September Wallpaper

Cape Lookout Lighthouse - Cape Lookout National Seashore, NC

How did that happen?  It was just July, wasn’t it?  Time marches on….

Here’s another coastal scene from the archives, taken all the way back in 2007.  This is the Cape Lookout Lighthouse, located on the coast of North Carolina at Cape Lookout National Seashore.

Holga Fun!

Random photos walking around the NASCAR Hall of Fame and Charlotte Convention Center in uptown Charlotte, North Carolina

I recently picked up a Holga lens with a Canon mount and have been using it on my 20D. It’s a fun little lens and a great way to use an old but still very functional camera that has otherwise been relegated to backup-backup status. I could have converted it to IR but that costs a lot more money and IR is just not something that interests me.

This past weekend I met up with Paul Lester, a long-time online acquaintance and now real-life friend, and we spent a couple of hours walking around downtown Charlotte making pictures. I had been past the NASCAR Hall of Fame numerous times, thought the building would make for some interesting photography and suggested that as our destination. It’s not the Sydney Opera House but for Charlotte it’s pretty nice. We were fortunate to have a nice breezy day with great clouds in an otherwise blue sky, perfect conditions for chasing shapes, lines and patterns, with great conditions to counterpoint the stark buildings against a backdrop of great sky.

Paul shoots with an M9 and I had my “digital Holga,” and on several occasions I joked that my camera was the “anti-Leica” because of the older technology and plastic lens. The Leica has astonishing image quality, and several shots I saw on Paul’s LCD confirmed why they are coveted by those seeking the highest image quality. But the great thing was that for both of us it wasn’t about the gear. Someone might think, “well, that’s easy for him to say, he has an M9!” but Paul has an M9 because it does what he needs it to do. I’d love to have one too, but for now I’ll happily make photos with any camera I have with me, whether it is my 5D and fancy ‘L’ lenses, my G12 or my Canon Holga.

I’m always careful to not get hung up on “gimmicks” but the thing I like about the old camera + plastic lens combination is that because it is manual focus and requires manual exposure I really have to pay attention to what I do with it, how I use it and where I point it. The Holga literature says that the aperture is effectively f8 but I think that refers more to depth of field than to light transmission. To get any kind of hand-holdable shutter speed – even outdoors – I have to crank the ISO up to 3200 (which is about 3 stops over what the 20D was designed for). The quality of the lens is generally terrible, and at ISO 3200 the photos look like they were made in a dust storm, so it really becomes about the subject. The images still need to be in focus and properly exposed, but in many ways taking image quality out of the equation means that the photo can just be about the photo.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to imply that just because I’m making these photos with an old camera and a plastic lens makes them Art. Although I really like some of the photos! I’m mostly just saying that it’s a great creative exercise. Every time I put the camera to my eye and push the shutter button without adjusting exposure or focus I’m quickly reminded to get my head back into what I’m doing. I may need to make a few prints and show them to my Artist buddies to see what they think.

I don’t think I’ll be giving up the “serious” gear any time soon, but it sure is nice to just go out and shoot, exercise the brain and have fun once in a while!

Be sure to check out Paul’s blog.  He writes often about photography and other fun subjects.  I’m glad to now be able to call him a “real-life friend!”

Random photos walking around the NASCAR Hall of Fame and Charlotte Convention Center in uptown Charlotte, North Carolina

Saturation

Morning light from the US 99 bridge over Pungo Creek near CeeBee Marina west of Belhaven, North Carolina

A long, long time ago as a pre-teen I use to be – like most other guys my age and older – really interested in cars and racing, and I spent a lot of time looking at Hot Rod, Car Craft and other magazines. I have always remembered a photograph in which a particularly shapely young lady was wearing an appropriately fitted T-shirt that was printed with the saying “Some is Good, More is Better and Too Much is Just Enough!” I’d like to think I would have remembered the saying on its own merits or even on a less-attractive T-shirt, but regardless of how I have managed to remember that saying, it has stuck with me for a long time.

For better or for worse, that seems to be the theme by which our society operates these days. We have noise and visual clutter everywhere. You can’t walk through Lowe’s now without being inundated by televisions blasting information about the latest in toilet technology or peel & stick wallpaper. You can’t go to a restaurant without being surrounded by 800 big screen televisions broadcasting everything from sports talk shows to 8 different versions of “Breaking News.” If people don’t have enough drama in their own lives they can participate in others’ drama through social networking, (un)reality television and TV talk shows. There is literally something to entertain and possibly to offend everyone.

So what does this have to do with photography?

In my own jaded, old-school pre-geezer opinion, it has everything to do with photography. I see it in how photographers promote themselves, how they process their photos and how they present and share their work:

• HDR, Infrared, specialty lenses or other techniques without regard to the quality of the underlying or resulting photograph. Some is good….

• Hyper-realistic processing to the point that “looks like a painting” is no longer a compliment. More is better….

• Constantly posting comments and articles on blogs, Facebook, Twitter and (now) Google+. And it’s not enough to just publish a post, we have to feed our comments from one site onto all of the others so we see the same comments 4 or 5 times. Too much is just enough!

