Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Sunset in Monochrome

At the 2012 Western Idaho Fair there were nearly 1500 entries. One of the categories was "Monochrome Sunrise/Sunset." There were exactly ZERO entries in that category. So I decided that in preparation for the next time I enter photos in the fair, I would work on how to create the perfect image for that category. It's been more difficult than I anticipated.

Like many people (if not most) when I think of sunsets, the first thing that comes to mind is brilliant colors: vivid orange, fiery red, and warm yellows. That's kind of what defines a sunset. So the question then: How to photograph a sunset without the colors?

What are the essential characteristics of a sunset? And, how do I capture those characteristics in a photograph?
1. I think one obvious characteristic is that the sun is low in the sky. That doesn't seem too difficult.
2. In the best sunset images I've seen, there's almost always water involved. Not always, but sunset over the ocean seems somehow more 'sunsetty' than sunset over a mountain, or a meadow.
3. Sunsets create long, deep shadows. It hides behind buildings and trees, peeking out through all the gaps in the landscape.
4. When the sun is low in the sky the quality of the light changes. It becomes softer, warmer, longer.

Here you see three attempts at creating a monochrome sunset image. In the first, I focused on the silhouette created by the sun dropping behind the trees. In the second, I focused on the reflection created across the lake (no ocean in Idaho). In the third, I focused on the depth of layers attempting to maximize the gradation from black to grey to white. Which is the most successful? I haven't yet decided. Each still needs work, some edits here and there to maximize the image.

The first three characteristics seem pretty straight-forward to incorporate into an image. Having the sun low in the sky is easily done, in color or in monochrome. Reflection is also simply done - just set up with some body of water between me and the sun. Lastly, finding long shadows is just a matter of timing, and assuming I'm working on the first characteristic - sun low in the sky - long shadows will be automatic.

The issue of sunset then comes down to the quality of light. What is it about light at sunset (or sunrise) that is essentially different than the light during the middle of the day? We photographers call those times just after sunrise and just before sunset, "The Golden Hour." The name implies color is part of what makes it a special time. 
But it can't be just the color. The light waves are longer, adding a reddish tint to the sky (more atmosphere to pass through). 
But it can't be just the color, can it? I'm searching for what it must be.

Thursday, November 22, 2012


Gratitude is an interesting day - a characteristic highlighted on this particular national day of celebration, but one which should be an every day thing. Gratitude and thankfulness should be felt and expressed every day.

As a Christian, the Bible tells me to:
Always be joyful. Never stop praying. Be thankful in all circumstances, 
for this is God's will for you who belong to Christ Jesus.
~ 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18, NLT

On this Thanksgiving day, I'm grateful for rheumatoid arthritis. But I don't think that's as simple as it may seem. How can I be grateful for disease?

Because of the RA so many good things have happened, and I seem to be headed in a good direction. I like my life. Because of the RA, and the aggressive progression of it, I resigned as counselor in Wendell - not a good thing. But leaving that job brought me back to Nampa, close to my family - and that is a good thing. Since I left that job I'm free to pursue a doctorate - a good thing. When I moved to Nampa I found a new rheumatologist and he's taken very good care of me. That has been a really good thing. After moving here to Nampa I joined the Nampa Rec Center, which is helping me physically and mentally. After moving here I started playing the ukulele.

It's possible I may have done some of these things if I had remained healthy, without RA, and stayed living in Twin Falls. But some (most) of them wouldn't have happened.

However, being grateful in the results does not feel the same as being grateful for the disease. So what does it mean to be "thankful in all circumstances"? Yes I like my life, I am content with my situation. But am I grateful for RA? I don't know how to answer that.

We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance.
~ Romans 5:3, NLT

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Princess Bride as a Metaphor

The Princess Bride is one of my favorite movies. I've been watching it for 25 years. When it first came out, we watched as a group, those of us in the Hillsboro Nazarene Youth Group, usually at Dawn's house. We watched often enough that we had the movie memorized.

If you've watched the movie, you might remember the scene at the very end, when Grampa is getting ready to leave. He pats his pockets, his jacket, all the while repeating (or mumbling), "Okay ...... okay."

For years now I've done the same thing. When I get ready to leave the house, I pat my left pocket to make sure I have my phone, pat my right pocket to make sure I have my wallet and keys, pat other places to make sure I have glasses or hat or pen or grocery list, all the while mumbling to myself, "Okay ... okay ... alright ... okay." I crack myself up when I do it because I picture Grampa doing the same, which reminds me of the Princess Bride which reminds me of some of my favorite quotes, which makes me laugh, usually out loud. I love it so I do it every time I leave the house.

This last week I had an epiphany (I don't really know what that word means, but I've always wanted to use it). The Princess Bride has provided a loose metaphor for my life.

When I first started watching the movie, I pictured myself as Westley. I was young, good looking, adventurous (sort-of) and I imagined the day I would meet my princess "rescuing" her from her circumstances, making one of the top 5 kisses of all time.

Now, I'm Grampa. I read the books to kids, hoping to pass on some of the wisdom I've gained through life experience. I pat my pockets, I mumble, I love my kids, I love my family.

I suppose my next phase will be to morph into the King, Prince Humperdinck's father.
"Isn't that nice. She kissed me!"

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

What does it mean to live in the moment?

Over the last decade I've spent countless hours and energy simplifying my life, my possessions, my activities - eliminating the clutter. Much of the simplification has been tangible objects and items. But some of the simplification has been really abstract, enough so that I have difficulty understanding what I'm doing, or trying to do.

For example, to eliminate the clutter of my time, I'm trying to focus on now, living in the moment. Which means I have to eliminate the clutter of past and future. I certainly need to remember my past. I've done some wonderful things (and some not so wonderful) and I want to hold those warm memories in my heart. I don't every want to forget my time in Wendell. But I don't want to dwell in the past or get stuck in the past wondering, "what if?"

Likewise, I need to plan for the future. I make plans, schedule appointments. I have infusions scheduled six months out. But I don't want to live in the future, constantly looking for what's to come, hoping it's better than today. I can expect the best and plan for the worst, but the only things I can do can only be done today. I'm applying for a doctoral program, but I'm not going to start planning my life around the class schedule. I have no idea if I'll be accepted to the program or not.

But here's where the real difficulty in living "now" creates confusion for me. I'm unemployed, on disability. There are days when I  really want a job. I want to be doing something. And yet, I am so busy. I don't have time for a job.

  • I'm teaching as an adjunct professor at NNU
    • Building a class
    • reading text books to prepare
    • writing assignments, rubrics, tests, quizzes
  • I'm learning Spanish
  • I'm learning the ukulele
  • I'm working to improve my photography
  • I'm writing a book
When do I have time for a job? I'm really enjoying not "working." I really like doing all these life-enhancing activities.

But then I feel guilty for enjoying myself. I should be feeling miserable, after all I am an unhealthy, unemployed, aging, fat, balding, out of shape, often lazy middle aged man.

I go back and forth, too often, wondering how things could be different if only I had done things differently, or wondering how things will work out since I don't really have a 100% sure plan. Both of those extremes are clutter, life clutter, living in the past and living in the future instead of living in the present.

