“They’ll seduce your heart and then they’ll slap your arse”

To a new reader, who takes the time to read through my myriad of postings, a clear picture will emerge. Yes. A picture of quiet desperation. Well….maybe not too quiet, but certainly of desperation.

I have taken something of a mental and emotional journey with this foray into photography as a more serious hobby. I have experienced many a low moment, but also been lucky enough to partake in glorious and precious moments when all seems right in my photography-world. And while I vacillate wildly, depending upon my mood and the day, regarding my abilities in this endeavor, there is one thing that has been constant: comradery.

I have been fortunate enough to enjoy the Internet-enabled companionship of a number of parties over the past year between WordPress and Flickr. Many of these various contacts are quite cursory, but some have developed in ways such that we exchange e-mails and the sort outside of Flickr and WordPress. All-in-all it is a wonderful little electronically-based world in which to live.

But on occasion something special happens. Something outside the normal course of give-and-receive commentary upon our blog postings and Flickr uploads. On occasion a person goes the extra mile and does something out of the ordinary: they give of themselves. Don’t get me wrong. All the folks with whom I regularly share comments, e-mails, etc. are wonderful, otherwise I wouldn’t bother with them. But this time a particular contact did more.

On a few occasions he held my hand (electronically speaking, of course) and talked me down from the roof, so to speak. He showed me how I was being being self-defeating (a trait that has taken firm grip of my psyche over the past two or so years) and how pointless and unnecessary it was. For these things I was very much grateful and I have endeavored to put into place more positive thinking based upon his insights and kind words.

Not too long ago on his Flickr site, he made mention of how he would be putting away the camera for a while as winter set in and he had no desire to shoot out of doors. He further mentioned the idea of creating a poster (of sorts) of some of his photographs, but he seemed to dismiss the idea as too much work. I recall replying along the lines of “What else have you got to do for the winter?” Next thing I know there is a poster on his Flickr site. But it’s better than just that…..he’s had a handful printed (for himself and family) and wanted to send me one as well!

And so he did. And so it is now hung up in a prominent location.

Natural_Light_Poster002

I purchased the frame today (and not some cheap poster-type frame) and then set about to determining where best to place said poster. I wanted it to be someplace where I would see it often, throughout the day, so that I might be inspired by it because there is a particular meaning between Natural Light and I in this matter. At first I contemplated the bedroom, but quickly realized that I spend no real time there, save to sleep, which would make viewing it and subsequently being inspired by it rather difficult. I then considered my small office space, but that too is a place where I keep my head down and otherwise do not tread. The basement? I do spend time down there processing pictures on the desktop PC, but other than that…..(and, again, my head is down and I’m otherwise preoccupied). So where? And then it struck me. The ground floor hallway!

Natural_Light_Poster003

I pass through the hallway multiple times each day and there is no direct sunlight such that might fade the poster. I find this to be the perfect repository for this lovely piece of inspiration. I can’t thank Natural Light enough for this incredible gesture. While I cannot promise that I won’t yet again have those bad days, I can promise that I will always endeavor to keep in mind your thoughtful and encouraging words.

(Let me apologize for the image quality of the photos….I took these with my digital point-n-shoot and it didn’t like the lowish light conditions, but I didn’t want to use flash (for all the obvious reasons). As such, I bumped up the ISO to 400, which is always noisy with p&s cameras.)

“On my way to somwhere civilised”

Earlier this year I became involved in a group project of sorts with an assortment of folks I had met through Flickr and/or WordPress. The idea was for members to take in turns the creation of a monthly subject/topic for all of us to shoot. We would post the image or images (no more than five) to our Flickr accounts and then write about them on WordPress and include the photo(s). So far it has been an interesting endeavor and turned out far better than I had originally hoped.

This month’s topic was a bit of a challenge for me (for reasons that will become obvious shortly), but I managed to put together an idea and it yielded results that pleased me to no end for a handful of reasons. As such, I’ve decided to copy the WordPress entry for my December 2008 submission here, on my main WordPress site.

