Archive for December, 2010

Parting Shots

Well 2010 is on its way out.  I can hardly believe I had such a successful photography year and I can only wonder what the next one will bring.  Thanks to everyone who stopped by, commented or even subscribed to this blog.

Here’s the latest batch of photos and probably the last of the year.  I went to a marsh I’ve shot in the spring because I thought it would make a great location for a sunrise.  After waiting for some snow, I finally got what I’d envisioned –

 

Sunrise at the beaver lodge (check out the mist!)

This one conveys marsh the best, I think.

I waited until the sun crested the trees to shoot these coyote prints.  Strangely enough I heard a bunch of them in the distance as I approached the marsh.  They were yipping and singing and having a grand time.  These prints look fresh to me considering the high winds we had in the days before this one.  Where was she headed?

Night traveler

Why to the beaver lodge, of course.  I bet those beavers laughed and laughed all snug down in their den.  Gotta get dinner somewhere else my canine friend.

Off to the lodge

Amazingly, the mist returned just after sunup.  I didn’t dare go out past the vegetation (maybe next month), but I really like what I was able to get.  This is definitely a terrific place.

 

Frost crystals and mist on a clear winter morning.

The frozen fingers and toes were worth it.


The Best of 2010

This is a new thing for me, choosing my best photos of the year.  I’ve done it with books I’ve read and albums I’ve bought, but not things I made myself.  It can be hard to subjectively judge your own work, but I think it’s a worthy exercise for anyone who wants to get better at what they do.  I wrote a whole long post about my analysis and its criteria, but I’ve decided not to publish that.  It’s boring, and who cares really?

On with the winners, in the order I shot them with some reasons why I chose them.

Piscataquog in the Morning - January

Even if I had planned this shot and spent a lot of time framing and composing, it couldn’t have been done better. As it was it was a grab-shot that took me only seconds to take. The Piscataquog is a very picturesque river and so it’s hard to get a bad image of it, but I like this one particularly because of the strong S curve of snow framing the dark river that leads your eye right through the frame. The white is almost blinding in spots, but the surrounding trees and sky keep your eyes in the shot. Someone commented that she expected to see a group of barbarians on horseback come bursting through and I love that new perspective.

 

Stepping Softly - January

The picture tells a story and the lighting and composition are in harmony. I was with a couple of friends this day and they were yakking it up to my right. I was looking back into the scene we’d just spent an hour in. Some of my best shots come from a last look back and that’s when I saw this. Because we were all cold and ready for coffee, I couldn’t take a lot of time over this and shot only a few frames. Luckily I had been working in this light and setting for a while and could capture it perfectly. I love the softness of the light and the snowed-over footprints and how they lead you into those mysterious trees. The shadows pick out the texture of the snow and add interest to the foreground. It’s hushed and peaceful and reminds me of every beautiful winter morning.

 

 

Whirlpool - March

That whirlpool is awesome and I planned this shot pretty meticulously before I actually took it. Having been through this area before I noticed the whirlpools here and there, I knew I wanted to get a photo of one, but had to wait for better lighting. When that day came I scouted locations until I found this one and then got all excited when I saw that Charlie Brown tree in the foreground. It makes for the perfect element to keep your eyes up on the waterfall and the vortex.  It also gives the scene some scale and it’s just plain fun.  All around pretty damn great if I do say so myself.  It also is a major indication that I was really trying to be a more deliberate photographer – one of my resolutions of 2010.

 

 

Hope - April

This photo came out looking very poignant and somehow introspective, as if this oinker knows he’ll end up in a sandwich. It was kind of a grab-shot that spoke volumes after I got it home.  It is startling not only for the subject, but for the mood.  I didn’t intend to make this a serious picture since pigs are not serious subjects – they’re boisterous and curious and don’t stay still for long at this age. I think it’s a testament to my skills as a photographer that I could bring out such a change of emotion in the final shot. A few years ago, I probably wouldn’t have been able to.

