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 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…

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?

“Farwell to this lands cheerless marshes”

What to do…..what to do…..what to do…..

Consider this:

2009_01_03_40D05

Yeah. I know. Not quite what I had in mind either. See……I’ve had this idea for a few weeks of trying a few different things. You know, just to branch out a bit and keep the whole photography thing alive and kicking. My plans for winter shooting out of doors have been put on hold due to that ever useless bitch Mother Nature, who, for the life of her, cannot get her winter game-face on here in southwest Ohio. So I start putting this idea together that I’d like to use the fast burst mode on my camera and photograph Big Boi playing with his cat toy (emphasis on “his”), which we call Boi Toi. Cute, eh? So the other day I finally drag out the camera and tripod and make my way to the living room, which happens to have the best and strongest light of the day at this time. I opt to shoot with my fixed 50mm f/1.8 thinking that the super wide aperature will allow for lots of light to strike my sensor, thus allowing me to use a fast shutter speed to capture all the motion in a sort of freeze-frame effect.

Alas, the best laid plans.

The natural light wasn’t as strong as I had thought and so the shutter speed wasn’t as high as I had hoped. However, not all was lost here as I quickly reviewed taken shots and realized that with the slower shutter speed I was capturing some blur (too much on occasion), which really worked in the pictures. The blurring truly conveyed the sense of movement, which would have been absent at higher shutter speeds. But fate had more surprises in store for me. The 50mm, while a lovely lens, is really an 80mm once the smaller APS sensor is accounted for. Thus the field of view between the lens and the floor was rather narrow; more narrow than I had expected. This led to the problem of trying to keep the cat and toy within the frame at all times. Needless to say this was rather impossible and I subsequently wound up with loads of shots with more than half the cat out of frame. Still, I was able to salvage some from this experiment:

2009_01_03_40D04

The final straw was also something I had not anticipated (big surprise there, eh?). The camera and lens were set to auto-focus during this experiment. When I was later viewing the pictures on my computer’s monitor I quickly noticed how often the little leather bits at the end of the string were in focus, but the cat was not! Well shit. But this doesn’t mean the experiment was a total waste of time because it wasn’t. First, I learned that I need more light. Second, I learned that a slower shutter speed is not a bad thing for this particular setting. Third, I learned that with stronger (much stronger) lighting I may be able to adjust the aperture to something like f/9 or even f/11 and increase my focal depth such that both the cat and toy are more evenly in-focus. And finally, I learned that I should use a wider angle lens for this experiment…..or go out and buy the new full frame Canon 5D Mark II. But as I know my wife would slit my throat I think I’ll avoid that particular plan of attack for the time being.

Next (I’ve been a busy little bee of late!) I took part in a little home-building project. No. I didn’t get the walls prep’d for painting, but I did put together a home-made light box. It is rather crude, but rather larger than the ones sold at my local camera shop. In addition it only cost about $50 for all the components versus $100 for the one at my camera store, which is about half the size to boot. My apologies for not having taken pictures of the light box or its construction, but I didn’t want to take the time to photograph the assemblage in fears that it would turn out horribly wrong and then I’d look like more of a tool than usual.

So, it turned out okay. Not as nice as I had hoped, but it was a first-run and I imagine that many folks encounter less-than-stellar results on the first attempt at anything. I also managed to give it a go photography-wise, which also led to less-than-stellar results:

2009_01_03_40D07

There are a couple of things wrong with both the light box and the photographs I took. (1) The colour is off. Too grey. Or so I think. And I fiddled with white balance, but never got quite for what I was looking, but I didn’t spend a whole lot of time on it. This was an experimental run; really just to determine if I should purchase more lights for the box (which I should and will). (2) I need to run some white tape along the inside borders of the box because there is a small gap which did appear in some of my photographs. Fortunately I was doing some zoom and crop to the photos so the hint-of-dark disappeared. (3) I need a real close-up/macro lens. I put off purchasing my preferred Canon 100mm f/2.8 as I didn’t think I would need its close-up abilities until next spring, but with the light box I definitely have need for it. I think an order shall soon be placed at Adorama.com.

So there you are. Two experiments recently undertaken where the results were not up to spec, but all was not lost. I consider these to be learning experiences, each filled with the appropriate amount of learning curve. I am so certain that there are plenty of amateur photographers out there who would have nailed things better the first time round, but I am not one of them. Typically I must plod along numerous times until I get it right, if ever. But that’s okay. If nothing else it shows that I’m thinking, acting upon my thinking and analyzing the results in hopes that I learn something which I can apply in round two. Besides….it’s always nice to be behind the camera!

I’m not certain what to say…..

I have been feeling low the past few days. I haven’t felt up to my usual standards of reasonable health, etc., but I didn’t really know why. Until today. It occurred to me a few hours ago that today is the one year anniversary since I had to say goodbye to my most precious friend and pet, Basil.

Daddy & Basil Bear 2007-02-24 (3)

I confess. He was my favourite. Hands down, no question about it. Basil and I were close. He was my little boy and I was his father. While this is true of all the cats over the years (the father and child relationship), the one I shared with Basil was different. More intense. More direct. More of everything. And while he certainly lived a long and healthy life (he was 19 when it was time to say goodbye) I wasn’t really as prepared for his loss. At least not like I thought I was.

I am rather pragmatic about the whole mess. Death is part of life. There is no escaping this portion of the life cycle. I thought I had made peace with this knowledge and my relationship with Basil. But this isn’t really the case. I’ve pushed his loss so far out of my memory. I refuse to think about it. I sometimes refuse to think about him. Hell, I couldn’t figure out why it was that I no longer wished much to sit in my leather recliner in the t.v. room. Until today. Until today when I was looking over some pictures of him and I, sitting together in our chair.

Basil Bear's favourite place 2007-07-20 (0)

I haven’t had this reaction with the other cats who have gone before him. They too were special, but they weren’t Basil. I miss the shit out of that little furry fellow.