Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Summer 2

It's summer, and to celebrate I have looked through my files and picked out 20 photos that best embody the feelings I experience in summer. Over the next few weeks I'm going to post them, two at a time, as a way to celebrate the summer season. Some of these have appeared on this blog before. Click on any picture to see a larger version.

For our second installment, it's Tokyo in summer. The picture above, from 2005, was taken from a window of the old Palace Hotel. It is of one of the old guard structures on the outer wall of the Imperial Palace, nestled among the beautiful trees that cover the palace grounds.

Below, a black and white study of a barn near De Kalb, in northern Illinois, from 2004.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Summer 1

It's summer, and to celebrate I have looked through my files and picked out 20 photos that best embody the feelings I experience in summer. Over the next few weeks I'm going to post them, two at a time, as a way to celebrate the summer season. Some of these have appeared on this blog before. Click on any picture to see a larger version.

First, above, there is my favorite sunset photo, taken just south of Philo, Illinois, in 2010. Below, a picture of the northern Nebraska countryside, taken in June, 2009, and here rendered as a painting.

Enjoy the season!

Friday, June 24, 2011


“Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”
 --Arthur C. Clarke, "Profiles of The Future", 1961 (Clarke's third law)

The picture above is of the view from my hotel balcony in Myrtle Beach, SC in April of this year. It was a great view, and one of the things I wanted to do during my stay was make a time lapse movie of the sun setting and lights coming on from this vantage point. 

Time lapse movies are made up of many individual photos taken sequentially. A key part of taking such photos is to put the camera in completely manual mode--focus, exposure, white balance, etc.-- so that the camera's automated systems don't cause too much variation between the sequential photos. That, in turn means being very careful about how you set up the camera. 

In this case, I set everything on manual, and then checked everything...except the focus. The result, after several hours of shooting, was over 1700 photos that look like this:

 The time lapse movie was ruined, and because I was only spending one night in Myrtle Beach, my only chance to make that movie was gone. Mind you, I've had worse disappointments in life, but this was a real shame. With modern technology, lots of aspects of a photo can be manipulated or fixed after the fact, but not focus. The simple fact is that if I don't get the focus right when I shoot, that photo is ruined forever.

Well, maybe not in the future. I just read a news story about a new kind of lens that actually lets you refocus a picture after it has been taken. Really. A new company, Lytro, has just announced technology that will allow photos to be refocused in any way, and repeatedly, after the fact. It seems like magic, and yet the description of how the technology works makes some sense. So now, even the focus of a photo will be changeable after the fact.

I've written before about how I feel we are living in a golden age of camera equipment. But even I didn't think it would come to this. I hope that one day soon I'll get my hands on one of these new lenses. Maybe then I can head back to Myrtle Beach.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

A Little Minnesota Humor

Here's a poster I've been meaning to make for a while. I spent five years in Minnesota, and the winters almost killed me. To be sure, the people who live there seemed to thrive on it. They were all certainly very happy living there, and I respect them for that. But me? I couldn't take it. Anyway, I hope any Minnesotans who see this will accept it in the spirit of fun with which it is offered.

You may want to click on the poster for a larger view.

Monday, June 20, 2011

The Road Less Traveled

Here's a picture from 2007 of a country road disappearing into the woods in western Virginia. Rendered as a painting using Topaz Simplify.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Speaking of Diagonals...

In line with my last post, I was working on this photo I took during my recent visit to the Lakewood Cemetery in Minneapolis, when I noticed how pleasing the three limb is, cutting across the background on the diagonal. I wish I could say I intentionally sought it out, but I don't remember doing so. Maybe I'm so good that I did it unconsciously. Yeah, that must be it. Anyway, diagonals can really add to a picture.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

On The Bias

I like working with patterns in photos, and I find that, when it comes to patterns, diagonals particularly grab my eye (so to speak). The challenge of patterns as a subject is to find something that has some life, some linear tension to it. It is very easy for pictures of repeating patterns to end up dead in a picture. (Again, so to speak.)

The photo above is of a building in Washington DC in 1990, taken on a beautiful sunny day. I like it, but I have to say it is almost too static. It could use another element of some kind, but I'm not sure what. Anyway, this is the photo as shot, and adding something would be a bit manipulative.

I think this photo, of the side of a storage tank, works better, even as it describes a similar diagonal. The way the shadow of the stairs lengthens on the left, and the angle of the guy wire, and its shadow, create that extra zing of tension that the photo needs.

When I'm feeling like I'm low on ideas for photography, looking for patterns is a good way to kick start the creative juices (to mix a metaphor a bit).

Monday, June 13, 2011

Picture of the Day

Still working with the painting effect. I love it. Here is a view of the South Dakota countryside from June of 2009. Enjoy!

Friday, June 10, 2011


I know this post isn't about photography or travel, but pardon a personal note.

Everyone who has pets will have a favorite--one pet that stood out from all the others--whether they want to admit it or not. For me, that pet was a black cat named Chet. Chet lived with me for pretty much all of his life, from June of 1985 to June of 2001. I'd been thinking about Chet recently, and realized that it was the tenth anniversary of his death.

Chet was loyal, and devoted to me in a way that cats rarely are. I tried to return the favor. When I got married, we got another cat, Buster, who was twice Chet's size, but Chet took him under his wing (paw?) and doted on him. As you can see in the picture below, Chet liked nothing more than to sleep curled up against Buster's tummy.

I've had the privilege of sharing my life with eight dogs and five cats, so far, and I loved them all, but Chet was one of a kind, and I miss him.

By the way, I assume that my current cat, Isabel, doesn't read this blog. If she does, we may have a domestic situation on our hands.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

A Quick Trip Up North

Last week I took a quick trip headed north. I traveled first up to Milwaukee to see some friends, then on up to Lake Superior in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan at Ontanagon. The UP countryside was quite beautiful, as you can see in the picture above. It was also mostly unspoiled woods with the occasional small town here and there. The weather was crisp and cool, and I found all of it delightful.

The next day I headed down to Minneapolis/St. Paul to see friends from the years I lived there. I was rewarded with hot but otherwise beautiful weather. Above is a shot of the Minneapolis skyline taken from near the Walker Art Center.

A friend of mine and I decided to take advantage of the weather to explore Minneapolis's massive Lakewood cemetery. It is an old cemetery with many fine statutes, like the one below:

Finally, On Sunday I headed back home, but had time on my way out of town to get this shot of St. Paul's skyline:

All in all, it was a great trip spent reconnecting with great friends, and it was also just the break I needed. Now, back to work.

Monday, June 6, 2011

A Final Painting Effect

Here is a final example (for now) of the Topaz Simplify Photoshop Plug-in. The original photo is from Iowa city, Iowa, in 1984, shot on slide film.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Painting Effect Again

Here's another photo from Dubuque Iowa in 1983, shot on negative film. It's not a bad picture as a straight photo, but the painting affect really brings out the colors.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Another Painting Effect

Continuing with this week of showing "painting effect" pictures, here is a good example of how this effect can transform an otherwise blah photo. This photo was taken on the shores of the Mississippi near Dubuque Iowa in 1983. It was shot on an odd type of film created from old 35mm movie stock (long story). In any event, the colors in the original are washed out and muddy, but by rendering it using the Topaz Simplify plug-in in Photoshop CS5, it comes out as a fairly decent looking picture.

I'll have other examples of the painting effect on Friday and Monday.