Bees, Bugs, Buddha Beach

Posted in Arizona Images, Photography Tricks on June 7th, 2012 by MadDog
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One year and a week ago I arrived in Sedona for a visit. I’m still here. It’s going to be a very long visit. It makes my head spin to think that I’ve been here for a year. It seems impossible.

I’ve been enjoying the delights of my new Canon EF 100mm ƒ2.8 L IS USM 1-to-1 Macro Lens. A few days ago I hiked along the highway leading from Sedona to The Village of Oak Creek where we live. When the new highway was built the county agreed to plant high desert wildflowers along the way as a part of the deal for funds. Though we have had a very dry spring, it is still beautiful. We’ve had no rain since the last snow melted. Yellow flowers predominate this time of year and bees were busy everywhere:On the side of our house I saw the latest alien to vacate its flying saucer and to take up residence in Sedona:

It’s easy to see this as some sort of machine.

I found this incredibly tiny grasshopper, about 4mm long, crawling around on my Sweet Basil. It was very adept at avoiding my camera lens. I finally had to coax it out onto the pavement to get a shot:

While hiking down Oak Creek from Red Rock Crossing with Jo Noble, our visitor from England, we came upon a man who suggested we follow the trail for another mile to a place called Buddha Beach. There is a middling-sized pool there and a long sandy beach. Just inside the scrubby forest there is a large area of rounded river rocks. Visitors there have erected thousand of small stone cairns. The image below is a compilation of about eighty shots processed with Microsoft ICE (Image Composite Editor) and uploaded to Microsoft Photosynth:

I’ve heard some complaints that such activities ruin the natural beauty of the area. I think that’s a little picky. The next time Oak Creek floods, if we ever get any rain, these will all be put back into their proper places.

On the way I saw this tiny blue flower sticking up from the earth with no leaves of any kind, just the stem. It was about the size of a pencil eraser:I think I see the empty shell of some insect hanging from the lower petal.

Okay, things are getting pretty random now. Here is a Madang sunrise that will soon be printed out on a seven by two foot canvas to be mounted in the corner of our bathroom over the Jacuzzi. I’ll put up a picture of it when I get it hung. Gracie has art all over the house, so I’m presently consigned to hanging my work in the bathroom:I’ll have to make a point of offering  the “master” bathroom to visitors when they are of a mind to refresh themselves.

Wandering further afield, I’ll show you a picture from our visit to Glendale Glitters, a mid-winter festival held in Glendale, Arizona each year. What you see here is only a small portion of a large park set alight. I can’t even imagine putting up all of those bulbs. They are electronically controlled so that the light patterns change and move about on the trees:Finally, I’ll show you Jo’s nice legs, which she, quite unreasonably, says that she hates. I don’t get it:She was standing on some rocks in Oak Creek in her cute runners and her Air New Zealand freebie socks. I had to lay down on my side on the creek bank to get this shot of her with a few cairns in the background. I used the Oil Paint filter in Photoshop CS6 to give the image some interesting twisty-ness. It’s becoming my favorite. It’s easily the most versatile and amusing one-click artistic enhancement filter in Photoshop. Its combination of sliders offer a cornucopia of effects varying from subtle to goofy.

We’re off to Dallas tomorrow for a week of conferences and integration with the Media Arts Team who are my coworkers in my new job. I’ve been working on an assignment for a few weeks. It’s time to get the bugs out and produce the first project of my fresh start.

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More Macro Madness

Posted in Photography Tricks on April 22nd, 2012 by MadDog
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Life continues to be far busier than I imagined it might be here in Sedona. In fact, my hope of “simplifying” seems to be dashed. I sometimes thought that living in Madang was overly complex, considering the physical and social environment.  Our most common refrain was, “It’s always something!”, implying that just when things seem to be in control some forgotten detail or requirement rears up and makes its obnoxious presence known. It would be ungrateful of me to complain, so I’ll just make the observation that simply maintaining an existence in America is far more demanding of time, immensely more complex and requires the absorption much more information than does drifting through life in Madang. I’m barely keeping my head above water. I find that I barely or not at all understand much of what I’m doing. Most of the time I’m following the instructions of someone who’s paid to guide me through some thing or another and signing on the dotted line when required. I think I’m managing the big picture, but I’m being dragged along by the nitty-gritty.

