This is a way off-topic blog post but I thought some of my readers would find it interesting:
The work I do for money sometimes involves tracking down customers who, other than the fact that we receive their payments every month, we never hear from them. It’s pretty rare, but we can go for years without needing to know their current phone number or address. I came across such a customer this morning. This guy, an intellectual property attorney from another state, owns an investment property in North Carolina that he bought 7 years ago. His loan is coming due, so I needed to contact him about renewing it. The only phone number I had took me to what I expected was his office, but when I called I was told that “he was no longer with the firm.” Oops.
Now I realize that in this day and age there are lots of tools available to assist in the search for missing attorneys. But of course I turned to Google in hopes that I could turn up something that would lead me to his current position. I came across dozens of dead ends, articles that referenced his name and some kind of presentation or case, but they all referred to his former employer.
Somewhere in all my searching I came across this guy’s LinkedIn page. And it showed who he worked for but no contact information. I thought about sending him a note through LinkedIn, but figured that wouldn’t be terribly professional and saved it for a last resort. I Googled the company, but their headquarters is in another state. No good. But then, I went back to LinkedIn and noticed that a lot of his contacts were co-workers at his current firm. I looked through his contacts, Googled them and finally found a phone number. Not for my guy, but for his boss. Ah-ha!
Figuring that there is no way a direct call for an attorney is going to go through to him, and if it did I could easily explain myself, I called the number. Got a voicemail system, and after a few “Press #,” “Press 1,” etc. I got to where I could search a department directory using the first 3 letters of my customer’s last name. Call goes straight through and he answers it. Yep, he’s my guy!
I know what I did wasn’t anything really special, but I was amazed at how I was able to solve the puzzle. It was fun, he was very helpful and we’re going to do his deal. Not a bad way to start a Monday!
When I was growing up I had an aunt, or a cousin or some relative who had the seats in her car covered with plastic. I always thought that was a little strange, to take this nice comfortable fabric and cover it with hot, sticky plastic, just so it wouldn’t get dirty or wear out. I don’t remember for certain, but I think she might have had the furniture in her house covered in plastic too. People used to – probably still do – use plastic carpet runners to keep people from walking on the carpet. I’ll admit that I can see the logic in covering carpet with carpet runner, in the winter, when it used to snow, and we people would come in the house with snow on their boots. But in the middle of summer? Nah!
Today, we can’t buy a cell phone without being offered a “screen protector.” I don’t understand why I would buy a fancy new phone with a gorgeous display and stick a piece of foggy plastic on it. So it won’t get dirty? It’s a touch screen, for Pete’s sake! It’s going to get finger marks on it! When I bought my last laptop, one of my students was appalled that I hadn’t paid another $50 or more for some rubberized piece of goo to cover the computer. I said, “someone went to a lot of trouble to make this computer look so nice, why would I want to cover it up?” We get sold $10 UV filters to put in front of our camera lenses, we can buy “skins” to cover up our cameras and lenses, but for what? So it won’t look like we use them? Come on, we don’t use them enough as it is, why cover it up with some aftermarket stuff someone thinks we need, just to keep our gear looking nice.
I have no idea why that was stuck in my head today. Well actually I do, and I feel much better now. Thanks!
At work the other morning, someone asked me how I was doing. She was somewhat taken aback when I replied that I was doing “fantastic.” She looked at me like I had just spoken to her in Swahili. I then said that having just gotten back from a 2-week vacation that I was loving life, even though the benefit of the time off was quickly fading. Cue the “must be nice,” “wish I had your money,” I could never take 2 weeks,” etc., etc., etc. commentary. Then she said something about “coming back to this place” to which I replied that I would gladly come back to work in order to be able to do another vacation like I just did, that I thought it was a fair trade. More Swahili.
We all know and work with people who are, let’s say, “happiness challenged.” Not that they are depressed or anything – although it’s possible that some of them are – but mostly they just spend a lot of time with negative attitudes – toward work, their spouse, their kids, their cars, etc. And they’re not too shy to talk about it. But that attitude carries over to how they live their lives, to the point where, for many people, they don’t seem to have the ability to understand the concept of doing things that make them happy. Sometimes I meet up with friends for lunch or dinner, and way too often all they do is complain about things.