 

 

Stagefright - April

The title really sums up how this shot of the emerging flower feels. As if it’s shy and reticent about showing itself. I love the light and the slight shadows within the leaves. Just look at those leaves – so graceful and elegant. The fresh color and the focus is pretty damn good, too. I had the camera on my front steps cushioned by a bag of barley. So high tech.  This is part of my Lily of the Valley project which I undertook to help hone my macro photography skills and it certainly did.  For the most part I use a legacy Olympus lens – the 90mm f2 macro and I really needed practice with it and this project helped with that, too.  Oh and gave me some excellent images, too.

 

 

Allium crispum - May

The framing, the bg and the color of the flower work remarkably well. I remember hunting around for the best composition while my poor husband stood aside patiently waiting for me to photograph yet another flower. The depth-of-field is also right where it needs to be. I didn’t check it, but relied on my experience and knowledge of the lens to give me what I wanted. Not only is the image good in camera, but my post processing skill was coming along pretty well and I could do it justice and make it sing.

 

 

Haunting the Obscure - August

This shot is a testament to my skill as a photographer if that doesn’t sound too big-headed. I’m amazed I got it. About a dozen non-photographers were milling around exploring this tiny family burial ground and so when I noticed how a break in the canopy lit up Hannah’s stone, I had only a few seconds in which to compose, set exposure and shoot. Just after I did some people got into the frame and then the light changed and Hannah was no longer spotlit. When I got this image in Lightroom it was almost perfect out of the camera, but I thought a desaturated look with a slight vignette would really bring out the spooky, which it does. I’m very proud of this shot.  Even if it is one of my beloved cemetery images, I think it has enough appeal to stand outside of that realm.

 

 

Daybreak - October

This is pretty fab all around. I was with some of my best photographer friends for the first time in months and we always have a great time together.  The early morning light is so warm and soft on the background, but the post shades the rest of the gate and provides a contrasting color temperature. Not to mention those great little shadows the vine throws across the post. I also like the way the grass in the immediate foreground is lit up and the kiss of sun on the gate itself.  At first I thought the gate was too prominent, but now I realize it isn’t.

 

 

Warrior of Life - October

It’s a powerful subject the Merrimack river and I worked for some time on the granite shelf of a bank trying to frame this right – particularly that stripe of rough water that leads your eye to the trees. I must have looked funny shuffling around and peering down into my LCD screen over and over again. Longish shutter speed, but not too much that the trees are totally blurry (there was a light wind) and light that is direct, but not too flat or harsh. Finally, it came together.  This part of the river is beautiful and easily accessed, but somehow I’d never explored it until this year.  It won’t be the last visit.

 

 

A Shaman's Whisper - October

This one makes me smile. The sunny yellow color and the way the focus falls off gently speak of peace to me. I was on my back deck when I noticed the sun in this birch and went for the camera. I spent several minutes playing in the leaves, framing and shooting. This composition works the best and I love the overall color palette. Sometimes spontaneity produces the best shots.

 

 

Post Peak – October

Technically this photo rocks. The color and the clarity is terrific and I remember hunting around on the bank looking for just the right foreground elements to frame the shot. I think the composition works well and just look how those birch trunks pop.  Even though the color is technically past peak (those bare trees were probably red only a week before) I like the deep golden hues; so rich and harmonious.

I also love this shot because I was able to take it.  A few months ago I said I’d have to go on forced hiatus.  I was emotionally strung out and couldn’t go into detail because it was cancer.  Yeah, the Big C.  After months of frustrating doctor visits I had surgery in late August and thought for sure my autumn would be ruined either from recovery or because I’d need chemo or radiation therapy.  That thought made a depressing situation even worse.  In the end I needed neither and I was actively shooting 4 weeks after my operation.  The day I shot this image I’d just come from my first post-op appointment with my oncologist.  She said everything looked fine and I was healing perfectly and it took such a weight off my shoulders that I felt I could fly.  I’m almost crying writing this and remembering how wonderful I felt at this location on this most perfect day.

