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

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Multiple Catalogs in Lightroom

I advocate, as most Lightroom users do, the use of a single catalog for my images.  Recently I had an occasion where a separate catalog turned out to be the perfect solution for me.  I needed to prepare a group of files for a commercial printing company, and there were a number of things they needed me to do that were specific to these files:

- The file names had to be customized according to subject;
- I needed to customize my black point and shadow tones to output correctly on their printers;
- They needed an 11x14 version and a 4x6 version of each file

Several problems I needed to solve for my own benefit were:
- I didn’t want to intermingle those versions with my regular images;
- You can’t have virtual copies with different file names, and changing the file name in my main catalog would mess up my normal naming convention;
- Any processing I did to the images would be specific to the files for this project, and I didn’t want any processing of the new versions to interfere with my original files.
- I could have solved some of these problems by creating multiple virtual copies and putting them in collections, but that didn’t solve the naming issue.

I used a Collection to keep track of the initial images I sent for review, and created a separate Collection of the images they chose so I could keep track of them.  I wanted to review each of the images before sending them, and I realized that I was going to need to keep track of the files I had sent and the ones I still needed to review, so I created a Smart Collection using a client keyword for the images that have already been sent.

Once I completed my review I used the “Export As Catalog” function to create a new Catalog of those images.  I then added the client name keyword to the images in the Quick Collection to remove them from the “Need Processed” Smart Collection.  I now have the images in a new Catalog ready to prep for the client.

In the new catalog I need to do three things with my images to prepare them for output to the client: (1) I need to rename the files to a custom name reflecting the subject of the photo, (2) I need to adjust the black point and shadow tones, and (3) I need to create versions in 4x6 and 11x14 format.  It’s a manual process but easy to do.  When I am done I create a new Collection called “4x6” and add all the images to that Collection.  As it turns out most of the images happen to be already in a 4x6 format so I don’t have to do much cropping.

Next, I select all the images in the 4x6 Collection and create a new Collection titled “11x14,” being sure to select “Create New Virtual Copies.”  This creates Virtual Copies of all the images that I now go through and crop to 11x14.  This requires some interesting aesthetic compromise as I’m not completely happy doing this, but I do it and they’re fine.

At this point I have two Collections.  One has the images in a 4x6 format, the other with the same images in an 11x14 format.  Remember that the images have not actually been resized, they are just virtual copies, or versions of the original RAW or TIF files.  Using two separate Export Templates I export output them into separate folders, and once they are done I upload them to the client’s FTP server and that’s it!

The “Old Fashioned Way” would have had me doing two different versions in Photoshop, and even though I could have automated the process to some extent it would have been very manual.  In this case I was able to keep the manual work to a minimum, and I now have a catalog that contains only the files for this client in the formats they have requested, and the catalog is completely separate from my main image catalog.  If the client decides at some point to do a different size image, it will be a simple matter to go to the correct image, create a new virtual copy and export it exactly they way they want it.  Hopefully the client will want more of my images in the future, in which case we’ll repeat the process and add the new images to the existing catalog.  Easy!

PS: Another interesting thing is that as I went back and reviewed the older images, I found that with only two exceptions I reprocessed them exclusively in Lightroom and ended up with a better result than I had achieved with the older images processed in Photoshop.  This is admittedly due in part to an improvement in my own processing skills but I think also due to a dramatic improvement in software over the last 3-5 years.

PPS: This is the short version of this article!  I wrote another one that is much more detailed and another page or so longer.  E-mail me if you want a copy and I'll send it to you!

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Watch What You Say

I really don’t like ticking people off and risking friendships so I’m not going to identify the source, but I just read a blog post that stated – quite authoritatively and unequivocally – that “you are wasting your time photographing landscapes in the middle of the day under direct sunlight.”  Wow, those are strong words.  The writer goes on to say that “no matter how dramatic the subject matter is, the pictures will never be successful.”  Really?  Never?  As in not ever?  To the writer’s credit he goes on to name several exceptions, but I’m inclined to take exception myself. I agree that it’s easier to take good photographs in the morning and afternoon, but it is certainly not impossible to make good photographs in the middle of the day.  It just depends on how creative you are and how hard you want to work.  I think the writer does photography and photographers a huge injustice to make such a claim.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

December Wallpaper Calendar!

Just a little late, but it's still the 1st!  A little holiday spirit for the month, taken on the waterfront in Belhaven, NC - one of my favorite places!

Enjoy, and Happy Holidays!

Sunday, November 21, 2010

My 2011 Photography Calendar is Here!

I am now taking orders for my 2011 Photography Calendar - titled "A Year by the Sea."  This calendar contains 12 beautiful photographs from beaches I have visited over the last several years, from Hilton Head, SC to Barbados.  You can see a preview of the calendar on my website.

Place your order now for delivery by mid-December - just in time for the holidays!  I'll be taking orders through November 30 at the Paypal link on my blog (top of the right-hand column).

