Monday, September 30, 2013

Slow Sunday

Normally on Sunday afternoons in September I'm planted on the sofa watching a football game. This weekend, the Saints weren't playing until Monday night, and Theresa was absorbed in a marathon session of Breaking Amish: Los Angeles. (Don't ask.) I got cabin fever, so I headed out with my camera with no destination in mind.

Somehow I ended at the Waynesville Skate Park, which until yesterday I didn't even know existed. It's kinda hidden behind the Recreation Center, another place I don't go often. There were about 30 or so kids on skateboards zooming around the park, and having seen skateboarders on "Amazing Videos" type shows on TV, I figured maybe I could catch a few of those spectacular wipeouts. It would be a good opportunity to practice my action photography skills, which I admit, need practice.

I saw a few falls, but nothing like the spills that make it onto the TV shows. No blood, no broken bones, no lost teeth. It was pretty tame, actually - like a NASCAR race at half speed. It was just some local kids having some fun on a pretty fall afternoon. Below is the best three-shot sequence I was able to get of this guy trying to jump some steps. Fortunately, the only thing he bruised was his ego. (Click on photos to enlarge.)

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Not Her Idea

Shy Beauty Queen, Canton, NC  -  2013
(Click on photo to enlarge.)

I saw this shy little beauty queen riding in the Canton Labor Day parade earlier this month. Perhaps being "Miss Labor Day" was someone else's idea of a good time; she didn't seem too thrilled with it. Just sayin'.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Your Camera Doesn't Matter (most of the time)

Mom's Hibiscus, Metairie, LA  -  2013
(Click on photo to enlarge.)

While down in New Orleans to get my Mother's old house ready for sale, we had to prune all of the shrubs and trees in the yard. This hibiscus is growing near the front door and was about to take over the front step. Before I pruned it back to a more manageable size, I got a few pictures of its blooms. Mom would be pleased with the way her hibiscus is flourishing.

Internet photography writer Ken Rockwell posted an editorial several years back titled "Your Camera Doesn't Matter" in which he made the point that some knowledge of photographic technique is what makes for good photos, not the camera you use. The photo above is another example of the quality that can be had with today's "point and shoot" cameras. My little Canon A2000 was the only camera I brought on this trip, so I had to use it for everything. It has its limitations, but as you can see above, it will do a nice job for a flower photographer in good light. You don't need the most expensive camera in the store to take decent photos.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

We did, but we didn't.

Dine & Dance, New Orleans, LA  -  2013
(Click on photo to enlarge.)

I made this photo outside The River Shack Tavern after my brother and I had finished our meal there. We dined, but we didn't dance. Actually, nobody was dancing while we were there. Anyway, my brother and I are close, but not that close.

My brother works for a company in Atlanta that builds commercial signs of all sizes and types. He told me about how neon signs are becoming more and more rare. LCDs are the hottest thing in sign lighting nowadays, and the number of people who know how to work with neon are in steep decline. Soon, neon signs may be a lost art. Maybe that should be my next ongoing project - photographing neon signs before they're all gone.

If I do take on that project, the little Canon A2000 I used for this photo will be put away for one of my Olympus DSLRs. The little Canon does a great job in good light, but falls flat on low-light shots like this. Way too much digital noise in the shadow areas that even Noiseware couldn't completely save. However, it was the only camera I had with me on this trip, so it got pressed into service. With some tweaking in the digital darkroom I got a serviceable photo, so I guess the A2000 didn't completely fail me. 

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Working The Night Shift

I went out early yesterday morning to put the garbage can out by the street, and I noticed that all of our plants near the driveway were covered with these disk-shaped webs. They weren't there the previous day, so some kind of spiders had been really busy Monday night! (Click on photos to enlarge.)

I didn't see any of the spiders that did all the work. I guess like most folks who work the night shift, they were probably somewhere fast asleep once the sun came up.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

It's here!

Sunday was officially the first day of Fall, or the Autumnal Equinox. It's a day I always look forward to because Fall is by far my favorite season. Although it will be a few weeks before we start seeing those beautiful colors in the Smoky Mountain foliage, we can already notice a slight change in the temperatures and humidity. It won't be long until the show begins, and my camera and I can't wait to get out there!

Mini Fall, Haywood County, NC  -  2012
(Click on photo to enlarge.)

Monday, September 23, 2013

Theater Of The Mind

Friendly Truck Stop, Swain County, NC  -  2007
(Click on photo to enlarge.)

