Archive for February, 2011

Rural Obscura

I’ve always been intrigued by broken-down buildings on the side of the road.  In New England they are everywhere.  Little shacks.  Barns.  Garages.  Unidentifiable buildings that make you wonder what they used to be and why they were hammered together in the first place.  Mostly they’re wooden, but occasionally metal and almost always difficult to reach for any close work.  Sometimes the available light isn’t so great either and it makes the shots almost unrecognizable to someone who doesn’t know what she’s looking at.

This is one I’ve passed by probably a hundred times.  I’m told it might have been a chicken barn since before electric fans they needed a lot of natural ventilation.

Rural Obscura

Unless you’d driven by it in winter, you probably wouldn’t notice it at all during other seasons.  The leaves obscure it almost completely.  They also made it a challenge to find a decent composition, but the light was so yummy that I decided to risk parking on the curve with barely any shoulder and walk up and down while other drivers looked at me like I was crazy.

Vintage Ventilation

I’m pretty used to that by now though.  This cemetery is one of my mom’s favorites and she’s been asking me to photograph it in winter.  So I went out the other day to try, figuring it would be easy.  Silly me forgot about the snow.  Since this cemetery is right on the side of the road, there was a 6-foot snowbank between me and it.  So up I went.  People driving past almost crashed craning their necks to look at the lunatic with a camera on the snowbank.

Relict

It makes me laugh thinking about it because it was funny.  I couldn’t move forwards or backwards because the snow was too soft.  I could only move from side to side and even then I sank up to my thigh a couple of times.  What else can you do but laugh?

So the next time you see something that jerks your head around on the side of the road, stop and take a chance.  You might end up with a gem and a good laugh.

 


Robot Lords of Tokyo

Ah!  You’ve found me out.  I’m a Clutch fan.  And when I found these tiny, wind-up robots in the basement their most excellent song popped into my head.

Aren’t these the best?

Robot Lords of Tokyo

Rescued from a box of junk, my husband set them aside so they wouldn’t get tossed.  He thinks he got them in high school.  Some one gave him the silver one and he went and bought the gold one so they could have robot races.  I prefer shadow boxing.

Round One

When I first saw them I  knew I would photograph them, but not yet how.  Over the course of a couple weeks the only image of them I could see in my head was with long shadows.  Early morning sun is best since I had to see the shadows themselves in order to maximize their punch.  Those little pincers they have, like Robbie or Robot from Lost in Space are the key.  They add so much that I was always turning them so they’d show up.

The winner, and still champeeen!

I set them on some whiteboard by the window and shot handheld with the ZD 12-60mm.  I’m not 100% happy with them, but they’re a good start.  I’m sure you’ll be seeing them again.

Anyone have any good names for them??


Craving color in a black and white world

Yeah, I know I just wrote a whole big post about black and white photography and how awesome it is, but now I’m starting to crave color.  It’s the precursor to spring fever.  Happens every year.  I try not to let it get to me, but some days I just feel like these leaves –

'Til Death

Kind of dried up and in suspended animation.  Drained of vitality.  Especially when we get a teaser day that ends up feeling like spring.

I tried to put it out of my mind though and focus on what was cool and interesting about winter.  What’s special and unique to that season only.  The trees seem to have more patience with it than I do.

 

Withstanding

When I spied this wood duck house in the undergrowth, I knew I had the tail of it.  In any other season this would have been hidden.  Unphotographable.  Undiscoverable.  Unknown.

 

Forclosure

I’m so glad I found it.  The discovery put a spring back into my step.  More a leisurely stroll.  A hit of joy. That little spark that photography puts in all of us, that you’ve found something worthy of preserving.  Something unexpected.  Something to tide me over until the greening.

 


The Elegance of the Forest

I’ve been doing a little winter hiking and snowshoeing lately so thought I’d share some shots.

The forest is an amazing place to me in any season, but in winter it seems to be draped in finery.

This first one I shot today while out in the afternoon.  Those shadows are hard to beat.  The sun doesn’t rise very high this time of year, so you don’t need to be out late to enjoy them.  And since what little color there was in the scene wasn’t adding to the image, I did a black and white conversion and played with some sliders.  I was using my legacy OM 35mm f2 by this time and my fingers were freezing.  Autofocus does indeed have its benefits.

