've been less successful in getting results I was happy with on land. This past weekend I finally made some images that are more successful. It's a great way to make pictures when it is windy!

I also had an instance where I had camera movement of a different kind, when my tripod started to sink into a rotted log during a 2-second exposure. That result was much less successful!

This image was taken from Flat Rock, on the Blue Ridge Parkway near Grandfather Mountain.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

A Busy Month

Kathy & I spent this past weekend at Grandfather Mountain, attending their annual Nature Photography Weekend. This weekend traditionally kicks off what promises to be a busy month for us. We like to spend our June weekends chasing the Catawba Rhododendron, which were just starting to pop at Grandfather this weekend but were in full bloom in many other places along the Blue Ridge Parkway. In two weeks we head for Roan Mountain, which straddles the North Carolina and Tennessee borders and is renowned for its display of rhododendron and azalea.

The festivities at Grandfather Mountain included presentations by such luminaries as Tony Sweet, Gregory Georges, Jim Clark and Pam Barbour. There is also a photo contest held as part of the weekend, and it is always interesting to see what other people saw that I didn't.

Always on the lookout for a unique vantage point for sunrise, fellow CNPA member and Photo Buddy Don Brown and I went out Saturday morning and hiked to Flat Rock, on the Blue Ridge Parkway just south of Grandfather Mountain. We were treated to an hour of dramatic side-lit cloud formations streaming over the top of the mountain before and after sunrise. I'll post a few images in a slideshow once I am able to get some processing done. In the mean time here is one of my favorites, a view of Grandfather Mountain from Flat Rock, accented by the blooming Catawba Rhododendron.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009


I admit that I’m pretty much a loner. I have a few good friends that really are friends, but I’m not an outgoing social person. I generally don’t go for self-promotion and keep well away from the limelight. It’s a good way to be, because it suits my temperament and personality. But it’s not a good trait for someone looking for a job or trying to market their photography. This blog is a good outlet for me, because it lets me write my thoughts and feelings, brag a little about my accomplishments and showcase my photography and writing skills. I know a number of people ready it, and I hope more people read it, because I feel like I have something useful to share.

In this post I bragged a bit about the fact that I had photos published in three different magazines in one month (May). That’s a huge accomplishment for me and one I am very proud of, given that I’ve only been doing this for a relatively short time. It’s a big deal to me to be able to share my photography, to have my work published and appreciated by my peers, and especially to have my work included with work of those who I look up to. Many people have accomplished much more than me, but many more haven’t come close to what I’ve done. Often that’s because that’s not their style so they haven’t tried. That’s OK, because everyone gets to do their own thing.

Recently several of my nature photography buddies had photos published in Our State Magazine (June issue), and one of my other buddies posted about it on the CNPA message boards. It’s great and they should be proud, but I found myself thinking, somewhat selfishly, “what about me?” Isn’t that silly? I go out of my way to not call attention to myself then get my shorts in a knot when someone doesn’t notice.

I think the lesson for me in this is that I need to work hard to be noticed without being annoying. I need to work hard to not be invisible.

The photo is from Silver Lake on Ocracoke Island, taken on our trip there in 2005.

Friday, May 15, 2009

To The Beach!

Kathy & I are off on our annual jaunt to Hilton Head Island, SC for a week of rest and relaxation, with perhaps a little photography thrown in. I'll probably work on some of my wave motion inventory, and perhaps add to my collection of sand patterns. I may also try to get some stock shots of some of the more touristy places on the island. Don't expect to see an uptick in posts though, because for me a vacation is NOT time sitting in front of the computer. I'll get back to work when I get home.

This photo is another recently uncovered treasure from a different beach. This was taken on the Outer Banks near the old Coast Guard station at Oregon Inlet.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Branching Out, and Buried Treasure 3

I spent most of Saturday helping out at The Light Factory's annual Shoot Out. It was the 20th such event and is a Big Deal. A number of professional photographers donate their time to do portrait sessions for individuals and families, and the customers range from singles, to singles with kids, singles with pets, to full-blown family shoots. There was even an "After Dark" Shoot Out that I'm sure had some interesting subject matter.

