Sunday, February 28, 2010

365/57 The road to hell begins with ...

365/57 The road to hell begins with ...

"The books that the world calls immoral are the books that show the world its own shame."

Oscar Wilde

Another evening of boredom leads to a new self-portrait. Wanted something a bit risque and outrageous this time. What better way to do this than grab a book on bondage and a pile of rope. Imagine the things you could do! The risk! The reward! The ... things you learn while surfing the internet.

This was one of my more complex light setups, mostly stemming from the need to get the book cover well lit. Three lights in total here. One SB-900 into a collapsed silver umbrella to camera left, up high and about 45 degrees off center. One SB-900 to camera right, covered with a short, blackwrap snoot and a red gel. I had it popping through some cabling to create a cookie for the background. Finally, to give enough fill on the book, I had the Lastolite Ezybox Hotshoe setup with a third SB-800. This was placed on the floor and behind the camera about 10 feet away.


When I'm shooting with three lights on CLS, I don't have enough channel spots on the camera's built-in commander mode to handle all three. I ended up putting both the umbrella light and the softbox light on Channel A to share the same power level, but had to pull the softbox back to get the power to drop. It's that whole distance vs. light strength working for me here.

Once I got everything set up the way I liked, I handed the camera over to MJ to actually do the shot because I couldn't easily do the intervalometer this time AND get into the scene with the rope draped appropriately across me before the interval stopped.

As for the face? Like I said, you learn some new and interesting things from the internet. Go figure?

Saturday, February 27, 2010

365/56 It's all aces, mate

365/56 It's all aces, mate.

Nothing much to say. Spending time with friends this evening. That's aces, mate. Go spend some time with your friends and have a beer or two. Just be safe.

365/55 Can't sleep, clowns will eat me.

365/55 Can't sleep, clowns will eat me.

I was so very tired when I made this. You can see the bags hanging under my eyes.

Playing around with a wash of light across the background from a snooted flash to give a bit of separation here. I used to carry around a foam snoot as part of my gear, but found that I either never used it or that it never stayed in the shape I wanted it. I switched to blackwrap for my snoots recently, mostly because it was easy to fold up and carry, as well as shape onsite. If you haven't seen blackwrap before, you should pick some up. It's heavy duty matt black aluminum. What I like most about it is how easy it is to shape and keep it in that shape. This isn't some cheap kitchen foil here. I picked it up for about $25 at a local film industry supplier.

The second thing I was playing around with in this photo was a collapsed silver umbrella on the key light, with the flash pushed right into the center and half-hidden by the now flapping cloth. I don't remember where I first saw this, but I really like the light coming from it. The hardened shadow line reminds me of beauty dish light, well defined, but softened.

Doing these self portraits has been fun, but I still run into issues where it would be entirely easy if I just had a better tripod or remote trigger for the camera. On the flip side, I'm certainly getting better with making the focus spot on for where I'm shooting. It took under 30 frames to get this photo. I think that's pretty decent. Now, all I need to do is come up with more ideas.

365/54 Snowmageddon

365/54 Snowmageddon

[Note: I'm a little behind on writing up these daily entries. Rest assured, I'll get caught up. Honest. No, really, I mean it.]

Tuesday was met with much cussing and gnashing of teeth whilst I looked for my gloves. The weather wasn't going to be good today. There was mild panic in the air as people scrambled to prepare for the snowmageddon event of the century. Ice! Wind! Snow! Up hill, both ways in the ... well, snow.

We had flurries throughout the day, mixed with the slow, pelting, soul-sucking crush of sleet and slush.

It began to snow as we ambled back from lunch. I stopped a moment to eat the falling flakes before they hit the ground. When we got back to where I stashed the camera, I quickly went outside and took half a dozen photos of it before it fluttered away in the storm. The flakes weren't gigantic by any means, nor did they stick when they slammed into the ground at breakneck speeds.

By the end of the day, it had all melted away as quickly and quietly as it had come.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

365/53 Anjou wine and virtuosity.

365/53 Anjou wine and virtuosity.

"Infatuated, half through conceit, half through love of my art, I achieve the impossible working as no one else ever works."

Alexander Dumas

Fifty two in fifty two. It was an ambitious idea. Reading fifty books in fifty two weeks, that is. As of this very moment, I'm batting one for fifty two. Yes. I suck.

The book I'm reading right now is The Club Dumas. It's one of my favorites. The movie The 9th Gate is based on it. I'm not sure if I like the book because of the movie or the movie because of the book. They both have their quirks and interesting parts.

It's about a book dealer who must authenticate an original copy of the Anjou Wine serial manuscript from Alexander Dumas' The Three Muskateers. I won't go into detail. I certainly won't do it justice. The Wikipedia entry on it is fairly good and picks up on a few nuances that I missed the first time I read it. I think the most interesting part was the sheer number of literary references contained within. Little hints to lead off in other directions and reads once this one is complete.

Although, first things first. I'll have to read The Three Muskateers again, once done. It's only right.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

365/52 Alegria ... the aftermath

365/52 Alegria ... the aftermath

A baroque ode to the energy, grace, and power of youth.

Home again, home again. Cirque du Soleil's Alegría is in town. It's rare that we get to see a big event like this and take the whole family out, so my wife purchased tickets for us all as a Valentine's Day treat. More importantly, we wanted the kids to see what a modern day performance troupe was like. Not quite a circus, but something more, something to be remembered.