If you would like more than one calendar, please e-mail me for an invoice which I can send you via e-mail.  This automates the payment process for me, allows me to collect the sales tax I need to collect, and lets me keep good track of orders.


Sunday, October 31, 2010

November Wallpaper Calendar

I'm sure it's just me (it usually is) but there is something weird about kids going around and trick-or-treating while they text on their cell phones.  Seems like if you are old enough to have a cell phone you shouldn't be out begging for candy.  Like I said, probably just me....

Let's kick November off with another waterfall image.  On our recent club outing to Brevard someone mentioned that they thought it was interesting that there could be 20 photographers standing in front of a waterfall and I would be the only one with my lens pointing away from the waterfall. Well, not always.  In this case I was pointed at the waterfall, but at a really small part of it.

This is a detail from Looking Glass Falls in Pisgah National Forest near Brevard, NC.  Not too many people get this shot, most of them don't even see it.  But sometimes I do actually shoot waterfalls!

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Fancy Colours

(Reference to an old Chicago tune)

I spent last week in the NC mountains photographing in fall color.  On several occasions people mentioned that they thought that "the colors are lousy this year" or "this fall is one of the worst I've seen."  I even heard someone say something like "this fall sucks."  While I admit that there were places where you might have to isolate the colors a bit, I didn't think it was all that bad.  As I review my images on the computer this week I'm not all that disappointed with the color.  Could it be that we have gotten so used to looking at our images through Viveza-colored glasses that we can't appreciate reality when we see it?  Just a thought.

Thursday, October 07, 2010

Drum Machines Have No Soul

Creativity comes from many places and takes many forms.  There is no formula for creativity and there is no single definition or example.  Photography is no exception, but where my opinion differs from that of many photographers I know is I feel that 95% (or more) of creativity takes place at the instant a photograph is taken, using the camera and related tools to express the vision in our hearts.  Whether we use an expensive high-res camera or our phone, the expression of our creativity comes not from the equipment but from how we use our equipment to communicate our thoughts, ideas and emotions through our photographs.  We use more tools to realize our creativity after the photograph is taken, and those tools range from the type of equipment used, to the software used to process the photograph to the method for displaying the finished result.

Recently someone suggested that I needed to use a certain piece of software because (a whole list of people) were using it and because it did a great job of making their images look really good.  I have seen the results of this software in the work of these referenced photographers and agree that the software does have some interesting characteristics.  But it’s not the software that makes good images good.  Good images look good no matter what software is used, because a good image reflects good vision, and all the software in the world won’t make a lousy image great (I’ve tried it!).  My personal preference is to use software as a tool and learn how to achieve my vision regardless of the name of the software.  I work really hard to learn how to use my software to make my images look like I want them to, based on my creativity and vision.  The danger comes in relying on software or presets or plug-ins as a “recipe” that doesn’t make images good, it just makes them look like the images of everyone else using that software.  To quote art expert Barney Davey, “The talent to emulate and replicate is not the same as to create.”

A car in my neighborhood has a bumper sticker on the back that says “Drum Machines Have No Soul.”  When I first read that message I knew exactly what it meant.  Drum machines are great for laying down a rhythm track.  They sound pretty good and are used a lot in certain types of music.  While you can be somewhat creative in programming them, they do some interesting things and can reflect some variety based on the programmer’s input, they have little ability to reflect artistry, and can’t adapt to changes in mood or energy.  Once upon a time I was a musician and was very fortunate to have played in a band with an individual who is now one of the top drummers in the world.  There’s a big difference between a rhythm track and a virtuoso drum solo.

When I heard the comment about using a certain piece of software to process all my images, I couldn’t help but think of the bumper sticker warning me about drum machines.  The computer has no soul either, and while using software can be creative in terms of deciding which button to push, I would much rather achieve my vision by working with software I control, rather than using some faceless software developer’s recipe to give my images some soulless look with a canned effect.  Learning how to use the software I use to achieve the end result I want, rather than pushing buttons until I find something that looks “cool,” puts my heart and my soul into my photographs.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

October 2010 Calendar

My, how time flies!  October already, the busiest time of the year for nature photographers.  Kathy & I have a big month coming up, although we won't be running around quite as much this year as we have in years past.  One big week starting with a CNPA outing in Brevard and ending with Kevin Adams' Fall Photo Tour, plus a few random day trips thrown in, will be a great time and should make for some productive photography.

Fall can be so easy that it ends up being hard.  When the color starts to show it can be tempting to just point and shoot.  The trouble with that is that it's hard to go beyond the obvious.  And that is really going to be my focus this year - to go beyond the obvious.  I intend to photograph mindfully and intentionally, seeing lines, patterns colors and relationships.  We'll see how how I did a month from now.