Please to enjoy…..

Title: All Roads Lead to Rome

Let me tell you……this month’s topic, Street Antiquity, has been very, very difficult. Certainly the whole purpose of this endeavor was, and remains, to stretch ourselves a bit. To try the unfamiliar. To stretch the meaning of the topic. To render it in our own particular vision. But this time I was having no small problem determining how I could stretch my lens, so to speak, around this particular topic.

Certainly the obvious sprung to mind. The notion of shooting old buildings or structures found on, or as our British counterparts prefer, in the street was the most obvious route and not one to be scoffed at either. Of course, our British counterparts have things a bit easier in this regard as their fine island nation is rife with very old and antiquated structures. One need only exit their door, turn left, walk fifteen minutes and voila! There will no doubt be some home or pub built in the mid-sixteen-hundreds just begging to be photographed.

But what was I to do? Certainly I could find some older structures upon some road….there’s a farm house not far from here, which was built in the mid eighteen hundreds, but that hardly feels like antiquity. So I have been giving this particular subject great thought over these weeks of December and had come away with the idea of shooting some older buildings in the downtown Dayton area. As such I took to my vehicle this afternoon and headed down towards the city, but made a minor detour to a certain older neighborhood where I had hoped to grab a few photographs of holiday decorations.

While out of my car and moving around the road looking for the best angles, etc. I happened to notice something rather shiny upon the rain-moistened roadway..

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“What’s this?” thought I as I bent down to obtain a closer look. To be frank my first impression was that it was a dime (a 10-penny piece, if you will), but closer examination revealed that it was indeed a coin, but no coin of recent minting. Curious and anxious I snapped a few shots of the coin laying there on the wet bricks before picking it up and returning to my car. Further examination revealed nothing to me…..it was crudely struck, clearly old and tasted of silver. “This could be something valuable!” raced through my mind so I elected to cancel the rest of my journey as planned and instead drove to a local stamp and coin shop.

The proprietor examined my find for a few minutes, referenced a page in some book, placed the coin upon the counter and said to me “Congratulations! You have found a Roman silver denarius.”

“What? Really? Get out of here.” was my knee-jerk retort, but he continued “Yeah, the head is the likeness of Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius and was no doubt minted some time during his reign, which was…..” he glances back at the page in the book, “….161 to 180 A.D. Where did you find it, if you don’t mind my asking?”

I managed to stammer something about one of our oldest local roads just south of downtown Dayton and mentioned that it was just laying there..upon the remnants of this long-ago-built road. “Amazing,” he replied.

So there you go folks…..clearly this coin of a long forgotten realm was dropped by maybe a Roman Centurion making his way down this road south of Dayton heading to parts unknown. Or maybe it was a merchant on his way back to Rome with fine goods he had purchased and traded for while visiting Dayton. I don’t know…but I do know that you can read more about the denarius (and see a picture that looks remarkably like my coin) at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Denarius.

“In a river the colour of lead”

I’m having doubts. I feel tense. It doesn’t seem right, yet the response has been overwhelmingly positive, or so I think. Was it the right thing to do or have I, as usual, fucked it all up?

I’m writing about my recent series of uploads to Flickr of pictures taken with my no-longer-in-my-possession Canon A95 digital point-n-shoot. You know…things like this:

Neutron & Proton in the sun (3)

As I’ve previously mentioned, my intent was simply to fill the gap that had been created by my not shooting new pictures with either my Canon 40D or the recently acquired Canon Rebel XTi. Thanks to a variety of causes, my time spent with the 40D has been zero and time with the Rebel sporadic and infrequent at best over the past three to four weeks. So up went some personally reviewed and selected images from my old and trusty Canon A95. But does this sort of behaviour fit into the mind-set that was the impetus for the creation of my Flickr account and what do the pictures mean in a greater context?