Fortunately, I can escape the circus once in a while for an hour or so of  clear thinking and working my craft. It’s an amazing thing to have my hands on the kind of equipment I’ve always dreamed of. The title implies that this post is all about macro stuff, but I have some other images today. My Canon 70-300 zoomer has been neglected lately. It’s a workhorse lens with no particular glamorous features, though it performs its mundane tasks superbly, as this shot of a full moon rising behind a dead tree across the street attests:

Luna is partially obscured by a thin Cirrus cloud layer, softening the details of its topography and creating a soft halo. The tree is about 150 feet away and the moon is about 24,000 miles from the front of my lens. I might have stopped the lens down to ƒ32 and gotten them both in focus, but that would have required a tripod and a long exposure. This shot was taken at 300mm, ƒ22, 1/13 second with image stabilization. This combination just barely allowed me to capture the image hand-held.

Another task for which this workhorse lens excels is bird watching. Serious bird watchers will want more powerful zooms, but for my modest efforts this glass is my ticket to ride. We have some lovely birds visiting our back yard daily. One of my favorites is the Western Scrub Jay (Aphelocoma californica).  I tossed a handful of peanuts on the ground near the bird bath in the back yard, set up the Canon on a tripod and started recording HD video while I went about my business with other things:

The Western Scrub Jay from Jan Messersmith.

After about forty minutes I copied the video file to my laptop and edited out the blank spots, added a little public domain music and some titles. You can listen to the song of the Western Scrub Jay here.

Changing lenses now, I’ll blather on about my new favorite, the 100mm macro. This piece of glass is not simply a microscope for the little things. It’s a great all-round lens for many situations. I like the flattening effect of the mild zoom for portraits and its tack-sharp images and very wide range of apertures make it my favorite carry-around lens. Here’s an example of a “normal” shot in which the lens excels:

In the full resolution image from the camera the level of detail in this image is amazing. Even in the 2000 pixel wide shot, it conveys a lot of visual detail. A lens like this is really wasted on web images. It takes a full magazine page printed well to make it shine. I wish I was still in a position to sell some articles.

The shot above was taken at Red Rock Crossing, one of my favorite places for a calm walk in the woods. While walking down the shore of Oak Creek we came across an amazing example of fossil ripples in the red Schnebly Hill Sandstone formation:

After doing a little Googling on the subject I conclude that this example of fossil ripples is one of the best which is easy to visit. Here is a shot of another location nearby:

The 100mm focal length of the Canon macro lens is perfect for this shot. The slight foreshortening of distance accentuates the effect of the ripples in the red sandstone. We found three examples of the ripples within an area of a hundred feet or so.

Green being my favorite color and the high desert being particularly short of this shade, I’m snapping everything green that I can find:

Spring is coming on strong. I’m waiting for the rains which will hopefully paint the desert with flowers. I’m wishing for scenes reminiscent of the old Oscar-winning Walt Disney The Living Desert movie which I remember seeing when I was about ten years old, a very long time ago.

While I’m still showing big things shot with the macro lens I’ll show you a mysterious (to me, anyway) series of holes in a Schnebly Hill Sandstone layer at Bell Rock, a famous formation just on the edge of The Village of Oak Creek where we live:

It’s interesting to speculate what might have caused these holes. Being lined up in the same strata implies that whatever caused them was fairly brief in nature and rather unique, since I see no other examples in the area. My personal favorite explanation is that some event caused a large number of stream-rounded boulders of soft rock to be deposited more or less at once on the flat layer of material which later became the red sandstone of the area. When the Schnebly Hill Sandstone eroded, these soft rocks eroded more quickly, leaving the cavities. If you can do better than my guess, please wade in with a comment.