I liked the photo from my last post so much I've decided to make it the October wallpaper calendar.  It's a little bit different look at Hooker Falls in Dupont State Forest.  This photo illustrates what I mean by "beyond the obvious" and is the kind of photograph I hope to make a lot more of.

I hope you enjoy this month's calendar, and hope you all have an excellent October.  See you somewhere along the way!

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

When the “Stars” Align

A friend of mine recently posted a question on Facebook that became an interesting topic of discussion. The Facebook discussion is long over but I’ve been pondering it in my own mind. The friend asked, “on a photo outing, would you rather get one 5* image or five-ten 3-4* images?” Predictably, there were opinions on both sides of the question, with most – OK, all - of the responders answering the opposite of me.

My answer was “I agree that the ‘Wow!’ image is the one you always hope for, but those are so dependent on circumstance that you can hardly be disappointed if you don’t come home with one. Plus, what people buy... doesn’t tend to agree with my rating!

If I come home with a handful of ‘3s’ I can say I had a pretty good day, and a solid group of ‘3s’ makes a foundation for a gallery display, a calendar or a book.”

So let’s look at that. First, to know how to answer that question we all need to agree on what a “5 Star” image is, right? I’m guessing we’re pretty much all on the same page, as most of us probably consider 5 stars to be ‘Best of the Best’. I don’t even think about upgrading to 4 or 5 stars until I’ve done extensive processing to my images and have come up with a print that I am happy with. In my mind the tricky part is when we define what images get 3 stars in the first place. Everyone has a workflow that suits them, and I’ve developed some pretty high standards when it comes to giving my images star ratings.

Back when I was shooting film, I considered one “keeper” per roll of film to be good shooting. The number might have been a little higher with 35mm and 36 exposures on a roll, but when I was using 220 film and getting 20 images on a roll, one keeper per roll was my goal. Not that the others were bad, but I’ve found that there is always one shot that best captured my intentions with a particular subject or scene, and that was my “keeper.” I kept all of my film except the absolute bad ones, but marked the keeper as the one that I would have printed, sent to a magazine or (later) scanned into a digital file for the computer. I didn’t worry about star ratings then because there wasn’t really a need to.

Now that I am using digital cameras I don’t measure my images by rolls of film. I measure them in Gigabytes - dozens and perhaps hundreds of shots from a particular scene or subject. Does shooting more photographs mean I have more keepers? Hardly. The number of keepers – now we call them “Picks” – is perhaps a little higher, but as a percentage of the total it is much, much lower. I have become a ruthless editor. In a day where I shoot 500 photos, I might initially end up with 50 or so Picks, but once I go through them and narrow it down to the very best ones I might end up with 8 or 10 that get the 3 Star rating. There’s no reason to have 20 keepers from a sunrise or sunset, for example, when there are one or two that captured the peak moment. You might select a few more than that if you captured some variety, or shot verticals and horizontals, and then only if it was really something special.

I’m picking on sunrises and sunsets here, but I’m hoping to make a point. A lot of folks trudge out hours before dawn, shoot until the sun comes up then go eat breakfast. In the evening we grab dinner or a glass of wine just about the time things are getting interesting, then head out to our favorite spot just in time to see the ball of the sun disappear into an overcast sky or have the clouds move in just before the “magic moment.” There’s a lot to shoot besides the sun, and shooting the sun makes for some boring pictures more often than not. And when you’re standing at an overlook with 20 of your closest friends, cameras all pointed in the same direction waiting until the magic moment, you’re certainly not going to get anything different!

Truthfully, a lot of my sunrises and sunsets don’t even get picked unless they are better than something I already have. Not that I have a “been there done that” attitude but unless they are spectacular, sunrises are generally pretty cliché. I truly have some pretty good sunrises and sunsets already, and unless something is really different or a lot better than what I have I’m probably better off looking for something else. Hopefully, if I am really paying attention and thinking about what I’m doing, I’m looking for other things to shoot instead of waiting for a boring sunset to turn into something special. That’s where the 3s come from. Look for something that is enhanced by the nice light, or find something interesting and see what I can make of that.

But I digress. The thing I find interesting is that my definition of a 5 star rating changes constantly. I have my All Time Favorites, but periodically I go back, move all my 4 and 5 star images back to 3 stars and re-rate the whole batch. That forces me to re-look objectively at each one of them to confirm that it does or does not meet my 4 star criteria. Most recently I have begun to re-process old files with new software and am surprised at the differences I see. Usually the difference is for the better as the newer software allows me to get even more out of my older files. But often I’ll find an image that I thought was excellent that isn’t, and it stays a 3 or gets deleted. More often than not I start over and re-process the RAW file and delete the old PSD file that was processed in Elements or an older version of Photoshop.

