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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And so it begins…

Solo Photo Book Month.

31-consecutive days to create a PDF book for upload to the SoFoBoMo site. Said book containing at least 35-newly taken pictures.

Text? If you’d like.

Fancy or plain? Doesn’t matter.

It’s something to do. Something to try. A new way to express myself centered around photography, but creating something more than a finished JPEG for upload to Flickr.

And so it was I began photographing on Thursday.

As these books typically revolve around a theme of some sort I opted to go with one close to my heart: the feral and homeless cats. It’s a shame I cannot use the plethora of pictures I already have, but that isn’t the purpose of the project. Not that I have any objection regarding taking more photographs of the cats, but there is a difference between just snapping pics because I want to versus needing to.

But that doesn’t mean I don’t get some nice shots anyway.

I have already noticed a difference in my temperament regarding shooting as a need: I’m not real patient.

I suppose part of the issue is that I feel I will need to spend more time on the book creation part than the principal photography so there is an impetus to get the photography out of the way, so to speak. However, like most any creative process (and undoubtedly photography is a creative process) there will be great days and not-so-great days. These first two days have provided some good pictures, but not as many as I had hoped for.

Granted, part of the problem is lighting. Specifically: the lack thereof.

As the homeless and feral cats live in a small wood and as this time of the year the wood is in full-leaf there is not a whole lot in the way of light on the forest floor, where the cats reside. Certainly shooting at higher ISO’s is possible, but it’s not exactly what I had in mind for quality photos for this project. Still.. not all has been lost.

It occurred to me I should submit the idea to SoFoBoMo for having these projects sprinkled through at least three portions of the year. This way those who elect to participate are not trapped into one season and one season only, such as we are currently. For my purposes mid- to late-Autumn would be a far more ideal time as sunlight reaches the forest floor quite readily with the disappearance of the leaves. There is also the problem of it being particularly warm to hot at this time of the year meaning we photographers who elect to work outside find ourselves sweating for our work.

Blech. (oh… and not to mention the issue with mosquitos, which are a major issue at this time of the year)

So I snapped almost 200-pictures in two days and of that I felt maybe 5 were real keepers for the project. Granted…I kept more than that: 63. But I kept those additional 58 only because I may find myself in need of them to make this project work as principal photography time winds down and book creation gears up.

However, while I was becoming rather frustrated with the natural light situation in the wood, it occurred to me that I could try to rectify the situation by introducing some of my own lighting. While this may require fiddling about and experimenting a bit, and thus costing me valuable shooting time, it may be a solution to my lighting problem.

Bringing my own lighting could help immensely in getting the shots I both want and need for the project. Sure… things aren’t so bad without the addition of lighting…

But instead of shooting a bunch of pictures and having to dump 95% of them simply because there is blur (thanks to camera shake and/or moving subject), I could salvage a lot of those shots and then find myself in the enviable position of having to select the best composed and framed instead. Not such a bad deal after all.

Of course it does mean making some decisions about what is both useful and practical in regard to bringing in some lighting. I could go with the most basic and simple solution: on-camera flash. Let the camera make all the decisions and hope for the best. Or I could shoot as I typically do (aperture-priority) and shoot the flash manually, just adding fill. Or so I hope.

Or I could take it a step further and bring my portable light kit with me and drag around a light stand, umbrella and electronics in hopes of getting the most effective use of my flash. While this route sounds very appetizing for what it could bring to the picture quality it also has the horrible down-side of meaning dragging a bunch of equipment through a wood rife with shrubs, trees, thorny-things, etc.

I confess it sounds like more work than it may be worth.

I suppose the solution is to try the on-camera options and see what results I can obtain. Ultimately I want great photos, but I must temper this desire with expediency as well.

Such is the life of a photographer, eh?

Theme update…

Damn.

I’ve been using the same theme since the day I began this blog so long ago. Hold it… how long ago was it?

I opened up on 19 February, 2008.