Here’s a nice shot of an ancient looking tree on the side of Bell Rock. The 100mm macro is a great lens for this kind of shot:

But, of course, the raison d’être for this chunk of glass is the little stuff:

Popping up everywhere in the desert are a variety of tiny blossoms which appear to me to be daisies of some kind. I’m hopelessly uninformed about the local flora. I’ve come from a place where I knew quite a bit to a place where I know nothing. (UPDATE – Within minutes of posting this I got word from my friend Anne-Marie Gregory in the UK that this is a Blackfoot Daisy – Melampodium leucanthum.)

But I I can appreciate the beauty and capture the images:

That will have to be enough for now. (UPDATE – Inspired by Anne-Marie, I found a good site for local wildflower identification. This look to me to be the Spreading Fleabane or Layered Daisy – Erigeron divergens.)

Cacti are mysterious to me. I never realized there are so many kinds:

There is no shortage of new things to learn about here in the high desert.

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Holy Macro!

Posted in Photography Tricks on April 16th, 2012 by MadDog
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Our encore performance of Wedding Day is now securely in the past, most of the major time consuming tasks to create a whole new life are accomplished and my new work assignments are finally beginning to trickle in. I have about a month to get myself oriented with my co-workers and begin the climb up a couple of steep learning curves before another trip to Dallas and then St. Louis, which will take us to the end of July. So, I decided to take a few hours of “personal time” to exercise some of the many capabilities of the new Canon EF 100mm ƒ2.8 L IS USM 1-to-1 Macro Lens. Aside from being a mouthful to describe, I have to say that it is more fun to fool with than any other lens I’ve ever owned (quite a box full over about fifty-five years of photography).

When I decided that my new work required a radical upgrade of my equipment, I settled on a Canon 5D Mk II camera body, mainly because it seemed the most bang for the buck and its HD video capabilities are so good that many independent film makers are using it as a prime capture tool for raw footage. For lenses, I compromised and bought two Canon zooms, a 17-40 and a 70-300. These choices created an awkward “hole” in the focal length range right at the “normal” focal length of 50mm, but I reckoned that I could live with that.

However, this left me without a decent macro capability. Neither of the new Canon lenses were significantly better than the macro capability of my Canon G-series cameras, the latest of which is the marvelous G-12 which I gave to my bride as a pre-wedding gift. Gracie now has no excuse for not taking great pictures. I have always  been captivated by the creative wonders of macro photography, but I’ve never had a purpose-built lens with which to fully explore the tiny landscape.

Enter the Canon 1-1 macro. This was my first serious image with the new lens on the night before our April Fool’s Day Wedding, a Hydrangea purchased at Safeway to decorate the church for our do-it-yourself ceremony. If you click to enlarge you’ll see that the image speaks for itself:

I’m now using it as a desktop background on my Toshiba Tecra. It feels strange to say that I take little credit for this picture. It’s 90% equipment. I pretty much just pointed the camera and clicked. I’m used to fiddling incessantly in Photoshop to coerce an image file to comply with my imagination. Using the right gear makes most of that unnecessary.

Another thing which impressed me immediately is the amazing increase in working distance one gets with the 100mm 1 to 1 macro. I’m used to sticking the lens right up in the bug’s face to get an image on the sensor large enough to work with. Even with that, I usually had to crop and enlarge, meaning that I was losing detail on every shot. Careful sharpening can bring back some “apparent” detail, but it’s really faking it. I snapped this shot of the funny little black bee at nearly two feet and it suffered only minor cropping for the sake of composition:

The amount of  adjustment required to get used to shooting from much farther away is disconcerting. I was sitting on a rock down at Beaver Creek with Gracie when this lizard crawled up into the greyish light about three feet away. I had only to lean forward a little to grab him with the heavy Canon.

In fact, it’s very easy to get too close at first and have trouble finding your subject. It sometimes seems like trying to find a star in a telescope. I feel like I need a “finder” scope.