The intent of my Flickr account was at least two-fold: (1) a place to share publicly my photos, and (2) a place to share my journey as an amateur dSLR photographer. As such it seemed reasonable that my Flickr account would be filled with images taken by me using the Canon 40D (and more recently the Rebel as well) and that said images would weave a tapestry of my sojourn through learning more about this hobby. Notice I didn’t state that my photographs would get better, just that I would “learn” and with knowledge hopefully would come better pictures. Hopefully. (Ahem)

It was never my intent for my Flickr account to contain and display the sort of every-day imagery previously captured with my Canon A95. Those images were, after all, just records of a moment in time. The 40D/Rebel combination are supposed to be more about growth, thoughtfulness…..dare I say it….art? Or, at the very least, a more serious attempt at the hobby of photography if art is too-strong a term to use here (and I know at least one person who would say such!). But does this original intent dictate that I cannot upload images from other cameras of pictures taken with far less lofty intent? And who is to say some of them aren’t perfectly lovely pictures in their own right?

Tired Mercedes in the sun Dec 2004

A review of my various contacts on Flickr provides no insight into this quandary in which I find myself. They really are all over the place in terms of what they post. Some only upload a single image a day or every other day. I imagine this is a best of the best approach and likely works really well if you have such great photos in the first place, which clearly isn’t my situation (perish the thought!). Others post a small collection of images every few days, while others will upload thirty, forty, fifty or more in a single sitting. Many post only images that are directly attributable to their professional standing as a photographer, while most are like me; posting images created from the hobby of photography. Very few offer the more candid every-day type shots. So where does this leave me?

And adding to this dilemma is an issue even darker and more disturbing: I think the recently uploaded, every-day ‘record’ images are garnering more comments than anything I have put up in the past. What does it say about my current photographic endeavors when my just-point-n-shoot images warrant more commentary and praise than my I’m-working-hard-on-this-photograph imagery? How daft (and depressing) is that?

I confess….it is awfully difficult to feel positive about one’s more serious endeavors when it would appear that every-day candidness is more effective and creates stronger responses.

“This is the last song I will ever sing…”

Modern digital point-n-shoot cameras really are marvelous little devices. A cheap memory card can hold hundreds of images, which is far more convenient than any roll of 36-exposure film. You can upload pictures to your computer via the camera (with supplied cable) or via a card reader, which you will have to purchase. Many of these marvels come with the ability to sync directly to picture printers so that one can forgo the entire computer process and said printers often offer a host of basic photo editing options!

Really…..how completely and utterly spoiled we have become photographically speaking. But it’s not all sunshine and bunnies, is it? Consider….

Mark, Sissy & Christian

Taken with my old Canon A95 with on-camera flash. Sure, it’s not completely garish. It’s not completely over-saturated with a burst of bright white light from the camera’s flash, but this is, in small part, thanks to a bit of post-processing done with software before uploading said picture to Flickr. But it’s still pretty awful in the way that almost all flash shots are when they are taken with an on-camera flash, regardless of whether the camera is digital or film. Certainly one can/could reduce the flash’s output to reduce this problem, but that notion introduces two other problems: (1) probably 99% of all casual digital point-n-shoot camera users do not know they can decrease their flash output, and (2) even if one does decrease the flash’s output the background in any given picture becomes very dark, while the subject matter becomes better lit. Not exactly a win-win, eh?

Jupe (2)

Really? Is this the best I could have done? My great friend Jennifer forever immortalized in an over-flashed image. Is this really I how I wish to remember her? I think not. But here is where the wonder of the digital single lens reflex (SLR) camera comes into play. I could just as easily use my Canon 40D’s built in flash to shoot with, but the results would be markedly similar to those examples above. Or I could mount my Canon 580EX II flash unit to my camera and blaze away with even more power only to get worse results.