The phrase "theater of the mind" has been used to describe the old radio shows of the pre-television era. Radio actors would provide dialog and sound effects, and the listener would allow the scenes and action to form in his imagination. I enjoy listening to Prairie Home Companion on Saturday evenings on the local NPR station, where you can still experience this kind of radio program.

Some photographs can provide a somewhat similar experience. When I look at this photo of a long abandoned truck stop, I like to imagine what it was like in its heyday. I can see waitresses in the kind of uniforms they usually wore in the 1950s. I can smell the coffee brewing, and hear the clink of cups and dishes as food is being served. I can hear the jukebox playing Patsy Cline in the background. I can see the trucks pulling in and out to fuel, or get a tire fixed. There's conversation, and sometimes laughter in the air as old truckers share their jokes and stories. It's all still there in that empty, vine choked building. All you need is your imagination.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Game Shortened By Rain

I got inspired to go after some photographs of an old barn that belongs to some friends of mine. As for many kinds of photography, early morning light is often the best, so I planned to arrive at the barn right around sunrise. The weather forecast was for showers later in the day, but the early morning looked safe.

As I drove west from Canton, I could see a beautiful sunrise forming in my rear view mirror. The broken clouds were glowing with a brilliant orange light. I was tempted to stop and get a picture of the horizon, but my objective was to get the barn in that light. However, as quickly as the scene in my mirrors appeared, it began to dissolve. Grey clouds were moving in fast, too fast. I began to wonder if I would get any of that magical light at all.

When I got near the barn, there was still some glow in the eastern sky. My friend had suggested the view across the pasture toward the barn as one I ought to check out, so I pulled over and got the shot above.

After getting the shot of the barn across the pasture, it took only a minute or so to drive around to the front of the barn. That's about how long it took for the sky to go completely overcast. Now an overcast sky is often a good thing for photography. It gives soft, even lighting which reduces the harsh contrast you get with full sun. Colors also look more saturated under overcast skies, which I was able to take advantage of with the abundant goldenrod around the barn. While overcast is good, I was looking for the warm glow of morning sunlight, and the textures that are emphasized by directional light.

There's an old saying that "Everyone likes to talk about the weather, but no one ever does anything about it". No use complaining - so I worked with what I had. I got some satisfactory shots as I worked around to different positions around the barn. It was fun for a short time. While I can work with overcast skies, rain sends me running for the truck. Water, and electronic devices like a digital camera don't get along, so I called it a day early. I enjoyed my short trip, and I'll return another day to get the photos I was originally after. (Click on photos to enlarge.)

The photo below was modified with Redfield's "Fine Touch" filter, which gave it the look of a painting. This filter does the same thing as the now defunct BUZZ filter that was so popular about eight years ago. Sometimes it gives a pleasing result, sometimes it doesn't. Nevertheless, it's fun to play with, and I like the result I got here.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

No Camera, No Photo

Window Abstract, Boone, NC  -  2013
(Click on photo to enlarge.)

I try to remember to carry a camera with me wherever I go because I never know when I'm going to see something I want to photograph. Today's "point and shoot" cameras are capable of amazing quality. Even if they won't do everything that a full featured DSLR will, they are so much more convenient to carry around. Many now use their cell phone cameras the same way. I had my little Canon A2000 with me while visiting the Appalachian State University library last month, so I was able to get this shot in a stairwell. Carrying a big, black DSLR with a long lens around campus would have been awkward, but the little P&S fit in my pocket, and was ready when I needed it.

Monday, September 16, 2013

No More Burning Film

Back in the film camera era, we sometimes spoke of "burning film" to describe using large quantities of film to get the shot you wanted. Most of the shots would be discarded for various reasons, in attempt to get the few keepers. I once read of a Sports Illustrated photographer who shot forty-something rolls of film in three cameras during a baseball game. That's over 1400 exposures! Of that total, three photos got printed with the accompanying article. That's burning film! When a magazine publisher with deep pockets is buying your film, I guess that's an acceptable keeper ratio. I could never afford to burn film at anywhere near that rate!

Today, in the digital photography age, it's a different story. Once the equipment is purchased, shooting is essentially free. I can "burn film" with almost complete impunity now, limited only by the capacity of my memory cards. Back at my computer, I can hit the delete key on missed shots without fretting over the cost of film developing and making prints. It frees the photographer to experiment and take chances that, for me, were often too expensive to consider with a film camera.