Another thing which I am really loving is the range of creative effects that you can squeeze from the enormous variety of tricks one can conjure up from the very broad selection of apertures ranging from ƒ2.8 to ƒ32. I’m sad that this might be getting a little too geeky for some readers, but there’s really no way to talk about it without the technical terms. If some of it seems befuddling, have a look at my post on The Exposure Triangle. In this shot of pretty orange flowers which are blanketing the high desert now, I wanted a slightly blurred background to showcase the detail of the blooming plant while maintaining full sharpness for the subject:

This was dead easy. I just set the 5D to show me the live image on the screen, put the body in the Aperture Priority mode and twiddled the aperture control wheel until I could see that the entire plant was in focus while the background was blurred just the way I wanted it. I never had it so easy. I could achieve a similar effect with Photoshop from a fully focused image, but it would take a lot to time.

Just a little more twiddling of the aperture control produced a very arty shot right out of the camera:

Here I opened up the aperture to 2.8 to reduce the depth of field dramatically, creating a bare suggestion of the plant itself, tightly focused points of interest and a cool, furry canvas of contrasting colors. Really, the lens is doing all the work for me. I’m gobsmacked!

This shot proclaims, in a tiny little voice , that spring has arrived:

This image shouts, “Spring has arrived!” by zooming the focus of attention onto the crisp young leaves:

Again, the effect was created by a few clicks of a little black wheel about the size of your fingernail

This shot was spoiled only by the unfortunate position of the sun. Had our shiny giver of light and warmth been over my shoulder, as any photographer knows it should be, the dark pinnacle would have been magnificently red, contrasting nicely with the blank blue sky. However, I would have lost the dramatic back-lighting which makes they fuzzy flowers glow so brightly. The big Canon macro lens comes with a hood about the size of a beer can, so flare and dimming of contrast from internal reflections are very unlikely. You can turn it around when you don’t need it, shortening the lens by about four inches.

Which brings to mind matters of weight and size. Unobtrusive, this rig is NOT. Here are some bananas for comparison:

By the time you get the lens on and a twin battery grip you have maybe eight pound of gear to lug around, not to mention another fifteen in a back pack with spare lenses, and two flashy things.

Still, the exercise is good for me and my Geek Index has risen astronomically. And, I can take cool , super sharp closeups such as this:

Bugs . . . where are my bugs?  I hope things liven up around here.

If I’m in an arty mood, I can back off another few feet and do this:

Get ready for many little things.

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First Snow

Posted in Arizona Images, Photography Tricks on November 8th, 2011 by MadDog
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There was a time in my life, before my annus horribilis, when I would brag, to those inclined to listen to such claptrap, that I had lived for a decade or so without suffering through a winter and I intended to keep it that way. I thoroughly dislike cold weather and bronchitis seems only a sneeze away when the sky is grey all day and the snow turns brown in the streets. Ugh!

So, it was with a bit of cautious curiosity that I approached the coming of winter in Arizona. Last Saturday morning we awoke to take a little drive to town and noticed the first snows of the season on the mountains surrounding Sedona. Grace’s amused smile tells the story:

Her amusement centered around my Michelin Man appearance. Two shirts, a sweater and a coat were barely keeping me defrosted. Though there was no snow in Sedona itself, we could see mountainsides only a thousand feet or so higher which were heavily dusted. In Sedona we pulled off the highway to climb the hill to The Church of the Red Rocks to savor the spectacular view. The entire front of the chapel there is glassed. While getting your Sunday morning sermon you can let you mind contemplate this view:

We left Sedona on the Oak Creek Canyon road and began to climb toward Flagstaff. Here the dynamic range of light values was so extreme that I had to abandon normal photography techniques to delve into the mysteries of High Dynamic Range composites. I derived this HDR shot from a “stack” of five exposures moving from very underexposed to very overexposed. The software takes the best exposed areas of each image and adds it to the composite. It takes a bit of fiddling, but it allows one to get reasonable images from impossible situations:

A single exposure would show a bright sky with a nearly black mountain in the foreground, since the mountainside was in the shadow of another higher mountain behind me.

This shot, showing the nearly six inches of snow that fell near 7,000 feet would also have been impossible without the HDR technique. A single exposure would show black trees against the white, nearly featureless snow:

As evening neared, the temperature dropped again and the sky appeared in turmoil with fiery accents from the lowering sun:

The new Canon 5D Mk II performs wonderfully at high ISO values. This was shot at 1600 ISO and had only the slightest bit of noise in the darker areas. A light massage by NoiseNinja Pro cleaned it up nicely.