From the Alegría website:

Alegría is a mood, a state of mind. The themes of the show, whose name means "jubilation" in Spanish, are many. Power and the handing down of power over time, the evolution from ancient monarchies to modern democracies, old age, youth—it is against this backdrop that the characters of Alegría play out their lives. Kings' fools, minstrels, beggars, old aristocrats and children make up its universe, along with the clowns, who alone are able to resist the passing of time and the social transformations that accompany it.

To put it succinctly, the performance was outstanding. There were many moments throughout the show where I would have killed for a 300mm lens and my camera. There were so many moments that would have been wonderful to capture and bring home. And the costumes. Oh, I need to find a costumer!

Favorite acts? The Fire Knife Dance and the Flying Man.

Favorite characters? The clowns and the White Singer (who had a hauntingly powerful and rich voice).

Sadly, the performance ended too soon. It wasn't enough, even at over two hours. But that's just my greedy opinion.

We ended up making our way to a local pizza joint for dinner, stuffing ourselves with various meat and cheese delicacies. Snapped a quick photo of my daughter with the iphone because she was being very cute. Later, once the kids were all in bed, and I was alone to find my photo of the day, I looked at that, but it was missing something. A few shots later and I had my Alegría aftermath photographed and ready for the day.

Monday, February 22, 2010

365/51 One burger at a time.

365/51 One burger at a time.

Went on a drive Saturday afternoon, with the intent of doing some outdoor photography out by one of the lakes. Plans didn't work out so well, so we ended up driving out to Inkslake after a few false starts along 71, going towards Burnet and Marble Falls.

Inkslake State Park is smaller than I had envisioned it, but still had some really interesting creek features running through it. We ended up hiking back beyond Devil's Cove (or whatever they called it). Did a few HDR shots of the rock features and spent about half an hour doing some flash work and portraiture. I kick myself for not packing the umbrella and light stand onto the backpack. I didn't expect to actually find a good place to shoot, so I didn't bother hooking it up to carry.

I was wrong. We were too far back into the trail to go back for it and have time to shoot; the light was failing fast and we were dealing with an already overcast and dwindling day.

But, we made the best of it. I set up a single flash and dialed down everything so the background was dark. Maybe too dark, really. I was thinking about that Joe McNally photo where the biker is standing on the edge of the water with the light feathered off so it only fell upon her upper body and face. Needed the umbrella.

When we got back, I played with the photos for a bit and found that they turned out much better when converted to black and white.

Ended up stopping by Mighty Fine Burgers. I had never been before. As burgers go, it was alright. Nothing like a Dirty Martin's burger, though. Waiting for the order, we stood near the meat prep window and watched as some unnamed meat man handler was turning balls of meatdough into some of the hugest patties we'd ever seen. I bet you didn't know that the secret to a good hamburger is to make the center thinner than the rest of the patty. Makes it cook better, more evenly. You don't end up with a round, tiny burger with a big fat middle. Nice and even. Like a burger should be.

Here's a few of the portraits from earlier in the day. I think second is my favorite. What say you?

Inkslake 2010-2876Inkslake 2010-2874Inkslake 2010-2873

Saturday, February 20, 2010

365/50 Don't worry, it only seems kinky at first.

365/50 Don't worry, it only seems kinky at first.

"The purpose of morality is to teach you, not to suffer and die, but to enjoy yourself and live."

Ayn Rand

He looked at the hatchet as if it were an alien extension of his arm. It didn't move right. It didn't feel right. It was balanced wrong. It moved too slow. It over swung. It under cut. It did everything it wasn't supposed to do. Had it been sharper, it would have split my head in two.

Luckily, it missed.

He decided to bleach his hair this evening and give it some pink tint. We're talking locks of blonde and hello kitty pink. Shockingly pink. I'm afraid to go see what the shower looks like after that short foray into modern hair care toning.

He hasn't had a good photo taken of him in quite some time, so we figured, hey ... what the hell? I still had the equipment set up and I still needed a photo for the day. But, what prop would we use? There was a sword, but that seemed to vapid. There was a guitar, but that seemed too cliché. We toyed with the idea of him screaming into the camera, rockstar-style (he found it impossible to keep a straight face). We tried a few manly poses, and while they worked, they were not what I wanted (although, he was very delighted with them).

In the end, I handed him a hatchet and we started to play. The first thing we found? We didn't have enough room to really play with a hatchet. Everything was too close for comfort: the lights, the background, ... me. So we ended up with just a simple shot of him holding the hatchet while we tried to figure out what to do next. It was very much an off-the-cuff shot, something to keep the rhythm going.

What caught my eye was the shirt. My Sherlock Holmes wasn't on the ball, so it took me a bit to notice what it had said: "Don't worry, it only seems kinky at first." When it finally clicked, I had a good laugh. There he was, playing with this damned hatchet and THAT on his shirt. What a serendipitous moment!

The hatchet was taken away soon after. Safety third, and all.

I've noticed how much more difficult it is to work with this 54" wide roll of seamless as compared to a 108" wide roll. You certainly have to restrict your movement left and right, as well as front to back. There's really only a small zone of acceptable photography when posing before one of these narrower rolls. Very easy to veer left and right and catch what's beyond the paper. Same with coming too far away from it; your framing needs to be on the edge of seeing the crap behind the paper. It doesn't help that my shooting area is shared space for the family, so there's stuff pilled up and around to make room for me. That makes light placement difficult.

The things we suffer through to fixate on our art. Go figure.

And as a special bonus: another photo from this evening, taken shortly after our friendly hatchet-weilding friendly left the room. Roughly the same light setup as before: one light, one 15" softbox, no more than 4 feet away from the model. Easypeasy.