So I try to live each day, doing what I can do on this day. There's nothing I can do about yesterday, and tomorrow will take care of itself. But living in the moment is easier said than done.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

the quiet musician

The musician leads a life of contrast, and this image seeks to capitalize on contrasting elements.

Music encourages movement, and yet this musician is stranded. She has no legs - movement isn't an option. She's stranded in the frame, literally stuck in this particular moment. Of course photography captures a moment in time, as this image has, but because of the cropping, her position is solidified in the frame.

Music is inclusive and full, filling the environment with sound, rhythm and warmth. But here, she’s surrounded by emptiness. Her quiet hands create silence from her instrument instead of sound. The emptiness of the scene is emphasized by the vastness of the negative space surrounding the protagonist.

Music is inviting, but this musician is looking out of the frame, as if ignoring the viewer. She’s inviting isolation instead of involvement. Her body language is not saying, "Listen to me." It seems as if she's lamenting, "There's no one here to listen."

I also like the contrast between the hard, harshness of the wall and the soft humanity of the girl. It seems to me that her presence in the frame - her mood and potential - are sufficiently strong to balance the otherwise overwhelming wall.

Lastly, the image is so static and stationary, but contrasted by the implied line of the guitar. It points up, foreshadowing a dynamic energy. At any point the music might begin to fill all that emptiness, inviting us in to join her. Her eyes will open, her mood will lift and her voice will sing, "Listen to me, sing with me."

Maybe, in this brief moment of a musician's quietness, we're witnessing the calm before the beautiful storm of musical emotion.

miss e.

I rarely take portraits, and the ones I do take are informal. They are more often candids that turn out looking like portraits. But I have some very attractive friends. Their photogenic faces help me take good images.

Here I tried to deemphasize everything except her smile. And that smile is in her eyes and mouth. Therefore, they are the focus of the picture.

The curve of her smile rhymes with other lines in the image: the line of her collar, the line of her chin, her lips, her nose and the bottom of her eyes all mirror the line of a smile. Then going further up, the top of her eyes, the eyebrows and the hairline (even though most is implied) turn that smiling line into an arch.

Lastly, I like that her expression is so natural. Her smile is comfortable and relaxed, and shows a fun part of her personality.

i walk alone

Here I tried to create a feeling of loneliness, using multiple elements to drive that feeling.

The anonymity of the person lets me imagine it could be anyone, even me. This anonymous person is walking out of the frame, rather than the more acceptable practice of having a person walk into the frame. The horizon is tilted, breaking another principle of good photos. But the slightly tilted horizon implies a downhill energy that is also driving the person out of frame. I know that in a few moments, the frame will be empty and I - the viewer - will be alone.

While beach scenes are often framed horizontally emphasizing the vastness of the landscape, this image is framed vertically, adding to the feeling of isolation. I can only see a small portion of the scene. I know the beach is long and wide, extending in both directions, but I can’t see those parts of the beach, nor interact with them.

The sky is emphasized here, taking up most of the scene. It’s an empty sky, devoid of detail or interest. While there might be detail in the beach and water, the majority of the scene is empty.

The tracks at the bottom lead out of the frame, further emphasizing the feeling of disengagement. Leading lines should lead the viewer into the scene, but these take my eye out of the image as soon as I see them. Lastly, the messiness of the scene - the light leaks along the edge, the dried chemicals in the field, the dust, the blobs - mirrors the emotion. Loneliness is a messy, uncomfortable feeling. While it’s possible to “clean up” the emotion and the image, it’s not easy or necessary. Sometimes the best thing to do is accept the value of the messiness and learn from it.

I like several things about this image. First, I like that the bottom part of the image is itself divided into three parts: dark beach, wet beach, and ocean. Second, I like that the image has so many things wrong. It’s messy, dark, tilted, blurry - and yet I keep looking. It affects me, draws me in, makes me ask questions.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Part 9 of 9: the shore

Part 1: the wall
Part 2: sounds of silence
Part 3: canyon at sunset
Part 4: Untitled #37
Part 5: somber
Part 6: open doors
Part 7: el perro triste
Part 8: motion sick

Some of my favorite images from other photographers are the minimalist photos, especially the long exposure images of water. The longer the exposure, the softer the water looks. I was trying for that look here, but the lake was too still to create the fog-like look on the surface. Still, I think this creates the emotion that I envisioned. When I look at this, I feel the solitude of the location - not loneliness, but solitude, which for me is a necessary part of life. The location has depth and silence, also important parts of my life.

I like how the foreground is sharp and rough, and contrasted by the softness of the rest of the scene. The foreground takes up most of the image, emphasizing the personal story. The most important parts of life are right in front of me. Yes, there's something across the lake, and I might get there someday, but for now all I have access to is this shore.

The horizontal lines in the tight frame create an interesting contrast. Vast landscapes like this are often cropped as panoramics. But this image is constrained by a 4x5 crop. There might be some interesting features out of frame, but all I can see is what's right in front of me, which means I (the photographer) think the ground in front of me is the only important feature.

Lastly, I like the minimalism of this image that happens despite the crowded foreground. Because there are so many rocks and pebbles, they become lost in a visual white noise. The focus is moved to the tonal changes, emphasizing those changes from light, to medium tones in the rocks, to the dark shoreline, the light water, the dark line on the far shore and the bright sky. It all feels balanced to me.

Part 8: motion sick

Part 1: the wall
Part 2: sounds of silence
Part 3: canyon at sunset
Part 4: Untitled #37
Part 5: somber
Part 6: open doors
Part 7: el perro triste

The train seems stationary, but the ground in front if moving - that seems backward. Why is the sage brush blurry?

While I often like to break the rules, I like the aspects of this image that follow the principles of good photography. The train is placed on the top line of thirds, creating emphasis on the motion in the bottom third of the frame. The frame is also divided into horizontal thirds, although that might not be immediately recognizable. The four white rail cars make up the middle third. They are balanced by green cars on the right, and the red/yellow cars on the left. However the balance is shifted slightly toward the right edge, indicating motion, as if the train is moving right to left, even if we can't see it's motion.

I think it's interesting that there are only two power poles in the upper thirds, and that they almost line up with the division of thirds. The thirds are also emphasized in the color variations. The bottom third is quite drab, browns and muted greens. The middle third has more bright greens and yellows, on both sides of the train. The top third comes back to muted brown tones and a sliver of sky, leaving the emphasis on that middle third.

One other fun aspect for me - the green triangle in the upper right corner. Remember, I like triangles and the position of this one adds to the motion for me. Because the point is left on the shape, I know that in just a quick moment that dark green will be gone.

This image is comfortable because we've all seen this scene: Driving down the highway, rolling hills, ground quickly moving past. For me, the emotion of this image is comfortable excitement. I remember being on family vacations, watching all the new unfamiliar land whiz past. It's all different, but it's all the same. I remember sitting in the family station wagon (yes, we had a station wagon, but not with the fake wood sides). We played fun games - like alphabet signs. I couldn't wait for the green Quaker State Motor Oil sign. That one sign would often help someone win the game. "Q, R, S, T, U!!!"

