Different Strokes, etc.


My #1 artistic goal for 2009 is to develop my printing knowledge and ability, from a technical standpoint but primarily from an aesthetic perspective. With that in mind, a month or so ago I suggested to Joe Ciarlante , a local commercial photographer, Photoshop Jedi and fine-art printing Master that he should do a fine art printing workshop. He agreed, and said workshop was this past weekend.

I’ve not historically placed a lot of emphasis on printing, and although it’s always been something I’ve wanted to do I’ve seen it as such a huge undertaking that I wanted to save it until I “had time.” I’ve never even been in a darkroom, let alone made a wet print, and until just the last 5 years or so I had never really spent much time looking at or thinking about “good” prints. I’ve had pretty good success coming up with files that look pretty good, and have done most of my printing through an online lab. For special occasions I have gone to Charles Johnson, a local custom printer, and he has done prints for me that are absolutely beautiful, but never really felt like they were “mine.” As I’ve learned more about photography and began to develop my own vision I realized that learning to print, even if I never got as good as Charles or anyone else, was for me the completion of the circle. An electronic file sitting on my hard drive or on a website somewhere is just a sample, but not the real thing. Right or wrong that’s where my vision is taking me and I’m anxious to follow.

I bought a used Epson 1800 about a year ago, and while it’s not a printer usually associated with Serious Printing I have made some prints that are fairly decent. I know that printing is one of those areas where “the more you know the more you realize what you don’t know.” I had made one print about 8 months ago that I thought was pretty nice, struggled to make it look even better then took it to a meeting of a photo group I belong to. The feedback I got, while helpful and constructive, made it clear that I had a lot of work to do.

I had put that particular print aside since then, thinking that “one of these days” I would get back to working on it, and that eventually I would come up with something I could be proud of. I managed to do that this weekend. I came up with a print that I am happy with, and I am looking forward to working on it some more with my own printer, and now have the confidence to move forward with other printing projects to see what I can do and how much more I can learn in the process. But that’s another story for another day and another essay.

In the course of the workshop I was struck by the different approaches of the attendees. My primary goal going into this workshop was to come out with one good print. My expectation for the class was that we would all work at our own computers, make a print, get feedback, make another print, get more feedback, etc. I foolishly took about 20 files, thinking that depending on my inspiration at the time, I would maybe print 3 or 4 of them. As I mentioned above however, I knew that if I spent the entire weekend working on one file but came out with one good print I would consider it a success. I did and I do.

What I found amazing and amusing was the number of people who treated this class as sort of a “Photoshop Speed Dating” experience, like they had never had a chance to make a print before and likely never would again. They printed the same print on different types of paper, and printed as many prints as they could but never really spent any time looking at them or trying to make them better. It got to the point where there were so many people waiting for a printer I almost gave up. There were three workstations set up, but one of them was “only” printing to an Epson R800, and I don’t think anyone ever used it because it would not print larger than 8 ½ x 11. Everyone wanted to use The Big Dog, the Epson 7600, so it was heavily used. A few folks worked with an Epson 4000 but it was having issues and ended up not producing too many good results.

There were a number of nice prints made, but it seemed to me like everyone sort of missed the point. Instead of learning how to look at their work, evaluate their prints based on their intent and vision, using the software to make their prints better and generally mastering the process, they just ended up with nothing more than a bunch of Costco prints on nice paper. And that’s OK if they’re happy. But what a shame.

This photo is my labor of love for the weekend. It was taken in August 2007 at a water garden at Raffaldini Vineyards in Ronda, North Carolina. The image is a bear to print, especially for me, because the water is reflecting the clouds overhead but there are bits of blue sky in the bottom corners that make it look like a botched burn job. And there are places where the stems of the lilies are showing through the water, so getting that detail to show is really tough. I managed to get a pretty decent result and am looking forward to printing it again on my own printer. It looks really nice on paper, and I even have a black & white version that has potential, too. More to come!

More Stitching!