 

 

November palette

This is technically pretty great and I love the horizon line with the fog shrouded trees and those red berry bushes that really define the edge. Crisp foreground and hazy background contrast well and add to the mood of the image itself.  it really says November to me.  Plus I was with my mom having a great time together. We walked all the way up to the point where the little jog in the walkway is when I said we had to go back so I could shoot it. She ended up taking a shot too.

So that’s it then.  The best I could do this year.  I hope you enjoyed viewing them as much as I did making them.  Here’s to 2011!


Miss Congeniality

There.

I’ve done it.

Chosen the best photos I’ve taken in 2010.

And written a blog post about it.

But this isn’t it.

This is about the runners up and nominees.  I still love them and they are still special, but they lack a certain special something….

Stop that.  No singing.

Plus I wanted to try out this slideshow dealie on WordPress.

So the shots included here are rated 5-stars by me (Lightroom only has 1-5 stars, no halvsies), but weren’t quite up to being in the top 12.  Roll your mouse into the slideshow itself to stop on any one picture.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

It takes a minute or so to view all of them, but I think it’s worth it.  Each is in this group for its own reasons whether they be technical merit, composition, lighting, post-processing, subject or just my emotions and thoughts while taking them.  I’m still proud of them.  One of my goals for 2010 was to be a more deliberate and thoughtful photographer.  Some of these shots show that clearly.  Some are more spontaneous images that show a different aspect of my skill which I have to say has improved since 2009.

Let me know what you think.

I’ll post my top 12 later on.


Oh look – something else abandoned

This time an old quarry up in the White Mountains in North Conway.  It was collectively known as the Redstone Quarry and had several faces and cutting operations.  The area is huge and I needed many more hours to shoot there to get all of it.  Up until the late 1940s it was an active business with hundreds of skilled workers and its own boarding house not far away.  Now both the quarry and the boarding house are abandoned and falling to pieces.

Here are some of the rough columns it produced along with one of my photographer buddies –

The Ritual of the Stones

The stones were turned on enormous steam-powered lathes like this one –

Days of Future Past

Here’s a detail of one that was outside of the falling-down house (I LOVE the snow) –

Heavy Duty

And the rock face itself all frozen over –

Frozen Cliff

In the upper left you can see some of the guide wires that made up the derrick used to hoist the blocks off the face.  It was powered by a huge steam-engine in a building next to the quarry.  Here’s the top of the building – now collapsed –

Metal meltdown

The sunset was pretty good from the top of an enormous slag pile –

Listening to Old Voices

There are more shots in my Abandoned Quarry Set and here on this blog post written by my host and guide here in the quarry.


Organization Resolution

Recently a thread about 2010 photography resolutions was resurrected on a board I post to on occasion.  Scrolling through the replies I found mine.  One of the 3 points on my list was to have better organization when it came to my picture files.  While it wasn’t a complete fail, it also wasn’t a complete success.

I’ve never been terribly organized when it comes to pictures.  I’ve got film negatives, prints and slides in basically a few places, but there is no overall structure to anything and I’ve got to poke through envelopes and binders to find what I want.  This is only part of the mess –


When I made the switch to digital I did about as well.  At first I tried renaming all the pictures to something I could easily remember.  Ha!  Talk about time consuming.  So then I just named the folder something I could identify and that worked a bit better.  But the folders themselves didn’t have any hierarchical structure and those started to get out of hand.  Too many files, too many names, too many things just floating out there.  And too much time needed to actually make it better.

Lightroom is my photo processor of choice and luckily for me it shines as a database and file organization engine.  Unluckily for me, I didn’t really use it consistently or intelligently last year.  I found myself repeating the same tasks over and over again with every shot that I processed, every group of pictures that I imported.  Uh, hello…Lightroom can be automated in almost every way you can think of.  Duh.  I really need to think about what I do repetitively and write a preset for it.

