Crossing the line


Sometimes I write posts because I posted a photograph and I wanted to discuss something about the image.  Other times, I write because something has been stewing for a while and finally comes out.  This is one of those posts.


There’s a subtle form of discrimination going on against male photographers.  Picture this situation:

You’ve taken your child to the toddler park and they’ve happily roared into the mass of children running around madly and having fun.  Parents mill around keeping a watchful eye on both their kids and other children interacting with them.  Strollers litter the playground, and every bench is occupied by a weary mom or dad.  With one exception.

There’s an older guy sitting on the bench in front of you.  He has a camera bag slung on his back, and he’s dressed for comfort in tennis shoes, a t shirt, and somewhat sloppy jeans.  He looks fairly ordinary and nonthreatening, and he doesn’t interact with anyone around him.  The only threatening thing about him is the fairly large camera he’s holding.  Every so often he lifts the camera and takes a few pictures, and in a little while, he moves over to the fence around the playground and stands there changing out a lens.  After a while, he drifts over to another bench, still taking pictures.  The next time you look in his direction he’s gone.

What do you automatically think?

Do you assume he’s a doting grandfather or uncle, or a predator?


This happened at one of our playground visits recently, and I have to admit, I kept a very watchful eye on the guy.  I never saw him  interact with anyone, either adult or child, and he didn’t seem to focus on any particular child the way you would if you were taking pictures of your child playing.  As far as I know, no one confronted him, although I saw several dads also keeping an eye on him.  It was a slightly creepy experience and a scary reminder that even at the playground, your child might not be safe.

I do try not to assume, because I had a classmate in college who had a very bad experience in a similar situation.  He was a serious, slightly older student who put a lot of time into his work and really tried to go beyond the assignments our instructor gave us.  He wasn’t a father, but he had a 9-10 year old niece that he absolutely adored.  Not surprisingly, she was his subject for quite a few projects – I suspect a lot of his images made it into her mom’s family album because he was a great photographer.

One assignment on portraits was perfect for the little girl, and he decided to take his niece to the playground.  She loved the park, and he had taken her there before and thought it would be a perfect place to get some action portraits of her.   While they were there, someone, an unknown mom, called the police.  The police questioned him and his niece and generally made the visit an unpleasant one with a few nasty assumptions.

He came into the next class and told us what happened, visibly upset over the discrimination he experienced.  At the time, I had a nagging thought that I didn’t express, but after experiencing something similar as a mom I finally clarified that thought: whomever called the police wasn’t meddling.  He should have been delighted that someone cared enough about a little girl they had never met to make sure she was safe.  What if she had been with someone else?  Wouldn’t he have wanted someone to call the police?

At the time, he was incensed that the only reason the police came was because he was male.  If he had been a female photographer no one would have thought anything about it.

There’s a reason for that.  How many female pedophiles have you heard of? I know they’re out there, but the vast majority of pedophiles in the news are male.  Add that to the visual nature of men and you have a nasty discrimination against male photographers.

And while I might ruffle some feathers here, I would much rather someone call the police if they’re worried about the safety of my child than worry about discrimination against some random guy.  Sorry guys.  Gender barriers suck, don’t they?



The best camera…


is the one you have with you (or so someone once said that has been quoted over and over and I’m too lazy to look up the source.)

I’m seriously loopy tonight, so bear with me.  A bad case of strep throat and an infant with a double ear infection isn’t showing off my dying neurons to their best ability.



For  a while now, we’ve been meaning to upgrade our phones.  What we had was more than sufficient for our needs, but we knew our needs were going to be changing.  So, we waited until we knew exactly what the specifics were before we went out and upgraded.  I am the lucky beneficiary of my husband’s work needs – we now have smart phones, 4G, and unlimited texting that I’ve been putting to the test.  Yup, I know.  We were SO far behind the times it was sad.  Whatever.

Now, specifically, our previous phones had cameras.  Sort of.  They were  really pathetic cameras and I laughed at the file size after playing around with it.  After that, I resolved to use our infinitely better Canon for all our photo needs.  And really, I didn’t truly need a phone camera that did a great job anyway.

Now, I’ve always kept an eye out on the growing Iphone photography genre.  It fascinates me what a basic camera and a few fancy apps can do to an image – and some of them are quite lovely.  A lot of good photographers out there are producing gorgeous photographs with just their phones.  And as long as you’re viewing the image on something like…the phone….the image is super duper awesome.  Problem is, as soon as you pop it onto a computer or try to print it out you run into the problem of file size.  Yup, tiny files, relatively speaking.