I had a blast assisting Nanine Hartzenbusch, one of my 'buds" and a veteran photographer with roots in photojournalism who is making a go at being a kids and families shooter. Nanine is not used to working with an assistant and I've not done much (any?) assisting so neither of us had any expectations or preconceptions. We were a perfect pairing! I helped set up lights, move them around, help get the kids posed and - probably the most important job of all - got to use an assortment of squeeky toys and other gimmicks to help get the attention of cranky toddlers and with any luck help to turn a "reject" into a "keeper." At least I hope so! It was hard work! The Saturday session only lasted a half day, but when I got home I was whooped!

Anyway, the experience underscored for me the importance of learning new things in order to grow as a photographer, as an artist and as a person. It is a rewarding experience to help make special memories for families, especially when it also helps support a local organization that does a lot of good in the community. I like the idea of being an assistant, and think I may make a go at trying to do some more of that work for other photographers. Eventually I might even get good enough to get paid for it, but in the mean time I'm thrilled to have a chance to gain some knowledge and experience doing something I really enjoy. Even if I don't pick up a camera I think the exercise of looking and seeing other photographers in action will help me grow my own vision.

The photo is another one from the archives. From June 2005, the image was taken just after sunset from the parking area of the Craggy Gardens visitor center along the Blue Ridge Parkway just north of Asheville. The various peaks around Craggy Gardens are usually the best places to be, but the parking lot is a pretty decent sunset spot during the summer months. This image underscores the importance of sticking around well after the sun has set, especially when there are clouds around. Sunset itself was pretty nice, but these high whispy clouds lit up big time just after sunset.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Buried Treasure 2

I may be posting some more old photos over the next few weeks. I've been making a concerted effort to go back through the archives and catch up on my unprocessed images from Digital Day One, which was sometime in late 2004.

This particular photo was taken almost exactly 4 years ago today - 5/7/05! It is image #204 on my Canon 20D, which was actually my second digital camera, the first being my still-trusty Powershot G5.

This is a view from Waterrock Knob on the Blue Ridge Parkway, taken a few minutes after sunset.

Saturday, May 02, 2009

Slideshow Test

Please bear with me while I test out a site called Issuu that will allow me to embed presentations on my blog. This is only a test....

Saturday, April 25, 2009

A Hat Trick!

In hockey a Hat Trick is what you have when you score a goal in each of the three periods, and the term is often used to describe three of something in a game, month, day, etc. May is the first time ever that I've had photos in three magazines in the same month!

Our State Magazine ran a full-page layout of one of my Cape Hatteras Lighthouse photos, which is the photo attached to this post. WNC Magazine hasn't come yet but they are running a stock image I sent them for an article about Franklin, NC. Blue Ridge Country ran 4 of my photos of Hendersonville, NC to accompany an article about that town.

This shows the value of persistence, organization and more persistence. This is the first image in Our State in about a year and the first in Blue Ridge Country for almost a year. WNC Magazine is currently not doing paid assignments, but I had been keeping up with their calendar, and as a goodwill gesture I sent them some stock that included images from Franklin. Even though I told them they could use anything for photo credit they are paying me their standard rate. That's more than fair and fine by me!

The competition is tough, but it pays to be organized, be persistent and send only your best work.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Blue Ridge Country (Again!)

I just received my May/June 2009 copy of Blue Ridge Country Magazine, and they have featured 4 of my photos to accompany their article on downtown Hendersonville, NC. One of the fun things about Blue Ridge Country is that they don't tell you whether or not they are using any of your photos, you just get the magazine and look inside to see. I knew that I had sent them some good stuff and had been hopeful they would use it. It's great to see "Photos by Tom Dills" at the top of the page!

I'm a little behind on processing new work, but the attached photo is another one from our February visit to Hilton Head. This tree was right outside our condo, and I photographed it a number of times during our visit, under different lighting and with different backgrounds. I haven't decided exactly what to do with them but I'm thinking that they will make an interesting poster.

Sunday, April 12, 2009


In my last post I mentioned how much progress I have been making on a lot of my goals, so I thought I might elaborate a bit on what those goals are and what has been keeping me busy. I still won't be able to get into the details in this post, but I'll lay things out in a little more detail here and try to outline some of the specific activities in future posts.