Ok, so the first thing I’ve done is set up a top level folder for that year.  Really?  Pretty basic, huh?  The thing is I didn’t do that before, instead trying to shove subject, location and date information into the folder name itself.  No sub-folders, no nothing.  Honestly though, I never shot like I did in 2010 though, and the sheer volume made things substantially worse.  Just look at part of it!  I has a dumb.

Better folder structure means I can find stuff.  Look at how many folder names have multiple subjects…and they’re still all in one folder.  Doh!  No more.  Next year will be different.

  • 2011
    • Month
      • Subject/event/place

If there is different content in the same import batch I will immediately separate them into individual folders even if they are imported into one at first.  Really time saving over the long haul and should only take seconds to do.

The next thing I’ve done is set up an import preset.  I learned about this at the Adobe channel on youtube and I’m so glad I found it.  It will automate a lot of the things I do including modify metadata.

I already use keywords extensively, so I don’t really need to improve there, but I do with ratings.  I don’t always rate every file I work on.  Generally if I work on a file I publish it to either flickr or smugmug or both.  Now that I’m at year end and choosing my best work, it’s a chore to have to go back and rate shots I should have done at the time.  Lightroom has collections based on star ratings and so it’s easy to find them once I’ve rated them.  I’ve also got collections based on color labels and keywords.  Smart collections, too, so things get added to them automatically.

Automatically.  What a wonderful word.  Another thing that LR does is publish photos to popular websites like flickr.  So far I haven’t used this feature, but will be doing so in 2011.  No need to clog up my hard drive with extraneous jpeg files.

I didn’t intend for this to be a how-to exactly, there are plenty of better tutorial sites out there, but just to illustrate my pain and some of the things I’m going to do about it next year.  If anyone reading is a LR3 user who wants to share something that helps you stay organized and on top of things, I’d love to hear it.  LR is such a huge application that I know I haven’t poked into all its dark corners yet.


Living Bad Dreams

If you’ve been reading this blog or following my flickr or Smugmug feeds you’ll have noticed my penchant for abandoned places (and my love for heavy metal – spot the references if you can).  Especially between seasons if you know what I mean.  Sure, you can shoot derelict stuff anytime, but after the leaves fall and before the snow flies seems an especially good time.  Not just because everything is in a profound state of ugly, but because those bare trees can really add to the mood of a place.

One of the reasons I shoot abandoned locations is to document what was there before they become something else.  Here in the eastern part of the country, space is at a premium compared to say, Montana.  In the west old structures are often left to molder away on their own because there is no real need to tear them down.  It’s one of the reasons I love the west so much.  Here in the east we often bulldoze perfectly benign things because we need the real estate.

A case in point is this old (well now it’s old) miniature golf park / driving range –

 

Land of Pleasant Living

I can’t claim any nostalgia over the place other than in general.  I only went there once in high school even though it existed all through my childhood and only became defunct a few years ago (I think the year on the day planner in the office was 2006).  Even though I wasn’t a customer, I was used to seeing the place if you know what I mean.  It was the kind of thing you’d use to give someone directions – go through the light at the mini-golf place.

 

Like a Hurricane

As you can see, vandals have gotten a head start on the destruction.  I seem to recall this trap was a little New England scene with a barn or a water wheel mill or something.  Cutesy, but typical of the old-style mini-golf set up.  For some reason we also had a tribute to Gilligan’s Island –

 

Not a single luxury

No one bothered me while I shot although I’m sure folks in the passing cars wondered what the hell I was doing out in the wind and cold.  Eventually I made my way over to the former office.  Had to wait until some hunters played through though.  After I heard a couple of very close rifle shots, I looked over my shoulder a few minutes later and noticed a hunter standing in the walkway between the driving range and the office.  It was a little weird, but he didn’t say anything and I didn’t see him again.  The destruction inside the office was near total.  Only more sturdy structures like walls, the counter and the ice cream treat freezer remain intact.  It made for some interesting still lifes –

 

Disconnected

Forced Retirement

I like these two photos because the objects in them were found as they are, but not where they are.  I moved them to better locations and shot.  The light was pretty damn great for both and having the camera on a tripod helped.  All of these were shot with a tripod, something I don’t do often enough, but felt that I should since it wasn’t like I would be walking miles.  The additional range of options it gave me really helped.  I wasn’t cornered into using a high ISO or wide open apertures. You can find the rest of the set here on flickr.