Nine times out of ten though, who cares?  Most of the images I take with my phone will never go larger than a 4×6 if they get that far.  And I have to admit, having a simple camera (with a flash) that I can whip out of my pocket and capture spur of the moment images with is a handy thing.

Like this one.  Thanks to a very gracious floral employee at our favorite grocery store, Corbin got to experience his first balloon.  I know, I’m depriving the kid.  He didn’t get his first balloon until he was 8 months old.  It simply didn’t occur to me that he might actually like to have a balloon, since I’ve never been all that fond of them myself.  Unlike bubbles, which he first  experienced when he was old enough to move into the big bathtub (so we could avoid a huge mess.)  Incidentally, he loves both – bubbles and bathtub.

Corbin wasn’t sure what to think of this balloon thing.  It floated, and it followed him around the store the whole time we shopped.  By the time we checked out he had decided it was a good thing to have around, and he talked to it as it bobbed around the back of the car on the way home.  Daddy got him some fancy mylar balloons for Valentine’s Day and Corbin discovered the joys of balloon kickboxing.  We sure got a lot of wiggles out of that child doing that.  Gave him a good workout!

So.  Good images aside (poor lighting here, with a deplorable noise situation still produced a decent image with even a hint of balloon movement) what’s the scoop on phone cameras?  I was once asked how many megapixels my camera had, and when I replied with the number, the guy said in a pitying tone, “my phone has more than that camera does!”  And I thought (but didn’t say) “uh huh, but how big is the sensor to capture those pixels?”  Because when you’re talking size, that’s what really matters.  Not the number of megapixels (although that’s important too) but the size of the sensor.  Not surprisingly, the more expensive and “professional” the camera, the bigger the sensor.

Here’s why:  that sensor is what captures the information.  I’m a little fuzzy on the technical size of things, but I do know that when you’re talking images, the more information, the better.  You can always edit down the info but you can’t add it back.  Which, in a nutshell, is why I hate jpg files – they compress the image which loses little bits of information here and there.

I would absolutely love to have a digital back to go on my large format camera.  Imagine a digital sensor the size of 4×5 film.  I’m in awe.  That’s what you see a lot of the serious studio photographers using, and if you’re ever bored enough to watch America’s Next Top Model (I watched pre-baby for some light-hearted fun – ostensibly photography research for the the photo shoots) you’ll see quite a few of the studio shoots are done with a large format camera tethered to a computer.  I can’t even imagine the size hard drive you would need to store some of those images!

Not surprisingly, a digital back is massively expensive.  Perhaps someday.  For now, I’m happily taking quite a few decent baby pics with my small, portable phone.  Things like Corbin’s first carousel ride, having his first egg (scrambled, he loved it) and catching that oh-so-cute face smiling.  Which is a very difficult thing to do, I’ll have you know.  The important photo shoots are still done with our trusty Canon for good quality images that I can tweak, but the random snapshots?  The phone, and its 8 megapixel glory work quite well.


Note: I absolutely forgot to do any editing to this image.  What you see is straight from the phone.  Not too bad, right?


The new lens

At my age, birthdays are only good for one thing.  I’m certainly past the point where another year older brings exciting new privileges like drinking or driving.  In fact, I’m starting to dread birthdays, so my birthday gift this year helped sweeten the deal a little.  I’ve been grumbling about a wide angle lens for a while now, and Corbin went out and bought me one (with a little help from daddy, I’m sure.)  It’s a lovely 18-55mm zoom, which makes taking certain shots a whole heck of a lot easier.  It’s a cool new toy, to be sure.

Corbin and I went to the park to test it out, and I have to say, shooting a baby is MUCH easier with a wide angle.  I’m close enough to grab him if he starts doing something like trying to fall off a park bench or eating a handful of dirt – both of which he did while we were there.  So far I’m really truly pleased with it, and while I know I’m limiting its potential a little by doing baby shots, I’m sure I’ll find lots of cool things to shoot with it.

I tested it out a bit on the pond at the park when the sun was getting lower.  Despite the crud that people have been flinging on the ice, the pond is lovely in the light.  What is it about ice that brings out the worst in us?  Either we act really really stupid (try to walk on it) or we dirty it up with stuff just to “see how it slides.”  Bleh.

