Things in life…

They say there are two things in life of which one may be certain: death and taxes. I’d like to add a third: not working on your blog.

Clearly I’m guilty of such.

As this is a blog dedicated to my adventures in photography one may be forgiven for thinking I had given up photography. And some would further suggest this isn’t such a bad idea! However, they would be wrong. Wrong about my having given up photography, but not about it being a good idea.

I have, actually, been snapping pictures and such ever since my last post regarding the birds in the snow. That was, I might add, a glorious day. One for the record books. And as is my wont I have been all over the place photography-wise. I’ve snapped more pics of the feral and homeless cats I feed and watch over. I’ve snapped some using the daughter and her friend as models. And, of course, there have been birds, flowers, landscapes, etc. I’ve pretty much covered all my usual bases.

Hell.. I even attended a Scott Kelby seminar in Indianapolis, Indiana with my camera store guru and new friend Alex. It was titled “Light It, Shoot It, Re-Touch It”. It was fun and cool and very exciting. Also a bit baffling as I don’t use Photoshop, which is the software he was using for the seminar. Even more bizarre was that I was the grand prize winner of an all-access pass to Photoshop World being held in Las Vegas this coming September. Absolutely wild it was. A room filled with over 500 professional photographers and I, the non-Photoshop using hobbiest, walk away with the grand prize.

Who would have thunk it?

Though all this background information does nothing to explain why I haven’t been posting. I wish I could offer a reasonable or useful explanation, but I have none. Unmotivated? Surely. Lazy? Without doubt. Lacking guidance? Of course.

But if pressed to offer a real reason… if pressed to truly weigh and consider why it is I haven’t been posting for a while I think I would point to two reasons:

1) The situation at home. Meaning, the continued lack of gainful employment coming my way (regardless of the number of resumes I’ve been sending out) and the low-level tension which exists between myself and my ex-wife-to-be. Mind you, we get along just fine. Our problem was never one of fighting or anything like that. The tension comes from simply having to continue living together while anxiously waiting for something good to happen to/for me in the job market so we can get the ball of divorce rolling, so to speak.

2) A lack of direction related to photography.

Point 1 is simply no within the purview of this blog so I shall not venture forth and illuminate you to the particulars in that matter, but I can speak here to point 2.

I enjoy snapping pictures. I really do. I do it almost daily. If not with my dSLR I’m certain to play shutterbug with my cell phone. Hey… a photograph is a photograph regardless of the device used to take it. And while I have no problem with being a basic and generic shutterbug I had hoped… maybe expected… that by now something in particular would have shown itself to be the sort of photography I wished to focus upon.

I don’t know why. I mean, I don’t know why I felt that need at all. Maybe it’s a normal and logical conclusion to which to arrive when one undertakes a new hobby. That at some point in the future the hobby will become more sharply focused. More specific. That it will cease to be something simple and become something more complex. Something which requires more time and dedication and in which one feels as if they are growing within the confines and context of said hobby.

But why does it have to be that way? I suppose it doesn’t. Regardless it is the way I feel and since it’s my hobby and my blog and my life, why shouldn’t I live it the way I feel regardless of how it appears to only add anxiety and complexity where none is necessary?

So where does this leave me exactly? Where am I and what are my plans? My intentions? My concerns and needs?

Fuck all if I know.

I almost wonder if I’m holding back, intentionally or otherwise, simply because I feel as if the rest of my life is on hold. Waiting for a job. Waiting for a divorce. Waiting for finding a new place to live and starting over on my own. Perhaps these up-in-the-air issues are thwarting my attempts to move forward with photography? Or maybe it’s simpler than that. Maybe I’m just not certain where to go. What to do.

Hell… I still have a terrible record at figuring out which of my own pictures is better than the rest. I’m still regularly amazed at the reaction I will get to one photograph on flickr, while another, one I think is great, garners little to no attention. For example, I posted the following two pictures a few weeks ago:

The first picture, of my cat Pumpkin sunning himself at the front door, generated 43-views and 6-separate comments. The second picture, of a mallard at a local park, generated 26-views and 1-comment.