Friday, February 19, 2010

365/49 Any !@$% light available!

365/49 Any !@$% light available!

"Mr. Smith, is the only good light available light?" came the question.

He leaned into the microphone. "Yes," he baritoned, and paused.

A shudder ran through all of us. That was it! No more flash! God's light or nothing!

But then he leaned back into the mic, "By that, I mean, any &*%%@$ light that's available."

Joe McNally

For those that have followed me, you'll know that I have a certain affinity for photographing fire. There's a certain appeal to watching the flames lick the air while being tossed around a dancer's body like it was nothing but a cheap child's toy. I've been doing this for a few years now and occasionally go back to some of my earlier work to see how I've progressed since I began.

The most prominent difference between then and now is that I seem to be focusing less on the fire and more on the person. Capturing faces mixed with the flames is where I really dig the image. It was a bit of a novelty to do extended shutter times before, drop the aperture to a good F8 or F11, and then click away until the flash card went full. I loved the tracing arcs and random flips. It was a fiery light painting for which I could do no wrong.

But, as time went on, I found myself getting more and more bored with it. If you're around fire spinners for awhile, you get to see what the routines are, what the moves are, what the pace is. Pretty soon, those images begin to look all the same. I began looking for new people to photograph playing with fire. If it was the same old dance, I just moved along. But, when someone new came out, I would watch them. You could tell when someone was going to do something new and different. The focus was different because I paid more attention to what they were experiencing within the circle of flames than I was watching the flames themselves.

I went from poi, to staff, to fire swords, to ... well, whatever I hadn't seen before.

The more these photos evened out, repeated, and circled back, the more I wanted to stop shooting fire. But, then I began focusing more on the person, watching their expressions while the flames licked at their heels. They were often so focused on the task at hand, they let their guard down, relaxing from the day's stress, and letting the fire wind them down. These were the moments I wanted to record. The intensity, the creativity, the expression.

So, I began focusing on it. The more I did it, the more I realized that it was the expression that brought the photo to life, not the fire. And now I find myself paying attention to this before I even think about touching the fire.

I've tried a few times mixing flash and flame with not much notable success. I haven't yet figured out how to control the two together. It should be like any other light, right? Not when you have another person doing a controlled chaotic throw of one of your light sources. This is one hell of a continuous light ... it continually moves all in the right or wrong direction. Makes you get better at anticipating where the flame will be when you need it in the frame. The last thing you want to do is trigger the shutter and find that the face has been plastered over by hot, burning flames o' death.

But I digress. I'm having fun with the portrait side of flame. Even if it tinges everything a nice, glowing orange.

365/48 Aerodynamic. Like a brick.

365/48 Aerodynamic.  Like a brick.

"There is an art, it says, or rather, a knack to flying. The knack lies in learning how to throw yourself at the ground and miss."


Well, not exactly flying. More like hovering with style and grace. I imagine this is what it would look like to be strung up once the hangman has been paid his silver. Just swinging in the wind. Sorry, that was a bit morbid.

It's interesting how your mind can warp an image in one direction or another depending upon the state of your subconscious as you approach. I think that's what makes every photo unique for every person: everyone interprets the image in multiple ways depending upon the mood, phase of the moon, amount of sleep deprivation, or even how much the stomach is growling. Anything and everything can affect how you view something.

When I made this photo, I wanted to do a triptych showing me launching into the air: the ready, the steady, the go. All in perfect focus and giving you the sense of wanting to get up and spring forth into the air. But, when I got it in Lightroom to choose the photo for the day, it really did strike me how eerily close this would be to a lynching photo, if I were surrounded by a pitchfork-and-torch wielding mob. All it needed was a bit of rope.

Like I said. It was a little morbid.

Trying to find other ideas to shoot before the charcoal background. I'm limited in both time and width when it comes to this stuff, so the first few photos have been thrown together at the last moment and limited to what I could nail into the frame in a short width. It's been a trip trying to find stuff that will work and I've only been doing this two days. The hard part, I think, is finding suitable subjects. I don't think you want to be staring at my ugly mug for the next 300+ days (as much as my ego thinks you should ... just sayin').

Here, I'm lit with a single SB-900 in my lastolite ezybox. Nothing fancy. Like I said, thrown together at the last minute. And boy, is it freakin' tiring trying to get a jump timed so that it's captured at the right moment with the intervalometer. Just damned annoying.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

365/47 Cheap Sunglasses

365/47 Cheap Sunglasses

When you wake up in the morning and the light is hurt your head

The first thing you do when you get up out of bed

Is hit that streets a-runnin' and try to beat the masses

And go get yourself some cheap sunglasses

Oh yeah, oh yeah, oh yeah

ZZ Top, "Cheap Sunglasses"

Finally got around to setting up the charcoal background out in the garage. Easy-peasy. I don't have a proper background stand, so I had to MacGyver something together with some light stands, a paperclip, three oversized clamps, and something that looks almost, but not quite, entirely unlike a small badger. Ok, it was a dust bunny that had to be wiped off the steel bar I used as a cross piece.

One of the annoying things with doing self-portraits is that I don't have a good way to trigger the camera, so I have to rely upon the intervalometer at some randomly short duration and just fake it. I'm certainly getting better at judging where the right focal zone should be and striking a pose when the camera lamp flashy-things me right before the shutter clicks over. It would certainly be better if I could trigger the camera remotely when I wanted to.

But, that's just a minor gripe.

