29 June 2007


My dad plays the cello in a community orchestra. I took this photo while they were warming up for a concert. That's why I was able to get up so close and poke my camera practically into the cello section. It was taken with a 70mm lens, F2.8 at 1/40th of a second, ISO 1600. I cropped it slightly in Photoshop, but it was already definitely a close-up shot of just the hands and bows of these two cellists. I love the fact that instruments in an orchestra section play together (at least they're supposed to!) -- setting up a natural repeating pattern of lines and seemingly choreographed motions. That, along with the deep, brown tones of the wood, and the white of the players' concert attire, all contribute to the appeal of this image for me. The cello is one of my favorite instruments, both for its rich sound and for its physical beauty -- elegant curves and fine craftsmanship....And because my Dad plays it!

27 June 2007

Great new comic strip: What the Duck?

It's rare that I come across a new comic strip that I like. And it's rare that a new strip takes off and gets picked up for syndication. This one, started last year by Aaron Johnson, has succeeded on both counts. It's called What the Duck. It's about a duck who is a photographer and goes around with a camera around his neck. Here are a few that had me laughing out loud, but go visit the website and browse through the archives -- most of them are really funny.

Adobe Bridge hack for Windows Geeks

This will be a yawner for all you photographers who are switching or have switched to Mac (or have been using Mac all along). But if you're still a Windows user, and you use Adobe Bridge, and you're even remotely tempted by Geekdom, read on...

I'm tired of the experience of having a folder open in Windows Explorer, wanting to view it in Adobe Bridge, starting Bridge, and then having to navigate in Bridge to the folder I already had open in Windows Explorer. I've been wanting a way to open "this folder that I'm looking at right now" in Bridge. I was hoping for a right-click menu option or something. It didn't exist. So I figured out how to create it. ALL CAUTIONS ABOUT MESSING AROUND WITH SYSTEM STUFF APPLY HERE: Make a backup of your registry, don't attempt this unless you sort of know what you're doing, etc. [Yeah, you Mac folks are probably giggling right about now if you're still reading... ;-)]

1. Run regedit.exe
2. Navigate to "My Computer\HKEY_CLASSES_ROOT\Folder\shell" and select "shell"
3. Edit > New > Key
4. Name it Open with Adobe Bridge
5. Make sure this new key is selected
6. Edit > New > Key (again)
7. Name it command
8. With this key selected, double-click on the (Default) value in the righthand pane.
9. For Value Data, put in the full path to where your Bridge executable is stored (in quotation marks if there are spaces in it), followed by "%1" (with the quotation marks); for example, on my machine (which has the default installation of Adobe Creative Suite), I put:
"C:\Program Files\Adobe\Adobe Bridge\Bridge.exe" "%1"
10. Exit regedit.

Now you can right-click on a Folder icon anywhere in Windows Explorer, and there will be a new menu item on the pop-up menu: Open with Adobe Bridge. Select this, and Bob's your uncle.

26 June 2007

Dinner for One with Three

This one is worth clicking on to view at full size, so you can see what the title is referring to.

The icon in the background is Andrei Rublev's Trinity. If you don't know the work, here's a good discussion of it. One of the key elements of it is that the three persons of the Trinity are seated around a four-sided table with the fourth side open to the viewer, inviting us to join in the holy repast with them, as it were.

As I live alone, I eat alone most of the time. That particular evening I had prepared a fancy meal for myself in honor of a friend whose memorial service I had just celebrated that day (who had given me the recipe for that warm squash salad). In the original photo, I had the program from her memorial service standing up on the table to the left side of the plate, but I ended up deciding to crop that out, because it was irrelevant and distracting to what I felt was more important about the photo. You see, I had noticed something which I had not seen when I took it: the placement of the glass of wine precisely over the table where the Trinity are seated. So it's as if I've accepted their invitation to join them for a meal. And in return, I've invited them to join me at my table, because I fortuitously had set three empty placemats set around my table. None of this was pre-planned. At least not by me... ;-)

25 June 2007

Funny captions with humorous juxtapositions

I like this guy's sense of humor! And his photography. Herman visited my blog and posted a comment suggesting I might like this particular photo essay of his. He was right. So I'm going to do him the honor of pointing more of my readers in his general direction.