Wow.

I knew I had started this thing not too long after purchasing my first dSLR (in December 2007), but it doesn’t really feel as if it has been almost 3.5 years. That’s longer than most every job I’ve held!

Anyway… Don’t think this change is change for the sake of change. Nope. Nothing that banal. I’m comfortable with… well… comfortable. I don’t usually feel the need to mix things up if only because I have that urge. Instead, this change has been brought about for a couple of reasons.

First, I had grown weary of the font size on my original theme (which was, if you weren’t around previously): a white-on-black theme. It was a smaller-sized font and this made it tiring to read at length in my opinion. Seeing how the blog is mine my opinion does have some weight and merit.

Second, and perhaps related to font size, was the problem with colour-shift of the font. It was common to notice a slight greying of the white letters at the periphery of my vision and while my eyes may now be 46-plus years old I remain 20/20. I can only imagine how irritating it may have been for others venturing to this online tome.

Third, and again related to font size, I have recently purchased a new laptop, which is actually a 13.5-inch variant as opposed to my previous laptops all being 15.6-inches. This had the unfortunate affect of making the already smallish font appear even smaller on this smaller screen. And as I do most of my postings for WP on the laptop… well…

Fourth and finally, besides wanting to address the font issues I wanted a theme which appeared simpler. Neater. Cleaner. Lighter. The dark white-on-black looked and felt heavy. While I have liked it up until very recently my opinion had changed of late and I believe I would have made this change even without the font issues.

However, while fiddling with the various options available to this WP theme I noted a handful of upgrades which could be had for a price. For instance, there is an option to alter both the font and font sizes for the header, titles and text. Cool. But it’s $30/year. Personally that seems a bit steep to me, but I am curious.

I have no intention of becoming a coder so that I can make my own blog, etc., preferring to leave such matters to the experts at WordPress. But I’m not certain I can justify $30/year for font creativity just so that I can more personalize my blog. Yet… I am intrigued and wonder if the $30/year price is per blog or per account. This is important because I have more than one WP blog, but they are all under one account. It would seem to me a more reasonable expense if I were able to utilize such across multiple blogs.

I think I’ll check into that.

So there you go. New theme. New style. Hell… I even changed my header picture to something different just to mix things up a bit. Just a bit. Oh! And since this is a blog dedicated to photography, how about a photo?

The Daughter

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!)

Just So Much….

Damn if things haven’t been exciting lately. Well…. photography wise they have been exciting. Around the house has been much less so, what with the death of the compressor for the HVAC system. Say goodbye to USD3,224!

Shit.

Oh well…. at least it didn’t die during the depths of winter or middle of summer, right?! Bright side…. gotta look on the bright side.

(sigh)

But what about photography, eh? “Exciting stuff?” you say. Hell yeah! I barely have enough time to get through any of it, but here we go….

Just enjoyed the fifth of ten online & free photography classes via http://www.creativelive.com. In hindsight I will confess that the first four classes really felt more like ones oriented towards helping someone trying to decide what dSLR camera to purchase (four-thirds, APS, full-frame, etc.). They were informative, but really didn’t cover the things for which I was hoping. That isn’t to say I didn’t learn things. Nope. I clearly did. Those first courses helped reiterate things I knew and had right; further explained things I knew, but didn’t understand fully; and introduced me to information I hadn’t yet seen or read elsewhere. But in the end I believe (and hope) that it is the upcoming courses that will really provide me with more information, which I hope to use in the field. (Update: After reviewing this post-uploading I realized I didn’t say things quite the way I meant. The first four classes were very informative about modern digital SLRs and how to use them (and lenses). I think it felt more like review for me because most of what was covered was already known to me. I still say the classes would be very, very helpful to anyone looking to get into modern dSLR photography, but I’m afraid I made it sound like the courses weren’t as useful as they could have been. Truth is they were useful, but I’m not quite a newbie and these courses were intended for such. This latest course on Exposure was much more informative and handy and as such I anticipate future courses to also be such and less review-like.)