Are there such things as sun trails?  I know you call the light the moon leaves on the water a moon trail, but I’m not sure what you call this.  It certainly captured my attention, and I messed around with different exposures trying to get the ripples of light on the ice while not totally blowing the sky out at the same time.  The key was to block the low, bright sun with a tree branch and expose for the ice.  Which totally lost any detail I had on the tree, but who cares, it’s just a boring tree.  It’s not even a grown up tree – it’s one that’s caged with a little mesh to keep it from escaping until it settles in and resigns itself to the new, mediocre location. Cool berries though, so definitely points for trying.

What is it about the camera that brings out the stupid in people?  As soon as I pull out my camera someone invariably has to comment on something – most usually the size.  This guy was at least a little original: he asked if I was photographing the old rusted fountain in the pond with an air of disbelief.  Another day when it wasn’t so cold and I didn’t have a fussy baby with me I might have tried to point out the wonderful light, but as it was, I just smiled and told him I was testing a new lens.  It’s people like that that make me second guess myself a lot.  He obviously couldn’t see anything worth photographing, and he couldn’t understand why I was bothering.

I did try this shot in pure black and white, but it lost a little something that made it interesting.

Early Snow

I usually don’t tweak things like this, and to be totally honest, I didn’t tweak it that much.  Still, I usually say that my photos are lightly edited, so I guess I should explain what I did here.

We had a lovely, messy snow in the last few days of October up here in NY.  It didn’t stick to anything hard, but when we got up that morning, anything green was covered with a dusting of snow.  It even lasted most of the day, but I managed to grab a few shots when the morning sun was shining on my back yard.  Given that it’s autumn, the leaves were already a nice rusty color that looked wonderful when the sun was on it.  I wanted to emphasize the color of the leaves more than the initial shot did, so I ended up tweaking it in post (production.)

Now, I could say that I dropped it into Photoshop and did some fancy number with filters and color channels.  Nothing that interesting, sadly.  All I did was tweak the white balance a bit to give it a slightly warmer cast.  It’s pretty obvious that I didn’t tweak it that far because the snow still looks white.  I guess if I really wanted to do things the hard way, I could have slapped some sort of filter on the camera lens itself.

Funnily enough, I didn’t notice until I edited the shot that there’s a water drop on the leaf tip.  Which explains why it’s out of focus.

For those of you who follow this blog, thank you for your patience.  I won’t go into details, but my son has given us a few scares and we still don’t know exactly what’s going on.  We’re praying for the best and still looking for answers.  Thank you for your kind thoughts and prayers!

Panning (out)


We walked to the park today because the weather turned out lovely, despite the dire predictions of the weather channel.  I’m not complaining, nope! not with winter coming up.  As always, my camera was with us – stowed neatly in the stroller compartment right underneath Corbin.  The park is a lovely place to visit anyway, and Corbin might just be in a photogenic mood.  Maybe.

And he was, sort of.  He loves swinging in the “big kid’s” swing – it’s like a rollercoaster seat with a pull down harness that keeps him secure while I push the swing.  Of course, he doesn’t quite fit because it’s designed for toddlers.  He’s big for 5 months, but not that big.  So, we took along a handy little stuffage to act as a pillow and prop him up.  It came in handy later for a photo shoot, but that’s another post entirely.

I’ve never really tried to photograph much of anything in motion other than a little motion blur here and there, so I thought I would try something new.  The last batch of swing photos looked stationary because you couldn’t see the movement – it was time to try panning and see what I could catch.  I didn’t read up on tips and hints – I just pulled out the camera and tried as best I could.  Something tells me I’m probably missing a crucial element here, because most of the panning shots just look blurry despite my best efforts.  Clearly, I need to do some research before we try again.  Still, one or two turned out fairly well.  I’m surprised!

I did realize that things are a lot easier if you have room – a swing set with a stroller in the way (mine, of course, because I did move it, but not far enough) isn’t the best place to try this.  Basically, what I did was focus on Corbin’s face as best I could and tracked the motion of the swing back and forth with a slow enough shutter speed to capture motion while (hopefully) still freezing him.  His cooperation – staying still – helped a lot.  At least, when he did stay still.  The swing is one of his favorite things to do so he spends his time looking around a lot, as well as moving his hands, squealing in glee, and just generally wiggling.

The pacifier accessory was non-negotiable – he kept trying to suck on his fingers and the germ-a-phobe in me said “ewwww!”


So, something to try again at a later date, but not a total failure.  And I was right – this set of swing shots looks a whole lot more interesting than the last batch.

