It was hot… that’s my excuse…

We all have days… days where we suck.

For whatever reason we just can’t seem to get things right. Sometimes it’s because we are lazy. Or simply don’t care. Sometimes it’s because we don’t have the right tools or knowledge or skill-set. It might even be The Man with his collective boot on our neck.

Whatever the reasons or excuses…. we can… on occasion… suck.

And today I kind of sucked. But only kind of, which isn’t exactly a ringing endorsement of not sucking, but you get the picture.

Hey! I just made a funny. “…get the picture.” Photography-related blog.

Yeah.

(ahem)

As I previously I opted to take part in a photography publishing project this year and I finally finished and submitted my…. uh… submission. One may be forgiven for thinking I’m feeling a real sense of accomplishment, but that’s not quite the case.

More like a feeling of sucking.

But that’s ok. I own it. I admit it. Freely. And it was mostly due to simple laziness. Mostly.

Granted, there was some problems getting the pictures taken. It was, after all, blazingly hot and humid here for the past four weeks, and it all started at exactly the same time I began photographing. And if you haven’t heard this before, please let me inform you: I hate the heat. And trying to snap pictures in a mosquito-infested wood while sweat pours down my face and over my hands and camera… well… yeah. It’s pretty gross.

To be frank I was so disappointed with my images I really thought about pulling out of the project. I mean… look at this…

Izzy Kitty

I never could get the white balance quite right, and there’s foliage in the way, and.. well… just poop. Of course, Izzy is notorious for keeping her distance so shooting through the undergrowth is to be expected, but it just didn’t feel ‘right’.

Then again…

Two Tone

But I think the greater issue was that I had to submit my project as a PDF and while Apple Pages does export as PDFs using Pages doesn’t exactly offer a lot of creative options for the book publishing part of the project. I found my lack of creative options rather irritating, but not so much so that I was willing (or able) to spend the cash for some nice publishing software that would also export as PDF.

BUT… in the end I elected to bite the bullet. Use my good and not-so-good images. Create my very simple (“austere”) book and upload it. There. It’s done. Maybe not quite as I had envisioned, but I know and remember a forkboy who would have simply abandoned it. And you know… that would have sucked more.

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A mental hump…

For some time my parents, my mother in particular, have been encouraging… perhaps pushing… me to look into selling some of my pictures as prints. Personally I think this is rather deranged even though I do think I get some good shots on occasion…

An occasional good shot

While I do love the encouraging words and thoughts it’s the sort of thing I imagine many children take with a grain of salt. You know… of course mom and dad are going to be supportive and such. It’s all part of the job, right?

Please don’t misunderstand. I do not mean to impugne their encouragement in any way. It’s mostly a matter of it being easier to dismiss such support than it is to embrace it. It’s part of the way I work, for better or worse. (worse I’m certain)

But also of late I have been receiving no small amount of prodding, encouragement and definite pushing from my neighbors and friends, the Edwards. They are a couple who live across the street and whose lawn I mow. We have long had this lawn-mowing relationship, but over the past five or so months it has bloomed into a friendship as well.

Part of this friendship has included a lot of pushing me to seriously consider selling my images as prints. Lynda, herself an artist and lover of art, has been particularly encouraging, helping me to think about various ways I might get my feet wet in the world of selling one’s own works.

And truth be told I wouldn’t mind giving it a whirl…

Albino squirrel

Our albino squirrel: Abbie

We have discussed obtaining a booth in a local art festival, but that one was already closed to new entries. But there remains other opportunities coming up as we move from the dog days of summer into the more pleasant months of Autumn.

But there remains one single hurdle… hump, if you will… which I need to overcome and that is the one of self-deprecation.

Simply put: I like, even love, some of my work, but it’s one thing to think well of your own work and another to think highly enough such that others would be willing to part with their hard-earned cash for it.

It is an obstacle with which I have been fighting for pretty much all my life. Not about photography specifically, but about most anything at which I showed any genuine talent. It’s part of who I am to doubt myself. To be insecure. To see no worth in whatever it is I can do, whether I do it well or not.

However, I do not image this isn’t an uncommon problem amongst artists. Not that I wish to place myself into the same category as real artists (see? there! I’m doing it already), but aren’t we usually our own worst critics?

I know plenty of folks on Flickr whose work I think is vastly superior to my own, yet there is nothing wrong with my work. More to the point, there is nothing saying that others, the public, wouldn’t enjoy my prints as much as I enjoy the pictures of others on Flickr.