Tonight, I just needed something quick and easy, so I grabbed my wife's pink sunglasses. For some reason, I kept thinking that the ZZ Top song was about pink sunglasses. It bounced around in my head for a bit and every time it came up, pink kept getting inserted for cheap. Funny how your brain misremembers little things like that in songs.

Ended up with about 20 shots. I liked this one the most, although there's one photo where I'm vamping for the camera. It's like Buddy Christ was being channeled through me and straight into the camera. No, seriously. I had the cheesy thumbs up, finger point, grin, and all. But you won't be seeing that photo. No, really, you won't.

This was a simple setup: one light, SB-900 at 1/16th power, shot through a 15" Lastolite Ezybox Hotshoe about 4 feet away and off at a 45 degree angle to camera left. It's about 5 feet off the ground. All triggered via pocket wizard.

Oh, and to top it off, I finally figured out why my SB-900 was letting the first image always get cut off with the black band when shooting at the highest sync speed: the damn thing kept falling asleep between each series of photos! The first one was the only one doing it. I guess when I'm doing full-manual mode with the pocket wizards, the flash is timing out due to inactivity. I never noticed it when running with CLS because the flash just stayed on. I must have set up my SB-800's to never fall asleep (or at least wait for a few minutes), which is why I don't recall ever seeing this problem with them.

Go figure. Learn something new every day.

Until then ... go get yourself some pink, err, cheap sunglasses.

365/46 Zen and the art of life maintenance

365/46 Zen and the art of life maintenance

Yes, another food post. I couldn't help it. Zen and I go way back. You see, I have this love-hate relationship with Zen. I hate going there because I love the food so much. I always end up over-ordering and walking out of the place, well, more like being rolled out like Violet Beauregard.

I have a special place in my heart and stomach for their 7-pepper ahi. It's spicy and delicious, crusted and seared along the edge like a good steak. Only, it's tuna, so it's momentarily better. I'm still trying to figure out how they make it. My multiple attempts to recreate it have failed softly. But not for lack of trying.

365/45 As black as coal ... charcoal, that is.

365/45 As black as coal ... charcoal, that is.

So, I've been quietly bitching to myself about not really being able to shoot at the house at night. There's just not a great place to do it because the house is so small and the backgrounds all suck. With three kids, two dogs, and three cats, there's just crap everywhere.

So I went and did something about it.

Picked up some charcoal background paper so I could set up in the garage and play around. Nothing fancy, mind you. Just something that I could put behind me and play with some close up portraits for my 365 project. Now that I have this, I'm going to get a bit more directed with my 365 ideas, I think.

Hey ... maybe I'll shoot less food.


Monday, February 15, 2010

365/44 Your dessert, Sir

365/44 Your dessert, Sir

"I cook with wine, sometimes I even add it to the food."

W.C. Fields

Valentine's Day is an odd holiday around our house. Because we love really good food and really good drink, we normally choose to forego celebrating the day on February 14th. Who wants to deal with abhorrent crowds and 45 minute table waits or, god forbid, the last minute attempt at table reservations. So we just skip it and have our V-day before the world spends it's pink and heart-filled reality out in a sea of overpacked and overbooked restaurants.

This year, we decided to try something more upscale and local: no chains for us. The lucky place? Peche, down in the Warehouse district between Fido's and Truluck's, is Austin's first absinthe bar. We didn't go for the absinthe (nor did we try it this go around). Instead, we went for the food, raved over by close friends. And this year, we decided to drag a good friend, MJ, along for the ride.

We decided for reservations at 5:30 to beat the normal dinner crowd and oh, beat it we did. The place didn't start hopping until around 6:30 or 7. The quiet lead up was much appreciated. Our waiter, Eric, was excellent. His suggestions for the evening were well placed and most delicious.

We began our journey with a few Bees Knees, a cocktail of gin, lemon, and honey syrup, recommended by MJ. Very smooth. My wife loved them. They were definitely good, but a bit tart for my taste (I have such a sweet tooth when it comes to cocktails). Next up, my wife had a French 76. It's not on their menu, but was, again, suggested to us by MJ. Vodka and champagne. When I told Eric I wanted something sweeter than the Bees Knees, he smiled and said he would find something appropriate. He came back a few minutes later, asking if I liked cucumber.

Now, I've never had cucumber before in a cocktail, so I was momentarily hesitant. He looked like a nice fellow, so what the hell? I decided to trust his judgement. He returned with, what I believe, was a cucumber martini. I took a sip, unsure of what to expect. Damn. The full flavor of cucumber hit me. Not so much an assault on the senses, but a full-flavored ninja martini smack down, sneaking up on you when you're not paying attention, delivering a subtle and ingenious zing. And then the unnoticed cayenne pepper flakes roared to life making the drink sing. Pipe organs came to life, Gregorian monks began to chant, there was a bright light and ... ok, not really. But it was outstanding. I would have it again.

For the appetizer, we noshed on braised pork belly and Nantucket Bay scallops. Ordinarily, my wife is very reluctant to order pork belly unless she knows it's done absolutely right. There's good pork belly and then there's horrid. It's a fine line between the two. Peche delivered something that met the mark and found approval from my wife. I tried not to horde it for myself.

Peche:  Braised Pork Belly with Nantucket Bay Scallops

For the second course, I had the caesar salad with a provolone panini crouton. She had the duck confit with polenta croutons in field greens. Sadly, I did not take photos of this. This was one of the most unique caesar salads I've ever had. Ordinarily, I would have expected a cream-heavy dressing; I looked at my salad wondering if they had forgotten it, but as I bit down onto a forkful of lettuce, my mouth exploded with the missing flavor. Looks were deceiving and I'm glad I fell for it. My wife's salad was just as good. I'll admit to stealing a few pieces of duck and polenta when she wasn't paying attention.