The Elegance of the Forest

This next one I love although I seem to be the only one.  While out with a couple of photographer buddies, I let them continue on up the trail while I set up for this shot.  The way the light hits the trees is amazing to me.  The sun hadn’t yet crested the trees and so everything is soft and glowing.  I just love it.  Plus I named it after an amazing book by Robert Clark.  Bonus.

In the Deep Midwinter

While both shots are similar in aspect and subject, they have totally different feels to me and I hope to you, too.  The forest is always beautiful, sometimes surprising and yes, even elegant.


The Perfect Light for Snow Photography

Today had it!

 

Conversation with Purgatory Brook

I love this light.  Clouds obscuring the sun, but not completely.  Just enough coming through to bring up texture and slight shadows.  I love this brook.  I go to shoot the falls, but so far no success.  The brook however, I manage to get.  Shot with the E-30, ZD 12-60mm and the tripod sunk in snow.  It was so quiet that almost all you could hear was ice pellets and tiny hemlock cones falling on the crusty snow and rolling downhill.  That and the brook, still alive and flowing under its icy shell.


Digital Photo Storage Strategy

A while back something happened to my primary hard drive that nearly gave me a heart attack.  Suddenly, with no explanation I could find, my drive was no longer seen by the operating system.  OMFG!  Years worth of raw files, gone.  Panic-stricken I researched data recovery services and found prices ranging from $800 to $1800.  What’s a starving artist to do?

After a bunch of flailing and asking the right questions to the right people, my husband discovered that our old Windows XP machine could still see the drive.  We were able to then transfer the data to another external HDD and I exchanged my primary HDD under warranty.  What caused the problem is still unknown and I can only sacrifice the occasional goat to the Gods of Technology so my new drive doesn’t suffer the same fate.

So what’s the upshot here?  It forced me to rethink my archival and backup strategy.  Coming from the IT consulting world, I know the value of back up and keeping data in physically different locations.   Here’s my current strategy –

1st tier = Primary storage = 2TB external HDD

This is my working drive.  I transfer all raw files from the memory card to this drive and import them directly into my Lightroom catalog.  Occasionally I delete a really bad photo from a batch, but for the most part everything I shoot stays here.  With two terabytes, who needs to delete en mass?  Folder structure is Year > Month > Subject, with the months numbered so they’re in calendar order.

2nd tier = Backup storage = 500GB external HDD


This is the backup or archive drive.  Using flags or picks in Lightroom I determine which are the overall best shots of the session.  Those are renamed at the file name level and the raw files are transferred to the 500GB drive.  Folder structure remains the same.  I’ve permanently changed the drive path letter for this drive so that it won’t randomly assign one every time I connect.  My primary external HDD also has an assigned drive path letter.  I’m in the process of writing a preset in the publishing section of Lightroom to automatically format photos and corral them for publishing to the back up drive.  I plan to archive once a week when Lightroom prompts me to back up the catalog information.  Between back ups I’ll keep the drive in the fireproof safe where we keep other valuables.

3rd tier = Backup storage = flash drive

I’ve been using these drives to store large jpeg files of my very best images.  Usually the ones that get published to my online hosting accounts.  Basically one year of jpegs fits on an 8GB drive, but I’m using a 16GB for 2011.  These little drives are so inexpensive that I can pretty much have one per year and toss them into the fireproof safe when I move onto the next year.

At this point I’m not making use of online storage, but will in the future.  Hard drive life expectancy varies, but generally 5 years is what you should get out of one.  If you use a hard drive often (the kind with platters) it should be ok.  If you don’t the tiny gap between the read/write head and the platter may fuse, rip off and gouge the platter when powered up after a long time; losing your data and destroying your drive.  Over the years I’ve had a few catastrophic drive failures and so I can’t stress the need for back up and data duplication.  Online storage should definitely be a part of any back up strategy.  Due-diligence is key to choosing a provider with the proper safeguards and reputation for reliability.

You may notice I’m not using DVD or CD storage.  I have a burner in my laptop, but in my experience burning DVDs and CDs is a giant PITA.  I’ve never been good at it and end up making a lot of ‘coasters’ out of discs gone bad.  The quality from manufacturer to manufacturer varies and so it can be risky.

In researching this article I looked at a number of sources that talk about the longevity of optical media.  There are specific storage guidelines for DVDs and CDs that you need to pay attention to or else when you load one up in a few years, it might not play.  Dust and dirt are obvious – keep your discs protected and clean. Excessive heat and humidity are also bad and conclusions vary, but it’s safe to say that storing CDs and DVDs above 70 dF and over 50% relative humidity will wreck them.  As will keeping them in the light.  So do what The Traveling Wilburys advise and keep it in a cool, dry place.