23 June 2007

Photojournalism and emotions

In this chilling article, a photojournalist describes his "struggle with how to define the conflict in Iraq without letting it define [him]." I am angry about how we were dragged into this war and how it is being conducted. That article and its accompanying photographs help me engage my emotions in a more productive way than just expressing an amorphous anger at George Bush which is really all I've been capable of until recently. I've been trying to process it through doing anagrams about him, but that doesn't really work; it only fuels the nondescript anger and/or masks it with humor. But looking at photographs, and thinking and writing seriously about what is going on, are more effective.

I never seem to be anywhere where anything newsworthy is going on. That's probably because I don't like crowds much and am not big on sleeping in discomfort or putting my life at risk. I was thinking back through all my past photographic work, and I think I've only ever taken one remotely photojournalistic shot (this one from when John Kerry's sister Diana came to speak in Vancouver), and definitely nothing very exciting or dangerous. But I do find the genre fascinating, and I think it is very important for us all to engage with at some level.

I don't have a TV, so apart from a brief invitation to a friend's apartment on the morning of September 11, 2001, during which I learned in real time of the towers' collapse, I was shielded from most of the repetitive coverage which formed so much a part of our collective national consciousness. (Well, I saw it once, and everyone else saw it ten gazillion times.) However, after 9/11, part of the way I processed that whole event and my emotions about it was to put together a portfolio of news photos that had moved me or which I found particularly excellent. I stared at them over and over and allowed the emotions to well up in me afresh. I bought all the news magazines I could get my hands on, and even several photo memorabilia books. I was looking at them not only for the emotions, though, but also as a photographer, admiring the work of fellow photographers.

After a few weeks I found I no longer was interested in looking at the 9/11 photos. They'd done their work. The images had been seared into my memory, the emotions were subsiding, I was learning to deal with the reality of what had happened and think about it at a new level. But in those first days when shock and denial and anger and fear and grief were raw, it was helpful to have the photos, to help bring me closer to Ground Zero. And I learned a lot about what makes good photojournalism through the process. I'm still not sure whether I'll ever be somewhere where I can put what I learned into practice. But it's worth knowing anyway. It has given me a yardstick by which to critique the work of photojournalists. If it can create emotions in me like those I felt when I looked at the 9/11 photos, it's good photojournalism.

Incidentally, I recently read that James Nachtwey, one of the photographers whose work I most admired from back then, was honored as one of the winners of this year's TED prize, given to those who have the best ideas for using Technology, Entertainment, and Design, to change the world for the better. The prize is $100,000 for each recipients to realize his or her conception.

22 June 2007

Popular Photography

No, not the magazine by that name. I'm talking about Nikon's brilliant marketing campaign, Picturetown. They gave 200 D40 digital cameras to 200 random people of Georgetown, South Carolina, to prove that anyone can take great pictures if they have the right camera. It doesn't completely invalidate the time-worn photographers' adage that it's not the camera, it's the photographer (which Michael Reichmann of The Luminous Landscape rightly points out is not really true anyway -- there are many factors, including the photographer and the camera). But Kodak's advertising sure attempts to blur the line between professionals and amateurs. Is there a line anyway? Or is it more a continuum?

Some of the photos showcased on that site are indeed quite nice and aesthetically composed. Others are very sharp and have good colors but are still just snapshots. Nothing wrong with "just snapshots," mind you -- in fact I think it's wonderful that more people can now take photos of their family members, pets, vacations, etc., that they are pleased with. It might take some business away from professional portrait photographers, but there is still room for us artsy types. And perhaps as good photography becomes even more accessible to the general public, more people will find the aesthetic element in it draws them to learn more and increase their skill, which I think will increase the joy they derive from doing it. That would be a good thing.

Some photographers might grumble at the thought of more competition. But when one views the process of doing art and the pleasure derived from it as half or more of the benefit of doing it (beyond the money you can earn or the positive reactions you get from other people viewing your results), then it's easier to have an abundance mentality rather than a scarcity mentality. “People with a scarcity mentality tend to see everything in terms of win-lose. There is only so much; and if someone else has it, that means there will be less for me. The more principle-centered we become, the more we develop an abundance mentality, the more we are genuinely happy for the successes, well-being, achievements, recognition, and good fortune of other people. We believe their success adds to...rather than detracts from...our lives.” (Stephen Covey)