The picture of Pumpkin was just a whim. Just me enjoying snapping a photo of one of my cats doing what they do best: getting some sun. The one of the mallard was me doing what I love best: snapping pics of nature. Especially of animals and birds in particular. I worked hard that particular afternoon to grab a handful of good shots of the male and female mallards enjoying the early spring/late winter day at the pond. And I worked hard to narrow down the field of photos until I had what I thought were the best of the best. And this one… this one in particular really stood out for me.

Tack-sharp. Gorgeous colours. A perfect profile.

In my mind the mallard was a winner. Hands down. Should have been favourited and commented upon and loved by all. Instead it was the everyday shot of a cat in the sun which generated the far greater response. What the hell is wrong with me that I don’t see this? Am I too close to my own work to recognize what’s better? I’m I prejudiced to think less of the casual snap of the cat because I didn’t ‘work’ for it? Am I simply incapable of recognizing something basic and fundamental about the images that would have told me the picture of Pumpkin would be the more popular?

For someone who sometimes entertains the notion of trying to sell one’s work it’s very disconcerting to find oneself incapable of recognizing what may be the better work (at least when based upon viewers preferences).

So… where does this leave me at this time? Am I going to continue with this blog? I’d like to think so. I confess to having an idea for another blog, one which I believe is much closer to my heart, but I am concerned that if I cannot remain dedicated to this one why would I be dedicated to another even if it is something more important to me (the subject, not blogging itself)? It’s a dilemma and is, in part, the reason I have yet to commit to starting it.

As if life isn’t messy enough without me trying to make it more so. What a putz.


A Roller Coaster of Indecision

A review of my posts to this oft-neglected blog would reveal a picture of a character who appears completely uncertain of their abilities and/or talents. This, to be frank, describes me perfectly. Lacking confidence… the world is the proverbial ‘glass half empty’… That’s just the way I roll. But I’m trying to do something about that. Taking charge…. trying to see the glass half full instead of the preferred route of half empty…. imagining better outcomes. It is very much an uphill battle.

But lately I have adopted something more of a can-do; take-charge; damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead mentality. And this is a major turn around mentally as it was only a few months back (during the holidays) that I had become very certain it was time to give up on this photography caper…. this photography “lark” as a certain friend is fond of saying.
The reasons were numerous. And almost exclusively shit.

Self-defeating. Self-deprecating. Woe is me. Just pure, 100% fucking bullshit. I tell you I was this close (thumb and fore-finger spread a centimeter apart) to packing up my camera equipment and shipping it off to another friend, who undoubtedly would have put it to far better use than I. However, as the holidays passed I had to make a day-trip to Chicago as part of bringing another portion of my life to a close. And it was during the 12-hour round-trip drive I had loads of time to think. And to ponder. And to re-think and re-ponder. And maybe even wonder a little bit. It was during this trip I decided to stop being such a giant ass and do something about this unbearable situation.

I would get motivated. I would get back into doing photography related things. I would stop looking for excuses as to why I wasn’t doing something and just fucking do it.

And so here I am…. in front of the computer…. adding an entry to my long-neglected photography-related blog. But that’s not all! No!! I’ve already done some other things as well and I’m gonna spill the beans here and now and WOW! you with my steely resolve and dedication. Well…. that is….. if you’re still bothering to read this shit.

First: I bought some books. Not just any ‘ol books either: photography books. For the moment I’ll pass on revealing the author and titles, but suffice it to say I spent no small amount of time researching. I was looking for someone who wasn’t just going to give me a dry dissertation on photography, but someone who would make it feel fun again. I’ll let you know how that goes once I get into them, which will be soon after…

Second: I’m in a photography class. My local camera store, Click! Camera, offers two five-week series of courses designed to help aspiring photographers (hobbyists, not pros) come to grips with this lark. The first course, which started last week, covers the more basic aspects of photography of which I already feel rather certain of. That said, I view this as an opportunity to hopefully expand upon what I already know (or think I know) and to change in wrong information/ideas I might have. And in the meantime…

