Practice and More Practice

I’m trying to prevent sliding into a photographic rut again. By that, I mean that I’m trying to avoid those long periods of time (1, 2, 3 months) of not seriously photographing anything.

Last weekend I took a half-day trip out of town to photograph an old cemetery. It’s not my ideal type of photography, but I did enjoy it. I went with several other photo-buddies and also enjoyed the company and our discussions.

I then spent some quality time with a camera around my home. Within minutes of wandering around the backyard I found something really interesting: a 4-inch wide polyphemus moth hanging upside-down in the loquat tree.

I didn’t shoot any landscapes or the Milky Way. I didn’t get to travel anywhere that would be considered scenic, like the Big Bend. But I came away with photos that I like and had an enjoyable time doing it.

I just gotta keep doing it… :-)

Backlog

Most of my work day is spent sitting in front of a computer screen.

As I get older, I’ve become less tolerant of staring at a monitor for long periods of time. My head and neck hurt sometimes and I’m losing my ability to quickly focus and re-focus my eyes when looking away and then back at the screen.

I know I’ve said it before. The last thing I feel like doing when I get home is to spend more time sitting on my butt and basking in the electronic glow of a monitor.

The amount of photos that I’ve shot but not processed or edited has stacked up considerably over the past year. And this seems to get worse as time goes on, i.e. I feel less and less motivated to park myself in front of a screen do actually do something with my photos.

I’ve tried making things better for photo viewing and editing. I rearranged my desk to be more comfortable and easier to get things done. I bought a new (used) 2560 x 1440 monitor to have a larger screen. I kept my old monitor so that I have dual screen setup. Both are wide gamut NEC’s and are color calibrated.

But it still does not help :-)

Last weekend I forced myself to sit down and work on images. I got through a couple dozen, and it felt good to make some progress.

But I still can’t find the trick that makes it better. Maybe I’m just getting older and need to accept it :-)

Photography and the Day-to-Day Life

How do you fit photography into your life? And perhaps that should be stated real life: the life where you must eat, sleep, and take care of basic things like making sure you have food to eat and a roof over your head. Those things can require a lot of attention and time.

Photography is not a full time career for me. And I think even professional photographers (which is hard to define, but let’s just say it’s someone who earns a living from photography) have a difficult time putting real photography as a significant and meaningful activity into their lives.

And by real photography I mean the creative act of engaging visually with your environment and then, fast-forwarding through a lot of details, making meaningful images…. images that satisfy your creative itch. Images that fulfill something important deep inside your mind or heart.

I frequently want to go out and engage in a meaningful, creative act involving a camera in some manner, but then I’m usually faced with a daily schedule full of daily responsibilities combined with the schedules of my family and the things they need to do. Photography then takes a much lower priority on the big list, i.e. shit I gotta get done today.

I could say I’m a victim of regular, real life. Everything important to keeping my life and family going happily forward takes time and effort and most days I can’t spare even a moment to pick up a camera to do something meaningful and creative with it. But saying victim implies that the situation is out of my control, and it’s not despite how it might feel.

So what can be done?

Making some changes is an obvious path forward, but there are some things I cannot change and others that I don’t want to change. My family keeps me pretty busy and I happen to really like them :-)

Photography, unlike a lot of other activities and hobbies, is quite unique. It can be done as a primary activity or secondary as you perform some other activity. It can even be done without a camera.

Uh… wait. No camera?

Right, no camera.

No Camera

The important part of making an image is dialing-into something that interests you and thinking and visualizing how you might take a picture of it.

It can be anything. An interesting shadow. A caterpillar hidden away beneath some leaf in the landscaping outside of a building. Two people holding hands walking ahead of you on a sidewalk.

You see it. You engage with it in your thoughts. You enjoy the details and start working out a composition and think about how you’d make an image of it. You visualize the shot or a combination of shots to capture it.

That part of the photographic process is the significant and important part of producing an image. The rest is kind of technical and involves actually using a camera to capture the image you’ve visualized in your mind.

You can do this front-end process (everything but the camera) over and over easily as you go about your busy day.

In Practice

Yesterday I was busy. There was work (occupies about 11 – 12 hours of my day, typically), exercise, dinner, a few things to fix at home, time with my family, etc. A fairly typical day.