We all have stuff that makes us angry or drives us crazy. But I have come to the conclusion – and this was a long time coming – is that it is not all of these outside things that bother me and make me crazy. It is my reaction to those things that makes them intolerable. So I’ve been working really hard at managing my own attitude, and I’ve found that it really helps. Don’t like the way people are driving? Back off and think about something else. Don’t like your cube neighbor’s Polka ringtone on his cell phone? Laugh it off. Neighbor’s dog barking endlessly while they are away? I haven’t solved that one yet, so I just turn up the music. Blue jeans in the cruise ship dining room? Whatever! I can’t change any of it, so fix the things I can fix, and for those things I can’t fix, I accept them and move on. Works for me.
The great thing about taking a vacation is that it does tend to put things in perspective. There’s a lot more to life than work, and there is way more to life than finding things to complain about. So look for the positives! While coming home and going back to work can be difficult, I would gladly trade a few months’ work in order to take another nice vacation. It’s a worthwhile trade.
One of the best sayings I saw or heard on our trip to Alaska: “There is no such thing as inclement weather, only inappropriate clothing.” That pretty much says it!
Kathy & I are planners, and we have developed a number of tools to help us gather and pack the clothing, sundries, camera equipment and other essentials for every kind of trip we take. I was talking with a friend the other day about our upcoming Alaska/California adventure, with the usual small talk (have you started packing, how many suitcases are you taking, etc.). I replied that while Kathy & I have talked about the fact that our packing for this trip will be a little different than our packing for a typical Caribbean cruise (it’s rainy and 44 in Skagway as I write this, with snow and lows in the 30’s in the short-term forecast!) it’s not that difficult because we’re pretty organized.
“Pretty organized” may be an understatement.
We haven’t worried about packing because it’s not a big deal. We’ve developed a workbook in Excel that contains checklists for every kind of trip we’ve ever taken. It we did something different, we would probably be able to adapt one or more of our existing lists to make a new one. It’s partly because we’ve traveled a lot and don’t like to reinvent the wheel every time, but it’s also because we try hard to not take too much stuff. It’s a bit of a challenge, but we both try very hard to enjoy coming back from a trip with stuff we didn’t use or clothes we didn’t wear. Especially the latter.
Being organized is a real advantage, though. On one hand, we love to be serendipitous. Decide on Thursday night to head for the mountains after work on Friday. Sometimes we do, and we can be packed for a weekend in 30 minutes. On the other hand, we never worry about having what we need because if we’ve needed it before it’s on the list, and if we haven’t needed it before it’s not. So when we need to we can pack in a hurry, and we take comfort in knowing that – ruling out something unexpected – if it’s not on the list, we don’t need it! And THAT allows us to enjoy the journey and not worry about the gear.
Packing camera gear is a lot like packing shirts. I decide how many I think I need, know that I’ll leave a favorite or two at home, put them in a bag or case, and go. For this upcoming trip I’ve decided to take just 3 lenses. I could take more, but then I would have to take my huge Think Tank roller and I know I’d end up having to check it. Plus, that’s a lot of gear that I just don’t need. So I’ve decided to pare things down to a small backpack that I’m confident will fit under the seat. My current lens choices are the 17-40, 24-105 and 100-400. I keep going back and forth between the 24-105 and the 24-70. It’s tough because the 24-70 is a significantly better lens (to me), but the 24-105 gives me a bit more coverage and I think the IS will come in handy. Handy enough to give up the better lens? That’s the question.
I have the same struggle with the 100-400. My 70-200 is my favorite lens of all, and I hate to leave it at home. But I really think I’m going to want the 400 focal length in Alaska, and while I could get that with the 70-200 and a 2X converter, having the converter is kind of like having another lens, because then I either have a 70-200 or I have a 140-400, and the 100-400 pretty much solves that.
And as I’m so fond of saying – repeat after me – the more lens choices I have the more likely I’ll decide I’ve got the wrong one on the camera.
My next decision involves whether to take a backup body, a point & shoot, or both. There may be a few times when I’ll want to have the 100-400 on one body and a wide-angle on another body. Not too many, but enough that I’m taking the 5D as a second body. It would be a shame to carry all that glass to Alaska and have something happen to the new 5D, so it will be good to have a worthy backup.