It seems that we no longer have any idea what a good photograph is supposed to look like. We see the “stars” using software and assume that all we have to do is use the same equipment and software they use and our photos are good too. Not so fast. Learn how to make your photos good first, then use the tools to express your vision. Too many times I see these tools misused as substitutes for good light, good timing or just good photography.

Good photography should pretty much promote itself, assuming you can get the right people to look at it. Unfortunately, a lot of people are using social media to beat us over the head with it. Take good photographs, put them out where people can see them, then stand back. You don’t need to shout at me. In fact, if you do I’ll probably move on to someone else. Sorry, but I’m not interested in that!

I realize that this post has fallen dramatically outside of my usually happy and positive self, but it was on my mind and I just had to get it out. I feel better now, thanks!

August Wallpaper

Sunset, Hilton Head Island, SC

I had a special request this month for a beach-oriented calendar, and decided to dust off this classic TD photo from 2007.  It’s a sunset on the beach on Hilton Head Island, South Carolina.

I hope you enjoy this wallpaper calendar for August and hope everyone has a great month!

My 2011 SoFoBoMo Book

Today I finished and uploaded my latest SoFoBoMo book, Road Ends.  Follow the link to view and download the book.  It’s free!

I’m going to be working on a print version of the book shortly, probably through Blurb.  I’ve been wanting to try doing a book through Blurb and I sized this book for their 8×10 format.  Stay tuned for details!

Scheduled Maintenance

Morning fog along US Highway 264 near Pungo Creek Road west of Belhaven, North Carolina

Just this morning I experienced one of the less-pleasant rites of passage into the realm of approaching-old-agedom. It wasn’t a lot of fun but as it turned out the anticipation was far more difficult than the reality. In the course of answering all the questions and giving my name and date of birth for what seemed like a dozen times, one of the nurses mentioned something about my age and said something like “we don’t usually see men under 60 in here unless there’s a problem.” I hadn’t given it much thought other than to wonder how many people actually follow their doctor’s advice, and I guess her comment kind of answered my question. Sometimes you just have to do something even though you really don’t want to because it’s the right thing to do. So I did, it’s done, everything is fine and I couldn’t be happier.

Arnold Palmer used to do a commercial for Pennzoil where he talked about “taking care of the old equipment.” He was primarily talking about using the right motor oil, but the implication was that the right maintenance was important regardless of the actual “equipment” being referenced.

We change the oil in our cars, check the air in our tires, change our furnace filters and (sometimes) clean out our refrigerators. And that’s all fine, but don’t forget to first and foremost take care of yourself. Do the scheduled maintenance.

This has been a public service announcement.

Road Ends

Roadside park beneath the SR 264 bridge over the Intracoastal Waterway near Belhaven, North Carolina

Kathy & I traveled to Belhaven, NC this past weekend to celebrate the 4th of July with our friends there. While in the area we spent some time photographing for my SoFoBoMo book project that I decided to call “Road Ends.” You’ll have to wait for the finished product for all the details but it’s basically about discovering what is at the end of all these dead-end roads that we frequently pass by but never take because, after all, they are dead ends.

The thing that I found most interesting is that we so often pass these roads by because we see them as detours or distractions from our primary journey. Making them the actual destination changes the approach considerably, as all of a sudden by giving ourselves “permission” to stop and see what’s there we no longer pass them by. Every time we saw a “Dead End” sign we drove down the road to see if anything was there. Many times there was nothing there. A few times we thought we heard Banjo Music, but frequently we found something interesting.

It’s easy to just drive along the Blue Ridge Parkway or down some main road and just look at whatever you pass by, but just like the idea that ones photography can be improved by spending time with interesting subjects, it’s really beneficial to look for subjects in different or unusual places. By “forcing myself” to explore the ends of the dead end roads I not only found some interesting and unexpected subjects but perhaps a new way of looking that will hopefully improve the way I see.

July Calendar

Roy Taylor Forest Overlook on the Blue Ridge Parkway near Waynesville, North Carolina

What better wallpaper for July than a great summertime view from the Blue Ridge Parkway?

The Roy Taylor Forest is a section of the Nantahala Ranger District of Nantahala National Forest that includes the rugged and scenic Tuckasegee Gorge. The Roy Taylor Forest Overlook is at mile post 433 on the Blue Ridge Parkway near Waynesville, NC. At a cool elevation of 5580 feet, a paved path leads to a wooden platform that clings precariously to the mountainside here, with a more or less southwestern view overlooking the Balsams and eventually the Tuckasegee Gorge beyond.

This is a viewpoint that would benefit from some judicious pruning, as the view will soon be choked off by trees unless a helpful wind or ice storm comes along. It was in good form on a summer day last year and yielded this photograph that I hope you enjoy.

I hope your July is an excellent one!