For some time I have coveted a strobist lighting setup so that I could branch out into lighting. I preferred the strobist route if only because you can go strobist both indoors and outdoors, and I had plans for some outdoor portrait/model type work. Alas, that route was simply too expensive for me on my own or for my benefactor. So what does one do when they money isn’t there? Well, you go cheap and take what you can get!

Lights!

My benefactor was able to spring for a basic studio flash kit (USD500) to help me get started and while this kills off the versatility of shooting outdoors it DOES give me the opportunity to: (1) learn about lighting, (2) do some nice model/portraiture work, and (3) do a better job lighting-wise than I have been able to do thus far. The nice thing about this particular kit is that not only does it come with lights, umbellas, etc., but a bonus set of soft boxes and mounting brackets. Now I have four soft boxes…… which means I need to figure out what to do with them all! And that’s a good thing….. I like learning new stuff.

Next up to bat is a quick mention regarding some auto racing shots I took two weekends ago. Actually…. they weren’t really racing as it was one of those test and tune events, which is really neither here nor there. Cars. On the track. Going round quickly. But I’m going to save my thoughts and reactions to this event for another distinct post so you will just have to wait for a bit.

Now a quick change of gears to the Apple iPhone. One of which I own. Lovely device. And one of the bigger markets of apps is the photography arena. Many apps in the App Store are geared towards editing and/or processing your shots. But of late I’ve discovered that there are a number of utility-type apps, which are meant to help photographers with the process of creating shots. One area that concerns me in particular is depth of field.

I shoot almost exclusively in Aperture Priority mode. For me controlling the depth of field is a more important aspect of the way I prefer to shoot and how I like my images to come out. It’s what I like, so it’s what I do. However, depth of field is kind-of a hit or miss issue in photography. For any given aperture setting, millimeter focal setting and distance to subject one can change the depth of field in an image, but knowing what will and won’t be in focus is often a guess.

Sure, there is the depth of field preview button on our cameras, but I always found them to be relatively useless. And one can, of course, review the taken image via the LCD screen to see what is and isn’t in focus, but why guess and check afterwards when you can know in advance? Why indeed!

DoF Master (iPhone App)

Meet the DoFMaster app for the iPhone. It is one of about eight I reviewed in the App Store and selected it based upon favourable reviews and it’s simple nature. I confess to better liking the UI of another app, but I’ll try this one for a while and see how it works. If I’m disappointed I’m only out the price of a candy bar, so what the hell. I’ll report back later on my experiences with this app.

And finally, my dear readers, I had an unusual experience a few months back when my Canon 40D was displaying an icon I had never seen before in the LCD panel atop the camera. Confused and without my user’s guide I consulted the Internet via my cell phone and found a PDF version of the user’s guide, which I bookmarked and browsed in an attempt to solve the mystery of the icon. Jump forward to yesterday when I again had need of the user’s guide, but couldn’t find such here at the house. (Why it wasn’t where it should have been is a bit of a mystery as I’m usually very good ’bout these things)

“No prob,” think I as I still have the PDF site bookmarked in my cell phone and to the iPhone I go. Pull up the site, which even on the Wi-Fi takes a few seconds and then begin scrolling through the document. Scrolling ever so slowly. Painfully slowly. Especially slowly seeing how the page I need is nearer the end of the manual.

Damn irritating to be frank, which is sort-of funny considering how amazing this whole experience really is when you think about it.

Anyway…. I quickly realize that the secret to getting through this PDF document is to have it stored on my iPhone as a PDF and view it in a PDF viewing app. A few minutes later I have found and downloaded the free GoodReader Lite by Good.iWare. While free it is limited to five PDF documents, but who am I kidding? That’s just fine by me! Say hello to the reader…

GoodReader (Lite)

I follow the directions within the app to pull the relevant PDF file from the Internet and attach it to the app. Now I’m cooking….. The app provides all the sorts of benefits of a PDF reader that simply didn’t exist when viewing the PDF in Safari. I can turn pages one by one. I can rapidly scroll through the document. I can view in portrait or landscape mode. It really is quite amazing. And for free!