Third: I caught up with my contacts on Flickr. I regularly follow my contacts uploads and I’m not one who gives them a quick glance in thumbnail sizes. No sir. I open up an extra tab and look at them in slideshow and when I come across one where I wish to leave a comment I return to the previous tab, find the image and leave a comment. I am, if nothing else, a dedicated contact. Except that I wasn’t very dedicated for some months and it took almost an entire week of spending many hours each day in front of the computer to catch up. But I’m glad I did. I enjoy my contact’s pictures and I very much like many of my contacts (the ones with whom I have established a more personal relationship). It felt really good to be caught up.

Fourth: I have revamped my iMac, which is the computer I use for this photography caper. This doesn’t sound like much of anything, but trust me: it’s major. Back when I was working on my old desktop PC and using CaptureOne 4 for editing, etc. I was simply saving my pictures in folders based upon the date I transfered them to the computer from my memory cards. The system was simple, but not particularly helpful at keeping track of my pictures in any meaningful manner. When I purchased the iMac I also purchased Adobe’s Lightroom (v.2), which offered all sorts of options in regards to cataloguing, keywording, etc. To be fair, so did CaptureOne 4, but I had never taken advantage of such options. So not only have I revamped my entire library of photos (not completely true: I haven’t imported the older images edited in CaptureOne to Lr, but I will once I have decided how I want to do this), but I’m going through the slow and laborious process of adding keywords to every single freaking picture I have taken since about May of 2009. No joy, but it should be well worth the effort in the long-term.

Fifth: I entered some pictures into a photography contest! Okay….. this isn’t exactly something new for me as I did enter a picture into a local photography competition last year (taking 2nd place in my category I might add!) and I have entered a handful of pictures into the “Picture of the Week” competition that occurs at my local grocer, but this latest incident is different. Bigger. International. My wife and I regularly donate to an organization called Defenders of Wildlife and this year they are running a photo competition whereby you can enter up to five pics in each of two categories: wildlife and wild lands. As I don’t take much in the way of wild lands photographs I elected to enter the wildlife category, which fortunately for me includes insects! Below are the images I forwarded to the competition:

The important thing about the competition (besides the grand prize, which is a trip to Yellowstone National Park!) is that I entered. That I believed in the power of these particular images. That not entering means there was zero chance I could win, but that entering meant I could win. Sure… the likelihood is quite remote, but that’s not the point. There is some chance…. regardless of how small.

And it is this sort of reaching for what could happen that I need to latch on to. And run with it.

[Update: I just completed the second major process in the way I handle my pictures in Adobe Lightroom by adding keywords to over 1,300 images. What a load off my mind!]

Fear and loathing in Adobe…

It feels as if it has been an age since I posted anything to this WordPress blog. I guess it has been seeing how I usually post every week and yet have only posted twice since 18 March (some 25 days ago). But it’s not my fault….really. Events have conspired against me. Truly. My little side job requires that I finish off the bits and pieces I have before I take my work back to my client in about 10 days. The daughter and her emergency appendectomy. Waiting for the new photo-editing software to arrive. Waiting to find the courage to install said software. Yep. Courage to install software. Sounds pretty lame doesn’t it? Well suck on this for a minute before I explain…


I have discussed this before, but it begs for repeating: I’m afraid of Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop Elements. Believe me…no one is more surprised than I. I’ve always been one to jump head-first into new software. Always anxious to grab it by the neck and throttle it for all it’s worth. But for some reason I have been experiencing this incredible sense of trepidation when it comes to both Lightroom and Elements.

I’ve been using other photo editing software in the likes of Phase One’s Capture One 4 which I received for free with the purchase of a high end media card. It really is a nice bit of software: resource light, intuitive (for the most part), covers the basics well, and has an user’s guide one could read in an hour on a Sunday afternoon. Lightroom? The first hint it might be a powerful programme is one looks at the retail price of USD300. The second hint is the pdf of the user’s guide, which weighs in at 175 pages. The third hint can be found at the Adobe website, where one can find what seems like a million or more web pages dedicated just to using Lightroom. Yet, why should this cause me any hesitancy? I’ve used other applications that have large user’s guides and the like, but for whatever reason, this is different.


