Sunday, June 30, 2013

A Return Engagement

Joyce and Walt, Canton, NC  -  2013
(Click on photo to enlarge.)

Some friends who moved to Louisiana several months ago were back in the area recently. They had contacted beforehand me to arrange to have a portrait made while they were in town. I had done some portraits of them a couple of times in the past while they were living in Haywood County, so I was flattered that they wanted me to photograph them again while they were here visiting. This is the pose they liked best from our short session in my basement studio.

I've done quite a few portrait sessions over the years for friends in the area, but I don't always get asked to do a second one. When I do, I consider that to be the greatest compliment - a return engagement.

Friday, June 28, 2013

Water Reflections

Pack Square Reflection, Asheville, NC  -  2013
(Click on photo to enlarge.)

I've always enjoyed good water reflection photos. And what could be easier? You just look for a reflection in a pond, a fountain, or a puddle, and then shoot.

As with many things I've tried in photography, it's not always as easy as it seems at first. Usually, I'm disappointed with my results. This reflection in the fountain in Pack Square is the only one of dozens that I made that day that I like. But it's the challenge that makes it fun!

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

The Pause That Refreshes

Yellowstone Prong Below Lower Falls, Graveyard Fields, NC  -  2013
(Click on photo to enlarge.)

Nothing like a cool Saturday morning next to a mountain stream to take away all the mental and physical fatigue of the previous work week!

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Go Early!

When I go hiking, I prefer not to have a lot of company on the trail. A couple of friends or family members is plenty. I enjoy the peace and solitude of the forest, and I've found it's best shared with a only a few companions. At a popular location like Graveyard Fields, that can be a problem. Because of its easy access, you're apt to find crowds of people on the trails, even on a weekday. The only solution I've found is to go early. Real early. Like, "be there at sunrise" early.

Yellowstone Prong, Graveyard Fields, NC  -  2013
(Click on photo to enlarge.)

Arriving early solves two problems. First of all, the turistas with their mini-vans full of kids usually don't show up before 10 am or so. The scene above is only a couple of hundred yards off the highway, and would be crawling with kids playing in the water around mid-day. By going early you can avoid the crowds and the noise. It's not that I hate kids, I just don't want them in my nature photos.

Another advantage to going early is that the light is better. Later in the morning this area would be flooded with direct sunlight, creating too much contrast for good pictures. The white water of falls or rapids blows out too easily in direct sunlight, robbing the scene of any detail in the stream. In the early morning, while the light is still soft and indirect, it's much easier to retain detail in both the shadow and highlight areas.

I'm naturally an "early bird", so getting on the road while it's still dark is no problem for me. A cup of hot coffee, and I'm ready to go! For others it may be a struggle, but the rewards for hikers and photographers is well worth it. You'll get better photos, and I think you'll enjoy the solitude you'll find when you've got the trail all to yourself!

Saturday, June 22, 2013

A Fresh One

Lower Falls And Boulders, Graveyard Fields, NC  -  2013
(Click on photo to enlarge.)

A fresh photo from this morning's visit to Graveyard Fields just off the Blue Ridge Parkway. I was a little concerned because the parking lot was 3/4 full when we arrived at 6:30! Evidently they were all back woods campers because we didn't see another hiker along the trail until the way back.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Tattoo You? No Thanks.

Empire Tattoo, Asheville, NC  -  2013
(Click on photo to enlarge.)

At my age you start thinking about things you might have done differently if you had a chance for a re-do, at say, age 20. Not that it matters - you'd still make mistakes, just different ones. Life will always have some regrets; it's best to just keep moving forward.

One thing I don't regret is not getting a tattoo. The permanence of tattoos scares me. I can think of many things I did, or wore in my late teens or early twenties that I'm really glad weren't permanent. Trust me, there are things you think are really cool at age 23 that will have you shaking your head ten years later. Be thankful that hair styles and clothing are changeable. I wonder about the people I see with tattoos covering their arms, legs, or neck in their early twenties - will they still think it was such a great idea when they hit 40? I hope so.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Because I Can't Paint Part 2

Window Boxes, Charleston, SC  -  2013
(Click on photo to enlarge.)