Part 7: el perro triste

Part 1: the wall
Part 2: sounds of silence
Part 3: canyon at sunset
Part 4: Untitled #37
Part 5: somber
Part 6: open doors

I would never enter this photo in a fair, or in the BCC judging nights. I don't think it would score well or win any ribbons. I can hear the judges comments:
  • The light is blown out; you've lost the detail and because it's so bright, it overpowers the rest of the image.
  • When photographing pets, its important to get their faces, especially their eyes.
  • You've left no room for the dog to move around. I'd crop it differently.
  • The image should be flipped so the eye is led in from the left instead of the right.
  • You should have included the dog's shadow.
  • I'd photoshop out the laundry, and maybe the laundry lines. They don't add to the image.
I would respectfully and quietly disagree with all those observations. Not that the judges are wrong with their observations. Competitions are looking for certain kinds of images and this image doesn't fit into those categories. It's a personally significant image, but not universally beautiful. In my search for simplicity, in my life and in my photography, I've made conscious efforts to ensure that every element in a photo (and my life) is there on purpose and for a reason. All the elements in this image, in my opinion, add to the ambiance. I'm trying to create a feeling of being trapped, cramped, trapped, secluded, trapped.

There's no space for the dog to move in this image. The empty part of the patio is overwhelmed by the immensity of the wall, and crowded by the washer. Further, the dog is facing the wall, limiting his potential movement. He's not even looking at one of his bowls; he seems to be looking at the space between the bowls. The bare bulb creates harsh light, despite the warmth of the walls. The reds of the walls and the gold of the dog and the water bowl are overpowered by the blinding white light. Since lights wouldn't be turned on during the day, this must be at night, making me wonder if the light stays on all night. Does this poor dog ever get a break?

The laundry line, while creating an interesting element, leads my eye right out of the frame. Is there more space to the right? I don't  know. Maybe the wall is right there, just out of frame, which would make the scene even more uncomfortable. This photo works because it's a slice of life, a brief moment. It captures something viewers recognize and with which they can empathize.

Lastly, this reminds of an interesting time in my life. The back story isn't important to the power of the image, but it's important for me and my memory.

Part 6: open doors

Part 1: the wall
Part 2: sounds of silence
Part 3: canyon at sunset
Part 4: Untitled #37
Part 5: somber

While "somber" was intentionally accidental, this one was unintentionally accidental. Back in the days of film, when I was shooting a Pentax K1000, I'd load the film, shut the back, wind, click, wind, click, wind, click, to make sure the film was ready to start taking real photographs. With this photo, I must have advanced the film one frame further than I needed to, so I found this when I developed the negative.

I think its a strong image, despite all the untidy elements. The white line, starting in the lower left corner and moving across and up the image, creates an energy, a path that's easy to follow.

Tones seem like they should progress from light to dark, with the medium tones in the middle, like a graduated filter. I guess that's probably the sequential part of my personality. I like order. But this picture has a triangle of medium tones on the bottom (and I love triangular shapes), then the brightest tones in the middle, and the darkest tones in the upper left corner.

When I see this, I ask questions (even though as the photographer I know the answers).
What's up with the seat belt? Why is it just laying on the seat?
When was the last time you cleaned your car? Is that gravel inside the same gravel that's on the ground?
Why is it so blurry? Don't you know how to focus your camera?
What were you trying to take a picture of anyway? There's nothing there.
Why is the door open?

I come away with the beginning of a story in my mind.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Part 5: somber

Part 1: the wall
Part 2: sounds of silence
Part 3: canyon at sunset
Part 4: Untitled #37

Immediately I'm struck by the emotion of this photo: sadness, contemplation, melancholy,

Portraits of children are supposed to be happy, smiling, giggly, colorful. Of course not all are that way, and I've seen portraits of serious children that are gorgeous. I'm just talking about stereotypical images.

This "portrait" breaks the principles of good photos. Nothing is on a line of thirds, neither horizontally nor vertically. Normally the eyes are supposed to be sharp, in focus. Here, by contrast, nothing is sharply in focus. The whole image is blurry, adding to the emotion of the scene. Sadness is blurry and uncomfortable - it can create a lack of focus in our world. I've cut off part of her face, which can be a strong photographic technique. But the crop happens in the middle of her eye, even cutting off part of her mouth (some symbolism there?). Lastly, the line of her hair divides the picture in half rather than using one of the vertical thirds lines. The lines of her hair, her eyes and the background are diagonal, which can create energy in an image, but they're barely off vertical and horizontal.

The background is out of focus, which helps me focus on the girl, but the sky at the top is one of the brightest parts of the image, as is her hair in the upper right corner. The principles of photography tell us that the viewers eye is drawn to the brightest part of an image. So the bright-ish sky draws attention away from the girl, which also follows the emotion. When I'm sad, I don't want people to pay attention to me. I don't want to be coddled or placated. I'd much rather be ignored and have people look away from me.

The girl here is also looking down, body language indicative of sadness. She's not making eye contact with the camera or the viewer. While we're looking away, ignoring her, she's ignoring us. I also think the b&w treatment adds to the image. While this photo is still strong in color, the emotional subjects of this photo don't conjure images of color for me. It is true that melancholy is often associated with blue, but for me, being at my lowest feels drained of color and stark.

The last element of contrast can't be seen unless you happen to know this girl. "J" is one of those girls who seems to have a constant smile on her face. She makes people around her happy just by being who she is. To catch her in such a serious moment is not capturing her dominant personality. I don't remember, but I'm sure that 2 seconds after this photo, she was looking at me, smiling that big, happy smile she has. I'm so glad I was able to catch this brief glimpse.

One last thing about this photo: it's intentionally accidental. When I was working as a school counselor, I often took my camera to recess. Kids all across the playground would come running when they saw the camera. "Mr. M, take me a picture!" Most of the photos I took were literally shot from the hip. I would hold the camera at my waist, point it toward one of the kids and take a photo. Sometimes the images were unusable. But sometimes I was rewarded with a remarkable moment, caught in an otherwise invisible glimpse.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Part 4: Untitled #37

Part 1: the wall
Part 2: sounds of silence
Part 3: canyon at sunset

To answer your first question, because I know you're thinking it, No, this is not photoshopped. I don't often talk about the technical side of my photos or the processing, but I'll share a little here. This image is SOOC (straight out of camera, for those who might not know that acronym). I bumped the contrast and strengthened the greens, but this is basically how the RAW image looks.

I like this because it creates questions. I'm not sure it meets my second criteria for a good photo: emotional response. But it's definitely confusing.

  • Why is the sky on the bottom? 
  • Why is the corn on the top?
  • Where are those power lines going? For that matter, where are they coming from?
  • How did you do this?

I hate to disappoint you ... I take that back. I'm happy to disappoint you in this circumstance; I'm not going to answer any of those questions.

This photo has several contrasting elements that I really like. The dark, dense, lush green and light, empty blue are so different. And yet, they balance each other. The photo should feel top-heavy, but it doesn't for me. There's also the contrast of solid, clearly defined black lines in the blue against the jumbled mass of green tones. And both of those are contrasted by the center portion of the image in which all the elements merge together for a while, creating a completely new element.