Or I can take full advantage of the ability to re-direct the light coming from my flash via the flash unit’s head being able to turn, pivot, etc. so that I can bounce light off walls or ceilings in an attempt to both diffuse the light and to bring it from a more flattering direction. And if I really had the time, the money, the inclination and time with a model I could do all sorts of neat things with lighting. Trust me: I do want to do such. It’s one area that a person can really have fun with if they have the right equipment and mindset.

So, while the modern digital point-n-shoot camera is a marvelous invention and has revolutionized photography for the masses, I think one of the greatest moments thus far in my amateur photography life was when I realized that flash pictures didn’t have to look like the above if one made smarter use of their new dSLR and flash unit.

Thank you Strobist.

“We can go for a walk, where it’s quiet and dry”

There must be a joke somewhere out there that asks the question: How many pictures must a photographer snap before he gets one really great one? Mind you, I don’t have a witty answer for the question. That would be too easy, wouldn’t it? I guess I could say “One,” because every picture I happen to take is great! But this would be far from the truth.

Since having picked up my every so lovely Canon 40D almost exactly one year ago I have taken a lot of pictures. Many….maybe most….have been complete rubbish. Total crap. A waste of the battery power necessary to have captured the image. But this is okay. Really. Not depressing one little bit.

[Sigh]

However, things have been better in the past few months. I genuinely believe that I have had some better pictures and that this has come about from a bit of learning from my previous mistakes. A bit of willingness to explore and try new things. A bit of luck. Okay…..a whole shit-load of luck. And this knowledge, this knowing that I’m getting more keepers than deleters than I used to is a great stroke to the ego. Oh, don’t get me wrong; most are still destined for the Recycle bin icon on the computer, but the number of keepers to deleters has risen and THIS is a good thing. But there is an even greater way to stroke one’s ego when one is a newbie to the world of dSLR photography: go back and look at one’s digital point-n-shoot work.

George & Rowan (3)

What the hell?!?! Did I not bother to look at the white balance setting at ALL??

Please do not misunderstand me…..I am certainly aware that there are tonnes of folks out there shooting great pictures with digital point-n-shoot models. Better pictures than I am taking! Better pictures than I could take with even the most expensive of equipment. But that is because the equipment doesn’t make one a better photographer. Maybe it allows for more creative control. Maybe it allows for more possibilities under difficult circumstances, but equipment doesn’t make the photographer. Me and my Canon 40D are proof-positive of that!

Still…..while reviewing the multitude of pictures I took with my Canon A95 I was constantly blurting aloud things like “What the hell was I thinking?”, “Did I bother to check my settings first?”, “How can THIS many pictures be out of focus?!”

I think it is important to mention that all of my pictures taken with the venerable A95 were simply what I like to call ‘records’. They were a record of a moment in time and not taken for any “artistic” or otherwise expressive quality. In other words, I wasn’t trying to “do” anything other than capture the moment for posterity. But still……framing and composition were most always of the “put the subject in the middle and shoot” variety. Boring. But the real problem…the one that crept across every folder…was focus.

So many of those pictures (which I DID NOT upload to Flickr – what would have been the point in that?) were gently out of focus. The problem wasn’t motion blur (created by me or the subject), but simply the camera not being properly focused upon the given subject. And during the process of taking those pictures there would have been no good way to tell they were out of focus (so that they could be re-shot if possible) because the little LCD screen wouldn’t offer the requisite resolution to check such. It was only after uploading the images that I would have discovered how awful they were.

The fact that I have so many of these gently out of focus images strongly suggests that they were the best of the rest, and what a horrible thought is that! And don’t think that the issue was lighting as almost all of these photos were shot in sufficient lighting for their purpose. After all, even I knew (at that time) that the Canon line of cameras (p&s as well as dSLR) were less than stellar in low-light situations.