For the third course, we chose an array of items: I had the potato gnocchi with mushroom bolognese, Celena had the scallops with brown butter hollandaise, and MJ had the prime beef tenderloin with pommes puree. We proceeded to steal bits of food from each other's plates for the next half hour, with not a single complaint amongst us.

I'm selective about my potato gnocchi, very often preferring my own to anyone else's out there. Peche's gnocchi was light, fluffy, and tender. It melted away in your mouth as the slight peppery bite hit.

Peche:  Potatoe Gnocchi with Mushroom Bolognese

Celena is a bit of a scallop snob. Well, not a bit. She's a scallop snob. It's very easy to overcook scallops and ruin the richness of the meat. Peche does it right. As MJ says, Peche's scallops are the best she's ever had. They got the Celena stamp of approval (and hey, I liked them too).

Peche: Scallops with Celery Root & Brown Butter Hollandaise

MJ's tenderloin was flavorful and cooked to perfection: medium rare. If you are one of those fools who can only stand a well done cut of meat, this steak is not for you. Please move along and try something else. This one is for bon vivant meatasaurus rexes only. I, of course, stole a few extra bites of tenderloin when MJ wasn't paying attention.

Peche:  Prime Beef Tenderloin with Pommes Puree

Finally, we ended with dessert and I, being completely lost in the evening of savory serendipity, I forgot to take photos of the two dishes we ordered: a trio of ice cream lollipops in a chocolate shell and a mascarpone tart with strawberries and gelato. I need to learn how to make these tarts so I can have them whenever I want.

The photo of dessert (up top) that I did take was when Eric walked up to show us the chocolate tart for another table. At some point during the evening, we had gotten to discussing photography and how he spent time in South America photographing food there. I have to admit: the chocolate tart looked simply delicious.

In all, I was extremely delighted by the entire evening: the food, the service, the good discussions we all had. Definitely worth another visit to see what new things they come up with on their menu. And maybe we'll try some absinthe. It only hurts once, right?

Sunday, February 14, 2010

365/43 I have you now!

365/43 I have you now!

Wasn't feeling good on this, the 43rd day of the year. Ended up taking a sick day to try and get my reserves back up to normal. My wife drug us all out for dinner to get me out of the house. It did a bit of good. My head cleared up a bit, at least. The kids enjoyed dinner. It was sort of a Valentine's Day thing for them since the boys ended up staying late at school for a 5th grade dance. It's good to see them have fun. I think being able to spend some time with the family was the key to helping me recharge.

365/42 Here, Kitty, Kitty

365/42 Here, kitty, kitty

When in doubt, the Internet can use another photo of a cat.

I was feeling particularly uninspired this day. Such is life.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

365/41 The Light Craptastic

365/41 The Light Craptastic

Something small and distant broke through the cloud layer, trailing shreds of vapour. In the stratospheric calm the sounds of bickering came sharp and clear. "You said you could fly one of these things!" "No I didn't; I just said you couldn't!"

Rincewind and Twoflower attempt broomstick flying, The Light Fantastic

I drug my feet tonight (well, today) for my photo. I cheaped out at the last moment and thought I'd try to do something with a long exposure and some light painting. Word to the wise: don't cheap out on this. It's not something you can throw together without a plan and some supplies.

First problem I encountered? The !@#$ street light just outside the house. Sure, it's quite useful when it's pitch black outside, but not when you're trying to do long exposures on your camera that require a minimal amount of light. I'll need to move down to a darker section of the neighborhood. Maybe the parking lot of the community center will work. It's always pitch black over there after evening falls and the basketball court lights go dark.

Second problem I encountered? I really need to get a better light setup for doing this. I used a white LED flashlight for this attempt. It wasn't bright enough, having only one LED in it. I need more. Arrays of LEDs in fact. Something with more of a bare bulb to it so I can get fancier with the light as I paint it across the car. Other LED colors would help.

Third problem I encountered? Not having a remote trigger for this camera means I'm stuck doing 30 second exposures and then racing to the car to get one small bit of it painted. That means if I want to do anything significant, I will have to composite multiple photos together. In this particular case, I was just testing, so I only did a few bits before the cold overtook me and swept me back inside.

Overall, I like the effect. I just need to practice more and figure out how this stuff should all work together. At the very least, it shows that I can still have fun, standing under a street lamp at 11:30pm and still not be arrested by roving squad cars filled with the county deputies of the local sheriff's office. Go figure.

365/40 I'm eating what?

365/40 I'm eating what?

"Part of the secret of success in life is to eat what you like and let the food fight it out inside."

Mark Twain

Lunch is one of my favorite meals of the day, right next to dinner and breakfast. I love these three meals so much, it's not uncommon for me to mix them up at times. Breakfast for lunch, lunch for dinner, a shake, a snack, and maybe a mid-morning-day-evening coffee.

Every few weeks MJ and I have lunch together. I love eating lunch with friends. It gets my mind off work and into a relaxed state. I so very much require eating away from my desk as a reminder that my life isn't about work, nor is work my life.

As well, lunch must be hot. Or warm, at least. The idea of a cold lunch turns my stomach. A cold lunch is hollow. A cold lunch is miserable. And most of all, a cold lunch will not do. On this day of breaking bread, we had two different soups. I brought a homemade chicken noodle soup and MJ brought her homemade turkey, lime, and pinto bean soup. Both were quite delicious. I need to get her recipe; I think it would go well with shredded chicken.