I like the one double-line moving horizontally across the lower half. I think it rhymes with the implied lines of the cornfield, which we know is planted in rows. Those horizontals connect the two halves of the image for me. The diagonal lines, which first lead out of the frame, then lead into the dark green, offer some energy. create some line for my eye to follow. I like that after following a clearly defined path, my eyes get lost in the field. Many of us have run through fields filled with tall corn, whether it's an actual working corn field or the ubiquitous Halloween corn maze. And if you haven't had that experience, let me suggest you try it.

The image works because it combines two elements we've all seen. But they're combined in a way that hasn't been seen before. It messes with my perception. I want to turn it upside down, follow the laws of gravity and restore order. But if I did that, the corn plants would be upside down, which makes me wonder all the more.

Part 3 of 9: canyon at sunset

Click here for Part 1 of the series
Click here for Part 2 of the series

Hopefully, when you first looked at this image, you wondered what it is, or at least asked, "Is that a sidewalk?" Yes, it is, and thank you for asking a question about it. Landscape photography is a popular theme in the photo world. Everyone takes landscapes, from professional fine art photographers to tourists - some better than others.

I've dabbled in landscape photography, and taken some images I like but too often the images I capture look just like everyone else who's taken the same/similar image. "That's a nice picture of the Snake River Canyon Chris. My grandmother has one just like it, so does my 4 year old nephew, and my neighbor, and the postcard at the gas station ..."

But the vast landscapes, on which I've too often focused, should not be the only targets. Look at these two beautiful trees. Taken late in the day, the light is wonderful. The texture of the desert leading up to the canyon creates some long, dark shadows. The trees cling to edge, growing out of the darkness to find the light. Yes, the trees are less than an inch tall, but the emotion is still there.

I like the pattern of diagonal lines in this image. They create repeating and expanding triangles, which can be a dynamic element in a photo, especially when contrasted with such a static subject matter. I also like how the image seems almost b&w, except for the wonderful greens of the two trees, showing how life can overcome even the darkest, drabbest circumstances.

This photo carries varied themes: hope, perseverance, invisibility, recognition.
There are people in my life who go unnoticed, every day. They're there, but like the two small plants in the crack of the sidewalk, I walk right by them, or over them. I ignore them or maybe walk around them, but I don't engage them. I wonder how much beauty I've missed because I didn't see these invisible people. So this photo is also about recognition. Photographing these two floral characters, I spent several minutes laying on the sidewalk. I'm sure passersby were wondering, "Why is that guy laying on the ground? What's he taking a picture of?" (more questions about my photography - I love it) But those few brief moments captured some fun images for me.

This photo is also about perseverance and hope. Some would call these weeds - they grow everywhere and sometimes seem impossible to stop. But I try to take lessons from that. The circumstances of my life are not always easy. Sometimes it seems that life is conspiring against me. But even in the darkest days, I can still grow. In fact, I can't be stopped from growing.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Part 2 of 9: sounds of silence

Click here for Part 1 in the series

Wind chimes, when done wrong can be annoying, nothing more than clanging noise makers. When done right, they create melodious music. But what about a wind chime that makes no noise?

See what happened there? The images asks us, the viewer, to wonder what's happening - to ask, "What the heck is this? You can't have a wind chime with just one chime. And why would take a picture of this?" From the first glance, this image presents a contrast: a silent noise maker. But there are other contrasting elements.

  • The vertical line of the chime and the diagonal line above it.
  • The light tones of the sky and the dark black in the upper corner.
  • The triangle of the black and the circle of the chime holder.

So where is the emotion in this image? I think its created mostly by the literal nature of the single chime. It's lonely. Chimes are always made up of multiple tone-makers. But this poor chime is all alone. There's no knocker, no wind catcher, no other tubes of potential, no partners in purpose. Even for an inanimate object, that's sad.

And yet, there's still beauty in the object and image. Despite the fact that it's alone, it's still a wind chime, and wind chimes are beautiful. The potential for melodious music is there. It may be untapped, but it's there. Plus, look at that gorgeous blue sky. It must be summer: birds chirping, children playing and laughing, lawn mowers and trimmers humming. Sound, everywhere ... surrounding this silent chime.

There is innate beauty, even in a silent wind chime.

A Short Photo Project

A friend at the Boise Camera Club asked me to give a short presentation of some images I might not normally show at club meetings, like print or projection night. I chose images that probably would not score well with the judges. They may follow the accepted the principles of good photos - yielding low scores - but they impact me in important ways. The images I chose to show and talk about are ones that I like, which is probably the most important characteristic of a good photo. A photographer should always like their own images, in my opinion.

So I'm going to spend the next few days posting those images here, and talking about why they impact me the way they do. I think it's a good exercise to critique images, either my own or someone else's. It's important to put into words the thoughts and feelings I have about a photo. Being able to do that will make me a better photographer. So I'm practicing. I'm sure my critiques won't win any awards, and no one is going to ask me to join a publication as a contributing/commenting editor, so I'm mostly practicing for myself.

Here's the first image. I call it "the wall."

The photographs that affect me the most are ones which do very specific things.

  1. They make me ask questions.
  2. They either create an emotional reaction in me, or imply emotion.

This image fulfills both requirements. When people see this, some quickly ask, "Why did you take a picture of this? It's just an empty wall." As the photographer, I know why I took this particular photo, but the answer isn't very important. If you ask me why I took it, I might answer - I might not. The important thing is that I made you ask a question.

This photo also creates an emotional reaction in me, but before I talk about that, let me address one other quality I look for in photos: Contrast. In this context, contrast is not the photographic tonal contrast of differences between light and dark tones. Contrast here is more closely related to conflict, disparity, or an incongruity of elements. This photo contains a lot of contrasting elements.

  • First, there's the obvious contrast of the white square and the red wall, which also creates a contrast between light and dark tones.
  • Second, the white box is a large square, while the red wall is made up of small rectangles.
  • While the box has two definite vertical lines, the rest of the wall is made up of mostly horizontal lines.
  • Although the shapes in the wall are made up of right angles (squares and rectangles) the vignette is circular and, I think, an important part of the image.
  • The last contrasting element is something out of frame, something which the viewer would not know or even guess. This wall is in a part of Boise called, "Freak Alley," which is covered with graffiti, although the graffiti is not destructive. The paintings are done with permission, by gifted and creative artists. Most of the images are on one side of the alley. The other side is this wall, the one people turn their backs on while looking at the artistic wall. So the last contrast in the image is the highly developed art (out of frame) contrasted with the blank, clean wall seen here.

Which brings me back to the second thing that draws me to an image: emotion. This wall is so structured, literally set in stone, built up brick by brick, with a ready made frame - the white box - waiting to be filled, but only to the boundaries provided. And yet, the blankness of the wall and the box, the unspoiled, clean surface represents potential and imagination. This might be a photo of a wall, but it's a photo about hope. Just imagine what could be done with this blank urban canvas.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Boise Camera Club and Weebly

Recently the Boise Camera Club moved the location of the website. Last night Roxanne gave us a tutorial on how to create our own member page, within their page. Then, as the new pages started to grow, it became clear that navigation would become ... unwieldy. Since Weebly is such an easy and simple interface, I decided to create my own page and let the BCC link to it. It's basically a drag and drop website creator, which is good for me since I don't know anything about creating websites.