This discussion has been a great exercise and I’ve been thinking about this a lot, and the more I think about it the more I stand by my original response. A good solid group of ‘3s’ means I had a productive outing, that I was seeing well, inspired and creative. If I come back from an outing with a 5 star image I consider myself lucky. If I come back from an image with NO 3 star images I was either uninspired, lazy or not working very hard. To become the photographer I want to be it’s far more important to consistently come home with 3s than to come home with no 3s and a 5. The ideal situation would be to come home with some of each. Once in a while that happens, and when it does it is very, very nice!

Photo is one of those lousy "3-star" images from a trip to Hooker Falls in Dupont State Forest last October. It's got a pretty good shot at getting a promotion, I think.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

A Glint in the Eye

This past weekend I attended a presentation by noted nature and wildlife photographer Bill Lea. During Bill's presentation he showed a number of excellent wildlife images – bear, deer, fox, wolf and more. At one point he made the statement that a successful animal photograph should always include a “glint” in the animal’s eye. I agree completely, but to take it a step further, I feel that a successful photograph of any kind is one that puts a glint in the photographer’s eye.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

September Desktop Wallpaper

Happy September!

Here is an image I made last September along Far Creek near Englehard, NC. The reflections of the old boat in the calm water provide a soothing image to get you through the last days of summer.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Critiques, reviews and evaluations

One of the things that often puzzles aspiring photographers of all skill levels, from absolute beginners to experienced amateurs and professionals, is the question of knowing how "good" their images are and how to make them better. As great as most experienced photographers are with sharing information about equipment, technique and locations, it is very difficult for photographers to get direct and specific feedback on improving their work.

I think one of the biggest challenges may be that we don’t know what kind of advice to ask for.

For a photographer trying to improve and learn, what to do? Maybe you could start posting to online forums, participate in a critique session, or attend a workshop. Each of these choices has its own benefits, and it’s possible to get a good foundation from a workshop. Even before that, though, you need to have an idea what it is you are trying to accomplish. What are you trying to learn, and who is best suited to help you do that?

Before taking a workshop or participating in a critique session, the place to start is to evaluate your own images. What kind of photographs do you take? Which ones do you like? Do they look like what you intended? Have you captured whatever it was that attracted you and caused you to press the shutter button? Why or why not? What do YOU like about your images, and what do YOU see in your images that need improvement? What matters most is YOUR vision, not someone else's interpretation of your image. Once a photographer has evaluated his own images and edited them based on his own intentions, only then can they be properly evaluated by others.

Eventually you will want to present your work to others, to get feedback, advice and suggestions. Don’t be afraid of this, but also be clear what kind of feedback you are looking for. This is important, as it helps you determine where and how to present your work.

The easiest and perhaps most common approach today is the online image critique. This can be as informal as posting images to Flickr or Facebook and getting comments. It can be an individual image critique forum such as the CNPA message boards, or you can submit to a formal review group or forum such as those offered by PPA and other organizations. When participating in online image critiques it is important to know who is going to be doing the critiques. Who are the critiquers, what are their qualifications? Are they professionals, beginners or someone in between? Are they people whose goals and vision are similar to your own, or are they just people looking for “atta-boys” and meaningless platitudes for their own work and who spend their time doing the same for others? Are they “pixel peepers” who will ignore an image with beautiful composition or wonderful light because maybe it isn’t critically sharp or optimally processed? Make sure you are showing your work to people whose opinions you would most want, and remember that a lot of people who post and comment to online forums are people whose hobby is commenting and posting to online forums. Photographers whose opinions you might value most might not spend a lot of time online because they are out taking photographs.

Group critiques are popular, as they tend to be “live,” with a known speaker or presenter who is recognized as having expertise in the field. While these types of sessions have some value, there are many factors that can limit their usefulness. Factors such as limited time, volume of images and technology issues such as a projector that does not properly show the images can limit the effectiveness of such sessions. Also, when someone is looking at images one at a time, the feedback often tends to be based on "rules" and often doesn’t involve input from the photographer. A good review will take the photographer’s intent into account - what are you trying to show and how well did you accomplish it?

Recently I have started to become more comfortable with my technical ability and have started to explore a more artistic approach to my photography. One of the areas that I wanted help with was the choices I make when editing my photographs (NOTE: by editing I am referring to the selection of images to keep or work on further. Processing refers to the optimization in software, or “developing” the images). I recently took a workshop with a photographer whose work and teaching style I admire, and as part of the process we arranged a follow-up meeting to review the images I made while on the workshop. It hasn’t happened as of the time of this article, but my goal is for us to review the work I did, evaluate the decisions I made about which images best suited my intent, and get his feedback on my post-processing. Yes, I’m paying extra for his time, but I feel that the extra effort to “complete the circle” will be worth it.

Another area I have been working on is doing my own printing. The way to get feedback on printing is to have someone actually look at your prints, so I have been working with a local master printer to get ongoing feedback to help me come up with better output. A trained eye is far better at seeing subtle differences that, once seen, make a huge difference in the impact of a print. Again, I’m paying for the advice, but I am getting a lot of efficiency by having exclusive access to this person, rather than trying to wedge in time during his studio hours or during a hectic workshop.