A Lighter Moment, Waynesville, NC  -  2013
(Click on photo to enlarge.)

When photographing subjects in motion, I find the number of "misses" is usually fairly high. Yesterday morning at church I decided to get some shots of one of our pastors, David Williams, while he was preaching. I worked from the audio booth at the back of the church so as to be unobtrusive. Of course, I used no flash, which would have been a major distraction. When photographing someone speaking, most of your shots are going to catch your subject in awkward expressions. That's just the way it works. Sometimes these can be humorous, but seldom flattering. Out of 47 exposures I made, I kept three that I thought were usable, plus one that I can use for inserting a humorous caption later. (Heh, heh!) With a film camera, I probably would have been crying about the wasted film and unusable and discarded 3x5 prints. With digital, it's all good, it's all fun. The photo above is the one I thought was the best of the bunch, so I gave it a little extra attention in the digital darkroom.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Making Lemonade

The Touchdown, Canton, NC  -  2013
(Click on photo to enlarge.)

Friday night I once again experienced the frustration of trying to take photos at a high school football game at night, in a poorly lit stadium, with a relatively slow lens. I've tried to make the point many times before that equipment isn't what makes a good photographer. I think I'm ready to concede that night time sports photography may be the exception.

Of the 87 exposures I made Friday night, all but a handful were too blurred to be usable. Even at ISO 3200, my camera's upper limit, I was still forced to shoot at shutter speeds of 1/125 or slower with my slow lens. That's just not fast enough. Some of my shots were excellent examples of capturing peak action, except that the peak action was blurred.

I was able to salvage some shots that were only a little blurred with some creative post processing - thank goodness for software! On the photo above I decided to go with a more pictorialist look since the stadium light caused contrast to go south, and created a lot of grain in the shadows. I exaggerated the loss of contrast and increased grain to get an effect I liked. Believe me, this looks more interesting than the original color version. As the old saying goes, "When life hands you lemons, make lemonade."

Friday, September 13, 2013

It's Another World

Grocery And Bar, New Orleans, LA  -  2013
(Click on photo to enlarge.)

The River Shack Tavern was once a grocery, once a bar, and apparently was once both at the same time. The old painted signs reminded me of how different The Big Easy can be from the rest of the country.

Back around 1979 or so, I brought a college roommate home with me for a few days one summer. My friend Joe was from the little town of Crossett, Arkansas, and had never been to New Orleans before. Needless to say, he was in for a bit of culture shock.

My Mother needed a few things from the grocery, so she sent me and Joe to the now defunct Schwegmann's Giant Supermarket on Veterans Blvd. Schwegmann's had a snack bar near the store entrance that served snacks, po-boys, and, of course, beer. There were a few men standing at the counter having their after-work barley pop, which amazed Joe to no end. A bar in a grocery store? Wow! As we made our way through the aisles looking for the items on my Mother's list, Joe spied more than a couple of shoppers, men and women, enjoying a Dixie or a Falstaff while they "made groceries". They sure don't shop like that in Crossett! A grocery and bar - only in New Orleans!

Thursday, September 12, 2013

There's No Seafood Like New Orleans Seafood!

I got back late last night from a quick five-day trip to New Orleans. My brother Matt and I went down there to get my Mother's house ready for sale. Except for a three hour recess to watch the Saints beat the Falcons Sunday afternoon, we spent all our time painting, fixing, and meeting with bankers and real estate people. It wasn't a tourist trip, but we did find time to eat. Oh yeah, we ate good!

Roast beef po-boys at Quick Check, and coffee and beignets at Morning Call were must stops that were conveniently close to where we were working. For our last night we agreed we had to have seafood as it can only be done in New Orleans. No time for tourist joints like Ralph & Kacoo's - we wanted the real deal. From the number of restaurants where the locals eat, we chose River Shack Tavern on River Road in Jefferson.

In business since 1990 in its current rendition, this building has been around since the early 1900s. Over the years it's been a grocery store, a bar, a restaurant, a package liquor store, and a pharmacy. The hand painted signs on the building's exterior date back to the 1940s. It's a location full of history, and now filled with great food!

Signs from the building's past 
Tacky ashtrays can still be traded for drinks at the bar.