And along the idea of eating what I want and what I like, we had another serving of my delicious bourbon bread pudding. This stuff goes a long way. I have one serving left at this point and I can feel my arteries hardening at the thought of finishing it up at one in the morning, in this dark house, while I write this post. Deadly.

I love photographing MJ. She never objects to the camera. Even when I'm shoving it into her face while she's attempting to enjoy her bowl of soup. That's what good friends do for you. They put up with your shit, even when it happens during a warm, relaxing lunch.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

365/39 Why, oh why, didn't I take the blue pill?

365/39 Why, oh why, didn't I take the blue pill?

This is your last chance. After this, there is no turning back. You take the blue pill - the story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill - you stay in Wonderland and I show you how deep the rabbit-hole goes.

Morpheus, The Matrix

Today would have been the day to have a brain crushing headache. All the signs were there, except the neurons firing off half-cocked. They should have been there, ravaging what's left of my brain. Thankfully? They weren't. All I could think about today was how much easier it would have been if I had taken that sad little blue pill that returned me back to normality.

Because of all this, I've had trouble today finding something interesting and photo-worthy. I played with the cats and the camera for some time. They were entirely thrilled with that. Heh. Reminds me of a quote from a friend: "Bloodplay? No thanks, I've already got cats."


I've been lazy with the camera the last few days when setting up shots. Something simple: bouncing a single flash off the wall because it's cheap, easy, and means I don't have to do much striking of equipment when I'm done. It works reasonably well enough to get some depth and shadow in the photo, but there's not as much control as I'd like. Trade-offs, you know?

The more I get into this 365-a-day project, the more I find that the photo is easier to do if I don't have to bury myself in gear to get it. But, this is contrary to my aim of the project, which is to slowly incorporate more gear into the photo so I get used to working with it on a consistent basis. This is for lighting, mostly. A balancing game, if you will. One thing is for sure: I need to get a few shades of seamless paper to have more options to shoot against. I'm getting tired of black backgrounds or wooden table ones. Need something different.

For now, I'll focus on what's in front of me and try not to let the bottle of Tylenol rule my head.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

365/38 Bourbon and bread ... this is the high life.

365/38 Bourbon and bread ... this is the high life.

"A horrid alcoholic explosion scatters all my good intentions like bits of limbs and clothes over the doorsteps and into the saloon bars of the tawdriest pubs."

Dylan Thomas

Today, after a long night and a short sleep, I decided I needed to make something decadent. I've long been a fan of good bread pudding and recently came across a recipe for Bourbon Bread Pudding.

I must say, I never before realized just how rich this stuff was. This recipe called for 3 cups of heavy cream, a cup and a half of brown sugar, butter, LOTS of bourbon (we certainly couldn't give the kids any of the sauce). I found myself snacking on leftover crumbles of butter, sugar, and cinnamon that managed to not make it into the last part of baking. Definitely dangerous for the gut, but only because it's making me fatter.

Oh, and as I mentioned, there was quite a bit of bourbon called for by the recipe gods: 3/4 of a cup to be exact. My wife commented about the smell from across the house while I was cooking up the raisins in the alcohol. Yes, some of it cooked down, but there was still enough left over that you could taste the alcohol ... not just the flavor of bourbon ... in both the sauce and pudding. Delicious. Oh, and the bourbon? I don't think it was anything special. I'm not a connoisseur of bourbon, but reviews on the good ol' intarwebs say that Old Forester was a solid brand. Not bad for a $13 bottle of spirits to cook with.

I think the only "bad" thing about how I made this recipe was not cutting the bread into small enough pieces. I made fairly uniform slices and cuts, so the pudding ended up with uniformly large pieces throughout. As well, I think if I had torn up the bread it would have met with better success.

Overall, though, I would classify this one as a must cook again. Even though it's going to make me fat. This is the price we pay for being refined Internet epicureans, eh?

Oh yeah ... the bourbon bottle in case you're interested.

365/37 The Witching Hour?

365/37 The Witching Hour?

"Last night I stayed up late playing poker with Tarot cards. I got a full house and four people died."

Stephen Wright

Didn't have much time to set the stage for a photo on this particular evening. Spent the early part of the day lounging around the house and then scrambling to get some errands done before going out with some friends. I lost 8 hours somewhere leading up to 3:43am when I finally staggered into bed, whereupon I remembered I needed to take my photo for the day.

Today, I would be cataloging the moment I went to sleep. That's all you get.

3:43am it is, baby. Turn off the lights and come to bed.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

365/36 All you need is love ... and twinkies

365/36 All you need is love ... and twinkies

Ok, so I wanted to do something different. Love is different, right? And twinkies? Everyone loves a good twinkie. Especially those cherry red, coconut-covered twinkies. I can hear your arteries hardening right now as you read this. Remember, when the zombie apocalypse comes, the only food that'll be left and edible will be the twinkies. BILLIONS of twinkies. In warehouses and shops all over the world.

But I digress.

This weekend is our latest Austin Strobist meetup. We have a contest going right now to depict love in one of it's many facets. My wife bought the twinkies today and when I saw them, I started thinking about how they would look cut into the shape of a heart. I played with the idea most of the evening. I kept stumbling over the fact that twinkies aren't very ... heart-shaped. Even if you cut them in the right way, they still look a bit wonky.