There are a number of things to consider and look for when deciding about learning opportunities. Decide what it is you are trying to accomplish. Establish goals and get specific feedback. Look at the activity on a forum or in a critique group and see what kind of images people are showing, what kind of feedback they are getting and whether you think it would work for you. Talk to a potential workshop leader or instructor to discuss your needs and to determine if and how he or she can help you. It might require more effort, it will probably cost some money and will definitely take time, but the payoff will be in terms of meaningful and specific feedback to help solve problems you have or answer your questions.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

It’s Not About “Best”

I was recently on a photography workshop with a well-known nature photographer and one of the participants asked the leader “between us, tell me – who are the 4 best photographers in the Unnamed Camera Club?” Just like in the old Dean Witter commercials all of the ears within listening distance perked up, and back came the answer, but not what the questioner was hoping for. He said – and I’m paraphrasing – that you can't evaluate "best." It’s not about “best.” Two different photographers, or for that matter a group of photographers, can each have completely different styles, use completely different equipment and present their final images in completely different ways. What distinguishes them may be content, technical excellence or emotional response. But that just makes them different, not better.

To carry this example a little further, think about other things you know personally. Do you like to read? Who is a better writer, Stephen King or Dan Brown? How about wine? Is Stag’s Leap a better wine than Kendall Jackson? Is Carlos Santana a better guitar player than Eric Clapton? Is Art Morris a better photographer than Joe McNally? Each choice is distinctively different, each choice is excellent in its own way, each choice is very, very good at what they do. But best? It’s not about best.

When evaluating anything, books, wine, photographs, we have to decide what it is that matters most to us. For photography do we want technical excellence? Define that. Does that mean excellent in-camera technique, excellent post processing, beautifully hand-crafted fine art prints on wonderful paper? Are we looking to go beyond technical excellence and explore images that convey feeling and emotion? What matters to each of us is very personal, and whether we are evaluating our own images or looking at others’ images, our preferences and opinions will dictate what we look for, how we feel, and how well those images stack up.

Many photographers are very subject-specific. Some photographers are very skilled at and perfectly satisfied making technically excellent documentary portraits of plants, animals and birds. Things like pose, head angle, direction and quality of light may be their focus. They may have an interest in the biological characteristics, or they may simply be adding to a collection. Whether they are shooting plants, animals, birds, waterfalls, sunrises at the beach or mountain ridges in the fog, it is the specifics of the subject that attract them. Those things are relatively easy to define, and on the surface the resulting photographs are relatively easy to evaluate. But even then, there will be differences in the images because each person brings their own set of interests, their own preferences and goals. Whether evaluating their own images or images of others, those preferences will influence what we look for, what we see and how we feel. Each set of photographs can be evaluated on the basis of many variables, and determining which of those variables is important is up to each individual photographer first.

Some photographers, whether satisfied with their level of technical knowledge or attracted by the desire to go beyond technical excellence start to think in terms of making images that convey thoughts, feelings and emotions. This does not mean burning incense and getting all new-agey – it just means thinking about what we see, understanding what it is that attracts us to a scene and making photographs that reflect the emotions and feelings we have about it. This gets into foreign territory for many photographers and it is easy to be scared off by the concept. Consequently, it can be very difficult to judge whether a photographer has created images that reflect their vision and whether they have achieved his or her goals.

While you are evaluating your own images, take time to look at other people’s photographs to build your own personal database of what you like and don’t like. Start with your own images but also expand your horizons to look at other people’s work. It doesn’t have to be work from famous people either, it can be anyone’s. Look at other images, whether prints in a gallery, online slideshows & galleries, books, magazines or presentations. Look at other images not to copy them, but to learn from them. Which images appeal to you and why? Just like listening to music or tasting wine, you need to have enough experience to understand what things are important to you. You need to have an opinion about what you like and what you look for, and you need to be able to recognize whether your work or someone else’s satisfies your preferences. If it doesn’t, you might still be able to appreciate it because even if it is not something you prefer you recognize that it is done very, very well.

We hear a lot about technical stuff. This is important but it is only the beginning. Learn the basics, but learn them so well that you don’t have to think about them. Learn how to use technique to achieve your goals. Learn to evaluate others’ images to determine how they made them and decide whether you like the results. When you attend a presentation of someone else’s images, participate in an image critique or see someone’s photographs online, learn to recognize characteristics. What makes them appeal to you (or not)? Look at other people’s images, and instead of asking them about aperture shutter speed, focal length, etc. look at the image and decide for yourself what was used, and whether or not you think it was effective. Think about what the photograph might look like with more or less depth of field, a longer or shorter shutter speed, or a different focal length lens. When you look at a photograph and think “wow, I wish I had taken that,” think about how it was done so that when you are in a situation to take a “wow” photograph you know how to do it. Remember that and add it to your personal database, so the next time you are photographing you can go into your personal database, think about all the variables, and have a better idea of what to do to reach your goals.

