Dear Academics…

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I have a message for you.  A serious message – illustrated by a serious, intent baby.  Please do not steal my blog posts or photos.

You see, I have this nifty little gadget from WordPress that allows me to check how people got to my blog.  And if suddenly I start getting large amounts of views from a website titled “Alternative Photography 2015” then I’m going to be suspicious and click on that link to go see what you’re up to.

To be completely honest, I’m not very happy about you copy/pasting large chunks of my blog posts for your cyanotype syllabii.  Granted, I’m happy you included a link to my cyanotype tutorials so that your students can read up on my trials and errors.  I am NOT happy to see my work used instead of you getting off your arse and actually, you know, doing the job that you’re PAID to do and creating your own course work.

To be brutally blunt, I’m appalled.  Universities are the last bastion against plagiarism.  Professors spend an inordinate amount of time checking their students’ work for plagiarism.  And to turn around and blatantly steal my work?  You should be ashamed.  I’m ashamed for you.  What a bad example you set!

To your students: I’m glad you’re here.  Poke around, check things out, and feel free to message me if you have questions about my work.  I can’t promise I’ll swiftly reply, but I’ll do my best.  I really hope that my work can challenge you, intrigue you, or inspire you to do better than me.   Good luck with your projects and remember that sometimes, alternative photography is a series of interesting mistakes.  Run with it!

Sincerely,

me.

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Portrait Myth #465 – look at the camera!

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I have to admit, I’m purely going on my personal opinion here.  That said, some of the best portrait shots I’ve seen by noted photographers did not have the subject looking squarely at the camera with a vapid smile on their face.  Nope, most of the more interesting ones I can think of, not that I’m thinking very well at the moment being annoyingly sick, may not even show the subjects’ face at all.   Looking back at photographs of Corbin, most of my images of him that tell a story are not facing front to the camera.  In fact, one of the recent best doesn’t show his face at all!  Not to say that classic portraits don’t have their place – a good mix is best, as in everything.  Especially if you’re sending photographs to distant grandparents who don’t get to visit that often.  More is better!  (Frequent is better too, but I’ve turned into a lump of tired mommy lately.)

 

That said.  Here’s Anarah at 4 months.  She’s highly interested in what her  big brother is doing at the moment.  She’s watching every move he makes (and eyeballing nearby crayons with a speculative eye.)   She’s so excited about what’s going on that I had to stop every few shots and haul her back up onto the pillow.  Otherwise she was reduced to chewing on the pillow and slowly slipping below eye level because of all the kicking and wiggling.   Big brother Corbin has been  a great help getting good shots of Anarah.  She’s so interested in what Corbin is up to that she tends to ignore the annoying thing hiding mommy and making noises.

You’d think 2 kids in that I would have this baby photography down pat.  Nope!  I’m still learning.

  • Baby girls look a lot more feminine (when bald) if they wear a headband.
  • Distraction is key.  Siblings are great!
  • Get on their level.  Shooting at a downward angle hides their eyes.
  • Boppy pillows are great photography tools.  And no, I don’t get paid for that endorsement.

Image details:  shot indoors in natural low lighting, with a pretty hefty ISO that ended up making a lot of images too soft to use.

A full year

It’s been a long year, and I’m really sorry that I’ve neglected this blog. I can’t truly say that I had much choice because when it comes to my work or taking care of Corbin, it’s a pretty easy decision who wins.  And look at that super cute face – who could argue that I made the wrong choice?

Corbin is a year old, and looking back over the last year, frankly, I’m surprised that we made it.  We spent way more time in hospitals and doctor’s offices than I care to remember, but at the end of the year he’s doing pretty good.  Actually, he’s constantly on the move.  A bundle of energy.  And I, who never had all that much energy in the first place, end up crashing into bed at the end of the day exhausted from trying to keep up with one small boy.  I’m rather scared that things will only get more crazy now that he’s so close to walking on his own!

In terms of photography, it’s also been interesting.  Shooting baby pictures are challenging.  Really challenging.  Professional photographers have my sympathy.  In the beginning, it wasn’t easy trying to get interesting pictures of a tiny squirmy baby that slept most of the time and spent all of his photo shoot lying in one place.  As Corbin began to move and wiggle more, the challenge was how to get a good, interesting photograph that didn’t blur into a mess because I was trying to keep up with him.