Once I accepted the fact that I really wanted to use twinkies for this idea, I started looking for other things to go with it. Crushed chili peppers! Red and orange ones! Pepper flakes! Sadly, I didn't have those. But this got me thinking about spelling the word "love" out with herbs we have laying around the house. We've got this large shaker of paprika from a few years back. Paprika isn't a commonly used spice in our home, so the spice is well aged. My wife and I debated it for a moment and came to the conclusion that it would be clump in a non-uniform way. In other words, it would look like shit.

So, next plan.

We didn't have crushed chili flakes, but we did have chili powder. Nope ... too orange. Rosemary? Coarse, but the bag we have is full of pale and extremely dried out rosemary. It didn't look good. Next? A bag of dried lemon balm. This has a naturally darker color than the rosemary, so we used that for the "L". The "O" was dried tea leaves that had been sitting around waiting for a use. I liked the dark and uniform layering of the tea. The "V", was our heart made of twinkies. I ate the right ventricle after shooting. It was tasty. And finally, the "E" was a heavy arrangement of jasmine flowers. I wanted the light straw coloring to give the photo a bit of different texture from the other ingredients.

After arranging it all and making sure I didn't do something stupid like misspell the word "love", I started in with the lights. The 15" Lastolite Ezybox Hotshoe came to the rescue! Initially, I didn't like the shadow it was casting on the butt-side of the twinkie. The more I look at, the more it grows on me.

As of today, I'm 36 photos into this 365 session. I was talking about this with a friend this afternoon and we were discussing how difficult it is to come up with unique photos the farther along this project goes. There's only so many times I can photograph the same building, the same squirrel, the same goofie self-portrait, the same ... whatever. You get the picture. 36 days, 36 photos. I feel somewhat accomplished. I'm not entirely happy with some of the photos in the 365-set, but that's ok. This is an effort in self-improvement, not an effort in getting 365 good photos. I know that some will suck and that's ok.

For now, I'm going to clean up and leave this idea where it's at. 36 photos, 36 unique viewpoints. All done and accounted for. Here's to 329 more days. Somewhere around day 100, I know that I'm going to hit a wall on this. Hopefully I'll be able to push onwards and upwards. After all, that's what this is project is about: self-discipline and improving my photographic eye.

Fun stuff. Fun indeed.

365/35 Starbucks Sheep

365/35 Starbucks sheep.

A slice of pumpkin loaf and a white chocolate mocha was what I needed this day. Ordinarily, I would steer clear of such an overpriced and carbo-bomb, but ... I needed it. I had a craving for something sweet and decadent tasting. Had to take the obligatory iPhone photo to tease friend who isn't allowed coffee right now.


Baaaaa. Coffee. Starbucks? A momentary lapse of culinary reason.

I do apologize!

Thursday, February 4, 2010

365/34 On the porch

365/34 On the porch

"What you see and hear depends a good deal on where you are standing; it also depends on what kind of a person you are."

C.S. Lewis

I was standing on the porch tonight for a bit, listening to the rain and thinking about the idea of visualizing a scene before photographing it. I'm still reading VisionMongers and need to re-read Within the Frame to soak in some of the more salient points that I hi-lighted. Only, when I say I'm doing these things, I mean I haven't touched either book in about two weeks. Slacker. Go me!

So, tonight, after writing this, I will redouble my efforts towards refining my visualization and go back to reading those books. Then maybe I'll pick up Joe McNally's The Moment It Clicks again and page through that to find the interesting bits again.

This 365 project has been interesting visually and ideologically for me because it's forcing me to pick and choose my subjects in a way that I hadn't before. I find myself thinking more about the image that will work, even if it's but a momentary pause before making the photo. As well, it's making me play with ideas that I wouldn't have thought about before. For example, one of the things that I've toyed with recently was the attempt to capture motion in frame.

The blurring of bodies seems powerful to me, like a hummingbird's wings moving faster than one can normally see. Sometimes I don't want to capture the crisp detail of the image, but rather the unfocused reality of it.

I can see where each of these photos is making me think more specifically about the photo, the intent of it. Yes, intent. Something that's lacking for a lot of my photos. I can be super critical about it because I can tell what's crap about them. Well, at least, what I think is crap about them. For good or bad, this mood is also bleeding out to the photos of other photographers. I can't look at a photo now and appreciate it for exactly what it is. Or rather, I have a very hard time doing it now. I seem to be evaluating everything at the moment and looking for the good points, the bad points, the boring points, the outstanding exquisiteness of it, so I can incorporate, bend, mold, and change into my vision.

Frankly, there's a lot of crap out there. And like I said, I count mine in there as well. But, even though it's crap, it still makes me stop and think about it. I guess that's the point of all this. To make you stop and think. Re-evaluate, decompose, reconstruct, and stand there in front of it so you can see how it might be better.

Meanwhile, I stand out on the porch, in the rain, continuing to struggle with that idea of seeing because, frankly ... much of the time I look, I'm just blind, too focused on the wrong parts to see the right ones. Eventually, it will all pull together. Until then, I keep shooting. Even if it's raining.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

365/33 In the Mist

365/33 In the Mist

"Were I called on to define, very briefly, the term art, I should call it "the Reproduction of what the senses perceive in nature through the veil of the mist."

Edgar Allan Poe

It was another frigid day in Austin. I long for the warm spring days where I can walk to work wearing the cool comfort of shorts and not worry about bundling up in gloves, woolen cap, and heavy overcoat. Today, the rain continues to come in a bad drizzle. Annoying. It should either rain cats and dogs or not at all. Drizzle is nothing but a weathered tease that makes your wipers smear and drag. So, I long for the days when I can drag my camera out without fear of getting it drenched in sprinkles and wet.