And then there is Elements! At least Lightroom only took a minute or two to install on the new iMac. Elements took something akin to ten minutes! And talk about intimidating! Over 300 pages can be found stuffed into the user’s guide. THREE HUNDRED! And, of course, there are tonnes of pages dedicated to Elements on the Adobe site, etc.

In a way I think part of the problem is that I don’t even know where to begin. Sure, one can open the user’s guide pdf and start plowing through, but that is, unfortunately, boring. Capture One 4 was so light and basic in comparison that it was difficult to go wrong. And even though one can fix “wrong” with Lightroom or Elements, it just feels far more intimidating to begin with.

Regardless, I finally took the plunge and installed both applications to the new iMac. I also took the liberty of watching a fistful of introductory videos on the Adobe site in relation to Lightroom. Just the first few so that I would have a clearer idea of how to import, catalogue, and develop pictures so that I could clear my camera’s media card and get some shit uploaded to Flickr.


So my first experience with Lightroom went reasonably well. Everything imported just fine. I was able to make the changes I wished without too much difficulty or fussing about. I was even able to make use of the Graduated Filter feature without much difficulty….at least on two images. A third one never worked correctly and so I abandoned the effect. Oh well. On the whole I will consider this to have been a reasonable success what with me just dabbing my toes into the waters of Lightroom. So to speak.


But now comes the really hard part…integrating pictures into Elements and getting creative!

I’m so fucked.

Too many damn choices

The moment struck me like a ton of bricks. I guess I really knew it all along, but I really hadn’t thought much about it. Sure, the camera has a bazillion settings and options, but what would I do with them all? And who needs them when photo editing software does so very many cool things? But is that really the story?


The answer is no. Or at least that is the conclusion to which I am arriving. I hadn’t really considered the meaningful differences between the various photo-editing software that are available and that come with the purchase of a digital camera (whether the camera is a point-n-shoot or dSLR). Since acquiring my Canon 40D dSLR I have been primarily using one bit of software by which to work on the RAW image files and that software has been Capture One 4. It was free with the purchase of some higher-end Compact Flash cards from SanDisk (my trusted name in flash media) and I can say that I have very much enjoyed using it. It’s not resource hungry. It’s rather intuitive. It does a lot of things, but isn’t as robust as Photoshop Elements (or any of the even more robust suites like Lightroom or CS3). What it does and does well is let me tweak (as one of my Flickr mates likes to say) my RAW image to get from it what I want. But I didn’t fully understand its own limitations until just the other day.


It was after my Woodland Cemetery photo shoot that I came across something I hadn’t anticipated. The shots I had taken with the in-camera monochromatic setting were showing up as colour images in Capture One 4. Huh? I opened the resource-hungry Photoshop Elements 6 and found the same odd results. More huh. Baffled I elected to do something I hadn’t done yet, not in the almost 11-months I had owned my Canon 40D: try using the supplied Canon software.


When I opened what I knew were monochromatic images (that is, shot in monochromatic) in the Canon software, monochromatic images appeared on my computer monitor. As a matter-of-fact, not only did the images appear as I thought they should I found that the software had editing tools that matched the in-camera settings (at least in regards to the various Picture Styles, filters and tones). I could, for example, now take my shot-in-monochromatic images and change the Picture Style from monochrome to Standard, Portrait, Landscape, etc. and suddenly I was looking at a colour version of my formerly monochromatic image. It was at this moment I realized the true potential of the Canon-supplied software: what it may lack in other photo-editing abilities it made up for in the ability to alter the image at a very fundamental level. I really should have realized this all along, but I hadn’t.

In part my lack of understanding comes from not having played with the Canon-supplied software. But there is also at play a misconception in my own mind as to what software could do with a RAW image file and I think that this misconception is more at the heart of my misunderstanding than anything else.

