Tag Archives: general nonsense

Another Example

Image processed in Lightroom from a single “-2 EV” RAW file

On my previous post, Monte asked about how the HDR version of that image came out, and as it turned out I didn’t do an HDR series on that particular photo so I didn’t have anything to compare.  Just for kicks though, I went back and found an image where I did do a bracketed series including an in-camera HDR file.

HDR Image from 3 bracketed frames, blended in Photoshop and finished in Lightroom

Most of my readers know that I really dislike futzing around in Photoshop, so I probably didn’t do the HDR version justice.  But while there are things I like about it, I’m really a fan of the contrast you get from a single file.  While the HDR version perhaps shows more “detail” I’d rather see the contrast.  Of course I’m a fan of rich, dark tones in my photos and HDR kind of defeats the purpose for me.

In-camera HDR from the same 3 frames used for the Photoshop version. Unprocessed, it’s a little dark for my taste.

I’ve made these files a little larger for those who want to pixel peep.  But please don’t criticize my Photoshop skills.  Because, especially for things like HDR, I’m really out of practice.

I hope everyone has a great Sunday!

Reality Check

Kidd’s Mill Covered Bridge, Reynolds, PA

Kathy & I spent a quiet and relaxing (except for the drive home) extended Thanksgiving weekend in eastern Ohio and western Pennsylvania visiting family and friends.  As is my usual habit, I spent minimal time perusing the interwebs or watching television, so I enjoyed a blissful 5 days away from all of the messages telling me what I was supposed to be doing, buying or worrying about.  Fortunately I returned to work today, so I was able to get my 5-minute daily dose (aggregated from all my visits to the break room during the day) of television “news,” so I am now up to speed again.  Fiscal Cliff, blah-blah, Black Friday, blah-blah, Cyber Monday, blah-blah, Petraeus (or not Petraeus), blah-blah, Egypt, blah-blah, football, blah-blah, William and Kate, etc.

Somehow all of that stuff pales in comparison to cherished and overdue time with loved ones.  I hope you all had time to spend with yours.

Emotional Content or Technical Perfection?

Not a mistake, exactly. But definitely an outtake. But how can you resist that smile?

Great minds think alike, I guess.  On the same day that I was thinking about this subject, my friends Monte Stevens and Paul Lester were also posting similar thoughts on their own blogs.  In fact my reply to Monte’s post became the basis for this post, and if I hadn’t read Monte’s post first I might have posted the same comment on Paul’s post!

Monte talks about how the most emotional images aren’t necessarily the ones that exhibit technical perfection.  Paul related an experience with a co-worker who didn’t appreciate Paul’s photograph that his daughter appeared in because it was “blurry.”

A little off center? OK, but it’s still a great expression!

We sometimes lose track of the fact that “technical perfection” is that technique that adequately expresses our vision.  That doesn’t always mean sharp or even “properly” exposed.  This past weekend I took pictures of the children of some friends.  They are mostly candid shots of the kids playing, swinging, hanging from monkey bars, etc.  Some of them are horribly overexposed and many of them are blurry or misfocused.  On my first pass through the photos I marked a lot of them as Rejects.  But I went back later and decided that some of them had merit, so I processed some of them and think that a few of them – happy accidents they may be – really express the emotions and energy of these 2 1/2 year-olds.  And at that point, exposure, focus and sharpness take a back seat to the feeling that the photo portrays.

While we always strive for technical excellence, sometimes the shots that show the emotion we are trying to capture are not the ones that are “perfect,” but they end up being the ones the express our intentions “perfectly.”

And sometimes you nail it!

A great subject for a Friday – inspiration for the weekend!

Why I Do It

Many Tanks

We all have something we do to pay the bills.  For most of us that’s a job.  And besides the obvious reasons, like needing to make the house payment and pay for food, our jobs have things about them that sometimes make them worth getting up in the morning.  For me, one of the advantages is when a customer appreciates my work and takes the time to say so.

Window Reflections

Most of my time at work is what I call “widget based.”  We have certain goals – The Company calls them production goals although we don’t actually produce anything – and the jobs or tasks we do have a certain number of points assigned to them.  Every month our success (or lack thereof) is determined by how many of these widgets we do.

2000

Of course I’ve been doing this kind of work a lot longer than most of the people I work with, and I remember a time when our primary focus was taking care of our customers, no matter what we needed to do or how long it took.  The Company says it still cares, and I suppose at the most basic level it still does.  But my job, and The Company’s method for determining how well I do it, is based on the number of widgets I do.  We don’t measure customer satisfaction, with me or anyone else.

Faucet and Awning

Sometimes though, while I’m sitting at my desk trying to figure out how squeeze out a few more widgets in order to earn enough points to keep my job, I get e-mails like this one from a customer who I made happy:

Hello Tom,

I received the renewal documents for the (loan).  We have both signed and I will be mailing them back today in the self-addressed envelope.

Thank you for believing and trusting in our company.  I did want to update you on the (balances) of these loans.  As of Friday, I paid off the remaining balance on the credit card and I also paid down $70,000 on the line we are now renewing.  Just wanted you to know.

Have a great week!

Thanks again,

So in this whole crazy world of business, even though I might not get any points from The Company for happy customers, I can still get points from the customers.  And I think that makes for good Karma.  And plenty of reason to go back tomorrow!

Palm Shadow

P.O.P.T.P.

This wasn’t my idea…she just stopped in front of the camera. Sometimes you take what you get!

It’s been sort of an unofficial and undeclared project of mine to take photographs of people taking photographs, aka Pictures Of People Taking Pictures.  ‘Unofficial’ because I don’t “set out” looking for such photos, I just happen upon them.  ‘Undeclared’ because I haven’t published or printed any groups of them.  I just have a growing number of “P.O.P.T.P.s” in my collection and sort of figured that one day there would be enough decent ones to make up a series.

I was on the beach at Hilton Head a few weeks ago taking photos at sunrise.  Most people see the tripod and walk behind me.  A few of them are so oblivious to my presence that they walk right in front of the camera.  Occasionally they stop.

This woman was with a group of 4 people walking by.  I was set up for my shot and had Live View activated, so I was able to watch the scene in case they “posed” for me.  One of the hidden advantages of Live View is perhaps the ability to take pictures when it doesn’t look like you are taking pictures?  I was able to watch as they walked into my scene.  I thought they were going to keep walking, but at the very last moment this woman stopped and took several shots.  While she was standing still I was able to click off a few frames of my own.

Resourcefulness

Beach Vision

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!

Protection, or Overkill?

Curves and Angles

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!

Too Lazy for Sunrise

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!

Stucco Shadows

Attitude Adjustment

Scrap pile behind the Great Alaskan Lumberjack Show in Ketchikan, Alaska

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.

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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!

Don't Laugh, It Runs!

Planning & Preparation

White Pass & Yukon Scenic Railway, Skagway, Alaska

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.

Sherman City Hall-Alaska Railroad from Anchorage to Denali National Park, Alaska

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.

Gracious House Lodge and Flying Service, Denali Highway, Cantwell, Alaska

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.

Glaciers in College Fjord, Alaska

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.

Fog Rising from the Bay, Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve, Alaska

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!

Marina, Ketchikan, Alaska

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!

A Number of Good Points

Fuji X10 in "Super Macro" mode

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.