Today, the weather was dank. And overcast. And utterly drab. We've got chilling towers that run coolant for the power generation systems, amongst other things. On days like today, the dew temperature is high enough to let chillers create swirls of ground-level cloud banks. It's very wispy and voluminous. When you get close enough, you can feel the droplets of fine mist that hang upon the air.

It's very pretty when it occurs. It just covers everything in the area. You can feel the mist for blocks around. Feel it before you see it. Normally, I don't get up early enough to take photos of mist. It's always boiling off in the morning sun by the time I'm up and out the door. There's a few photos I'd like to make with the mist, but I have to get over the hurdle of waking up first.

Like the windmill that I pass everyday on my short drive to work. With it's water tower beside it, overgrown with ivy and hornets' nests.

I've been paying attention to little things like this and watching how time changes it's makeup in a photo. One of these days, I will watch as that windmill collapses and cuss at myself for not having spent the time to photograph it exactly as I want. This isn't a matter of a missed photo opportunity. I have the opportunity everyday.

What matters now, is waiting for the time to be right, the light to be right, the wildlife living in and around it to be right. And it never is. I suspect, with this one, my standards are just too high for me to ever be satisfied with the final outcome of the photo.

Looking at the chimney, this morning, I knew the moment was right when I saw the lightning rods poking out from above the man-made cloud front and all the surrounding buildings were under a complete white out. I've only seen this happen half a dozen times. A rarity, really.

So, I took the photo, took it again, took it once more, and finally, settled in on the mist-filled moment that you see above. I like it. It works.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

365/32 Ball in Hand

Ball in hand

"My attitude toward punctuation is that it ought to be as conventional as possible. The game of golf would lose a good deal if croquet mallets and billiard cues were allowed on the putting green. You ought to be able to show that you can do it a good deal better than anyone else with the regular tools before you have a license to bring in your own improvements."

Ernest Hemingway

I know. It's not a great photo. I've always loved the lighting in this pool hall for some reason. Every light down low, at eye-level. But not blinding you. It's focused and directed at the movement at hand: the balls, the cue, the felt, the chalked hand, the strike.

There's a particular photo I would love to get in this place: someone suspended above the tables while everyone ignores and continues on playing their game of billiards. But, all you would see of the players is there ghostly impression capturing the movement of their games. The one act of stillness coming from the suspension above it all.

That's my vision. That's what I see when I come into this place.

Monday, February 1, 2010

365/31 Body Paint

365/31 Body Painting

"Who sees the human face correctly: the photographer, the mirror, or the painter?"

Pablo Picasso

Another day, another interesting and new photo concept for me. Spent the afternoon with the guys from Curvy Canvas to do some promotional photos for their body painting work to seed the upcoming Mardi Gras and Carnival celebrations here in Austin.

We'd been shooting email back and forth every few weeks since last September. "Hey, you know, we should shoot!" "Yeah, that's a great idea!" You know, the basic song and dance trying to get things worked out to where we both had a free afternoon to get it done. Well, that was Sunday.

Now, having said that, I have to mention that we've had another cold snap in Austin. It was in the 30's today so we ended up shooting inside the entire time. I wish it had been a bit warmer. More like the 60's. The house we were shooting at had this wonderful gazebo and hammock out in the back yard that would have worked in a most complimentary way with the first model (above) and the celtic design that was airbrushed onto her.

Sadly, it couldn't work out the way I wanted. Blue, frozen models don't work so well when you're trying to photograph them. Unless, you know, you're going for that morbid corpse look. But I digress.

After finishing up with the two models, we began packing up and someone mentioned doing a quick shot of the first laying out across the bamboo floor. An excellent idea! So, we had her lay out and a quick arrangement of the softbox and her hair and ... voilà! Instant hotness. Pushed the softbox around after a few more clicks until I got the shadow arrangement that I wanted.

This was one of my favorites from the shoot. And, if you ever need any bodypainting, you should definitely check out the Curvy Canvas folks. Excellent attitudes and artistry.

365/30 OpsCamp: The Beginning (or, what geeks do on weekends)

365/30 OpsCamp:  Matt and Tom

"Experience: that most brutal of teachers. But you learn, my God do you learn."

C.S. Lewis

I'm a big believer in trying to push the envelope when it comes to learning new things. This is especially true when it comes to my photography and my current career (I'm an IT geek by profession). So, whenever the opportunity to learn something new or be surrounded by people doing unique and interesting things arises, I'm all for jumping in and getting involved.

This occurred on Saturday with the running of the bulls ... ok, not really. What occurred on Saturday was OpsCamp, an extension of CloudCamp, here in Austin. I won't really get into the nuts and bolts of what occurred here; others will do a far better job than I.

Basically, OpsCamp was an intellectual get-together of systems operations folks, programmers/developers, and vendors. It was an unconference. No one knew, going in, what we'd really talk about, the direction we'd go, or the final outcome, if there even was one. I don't know that anything concrete came out of this, other than a need for further work in this area.

We certainly got to ask some difficult questions, talk about some difficult subjects, and figure out who else was out there doing the things we were doing operationally. Oh, and we got a chance to tell vendors where they needed to improve their products.

In the end, I met some good people and have forged a few more relationships in my technical network that could prove useful as I move further a long in my career.

Oh, and here's a few more photos of the event. Nothing special, just some things I found interesting that caught my eye for one reason or another.

The organizer.

OpsCamp:  Dave

The session lineup.

OpsCamp: The Lineup

The Audience

OpsCamp:  The Audience

The AfterCamp

After OpsCamp