As we approached Sedona on I17 from the North we paused for this wintery show across the intervening valley looking toward the Mogollon Rim:

The image above is a five frame panorama slapped together by Photoshop. As a photograph it was a flop, so I turned it into art. Sometimes imagination beats reality. I’m recalling to words of the classic Kodachrome from Paul Simon’s There Goes Rhymin’ Simon of 1973.

Kodachrome . . .
You give us those nice bright colors
You give us the greens of summers
Makes you think all the world’s a sunny day, oh yeah!
I got a Nikon camera
I love to take a photograph
So Mama, don’t take my Kodachrome away

Indeed, Kodachrome defined serious color photography for a generation of photographers. For decades major publications would accept photographs on no other media. Recently photographer Steve McCurry trekked through India with the “last roll of Kodachrome” in his camera. The results are far more impressive than any roll of K64 that I ever ran through any of my cameras. I’m glad I didn’t shoot the last roll.

It’s the end of an era, but I’m not looking back. Film is essentially dead, except in the hands of a few quaint eccentrics. The fundamentals of photography have not changed at all, but the media could not be more different. I still think of a digital image file as a “negative”.

How “old school” is that?

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A little more play with the Huge Canon 5D Mk II

Posted in Photography Tricks on August 21st, 2011 by MadDog
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Kiddies, if you have little interest in photography other than pictures of the kids or pets, then have a quick peek at the pretty pictures below and move along. You’ll soon be bored. I’ve been playing just a little (took time out to eat, sleep and do some house cleaning) with the new Canon 5D Mk II and the two lenses I purchased. All this fuss with new gear is primarily about my new job. It will likely be a few months  until I get my first assignments. I have to return to Madang to finish up my life there before I can begin in earnest anew here in Sedona. In the meantime, I have my work cut out for me. I have to learn a new camera which is far more complex than anything I’ve ever had before and I need to learn to do production quality HD video from the ground up. I’ve already started on that. I’m afraid that posts for the next few months are going to be pretty geeky. At least you will see some amusing images and learn how an old dog learns fancy new tricks.

I have noted that no matter how good I thought I was, the 5D Mk II has humbled me. I’ve known the basics of photography since I was old enough to point a camera. Since it was my dad’s main interest, he taught me little else. I inherited a Busch Pressman camera and was working with smelly chemicals in the basement by the time I was eleven. The 5D is a whole new ball game. Let me say first that it shoots absolutely stunning images on full, flat-out Automatic. You could not find a camera that will give you a higher percentage of superb shots if you never want to crack open a manual for a nice bedtime read. Just leave the knob set on the little green box, swap lenses around as you please and shoot, shoot shoot. If you have any compositional sense at all you will be shooting National Geographic style shots from day one. And, you will mightily impress your friends. Which leads me to the only reason I can think of for a family album shooter to have one – to impress your friends. You had better hope they know something about photography or they will laugh at you for buying such a huge clunker of a camera. Really, if you never want to print anything bigger than an 8 x 10 print, then buy a good quality super-zoom such as the Canon Canon Power Shot SX30IS for less than $400.

One of the many differences between the two (5D Mk II vs. SX20IS) is the the SX30IS provides many pre-programmed shooting modes which allow a shooter who has taken an afternoon off to discover them to create a wide variety of beautiful images which would have required considerable technical knowledge in times past. The 5D has none of this. It does have a superb Automatic mode, but you have to cook the fancy creative images youself. This requires a fair level of both knowledge of the technical aspects of photography (The Exposure Triangle, etc.) and the complexities of the massive control range of the camera itself.

