I hate it. I love it. I just don’t know…


Ever stared at a word long enough that it starts to look mis-spelled?  I do that with images.  If I fuss over it long enough and dither back and forth, I eventually end up hating it.  Even if it’s a good image I can over-analyze it to death.  And sometimes, if it’s a bad image, I get to the point that I simply can’t tell.  That’s pure death in an artistic vacuum.

I think I’ve reached that point with this image.  When I shot it, I loved it.  I like the motion, the colors, the shapes.  After I stared at it for about 15 minutes of back and forth editing, I decided the center post is glaringly annoying and that’s all I can see when I look at it.   That’s usually the point that I walk away and leave it for a few months so that my editing eye has a chance to forget my initial reaction.

Instead of leaving it, I’m going to post it.  Because even if it’s a horrible shot, true to my goal with this blog, it’s what I’m working on.

I think the main reason I decided I hated it is because I went out of my comfort zone and tried messing around with altering it.  Right now its only edit is (beyond correcting the light and a square crop) adding a vignette.  I think vignettes look artificial and corny unless you do it the hard way (with the lens.)  I admit, I’m an old-school snob at times.

So there you have it.  A weird shot with a weird effect.

Details: Subject is a wind spinner, paint weathering is all natural.  f6.3, 1/400, and ISO 400. (don’t ask, was working with low light on another shoot and forgot to change it.)  Square crop, lighting adjustment, and mild vignette added.

My kid could do that! (he did)


Corbin is 2 years old.  Well, 2 and a few months, which in kid world is FOREVER!  He considers himself such a big boy, especially when he sees all the babyish things his little sister does like drool everywhere, be incredibly boring, and not play with all the cool toys.  (although both he and the dog thought the squeaky teether Anarah recently acquired was a wonderful thing and totally wasted on her.)

And since he’s such a big boy, it’s only natural that he move on past the boring, dated squishy toys and onto something better.  A techno-gadget toy.  One that actually does something.  Like my old camera.  It has all those wonderful buttons (oops, he turned on the red-eye!) and the shiny thing in the front (cue Corbin fingerprint photographs.)  And it makes gadget noises!  Awesome!

Once he got over the shiny not-so-newness of his new, supervised toy, he got down to the nitty-gritty of what you can actually do with it.  Since it does have a view screen on it despite being an absolute dinosaur, he’s learning to frame his pictures and hold the camera still while he takes the shot he wants.  And he certainly knows what he wants – I was told in definite tones on a walk recently, “take pictures of trees.  Pictures of leaves.”  Which he then proceeded to do.  He’s fascinated with the year rings in tree stumps, and the first time we saw some on our walk, he shot over to them and started snapping away.

It’s terrifying and cute at the same time to watch him hold up the camera and concentrate on the view screen.  He’s so serious!  I’ve seen that same look on professional photographers trying to get that perfect shot.

House rules: you must always wear the strap around your neck.  Problem is, when he bends over the camera smacks the ground.  I’ll have to get a smaller strap for my budding photographer.  I have a sneaking suspicion that the camera won’t last that long though – after all, he is two!

On our last photo shoot in a visit to Shenandoah National Park, I pulled out my camera to get a shot of him sitting on a log.  He immediately hopped up and said “Corbin take pictures!”  Um, no!  Mommy’s camera is off limits!

Humor aside, I’m fascinated to watch him take pictures.  What he decides to shoot, the viewpoint, and the angle are all uniquely childlike.  What we wouldn’t consider worth a second glance he finds interesting.  He generally shoots it from the viewpoint that catches his interest – a child’s eye level, and up close.  I’m super proud of him, and I’m looking forward to seeing what he does with this in the future.

The depressing thing is, with an auto setting and decent lighting, you can’t really tell a 2 year-old took the shot.  Digital: so simple a toddler can do it.

Brain fog

I always thought that certain aspects of pregnancy were overblown and exaggerated.  After all, you’re having a kid – not going on mind altering drugs or experiencing a mental illness.  I’m learning – the hard way – that boy, was I wrong!

Luckily I’ve escaped the stereotypical aspects of pregnancy (so far) like horrible morning sickness or swollen ankles.  Physically a lot of things are changing – it’s only to be expected – but overall, it’s been a fairly easy pregnancy as other moms would rate it.  But, I’ve recently developed the dreaded brain fog.

WebMD calls it pregnancy brain fog, mommy brain, momnesia, or pregnancy amnesia.  Luckily studies have concluded that the effects aren’t permanent, but it’s not a myth.  We forget stuff.  Our brains don’t work the way they used to, and sometimes it seems like our short-term memories are shot to hades and back. 