I originally planned to take along my G12 as a “walking around” camera, but when I really started thinking about it, I had to ask myself how likely it would be that I would leave the 5D Mark III behind anywhere? I’m pretty sure that the new camera will go with me everywhere, and that I’d end up never using the G12. So, as of right this moment it is staying at home.
One of the things I liked about my previous choices of camera bodies was that the 5D, 40D and 20D all use the same battery. The 5D Mark III uses the same battery as the 7D, but alas I didn’t buy that one, so I’ll need to take a separate set of batteries and a charger for the other camera, too. That’s not really a problem, but it is a bit more stuff to pack.
I don’t usually take a computer when we travel these days, but I’m taking one for this trip. I’m taking it mostly because I know I’m going to take a lot of photos, and even though I think I’m taking plenty of cards I want to be able to back them up. And just in case I do run out of empty cards I want to be able to re-use them. So the computer goes with me, along with an external hard drive for backup. And if I get inspired to write a blog post or two, it’s a heck of a lot easier to type on the computer than on the iPad!
Since this trip involves lots of different destinations with activities in each, with appointments and directions once we get back to California, I’ve added all my maps and documents to my iPad. So in addition to having plenty of things to read I’ve got everything I need to get us where we need to go. Pretty slick!
So, now that I’ve got all the camera gear and computer equipment figured out, the clothes should be a – relatively speaking – piece of cake!
I attended one of Les Saucier’s “Refining your Photographic Vision” workshops this past weekend. I think it was the third or fourth one I’ve attended. I seem to always get something out of Les’ workshop that makes it worth the time and cost. This time was no exception. The thing that I find most fascinating though is that a lot of the things I learn don’t always come from the instructor or even the other participants. Sometimes the best “nuggets” are things that I learn about myself.
Part of the day’s activities involves a critique of images we have selected and brought in to share. Les goes through everyone’s images and comments on what he sees, how they might be made better and he usually has some good suggestions on things to work on and look for the next time. One of the participants showed an image that, while it was not taken with an iPhone, it was processed to look like it was done with one of the popular apps. Les’ comment was that – and I’m paraphrasing – the effect should not be the subject, that the software effects used in processing our images should be used to obtain or achieve our vision for the photograph. The photograph should not be “about” the effect. I found this interesting, because I feel that too often an image is shared to show off a technique, rather than to show someone what the photographer saw or how the photographer felt. I wrote about this several years ago in a post entitled “Don’t Make It About the Technique” where someone had suggested something similar to me about my use of camera movement to show motion in an image. The same concepts hold true here.
During the introductions, one of the participants mentioned that they were using all the latest Nik and Topaz software. Les asked how that person knew when to use what software, since the software is a tool to achieve our vision, not a vision in and of itself.
Several people in the class mentioned tools or software or equipment that they had purchased but “hadn’t had time” to use, hadn’t learned how it works or hadn’t even taken it out of the box. The problem I have with that is that too many people buy stuff without really understanding whether they need it. They just think that if they have something then they can take pictures just like the person who sold it to them. That may be true, and it may be absolutely OK if that’s what you want, but the best tool in the world won’t help a bit if it doesn’t help you achieve your intended result. And it does nothing for you whatsoever if it never comes out of the box. We spend way more time searching for recipes and magic buttons than we do actually figuring out what we want to say. Unless, of course, “look at all my stuff” is our message.
At another point in the day there was a discussion about tripods. Les gave us his “Good, Better, Best” talk and showed us his choices for Better and Best tripods. He told us that he couldn’t recommend the Best tripod because it costs too much. But the Best one is the one he uses, and also happens to be the one I use. I realize that there is a point at which we all have to determine what our needs are, and that helps us decide what price represents an appropriate amount to spend for a given tool. But when I ran those numbers for my own purchase several months ago, I decided that Best was what I needed and wanted, and while the difference was fairly significant in dollars it was relatively small in terms of my overall investment in equipment. Now that the money is gone, I never ever question my decision to buy the Best tripod. It is exactly the tool I need and has made a noticeable improvement in the sharpness of my images (notice that I didn’t say that it has made a noticeable difference in the quality of my photographs!). Again, we all have to make a choice, but for something as important as a tripod, I’m not sure the Better is good enough when Best costs only a little more.
