Kathy & I headed to Charleston, SC over the Labor Day weekend to attend the Lowcountry Jazz Festival there. When I was packing up my photo gear I didn’t know if I would be permitted to take a camera to the concerts, so at the last minute I pulled out my Fuji X-10 and decided to toss it in the bag.
I hadn’t been using the Fuji in a while, in fact I’ve been on a “use the best camera all the time” kick and haven’t been carrying a point & shoot camera at all. And I have never been happy with the way Lightroom processes the RAW files I’ve gotten out of the Fuji, so I had sort of abandoned it.
I have read a lot of comments about how good Fuji’s JPEG processing is, so I set the camera up to shoot high quality JPEGs. And although I could have taken the “big camera” to the concerts I decided to just take the Fuji. In fact that was the only camera I used all weekend. We went out and did some touristy stuff and the X-10 did the job.
It did a pretty good job all in all, especially considering that it is several years old. The concert photos were taken at ISO 1600 or 3200 and came out pretty good for a small sensor. I decided to post these with no processing at all. A few are a little on the dark side, but that is mostly due to the fact that I was using negative exposure compensation at the concerts and kept forgetting to reset it when I went outside!
I’m pretty impressed with the results from this camera. In fact, based on a lot of things I have been reading lately, I’ve just about decided to try out one of their newer offerings as a possible eventual replacement for the full frame beast that I’ve been carrying. It’s tough to beat the files I’m getting from the 5D, but with results like these from a several-year-old point & shoot, I think I owe it to myself to at least rent a newer model and see how I like it. No surprise that we have some upcoming travel plans 😉 , so I may need to check out the options.
Spring is a great time of year here in the Carolinas. While we have seen the occasional snow storm, March is usually when spring comes roaring in, splashing with both feet to put an end to winter.
This photo, taken last March just down the road in Salisbury, NC exemplifies spring for me. Crystal clear blue sky, te beautiful dogwood blooms and the joy that spring has not forgotten us.
I’ve been laying a little low lately. Kathy & I have a few irons in the fire, so to speak, that have kept me away from the computer more than usual. It’s all good though, not to worry. But stay tuned, I haven’t gone far.
This year has truly exemplified the term “roller coaster ride.” Kathy’s Dad died last week after an extended illness. Her Mom died in May. They had both been ailing for quite some time before they moved to an assisted living facility in April of this year. In between we managed to squeeze in a trip to the beach, several weekends to the mountains, including a great weekend with friends at Shenandoah National Park in April. Then her Mom died in May, later in the month we took a wonderful vacation to Alaska and California, and since then we managed to sneak in a few weekends away, but in general the last several months were consumed with taking care of Kathy’s Dad.
It’s been a tough year.
Kathy & I love to travel, obviously. And we often use our travel as a way to escape – both mentally and physically – from our everyday realities. The last 6 months or more have been emotionally and physically draining, and we feel fortunate to have been able to intersperse the grief and sadness with some well-timed getaways.
It’s surprising how the body and mind can take on additional burden without us realizing it, until such time as the burden is lifted from us and we realize how much we had been carrying. We are starting to feel that lifting now, and it may take a while longer before we fully appreciate it.
We were talking with friends this past week and one of them mentioned that we would be “trying to find our new normal.” That comment hit home for both of us, and we have talked about it a lot over the last few days. I really like the concept of “a new normal,” as if feels like what is happening to us now (I say ‘us,’ but of course Kathy has been carrying the burden, and I have been supporting her as much as I can).
It’s a huge change, to go from caring for two people who have loved you for your entire life to having them gone completely in a few short months. I went through it myself years ago and it still comes back and smacks me in the head when I least expect it. And I suspect it will continue to do so for a long while to come.
The attraction of this “new normal” idea is that it presents one of those rare times when we have at least a little bit of influence about what that “normal” looks like. Will it mean big changes for us? Probably not. But I know that losing both of my parents at an early age – my Mom was 53 when she died, my Dad was 54 – has had a profound influence on how I have looked, and how I continue to look, at my own life as I approach (and hopefully pass) those ages. Let’s just say that I’m hoping for a heck of a birthday party for July 2013!
The concept of “a new normal” is very appropriate to me, because it aptly describes the adjustment process that inevitably takes place when a major change occurs in our lives. Many of these changes are very subtle, such as not having to remember to make a phone call, or not having to plan our route so we come home via Statesville. Some of them are pretty major, as in the fact that having someone living close by and being primarily responsible for their care was one of the major influences to us in terms of staying in the area. Does that mean we’re going to sell the house and move to Alaska? Not today, but when we do decide it’s time to sell the house – which is the only “physical” thing keeping us here – who knows? The kids are here, and our jobs (for as long as we want them or as long as our employers want us) are here. But fewer ties mean more possibilities. And that is what “new normal” means for me right now. What will it mean in a few months or a few years? Time will tell, but I’m looking forward to figuring it out.