Fortunately a very strange thing occurred on Friday while I was in attendance at a First Friday event in a small town south of where I live. I have attended a handful of the First Friday events at this place and learned the other day the event is doing well enough that they are in the process of converting the basement space into studios. And while I don’t need studio space it is a space from which to sell my wares.

Oddly enough, when I heard about this instead of thinking the usual thoughts (“No one would buy my pictures,” etc.) and putting up obstacles to success I was almost giddy with the idea that I might give it a try. That I could make it work.

Unheard of.

Woodland flower

Woodland flower

Now that the weekend has passed I wonder if I might be better served by trying to work some fairs and festivals for a year or two if for no other reason than to gauge the market potential for selling my work. After all, the rental of a booth at a weekend art festival is far less than that of rent for a space in a building.

Please don’t construe this to mean I’m back-tracking upon myself. No. Instead I prefer to think it is being more realistic and reasonable about the appropriate way to commence such a bold adventure. So let’s see if we can get this whole thing rolling…

And so it sweats…

My last post discusses the beginning salvo of my SoBoFoMo project revolving around the feral and homeless cats I watch over and feed. Since then I have encountered two bits of ‘fun’ I thought I’d share.

Here’s fun number one:

The weather...

Yeah. It says “90” right now (and ‘right now’ is almost 9:30p.m.), but it was 96 at the peak today with a heat index of around 110. You know… I left Florida to escape this sort of thing.

(sigh)

It has been like this all week and will remain like this through tomorrow, as you can see in the above picture. While things will cool-off over the weekend and into the week it’s still scheduled to be warmer than average. Just not stupid-hot. Needless to say working with a dSLR in this heat, with this humidity, in a small wood which only serves to trap the humidity under the leafy canopy (and between the two humidity is far worse than direct sunlight) I’ve been reluctant to shoot pictures.

The cats look and act distressed (lethargic) and I don’t blame them. It’s nasty. I myself looked as if I had just stepped out of the shower as I returned to my car to come back home. And into a real shower.

(heavenly sigh)

So this first week of photography has yielded precisely three-days of photographs when I had planned at least six. Kid you not… the camera actually slipped out of my hand the other day as both it and my hand were so covered in sweat.

Gross… I know!

But I did learn something yesterday while out with the camera and I apologize for not having the pictures to prove it as I’m entering this blog post from a different computer. What I “discovered” is when trying to photograph cats in a small wood with a flash attached to the camera there is a very good chance the flash will highlight… even over-expose… the leaves and branches that lay between the cat and me; the humble photographer.

This does not lead to the sort of results one had hoped for. It also begs the question: does forkboy have the slightest clue what he’s doing?

It’s probably best we don’t answer that…

SoFoBoMo…

Solo Photo Book Month.

I discovered this event, if you will, about two years ago and after checking it out I elected to not partake. I wasn’t so much concerned about the photography part, which I figured I could handle, but it was the creation of a book part that left me stumped.

Stumped because it would likely have required me to invest in some software. Perhaps pricey software. For a potentially one-off event.

Thanks, but no thanks.

But now… two years later….

I don’t even know what brought it to mind this year, but about two weeks ago I was doing something on the computer when the SoFoBoMo thing popped into my head. It’s almost karma-like in so much that the event starts 1 July and here it was only two weeks to the start. I reacquainted myself with the FAQs and such and tonight… just a few hours ago… signed up to partake.

Yeah!

I already have in mind two themes from which to select and I’m having some difficulty figuring out which way to go. One way, I think, may help me with another blog I’m looking to start very soon. A blog which I hope will lead to the self-publishing of a book. And here’s a hint:

The other route would, I hope, also be interesting for me as well as readers of my finished project. And here’s a hint for this route:

I don’t know…. But I have to make a decision right quick as I must start sometime between tomorrow morning and the end of July as I only have 31-days to complete the entire project. This includes the taking and processing of at least 35-pictures (which means to get those 35 I’ll likely take over 400) and then the compilation of such into a book-like format for uploading to the SoFoBoMo site.

No small feat for 31-days.

Light, camera, model…. action!

A couple of posts back I introduced the world of WordPress to my new & portable, single-light kit. Nothing fancy, of course. Just my Canon flash, a stand, an umbrella, the do-hickey that connects the flash and umbrella to the stand and a wireless firing bit of hardware (not PocketWizard or Radio Poppers – perish the expensive thought!).