More Random Thoughts

Spring colors along US 276 in Pisgah National Forest near Brevard, North Carolina
  • Why are there so many more people willing to drink coffee than there are willing to make a new pot?
  • I know they are trying to be helpful, but I wish that the people who constantly post links on Facebook to articles they find interesting would be a little less helpful.
  • There’s a woman who writes a column for Forbes that does a podcast, a blog, an e-mail newsletter and a You Tube channel about cutting clutter and getting organized.  Isn’t that kind of self-defeating?
  • Why do people (when they are driving) worry so much about which lane they are in when they are only racing to the next red light?  I suppose that probably represents the way they live their lives.
  • Do you realize how much more smoothly traffic would flow if people paid just a little teeny bit more attention?
  • My days got a lot less stressful once I decided that I didn’t have to be the first person at work.  I’m happy to let someone else claim that title.  Same goes with the last person to leave.
  • A successful class is one where the students come away with the knowledge they had hoped to gain from the instructor.  A really successful class is one where the instructor learns from the students, too.
  • If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, it’s no wonder that photographers are (usually) so friendly.
  • Based on a lot of the photographs I’ve seen lately, Viveza should come with a volume limit.  Only after approval from a pre-determined number of one’s peers should they be able to go over a certain (low!) limit.  A little bit goes a long way, people!
  • How ironic is it that since I moved my blog to a WordPress site I have had to install a filter to block all of the spam comments.  Since March 1 I have received 864 spam comments – all blocked by Akismet – and a whopping 1 legitimate comment.  I don’t do much better on Facebook.  It’s a good thing I write for my own enjoyment!

Choices

Scrap pile in the sugar cane processing plant at St Nicholas Abbey on Barbados

Does the cost of your gear keep you from getting out and enjoying it?  Does thinking about/worrying about/paying for your equipment keep you from using it?

David duChemin recently wrote a blog post titled “Buy the Tickets” where he compared the cost of buying less-expensive but still good-quality gear instead of “pro” gear and investing the difference in the experience of photographing.  By his analysis the difference between the cost of the “high end” kit and the so-called “budget” kit would buy an around-the-world plane ticket with money left over for food and lodging.  Not 5-star food and lodging perhaps, but good enough.  Fascinating concept.

“Don’t spend money on gear. Spend it on plane tickets.”

Whenever someone writes an article like that they get a lot of “must be nice” and “that would never work for me” and “what about the kids and the mortgage” comments.  Happens to Kathy and me when we talk about the vacations we take.  Our ability to do the traveling we do is because of the choices we have made and make.  What people too often fail to realize is that once you have established a goal, any choice you make that doesn’t directly help you accomplish it is an excuse.

If your goal is financial security for retirement you need to be making choices and saving enough to get you there, and hopefully you started a long time ago.  If your goal is to be able to travel the country or the world – whether you are a photographer or not – how does owning a house/buying a car/watching TV help you get there?  If you are fortunate enough to be able to do both, great!  If you have to make choices you need to make them.  If the cost of doing those things – and that includes the opportunity cost associated with the money, time and attention – keeps you from getting where you want to be then you either need to make different choices or set different goals.

“Forget the shiny stuff, it gets tarnished fast. Put your camera into the bag and book a flight instead. Go make memories and photographs. Live. Buy the tickets.”

I write a lot about how I don’t need to have the latest and greatest equipment to take good photographs.  I have made what I feel are very successful photographs with equipment that for a lot of people would have been traded in or sold off years ago.  I’ll admit that part of my writing is probably to console myself for not jumping on the bandwagon, but I truly believe that the choices I make – to spend the money on the destinations and not the equipment – is part of what will allow me to achieve my own goals.  If I had to choose between a new camera and a vacation – and sometimes I do – I would choose the vacation every time.

I get comments and questions all the time from people, especially those I work with, that ask why I am working at a day job when my photography is so good (their words) and I enjoy it so much.  As much as I love photography, becoming a full-time photographer is not my goal.  It’s not even my dream.  I enjoy photography a lot, but I enjoy it for the places it takes me and the things it allows me to see.  I enjoy the learning and the creative expression and the continuous development.  I love sharing my work with people who appreciate it, whether they pay me for it or not.  The sacrifices it would take to be able to do photography full time – and especially to make a living from it – would first and foremost take a lot of the fun out of it for me, but most importantly it would keep me from achieving my personal goals.  Many of the full-time photographers I know are only able to do it with the help of a willing spouse who provides the income to pay the mortgage while they spend their time being a photographer.  I think that’s great if they can swing it.  But my goals include Kathy & me traveling and experiencing the world together, and if that means we have to do it on a few weeks’ vacation time every year until we are finally able to trek out on our own, that’s fine with me.  That moment is getting closer all the time.

My ultimate wish would be for everyone to be able to do whatever they want to do for as long as they want to do it.  Unfortunately not many of us get to do that.  So we set goals and make choices.  Sometimes we make sacrifices.  But I prefer to call them compromises.  Hopefully your goals are clear and your choices will allow you to meet them.  If not, take a look at what’s getting in your way, make the changes necessary and get going.  It’s not too late!

Photographs and stuff!