Being a glass-half-full kind of guy, I have been trying to use my time to my best advantage, and have developed what I call a three-pronged approach. I have every hope of jumping back into a banking job soon, so I have made a list of things that I want to accomplish so if I end up with only a few more weeks off I can feel like the time was well spent. Understandably a lot of my activities have been centered on photography, since that is my passion, but also being a realist I know that there are other things to take care of as well. My activities have centered around the main topics of (1) finding a new job, (2) catching up on and furthering my photography and (3) taking care of me.

As far as finding a new job, I have set up a list of contacts and have been working them regularly. I set up a system of checking websites and applying for jobs I find there, and I have been working any contacts of contacts I come across. Once my severance runs out I'll have to jump on the Unemployment bandwagon, and there will be a certain amount of work associated with that. Like everything I do, I go 100% on the job search stuff in the time I have allotted for it. I have a system and a routine and I do it. Nothing scientific, but in this economy there isn't a lot of point trying to spend more than a few hours a week trying to find banking jobs, because there aren't a lot of new ones being posted and there are more productive things to do than check the same websites 5 times a day. Chances are whatever job I land won't come from surfing websites anyway, so while it's something you "have to do" the contacts are the most likely source of success.

I've had photography goals for a long time, and have developed a pretty elaborate system for laying them out and keeping track of my progress. When I was working a Day Job I really had to be careful to not try and accomplish too many things, because it is tough to do as a part-time venture. Despite the fact that I was putting a lot of time into it I was often frustrated by all the things I wanted to do that I didn't have time to do while working a full time job. The main thing holding me back has been that there is barely enough time for taking and processing photos, let alone all the business things that you really need to do in order to have a successful photography business. What has amazed me over the last several weeks is how little time I have actually spent taking and processing photos! I've been networking, I put together a submission for a juried art show, I'm working on another submission for another art show, I've submitted a number of images to various magazines (many of them successful!) and have for the first time registered my images with the Copyright Office. I'm writing an article/tutorial on how to use Lightroom to prepare images for copyright registration, I have a couple of critique/review sessions coming up with pro photographers, and I'm in the process of developing a marketing and business plan for a photography business in the event that the banking thing doesn't work out. I'm working with our local REI store on doing a paid workshop on Lightroom & Digital Workflow, am leading an outing for our local CNPA chapter for this fall and I am looking to expand my marketing of my stock portfolio and magazine submissions. I want to work on my writing and am hoping to take some writing classes at the local community college. Oh yeah, I also need to take and process more images and write more on my blog!

The "taking care of me" part is not just me personally, but taking over some of the things at home so Kathy doesn't feel like I am just sitting at home "playing photographer." I have been walking every day - 45 minutes or 1.5/2 miles, working on getting some long-overdue maintenance projects done around the house, running errands, making phone calls and generally taking a lot of the burden off of Kathy since she is gone all day. It's hard on her and I have been trying to ease the load as much as I can. The nice thing is that since I don't have to spend all evening working on my photo stuff, I can be with her and we can do things that are relaxing instead of trying to play catch up.

In a nutshell, that's where I am and what I have been doing. I've got a lot on the calendar for this week and am hoping for some more progress. As I process more images I'll have some fresh ones to post, but in the mean time I'll keep digging into the archives!

Sunday, April 05, 2009

Why I don't Twitter/Linkedin/MySpace/Facebook/Whatever

I just finished reading the paper (yes, the paper paper, as opposed to the online paper), and in it was an article talking about how many people these days don't check their voicemail, because of all the alternatives they have - text messaging, e-mail, Twitter, etc. One guy even said that it was too much trouble for him to check his voicemail, because doing so took 7-10 steps versus 1-3 steps for e-mail. Now, I realize that I am way in the minority, but you don't have time? Um, what exactly are you doing that pushing a button 7 times is keeping you from some super-critical task? Are you working on a super-top-secret plan to save the Antarctic ice shelf from crashing into the ocean, or advising Obama on his foreign policy initiatives, or what? I don't get it, but that's OK, I'm not sure I want to get it.