So how does my photo of the day (above left) compare to the dolphin shot (right) by "Picturetown" resident Mark Collins, who admits he's "pretty much a novice at this"? (The Picturetown site has a feature where you can download any of the photos there, so I'm sure I'm not doing anything illegal by reproducing it here; however, I'm giving credit to the photographer and a link to the original just to be sure. See the Picturetown site for a video containing Mark's comments on how he got the shot, which is where I got the quote about his self-assessment of his skills.) My photo is better, I think. I like that it's more saturated and shows the motion of the dolphins better. His is too bland and too static for my taste, however he does have a nice repetition of curves, and he caught the fin of the baby between the adults. And he was closer. Even though my photo is probably better, I'm not sure I really have enough of an edge over this novice with a free camera from Nikon to make much of a stink about "it's the photographer, not the camera." After all, I've got a better camera... ;-)

15 June 2007

Current Reading (nothing on photography right now)

I've recently joined Goodreads, a site that lets you share what you've been reading lately (including your book reviews) with your friends, and see what your friends have been reading and reviewing too. I haven't put much into it yet, but here's the widget it generates:

Influence, and Andy Goldsworthy

It seems my comments over on Paul Butzi's blog about a photo I posted here recently triggered a whole discussion about influence between photographers. His post is quite fascinating and worth reading. I do agree that tracing the influence between artists (or writers, philosophers, historians, etc., for that matter) is a tentative science at best. But speculating about possible influence seems like a harmless diversion, unless it is motivated by jealousy or selfishness, which my speculations weren't (despite what the first couple of commenters on his post apparently thought). Anyone who teaches photography, as both Paul and I do, can't possibly have a desire to see others not succeed at it. We are more likely to be pleased when we see our own work influencing others in a good way. I might have been wrong about my speculation that my work could have influenced Paul. I think I was just giddy with delight at the thought of the possibility of it, since I've admired Paul as a better photographer than I for some time. So to hear him (or read him) say he thought my broom photo was better than his, which he said in his aforementioned post on Influence, was very encouraging indeed.

And now for something completely different: a photo in which I was definitely influenced by the same artist who very likely influenced the person who did the artwork in my photo. I came upon this on the ground between my cottage and the neighbors' at Hunterston Farm on Galiano Island. Someone must have done this. Shells don't just end up in a perfect curve on the ground by coincidence. But the artist was nowhere to be found and didn't leave a signature. However the piece reminded me so much of works by Andy Goldsworthy, and there are certain connections between folks on the farm and Andy Goldsworthy (Loren Wilkinson is a big fan of his, and Loren influences just about everyone who comes to the farm), so I am quite certain the artist was influenced by him. And I was influenced by Goldsworthy in wanting to capture this ephemeral work of art in a photograph.

Andy Goldsworthy is a British artist residing in Scotland, who does his work all over the world. He is an environmental sculptor, which means he makes his art with elements from nature, and the process of doing his art includes the inevitable decay or destruction of his works by the forces of nature: ice sculptures melting; chains of leaves in rivers being washed away by the water, etc. Watching how the elements dismantle his painstakingly created sculptures is part of how he learns about the world around him (cf. Paul Butzi on art as a verb). Goldsworthy captures all his work in photographs, because of course the works themselves (with the exception of a few installation pieces like Storm King Wall, an enormous snaking stone wall in the woods of New York State) are all ephemeral.

I first became aware of Andy Goldsworthy through the documentary film about him, "Rivers and Tides". It's absolutely mesmerizing. A couple of clips from the movie can be seen here and here.

Another video clip:
Nature and Nature: Andy Goldsworthy

Some static examples of his work can be seen here, here, here, here, here, and here (this latter is Google Images Search).

Some articles about his work:
Andy Goldsworthy: The Beauty of Creation, 35 Who Made a Difference: Andy Goldsworthy (Smithsonian Magazine), Q & A with Andy Goldsworthy (TIME), Natural Talent (The Observer)

Can you tell I like this artist?! :-)

Paul Butzi on "Art is a Verb"

This is just a convenient place for me to keep links to all of Paul's best writings on "Art is a Verb" for when I want to refer others to them. I'll try to keep these up-to-date, but no promises. Let me know if you find a broken link.

Art is a Verb, not a Noun
Why "Art is a Verb" is Important

13 June 2007

Being "in the zone"

I read an interesting post on creativity today on Doug Stockdale's Singular Images blog. Some key excerpts:

…from Octave of Prayer, Minor White wrote “Intensified concentration is common to all creative people…philosphers name this concentration Creativity; the devout call it Meditation”.

