My Photographic Roots

My interest in photography came from watching my mother take photos. She had an old Rolleiflex that only she understood. It was square and boxy with two lenses on the front and some knobs on the sides. The magical thing about this camera is that you had to look down into a prism to take the photo – before an LCD screen even existed, many photographers had grown to love the experience of framing their shots in that lovely square box – it was like watching a TV screen.

This camera is substantial in your hands. That texture on the sides is actually leather.

This camera is substantial in your hands. That texture on the sides is actually leather.

Mom’s camera was just a bit newer than this one – it was probably from the 1950s. One day in my early teens we were on a trip with some other girls and their moms when she decided to show me how it worked. It wasn’t something she trusted me to take off with it, but that day I saw photography differently – somehow in my mind it shifted from capturing snapshots to making something look great on that screen. With the Rollei you had to move – there was no zoom or macro settings – you moved until the object you wanted to highlight was in focus. I think that early experience is why I love to shoot primes today. When I studied photography in college, mom entrusted me with not only her Rollei, but her new Pentax to use in my classes. I think it was at this time that I really understood photography as art – not just in the shooting of images, but in the processing and developing of film – the making of images.

Now my mom was a super-talented woman who never saw herself as an exceptional. She was a master pattern cutter, seamstress, and tailor. I would show her two dresses I liked – I would like the bodice on one and the skirt on the other – we would go home and she would make me a dress that was the perfect combination of the two. Her doodles on the phone book looked like the sketches you see designers make when developing fashion concepts. She was an amazing cook. She would try something new and then go home and figure out how to make it. She was exceptional in so many creative ways. If I were to call her a photographer she would probably cringe – but I look at her shots and I know that she had some skills. These aren’t etherial landscapes or anything like that – just shots of family and friends.

This Mother’s Day, like all days I miss her. She left us far too soon, but her mark on our lives was indelible.

She’s always with you. She’s the sound of bacon crackling in a skillet on Saturday morning. She’s the aroma of the lilacs and magnolias in the spring. She’s your breath in the air on a cold winter’s day. She’s the sound of the rain on the roof that lulls you to sleep, the colors of the rainbow; she is Christmas morning. She is the place where you came from, your first home, and she’s the map you follow with every step you take. She’s your first love, your first friend, even your first enemy, but nothing on earth can separate you – not time, not space, not even death. 

Shutterbug Notes:

You can learn a lot from looking at old photos. As your skill grows you can appreciate the skill it took to make them work. You can also learn a lot about shooting from the heart – to not so much try to capture what something looks like, but what it feels like. It’s more that skill that makes a great image – it needs heart.

The Second Rule of Photography

If the first rule of photography is to always have your camera with you, then the second rule must be about light. Light is everything to a photographer, without it there is no color, without enough of it you lose detail and sharpness.

Of course you can add light by using a flash, but that can create other issues – it can add too much light or create unwanted reflections. It’s essential to make some shots, but I wouldn’t use it just because your camera has one.

There is one kind of light that is almost magical – it is warm and soft and almost without glare. It’s that lovely light at the beginning or at the very end of the day – the golden hour. I’m not a morning person, so I prefer that soft light that starts about a half hour before the sun sets.

Over the course of the last week I have been practicing shooting sunsets at a local lookout point. On the way I travel through a residential neighborhood where the deer feed in the hollows and lots between houses. I find these local whitetails to be lovely and curious creatures. They are all about their dining, but any noise or movement from me gets them to look up at me. Sometimes they hold their gaze for several shots. They rarely flee.

Click through to see how expressive these whitetail can be:

After my first shot at these deer I began to give myself 10-15 minutes on my way to the lookout and I am never disappointed in these characters. In truth, it’s the light that makes these shots so intimate, you get a sense of the golden glow in their eyes, they emerge from the noisy backgrounds because there is enough light to get good focus. The details are mostly sharp because there is enough light for my camera to do the job I want it to do.