This entire incident has really left me in a mild state of anxiety. Suddenly I’m confronted with a whole host of issues directly related to how to use the various software suites in my possession as well as which suites to use based upon what outcome for which I’m looking. Suddenly just tweaking images can effectively be done in either Capture One 4 or the Canon-supplied software, but with neither having a clear advantage over the other, yet both having what I perceive to be advantages when compared to Elements, LR, CS3, etc. (at least in regards to tweaking).

Between the host of in-camera settings (which are, in no small part, meaningless seeing how I can change damn near most things with the Canon-supplied software, short of shutter speed and aperture), the Canon software, and a bevy of third-party software suites it’s too much to ponder.

Suddenly that lovely JPEG-only-shooting Canon A630 point-n-shoot is beginning to look pretty sweet…..

On settings and sunlight

The other day I took to the great outdoors to snap some pictures. I had two stops planned: a local cemetery (with some local Flickr mates) and some sunset shots through trees at a spot not far from my house. While sitting at the cemetery waiting for the others to arrive I spent a few minutes on the phone with my local camera shop guy, Alex. He suggested that while I was out shooting, Autumnal colours in part, I might want to play and experiment with the monochrome setting built into my Canon 40D. Furthermore he suggested I mix things up a bit with the various filter and tone settings within the monochrome set-up.


Don’t get me wrong…..I like experimentation. But I usually prefer experimentation to come with a bit of fore-knowledge. You know…some sense that I have a partial idea of what the hell I’m doing with the various settings, etc. and what will be the outcome of such experimentation. This is because when you don’t know what the devil you’re doing one winds up with things like this


which is a monochromatic picture that is…..well…..monochromatic. Exciting stuff, eh? Maybe colour makes more sense in this situation anyway?


I haven’t yet had time to go through my much more numerous images from the cemetery shoot, but I have looked at them as off-camera JPEGs just to have an idea of what I have for my efforts. During the course of my perusal I discovered something unusual: I had more pictures I wanted to KEEP than I wanted to toss.


Is this possible? How could this be? Who are you and what happened to the real Mark? Yeah, really and truly strange. I don’t yet know what this means either. I don’t know if it means I really need to go through them more carefully and then I will find plenty more to discard or if this could possibly mean I actually took more care of what and when I actually snapped the shutter release. Or maybe it’s a bit of both?

Perish the thought mind you. We cannot have this sort of thing, now can we?

Just do it

Not too long ago I was posting comments upon a Flickr account belonging to a gentleman who takes exceptional photos of nature. Besides the usual “Gorgeous photo,” type comments I had also, on occasion, stated how lucky he was to have such a great place to take pictures. It was as if nature had rained down upon him the blessings of beautiful and abundant scenery such that all he had to do was walk out his door, point his camera in any direction, press the shutter release button, and voila: instant gorgeous image.

I hated him.

Eventually there sprang from my commentary some e-mails from him discussing how it comes to be that he gets these incredible shots. He also states how it would appear that I too have some wonderful places where I could be taking pictures and went through the bother to send me the URLs for a few public parks in my general area. I must say I was both excited and depressed. Excited because he took the time to see through my commentary (to get to what I was really saying) and depressed because he helped expose me to myself.

His communication helped me to see how I was being self-defeating. This self-defeating nature comes as no surprise to me as I am, no doubt, more of the “Glass is half-empty,” sort. And there are other things that have been going on in my life of late that have helped fuel the fire of this self-defeating nature. His thoughtful words helped me to see that I didn’t have to continue with my self-defeating nature, but more importantly the insights he provided helped propel myself into thinking that I’m not creating total rubbish here. Clearly this photography lark, if I want to be better at it, requires work and that what appears to be done so effortlessly on sites like his is actually a lot of hard work and experience gained over years of involvement in photography.

Armed with inspiration from his kind and thoughtful communications I vowed to work harder at this photography thing. And inspiration came to my aid the other day when I was walking out of my local Best Buy and saw the most glorious sunset I have seen in some time (other than through images on Flickr – we’re talking in-person here). While there wasn’t enough time to run home and grab my camera kit I promised to venture forth the next evening and capture some of the wonder that is the late evening sky around here.