It’s important that we all try to improve our photography. We all want to get better at what we do. We want to learn and grow. But wondering or worrying about whether we are “better” than someone else or wanting to know who is “best” is an unnecessary distraction. Appreciate photographers and photographs for what they are and how they are different. This is supposed to be fun – enjoy it!

Monday, August 02, 2010

August Wallpaper Calendar

August 1st came and went, but August 2nd is a better day anyway. It's my son Scott's birthday - a national holiday in my family! For the calendar, a day late and a dollar short will have to do. I will happily refund your money if you are not completely satisfied!

I've got a number of essay ideas floating around in my head and will have at least one of them on paper for the upcoming deadline for the next CNPA newsletter. With any luck it will end up as a blog post. So stay tuned!

This month's photograph is from a visit last year to the Outer Banks of North Carolina. It was taken at Currituck Heritage Park near Corolla, North Carolina.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

July Wallpaper Calendar

This month's image is one of those where I knew I had something when I made the photograph, but it got lost in the shuffle and just recently got rediscovered. This is an early morning shot along the Blue Ridge Parkway near Waynesville, NC. It was shot last summer while on a workshop with Les Saucier. I've been wanting to get back to these images for a while and just managed to get one worked up in time for this month. I hope you enjoy looking at it as much as I do!

Tuesday, June 29, 2010


I was just reading a post on Kirk Tuck's blog about gear choices for going on vacation. The usual dilemma - how much stuff does someone need to take on whatever kind of trip they're taking. And since I'm going on vacation - yes, again! - in just a few days it's a subject on my mind. I've had this internal discussion before, and have managed to get myself down to a nice small kit that doesn't take up much room, gets me the pictures I plan to get but doesn't involve carrying my 40-pound ThinkTank roller through the airport, only to to have to check it on the jetway.

When I was shooting film I had a Mamiya 7 with the 50, 65 and 150, which roughly equates to a 24, 35 and 75 in 35mm terms. And I rarely used the 50. I long to regain that simplicity in a digital outfit, but it finally dawned on me that a body and a reasonable zoom would just about cover me. So until I decide to spring for an M9 and a pocketfull of Leica glass I've been traveling with my 40D and 24-105. It's a little clunky but it's what I've got. And it fits in the little shoulder bag that I used to carry my Mamiya in. Why the 40D? With "only" 10 megapixels there's little to no chance I'll fill up all my cards in a week, so I can leave the laptop at home and enjoy cocktail hour actually doing cocktails instead of backing up files! It's the only camera I have with built-in sensor cleaning so I don't have to worry about taking all the cleaning stuff with me. Lastly, the "crop factor" of the 40D gives me enough reach with the 24-105 that I'm not tempted to bring the 70-200, which seems to help me avoid the inevitable "as-long-as-I" syndrome. As in "as-long-as-I'm taking the bigger lens I'll need the bigger bag and as long as I'm taking the bigger bag I might as well take the..." You get the idea.

One camera, one lens. Maybe the 17-40 if I think I'm going to miss the wide end, and the G9 and a Ziploc bag for going to the beach. Cards, batteries, chargers and a polarizer and I'm there. For support I'll always take my T-Pod, and if there's room after I'm done packing clothes I may throw in a monopod. If I'm really lucky and have a couple of pounds to spare I'll take my tripod, but probably not.

And none of that daily posting to Facebook stuff. I'm on vacation - that can wait!

Sunday, June 06, 2010

SoFoBoMo 2010

SoFoBoMo stands for Solo Photo Book Month, and is a fun way to motivate yourself to do a project. I participated last year and am doing it again this year.

During any 30-day period between June 1 and July 31 you take the photographs, lay them out in a book format and publish them as a .PDF book and if you wish as a print-on-demand book through Blurb, Lulu or one of the many other POD publishers. Lulu and Blurb seem to be the most popular. Last year I published mine on Lulu and someone actually bought one!

I had come up with a really good idea for this year's theme but my plans didn’t work out so I’ve decided to hold that thought for another year. What I’ve decided to do should still be interesting. I’m excited about it and looking forward to giving it a go.

Kathy & I leave July 3 for a cruise on Royal Caribbean’s Freedom of the Seas. What I’m planning to do is photograph people taking pictures. A cruise should offer plenty of subject matter! I’ve got some ideas about how to make that interesting, so we’ll see how it goes. The primary thing for me is the exercise of shooting and creating a project. I’ll do my best, and regardless of the outcome it will be a lot of fun and a great learning experience.

Look for my book on Blurb some time in early August!