Shutterbug Notes:

I have found that your vehicle can be a good blind sometimes. Animals are often less threatened by a big box than they are of you approaching in spots where there is no place for cover. I have found that deer and antelope are naturally curious so sometimes a little movement makes them make eye contact with you – waving a bandana out the window or making clicking noises will often do the trick. When I do approach on foot I always respect the lines they set – if they huff or raise their tails I stop moving towards them. I want them to be curious and not frightened of me. 

Winter Weary

Old Man Winter has been giving us all he’s got this year. He started in Autumn and it looks like it’s doing his best to drag things out into Spring. Here in the Ozarks, we typically get a light snow before Christmas and we have a cold and sometimes snowy January. This year we’ve been pounded by storm after storm. I’m tired of shoveling and I miss the sunshine. It’s hard on us humans, but I have to tell you that the birds at the Stonehouse are over it. Yesterday when  forecasted “light afternoon flurries” turned into 7 inches of wet sticky snow, I did what I always do. I took out my camera. My friends at the feeders have lost their sweet Christmassy look – gone are the noble poses with perfectly coiffed tufts and wings. Haggard cards and finches continue to feed, but clearly they are over this whole “polar vortex” thing. Don’t worry, my little feathered friends, Spring is on the way – it’s supposed to arrive on Thursday, but don’t count your chicks before they’re hatched.

Click through to see what the diners at the Stonehouse Buffet have to say about Winter 2014:

 

Shutterbug Notes:

I have a weather sealed camera, but my bird lens is not sealed – I use a sandwich bag to give it a bit of protection, while still allowing me to focus in the weather. Shooting birds in falling snow is tricky, your AF will try to lock onto snowflakes so try focussing first on something at the same distance as your subject – I find that nearby branches work well – this makes it easier to fine tune your focus on your subject. When shooting birds I always focus on their eyes and I use the smallest AF target box that by camera has. I think the eyes help to capture their personalities. A motion blur on a wing can add to a shot, but a face out of focus is not a keeper for me. 

The First Rule of Photography

Always take your camera!

I know I say this a lot. I take my camera everywhere. It is in my car when I go to the store. I carry it to work everyday. It is always by my side.

The case has been made that the best camera is the one that you have with you. In this day when there is an iPhone or Galaxy in almost every pocket, most of us always have a camera for those spontaneous shots. But if you have a good camera, a real camera, why settle for serviceable when you can have amazing. Your iPhone can’t stop a hummingbird in mid-flight or reveal the inverted image in a water drop. It can’t show you the structure of a snowflake. There are a few rare shutterbugs (like Allan) that squeeze every once of performance out of that phone, but the truth is that what most of us capture with our iPhones could best be classified as “snapshots”. You spent good money on that camera – why let it gather dust waiting for that next excursion. If you don’t shoot it often you are likely to miss the big shot because you are trying to remember how to use it.

Sometimes it’s not the rare creature or amazing sunset, sometimes the beauty in the mundane calls out to me. When you see something that clicks, you need to be ready to click.

I was ready to click earlier this week at the car wash…

As I sat in the carwash, I was frustrated that I had lost the connection to my satellite radio. I started to check my Facebook feed and looked up to see a sea of foam rubber orange and yellow sponges with soap engulfing me. I took a shot with my iPhone – it was in my hand after all, but the shot was noisy and couldn’t capture what I was seeing. I grabbed my fast 50 and started shooting. I did no color correction on these shots – you are seeing what I saw. The color of a sunset out my driver’s side window.

Shutterbug Notes:

For a split second I considered getting out the flash, but decided that the window would just bounce the light back at me. I shot in aperture mode and opened the shutter all the way. I had to turn off the focus assist to keep from getting a red reflection on the glass. I focused on the bubbles and hoped for the best. I only took 7 shots. All but one were keepers. Because I was very familiar with my camera I could make quick changes to capture something spontaneous without having to pay for a second run through the car wash.  

Paper or Ice? Maybe We Got it Right in Kindergarten.

I grew up in the desert. I saw snow in a measurable amount about once a decade. Even so, making paper snowflakes was one of my favorite projects in school. Over the years I made them out of various types of paper – tissue paper, construction paper, my report card…you get the idea. I still love to make them – here’s one I made with my power bill that just arrived…

Seems pretty appropriate, given the winter we have had so far. I think I will only pay the parts I can read...