I did spend the extra few bucks to acquire the 9-foot light stand as opposed to the 6-foot variety. It seemed a reasonable investment and actually turned out to be the right choice when put to use the very first time. Can’t get much better than that, eh?

Anywho….

Back in September I finally corralled my model, Jenna, into an afternoon shoot on what turned out to be a too-warm Sunday afternoon. The weather, being unseasonably warm, made the excursion less than ideal, but I was anxious to give this new bit of kit a try and I was really excited about my location. Well… some parts of the location that is.

Jenna had never modelled before and other than the shots I took of the daughter a few years earlier I had zip for experience as well. So we were both in good hands undoubtedly. We started off with some shots by a neat tree on the premises of the Dayton Art Institute. I actually worked these with my flash affixed to my camera and set to manual, thus leaving me the chance to work with some fill light. Fun, but not the real crux of my we were there. Still… the results weren’t bad. Not great, but not bad.

We moved away from the tree and over towards the spot I was most excited about. The front of the Dayton Art Institute includes a long set of winding stairs leading from the street to the actual museum, which sits up fairly high from the street. About half way up the staircase is a landing where once must have been a small fountain and some statues set into three curved alcoves.

At some point the fountain was turned into a planter and the statues removed, thus leaving their lovely spaces quite open. “Perfect for a model,” I thought when I first came upon them during a recce of the grounds around the Institute. The beautiful yellow, brown and gold tones of the sandstone combined with the intimiate location seemed perfect for my plans.

We set up the light stand such that it faced her rather directly. Perhaps not the best thing, but choices were limited. There was little space in front of the alcove in which to work so straight-on was about the best we could do. In addition, the choice to go with the 9-foot tall light stand paid off handsomely as the alcoves were all about three or so feet off the ground. Add to those three feet a five-foot-plus model and you can quickly deduce the extra height was a wise choice. Well…. see for yourself.

Not too shabby a spot, eh? And not to shabby a picture if I do say so myself.

This whole endeavor was really one giant experiment. Because this area was in shadow I knew some lighting would really help lift things nicely and help me avoid having to use apertures that were too big or shutter speeds too slow. Letting the camera meter the scene I would then dial down the flash in manual mode to some setting… say 1/4 power…. and shoot. Checking my results on the camera’s LCD screen I would, if needed (and I always needed) adjust the flash’s output up or down and try again.

This went on for maybe 45-minutes or so when I felt I had exhausted my model’s good natured willingness to pose and suggested we call it a day. It didn’t help that this mid-September day was touching upon 80F (26.7C) and I was getting tired of sweating (I don’t like photographing in the heat). But ultimately this was all a big test and I had felt things went about as well as one could expect and I’m not displeased with the overall results.

There was one minor incident which occurred very near the end of our shoot. I was standing closer to Jenna discussing what I wanted her to try next when this pained look quickly spread across her face. She raised her hand to point behind me and seemed to be trying to get words out, but they simply weren’t coming quickly enough. It wasn’t necessary though. My brain, being a bit more on-the-ball than usual, quickly surmised what was happening: the light stand was falling over!

And indeed it was. A small gust of wind had struck, and between the umbrella and the teetering height of the stand, it was just enough to topple my inexpensive, but priceless-to-me, light stand. I lept to grab the whole contraption and with no small amount of luck managed to capture it before it all crashed to the hard and merciless cement.

Crisis averted.

Unfortunately, Jenna and I were not able to get back out again for another try at this thing before our cold weather kicked in. She is a senior in high school and has an awful lot on her plate between courses, work and just being a teenager. However, my neighbor across the street, who offers violin lessons, has a student named Emily who I met the other day. She has this whole teen-hipster look and vibe going on and while it’s not quite my thing it does have a strong visual component. I offered her one of my quasi-business cards and asked if she’d like to model and she replied in the affirmative. I have yet to hear from her, but I remain hopeful I will once the holidays are put behind us.

I lied…

I admit it.

I lied.

I promised myself (and others) I would buckle down and get serious about writing on this here blog in a more regular fashion. I notice it’s been three-months to the day since my last entry.

(sigh)

Ok. I suck.

But the fact I suck isn’t really anything new, now is it? Nope. Not at all. It is, if I may borrow a bit of French, de rigueur for the likes of me. So this time I make no promises, but will instead attempt to rectify this problem by hopefully being more diligent. Oh well…. let’s get on to something photography-oriented, eh?