So instead of briskly completing tasks that I know I have to do (I don’t do anything briskly these days anyways) I spend a good part of my time wondering exactly what was I supposed to be doing, where is this or that item, and gosh darn it, I forgot the milk at the grocery store again!  I’ve turned into a mindless slug that prefers oozing on the sofa to trying to complete anything simply because it’s too difficult. 

For example, it took me hours yesterday to finish designing a birth announcement.  It’s not that difficult of a task, even if I was actually designing the thing in Illustrator myself as opposed to simply plopping photos in an online template.  I had good reasons to do it myself (1. because I can 2. it’s much cheaper and 3. I couldn’t find a design I liked) but that didn’t stop me from forgetting easy keyboard shortcut commands, dithering over placements, and forgetting to leave space for the date.  (All the final details will go in with the photos after the birth – but otherwise it’s ready to print.) 

Ugh.  It’s like I have cotton wool up there instead of brains, and I’m none too happy about it.   

That’s probably why this image has nothing to do with anything – it’s just the way my brain works right now.  Something along the lines of “oh, I should photograph that…it looks cool, maybe it should go on the blog too! ”  Given my current mental state, it’s amazing that I even know which end of the camera to hold up, and that I’m not shooting with 3200 ISO.  


Shame on me

I did it again.  I picked out an image from a shoot that I thought had potential, and today, I looked at it and wanted to trash it.  I really don’t know if I’m being too picky – over editing – or if my initial reaction was far too optimistic – under editing.  Funnily enough, I don’t usually have this dithering problem when I’m working with black and white images.

I love working with color but it’s a difficult concept for me.  Getting the subject to balance color with form, getting the color right in the first place, and making sure that the exposure is right:  it’s difficult for me.  And I really don’t like feeling like a clueless idiot, so I’d prefer to get this under control and get on with shooting.

This is one of those shots where I had a bright idea and the end result just isn’t what I imagined.  I wanted to capture the translucent quality of the fruit with light shining through it – instead, I ended up with hot highlights and a really odd closeup texture. 

I’m truly a perfectionist at heart, so it’s extremely difficult for me to post this image knowing that I’m not happy with it.  But, since it’s what I’m working on at the moment, it goes on the blog for everyone to see.  Perhaps I’m too used to looking at the world in monochrome: I miss the vibrancy of life, or more importantly, miss the best way to capture it. 

Still working on it – hopefully I’ll get there at some point.

Just get out there and shoot

Ok, I’ll admit it: I’m a tad lazy.  I get into a habit of ignoring the camera and feeling uninspired.  As much as I love what I do, sometimes I feel drained – empty of creativity – and picking up the camera just seems like too much work.  For an artist, that’s the death knell of my work.  I need to be creative – and sometimes, I have to force myself to try.

The good thing is that art is something like priming an old pump, if anyone has ever experienced that.  Those old wells with a hand pump at the top don’t just spout water if they haven’t been used in a while – you have to literally pour some water down the pipe and start pumping like mad to get the water from the well to come to the surface.  In photography terms, it means just get out there and shoot.

It doesn’t matter to me if I keep the pics or not, it seems that the act of actually using the camera starts the creative juices flowing and I end up with something, usually, that I’m excited about.  If all goes well, I’ll not only be excited, I’ll have a slew of new ideas swimming around in my brain. 

That’s what I did today.  I decided I was going to shoot a particular shot for the heck of it, and just see what happened.  10 minutes later I noticed something that’s been sitting in my kitchen for a while now and said “ooooohh, I can do that with it!”  And that ended up being the shot for this post. 

Granted, now that it’s on the computer (curse that 100% viewing option) I’m thinking I might need to reshoot with the camera on a tripod.  It’s a tad too blurry for my tastes even given the subject matter – anyone want to guess what that is? 

As an added bonus, the forced shots actually turned out ok – you’ll probably see one in a few days once I get around to editing it. 

Subject: insulated foil bubble wrap from a cat’s medicine that needed to be kept cool during shipping.  

Finally, a use for junk mail

I’m not one of those people who squawk “I use my junk mail as a weed barrier in my garden!” but I did, finally, come up with a use for the stuff, otherwise known as mess sitting in a pile on the table.  I hate junk mail with a passion.  It’s messy, it’s a waste of resources, and it has a really low margin of success: something like 1 or 3%.  It’s inefficient. 