After Tuesday's post, I got a suggestion that a digital painting of Rainbow Row in Charleston might look great. I thought so too, but none of my photos of this iconic scene looked like they would work. Our two visits to Charleston were in the spring, after the trees had leafed out there. From almost any angle, the trees in front of the buildings blocked the view except for the upper floors. I guess I'd have to get a shot during the winter to get the view I had in mind.

Then I decided to try the same painting technique on another Charleston scene, and selected the above photo of some Charleston window boxes. I played around with the Redfield Fine Touch Filter, which offers an almost infinite number of possible adjustments, for quite a while. I came up with some results that were somewhat interesting, but not really looking like a painting. Frustrated, I finally gave up and decided to go with a straight photo. Even with the help of a computer and some very sophisticated software, I still can't paint. I guess I'll just stick with photography - at least I can get satisfactory results with a camera most of the time.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Because I Can't Paint

I have a couple of friends, two brothers, who have always had natural talent for drawing and painting. In elementary school I was always amazed (and jealous) of how easily they could draw or sketch scenes and characters. I would struggle to reproduce their efforts, but mine never looked near as good. Maybe that's one reason why I eventually got interested in photography.

While wandering around downtown Asheville Sunday afternoon, I came across the work of local artist Jeff Pittman ( Pittman paints local scenes that folks familiar with Asheville would recognize - restaurants, monuments, bars, parks, and street scenes. I don't know how the "experts" would rate Pittman's paintings, but I liked them. As with my school boy friends, I was jealous of Pittman's talent. Each of his paintings was simple, yet interesting, something I strive for in my photography.

Since I can't paint, I tried photographing a few local landmarks, with the idea of doing something "artsy" with them later. The problem for me is that once I start experimenting with different looks, I can't decide when to stop. There is always one more thing to try. Here are three versions of one photo from Sunday afternoon after much experimenting. (Click on photos to enlarge.)

Original color photo.

Toned B&W photo

Simulated painting

My daughter, Courtney, who was with me when I made the original photo, considers the digital painting version cheating. Maybe so. I would never try to misrepresent one of these as a real painting, and I doubt I could fool anyone anyway. However, it is fun for me to experiment, and that's why I do this - for fun.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Friday, June 14, 2013

Waiting For Orders

Waiting For Orders, Waynesville, NC  -  2013
(Click on photo to enlarge.)

"Hurry up and wait" is an expression anyone who has been in the military is familiar with. You always seem to be in a hurry to get somewhere, and then spend so much time just standing around once you get there. This Confederate reenactor found a shady place to stand while he waits for whatever is next on his unit's agenda.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Anytime, Anywhere

Sleeping Soldier, Waynesville, NC  -  2013
(Click on photo to enlarge.)

There are several things that all soldiers, of every nation, and every era of history have shared in common. One of these is the ability to take a nap wherever and whenever the opportunity arises. When I was in the Army, I knew a guy who could literally fall asleep standing up. I saw him do it several times. He would find something to lean on, and then doze off like he was in his own bed at home.

I guess reenactors like the one pictured above are no different than their 1860s predecessors. The ability to steal a nap between battles just adds to the realism.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Riding The Time Machine

Woman With Fan, Waynesville, NC  -  2013
(Click on photo to enlarge.)

I fired up the time machine Saturday and headed back to the 1860s to take some pictures. Well, actually I fired up a Ford Ranger and headed over to the Shelton House Museum for the Civil War Commemorative Weekend. There were demonstrations and talks on various aspects of Civil War life, but what I enjoy most is photographing people in period costumes.

This woman was part of a fashion show demonstrating the clothing worn in the 1860s. I thought she looked very authentic except for her slight smile. Do you ever notice that people didn't smile in photos from that era? Supposedly it was because the long exposure times of early cameras made it almost impossible to hold a smile that long. That was true of the earliest cameras, but by the 1860s exposure times had decreased from minutes to mere seconds. Two or three seconds seems like an eternity by today's standards, but it's really not that long for a smile. My theory is that it was the clothes. I don't know many women who would be smiling too often if they had to wear all that in the heat and humidity of a southern summer. I doubt that fan helped much.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

How She Spent Her Summer Vacation

Summer Reading, Canton, NC  -  2013
(Click on photo to enlarge.)