I learned something the other day. No. Let me clarify. I noticed something the other day and with any luck I will have learned something from it. Observe…

Downy Woodpecker

Not too bad a picture really. But it looks a bit soft. A bit grainy. And there-in lies the problem. There’s simply more noise/grain than I would prefer. But you have to imagine the shooting situation to better understand how I came to be shooting at ISO 800.

I ventured out the other morning as it was the first in which sunlight broke through the clouds in probably a week. With still fresh snow upon the ground I hit Aullwood Audubon Center and Farm (a convenient and short drive) early in morning in hopes of capturing some nice shots of the birds hanging out in the trees as they swooped to and from the various feeders.

Birds? Check. Sunlight? Check. What more does a photographer need?

Apparently a lot more.

To not spook the birds I elected to remain at a discreet distance and shoot with my 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 lens. I had tried my 70-200mm previously and it simply didn’t have the reach I needed. After all, these particular birds I was after are all pretty small. Chickadees, titmouse, nuthatch and downy woodpeckers are pretty small birds if you didn’t already know this. Naturally this meant I would be using almost exclusively the 400mm end of the lens and I anticipated plenty of crop & zoom back in front of the computer.

Now, being Winter the sun never gets particularly high in the sky and so it was there wasn’t a whole lot of great light. Add in the fact that when shooting at 400mm the rule of thumb is to work to keep your shutter speed at or above 1/400 of a second to mitigate camera shake or motion blur. Granted, I was using my monopod and had the lens image stabilization active, but to be on the safe side I adjusted my aperture to around f/9 or f/11 (I wanted to hit the sweet spot of the lens), which required me to bump up my ISO to 800 to make it all work.

ISO 800 compounded by the need to fairly heavily crop & zoom is not a winning combination in my opinion.

See?

White-breasted Nuthatch

Still… it was a nice way to spend a cold morning and with any luck I may actually remember this particular problem and work harder to get around it in the future.

But I wouldn’t bet on it.

Let there be light…

Notice I said “light”. As in singular.

Very exciting, eh?

Some months ago through the generosity of my parents I was able to purchase a basic indoor, two-light studio setup. Just the basics. Lights. Stands. Umbrellas. Light boxes. It’s nice. But I haven’t had a chance to use it. It is, after all, primarily made for photographing a human subject(s) and my then subject, the daughter, decided to do a one-eighty in terms of cooperation. Typical teen, eh?

And so my lovely kit has sat rather abandoned in the upstairs closet while I pondered what the devil to do about it all. But that’s not completely true. I sort-of knew what I needed to do: find a new model. But finding a model isn’t quite as easy as it sounds. Nevertheless I put my mind to it and a few months later (no surprise at the time line, right?) I contacted an acquaintance who has a daughter about my daughter’s age.

I have seen her daughter a handful of times at our community’s pool and across the street at my neighbor’s, where she receives violin lessons. She’s long and lean. Pretty, but not pretentious. And so it was I thought she might make for a good model. Her mother thought Jenna, that’s the daughter, would be interested and promised to speak with her about the idea. Soon thereafter I had my answer: Yes! Saints be praised, I had a new model.

I explained how I would like to do some outdoor work as well as indoors seeing how I had these nice lights and such and she was completely fine with it. Very good thought I. And so it was I scouted a few locations out-of-doors last weekend, settling upon one particular place where I sincerely hope we will find good shooting.

But during the course of my recee I discovered that lighting was a bit of an issue. Earlier in the day it would be far too sunny, but in the mid-afternoon it might be a tad too dark. Clearly some lighting would be helpful, but I couldn’t use what I had and while a camera-mounted flash can be better than nothing… let’s just say it’s not ideal.

A down & dirty strobist kit seemed the best way to go and as I already had the flash and umbrella I only needed a better stand (something more solid for working outdoors), an umbrella attachment device and some electronics to fire the flash. And so it was I found myself heading over to see my fav camera store guy and he hooked me up. Basic, but sturdy 9-foot light stand. Cheap (i.e. plastic) umbrella adapter (which he’ll swap for the better Manfrotto one when it’s again in stock – go Alex!). RPS radio flash firing electronics (more reliable than some of the others they carried, but no where near as nice or expensive as the Pocket Wizard stuff). And what may be the real winner is that I have a second flash in the house! I had completely forgotten about the small Nikon flash I purchased with my last film camera. Another stand, umbrella holder and electronics and I will have a two light kit!

And so now I’m ready to experiment. A model. A capable, if modest portable light kit. A location. I’m hoping for great things and I don’t mind if that great thing is simply knowledge (as in what NOT to do!)