Come to think of it, there is another good reason to buy a 5D Mk II. If you are serious about making excellent images, for whatever reason, and you want to buy a camera which will keep you happy for say, ten years, then the 5D and a couple of good lenses might be the ticket. You could possibly end up spending a similar amount of money over ten years stepping up from one camera to another and never be as good with any of them as you would be after a few years with the 5D. She would be as dependable and wise (and as amusing) as a good wife. Okay, that’s going too far. You get the idea. Believe me. You will want to name your 5D. Something this precious deserves a moniker. Just promise yourself one thing before you invest. If you lose interest and it ends up gathering dust on a shelf, pass it along to a promising photographer who can’t afford it. Give him or her an offer which can’t be refused. This is a camera which deserves to be used by someone who can learn to make it sing.

Speaking of singing, I wanted to do something a little special for the first image I show from the 5D. Frankly, I could have shot this with my G11, but that’s not the point. This image represents a change of shooting habits. I have seldom been so frightened in my long, wayward and adventurous life as I was when I was crossing over those rocks with a new 5D and two top-notch lenses. If I had my G11 there and I slipped I’d simply toss it to the other bank, pick it up, wipe the mud off and shoot. Not so with the fancy gear. Honestly, if I did not need the capabilities of this rig for my work (the HD video is broadcast-quality) I would never even risk having it. Anyway, back to the image.  I bought a variable density filter which allows me to cut the light down drastically so that I can make long exposures in brightly lighted scenes. In this shot I could hardly see through the filter. Setting the camera appropriately for a twenty second exposure, I got this silky water image at Red Rock Crossing near the house in Oak Creek Village. In order to fancy it up a bit more, I spent a quarter of an hour fooling around with Artistic Filters in Photoshop. I’m going to print this one and hang it on the wall, after asking Grace, of course.

You really have to click to enlarge it to see what’s going on.

Here’s a similar image shot with another lens on full automatic mode:

You really can’t appreciate the quality of this image at the resolution I have to use to make it manageable for the web. The original RAW file was twenty-six megabytes!

I can’t live without macro photography. I’d sooner give up my one beer a day. (Hey, I gave up my one cigar a day habit. Give me a break.) I was concerned that my Canon 17-40 F4.-5.6 L USM lens would not cut the mustard. This is about a 30% crop of the center of a full frame at 40mm focal length:

That was as close as I could get while allowing the auto focus to operate. Someday I might find a used macro lens for the camera, but it can wait a while. This makes me happy. I won’t be blowing up any ants as big as small dogs, but I still have my G11, which is actually a better macro rig.

There is a nice little pub within easy walking distance from our house. It’s called PJ’s Village Pub and Sports Lounge. I went over a couple of nights ago to meet a friend for a little conversation. It was storming beautifully outside. After it was nearly over I went outside an snapped this cute little shot:

It’s had a pleasant massage from Photoshop to correct the colors to what my imagination requires, but otherwise, it’s straight out of the camera.

Earlier, inside PJ’s, I set the 5D on full auto and held it parallel to the mirror on the wall for this tasty image:

This is a 17mm shot. It shows little objectionable distortion common to wide angle images. I’m quite happy with it. Other than the removal of an ugly power outlet under the mirror, this is right out of the camera.

For this last little bit of play, I wanted to test several things at once. First I wanted to see if I could really get five frames per second out of the 5D. I want to try some portraits on burst mode. I find it difficult to get just the right expression when doing portraits. I’m going to try getting all set up, provoking the right mood and then letting fly with about a hundred exposures over maybe twenty seconds. Then I can pick just what I’m after. Next, I wanted to see how good the 64oo ISO setting is. I’ve never been able to shoot this sensitive before. My G11 dies a horrible noisy death over 400 ISO. (The results show that the 5D Mk II is four or five stops better for noise.) Finally, I wanted to gen an idea how well Microsoft Photosynth could stitch together the shots for a 3D walk-around presentation. Here is the result, using our home office as a test subject:

Well, I’m sure that you were fascinated at that. I have more worthy subjects in mind. How about a walk down Oak Creek Canyon, peering into holes and turning over rocks in the stream?

Maybe I had better save that for HD video. My next project is a home-made flying camera rig.