The best nugget for me was during the critique of one of my photos when Les suggested cloning out a few distracting elements. I agreed with him and had actually thought about doing that when I originally processed the image. I thought about his comments later and remembered that the reason I hadn’t cloned them out originally was because I couldn’t get the result I wanted in Lightroom. Lightroom’s healing brush doesn’t work well on larger areas and to do it right I was going to need to use Photoshop. My desire to do everything in Lightroom (a nice way of saying ‘my hard headedness’) makes me avoid Photoshop obsessively except for the few things that I just can’t do in Lightroom. But as I thought about it I realized that it was foolish of me to allow my choice of tools to influence my artistic decisions. It’s no different from someone else using a tool or software indiscriminately to determine their vision. If I need to use Photoshop to get the results I want, then I just need to use Photoshop. So as soon as I have time I’m going to go back and re-work that photo in Photoshop to get the result I should have gotten to start with.
Overall it was a great session. I learned some things that I think will be valuable. Les’ biggest lesson is that we need to get our cameras out and go practice. So Sunday morning I did just that. This had already been planned before the workshop, but I stepped out of my comfort zone, got up well before sunrise and went out and shot some commercial photographs for a restaurant in Charlotte. But that is a story for another day.
The nature photography group that I belong to is an affiliate member of the Photographic Society of America, or PSA. We have recently begun participating in a number of their competitions, some of them for projected images but most of them for printed images. Because I consider the well-made print to be the intended final result of my photography, I began to submit some of my work to be considered for entry in these competitions. We’ve got a lot of members and each club is limited in the number of images they can submit in each category, plus each photographer is limited in the number of their images that can be in any one submission. It’s all very complicated to me and I have a hard time figuring it out so I generally don’t bother trying. I just send my stuff in and if it gets picked it does, and if it doesn’t it doesn’t. No big deal either way.
I did have one of my photos win an Honorable Mention in one of the projected image competitions a couple of years ago, and that was nice. I’ve been working hard at getting better with my printing and am very proud of some of the work I have submitted, so I was hoping that one or more of my prints would do well.
I received an e-mail this morning with images of the winners from the most recent competition. Mine was not included in the list of winners or those receiving honorable mention. I won’t go into a lot of detail regarding how I feel about the winners, since they obviously appealed to the people who were doing the judging. But I’ve come to the conclusion that, at least for the purposes of these competitions, the kind of work I’m submitting isn’t what the judges are looking for. I’m just not using enough software.
This is not intended to be sour grapes or anything, and to conclude that would be missing my point. But I’d be interested in knowing if there is some place or some way to get meaningful and constructive feedback on printed work that is more representative of traditional photography, rather than heavily manipulated and/or highly processed images. Maybe I’m just entering the wrong category in these competitions, but I can’t imagine that I’m the only one experiencing this. Does anyone actively participate in a print review group? Is anyone interested in starting one? It’s something I’ve considered for a while, but there just aren’t that many people printing their work these days. And of those who do, it doesn’t seem like there are many people whose goals are similar to mine. I’d be interested in knowing the thoughts of anyone reading, and might even propose that a few of us give it a try and see how it goes. Send me an e-mail or reply in the comments.
When I ventured into this photography thing as something more serious than taking snapshots, I started off, as a lot of people do, shooting nature subjects. Kathy & I would drive around with Kevin Adams’ Waterfalls of North Carolina book, looking for waterfalls and shooting anything we found interesting along the way. At one point it seemed like I had a knack for finding “magic moments” where the morning or afternoon light provided gifts of dramatic clouds, fabulous sunbeams and great sunrise and sunset colors. I was a Nature Photographer, and proud of it.
I still find myself attracted to the mountains and to the woods, but I’ve also realized that there are photographs to be made everywhere. I’ve made photographs in small towns, large towns, on cruise ships, on Caribbean islands, at the beach, in the mountains, you name it.
The difficult thing is that it’s hard to break old habits. When I think about photographing fall colors I automatically think about heading for the mountains. Same with spring wildflowers, or sunrises and sunsets. But the seasons happen everywhere, and there are photographs of all kinds to be made in lots of places besides those we think of first. The challenge is to come up with new ideas. Fall at a bluegrass concert in Floyd, VA perhaps. Wildflowers at a park or garden in Statesville. The possibilities are endless.