Here's my new photography website:

Chris McNaught

Sunday, October 7, 2012

That's Doctor McNaught to you

When I first left Wendell (the best place on earth to be a school counselor), my future plans were not a big priority. I wasn't giving much thought to the next thing - partly because I was still trying to recover from the last thing, partly because I was trying to focus on getting healthy.

I'm not sure how long that lasted, but eventually I started considering the next step. I started asking questions, the kind that no one but me can answer.
"If you're not a school counselor, who are you?"
"What are you going to do now?"
"I have a masters in school counseling, but I can't work in a school. Where does that leave me?"

At this point it seems all I'm thinking about is what I'm supposed to be doing. Well, not "24 hours a day" all, just "sometimes when I'm feeling useless" all. I've considered getting a part time job, doing something like working for a courier service, or at-home data entry ... I don't know.

I have been teaching some classes for NNU's graduate counseling program, as an adjunct professor, and I've been enjoying it. From the feedback I've gotten, both from students and faculty, I seem to be doing a good job. So then I wonder, is it time to start pursuing a doctorate? Not long after I graduated some of the faculty asked me, "When will you start working on your doctorate so you can join the faculty here?" I dismissed it at the time; I didn't want to be a university professor - I wanted to be a school counselor, working with kids.

But now, because working with kids doesn't appear to be an option,  becoming a counselor educator may be the way I can still be part of that particular educational solution. So I've started looking at online doctoral programs. WOW they're expensive. The ones I've looked at range from $50,000 to $80,000. I filled out a FAFSA and discovered I could probably qualify for $20,000 in student loans (adding to my current student loan debt of $40,000). But that still leaves a huge gap in funding. How am I supposed to come up with an extra $50,000+/-, especially considering I'm unemployed.

I suppose if I finish my book and sell a million copies, the money will become a non-issue. But if that happens I'll be so famous I won't have time for a doctorate.

God will have to open doors, and then some more doors, and once I'm through those, still more doors. A doctorate is completely out of the realm of possibilities, which means if it happens, it will be because God has directed my path. It will be exciting to find out what happens, but sometimes I wish there was more certainly in my life. Everything seems so vague and uncertain.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

My Workflow

First, let me apologize for the formatting. I tried to copy/paste, but just couldn't figure out how to get the formatting right for the outline, without recreating the whole thing.

A while back, Paul Pulley presented a workshop to the Boise Camera Club on photo workflow. As a result of the information he gave us, I decided I should clarify - for myself mostly - the workflow I use. I usually do about the same thing every time, but not exactly. And I think the variations come from not having defined for myself what needs to happen.

So here’s my workflow (post picture taking):

1. Import into Lightroom

a. Photos are sorted by Date: Year-Month-Day (e.g., 2012-05-20)
i. I don’t add names to the file folders, preferring to use Smart Collections
b. I’m still considering whether converting to DNG is worthwhile or not. I’m hesitating for now figuring I can always convert in the future, but going back to CR2 is more difficult.

2. Rate Photos

a. Rate “1” for any photo I like
i. I go through the day’s photos as quickly as possible. Anything I like, even if the photo isn’t                   good, gets a rating of 1.
b. “X” for rejected photos (blurry, severely over/under exposed), then delete
c. Rename to Date_# (e.g., 20120520_00005)
i. Continuous numbering for the year. Before 2012 I used 4 digits because no year has 10,000+ photos
ii. Starting in 2012, I’m using 5 digits because I will probably take more than 10,000.
d. Keyword remaining photos
i. I like Smart Collections because they update automatically. I have a smart collection for each star rating, and a smart collection for BCC submissions.
e. When I have time, I review all the 1s, choosing those photos that I think are worth doing some work to. These get rated “2”.
f. After I work on a photo, the rating gets moved to “3”.
i. When I process photos, it’s mostly focused on 4 things:
1. Crop - experimenting with different formats to see if I can improve the photo
2. Exposure - hopefully just fine tuning because I got it right in the camera
3. Contrast - SOOC the photos often seem flat, so I bump up the white and highlights, drop down the blacks and shadows, and work to improve the histogram
4. Clarity - bump it down on portraits, or dreamy scenes, bump it up on others than need sharpening, but whichever direction I move, it’s usually subtle
5. There are other things I really like in LR4: vignettes (the subtle ones for me), gradient filters, spot removal (when I’ve neglected my sensor), and more and more I’m working with B&W. Some photos that I envisioned in color take on a new character in B&W. I’m learning to try every photo in color and monochrome just to see which works best.
g. The best of the photos I’ve worked on get rated “4”.
h. The best of the best, get rated “5”.
i. Currently I have about 15,000 photos in my catalog.
ii. 1 Star: 1680 photos (about 12%)
iii. 2 Stars: 136 (about 1%)
iv. 3 Stars: 184 (about 1%)
v. 4 Stars: 28 (about 0.2%)
vi. 5 Stars: 2 (about 0.01%, a photo has to be really good to get 5 stars)

3. Export if needed

a. I export JPG files only when necessary, for example when I’m creating photos to upload, or send in for BCC projection night.
b. Once I’ve taken the appropriate action (uploaded, submitted, or burned a cd for someone), I delete the JPGs, keeping only the raw files.

4. Backup

a. I backup the whole catalog every couple of weeks. My collection of photos isn’t very big, so my 1TB external HD will hold a lot of backups. When it gets full, I’ll get a new one, because by then external storage will be really inexpensive.
b. The external HD is stored in a fireproof safe.
c. I also upload the best photos to my google drive, and include them in my other cloud-based backups, as space permits.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Here Come The Judge

Since I’ve been a judge on a few print/projection nights, I thought I’d talk about how I use the Boise Camera Club (BCC) scoring system.

The first category of judging (for me anyway), is Impact. According to the guidelines BCC is using, Impact includes:
* Striking color.
* Unique subject or lighting.
* Unusual camera position or tilt.
* Depiction of motion.
* Unusually high or low key subjects.
* Close-up or macro.
* Story-telling elements.
* Strong mood elements/emotional impact.
When I judge Impact, I use my immediate reaction, and there are 3 possibilities;
  • The photo makes me immediately say, “Wow!” It elicits an emotional response of some sort (either positive or negative). Photos like this score a 3. For a photo to score a 3, in my judging, it must contain an emotional aspect.
  • The photo makes me immediately say, “What?” It elicits no emotional response - in fact, often it elicits (nearly) no reaction at all. Photos like this score a 1.
  • Everything else scores 2. Photos like this might be great photos, outstanding even, but if they don’t contain any emotional characteristics, then it’s not good enough to score 3. For me, emotion can come from seemingly emotion-less photos. For example, I saw a photo of a rose bud - an inanimate object. And yet the subject matter was lonely (it was a solitary bud), and hopeful (the petals were just beginning to emerge).

The second judging category is Technical. According to the guidelines BCC is using, Technical includes:
* Proper color balance was used throughout the scene.
* Color was used to create a high or low key image.
* Color adds impact or tension to the image.
* If the depth-of-field causes sharpness to the entire scene.
* Selective focus is used to create mood or feeling in the image
* If the depth-of-field is used to blur or mute an unbecoming background.
When I look at photos, most of these characteristics are either/or decisions.
  • Either a photo has good color, or it doesn’t.
  • Either the pic is in focus, or it’s not.
  • Either it’s printed well, or it’s not.
  • Etc.