As I rode my bike I tried to think about photography. I enjoyed details here and there as rode past. But I passed them on purpose. I had to be home at a certain time and I did not want to stop and take a picture. (As a side note, I’ve put an priority on getting exercise because I really need it. So it is a conscious decision that puts my health first… because I’m now 40-something and my flabby middle section is not doing me any favors.)

During the ride, of all the things that attracted my attention, I really enjoyed seeing my shadow in front of me and how it changed depending on the direction of the path. As the sun set behind me my shadow grew and spread out in front of me. It was a simple sight but interesting.

And thinking about it was refreshing as well as mentally beneficial. Rather than letting my mind chew on the details of my day and the plans that are ahead, I explored creative thoughts.

I did take the shadow idea to the next step just because I did have a camera with me and didn’t have to stop to do it. It was a quick technical execution to capture the image I’d been visualizing.

I finished my ride and went home to wrap up my busy day. But the collective few minutes that I engaged in the photographic process (or at least part of it) was nice.

All of this is mostly advice for me – to remind me to keep doing this because I enjoy it.

Stop. Just Stop.

How many times has something attracted your attention and that little voice in your head spoke to you? You know, the one that tells you to stop for a photo?

Call it photographer’s intuition. If you haven’t yet, it’s something you should learn to tune in to.

I struggle with it. There’s always something catching my eye that I might process for a moment and think about whether or not I want to stop and attempt to make a photo.

It’s usually the second part of that process that gets me into trouble. If I think too much about whether or not to stop for it, it being the shiny sparkly sight that’s pulled me out of my usual daze, then I’m likely to over-think the situation and pass it up.


Slow down and enjoy the scene? Or speed up and blast through it? :-)
click to enlarge

I’ve regretted the things I’ve passed up. And I’ve enjoyed and been rewarded for most of the things I’ve stopped and made time for.

There’s some advice I can offer here, and this advice is pointed mainly at myself. I have to remember these things every time I go out.

1. Allow yourself extra time. If going from Point A to B, then add a bit of extra time so that stopping for a photo doesn’t disrupt your schedule.

2. Don’t have high expectations. Don’t have any expectations. Some scenes work out great. Some don’t. The main point to all of this is to exercise your photographic eye and practice the photographic process. And you might also have fun doing it. I know I always do.

My Camera Does Not Shoot People

I sometimes get asked to take photos of people and other subjects outside of my usual areas of expertise and liking. Portraits, products, horses, groups, and even weddings!

It’s usually because someone has seen either my landscape photography work or my camera gear when I’ve been out shooting. I see what’s going on in their heads, and sometimes they even tell me. “You have a nice camera!”

I’ll stay out of that argument for the purposes of keeping this short. Let’s just say that it has little to do with the camera.

So, over the years, I’ve done the rare portrait session or the like for friends or family. I always advise against it. The usual disclaimer is something like, “if you want good photos, hire a professional that does this type of work on a regular basis” (i.e. not me). It’s not that I don’t want to do it. The problem is that I can’t live up to what’s expected from a photographer that is skilled in this kind of work.

So, my son’s cub scout pack wanted to do portraits for this upcoming school year, and guess who was asked :-)

I really don’t mind. And knowing that these photos would be used for the online scout messaging and events website only accessible by the scouts, I didn’t think there would be high expectations. With the help of a friend and also our den leader, we got it all done within an hour.

My photo-buddy, Wes, has been in the same type of situation many times before. And his response? “My camera does not shoot people.”

There’s no fooling around. There’s no discussion. He shuts down the discussion right away.

Maybe there’s some wisdom there :-)

Big Bend #VantagePoint

I often get asked about my travels through the Big Bend and where my favorite spots to shoot are. This is a tough question for me to answer. And I’m sure my attempts have been met with some frustration and eye rolling :-)

I do not have a favorite spot. Anywhere in the Big Bend region is my favorite spot. Well, just about anywhere… maybe not that lumpy, sloped and spider-infested spot that I tried to sleep on once while tent camping near Dominguez Springs.

However, I can think of one spot, a #VantagePoint that stands out and is a frequent stop for me during my travels to the Big Bend region.

Just east of the western entrance gate of Big Bend National Park along Highway 118 is a small parking lot on the north side of the road. You’ll probably not notice it as you drive past. I rarely ever see anyone parked there. And I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone wandering out in the desert near that little lot.