Full of excuses


That’s what I was today.  Corbin and I went out for a quick run to Indian Ladder Farms after the rain stopped.  On the way there, we passed something that caught my eye, and I debated turning the car around and getting the camera out.  I had plenty of excuses: the baby is asleep, it might start raining again, I really don’t want to turn around and go back, it wasn’t that great of a possibility, it’s just too much effort, and so on.  I’m sad to say that I didn’t stop and get the camera out, despite my creative side nudging me to do so.

After we got to the farm and did a quick photo shoot in the pumpkin patch – he’s soooo darn cute!  we bought our cider, farm fresh brown eggs, and headed out to see the chickens and the goats before we left.  Since the baby was in a decent mood – no screaming – I backtracked in hopes of seeing what caught my eye again.  Hit the brakes, turn on the flashers, grab the camera, and go shoot for a few minutes while keeping a weather eye out on the baby.   A very nice gentleman slowed down and asked if everything was ok: I’m proud to announce that chivalry still exists, albeit conveyed by a pickup truck instead of a white horse.


It might not be the best photograph in the world, but I’m happy that I caught it.  I made time for creativity today and I’m the better for it.   (Note: next time, creativity needs to prompt me to clean up the shot by removing protruding sticks and stones.)

St. Agnes, 2011


It’s that time of year again – I’m rushing to send in a photograph to the St. Agnes photography contest.  You may remember that last year I groused a little bit (ok, maybe more than a little bit) about the judges’ choice of first place winner not being particularly fair.  St. Agnes closes its gates at dusk – the first place winner was Chuck Miller’s photograph of star trails over the cemetery.  Not a bad photograph, but not fair to the rest of the photographers who played by the rules and took daylight images.


If you’re interested in seeing the image, go here to read his blog post about the Altamont Fair photography results.  (Chuck, if you follow this link back and read my post here, congrats on the second place win – that Palace theatre photograph was lovely.)

So, I found it rather funny when I read the rules for this year after printing out the form: it spells out that only images taken when the gates are open will be eligible.  Apparently I wasn’t the only one a tad peeved!

I had every intention of photographing St. Agnes last winter to get some snow shots, but a combination of bad weather and klutzy late pregnancy prevented me from doing that.  So, this week Corbin and I took his new baby carrier for a test drive at St. Agnes.  Now that he’s big enough to hold his head up without extra support, I finally got the ergonomic baby carrier I had planned on so that both his dad and I could carry him.  He sits facing me in a cushy shell and the harness goes over my shoulders and around my waist to distribute his 17.5 pounds.

Despite the nice breezy weather, I was sweating up and down the hills at St. Agnes, swatting mosquitoes at every step.  For some odd reason the skeeters are really bad right now.  Corbin got bored with looking at tombstones and crypts and ended up taking a nap while I shot.  That actually helped – his wiggling caused several of my images to blur when his head bumped the camera.


It was rather nice to be back out on a photo shoot – the first since Corbin was born.  My days are consumed with baby – and my nights are somewhat sleepless still.  Here’s hoping I have better luck at this year’s contest than I did last year!

Blue Ribbons



I’m pretty happy right now – I entered 4 images in the fine art category at the Altamont fair (the limit was 4.)  Two of those were cyanotype, and two were black and white images printed at my local Sam’s Club.  Much to my surprise, two of my images won first prize in their respective categories.  Now, honesty compels me to admit that of the three categories, the two I entered (black and white film and digital imaging) combined were only about half the size of the color category.  Bluntly speaking, I had less competition.  Still, one of the officials told me when I went to pick up the images that “the judge just loved your egg photograph.”  Cue the happy dance!


At the risk of getting all artsy and snobby, I have to say it won for a reason: there was a story behind my image, and I believe that it made it more interesting.  Someone once told me that every piece of art needs a story behind it, and he was right.  Granted, he made up his stories, but his premise was still true.  Every conceptual image, at least, needs to make you wonder, make you think.  It’s not enough for me to rely on the process being interesting – the image has to be good, interesting, evocative – the process is only the trappings.  Which is why my image won, instead of the salt print image of someone’s dog.  (At least I think it was a salt print, could have been a Van Dyke process.)

The story behind this image is highly personal, and I don’t think I’ve shared the details except to a few people.  It started with this piece that I did for my Verba series:

"Dolori" - Verba series, Coffee Toned Cyanotype, 15x15

The Verba series, not surprisingly, was based on writings I had done at key points in my life: usually low points.  The image doesn’t show the poem very well, so I’ll transcribe it here for convenience’s sake:

My body is a tomb / a grave of dead hopes.