Although the light isn’t the best in the outdoor shots, I like enough of what I got to feel satisfied with the shoot and what I was able to document.  The site is due for a date with the bulldozer in the spring.  Like the world needs another supermarket, right?  But that’s what’s going in there.  It makes me a little sad.  People complain that families and friends don’t do anything together anymore.  That we’ve become a society of passive watchers only instead of active doers.  As long as we keep tearing down miniature golf parks to put up supermarkets is there any wonder why?

 


Answers from photographers

Thanks to everyone for their considered comments on my last post.

I got together with my friend the other day and even though she knew I’d be bringing mine, she didn’t bring her camera.  This tells me pretty much all I need to know about her stage with it right now – snapshots only, nothing serious.  No inclination to do more.  All fine with me.  She knows I’m a resource should things change.  As an abstract painter, she approaches things differently than I do as either a jewelry artist or a photographer and so your comments gave me some alternate perspectives.

Glenn, you’re right about the makers v. takers and if being a taker suits her purposes then that’s all that matters.

Jason, I took a class in HS as well, but didn’t do much formally beyond that time.  It’s been a process of learning by doing and a little bit of reading.

Steve, your background certainly has helped you establish a style when it comes to your post processing work.  It’s funny because my friend started asking me all kinds of questions about Photoshop and equivalents from Corel and other mfgs.  It was kind of staggering to me because in my process it’s a cart before the horse kind of question; she doesn’t even know what she needs out of a photo editor so how am I supposed to tell her?  🙂

Theresa, I hear you about camera manuals.  As bad as stereo instructions to be sure, but they are good for at least providing an overview of controls etc, so you won’t fumble so much to use them at first.  And keeping it with you can only ease your frustration when something isn’t intuitive – like her need to shut off the flash.  Learning by doing, sister, I’m there; you’d have a real laugh at my mountains of bad slides and prints.

kat, the themes and assignments idea is a good one should she ever really want tutoring.  I’ll remember that one.  You’re right that it can refresh your artistic side and forgotten skills.

Richard, critique is tough with her and anything.  With her, she thinks that her process is so well thought out that her end products must be great no matter what.  Not that she doesn’t take instruction or correction, we worked together long enough that I know she can, but sometimes she thinks her great process will always equal a great result.

Matt, you’re right about the ease of experimenting and practicing with digital and I suspect that’s how she’ll get on.

Jackie, you really went the extra mile and it shows in your work.  Formal classes, seminars and workshops are something I’ve not taken advantage of at all, but would like to someday.  Not only would they seem to instill good habits and techniques, but also help a person find her style.

Jason N, books are a good idea and I probably should update my library.  I’ve heard nothing but good things about the Petersen book as you say.  Being grounded in the knowledge of the whys and wherefores of what makes a photograph work from a technical perspective can’t be replaced.

Thanks so much for all your insights.  Keep them coming if you haven’t commented.

When my friend didn’t immediately fall in love with photography and pester me with questions, it made me feel as if I were alone and somewhat strange for taking as much time with it as I do.  Ditto for our mutual friend who is a photographer, but was too lazy to go out with me in the cold.  The light was great and she just didn’t care.  So why should I, I asked myself.  I was disheartened for a while.  I love seeing the spark of joy of photography in others and when they don’t share my passion it makes me sad.  Everyone should love what I love, shouldn’t they???

The cure was going for a long drive to a photography meet-up.  The location was weird (an abandoned quarry) and there were only three of us plus my husband who was only along to see a decrepit, old place.  After spending the afternoon with passionate and creative photographers, I felt better.  I felt at home.  We were excited to explore the grounds and happy with its off-beat appeal.  I was glad to be back among my people.