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The Petrified Forest and the Painted Dessert

Posted in On Tthe Road, Photography Tricks on July 31st, 2011 by MadDog
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Once in a while in my life Dallas calls to me. Not the city. It is a typical American megalopolis, sprawling across the flat Texas semi-dessert as if exhausted by the heat. The torrid weather wave has been torturing most of the heart of North America for some time now. No, the city does not call me. It is urgent business with the International Service Center of Pioneer Bible Translators which caused Grace and I to pile into Charmaine Cossette, her miniscule Chevy Aveo for a one-week road trip across the baking southwest.

The visit to my former place of torture (I have been a bad boy on several occasions) went well. Things are different now. I would call the two days of confabulation exquisitely productive. More to come . . .

On the way from Dallas back to Sedona, we decided to savor a bit of the ragged beauty of this part of the world. Amidst hundreds of thousands of square miles of boring dessert lie pockets of breathtaking beauty. Old Teddy Roosevelt had the wonderful idea to grab huge chunks of American soil for National Parks. It was one of the smarter ideas any politician has ever had. The conjoined parks we visited were the Painted Dessert and the Petrified Forest. Here is a shot of Grace Preval (recently changed from Grace Flicker) decorating one of the plainer areas of the park:

The lighting was terrible. It took considerable thinking to set my Canon G11 to get the best shots. Here I used a fill flash to put some light on lovely Grace. Boosting the contrast in the background made the rainstorm stand out.

I’ll back up a bit to show you a couple of shots from Tucomcari, New Mexico, a rather small town along the old Route 66. The town was once billed as “The Gateway to the West”:

It seems to me to be pretty much the middle of nowhere, but, to be fair it does serve as a rest stop for those who are on their way to somewhere:

I took advantage of the poor lighting and blustery sky to get some nice panoramas. Here is one of the Painted Dessert:

The two parks are really one geographically. The petrified wood is prevalent all across the landscape. I was amazed how much of the stuff there is. Here is a typical overlook:

In these shots, if you click to enlarge, you can see big chunks of petrified tree trunks strewn all about, especially in the gullies. Most of them appear as red squarish shapes:

We intended to visit the Meteor Crater near Winslow, Arizona, but the weather turned very foul, dumping much needed rain on the barren, parched countryside. We’ll save that for another time.

As we came down out of the mountains nearing Sedona, we stopped so that I could work up one more panorama. This one, as do the others, covers more than 180°. You can make out the Mingus Mountains in the far distance:

Much of the land we saw brought back memories of Sicily, but the colors are much more vivid here. We have some other great landscapes to explore before I return to Madang in November. I like it here.

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Fooling Around – Experimental Photography

Posted in Humor, On Tthe Road, Photography Tricks on May 26th, 2011 by MadDog
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Once again I will get all pedantic on you and deliver a lecture on a subject so obscure that most would not even consider its existence. Today’s endless monograph will lightly cover the pseudo-intellectual pursuit of what I dare to call Experimental Photography. If you Google that phrase, you won’t find very much of interest. Some of the Google Images do lead in the general direction, though. Are you laughing yet?

I use the term more to make fun of myself than for any other reason. It embarrasses me to admit that when I have my camera in my hands I have reverted to a kid with a particularly engaging toy. I wish to appear more serious and, uh . . . deep than that. It’s all about ego. So, don’t take the second part of the title of this post seriously. The “Fooling Around” part is the operative phrase.

My personal view of experimental photography includes a continuum of categories ranging from purely narrative or descriptive to abstract. Within these categories a range of camera techniques can be employed to get the desired effect. I could write a book about this, but I have only this much space. Prepare for compression!

When I take a picture of something which must be instantly recognisable and the object itself is more or less the message, I call this narrative or descriptive. The object is  the story.  Here is a very obvious example:

It’s a sign. How simple can it get? It would be a very uninteresting image except for the words on the sign. What is the message? I’m sure that you’ve gathered that this is a sort of visual double entendre.  There is a place called Lick Elevator, a grain storage facility which you have seen here before. What makes it amusing is that the sign could appear to be a command – a rather absurd one.