This is not to say there is only one “correct” color, or focus, etc. I’ve seen some B&W photos that because of the printing turned out having a greenish hue. But because the of the subject matter, I thought the greenish hue added to the photo. If a photo hits all the technical aspects, it scores a 3. If it hits none of the technical aspects, or one aspect is so poor it distracts from the rest of the photo, it scores a 1.

The third judging category is Composition. According to the guidelines BCC is using, Composition includes:
* Strong elements were used, such as (leading) lines, curves, circles and angles.
* Center-of-interest is balanced with the other elements.
* Elements were properly placed in the scene.
* Good use of foreground and background to provide spatial relationships.
* Negative elements have been eliminated.
Whereas the first two categories (Impact and Technical) seem mostly objective to me, this third one is much more subjective. When I see a photo, either there is immediate impact, or there isn’t (to state the obvious: it has impact for me, or it doesn’t. I don’t claim to know whether or not it will impact anyone else differently than me). The photo is either technically well done, or it’s not. Composition, however, is a matter of choice and personal preference.

First, I look for intentionality in the composition. I think accidental composition hurts what could otherwise be a good photo. For example, if a photo has a horizon that is off level by just a few degrees, it looks accidental, even if it was done intentionally. I think it detracts from the overall effect. It looks lazy too, as if the photographer couldn’t be bothered with correcting that small error. If, on the other hand, the horizon is 20° or more off level, it looks like an intentional choice. I may not agree with the choice, but at least it was intentional.
Likewise, I look at the compositional choices. Did the photographer use the Rule of Thirds? Or did they decide to break that rule? I’m fine with standard photographic rules being broken, as long as it’s an intentional decision, an artistic choice. Did the photographer crop the photo cutting off the model’s legs right at the ankle or knee? I see that as a big mistake. Did the photographer make a decision to include only half the face? I like those decisions, again, if they’re made intentionally.

Lastly, I think about how I might have composed the same photo. If the photo seems awkwardly composed, it can’t score a 3. If a better composition seems obvious to me, the photo will score either 2 or 1, depending on how far it is from the “best” composition.

Sometimes I think I might have composed it differently, even on perfectly composed photos. But my composition wouldn’t be any better - just different. Photos with perfect composition score 3, even if I think I might have composed it differently.

One last thing, the average score, according to our BCC guidelines, should be 6. When I think of the average photo on print/projection nights, I consider the average compared to club photos, not against all the photos on facebook or flickr. I think our average BCC photo should be above average when compared to the snapshots of most people; and they are. Our average photos are often really good. First, we’re better photographers than most of the people out there. Second, we judge our own photos, looking for the best of what we’ve taken. Third, we process our photos trying to bring out the best in that particular photo. The result is: Projection night receives the best of the best, and therefore, the standards should be high.

One other last thing (which makes two last things), I’m always open for critique, even critique of my critiquing skills. Just as I’m trying to improve my skills as a photographer, I’m trying to improve my skills as a judge/critiquer. I’m working to better understand why I like someone’s photo, why a particular photo impacts me, and why some seemingly good photos miss the mark - in my opinion. I want to be able to express my thoughts, not just praise a photo with, “That’s a great photo.” And I don’t ever want to say, “That’s not a good photo,” without being able to explain why I think that, including suggestions for how I think it could be improved.

Monday, September 24, 2012

I Hate Red Tape!

It seems that a majority of young people these days aren't willing to accept responsibility for their actions, and their lives. But this post is not about that. Turns out, I'm not sure I can blame them. Governmental agencies seem to have set the precedent.

August 30th we were informed that the city no longer liked my address, because it included a "½" in the address. The letter indicated the change was immediate, and that I was to inform everyone ASAP! So I did, including completing the online USPS change of address form, which cost me $1.00 to verify my identity. Every account I have now has my new address. Every bill I get is sent to my new address. Turns out following the instructions of the all-knowing City of Nampa was a big, big mistake!

My young friend, Shelby, has been sending me postcards all summer, from wherever the family was visiting. Shelby's mom, Kathy, and I went to high school together, so it's been a super way to reconnect. To return the fun, I ordered some postcards online. Per the official letter, I gave them my new address. I tracked the package online, all the way to Nampa, where the USPS decided it was "Undeliverable as addressed." What!!

This morning I went to the post office to find out what happened. In my most polite voice, I asked the man behind the counter to explain to me how this could have happened. He went back to another computer, printing out the same tracking sheet I had printed. "Without seeing the actual package, I can't tell you why it wasn't delivered." He referred me to the postal annex here in Nampa, where they handle the physical letters/packages.

Out to annex I drove. A very nice man, coincidentally named Chris, tried to help me. He didn't know why the package was rejected either, but when I told him about the recent address change, he said, "I remember writing a note about that address to the carrier. Let me check something." So I waited, in a prison-like anti-waiting room; nowhere to sit, very small, gray.

He came back a few minutes later. "I called the Canyon County Assessor's Office. They said your new address doesn't exist. The address is still your old one." WHAT!?! What do they mean it doesn't exist? He told me that until the post office received official word, they can't just create an address. So everything  addressed to my new address would be automatically returned to sender, some of it not even making it to Nampa.

So I drove down to the city - they made the change, and sent the official letter. Apparently the address-guy's last day was Friday, and the new guy wasn't in, and wouldn't be in until tomorrow. I said, again in my most polite voice, "I want to speak to someone, in person, and I'll wait until someone comes in."

While waiting, I decided to make some calls. First I called the assessor's office. The first person I spoke to checked her computer and told me that my new address was already in the system. So who did the USPS guy talk with? I have no idea. I asked her to call the post office.

Next, I looked through the paperwork from the city, and discovered that an email had been sent to the Nampa Postmaster. I called him. He said he would have to check if he had received official notice from the city. "I know you've received it because I'm looking at the official notification email, with your name on it. Plus, I let you know when I changed my address online. You were happy to take my money for that." He said he'd "check into it." I'm pretty sure that means, "It's not my problem and I'm not going to do anything at all."

By the time I got off the phone with the postmaster, I was getting more and more frustrated. However, I had made the decision to keep my polite demeanor throughout the whole ordeal. I noticed there were two new men in the city office, so I went back to check if there was someone to talk with. The right person wasn't there, but the old (three or four back) address guy was there. I explained the issue to him, pointing out the deficiencies of their system. For example, if my new address isn't going to take effect for a month, why does their letter say I should contact all my people and change the address immediately? It should have said, "This address change is effective immediately. But don't take any action changing your address with billers for at least a year, because it will take that long before all governmental agencies will be notified and accept the change."

While it may be true that it takes time for "everyone" to know about the new address, the Nampa Postmaster knew about it August 30th, via an official email. The package I was expecting made it all the way to Nampa. Even if nobody else knew about it, he knew. I should have that package in my hands right now. But I don't because someone (the postmaster) dropped the ball.