Lat. 29.2945°
Long. -103.4940°

Hike just a few yards to the north and you’ll come to a broad, open arroyo. This mini-canyon is a dry, wide opening in the Earth that is filled with interesting curves and colors. You can stroll right up to the edge of this impressive viewpoint and enjoy a quiet slice of desert. Several mountains spread across the horizon in front of you.


click to see larger

You’ll be greeted with an amazing silence. Nothing is more relaxing than to NOT hear the din of man-made sounds that we’re all too used to. You’ll hear the crunch of gravel under your feet and probably the wind blowing through the tall, spindly ocotillo. But gone are leaf blowers, car horns, angry people, giant freeways, and huge commercial jets.

The smell of the desert is clean and sometimes colored lightly with fragrance from the creosote bushes all around. The refreshing dry air will remind you how much you hate humidity when you feel the lack of it.

The sights? It’s probably not the greatest view in the park. It’s certainly not one of the iconic views you see online and in publications. But it’s still an amazing spot. It’s amazing because it has all the elements of what makes the Big Bend so great and it’s super easy to get to.

Even more amazing is to wait until after dark. Look in a southerly direction from this parking lot, and depending on the time of year, the Milky Way will stretch up above the horizon.


click to see larger

I have enjoyed this spot and also photographed it many times over the past 10 years with a variety of different cameras. I even take my workshop students there sometimes.

It’s a location that you can hit quickly and move on if you have to. I prefer to spend more than just five minutes there, but that’s not always possible depending on my travel companions.

It helps to have good quality and highly portable camera gear if you’re going light and moving fast. My post from the other day described some of the cameras I’ve used when trying to minimize the gear needed.

Building upon what I said and looking ahead to new options, there is a new camera out now that has the features and specs to potentially be a superb go-fast-n-light pocket-able camera: the Light L16.

I’ve yet to see any reviews from real-world users, so I’ll reserve my judgement until later. The L16 has a unique approach and technology to capturing images that could potentially put it on a level with cameras that use much larger sensors considering the quality of the images.

I look forward to seeing what the L16 can do. Based on my good experience with the 2-year old camera tech in my current cell phone, I think the L16 has a ton of potential.

And it runs on Android. THAT is exciting.

Clouds

It’s too nice to be inside today, but it’s too hot to be outside. It’s mid-October and 92°! Really?

My sister has reminded me lately that cloud-watching can be part of the photographic process. I forget how inspiring and relaxing it can be.

So as I sit here at work and… well, work, there’s this great set of clouds floating by just outside the window.

And it’s still too hot. Enough already :-)

What Happened to the Take-Everywhere Camera?

Technology moving forward. That’s what.

I was in the habit of always having a dedicated camera with me as I went about my day. Usually it was a small point-and-shoot digital camera.

I used a Canon G11 for a while and then later picked up a Sony RX100. Both were good cameras, but the RX100 was exceptional in that it produced better image quality (specfically lower noise at higher ISO settings) and it was actually small enough that I could put it in my pants pockets.

About two years ago I got a new phone: a Nexus 6. The image quality of the cell phone cameras I’d had previously was so bad that I’d only use them for very quick snapshots and documentary type purposes.

The image quality from the Nexus 6 was quite amazing. So good, in fact, that I began to carry my Sony RX100 around less and less. And now it’s come to the point where I hardly use the RX100.

The RX100 is still better than the phone when it comes to image quality. However, the Nexus 6 gets the job done for most situations considering my needs.

Recently I enjoyed a nice sunrise from my office window and took out the old RX100.

And then I shot the same scene with the phone.

The phone’s HDR mode and default processing made the shot a little too saturated in comparison (and I could have fixed that later). But it’s quite impressive to see how a cell phone camera handled that scene especially compared to older cell phone camera tech.

So, I still carry a camera with me at all times (my phone) :-) it’s just a matter of putting it to use! I.e. get out and photograph things!

Making More Stuff

Still in the maker-mode here. Last year I bought an assortment of colored LED lights. I’ve done a few odd things with them, nothing serious. It was more to learn about them and how to make them work.

Now I’m trying to make a tool for light painting. We’ll see how it works out… :-)

LED telights have been the main tool I’ve used for light painting in my night photography. I recently found colored LED tealights and bought a pack of red ones. Waterproof, too!