The thing I love most about photography is that it so personal. I can photograph whatever I want, wherever I want – within reason, of course! Rather than limit my travel to traditional photographic icons, I like seeking out subject matter wherever I am, in places where it is harder to find, and where I have to work a little harder to find something that appeals to me.
Paul Lester recently wrote on his blog a post titled “Where I Connect” about reviewing his images in preparation for a critique session at an upcoming workshop. Paul wrote that he “connects” with nature and people. He and I are attending the same workshop and in going through the same exercise I’m finding that while I still do a lot of nature photography I have been connecting more and more with things other than nature, which is interesting since I have traditionally considered myself a nature photographer. I’ll probably come up with a mix of material, but it’s an interesting process. I don’t like labels anyway, so maybe I’ll just start considering myself a Photographer, without any prefixes. And I’m proud of that, too.
Kathy & I are spending the long President’s Day weekend (President’s Day for most banking-related employers except mine. Oh, well….) in Belhaven, NC, one of our favorite getaway spots. We enjoy coming to Belhaven because we can do or not do, as much or as little as we choose. It’s a nice little town on the Intracoastal Waterway, a little sleepy but there’s enough to do if you want something to do. We’ve got some good friends that run a B&B here, and it is nice to visit several times a year to catch up. After the hustle & bustle of The Big City it is a welcome change.
Saturday we visited Washington, NC, just down the road between Belhaven and Greenville. There’s a great wine shop there we like to visit called Wine & Words (‘Words’ because it is also a used book store). We go for the wine but I’ve also bought books there, once picking up a copy of Peter Turnley’s The Parisians for an amazingly good price.
I’ve been begging Kathy to let me try out her little Olympus E-PL2 for quite some time, and she decided that she wasn’t planning to do any shooting this weekend, so as long as I used my own memory card (so I wouldn’t corrupt hers!) I could shoot to my heart’s content. I didn’t shoot a lot with it, but I did get a chance to make some walking-around-town photos in Washington and worked a little bit around the Sunset Hour, although colorwise there wasn’t much to work with.
Today has been wet and cold and rainy, so while I ordinarily wouldn’t spend time processing and posting photographs, it seemed like a perfect day to play around with Lightroom 4. I’m teaching a Lightroom class this coming Saturday and thought I probably should at least be able to discuss the upcoming update. I decided to just jump in without reading any tutorials, so now that I’ve spent some time with it I can look at some tutorials and figure out what I should have known before I started. Sort of like reading the manual after assembling the swing set, but I figure I can’t hurt anything. So far, so good.
A lot of the new version looks pretty much like the old one, although I’m obviously going to need to spend some time learning about the new Map and Book modules. There are some interesting new slider functions in the Develop Module, and that’s where I spent most of my time. It will be interesting to read about the changes and find out what I should have known before I started!
So anyway, these are a few images shot on an unfamiliar camera and processed with a partially unfamiliar program. I think they’re kind of fun, I had fun making them and fun working with Lightroom 4.
Pentax announced a new mirrorless camera today. A lot of the chatter I saw – on one blog, I don’t spend any time on the “forums” – was discussing the design, which depending on your point of view is either really cool or makes it look like it was built by Little Tykes or Tonka (one of the versions is actually bright yellow). Among the usual comments like “I’d buy it in a heartbeat if only…” was a quote from someone named Paul (hopefully not my friend Paul that frequents this blog!), who in referring to the comments about it being ugly, said:
“You’d think, in a creative hobby such as photography, that folks would be… you know… creative in other ways of thinking and seeing the world as well. The only thing I have learned from reading blogs and online photo forums is that photographers now-a-days are the most conservative, dull and uninspired group (of mostly old men) on the planet.”
Boy, doesn’t that pretty much nail it. There are exceptions of course, and I feel that I and anyone reading my blog qualifies as an exception, but I see that everywhere. A bunch of old dudes collecting expensive equipment and hauling it around in their PT Cruisers to a bunch of checklist places and taking cliché photographs of famous icons. Of course, no one reading this blog fits that definition so please don’t take offense! Although I believe that is perfectly OK if that is your goal. More than anything I want to make sure I don’t fall into that definition, and I’m trying really, really hard to avoid doing so.