We are a family of avid readers. My wife and I always have a book going, and 3-4 waiting in line to be next up. So of course we're proud that both of our daughters love reading too. Courtney, however, really loves reading! She devours books at a blistering pace. Novels, history, theology, biographies - you name it. So when the afternoons are warm and the summer breezes are gently blowing, we know where to find Courtney - on the front porch working on another book.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

I can't help it!

When my oldest daughter was around ten or so, I overheard her talking with one of her neighborhood friends about a hike we had been on. She was telling her about the waterfalls and other interesting things we saw, and concluded her account of our hike with, "It was a lot of fun except for Dad stopping to take a picture of every blade of grass." Ouch! Every blade of grass? Come on, I'm not that bad!

I'll admit, I do manage to find quite a few things to photograph when I'm out with my camera, and I usually have a camera with me when I'm out. I'll also admit it sometimes it causes consternation with the other family members when I stop to take pictures. The photo below is an example. I made this one as we were walking up to the Ramsey Center at Western Carolina University where Courtney's high school graduation took place. Who doesn't bring a camera to their kid's graduation? That's not why I got in trouble. My "crime" was stopping on the way in to take pictures of the building. I only stopped for a moment; it's not like we missed half the ceremony! But nobody does that, at least according to my oldest daughter Heather. My wife didn't say anything, but I'm sure I saw her roll her eyes.

Ramsey Center, Cullowhee, NC  -  2013
(Click on photo to enlarge.)

I can't help it. That corner of the building, the early evening sky, the reflection - they practically begged me to take a few snaps. And by the way, there are beautiful grounds surrounding the Ramsey Center. I somehow managed to avoid the temptation to take a picture of any those blades of grass, thank you.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Your Camera Is Probably Good Enough

Balsam Mountain Morning, Haywood County, NC  -  2004
(Click on photo to enlarge.)

In a never ending effort to sell more product, camera manufactures have promoted the myth that if you want better pictures, you need a newer/better/bigger/more expensive camera. Millions buy into this lie every year, and after spending several hundred, or even thousands of dollars on new camera equipment, are still disappointed with their results. Go figure.

In the realm of cooking, most of us understand that if we want to be able to cook like Aunt Martha, buying a stove like Aunt Martha's isn't the answer. We have to learn the cooking techniques that Aunt Martha has learned over the years if we want our meals to turn out as delicious as hers. Photography is no different. Learning photographic technique, not buying a new camera, is the answer. Learning some basics about composition, lighting, and exposure will do more to improve your photos than dumping hundreds on to the latest offering from Canikon. Here's another tip: learn to operate the camera you already own. Remember that User Guide you tossed aside when you bought your last camera? You'll be amazed at what kind of useful information is in that little book. You'll probably discover capabilities you had no idea your camera had!

The photo above was made with an ancient Canon G3 with a mere 4 mega pixels. It was pretty hot stuff in 2003, but seems like a real dinosaur compared to the latest models. Still, it is capable of making nice  photos even today. Save yourself some money, and learn how to operate the camera you already own. Both you and your wallet will be much happier.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Found Photos

For the past two and a half months it's been a little slow at work. Then suddenly this week the dam broke. I've been getting called in early every morning and still getting off as late as I usually do. As a result, my free time during the week has dried up - no time, and too tired to go shoot anything when I get home from work.

Sometimes, when you can't go out looking for pictures, they just come to you. While walking down the stairs to our basement, I saw Barnes looking at me through a ventilation grill. Something about his expression made me grab a camera and get this shot. For some reason, vertical or horizontal lines like this drive auto focus systems nutty, so the entire scene is out of focus. I don't know why, but I kinda like it!

Grilled Barnes, Canton, NC  -  2013
(Click on photo to enlarge.)