I decided this past weekend to add more memory to my computer. I had 2GB of RAM and upped it to 4GB. Not a lot by some people’s standards but quite a lot for me. I ordered the memory from OWC, it came today and computer guru Kevin installed it for me tonight. He then took the old RAM from my iMac and put it into Kathy’s PowerBook, which upped hers from 512MB to 2GB. Now we both have screamin’ machines with the substantial increase in memory. All for under $50!

To commemorate the occasion I’ve been playing around with things that use memory-hawg processing like panoramas. This one is a 15-frame stitch made at sunrise at Pounding Mill Overlook on the Blue Ridge Parkway last fall. Click on the image to see larger. It looks pretty nice on the screen. I may have to try and print it!

Long Weekend

Those of us in the financial industry get a long weekend this weekend, and I’m trying to take advantage of it and get some work done. Kathy & I went to a little doings last night at the home of Nanine Hartzenbusch and her husband Bert Fox. Most of my usual Photo Buddies were there, and I met a number of interesting people whose work I have seen but didn’t know personally.

Gary O’Brien is a photographer for the Charlotte Observer and does fantastic work with panoramas, for his own portfolio as well as the Observer and for charlotteobserver.com. I’ll be interested in following his work to see what I can learn about panorama photography.

Although nothing like Gary’s panoramas, today’s photo is a measly 14-frame stitch panorama from last November’s Chincoteague outing. I’ve posted it a little wide, and you should be able to see the full-size image by clicking on the photo.

Don’t Make It About the Technique


I’ve been experimenting with impressionistic motion blur techniques on land and on water as inspired by William Neill and his recent book Impressions of Light that Kathy happened to buy me for Christmas (thanks!). I have been following this work on his website and on his blog for quite some time and find it really appealing. I really like some of the results I have been getting, especially on water, and have made some prints which I’m really, really happy with. The thing I like the best is that Neill’s work has inspired me but I don’t feel like I am just copying someone else’s work or style. I feel like it is very personal and allows me to express myself in a personal way.

I belong to an informal photo support/print review group that meets a couple of times a month, and I took some of my prints to our meeting this week. I got a number of favorable comments about the work, partly because it is a real departure from my usual landscape work, partly because it is – not just in my opinion – pretty nice work and partly because everyone is being polite. But not too polite because it is a pretty tough crowd!

Among the many comments I received was one that went something like “you need to do more of this, but don’t let it become about the technique.” After additional discussion and conversation, and some subsequent thinking on my own, I think that comment summarizes in a lot of ways what I am trying to do with my work. It’s so easy to get hung up on the gear, the software, the technique that for many people creativity becomes about the “how” and not the “why.” When I see some bandwagon that everyone is jumping on, whether it is some new selective-focus lens, special effects plug-ins or some special filter, I tend to run the other way. There’s nothing wrong with using the tools, but we don’t go around wrecking the furniture just because we got a new hammer.

I need to explore this further, as I’m not sure where my head is going with it. Not every scene or subject is appropriate to photograph with motion blur any more than it is appropriate to use a Lensbaby to photograph everything we see. I think I need to do more of it, with different subjects and under different conditions to learn more about where it works and where it doesn’t, what I like and what I don’t like. And I probably need to get back to the beach. Kathy will hate that!

Happy 2009!


“Beamies,” as I like to call them, have become somewhat of a trademark for me. I like finding them and they make dramatic subject matter. Sunbeams are rays of hope and provide encouragement in the face of a new year.

One morning at Chincoteague this past November was a day with high Beamie Potential. As I often do I took off with just one lens, in this case my 70-200 which turned out to be a little long for this scene. What to do other than to try a few panoramas? This is just a 2-frame stitch but was all I needed to catch both ends of the rays. A wider lens would have given me more foreground and sky, which I would have probably cropped out anyway!

A Productive Year


Considering that I started out the year planning to take it easy on picture taking in order to get something done other than add to my ever-increasing backlog of image processing, I still managed to burn almost 10,000 images this year! For people who spend a lot more time pressing the button than I do that’s a busy week, but for me that’s a BUNCH!

