This was supposed to be a productive weekend, but things didn’t turn out exactly as planned. In a number of ways. Looks like I may have a lot more time on my hands in a couple of weeks. We’ll see.

This image is one of a number of impressionistic images from our trip to the beach. Hard to believe it was just a week ago!

For now, suffice it to say that this image sums up the state of my head these days. Lots of content, just a little fuzzy.

More From the Beach

Here is another quick photo from Monday morning’s sunrise. I shot a few panoramas of this scene as it developed but haven’t had time to process them. I “only” shot 800 images this weekend! A few of them should turn out to be jewels but I’m going to need some time to process them over the next few weeks.

One bit of exciting news – I submitted an article to Camera in the Wild, the newsletter of the Carolinas’ Nature Photographers Association, and it got published in the March issue! Now this is sort of like getting your 3rd grade artwork posted on Mom’s refrigerator, but published is published, right? It’s not the New York Times, but it’s the best I’ve done so far! I’d share the link but it is member’s only. The article was originally posted here, so you can still read it if you haven’t already.

Published is published, right? Now I can say I’m a writer and a photographer!

Red for Valentine’s Day!

Kathy & I are spending the long President’s Day weekend in Hilton Head, SC, our favorite destination to get away for a few days and chill. Sometimes I use our trips here to have a vacation from photography, but I haven’t been doing a lot of shooting so far this year and I decided I needed to work on upping my giggage quotient.

We got here late Thursday, well after sunset, but the forecast for Friday was excellent with conditions deteriorating late Friday into Saturday. I decided to get up for sunrise, which is at a fairly civil time this time of year, and while I was a little later getting to work than I might have liked there was plenty of gorgeous color. I took a bunch of shots and will try to post a few over the next several days.

Things started to cloud up as the afternoon progressed, and I was afraid we might lose our sunset opportunity for the day. There was some pretty nice color in the sky but nothing spectacular. As often happens however, well after sunset things got a little interesting, away from the sun and over the water. For about 5 minutes things turned a brilliant red and I managed to get a few shots.

I’ll call this one Nature’s Valentine!

Expose to the Right, or Not?

I spent this past weekend at a workshop with John Shaw, famous landscape and nature photographer. Learned a lot of good things, heard a lot of things I already knew, and found a few things I don’t necessarily agree with. Now John’s a pretty opinionated dude, not afraid to say so and what he says is right. As far as he’s concerned. All in all it was worth the time and money, especially in the middle of February when there’s not a whole lot else going on.

One of the most inspired conversations of the weekend was around Shaw’s espousal of the principal of “Expose to the Right” or ETTR. I feel pretty confident in saying that I understand the theory behind ETTR – half of your information is in the 5th box, the preview on your LCD will look overexposed, move the histogram as far right as possible without blowing highlights, move it back during processing etc, etc, etc. I get that. But here’s the thing: Many if not most of the attendees at this workshop were completely clueless about this, as evidenced by the questions and background whispers. I don’t think it’s a good idea for most people to run around constantly overexposing their pictures because “I was at a John Shaw workshop and this is what he said we should do.” NO! How about subject or situational appropriateness?

During this lengthy discussion someone asked the rhetorical question, “what if I’m taking a photo of my Black Lab in a coal mine?” Shaw’s response – “EXPOSE TO THE RIGHT!” “How about if…”EXPOSE TO THE RIGHT!” Like there were no other options. What I wanted to ask and didn’t was, “If, in order to expose to the right I have to increase exposure by 3 stops, and assuming I know what I want my aperture to be, I have to increase exposure either by using a longer shutter speed or higher ISO. What if the dog is panting hard and will be blurry at a longer shutter speed, or what if we’re in the woods, there is just a little bit of breeze and the leaves are moving? What if lengthening the shutter speed or raising the ISO by three stops takes it beyond the optimal low-noise threshold for my camera? Is it better to have the information I want, properly exposed and sharp, or should I accept a blurry subject with noise because someone said that I need to EXPOSE TO THE RIGHT? And what if I don’t want to spend the time it takes to process all my images back to the proper exposure?

Most people have a hard enough time understanding exposure as it is. Many of them have advanced beyond shooting JPEGs which is great, but to then introduce this principal of purposely overexposing their pictures is an unnecessary complication for a lot of people. The problem as I see it is that most of the people who are knowledgeable enough to use and understand ETTR are probably experienced enough to know that it is not a One Size Fits All proposition. Those who aren’t should be happy with the gains they achieve by shooting at the higher bit rate and larger color space of RAW files and leave the color theory to the scientists.

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!

Photographs and stuff!