[H]e describes different ways of artists getting into what I call the ”zone”. Time seems to drift. There is an intensity to the moment as the concentration seems to increase almost on its own. You seem to flow effortlessly.

I remember an old adage; try to make at least one exposure within the first 15 minutes of arriving at the area you are interesting in photographing. Now I understand that this is a methodology to engage me and my vision, increase my concentration and make a quicker transition in to the “zone”.

I long for that experience. I'm not sure I've ever had it, or if I have, it has been so long that I've forgotten it. I usually have no problem making an exposure within the first 15 minutes, but I think I usually make one too quickly, without taking the time to size up my surroundings and engage in meditation. Thus I usually get tired of an area quickly and move on, or stop shooting. That's not entirely true when I'm somewhere that totally takes my breath away. But I think that's different than being "in the zone" as Doug describes. When rapt by the sheer beauty of a place, I sometimes don't even think about the process of creating my art. I also do it too quickly, since I'm more interested in simply absorbing the experience of being in that place. Not that that is a bad thing, mind you. If I were incapable of appreciating beauty except by making art about it, I'd be impoverished as a human being, I think.

It seems to me that being "in the zone" can be independent of the level of ordinariness or beauty of the subject being photographed, however due to the spiritual atrophy most of us suffer from, we usually need beauty to kickstart the experience.

One experience I can remember that comes closest to being "in the zone" was when I was visiting some relatives in Italy and I accompanied a cousin and her granddaughter to the playground. As we were walking home, I saw the little girl catch a glimpse of a water fountain up ahead and run towards it gleefully. The lighting was perfect, my camera was in hand, and I was alert to the moment. I ran ahead of her and reached the fountain before she did. When she got there, I just started shooting, enjoying watching her delight in how the water felt on her hands, recalling a lost childhood of my own, etc. It was positively magical. This all happened in a matter of seconds, perhaps a minute and a half at most. Here is the prize photo that came out of that.

I have just discovered Picasa Web Albums. A great way to share a series of photos from a trip if you just want to upload them and not bother with blog commentary. Free, easy to publish with, and the nicest viewer UI of any web album product I've seen yet. All you need is a Google account, which all of us Blogger users have anyway. In fact, if you have a blog on Blogger, when you sign up on the Picasa website, it automatically makes an album of all the photos you have posted in your blog, and keeps adding new ones automatically as you post more to your blog. However, it seems to put them in random order initially (though you can reorder them however you like afterwards), and it only goes back so far. In my case, 83 photos, back to December 2006.

Mystery photo: Form and texture

Sorina asked me to bring back the long neglected mystery photo feature. I just realized while posting this photo that it kind of fits the bill. But it also provides material for a brief lesson in composition. Two of the elements of visual design that contribute to interesting photographs are form and texture. This photograph displays both of them. I find it endlessly interesting to run my eye over the curves in this...whatever it is. What part of a tree do you think it is? It looks like one of those "impossible figure" optical illusions to me.

10 June 2007

Worshiping God through art

[First paragraph is an excerpt cross-posted from Iambic Admonit]

One of the reasons we do art is to glorify God and worship him through the very process of doing our art, not just through the final result. Our doing art would bring joy to him even if nobody else ever saw it. A few weeks ago, I was driving south on I-5 through Washington State, and the quality of light hitting the trees on the mountains with their multiple shades of green -- darker in the coniferous parts of the forest and lighter in the deciduous trees -- was nothing short of heavenly. I felt upwelling inside of me an uncontrollable urge to make a picture on the spot. Not a photograph, but a painting. I don't paint, but I wished then and there that I did, and that I had my paints with me. I didn't even have my camera with me. I told a friend about the experience later, and she said "oh yes, it would have been great to capture that scene, but it'll have to remain in your memory." But she didn't get it. It wasn't so I could "capture" the scenery and remember it or show it to others. It was so I could worship God for the glory of his creation, then and there, that I wanted to do the art. I think I'm finally growing into the kind of artist that God wants me to be, when that is my response to the beauty of his creation. I suggest you think about these things when doing your photography, and see if it helps you grow in your relationship with God.

This photo is nothing like what I saw that day, but it's an exploration in light and color among trees, so it's at least a relevant theme. This is from a photo I took in Lynn Canyon Park on the same day I did these, but highly stylized with Photoshop editing (mostly Hue/Saturation adjustment layers).