So….what has this stroll down memory lane done for me? Simple. It’s taught me that my lovely, lovely Canon 40D is just what the doctor ordered to solve this problem! I have had only a few out of thousands of images that were out of focus (unintentionally out of focus that is). For this I am quite grateful. Of course…..I still have images from my Canon A630 to go through……who knows what I might find there!

“Head in the clouds, and a mouthful of pie”

I guess we all knew it would eventually come to this. Its inevitability was etched in stone long before this day arrived. It was a certainty from which we could not escape. It was destined. It was fated. It was portended. It was in the cards.

You get the picture…….

Basil Bear (6)

So, what does a photographer do when he or she becomes so ill and feels so run-down that the mere idea of heading out into the wilds to take photographs brings out the urge to vomit? In addition, what course of action is possible for the young and attractive amateur photographer when the great planet Earth turns itself in such a way that dreary grey days are all that can be seen out of the window for days on end?

Bug with Rockety (3)

Well…..the answer actually came from a photographic source oddly enough. One of my Flickr contacts eschews the cold that comes with this time of the year in the northern hemisphere. As such he has opted to post older pictures taken in the more sun-drenched days that were the norm before Old Man Winter arrived. I can’t say that I had the same sort of source as he (being the avid photographer he is), but I did have a wealth of photographs taken over the past few years via my digital point-n-shoot cameras: the Canon A95 and Canon A630.

So I set about to going through my collection of images from the A95 (no longer in my possession – donated to a pet adoption agency whose own digital camera died in April of this year) and selected those that most appealed to me. Truth-be-told, much of my photography involved the animals. It’s not that I don’t love my wife and/or daughter, but they really do not like hubby/dad pointing cameras at them. Regardless, I have selected a number of images and began posting them this evening. There are plenty more to come and I’ll likely upload a new batch every other day so it isn’t so overwhelming to you, my dear readers/viewers.

Caroline & Rowan (5)

I’ll also be writing at least one more WordPress entry in conjunction with this series of uploads. That entry will concern itself with a few of the thoughts that crossed my mind while going through these images from my venerable Canon A95.

I know you can’t wait to read what I have to type!

“I think I can help you get through your exams”

So…….it’s been thirteen days since I came down with whatever mess this is that makes me feel rather awful. Don’t get me wrong, I feel better. Much better. But this nasty-ass stuff will not simply go away quietly into the night. And I managed to pass it along to my wife, who is now down-and-out as well.

The timing was perfect too. I had just collected my “new” (meaning “used”) Canon Rebel XTi (which I think is the 400D in Europe) and wanted to get out and snap some test shots so that I could be certain that it was operating correctly and such. I managed to fire off maybe 15 or 20 shots before I was laid low by the monster head cold from hell. Finally getting around to viewing them almost 3-weeks later I can safely state that the camera appears to be operating according to factory specification. Yea!

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I can’t tell you how nice it is to have this camera. And my pleasure at having it crosses a number of reasons: (1) having played with it a bit I have come to realize how fragile and entry-level this sort of camera really is. It doesn’t have any of the quality feel or look that my 40D has in spades. And the sound of the shutter curtain releasing and the mirror flipping up and then back down is not unlike finger nails on a chalk board when compared to the majesty of precision that is, in comparison, my 40D. (2) I wanted a camera that I could throw in the car and take with me at any moment. What I didn’t want was a camera whose theft would leave me in tears, cursing Bog and all the heavens for the injustice done to me. Not that I want this camera lifted from me either, but do the math: Canon 40D with monster glass or Canon Rebel XTi with 18-55mm. Yeah, it’s pretty much a no brainer. (3) Now I can snap lovely, lovely photos of all those things I have been seeing while I’m out, driving about town, but couldn’t photograph previously because my 40D was safe at home. Of course, now that I have the car-camera I am almost certain that I will never again see a gorgeous sunset, fantastic falcon, leaping deer, paddling geese, or interesting signage while out and about in my car. It’s just the way my life works folks.

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