We had already planned a trip to the beach over Labor Day weekend, but we had an opportunity to extend that into a full week. I think a week of sand, sun and ocean will do us good. Some quiet time to think and talk, a nice beach for long walks, and a number of good restaurants where they treat us like locals. It is one of our favorite places to visit, and a good place to start getting in touch with our new normal. Indeed.
Life maintains a fragile balance. Most of us take this balance for granted, but the result when this changes even a little can be devastating. A life full of health and optimism can quickly turn to pain and misery with little or no warning.
Kathy’s Mom passed away this past week. The funeral was Saturday. Just a few short years ago she was healthy and energetic, walking and exercising regularly, optimistic for a long and happy future. A series of falls and illnesses were eventually diagnosed as Parkinson’s. A disease as diverse as those who are afflicted, there is little to be done, save for some medicines whose side effects tend to be as horrible as the illness they are designed to alleviate. Eventually the inevitable prevailed, and in too short a time she was gone.
A loving wife and caring mother, she left a family who misses her greatly. Her wit, wisdom and sense of humor inspires us all, and I am grateful that she was even able to find a few redeeming qualities in me.
Here’s something a little different this month. A simpler and more graphic photograph, the kind of photography I’ve been doing more of lately…seeing the extraordinary in the ordinary.
While this photograph was taken on Hilton Head Island, SC the location isn’t really important. The photo isn’t about Hilton Head. What it is about is the combination of red, white and blue in a simple, graphic design that to me represents that feeling I get on a sunny summer day with a great clear blue sky. That feeling of being on vacation!
Lots going on these days, so while I hope to send off a few more posts before the Big Adventure, it may be a too little hectic. But you’ll hear from me, don’t worry!
Kathy & I spent the Easter weekend in Shenandoah National Park, meeting up with our good friends Bill and Cathy from Ohio. We stayed at Skyland – which they now call “Skyland Resort,” presumably to appeal to the upscale Washingtonians – that is actually an historic mountain lodge operated for the National Park Service by Aramark. The rooms are rather rustic, but the restaurant is decent and reasonably priced. It’s a beautiful location for a weekend or a week, as it is one of only two lodges in the park, and the only one open this time of year. Big Meadows Lodge is our favorite, but it doesn’t open for the season until May. There are miles of hiking trails accessible from right at Skyland or within an easy drive.
Kathy & I have stayed at either Skyland or Big Meadows numerous times over the years, and I traveled there with my family when I was a kid. I have numerous fond memories of the place from all of our visits there. One of the things we have always liked the most is that once you are in the park you have always been pretty much removed from civilization. At the lodges there are no room phones, most of the rooms don’t have televisions and until recently the cell phone coverage was non-existent. Both lodges have managed to add wireless internet in the main buildings, but there is no coverage in the rooms and cabins. For many this is a huge inconvenience, and I saw a number of people schlepping their iPads and laptops to the dining room at meal time, but it was exactly what I hoped for. Kathy refers to this as being “off the grid.” I call it the way to take a vacation!
I made sure that my iPad had plenty of reading material on it – not a problem since I have managed to accumulate quite a backlog – and spent the entire 5 days in “Airplane Mode.” I did have my phone with me, so I was able to get my e-mail when I wanted it, but since most of the places we went either didn’t have cellphone coverage or were places I wouldn’t want to be talking on the phone anyway, I just left the phone off until we got back to the room. I left the laptop at home, figuring that I had plenty of memory cards and knowing that I wouldn’t be taking the time to work on any photos. I spent some time reading some technical papers on some of the new features of my camera, as well as looking through the manual for things I might have missed. Interesting stuff, right? Scoff if you will, but there is sometimes some good information to be found in the manual!
This wasn’t a photography weekend per se, as it was arranged as a way to meet up with our friends, Shenandoah being about equidistant for both of us. But being a guy with a new camera there was a fair amount of photography to be done. I didn’t get up early or stay out until sunset, and for the most part the skies were crystal clear blue and it was very windy, so it was not ideal for the kind of shooting I usually do, but I did manage to put a few shots on the new gear.
When I got the new camera, my first shooting opportunities involved conditions that allowed me to try out the stratospheric ISO capabilities, so for this trip it was nice to slow down into a “normal” ISO range of 100 or 400. I used the tripod for a few shots but mostly carried the camera and a single lens while we hiked, shooting random nature shots along the trail. I also carried the X10 for a few shorter hikes, since it is ideal for those times when I don’t want to carry a bunch of gear but want to have a camera with me.
Most of all, the weekend provided me some time to get familiar with some of the basic functions of the camera. It’s got a new (to me) focusing system and a few new controls to get used to. It’s actually pretty intuitive, since I am familiar with the Canon menu layout from my previous cameras. I got used to it pretty quickly and now feel like I am almost to the point where I can use it as intuitively as my older cameras. While the new 5D has some interesting new features, I tended to stick to the basics, preferring to learn how to use it in “regular camera mode.” There will eventually be plenty of time for playing around with the in-camera HDR, multiple exposures and picture styles, but for starters I just want to be sure I know how to take pictures with it!