I also learned that the automatic error correction coding built into reader software will often mask errors to the point of catastrophic failure; that is you won’t know the disc is corrupted until it’s too late.  That can’t be good for anyone.  Another thing I learned is that disc degeneration depends on the format – DVD/CD ROM v. DVD/CD-R v. DVD/CD-RW.  Basically it comes down to the base layer that holds the 1s and 0s.  To make a disc writable and especially re-writable, the medium must be more malleable and thus more fragile and disposed to degradation.  Here’s the low-down –

  • Recorded CD-R: 50-200 years
  • Recorded CD-RW: 20-100 years
  • Recorded DVD-R: 30-100 years
  • Recorded DVD-RW: up to 30 years

I didn’t include Blu-ray discs because they’re so new there isn’t much reliable data about them yet.  Still, check it out…20 to 200 years depending.  Depending on what??  Ugh.  That’s a huge gap and to me, speaks to the unreliability of CDs and DVDs.  So I’m not using them for the moment.

I’ve only touched the tip of the iceberg here.  Data storage is a HUGE component of digital photography and this is just one more article about it.   There’s plenty more info to be found, but I think a concise, non-techy article would be helpful for photographers who might need a leg up.  This is not necessarily an ad for the brand names shown here, they’re just what I use.  At this point pretty much all name-brand hardware performs equally, just find something you can afford and go with it.  Avoid my near-coronary!

Sources:
Optical Storage Technology Association – http://www.osta.org/osta/index.htm
The CD Information Center – http://www.cd-info.com/
Council on Library and Information Rescources – http://www.clir.org/pubs/reports/pub121/sec1.html (section 4 contains the core info)



Landscape Photography Light – Myths and Misunderstandings

How are a landscape photographer and a vampire alike?

Neither goes outside at noon.

Seriously, it makes you wonder doesn’t it?  Blood-sucking fiend and Fun-sucking fiend, both taking the joy right out of life.

I recently stopped following a landscape photographer’s blog because he just kept going on and on about only shooting at the crack of dawn.  You know what?  It’s pompous.  It makes me wonder if the guy is really any good.  Why can’t he get a terrific photo during the day, huh?  Why cantcha snooty landscape photographer guy?  You know what else?  It’s boring.  Every single photo looks the same as every single other photo.  Lots of pastel-colored snow scenes with blue shadows and a few fences, trees and churches.  Nice, but dull.  Technically well-executed, but a yawn fest.  I mean, if that’s all you do it’s pretty repetitive.  Plus you have to stay inside all day and where’s the fun in that?

Don’t misunderstand, I get the appeal of shooting when the sun is low, but I don’t get the strictness about it. It’s almost like religious dogma with some photographers.  I mean, hell, I’m out all day sometimes, does that mean I shouldn’t take pictures?  Baloney.

I.  Don’t. Buy. It.

Witness –

 

American Pastoral

I took that shot at about midday last spring.  No, it isn’t subtle and all soft and glowing with pastel shades, but it’s still a good photograph.  Sometimes photography means working with the light you have.  It’s knowing how that can help you make the most of what you find.  Using this same shot as an example, what did I do that helped?  I used a polarizing filter.  Knowing that color would be one of the things to make the shot work, I made sure I had the best of it in that reflection.

Ever hear the expression “perfect is the enemy of good”?  Well, that’s how I think of these other golden hour only photographers.  They sacrifice good images on the altar of perfect (or their ideas of perfect) and who knows if they ever please themselves.  Yes, there is such a thing as perfect light, but  it varies by subject matter and what kind of photograph you want.  I’d rather be flexible than rigid.  I’d rather know how to deal with “imperfect” light than only venture out twice a day.  With the vampires.

So what else.  Oh yeah, how about vacation.  For most of us it means going to a place we probably won’t go back to again.  Once in a lifetime kind of thing.  You have to work with what you find.  What if the sky doesn’t have nice, puffy clouds in it like that first photo?  What if the sky is boring and dull?  Well put something in it –

 

To Infinity...and Beyond!

Or find something in the foreground to take its place –

 

Down to the Waterline

Another one shot when the sun is high and guess what?  It doesn’t suck.  Who wants to drag their asses out of bed at dawn on vacation every day?  Not this little gray duck.  Once, maybe twice, but not every day.  Hell.  It’s vacation.