For the last couple of years I have been keeping a list of goals that I wanted to accomplish. My goals for 2008 set a pretty high bar for someone who does this part-time and for fun while trying to have a somewhat normal life and pay sufficient attention to my lovely companion, assistant and steadying influence (that would be Kathy). Despite all the distractions of Real Life I managed to get some things done:

(1) I created and distributed to potential clients a list of my existing stock inventory.
(2) I started and regularly updated my photo blog,
(3) I totally revamped my website and kept it updated with my best and most recent work. MAJOR BIGGIE and thanks Neon Sky!
(4) I finally put together a group of my Greenway images for a public show. Yeah, it was just a show at a local art-in-the-park show but it was a START.
(5) I prepared and presented a talk on Digital Workflow with Lightroom to our local CNPA chapter.
(6) I had two images published in one new publication (Blue Ridge Country)

The two unfinished biggies from 2008 that I had just moved to the top of the list for 2009 were (1) to finally get around to sending some of my images into a local stock agency and to (2) develop a process for registering my copyrights. Welllll, just this weekend and just under the wire, I started working on that stock agency project. I now have on my desk a stack of 10 DVDs, containing about 2600 of my images from 2004 to today. They’ll go to the agency on Monday, and that will cross one more thing off my list for 2008. I now have a process in place using Smart Collections in Lightroom to automatically put new images into a folder for future submissions.

According to my calculations I’ve processed about 1000 of those 10000 images and have another 1500 or so “picks” to process or toss, so I still have my work cut out for me. But there’s still a lot of winter to go!

Merry Christmas!


It’s nice to have a few days away from the office from my Day Job, although I am technically Working From Home on Friday and do need to get some work done while I am here. The commute is certainly better than usual!

One of a number of door images taken on our walk around Old San Juan (Puerto Rico) on our recent cruise. I thought the wreath on this door made it appropriate for a Christmas Day post.

I hope to do some more posting over the weekend, depending on what other responsibilities crop up.

Vacation Photos!


I just posted a gallery of images from our recent cruise aboard Celebrity Solstice. Click on this link for the gallery, and enjoy. It’s not a comprehensive travelogue, and will disappoint anyone looking for complete coverage of the ship or the islands, but I was On Vacation and trying to act like it! I do think I came back with a number of nice shots.

Angles and Clouds


We just returned from our annual cruise, this year aboard the almost-brand-new Celebrity Solstice. What a beautiful ship and what a wonderful vacation! It’s Kathy’s reward for following me around the mountains in October and November chasing fall color.

One afternoon while lounging by the pool I happened to notice these glass panels that serve as a wind break between sections of the deck. From certain angles they reflected the clouds, but I just liked the way the shapes interacted with the clouds, without reflection. I didn’t even have to get out of my chair for this shot – proof that if you look around you’ll be amazed at what you can find.

I’ll be posting some more of these artsy shots as well as some vacation snaps soon!

Snow Job!


Our latest magazine assignment was to shoot photos for an article about Banner Elk, NC for the January/February issue of WNC magazine. Since the article is to feature activities in the winter months, and since Banner Elk is known for being a ski destination, we kinda needed to get some snow to make it look like someplace you’d actually go and ski, right?

I was sweating this one, because I needed to have the photos turned in around the beginning of December, I really wanted to get some snow shots, and most importantly, it doesn’t usually snow very much there in November, and when it does it doesn’t always stick around very long. I also don’t have any more unscheduled vacation days from my day job, so it would be really convenient for me if it would snow on, say, a Friday so I could go there on a Saturday.

Needless to say, luck was a-shinin’ on me, because this past Thursday night and Friday morning Banner Elk got about 6 inches of the beautious white stuff. Add that up with a really helpful marketing director at Sugar Mountain Resort and Kathy & I copped a trip on the chair lift to the top of 5300′ Sugar Mountain! Lots of ski and snowboard shots, and everything just looked so nice and winterly with a good coat of snow.

This view is from the top of Sugar Mountain looking down over Banner Elk and the Elk River Valley. Those tracks in the foreground? The ones that look like they lead off a cliff? They lead to an actual ski trail called Boulder Dash, which is a not-for-sissies black diamond trail. I didn’t think I would try to look over the edge!

Photographs and stuff!