Here at my house, junk mail usually falls into one of a few categories:

  1. Grocery store circulars – the only mildly useful junk mail we get.  At least I can check the weekly sales on canned goods and stew beef.
  2. Furniture store circulars – do people really buy this stuff?  It’s particle board and veneer, all for the low low price of empty your wallet.  Nasty. 
  3. Credit card pre-approvals/applications – goes straight in the shred pile, do not pass go, do not tempt identity thieves.
  4. Pleas for donations – usually Catholic organizations that haven’t figured out yet that the former owner of the house is dead, despite my constant stream of scrawled RTS – DECEASED on their envelopes. 
  5. Depending on the time of year, various political flyers, blood drive notices, and school tax newsletters. 

I don’t usually count the local restaurant flyers as junk mail because they’re too cheap to actually mail the things.  Instead, they slyly stuff the horribly photocopied sheets behind the mailbox lid, into the mailbox (federal offense, that) or tape the thing to the mailbox itself. 

It’s a constant battle to keep up with the mess, so I make no apologies for having a rotating pile of the stuff on the table.  Every few days we blow through the pile and deal with it.

So, getting to the usefulness part: I wanted color in this image.  It’s abstract, and it had great potential for doing something really cool with the metal reflections.  After rummaging through the pile of junk mail I picked up two random, brightly colored sheets of something or other and started waving them in front of my subject.  The neighbors probably think I’m nuts (they do anyway, especially when I’m printing cyanotypes) but I got my abstract in color.

Moral of this story – sometimes having a messy pile of junk mail on your table isn’t a bad thing.  At least, that’s what I’m trying to convince myself to think.

Snowplows and cabin fever

I’m usually a big fan of our snowplow guys (until they dump a ton of snow in our driveway,) but today, I have to wonder what’s going on.  Did they all take a vacation?  Is there a strike going on that I’m not aware of?  Did the prospect of icy rain scare them off the roads?  Who knows.

Either way, I’m not too happy about the fact that as of 11:45 am, no snowplow or salt truck has plowed either of our roads – the small residential street that our driveway is off of, or the larger, busier, thoroughfare that is in front of the house.  It’s a mess.

Usually these trucks come through at all hours of the night to keep the roads clean.  If the storm hits at 2:00am, the trucks are out there by 3 or 4 am constantly clearing the main road, at the very least.  We can count on a plow clearing our residential street by midmorning at least, and they always come through and clear it again right after I finish cleaning out the driveway.  Murphy’s law – a clean driveway must be irresistable to them.  I can just picture one of the truck drivers muttering “Must…drag…snow…into…the driveway!  Must…block…them…in!” 

So, instead of going out and doing the things I need to do like get groceries and go on a photo shoot, I’m housebound.  Again.  I’m not a bad driver when the weather is nasty, but I do know my limits.  Two to four inches of slushy snow pounded into mush on the roadway is not a good situation for me to drive in, especially when it’s starting to sleet.  I had hoped that the salt would make things safe enough for me to go out, but the lack of any work on the roads is giving me cabin fever.

So.  Here’s a product of our icicles – the bottom layer, of sorts.  As the icicles drip off the warmer roof, the droplets splash into the snow and refreeze, producing a lacy stalagmite to the larger stalactite hanging above.   Gravity wins in the end, producing a sheet of droplets instead of a spike.

I guess it’s time to go work on culling the files I don’t need – office work is certainly not my favorite thing to do!

Ice and abstract

I recently received my latest copy of Digital Photo Magazine, most likely my last unless I shell out some money now that the initial sub has lapsed.  It’s a handy little magazine despite the fact that purely half of the magazine is made up of just advertisements. 

Anyway, one of the articles caught my attention.  Specifically, one of the photographers: Tiffini Myers, a photo student of the author from the Art Institute of California.  Unlike a lot of the photographers featured in the magazine, Ms. Myers shoots images that I relate to: abstracts.  If you’re interested in seeing her images, go here for her Flickr stream.  Incidentally Ms. Myers, I suggest a watermark is a really good idea now that you’re exposed to more people. 

My favorite part of the article was the explanation of each image – how it was shot, and what, exactly, the subject was.  The images ranged from abstracts of vases to a car window in a car wash, and they all were vibrant and interesting.  Her images were inspiring – I don’t work with color and abstract as much as I would like to, and perhaps this article was the push I needed to go experiment some more.     

In the spirit of explanation, this image is of icicles.  After our last 8-9 inches of snow (on top of 5-6 already) the icicles hanging off our house have grown to epic proportions.  Despite the obvious safety issues, they’re beautiful.  If the ones in the front grow a little more, I can get decently lit images of the 3 foot long spikes dangling off our eaves and the power line.   Despite precariously clinging to a ladder, the best image I’ve gotten so far is a lower version hanging off our air conditioner.