Granted, a bright yellow camera and a field full of (mostly) gray and black does stand out, but you’d never lose it! I personally tend to prefer a camera that blends in, and you would do anything but blend in with a yellow camera! But I think you have to give them credit for thinking a little outside the box. And this actually looks like it might be a very nice camera. It’s got a nice, big APS-C sized sensor and it uses existing Pentax K-mount lenses as well as some new ones they are producing just for this camera. Interesting.
There’s been a good-natured discussion going on over at Paul Lester’s blog. Paul rented a Canon G12 to try and compare with the S90 he currently owns, and several of us who have and shoot with the G12 chimed in with our words of wisdom. More recently Paul has been trying out a Nikon V1. I don’t think he’s planning to buy one but is interested in knowing what all the hoopla is about. In this day of disappearing camera shops and the inability to “try before you buy” I think renting a camera is a very smart way to go. And Paul’s a smart guy.
Of course I recently started shooting with the Fuji X10 and like it a lot. I still use the G12 and occasionally shoot with my “old” G9. I’m teaching an Intro to Digital Point & Shoot class this coming weekend and the next few weekends and will probably bring my mothballed G5 our of storage just to reminisce a bit. The G5 was my first digital camera, way back in 2004, and although I haven’t used it in a long time the files still look pretty good, albeit a bit small.
On a recent weekend trip to Hilton Head Island, SC I shot with – at different times – my Canon 5D, my Canon G12 and my Fuji X10. I got good results from all three of them, but the best experience was using the smaller and simpler cameras. I especially enjoyed walking around shooting architectural details handheld. I even put the G12 on a tripod for a sunset trip to the beach. But when I went out with a backpack with the 5D, two lenses, polarizers and all the stuff to go with it, I just…didn’t like it.
There’s been a lot of anticipation lately about the latest and greatest offerings from Nikon and Canon, but every time I think about carrying around another one of those beasts my shoulders start to hurt. I could sell my car and buy the forthcoming 1DX and a 200-400, but I’d have to hire someone to carry it. I resisted the urge to upgrade to the 5D Mark II and have a passing interest in the expected replacement, but when I look at my barely-carryon-legal rolling suitcase that holds all my gear and compare it with my G12 or my X10 (Kathy won’t let me touch her Olympus!) I can’t help but long for the simplicity of my Mamiya 7 and 3 prime lenses. That, a box of 220 film and a fanny pack and I was good for the weekend! Not any more.
I’ve sort of had in the back of my mind – more recently bubbling toward the front of my mind – that one of these new compact systems is going to be the be-all and end-all for me. The image quality keeps getting better to the point that I think it will no longer be a compromise or a step down to use a compact camera as a primary camera. I’m trying to be patient, and buying the little cameras like the X10 – while certainly not cheap – give me the thrill of something new while waiting for the right system to come along.
All of this discussion is fine. Even-tempered, well reasoned and logical. What gets me shaking my head though is the people who get so fired up about the new cameras that they practically stop taking pictures while they wait for the new ones. It’s as though their existing equipment stopped working as soon as the new stuff was announced.
But hey, it’s a hobby and we can all spend our money however we want, right? As long as the mortgage gets paid and the kids have shoes, we can spend the rest on golf clubs, wine, cars or anything we want, including cameras. Does it make us happy to be the first person in the club with the new XYZ Pro 1000? Buy it! Have an itch for that new RRS tripod? Sign up!
The inner geek in me gets excited about all this stuff too, and even if I wasn’t seriously thinking about making a change I’d still be interested. It’s a little scary to me when I even think about being at the front of the line for a brand-new camera. I worry that I’m interested for the wrong reasons. When I go to Lowe’s to buy a new hammer I don’t get all warm and fuzzy comparing them. It’s a tool, and as long as it does the job it should be an impersonal and unemotional transaction. But a camera seems like another story. I guess it’s because our photography is our way to express creativity we tend to get a little (lot?) more excited about buying cameras than we do when buying a hammer.
Hopefully I can manage to watch and listed for a few more weeks at least, until we see what gets announced in early February. Then, perhaps armed with a few more facts instead of a lot of speculation, I can actually make a decision. Those of you who might be looking to pick up some good Canon lenses for a song, keep your money in your pockets. I don’t move that fast, and may just decide to keep shooting with what I have for a while. I might just decide to carry around a little less of it!