Now that I am back to “reality” I have been working on trying to get up to speed on processing the files in Lightroom 4. I’m finding that a lighter touch is required in the new process version in general, and while the files from the 5D are very nice, I am trying to figure out how to get the new process version set up to produce files that look the way I want them to look and that I am happy with. All of my old presets are essentially obsolete, and simply duplicating the settings from the old version end up way too contrasty, oversaturated and – interestingly – too dark. I’ve been playing around with a custom Tone Curve that, when combined with some other settings, tends to get the files back to where I want them. I don’t think it’s a matter of the camera underexposing the files as much as it is just that the standard settings are somehow darkening the files, especially in the mid-tones. I haven’t had a lot of time to search the usual message boards, so I don’t know if this is just me or if it is a common issue. It’s probably me.
Anyway, I’m back in gear for a few weeks, getting ready for the next big adventure. By then I expect to have my workflow up to speed with all of the “bugs” worked out of my processing. I’m teaching a Lightroom class on May 5, so I definitely need to be up to speed on Lightroom 4 by then. I think a little more work will just about get me there.
Three conversations over the last several days have gotten me thinking about the things that influence our preferences and perceptions. Bear with me while I elaborate.
Kathy & I enjoy dining out, and this past Friday and Saturday nights were no exception. Friday night we went to a restaurant we have only been to a couple of times but have really enjoyed, and on Saturday night we went to a restaurant we had never been to before but had wanted to try.
The Friday night restaurant experience was exactly what we expected based on previous visits. The place has more of a sports bar/pub atmosphere and is generally a lot noisier than we prefer, with lots of televisions, this night showing NCAA basketball. Definitely not my idea of the ideal restaurant experience, but it is close to home, the food and service are good and the prices are reasonable, so we are willing to overlook a few less-than-ideal factors.
Fast forward to Saturday night. The place was a restaurant we had never visited before, but they had good reviews on Yelp and UrbanSpoon, so we figured it was worth a try. The restaurant’s website confirmed that the chef had lots of experience in other restaurants we have previously enjoyed and suggested that his approach mirrored our preferences and we went with an expectation of an excellent and enjoyable meal.
It wasn’t terrible, but a number of missteps left us with a very mixed first impression, to the point where I’m not certain we’ll return. They didn’t have a table ready for us despite having a reservation, the first two bottles of wine I requested were not in stock, despite being on the list, and my steak – one of the “features” for the evening – was tough and undercooked and my vegetables were practically raw. I know from well-proven experience that there are not many places that can do steak to my satisfaction, but I ordered it anyway, and the result proved my rule. On the other hand, Kathy’s dinner was good and she ate every bite.
Afterward, our discussion centered on how our prior experiences and our own biases influence our first impressions. We have been to some very good restaurants over the years, and while we are certainly not snobbish or opinionated, we generally know what to expect. And I’m not talking just fine dining – we have had excellent meals from casual diners to fancy, high-priced restaurants. Are we spoiled? Perhaps we are, but there are noticeable differences between a good restaurant and an average restaurant regardless of price, and there are enough good restaurants that there is little reason to bother with the average ones.
To be fair to this place, however, I recognize that had I ordered something different I might have had an experience that was 180-degrees opposite from what I had, and I may have been able to overlook the miscues. And had there not been the miscues I might have been more able to overlook a disappointing meal. As it turned out, a lot of little things contributed to a disappointing experience. We concluded that, considering the price and knowing the many other options available, this place would not be high on the list of restaurants to return to.
During our lunch in Salisbury last weekend, Paul, Earl & I talked about why we write and what we hope to get out of our blogs. We talked about the mutual followers we have and talked a lot about the number of photography blogs we enjoy and how those writers have a similar philosophy and approach to their photography that we have with ours, and how they often commented on our blogs, just as we comment on theirs. I was not too surprised to find that there are a few blogs we don’t especially care for. There is one blog in particular that we mutually dislike (“despise” might not be too strong a word) for a number of reasons, and that discovery led to a rather amusing conversation, as we all felt that this blog was the antithesis of our own blogs and those of our friends. Also interesting was the common observation that most of the people who follow that blog – or at least those who comment on it – had similar philosophies to the writer and were not the type of people we would find commenting on our blogs. It was an interesting discussion.
My take from all that is that people of like minds tend to gravitate toward each other, and the people who take an alternate or opposing viewpoint tend to stick with each other too.
I spent some time on Sunday afternoon working with a good friend on getting some prints made of his photographs. This person is a long time friend and I admire his photography. His photos have traditionally been very quiet and introspective. But lately his images have taken on more on an “urban decay and chaos” theme, and the difference is fascinating. The particular photographs we were printing were from an old store that he has been photographing. The store is long closed, but the photographs show an interior with lots of clutter and chaos. This friend has had some chaos in his life recently, and it seems that he is expressing this through his photography. I wonder if he realizes it?
Coincidentally that same day a number of other friends had been posting photos on Facebook from several other another outings, and Kathy & I had an interesting discussion about how those photographs often reflected my view of the personality of each photographer. We speculated about how or whether a person’s subject matter reflected their profession, their current emotional state or some wished-for or desired outcome!