BTW, the clamp repair that I made a few weeks ago…
was in vain. It does not clamp down on a RRS plate well enough to hold it firmly. Pppfffftttt….

Making Stuff

Time seems to flit by in stretches. Wasn’t new years just the other day? Somehow it’s March now.

This phenomenon gets worse as I get older. That’s scary.

I’ve been engaged in a number of non-photography projects lately and also some photography-related projects. Since I’ve had my head buried in the details, I’ve forgotten to come up for air and take notice of what’s going on in the world. The spring flowers are already starting to bloom here, for one thing.

PROJECTS

Some friends and I helped our kids make a small cart for a competition. It’s made mostly from spare parts and junk we had laying around. It’s basically a giant pull-back car that uses large rubber bands.

Turns out the bands didn’t work so well. I bought some large diameter surgical tubing, and it was more suited to being repeatedly stretched while keeping its elasticity.

My older son and I built a PC for his birthday. I picked out the parts (just a basic-level PC with an Intel processor) and then showed him how to put it all together. He’s 11, and I’m not sure how much he learned. But he did seem to enjoy the process.

And that’s something I want my kids to learn – that making things is often well within your capability if you put your mind to it.

My younger son competed in his first cub scout Pinewood Derby contest. They had an adult category, so I also made a car of my own. Of course there I put a camera in it ;-)

Here is the video from the car: youtu.be/Iwj0jLU7RyM

The ongoing saga of my old Sony 5.1 receiver…

It stopped working a couple of years ago. It kept tripping into protection mode. I tore it apart and found some bad capacitors. I’ve recently replaced them, and it still doesn’t work :-(

This thing should go to the junk bin, but the geek/engineer in me cannot stand to let it go. Next on the list is to test all the power transistors.

Another interesting repair was an old set of powered computer speakers that stopped working. Turns out there was a small ball bearing rolling around inside the speaker that contained the amp. It was rolling around on the circuit board and shorting things out.

Typically, speakers don’t contain any ball bearings :-) But, living in a house with two young boys I’ve learned to accept that things end up where they don’t belong quite often.

Both of my boys deny having anything to do with this…. naturally.

I suppose this is just pay back for all the times I broke something as a kid.

PHOTOGRAPHY!

Well, not quite. But photography related, yes.

The used ballhead I recently bought came with a semi-broken lever clamp. I say semi-broken because it was still somewhat functional, but not 100%.

The small pin that held the lever bolt in place (preventing it from rotating) had sheared. The lever bolt was also bent.

I engaged Really Right Stuff about fixing it. I sent them a detailed description and photos. They told me to send it to them if I wanted it repaired.

Once they had it, they then informed me that they could NOT repair it. It was a “legacy” clamp, and they had no spare parts for it. And since I’d bought it second-hand, it was not eligible for their upgrade policy.

I like RRS products. I’ve used them for many years. And I like the new products that they develop. They show great ingenuity and intelligence in developing devices and aids that can help photographers.

But, it bothers me that they couldn’t make a repair after they said to send it in and I had disclosed to them exactly what model the clamp was and what was wrong with it.

Anyway, being slightly pissed off about it, I decided to attempt to fix it myself. I “un-bent” the bolt and drilled out the broken keeper pin. I then put the bolt back in with a bit of red Loctite (permanent) and shoved a sanded-down pin into the hole.

Moving on…

I also got a used tripod. It’s an old Gitzo model that has the design flaw of a round, center plate with no secondary locking mechanism.

I’ve read about this issue many times. The round, center plate gets clamped into the spider (the central part of the tripod where the legs attach). However, if the clamp loosens during use, the center plate (along with the attached head and possibly also camera + lens) has a tendency to fall out unexpectedly.

I fixed this potential issue by drilling and tapping a hole through the spider and center plate.

A small (#10-32) stainless steel bolt goes into the hole (just snugly with a bit of blue Loctite).

Maybe it’s overkill… But I really like backup methods and secondary systems to ensure that something works and stays working as it’s abused, er… used.

And finally, I did not like the way the head attached to the tripod. There was only a stub of a 3/8″ bolt sticking out of the center plate.

Every single tripod I’ve used that employed this design has had issues with the head unscrewing itself during handling and use.

So, I drilled and tapped three holes through the center plate. Set screws go into these holes and tighten against the bottom of the ballhead.

Now I just need to get out and shoot! :-)