For a brief moment, I regretted the email I sent to the USPS. After finding out how inept they've been, I'm glad I sent it. I was polite, but firm. After explaining the problem, I finished the message: "I expect my dollar refunded. I expect to be reimbursed for the additional shipping. I expect apologies from the USPS, the Nampa Postmaster, and my mail carrier."

Now, I'm waiting for return calls and emails, which I'm not much expecting. And I don't expect anyone to accept responsibility for what they've done. No one is going to say to me, "I dropped the ball. It was my fault and I'm going to make it right." This just confirms that I will avoid the USPS whenever possible! There are great people working there, but the system is ridiculous - in my opinion.

I hate red tape.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Get a life? I don't know what that means.

Here I am: unemployed, unhealthy, wishing I was healthy enough to have a job, wondering what kind of job I can have, someday, when I get off disability (hopefully).

And yet, sometimes my life feels so full. There are days that the busy-ness and variety of my life makes me feel guilty. "If I'm able to do all these things, shouldn't I be working?" The answer is yes, I should be working and no, I'm not yet healthy enough to work.

During the Western Idaho Fair I worked the photography booth as a volunteer for the Boise Camera Club. The shifts were 4 or 5 hours, during which I was basically sitting at a desk, answering questions fair-goers had about the exhibit. Afterward I would come home and go right to bed. Those few hours exhausted me, and disappointed me that I didn't have more energy.

Today I took a ukulele lesson. Piko told me I'm progressing well. He could tell I've been practicing, which makes me feel good. I know I could practice more (should practice more), but I'm seeing improvement and I  enjoy playing and practicing.

I'm exercising regularly, trying to improve my swimming skills. At one point I had the goal of competing in an Ironman Triathlon. I'm pretty sure that's an unreachable goal. I don't think I'm ever going to be healthy enough for that much physical exertion. There are shorter events that I will definitely participate in, like the upcoming Mini-Tri at the Nampa Rec Center in October.

I'm learning Spanish. I've been learning for years now, and I keep trying to improve my fluency. During the time I had no voice it was difficult to practice. I could practice reading, writing, listening. But speaking just wasn't possible. Now that my voice is back enough to be audible, I'm getting more practice. I like listening to Spanish Radio (Radio Nueva Vida) and watching some Spanish movies and TV shows. I like the kid shows best because my language skills are similar to those of a 5 or 6 year old Spanish speaker.

I'm doing some adjunct teaching for the NNU Graduate School Counseling program. I enjoy the challenge of teaching future school counselors and getting to interact with some great people. If I can't work directly with students I can enjoy training the next generation of counselors.

I'm working on my photography, learning new techniques, new creativity, new ways to process. I think I'm getting better. And I love being part of the Boise Camera Club. I'm learning so much by being around amazing photographers.

Lastly, I'm writing a book. I have no deadline so I'm working on it a little bit at a time and enjoying the process of recording my thoughts (other than on this blog). I don't know if anyone will ever want to read a book about me, but I sure like writing it. And yes, I've already had people say they want to read it, and no I don't understand why someone would want to read a book about me.

So my life is full, even though there are days it feels empty. I keep reminding myself that life is not what I do. It is not my activities, not my schedule, not my lack of activity or schedule. My life is full of people and relationships and learning, and for now that is enough.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Monochrome: Sunset

As part of my photographic plan for the year, I'm working through the photographic classes of the Western Idaho Fair. This is my attempt to photograph a monochrome sunset. It might sound easy: photograph a sunset, process it B&W. But the real question is: How do I capture the essence of a sunset without the amazing colors of sunset?

I like this because it has a definite foreground (the soft, wavy water), middle ground (the stark strip of lands),  main subject (the setting sun), and background (the fading gray sky). The tonal range may not exactly capture the broad spectrum of a color sunset, but I think the various shades in this photo imply how varied the colors are. I also like the composition, with the dark strip along the bottom third. Although the water probably has more interest because of the texture, I prefer giving the sky more attention. I also like that the sun is not on a thirds axis, but offset on the right edge. I think it adds energy - the sun is moving out of the frame. It feels dynamic and serene to me.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

A Plan of Action

During the last week or so I've been considering what I need to do next, as a photographer. I want to improve my photography, my creativity, my eye, my processing skills, etc. And I think I've developed an idea.

Although I'm not interested in changing my photography to meet a judges criteria, I am interested in creating photos with more impact. I'll focus on images that impact me, and if the judges are impacted too, all the better. Over the next year, I'm going to work through the different classes of photos in the fair, creating images in every category.

My goal is to better understand and interpret the category. For example, "Monochrome: Human Interest." What does that really mean? Obviously it's not a color photo, and by definition it "should include actions of animals or people." That's a pretty broad spectrum of possibilities. The important question then: How will I interpret a non-color photo showing actions of animals or people?

Another example, "Abstracts – lines, geometric forms, shapes and patterns that are enhanced but not manipulated.  Enhanced means changes in color, tone, or ordinary darkroom techniques where elements have not been removed or added." Where will I find interesting lines, forms, shapes and patterns? How will I photograph them to create interest and impact?

I think it will be a good exercise for me. I may or may not end up entering any of them in next year's fair, but that's not the point. I'm not trying to create fair entries. I want to learn how to interpret an "assignment" and to shoot it with a definite plan of creativity.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Follow Up to: What's in a Photo

A friend of mine (thanks Cherish) posted a quote that made me ponder. It's still making me ponder; the meaning seems to get deeper the more I think about it.

"It's not who you are that holds you back, it's who you think you're not."

It begs the question then, who do I think I'm not?

I think I'm a decent photographer, but that's not holding me back from getting better, from improving my skill, my eye, my creativity. I think I'm not a great photographer, and that's what's holding me back. I don't think I'm just supposed to start thinking of myself as a great photographer, but maybe I am. In counseling I often talked with clients about changing their thinking and the benefits of a positive mindset. So maybe I should just start thinking, and even saying aloud, "I am a great photographer." I should start acting as if I am a great photographer and that will propel me toward greatness.

But this also means I need to do the work that great photographers do. If I'm going to act like a great photographer:
I need to get up early to catch the best morning light.
I need to scout out the right locations.
I need to educate myself on proper photographic technique.
I need to learn new ways to see and photograph.
I need to try things I've never tried before.
I need study great photos and great photographers then
I need to emulate the best photographers

More pondering necessary.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

What's in a Photo?

The Western Idaho Fair is this week. As a member of the Boise Camera Club, I've been volunteering in the Photography Booth. I worked on receiving day (taking photos from the entrants), and judging day. That was an interesting experience. Before the judges started looking at the photos, several of us volunteers went through the photos, picking our favorites. Some of our picks coincided with the judges' opinions, others - not so much.

I entered three photos this year. Before the fair I told myself and some other people, "I don't really care if I win any ribbons, and I don't expect to win any." Apparently, I wasn't being honest with them, or with myself. Turns out I did want to win ribbons. I wanted external validation that my photos are good, worthy of accolades (and a blue ribbon or three). Of the three photos, only one garnered a ribbon, and that for second place. In the judging process, the judges would review tables full of photos, choosing a limited number that would receive closer scrutiny. Two of my photos, which I thought were good examples of photography, didn't even warrant a second look. The judges passed right over them without stopping. This tells me that my photos lack impact. They must have seen them and thought, "a photo of a bird, a photo of poles," then quickly moved on to the next photo. Nothing about mine grabbed their attention, apparently.