Guy Fieri brought his Diners, Drive-Ins & Dives show here a few years back, as evidenced by the signed poster on the wall. That show featured the turtle soup which is a sometimes daily special. That dish wasn't offered the evening we visited, so we opted for a plate of fried mushrooms to get us primed for the main event, the seafood platter.

The host of my favorite food show was here!

Rivershack's version of the seafood platter comes piled high with fried oysters, fried shrimp, fried catfish, alligator sausage, and sweet potato fries. The fried shrimp were the best I've ever had, and the grilled alligator sausage was a new favorite for my brother. It was one meal that made three days of sweltering in the southeast Louisiana heat worthwhile!

Chipping away at a mound of seafood

I only brought my little Canon A2000 on this trip. As I said, this wasn't a trip for sightseeing. This little point and shoot does a good job, except in the dim light of a New Orleans tavern. Matt questioned my sanity of "taking pictures in the dark" without using the flash, but not wanting to ruin the ambiance of the place for the other patrons by popping a flash, I decided to push the little Canon to its limits with some interior shots anyway. Of course it couldn't match either of my Olympus DSLRs in those conditions, but I got a few usable shots to remember a good meal and an enjoyable evening. (Click on photos to enlarge.)

Everyone here is a Saints fan - believe dat!

Vintage signs and pictures decorate the walls

A big-screen TV: a concession to the 21st century for sports fans

Rivershack's bar stools have unique legs

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Not Even Mardi Gras Had This

I can't even count the number of Mardi Gras parades I saw in the 41 years I lived in the New Orleans area. At all those parades I saw amazing sights, both in the parade, and in the crowd. Still, I don't think I ever saw an Uncle Sam wearing polka dot cowboy boots, and driving a garden tractor with chrome wheels. No, I had to move to Canton, NC to see that! Small town America - I love it!

Labor Day Parade, Canton, NC  -  2013
(Click on photo to enlarge.)

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Happy Accidents

I went to the Canton Labor Day parade yesterday morning. Having grown up in New Orleans, and my initial experience with parades being Mardi Gras, I admit to being a little jaded when it comes to parades. The Tournament of Roses parade in Pasedena, Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade in New York, and the dozens of Mardi Gras parades in the New Orleans area - those are real parades. The Canton Labor Day parade, however, is small town America at its best. It may not have the glitz and size of the big boys, but it carries a sense of community that big city parades will never match. That's why I go.

Of course, I brought my camera. I snapped pictures of fire trucks, local politicians, farm tractors, 3 year old beauty queens, and a myriad of other sights. The photo I liked best? The one below, which was a complete accident.

Reach, Canton, NC  -  2013

While going through the day's take, I came across a photo that I didn't remember taking. It was a random, off kilter shot of some people waiting for the parade. Apparently, I hit the shutter release accidentally while my camera was slung over my shoulder. Oh well, I've done that before. But as I was about to hit "delete", I noticed something interesting in the background - a boy reaching for what looks like a plastic bag blowing in the wind. I liked it, though I could never have planned a shot like that. Planned or accident, I'll take it! (Click on photos to enlarge.)

Original accidental photo

Monday, September 2, 2013

Letting The Music Tell Me

Nostalgia Window, Boone, NC  -  2013
(Click on photo to enlarge.)

I was going through photos that I made in August, trying to decide which one I wanted to do something with next. As I was looking at some pictures from my trip to Boone, I came across this one of a store window. I love store windows as a subject, and just as I was trying to choose from several I made at a shop that sold 1960s era posters, clothing, and decor, Janis Joplin's "Piece Of My Heart" came on the Songza station I was listening to. That decided it.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Labor Day, An American Holiday

Patriotic Window, Black Mountain, NC  -  2013
(Click on Photo to enlarge.)

Tomorrow is Labor Day. It's three-day weekend kind of holiday for most of us. It' parades and pic-nics. It's barbecue and football. It's the unofficial end of summer. It's a day to celebrate the American worker.

We're a little different from workers in other countries. Not always better, but different. Most workers in the world today can't imagine having what we take for granted. We enjoy the freedom to be innovative and creative. We can work where we want, and do what we want to do if we'll put forth the effort it takes to be good at it. Sometimes the job we have now is not our dream job, but we have the freedom and opportunities to strive for something better. The only thing that limits us is our own determination. And we're allowed to enjoy the fruits of our labors, as we choose to enjoy them.  These are the things that make Labor Day a distinctly American holiday. So fly that flag tomorrow, and be thankful for the opportunities and freedoms God has provided for us in the USA.