And you know what happened? It was rubbish! But that’s okay. The sky the night before had been clear of clouds, yet looked to be ablaze in a light that could pierce your brain. Of course, a photograph taken from the Best Buy would have been awful, what with the parking lot, light polls and other businesses on the horizon. So the next night I adjourned to another local spot where I thought I might be able to capture the glory of the setting sun. But it didn’t go that well as evidenced by the image above. The tall corn was in the way of the horizon. The sun too low already. And there is no place around here that doesn’t have a large outcropping of trees within 1,000 yards (no flat and tree-less plains around here!). But I remain undeterred. I enjoyed the experience. I hope I gained a modicum of knowledge from the excursion. And I managed a few decent pictures, but nothing to get excited about.

Again, based in no small part upon the advice and inspiration supplied by the most-kind gentleman, I sought a new place to take pictures and settled upon John Bryan State Park (Ohio), which came recommended to me by my fav salesperson at my local camera store. This too was an episode of mixed results.


I trekked about the park, always uncertain of where I was as I had not procured a map of the park’s hiking trails, in search of something interesting to photograph. The truth is that I didn’t find that much in the great scheme of things. Being at the end of a long and rather rainless summer the Little Miami River, which runs through the park, was very low and subsequently rather boring. In addition, the summer foliage goes far in blocking views of various things (the river, rock outcroppings, etc.) that may have been of interest to photograph. Furthermore, where the hiking trails ran close to the river one couldn’t get down to the bank to try any photography as there were signs posted all over the place asking folks to stay on the trail. And finally, the park was rather busy that particular Sunday and as such the wildlife (mostly birds, squirrels and chipmunks) was rarely spotted thanks to the heavy foot traffic and more noisy of the visitors.

But this too didn’t get to me, too much.


I told myself when I first arrived at the park that I would spend time just looking around and take only a few photos (which I did). This was mostly a recce trip to put into my brain ideas for future visits. It’s all about putting in some work. Some patience. Giving things time to happen, but never giving up. Getting to intimately know the places where you like to shoot so that you can make the most of each visit. So maybe I have learned something of late…..and that feels good.

Thanks John.

Family time

It isn’t often that I post pics of the family. Part of the reason for this is because I do not see members of my family on a frequent basis; other than my wife and daughter. It is also because I’m not certain that my Flickr site is the place where I want to place such images. But why not? Especially when they look this good:

Grandma & Aunt Karen

I’ve had this notion, right or wrong, that my Flickr account is for something other than family photos. I really cannot explain how or why I have this idea stuck in my head, but I know it is there. If I had to take some guesses I suppose I could argue that it was never my intent to use my Flickr account to post images of family get-togethers. That my Flickr account wasn’t meant for the casual (i.e. ‘record’ type) image, but more for the purpose of expressing myself through photography. (from my photostream it is pretty clear I’m communicating about as well as a 6-year old with a bad meth habit)

It could also be that I don’t think folks who regularly visit my site will be interested in seeing these members of my family. After all, there is nothing to connect the viewer to the photograph. Pictures of nature are fairly universal. Same goes for wildlife and such. But family pics seem somehow different. While we all have families I don’t think we connect as readily to photographs of strangers unless they are intended as such (like the street photography found at I Didn’t Mean to Go to Stoke).

Aunt Karen at Grandma's (3)

Regardless of the ‘feeling’ that I have that I shouldn’t upload these pictures, I have done so anyway. And I can think of two reasons why I wish to do so: (1) I’m actually proud of these pics because almost all of them involved the use of flash and I think I did a pretty decent job considering my lack of flash-photography knowledge or skill, and (2) because I didn’t grow up knowing most of these people (my father excluded). Not to go into a long story about family relations, let’s just say I didn’t grow up seeing these folks and knowing them as family until much more recently in my adult life. I’m very happy to get to know them now and I want everyone to know such.

Dad at Grandma's (2)