Seeing how I always have my cell phone with me I now always have my camera’s user’s guide with me. Sure, I don’t need it often, but I’m not out anything to have it on-hand 24/7/365. Amazing…. really amazing. If you own a camera AND a phone which can save & view PDFs then this is a brilliant way to have important information at your fingertips at a moments notice.

Going Pro….

Over on my Flickr stream a regular commentator…. um….. commented that a pro photographer is someone who gets paid for their work. A rather simplistic viewpoint, but one that is probably a cornerstone of importance and I’m rather confident he did not intend for it to be the sole criteria by which we define “pro”.

Naturally his comment got me to thinking about what it means to really be a professional photographer. Certainly being paid for such… making a living via photography… should be a requisite for being called professional, but I have a hard time believing that it is nothing more than the exchange of cash for images that represents the sum total of professional photography.

But when I think hard upon the subject of how do we define a professional there are a number of typical responses that come to mind: education; experience; accreditation; membership in supporting organizations; and, of course, getting paid for the work. Not necessarily a comprehensive list, but I have to start somewhere.

And so it comes to be that I, yes I, have been asked to do some photography work. For money. And let me assure you that the word “pro” or “professional” would never, ever pass these lips (or fingers as I type) when it comes to describing me and photography.

Yet here I am.

I have entered into a tentative agreement to photograph some five to ten landscape projects for a local landscaping company in exchange for cash. The whole thing is rather surreal to be frank.

It came about quite by accident (as these things often do) as a neighbor and close friend was having some landscaping work done to their back garden. During the job the landscape company owner made an off-hand comment to her how he would like to start taking pictures of his work for the website he had recently put up and while he could do it himself he didn’t feel up to the task.

Now this friend and neighbor knows very well about my photography habit and has had me do some minor photography related things for her and her family, so she immediately put my name and phone number into his hands.

He eventually contacted me about photographing my friend’s back garden after he had completed the work, which I did. I snapped pics, processed and got them off to him right away. In my e-mail I discussed how the pictures could have been better were I to have availed myself to sunlight found earlier or much later in the day, but that my intent was to get something into his hand right away such that he could determine which views looked best to him. I even offered to reshoot those particular views at better times of the day if he wished.

I further explained a handful of issues regarding landscape photography that I have picked up over the past two years and was adamant that he understand I’ve never done this sort of work before, but here is how I would tackle such.

Apparently my e-mail was enough to impress him such that he has asked for me to put together a proposal on what I would charge for the work. Oddly enough I’m more worked up about the pricing than I am the actual work.

Taking the pictures will be something new and different, but I have no doubt I will be able to handle it. This is all part of the new and improved Forkboy, brimming with confidence and a can-do attitude. However, I have zero ideas about how to price such a gig. Less than zero actually. And this is proving to be frustrating.

I clearly do not want to do the work too cheaply as that simply isn’t fair to me because I do bring to the table some knowledge and skill. Neither do I wish to charge something that is unreasonable because that isn’t the way I work. But without any prior experience upon which to base a decision I find myself completely confused.

And I doubt a paid pro should be confused.

It was bound to happen one day…

Lately I’m behind in all matters regarding photography. I haven’t quite gotten hold of the manner in which Lightroom likes to organize my files and this is frustrating me to no end. I guess I could read the manual a bit, but I wasn’t looking to have to read about file management damn it! This is, in part, why I avoided purchasing such software. I was quite happy with my own system and it served me well. Now I have a robust piece of software that thinks it is helping me, but thus far it, in conjunction with some bone-headed moves of my own, has just made life unexpectedly more complicated.