While I will accept the fact that all the people who spend all their time on their cell phone, talking/texting/e-mailing are probably all talking to each other, I can't help but wonder what the heck they are talking about? I write this not because I think it's amazing that people are so consumed by communication, but because those who seem so consumed by communication are way too often the last people I'd want to talk to!

I guess this struck a nerve with me because in the last several weeks I have received invitations from a surprisingly large number of my friends to be their "buddy" or whatever on whatever social-networking site they are involved in. Before I go on I want to say that some of my friends are readers of my blog, so before you think I am talking about you specifically please be aware that I am talking about society in general and that any resemblance to real persons, people or places, fictional or otherwise, is purely coincidental and not intended to be personally directed, defamatory or insulting in any way. Whew!

Of course, of all the invitations I've received, none of my friends are using the same social-networking service, so in order for me to participate, I would have to join them all. As interested as I am in what all my current friends are doing, and while I'm sure it would be interesting to find out what some of my old high school friends and college buddies are up to, and as much as I know that a lot of these sites are good for networking that could lead to a new job and all that, it just doesn't seem to be a prudent use of my time and would just introduce a whole lot of distractions that I'd just as soon do without. The irony is that several of the invitations came from people that already have way too many distractions, and the last thing they need is some new thing to worry about keeping track of and never being able to keep up with. That's why I stopped watching TV several years ago, and if my cable stopped working it might take me weeks to realize it. Sorry, but it's just not for me. I won't say never, but not today.

What does all this have to do with photography you ask? Well, it doesn't, except that over the last several weeks I've been prioritizing the things I need to do to make myself useful around the house since I am no longer earning a paycheck. Between looking for work, trying to use the time to catch up on developing my photography business, getting some overdue projects done around the house and doing all the things that are really important, I've decided that more communication is the last thing I need. I close e-mail during the day to minimize distractions, I have a To-Do list that I have been working diligently on, and I've made some impressive progress over the last several weeks to the point that I feel really good about the direction things are going. I'm really excited about some of the things I've done - such as doing my first copyright registration last week - and I'll try to write about them in greater detail over the next several weeks. I've even taken some pictures!

Somehow I think it's OK that long-lost classmates stay that way. There might be a reason for that! And my current friends - sorry, but you'll just have to settle for seeing and talking to me face-to-face or at meetings. I hope that's OK.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Another Quote

I guess I'm into quotes lately. Maybe it's because of all this time I have for deep thinking. Yikes.

Don McGowan is a nature photographer, best known for his work in the Smokies. He's also one of my 'heros.' He's a deep-thinking, passionately creative photographer. Don publishes a sometimes-monthly newsletter called "A Song For The Asking," and in his February 2009 newsletter spends a lot of time discussing principals from Eric Maisel's Coaching the Artist Within. There are 12 skills in all, and I think I just need to get the book and read it, but it is in Don's discussion of the second skill which he refers to as "passionately making meaning" that hit me like another brick between the eyes:

"“Regardless of whether or not the universe is meaningful, of whether my odds of succeeding are long or short, of everything at both the existential level and at the practical level, I am going to intentionally make meaning.” What this amounts to is saying to yourself that you’re not going to wait on the universe to announce to you what you should do; you are going to decide, based on your own best understanding of truth and reality, how you will matter."


Thursday, March 19, 2009

SoFoBoMo 2009

I read about SoFoBoMo (aka Solo Photo Book Month) last year and thought it was a cool idea. I didn't participate because I thought I was pretty busy. I had already planned on participating this year and was going to do a book of photos from my office window. But since I doubt they'll let me in there to take pictures I had to come up with a new plan. I think I have a good one.

A couple of months ago Aaron Johnson of What The Duck started selling duck plush toys. I purchased a couple of them, having no idea what I was going to do with them. Now I do. Mr. W.T. Duck is going to hit the road! Like the garden gnome but much better, old W.T. is going to have his pitcher made all over North and South Carolina. I've already asked for and gotten Aaron's blessing, and he says he is "flattered."

The project doesn't start until May 1, so I'll have to dream up some great locations over the next few weeks.

You can buy your own W.T. Duck here, but no copycats!