It’s not very colorful at all, and I debated making it a pure monochrome image.   It lost some of the richness of the shadows, so I stuck with the color after all.

Bare walls, blank slate

I rarely conceive a concept, shoot it, and print it with the sole intention of sticking the photograph on my wall.  It seems sort of tacky.  My usual way of doing things is much more casual: I shoot what I like, what fits my concept, and at the end of the day I pick a few of my favorites to go in a file of possibilities.  Sometimes those possibilities even end up on my wall if I get antsy and decide to redecorate.

Unlike my normal way of doing things, this image was shot purely for decoration.  I’m still having trouble deciding whether I prefer it in color or black and white.  I think I’m stuck on black and white these days – not a bad problem to have.

Over the Christmas holidays, I spent far more time on the sofa watching HGTV shows than I should have because I was miserably sick.  Not horribly sick, just blah and miserable.  And I noticed, even in my clogged sinus world of foggy brain, that a LOT of the “buy a house” shows lacked something important: something to decorate those bare walls.

It seems in their zeal to “stage” a home (make it look pretty and livable to the buyers) most of the sellers took out any personality from their homes, including a huge chunk of decor.  One single bed in a bedroom isn’t good staging: it’s bare and bland.  Now, obviously I’m not an interior decorator.  I’m also not a realtor.  It’s quite possible that home buyers prefer to look at a blank slate. 

I haven’t actually visited a wide range of homes lately.  But I do wonder – are all those homes on HGTV indicative of the standard home?  Is it really that difficult to decorate your house creatively and (big deal here for me) cheaply? 

I’m not saying you should run out and splurge on custom art or that cheap tacky crap that big box stores sell, but I’ve always thought it was important that your home reflect who you are.  It’s hugely important to me that I have something visually interesting to look at on my walls: blank walls just cry for something to fill them.

Luckily I’ve been a creative person since I was a little kid, but I do understand that not everyone is, or even appreciates creativity.  Still, even the most un-creative person can print a favorite photograph, dribble paint on a canvas or fill in geometric shapes for a reasonable price.  It’s not difficult.  And if you live with kids, you’re set to decorate for life.

What’s in a lightbulb?

If you watch television at all or read the newspapers a tiny bit, you’ve probably noticed that there’s this big advertising push about energy-saving lightbulbs: or compact fluorescent lightbulbs (CFL.)  CFLs are really just a small part of the whole green energy push, but they keep catching my attention. Now, normally I’m in love with things that A: are good for the environment, and B: save me money.  Regular lightbulbs are hot and burn a lot of energy, translating to a larger power bill.  I think we can all agree that a larger power bill is a really bad idea.   Especially in the winter when the cold temperatures here prompt the heater to run almost all the time.  Not cool.

However, I have a really big beef with these lightbulbs: they contain mercury.  You know, that stuff that keeps us from eating a lot of tuna – it’s a heavy metal that’s poisonous to us humans.  You probably remember some old thermometers with the classic bulb at the bottom had mercury in them – there’s a reason no one manufactures those anymore. 

Now, if you go to the official government website, there’s this neat little reassurance that the amount of mercury in the lightbulbs is so slight it’s not a big deal.  It says that most lightbulbs have no more than 4 milligrams of mercury, in comparison to the some 500 milligrams in an old thermometer.  4 milligrams doesn’t sound too scary, right?  Well, check out their instructions on how to dispose of a broken CFL lightbulb (pasted from their website, no changes made):   


1. Before cleanup

  • a. Have people and pets leave the room.
  • b. Air out the room for 5-10 minutes by opening a window or door to the outdoor environment.
  • c. Shut off the central forced air heating/air conditioning (H&AC) system, if you have one.
  • d. Collect materials needed to clean up broken bulb.

2. During cleanup

  • a. Be thorough in collecting broken glass and visible powder.
  • b. Place cleanup materials in a sealable container.

3. After cleanup

  • a. Promptly place all bulb debris and cleanup materials outdoors in a trash container or protected area until materials can be disposed of properly. Avoid leaving any bulb fragments or cleanup materials indoors.
  • b. For several hours, continue to air out the room where the bulb was broken and leave the H&AC system shut off.

That sounds pretty darn serious for a compulsive klutz like me with a sick cat that can’t handle overdoses of chemicals. 

So, I think we’ll stick with the regular lightbulbs after the current CFLs wear out.  And don’t let the hype fool you – they wear out just like any other lightbulb if you have cute little brown-outs or power surges.  That warranty doesn’t mean squat. 

All the same, they’re rather fun to photograph.