And then there was the trip to Aullwood Gardens I undertook early last week. I had been charging my camera’s battery expressly for the photo shoot, yet walked right out the door without having grabbed the now fully charged battery. Of course I didn’t realize I had left behind the battery until after I had arrived at the gardens, grabbed all my gear, surveyed the gardens (for maybe 20-minutes) and selected the shots I wanted to take. Setting up the tripod I was humming a little tune to myself and thinking about how lovely was the day and how nice it would be to capture some nice close-ups of the blooming flowers. Imagine my surprise when I turned on the camera, but nothing happened.

And never let it be said that Mother Nature doesn’t have it in for me as well. A few days later (late last week) I returned to Aullwood Gardens so that I might finally snap some pictures, and while walking from the parking lot at Englewood MetroPark I came across a very large blue heron standing quite serenely in the Stillwater River. It was close enough that with my 100-400mm I should have been able to grab a supreme picture. Supreme I say. So I quietly and quickly broke out the tripod and got it set up. I broke out the camera and swapped into place the 100-400mm lens and mounted same to the tripod. And JUST as I framed my shot and considered which aperture I wished to use the damn thing took off. It’s a good thing there were no small children within ear shot.

However, not all is completely lost for I did not yet know that I had some nice heron shots, but from a completely different outing and camera:

IMG_0225

Two weeks ago I had ventured to the east banks of the Stillwater River where it runs through the Englewood MetroPark (part of the Five Rivers MetroParks district here in the Dayton, Ohio area). I had with me my Canon Rebel XTi and was hoping to capture some shots of mallards feeding near or along the banks and shoreline. Instead I was treated to a sole heron who was slowly making its way in the river not some 50-yards or so from shore. One thing I have learned about herons is that they are fairly skittish birds and if one sees a heron one should start snapping as soon as possible. With this mantra in mind I trained my camera upon it and fired away. I wound up with a series of photos like the above and below:

IMG_0263

I confess that I didn’t think much of the pictures as I looked over them on the tiny LCD screen attached to the back of the camera, but once I was home and had the images opened in Lightroom (and on a nicely sized 24-inch iMac screen) I was much more impressed. Quite impressed to be frank. The low sun was creating great reflections off the water and left the heron in silhouette. My only criticism of the series that look like the first above picture was that too often the heron’s head disappeared into the black area of water just above it. In the end, of the eight or so I took this was the only one where the head was clearly separate from the water. I guess I should clarify though…there was another issue with the picture, but it didn’t rise to the level of problem and that was the strong glare of sunlight off the water.

Fortunately for me I’m finally getting a handle on the use of the Graduated Filter effect in Lightroom and was able to use such to decrease the exposure in a limited area of the image. I was able to keep the colour and strength of the reflected sunlight without the completely over-exposed nature of it. I used this to good effect in both of the above pictures, working the left-side of the above image.

It was also during this scouring of the banks in hopes of photographic opportunity that I came across this reflection in the water:

IMG_0274

I snapped the picture less because I thought it was photo-worthy (in terms of its impact), but more because of what it said to me in that moment in time. The long thin cloud is actually a contrail from a passing jet and I was having these thoughts about how strange it was that I was watching the plane and its passengers flying off to who-knows-where to do who-knows-what, but that I was sharing this moment with them from afar. In the end I like the photograph, but I’m more intrigued by the moment itself.

Finally, there was this:

IMG_0248

I don’t know about anyone else, but I really enjoy this photo. I had taken position behind a tree in hopes that a couple of nearby mallard ducks would make their way towards me. While standing there waiting for the ducks I noticed this single strand of spider web gently rocking in the soft breeze. I soon became semi-mesmerized by this solitary strand and eventually realized that it was, at least for me, photo-worthy. I switched the lens to manual focus and made the shot. I’m quite pleased with it to be honest. It speaks to me. Unfortunately though I’ve learned from experience that those pictures which speak to me do not usually speak to others. I wonder why that is?