Monday, May 31, 2010

Paper Testing and June Wallpaper

When I bought my new printer late last year one of the things I intended to do early on was to try out a number of papers and eventually settle on one or two that I really liked and learn how to make the best possible prints from those papers. I spent the last several months working with some Lexjet paper I got "free" with my printer along with several papers I had laying around the house. My "go-to" paper has been Crane's MuseoMAX paper. I originally discovered MuseoMAX paper from print guru Gary Kerr at Fine Art Impressions, who used it on a couple of custom prints he made for me. It's a very nice paper, with a smooth matte surface that holds sharpness and color like a glossy paper. The best of both worlds in many ways.

Over this past winter I took a fine art printing class from Les Saucier, who had recently begun using Hahnemuhle's Fine Art Baryta paper. In his class I made a print of my own using this paper, which I found to be very nice. I had also read about a new paper from Canson called Canson Infinity Baryta Photographique that was said to be very nice. A few articles placed it higher than the Hahnemuhle in terms of print quality. So I ordered some 8.5x11 sheets of the Hahnemuhle and the Canson and proceeded to make test prints on all the paper in my storage cabinet. I must say that - despite my relatively basic knowledge of the art of printing - the Canson paper blows me away. Amazing shadow detail, all the way to the deepest blacks, excellent color and sharpness, and a nice white surface that really makes for a fine print.

I'm still going to use the MuseoMAX as well, as I like the matte surface and warm tone of that paper for certain photographs, but the the Canson is my new favorite. I just ordered a bunch of it from Shades of Paper and can't wait to start making prints with it. Great stuff! Once I've had some time with it I'll start thinking about custom profiles.

It's a day early, but here is the June wallpaper calendar for those of you who collect it. The Place to Be in June is Roan Mountain, and this is an image from last year's visit there. A beautiful blue sky and lovely rhododendron make a great representation of June in the Southeast. Enjoy!

Sunday, May 02, 2010

Home Again and May Wallpaper

Just got back from a lovely week on the high seas...a 6 night cruise on Royal Princess followed by a couple of nights in Hollywood Beach, FL. This was a vacation week so I didn't take my good gear but managed to get a few grab shots with the G9. I've got some fodder for a couple of blog posts and will get them downloaded from my brain over the next week or so and will post them along with a few photos. For now it's back to the banking grindstone for a few weeks.

I remembered to do the May calendar before I left, so here it is, only a few days late! The image is from a last May and was taken along the Boone Fork from the Tanawha Trail, Blue Ridge Parkway near Grandfather Mountain, North Carolina. Enjoy!

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Anonymous American Photographer

I subscribe to receive e-mails from Christie's and Sotheby's with results from various art auctions. Sotheby's recently had an auction of photographs, many of which were historical photographs by famous photographers. A large number of them were daguerreotypes from the 1840's. There were a few Westons, a Cunningham or two. Adams, Strand, Stieglitz and Steichen were among the names listed. But what struck me was the number of photographs - primarily the daguerreotypes - that were listed as being by "Anonymous American Photographer." I couldn't help but think, "is that our fate? Are we either famous or anonymous?" Scary thought.

Sunday, April 04, 2010

Shopping and Photography

This is my 101st post - some kind of milestone!

I was having a conversation today with a friend about my approach to photography, and it caused me to think about the fact that although we make dozens if not hundreds of photographs each time we go out, the percentages of "keepers" can vary dramatically depending on our approach, our intended result and our ability to make tough editing decisions. It occurred to me that our approach toward what and how many images we keep is a lot like our approach to shopping. Some people buy lots of "stuff" even if it isn't really something they need. They like it, it's on sale or something caused them to want it so they bought it. Sometimes they buy these things and keep them forever, even once they decide they no longer want them. Others buy less frequently but what they do buy is well thought out, the purchasing decision is fully analyzed and the item purchased is exactly what they were looking for.

My approach to shopping made that transition long ago. I rarely shop, but when I do it is for exactly what I want, I get it and I go on. My photography is headed in a similar direction but is far less developed. My approach toward photography seems to be evolving from one of quantity to one of quality and as it does, I find myself keeping fewer images. The ones I do keep are ones I am happier with and that I will probably hold on to for a lot longer period of time. I feel like I am making better choices and that the resulting keepers are much stronger than when I was keeping a lot more. I wonder if this is because I am thinking of my images as prints instead of just pictures on a hard drive. Somehow thinking about and making prints forces me to take a harder look at an image. I find that a lot fewer of them are making the cut. Something to think about.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Happy April!

Wow, another month has flown by! I managed to make one blog post in March, but it's been a busy month. This work thing sure takes a lot of time, but it is worth the effort.

Not much to say this time, but I wanted to post the April calendar for those of you who would e-mail me tomorrow if I forgot.

I would like to ask one small favor. A number of my readers subscribe via Networked Blogs on Facebook. Networked Blogs gives readers the ability to rate a blog, from one star to five stars. If you are one of those followers, I would really appreciate a few ratings (especially if they are good!). Please be honest, but please take the time to rate. I'll be sure to do the same for those of you who have blogs.