All right, what if the light itself is flat and dull?  Isolate.  Get out your telephoto, baby.  Sometimes tightening up on big vistas can give you little slices that are just as interesting.

Dimensional Sojourn

 

Water Under the Bridge

Another thing you can do is scout your location beforehand.  This can present you with ideas you can use when the light changes.  Take this example –

 

Frozen gorge at Smart's Brook

I shot this on my 2nd or 3rd trip to this location.  From past visits I knew how the light would track in the afternoon and because I’d seen it in the trees before, I knew that it would also light up the ice in the gorge.  Ta da!  It worked.  And it’s what makes this photo.  Not the subject – the LIGHT.  And it’s not sundown either.  By the time the sun sinks that low up there, the light is gone from this gorge.  Mr. Snooty Landscape Photographer would have missed this completely.

See…you don’t need to only photograph during the golden hours (roughly ½ hour before and after the sun rises or sets, also called civil twilight), but if you know how to manage the light you have, you can usually come up with something you’ll be happy with.  After a little practice you can make almost any scene work for you.  Good light is what you make of it.  Of course, getting there early is never a bad idea –

Dawn at Ponemah Bog


Attitude of Gratitude

I’m a little dizzy from the time on the front page.  Wow.  Thanks to the folks at WordPress for the honor.  I had no idea and came back from an afternoon away from the computer to a ton of views and comments.  Thanks to everyone who had something kind to say about my work.  It’s very gratifying.  Even more are the host of new subscribers.  Thanks, peeps.  I’ll try to live up to my end of the bargain and post interesting or useful things.  In addition to the Black and White 201 post, another is taking shape in my brain and I’ll start to write it today.  Light and landscape photography is the general idea.

I did something that I hadn’t intended to do just yet, but since I maintain a totally separate Twitter account that has nothing to do with photography, I thought I might as well set one up for Wicked Dark.  So to follow me if you want to – @WickedDarkPhoto or go to This Link.  It doesn’t look too fancy yet, mostly because I’m on TweetDeck most of the time.  I do a lot of photo-related browsing so will post interesting stuff I come across.  Expect the unexpected.

My next intended shoot day is Saturday which ought to be a ton of fun.  I’m going out with at least two of my local photo buds and we always have a grand time.  It should be especially silly since it will be my first time on snowshoes.  There’s probably 3 feet of it so I’ll need ’em.

Anyway, that’s it for now.  Thanks to all commenters, I really appreciate it.  So much of the internet is a black hole and so it’s good to get an echo now and again.  Also thanks to all you new subscribers.  I’ll try to be worthy.

And what’s a post without a picture, so here’s some kayaks in the snow.


Junk or Junque?

Before I take on writing a Black and White Photography 201, I’m going to share some more junk drawer photos. Well, this first one isn’t from a drawer, but a forgotten cabinet over the fridge.  In a clean-out binge I found a bunch of weird booze we stuck there for some reason.  Pepper flavored vodka.  Dark rum (which we did use to make Bananas Foster, so all was not lost).  Cheap -n- nasty whiskey.  A keepsake mini-bottle of lousy “champagne” from a wedding in 1996.  Crap really and why we even kept it is a mystery.  I attempted to take the stopper out of a bottle of Tia Maria liqueur, but got this instead –

 

Alcohol abuse

Isn’t that great?  It was worth keeping around just for this shot which coalesced in my head for days before I shot it.  Sometimes I need to let things percolate before I shoot.  I put the bottle in the front window once the sun went behind the house.  With all the snow it’s still fairly bright and a little Lightroom magic brings out the best in it, I think.

These next few are from the junk drawer proper though –

 

Curious Object

Youthful Indiscretion

The Mother Ship

Ok, so maybe they aren’t junk, but it’s amazing what you accumulate in drawers.  I have more ideas brewing and am just waiting for my cranky 90mm macro to cooperate to do some more.  The shots above were done with the 12-60mm zoom which lets me get close, but not really close enough for some things.

Like these firecrackers for example, look how close a macro lens gets –

Bang!

Each one is 3 1/2 cm or 1 1/2 inches long and they’re all probably duds.  I’ve always been fascinated by the hidden details of everyday objects, but haven’t taken the time to explore it properly.  It makes for a good indoor project, especially with the great winter light we’re getting now.  Plus I’d like to improve my technique with my old manual ring flash so you’ll probably get to see more junque in future.