Now, as Corbin crawls and tries to walk, the challenge is taking photographs while trying to keep him from knocking his teeth out in a nasty fall, or crawling toward  a pond, stopping only to ingest a small rock or whatever stick/piece of trash/flower petal that catches his fancy.  He’s definitely my child – forget looking at all the interesting stuff around him, he’s only interested in the visually arresting white styrofoam cup lying on the black asphalt parking lot.  There are certainly times that I wish someone else was holding him so I could capture the times he runs up and down the sidewalk brandishing a dandelion at the passing cars.  Or when he stops dead in his tracks and yells “Og!” at a passing dog on a walk.

And at the end of the year, I really wish I could report better news.  It certainly appears that he has no more hair now than he did in the first picture I posted of him.

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.

Anyway.

 

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 quality of lighting…

Well, the kiddo is this close to actually crawling, and if I thought photographing a baby was difficult before, it sure is more so now!  We get things set up and comfy on his blanket in the sun, and no sooner do I get the camera out then he turns and faces the sun (or away from the sun.)  Fun times.  I won’t even go into what the mechanics of the bribe involved – getting a smile out of Corbin is difficult when he needs a nap.  Not to mention the bright sunny weather was a breezy 50ish degrees – which doesn’t put him in the best of moods either.

Not that I’m complaining about the weather, nope!  Last winter at this time of the year, I was busy cursing the weather gods for dropping a ton of snow on us when I was heavily pregnant with Corbin.  This winter has been eerily warm and non-snowy.  I think we’re all just waiting for the big one to hit and drop some 4 feet of snow on us in one memorable weekend.

Anyway, back to the title subject – sleep deprivation is starting to kick in again and I’m meandering.

Oh yeah, lighting.  Yup.

I’ve never really worked with back lighting before, and it was a lot of blown-out highlighty fun.  When Corbin cooperated and stayed in one spot, you could see that he has hair! See, I told you guys that he wasn’t bald, and now I have proof.

Technical stuff:  I learned pretty quickly that the camera light meter had 5 sort of fits when I worked with back lighting, so I had to play things by ear a bit.  I could have reset the meter to spot meter and just metered off of his face, but that took way more time and energy than I had when corralling an 8 month old and preventing him from tasting the pavement.  Or chewing.  Whichever he thought he was doing.

Intellectually I knew that back lighting works best with a fill-in flash to open up the eyes of your subject.  Ugh.  Not only do I not have the right flash, I’m really leery of popping a flash on my infant son over and over.  It just seems bad for their eyes, not to mention the possibility of triggering seizures.  Paranoid much?  Yup.  So no flash.  What I did do was try and position the light colored blanket he was laying on to reflect a little light.  It didn’t do much, but it was better than the brick that absorbed light.

If you’re reading this for tips and hits I suggest that you shoot a lot in raw when trying back lighting.  And chimp a lot, it helps pinpoint your exposure.  {Chimp: to continually check your images on the LCD screen}  Technically I think that’s probably cheating, but if it helps, who really cares?  Your positioning as photographer really helps too – you want your subject to block the sun, leaving light to blow over their heads a little.  Too much light and you end up with a halo looking effect, or totally losing the subject in the sun.

 

Last, but not least, please remember that I’m not a pro.  Not at all.  In fact, I’m looking at this shot now thinking it’s a tad muddy.  Ick.  Another round of editing is in order.

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.

Eating my words

 

Ick.  I swore I would never do this.  I absolutely hate slanted images – they force the viewer to crane their head in order to see the subject straight.  It’s annoying and irritating when it’s overdone.  It’s especially irritating if you’re not sure if the photographer did it on purpose, or just wasn’t skilled enough to take the picture correctly.

Mea culpa.

I’d like to think I’m skilled enough to do it  right.  Somehow though, this image worked best at an angle, possibly because it minimizes his bald round head.  He really does have hair, guys, promise!

 

Since I’m in the mood to be honest, I’ll admit that I can’t take full credit for this image even if I wanted to.  Since Corbin still can’t sit up by himself (although he’s trying as hard as he can) I had to hold him up by the shoulder while I stood at arm’s length trying to get a good focus.  Since he won’t smile for me with the camera in front of my face, I ended up holding the camera and talking to him while I randomly clicked the shutter.  I not only shot the image at that angle, I managed to cut off the betraying fingers holding his shoulder up.  I really really need to get a remote release to work with my tripod for these sessions.

 

On a side note, if you’re bored with the baby pictures on the blog, I’m truly sorry.  However, I’m staying true to my original premise (posting what’s going on in my life at the moment.)  Right now, the only thing I’m photographing is baby – and that’s a rare thing as well.