A question for photographers

All 3 of you who read this blog.

How did you learn to do what you do?  Assuming you’re capable of making the camera give you the results you want, how did you figure it out?

I ask because I have a friend who just bought her first SLR in ages…or maybe ever.  She knows terms like f-stop, aperture and light, but doesn’t know what they mean or how they affect her photos.  I’ve had quick conversations with her on the phone, but haven’t spent any time with her and the camera taking pictures.  No time.

So far I’ve counseled her to read her manual and keep it with her.  She didn’t and one day couldn’t figure out how to turn the auto flash off.  Sigh.  I’ve also counseled her not to try to figure it out all at once.  There’s about a million buttons, dials, menu selections etc and that will drive you nuts if you try to take it in all at once.  Especially if you have no idea about the basics of photography.

She’s enthusiastic and I don’t want to crowd that or dampen it into frustration.  It’s been forever since I learned how to manipulate settings to get what I want.  Now it’s second nature and I don’t know what the best approach would be.  The books I have are all geared toward 35mm cameras without autofocus and so they probably won’t be much help.  I haven’t bought a new photography book in 10 years and the ones I have are specific to landscape and macro, two things she probably won’t be doing.

There’s a possibility of going out with her on Friday to shoot. A mutual friend who also has a ton of experience with photography is going, too.  The question is, how valuable will we be without making her nuts or getting in the way of our own shooting.  Should we leave her alone and tell her to get a book?  Should we guide and coach her?  Should we talk her through our own shots?  A combination?

So…I’d like to hear from you if you have suggestions or stories about how you learned to take the camera off Program.


Reflections on death – part 3

Some ask if I ever hang out with live people, that’s how often I can be found in a cemetery.  I’m just drawn to them.  Here’s a round-up of some of the best from the last few months –

Hollis Town cemetery

Cook cemetery, Campton NH

Ordione Point Cemetery, Rye NH

Old Burial Hill, Marblehead, MA

There are lots more in the Graven Images Gallery if you can’t get enough.


Lucky in Light

Outdoors photographers are at the mercy of the sun and clouds.  We can’t make our own perfect light and so when it comes along we have to recognize it and get out there.  My favorite kind of light is hazy clouds with breaks of blue sky.  Not quite overcast, but not quite full sun either.  It usually happens ahead of a storm – way ahead.  I love it when I find it as I did with the Abandoned House shoot and on this one I decided to do when I saw what kind of day it was shaping up to be.  Well, day would be stretching it.  I probably had an hour or two of this perfect, soft, lovely light that still had shadows in it.  So it being stick season I went to shoot more mills.  I’ve kind of got an obsession going with them.

Riverscape

Just look at that light though.  Look what it does to the clouds.  The trees.  The buildings.  It’s wonderful.  There’s definition there without overpowering or being too contrasty.  There’s softness there, but without being flat.  It reminds me of ‘the golden hour’ light, but a bit cooler in temperature.  Even in shade and in monochrome it works.

Millyard reflections

Inverted inversion

Industry's shadow

While I shot these first few from that walkway up there, someone in a nearby building was wailing on a guitar. It sounded great and I was disappointed when it stopped.  I don’t think he could hear my applause.

Not all of the mills or factories in the Nashua millyard are occupied, though many are.  Some are abandoned and I bravely trespassed.  Well, there wasn’t a sign saying I couldn’t be there, but I always half expect someone to confront me even though it’s never happened.  The light was starting to go, but it was still pretty damn good.

Rumors in the loading bay

Industrial Disease

Old, abandoned factories make me so sad.  Once we had thriving manufacturing.  We did stuff.  We built stuff.  Now we just want it cheap, but we still pay.  When I walk between the buildings I think of the hive of activity it must have been. Trains.  Trucks.  Pallets of finished merchandise or raw materials.  People coming and going.  Time clocks.  Whistles.  Shift changes.  All gone now.  But that light…it lures me out to document what’s left.