I watched the beating heart of dreams / fade into nothing.

I have no tears left /my heart is weeping still.

How can I go on living, / knowing I have given birth to death?

I wrote this poem one night when I was still dealing with the emotional aftermath of literally watching my unborn child die.  One day the ultrasound showed a strongly beating heart, the next day, something happened. While an early miscarriage might be nature’s gentle way of dealing with  a baby that can’t survive, the emotional toll certainly isn’t gentle.

When we found out that Corbin was coming, I decided to document his birth in the same way that I documented my miscarriage.  From the very beginning of my creative process, I stuck with this one image.  It now hangs in his nursery.

As happy as I am to have Corbin, I still grieve over the child that didn’t live.  That bittersweet emotion was behind every creative decision in Nesting – from the set up to the lighting.  I’d like to think that some of that story shows in the image, but I’m sure most people look at it and say “oh, an egg in a nest, how cute.”


So that’s the story behind the image that won first in the Black and White division at the Altamont fair.  The Digital Imaging division winner’s story is simpler:  I challenged myself to create a series of things you wouldn’t expect to see in a photograph – and you wouldn’t recognize them either.

They’re forks – salad forks, actually!



Calibrating the hard way


We finally got my new computer from the local shop, and after working out a few bugs (the cpu fan stopped working!) and installing various programs, it’s almost usable.  Almost.  I had to tackle the daunting task of calibrating the monitor by eye.  All monitors are not created equal – what you see on the internet differs from what I see because our monitors are set up differently.  If you don’t believe me, just go to Best Buy and eyeball the different computer monitors – not a one is alike.  This poses a problem when it comes to photo editing – the image must match what the printer spits out, or I waste a lot of time and money trying to manually match it.

Now, real pros have a handy little calibrating program that does this stuff for you.  Since I don’t want to spend a lot of money (and I know there are free programs – I’ve been ordered not to download anything without permission after a few trojan/virus scares!) I decided to calibrate it by eye.  Basically, I printed out a photograph that I know is a good one, since I edited it on my formerly calibrated, dying gamma monitor, and compared the image on the screen until I got it right.  Sounds easy?  Not at all.  I’m still not sure I got the color balance right – the reds and blue aren’t quite as accurate as I want, and I’m still showing a few hot spots on the monitor that aren’t on the original image.  But, overall, I could put up this image without feeling too scared of what it actually looks like.

Corbin and I went for a walk along the Mohawk river the other evening.  Mosquitoes abounded and the water level has dropped drastically, but the evening light was lovely.  I don’t shoot landscape a lot, and this is truly just a snapshot.  Still, I thought it turned out ok for a distracted photo shoot with baby in tow.


I finally got an updated version of Photoshop to go with my brand new computer, so expect some experimentation in the coming weeks.  I have all these new toys and I don’t know what to try first!  In all my spare time, that is.  Of course, when I say I edited a photograph, bear in mind that I’m somewhat of a purist: no wild edits, insertions, or deletions.  I pretty much stick with basic darkroom edits – it’s just what I’m more comfortable with.

What the flood left behind

Someone once told me that it’s much easier to capture the effect of bad weather than trying to actually capture the bad weather itself.  If you’ve ever tried to take photographs of a high wind, you’ll know what I’m talking about.  While his advice might not have been perfect, it’s something I keep in mind when I’m shooting nature.

Last month was a month of rain.  Lots of rain.  Our temperatures were high enough that the (large) piles of snow started to melt during all the rain, and there for a while we had severe weather flood alert warnings from the national weather service almost every week.  It did flood, badly, but not in any areas close to me.  All we had to deal with was a massive amount of water trying to enter the basement – our sump pump earned its keep last month.

A recent walk on the sedate walking trail – former railroad – near the Mohawk river illustrated to me just how badly things had flooded in low-lying areas.  What was normally a forest merging into a marshy river bank filled with grasses and cattails during summer was instead inundated with about 5 feet of water. 

I know this because, as always, I went off-trail.  Every small tree and brush was coated with a thick coat of mud.  When the water finally receded, it left a curiously blank canvas of consistent mud and leaves on the ground.  Here and there, beside fallen tree trunks and large trees were eddies of detritus that the receding water had left.   

I’m a sucker for details, so this photo focused on the mess of stuff the water left behind.  It had to be black and white, because the uniform mud color wasn’t inspiring at all!