I am really disappointed, although I don't know if I'm more disappointed in the judging, or in my own abilities and expectations. I like to think I shoot what I like without being concerned about what other people think of my photos. But there must be a part of me that does care.

I suspect, my disappointment goes to the very heart of my creativity. Of the 13,000 or so photos that I have on my hard drive, there are two that I think are really good photos. And one that I think is the best photo I've taken. But that "best" photo is only worth 2nd place in a small state fair competition. Talk about small fish in an even smaller pond - that's me. This also brings into question my ability to determine the value of a photo. The photos I think are great are apparently mediocre at best.

So, where to go from here?

I have a year to change my mind, but at this point, I won't be entering photos any more, not in competitions. I will still submit photos to the camera club. There, I get in-person feedback and valuable critique. At the fair, I get nothing - literally.

I also need to spend time working on my skills. I need to study great photos, learn what makes them great, and incorporate those qualities into my photography. Easier said than done, but worth the effort. My photography will continue to improve, of that I'm sure. But it's time for me to spend more time focusing on what I like instead of what some "objective" judge thinks of my photography.

Edit: As I reread this post, I notice parts that sound like I'm disparaging the judges, and their opinions. And that is not my intent at all. I think the judges did a great job identifying the best photos of the fair. My disappointment with the fair is firmly attached to my own expectations and performance. Had I presented better images, with more impact and of higher technical quality, I would have received more recognition. Next time I share photos I will work on those two characteristics of good photos.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Seems Like a Never-ending Process

A couple of weeks ago, we took some family photos into a scanning service. We (meaning mostly mom and dad), have some really old family photos we want to protect. Obviously having the original is best, but if we ever lost the originals - that would be devastating. They're irreplaceable. Now, we have digital copies of the photos: a disk, a set on mom's computer, a set on my laptop, and I'll make a backup on my external hard drive. Add to these the photos that I scanned, mostly slides and some poloroids, there are 1239 photos total.

Twelve hundred thirty-nine photographs to rename (by date so I can sort)
Twelve hundred thirty-nine photographs to label with keywords (people, places, etc.)
Twelve hundred thirty-nine photographs to crop and straighten

If that sounds like a lot of work, you're underestimating how much work. Many (most) of the photos don't have a date written on them, which means I either have to ask mom, or guess, or ask her to guess, or ask dad to guess. But when I'm done renaming, I think it will make the catalog much cleaner. Many of the photos have people in them I don't recognize, or places I don't recognize, so I won't worry about those keywords. But I want to make sure I have accurate family labels.

Some of the photos I'll probably work on doing some processing in Lightroom 4: adjustments to color, contrast, etc. I'm considering converting all the b&w images to b&w in LR4, which will make them look more consistent.

In the end, I think this will be a great family treasure, and worth all the work.

Thursday, July 5, 2012


Yes, that title is a yelling title - not at anyone, just vocalizing, loudly, my frustration.

It seems so easy: get in the pool, swim to the other end, swim back. And it is easy. I see little kids do it all the time. Nearly every morning, about the time dad and I are finishing up, there's a swim team starting practice. I watch them and think, "Why can't I swim like that?" The kids range in age from probably 8 or 9 to high school, and they all look very natural in the water. I want to feel comfortable in the water.

When I started swimming, several months ago, just putting my face in the water created a feeling of ... panic. So I've definitely made progress. But the last few days of swimming have been so uncomfortable. It's almost a feeling of claustrophobia when I'm face down, which I know is just a psychological problem. So this morning I decided to swim with a snorkel, the whole time. I swam 18 laps, a half mile, all doing the front crawl. The first few laps were tense, but then I could feel myself relax. My head relaxed and floated lower in the water (since I wasn't holding it up), my breathing rhythm relaxed, my stroke slowed. The last 10 or 12 laps were great. I learned something in the process. I was able to swim 18 laps non-stop. When I swim without the snorkel, swimming the crawl, 2 laps is the most I've done non-stop. I think this means that my problem is not one of breath, instead it's a psychological problem.

I've decided that for a while I'm going to continue swimming with the snorkel. I can work on my streamlining form, work on timing my breathing with my stroke, and get used to being in the water.

Monday, June 18, 2012

It's Just Like Riding a Bike

I went to the golf course today - Broadmore Golf Club (formerly Broadmore Country Club). Having been sick for the last two weeks, I needed to get out of the house. I needed some activity ... other than walking to the mailbox.

Other than the scramble I played two weeks ago, I haven't played any golf in at least 4 years, and probably closer to 5 years. In case you're not familiar with golf, a scramble is a tournament in which four (or five) people play as a team, making one score for each hole. After all the players on a team tee off, the best shot is chosen, and everyone hits the next shot from there. Basically I wasn't playing real golf. Of course I was hitting shots and making putts, but there were four other guys doing the same. So if I didn't hit a good shot it didn't matter much. One of my partners would hit something better.

But playing today I played alone, meaning every shot counted. Of course it wasn't a tournament, but being a Rules Official, I play by the Rules, even when I'm alone on the golf course. I hit some good shots, some bad shots, made some putts, missed some putts. The last hole, #4, I hit my drive right down the middle, 200 yards. I was playing from the forward tees because I just can't hit the ball far any more. I was never a long hitter, but I averaged 260 or so, with the occasional long ball. I played 7 iron from 121 yards, into the wind, right to the center of the green. Those two shots were the best I've hit in a very long time. After two putts for par, I walked back up the hill. It was a good feeling to be back on the course, especially walking and carrying my clubs. Four holes was plenty (my bag feels heavier than I remember), but it was a good four holes.

I'll get out again soon. I might even play 5 or 6 holes next time.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

I don't know ...

I recently attended the 8th grade graduation at Wendell Middle School (where I used to be the school counselor). Before the ceremony one of the mom's said to me, "I enjoy reading your blog." My first thought was, "Well thank you." My second thought, "You read my blog?" My third thought, "How does she even know I have a blog?"

From there I went through a progression of thought I've been through before. I'm always surprised when I find out that someone reads my blog. Yes, I know it's public. It's not like I'm trying to hide it. But somehow, in my mind, I'm convinced that the only people who read it are my parents, or people who stumble on it by accident. There are some searches on google that result in a link to this blog - some of them are really weird.

Google keeps statistics on page visits, and just reading those tells me my parents aren't the only ones reading.
Here's some interesting information, at least to me. Over the last week

49 page views, including from the US, China, Russia, Germany, Colombia, Egypt, India, Chile, UK, and Hong Kong. (How do these people get here?)

The keywords which lead to my blog include:
Christopher McNaught (makes sense, although I haven't used Christopher ever)
Boulevard Nights (I'm not sure what that has to do with me)
Bruises caused by falling into a ladder (hilarious!!)

My mom told me, "I wish you updated your blog more often." Sometimes I have something to say, most of the time I either don't have anything to say, or don't consider what I do have to say worth being said (that's an awkward sentence).

So to those of you who visit here regularly and read my words and thoughts - Thank you.