Color theory - "something red"

While writing that last post I found myself poking around on the web looking for some more information on color theory, of which I only knew the most basic points, and that mostly by intuition. I found an interesting explanation with examples to show how different background colors can have different effects on the impact a foreground color has, and can even make the color look like a different color. See the sections titled "Color context" and "Different readings of the same color" at Color Matters' Color Theory page. I can't reproduce the images here as they are copyrighted, but they're pretty cool.

I recently had some relatives from Italy visiting me. Her grandfather had been an early pioneer in photography. Her husband remembers when color photography first came on the scene and people were told to always have something red in their photos. They showed me their photos from their National Parks tour and indeed they chose on many of them to have something red in the scene. I'm not sure that bit of advice about something red isn't as outdated as "something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue," but Doug Plummer's photo of the day with the lady with the red shoes getting out of a car sure packs some punch, so maybe there's some truth to it. The photo accompanying this post, by the way, is the very first photo I ever took with my Canon 5D. Something red indeed!

Photo of the day

Doug Plummer has an interesting post (thanks to Paul Butzi for pointing it out) about the process he uses in making his photo of the day. Reminds me that was originally my intent in starting this blog, though I have had a hard time keeping up the every day frequency. My process is similar though not as elaborate. It really is more of an unfolding or discovery than going out specifically with something in mind that I want to create.

I have been noticing more often lately people writing about the process of making art as being more important than the final product. Doing photography is a way of learning about the world, about myself, and about God. I think a recovery of that aspect of art is key to making the arts relevant to the church again in this day and age. Jeremy Begbie, with his Theology Through the Arts idea, is the first person who introduced me to using the arts as an active way of engaging with and discovering Truth. He seems to have had a ripple effect on many others. Or maybe the time was just ripe for this concept.

My photo for today is one that I took when I was explaining to my friend in Bellingham about how colors opposite each other on the color wheel go well together in a photo. Blue and orange, red and green, purple and yellow. I enhanced the saturation of the sky a tiny bit in Photoshop, but the leaves really were this brilliant red-orange.

08 June 2007

Self-portrait redux

A while back I wrote a post about some of the various ways of making self-portraits and reasons for doing so. Here's one I did recently using my tripod and self-timer at Big Rock Garden Park in Bellingham. It is a wooded park filled with sculptures. This one caught my eye because of its lovely curves. I found a dip that looked comfortable to rest in and made this photo, mostly to show "I was there" but also to explore form and shape of the human body in relationship to the curvature of this sculpture.

04 June 2007

Whatcom Falls, or "What goes up must come down, come what may"

From my Bellingham June 2007 photo shoot series, this is Whatcom Falls. Waterfalls are another favorite subject of mine. To get that neat effect where you can see the motion of the water, you've got to use a slow shutter speed. I shot this one at nearly 2 seconds. That's pretty long in photography time. Then of course to compensate for letting in so much light with the long shutter speed, you've got to use a tiny aperture (large f-stop number). I shot this one at f/20. You also might want to use a very slow film speed if you have that ability. I set my camera to ISO 50 for this. If you've still got too much light, your only other option is to use a neutral density filter, which attaches to the end of the lens and decreases the amount of light entering the lens by 1 stop or 2 stops, or whatever number of filter you've got. I could have used about a 1/3 stop ND filter on this shot, but didn't have one with me. I could probably have sacrificed a bit of the motion in the water by speeding up the shutter a tad. But to be honest, I wasn't paying much attention to my own photos, as I was there mostly to coach my friend in her work, so I didn't take the time over it that I might have normally.

I did go over this in Photoshop with the Burn Tool in some patches of the rocks to the left that were washed out in sunlight. But there's not much you can do to burn in detail where the image is blown to pure white, like where the water collects between the rocks in this photo. It's still a good illustrative photo, and pretty nice looking if you don't know much about photography. But I'm not 100% satisfied with it.

03 June 2007

Another iris

I spent part of the weekend with a friend in Bellingham, giving her a photography tutorial, and going out shooting together at Big Rock Garden Park and Whatcom Falls Park. Got some nice photos, so I'll be sharing those over the coming days. This first one was taken in my friend's garden before we set off to the parks. Unlike with my other recent post of an iris, I didn't touch up the background of this one at all. All I did in Photoshop was what I do on just about all my images: some sharpening (using the "Unsharp Mask" filter, which seems to have a name opposite to what it really does -- it sharpens an image, but I suppose it is named for the idea that it masks out anything that's "unsharp").


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