Wednesday, March 18, 2009


Jay Maisel is the guest blogger on Scott Kelby's blog today. A portion that I find especially compelling is here:

When we shoot we should savor what goes on in front of us, allow things to develop, anticipate things, not be in such a hurry to move on to see how much more we can see quickly and superficially. It’s all there, if we take our time and look, things have a way of happening in front of you. Standing still is also a good way of covering things; just let the world come to you. To paraphrase an old cliché – Don’t do something, just stand there. Be patient.

Read the whole thing here....

Monday, March 16, 2009

Personal Style

I got into a discussion with some of my photo buddies this past weekend about "developing a personal style" and got to thinking about it on my own. A lot of photographers (and other artists) have a recognizable, identifiable personal style, to the point where you can pick out their work among a group of images or prints. I don't think this is something you can "do" as much as it is something that "happens." You can't for example put on your To Do list: "Develop personal style today" or something similar. And it doesn't happen with a certain camera, lens or Photoshop plug in. I think it must come from hard work, from taking a lot of pictures, using whatever influences and inspiration you have in you, editing your photos into some kind of organized structure, and showing them to others.

Everyone has a personal style, but not everyone's personal style is individual or unique enough to be recognizable. But some people's personal style definitely stands out as their own.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Art & Photography

(1) I went to a meeting of an artist's group last night. Several of the painters talked about having worked from a photograph to do their paintings. I couldn't help but think that if they would just learn to take better photographs they wouldn't have to bother with the paint.

(2) Photographers who like to get all righteous about their work being art and say it is more dependent on their vision than their equipment always say that they get upset when someone asks them what kind of camera they have to get those nice pictures. One of the typical lines is that "painters don't sit around talking about what kind of brush they used, or their brand of easel or what kind of palette they use...." Well, when someone (not me) showed their photography, one of the painters said "what kind of camera do you have, it must be a good one?" I was tempted but kept my mouth shut. I was a guest, after all.

(3) Most of the painters seemed to be more interested in whether the photographers would photograph their paintings, presumably for free, than they were in what kind of photographs they made.

Monday, March 02, 2009

Lessons I Didn’t Learn In Photo School

Syl Arena was recently the guest poster on Scott Kelby's blog and wrote an amazing article that everyone who pretends or intends to be a photographer needs to read. He promises that this is the first of a series to appear on his own blog every Wednesday. If they are as compelling as the first dozen it will be a real treat. If I were to choose just one to quote here I would (and did) pick this one:

7. Learning to create photographs that “look” like your world should be only a milestone – not the destination.
Embrace the fact that cameras see differently than humans. Accept that, even today, state-of-the-art tools and technology fall short of reproducing the entire gamut of human vision. The reality is that photography cannot perfectly record or portray the world as we experience it. Yet, this is typically the goal of most neophyte photographers. They measure the “goodness” of their photos by how closely the images match what the shooter experienced. If this is you, with time and practice, you’ll come to understand that your photos will seldom (if ever) match your reality. When that awareness comes, celebrate! You’ve finally reached the true starting line on your journey as a photographer. What lies ahead is the exploration of how you can create photographs that express rather than represent.

Read It!

Snow Motion

The nice light didn't last too long this morning before the clouds moved in, but the conditions got right for some motiony blur stuff, which I thought might look kind of cool with snow. These aren't the best I've ever done but we don't have a good selection of nice straight tree trunks along my section of the greenway.

I like how the snow erases all the background clutter, so you just get the tree trunks, a little green and some brown.

Snow Day!

Hey, the weather people got one right! I would have bet money otherwise, but just to be safe I brought my work laptop home on Friday "just in case." So today I ended up having one of those whatever-they-call-those-days-when-people-stay-home-from-work-when-the-kids-are-out-of-school days. Sick day? Sure as heck isn't going to count as a vacation day! Since I don't usually take sick days we'll call it that!

Anyway, I wandered around this morning trying to see what I could get and whether I might get something to get in the paper and make me famous again. Well, I got some nice stuff, but while I was downloading the images our power went out, I went off and did something else, and by the time I got back to it and processed some images the paper had decided they had gotten enough photos and disabled their upload link. Oh well, a few more for the stock files!

This image was made during some fleeting golden light shortly after sunrise this morning along the Torrence Creek Greenway, about 100 yards from my house.