This month's calendar is an image from my motion blur series, taken last spring on the Torrence Creek Greenway near my home. I think it really says "Spring" by emphasizing the fresh green and soft new growth of the season.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Photographer or Tourist?

I've been thinking lately about the propensity that a lot of photographers – famous and otherwise – have for traveling to and doing workshops in places they don't live, and the fascination we "mortals" have for spending big money for the privilege of traveling with big name photographers to such far-flung places. I certainly can't blame the photographers because presumably they are being well-paid to go by those with the cash to afford their workshops, and it's great that people are willing to shell out dollars to be able to rub elbows with famous photographers in exotic locations.

Kathy & I have been talking about and making a list of places we want to go while we're still working and have the money, places we might not be able to afford when we retire and have the time (what's fair about that?). I love to travel, but have accepted the fact that the kind of photography I tend to do requires that I either learn about a place and keep going there until I get what I am looking for, or wander around with a camera until I see something that catches my eye and photograph it. The former approach is very location-specific and requires repeated visits. It’s best done when it is close to home. The second approach is what I often find myself doing when we travel. The interesting thing about that is that many or most of the “better” photographs I come back with are not location-specific. They could have been taken anywhere. Then I think, "if I can make a photograph like that anywhere, why do I have to travel halfway around the world and spend a bunch of money to make it?"

Kathy & I went to Alaska several years ago. It was a trip we really wanted to take, we did it to celebrate our 25th anniversary, we took the kids and it cost us a bundle. I don't regret for a second that we did it, it was that worth it. In preparation for that trip I convinced myself to take the plunge into digital photography. I invested a lot of money in new gear, all of it I still have and use. That was worth it. We were in Alaska for 12 days and I came back with about 2500 photographs. A lot of my photographs are pretty darned good and would make an interesting presentation to the local Rotary club or even a local camera club meeting. There are a few photos in there that I count among my "heroes," but since I had no control of the schedule, the conditions or the weather, everything I got was due mostly to good luck. For the most part they are a bunch of ordinary photographs of some really nice locations. Some of them are probably better because of my "eye" or my skills, but most of them are pretty ordinary. The fact that I am five years down the photographic journey may have an effect of how I feel about them now, but I'd like to think I would make different and hopefully better photographs on a return trip, all else being equal.

If I spend a bunch of money to go one someone's photo workshop or take a vacation to an exotic location, am I going as a Photographer or as a Tourist with a Really Good Camera? I suspect that it may be the latter, and I think I'm OK with that. If I come back from a great trip with a few heros, fantastic! If not, as long as I accept that I may end up with a bunch of ordinary photographs of a really nice location, I can live with that too. I feel better knowing that my expectations are in line with the expected results. Enjoy the journey, and take some good photographs along the way!

Sunday, February 28, 2010

That Was Fast!

It was just what - a week or so and we were wrapping up January. Wow! This work thing makes time fly!

Just spent the weekend with Les Saucier, one of my Heros and the person I credit for much of my recent photographic learning. This was a fine art printing workshop at his home in Weaverville, NC. There is a fine art canvas printing workshop and a visual literacy workshop coming up later in March. I am very much looking forward to both of those.

I have lots to say but no time to say it, so I wanted to get the March calendar out to those of you who are interested in such things. I hope to have a chance to catch up on my writing in the next couple of weeks, but who knows.

This images was taken during our August 2008 visit to Far Creek in Englehard, NC. It's one of my favorite shots from this location. A vertical version of this shot shows off the reflections in the water, but I had to stay horizontal for this calendar.

Hoping that March brings us our much-anticipated Spring!

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Something New

A recent discovery of mine is the writings and teachings of David DuChemin. I recently read his book “Within The Frame” and have purchased a number of e-books he has written. At $5 each – sometimes less depending on his deals – they are a great deal and have provided me with much inspiration. David’s focus is on vision, as opposed to so many writers who are all about the gear, the software or the location. He is very visual oriented and his approach speaks to me in a way that I “get.”

Consider this plug to be a “thank you” for what comes next.

One of the things that David does for followers of his blog is that he creates a monthly desktop wallpaper calendar. He has even provided the Photoshop template he uses to anyone who wants to make their own. So in keeping with the tradition of sharing I have decided to offer my own monthly calendar wallpaper. Free of charge, just for fun, hope you like it and tell others! I’m going to try to avoid duplicating the image used in my print calendar, just for a little variety because I’d hate to limit myself to only 12 images per year! I’m going to try and pull images from the more “artsy” side of my portfolio for something a little different.

This month’s wallpaper is a photograph I made a few weeks ago in Belhaven, North Carolina. Belhaven is a wonderful little town on the Pungo River. A quick temperature change created a layer of fog over the water and I was able to capture some images that represented the dissolving effect of the fog on this receding line of pilings in the water.