Seems pretty appropriate, given the winter we have had so far. I think I will only pay the portions I can read.

I still love to make snowflakes and have taught dozens of children how to get the open and airy feel over the years. What never occurred to me was the idea that my desert-born imaginings of snowflakes might not be so far off the mark.

A couple of weeks ago we were pummeled with about a foot of show on a Sunday afternoon. People were stranded getting home from church, the grocery store was out of milk and bread, and I had been busy shooting cardinals and other birds as they flocked to the feeders.

I stepped outside and noticed that the snow was really fluffy and wondered what it would look like shot through my macro lens. I knew I needed contrast so I looked for the smoothest flat black objects I could find to capture the flakes. I tried a microfiber cloth, a crock pot, a frying pan – ultimately I ended up turning a black t-shirt inside out. In the weather at the angles I was trying to focus at, a tripod was out of the question, so all of these images are handheld shots. Click through for your very own micro snowstorm:

So, I guess my power bill really doesn’t compare to the complexity and beauty of something so delicate and perfect, but I think that my classmates and I got closer than we could have imagined.

Shutterbug Notes:

Shooting macro handheld is easier if you use some breathing techniques. It’s kind of like firing a rifle – take aim, exhale, fire the shutter. Exhaling eliminates some movement. It also helps to pull your elbows into your body to make yourself into a tripod.  I prefer to shoot macro from a tripod because it’s easier to focus and play with aperture and shutter settings. the challenge is always to get the depth of field right. When snow is falling you have to move fairly quickly because the flakes you are shooting are covered pretty quickly. 

Tall Tales from the Big Fish

artsifrtsy:

Just some thoughts about my Pop on his 75th Birthday…

Originally posted on The King of Isabelle Avenue:

Today my Pops would have turned 75. The King of Isabelle Avenue left us far to soon. And while I am wistful on his birthday, I like to remember the man for who he really was. He was a backyard adventurer, a big spender, a mountain man, an ear piercer, and a fabricator of tales of wonder. He could tell you something completely absurd with such conviction – I always worried that the one time I called him on something would be the one time it was all true.

I'm sure your dad probably fought a goat in buckskins on any given Saturday.

Pops was a man for all seasons – even goat fighting season.

In 2003 I received a call from my brother Max. He asked me if I had seen Big Fish yet. I hadn’t even heard of it. He said I needed to see it. A couple of days passed and my nephew called and told me the…

View original 1,180 more words

The Little Bighorns of Boulder City

I love to see wildlife in unusual circumstances. I recently entertained a chickadee in my house for several hours while it decided to avoid the bitter cold. Of course that lead to a photo-op and possibly a future blog post.

Over the holidays I went to Las Vegas to see family. My brother Max has moved to the Fruity Chicken full-time and I often find photo ops with his menagerie, but his wife Karen and I took a run out to Boulder City one afternoon. We went in search of the bighorn sheep that live along the canyons that make up the shoreline of Lake Mead. In my mind I thought we would be headed out to the wilds to capture those amazing beasts out in the desert where I had spotted them in my youth. No, we went to a local park where the bighorns have taken over the baseball field. They come out each day to graze and on the day we visited only the smaller sheep came out from the mesquite thicket. I framed my shots carefully to avoid the playground equipment and the tennis courts.

When we first arrived they were below us in the field, over the course of about 45 minutes they walked right past us and into the playgrounds. I actually shot some of these shots with my portrait lens!

Bighorns fascinated me as a child. I used to draw them and worked really hard to get the horns just right. There was something about seeing them so near the playground that was pretty sentimental to me.

Shutterbug Notes:

I always carry at least three lenses. You never know what you will need, even when the plan is to shoot wildlife. My zoom would never have let me get those panoramic shots with the lake and mountains in the background – I was so glad to have my portrait lens in my bag. For me I need to have a minimum of a portrait lens, a macro, and a long zoom. When I travel I throw in a wide-angle. The variety gives me options and lets me make sure I get the shot I want.