This also is a narrative image. In The Happy Singing Machine  I wanted to convey the little surprise I felt when I turned my head and saw the cartoon face staring at me from the side of this whatever-it-is machine:

Here again, to complete the transaction between the photographer and the viewer, the viewer must uncover the narrative – decode it, so to speak. This one is so obvious that it takes little effort.

As you wade through this post you’ll note that I’m slowly (oh, so slowly – will it never end?) moving from narrative or descriptive to abstract. You may find yourself nodding off.

This one is also narrative, in the sense that you can easily see what it is – a restaurant bar top with the street scene outside and everything reflected upside down in the shiny surface:

In actuality, this is a tripple entendre.  The first meaning is the obvious one – the descriptive image itself. It is what it is, an interesting visualisation, but otherwise not noteworthy. The second requires seeing the title of the image, often a clue to the photographer’s hidden message – The Honest Lawyer.  Aside from the fact that the place is possibly a hangout for downtown lawyers, there is the aspect of the mirrored but shaded world reflected in the bar top. Honest? Possibly. True? Probably not. Ethical? Quite likely. Accurate? Well, that depends on who you are asking, eh? You can play these little word games with the image until you decide that you’re wasting valuable time. The third part of the tripple entendre  works for you only if you live in Hamilton, Ontario where there is a matched set of way-too-loud-music quasi-sports (too many big screen TVs silently blaring miscellaneous mundane sports nonsense) plastic-food establishments called The Honest Lawyer. (The funky video clip makes this site worth a click.)

Whew! All that in there? It’s a stretch, I admit.

That shot didn’t require much in the way of camera technique. I simply plopped my Canon G11 down on the bar, pointed it towards the windows and pushed the button. It did require a lot of post-processing to get the effect I wanted.

However, some shots require some planning and fiddling with the camera controls. I like to take shots of things whizzing past the car window. This requires setting the camera to manual or shutter priority mode and selecting a relatively low shutter speed, in this case about 1/8th of a second. It also requires one to look ahead to see what shot might be coming up, because there will be a very short window of time for the exposure:

Here we have the giant communications tower in Toronto framed between trees which are blurred by the movement of the bus on which I was riding. Even more blurred, because it was closer to my camera, is the traffic light on the right. This image is light on transcendental value. There’s not much there. It’s only real interest is the demonstration of motion blur. Ho-hum.

This one is a little more meaty. I remember seeing this sculpture from previous visits to Toronto. I find it no less repulsive than I did before. I wondered how I could capture my revulsion in an image? Hah! A passing pedestrian. Make her appear as if she is fleeing the ugliness:

Simple – select a slow shutter speed, brace firmly against the window frame of the bus and hope that the bus does not move until the pedestrian reaches the precise point at which she seems to be rushing past the travesty. I give you Rush on By.

I’ve been waiting a long time for the opportunity to put a picture of that sculpture in a post and treat it with proper disrespect. Thank you, kind lady, whoever you are.

With this one we are approaching the abstract. I call this a concoction. It follows the recipe of the moment. It’s shaken and baked virtually on the fly. As I was looking out of the window of the bus I was distracted by the reflection of the bus driver. How inconvenient. Why not record my complaint?

Here again, a normal automated shot will not work. If both the reflection and the outside scene are sharp the reflection is lost in the muddle. What is needed is to blur the scenery outside so that the reflection stands our more by its sharpness than by its contrast. A slow shutter speed once again comes to the rescue. If there is a subliminal message in The Phantom Bus Driver  other than the title, you will have to find it. I’ve racked my brain and can’t puzzle it out.

If you are very observant or very bored, you may notice the reflection of my hand holding the camera at the far right of the image. There is a term for this self-referential imagery in which the artist or a portion of the artist appears in the image, but I can’t think of it. Any help out there?

Here the narrative and the abstract mingle. What is the mountainous object which dwarfs the trees? What kind of grass matches a good-sized pine? Does the title Around My Neck  lend a clue? Well, silly me, of course it does. Who am I trying to fool. Some images are just fun and camera technique boils down to nothing more technical than lying on my belly in the wet grass like a 140 pound short thick snake:

The object is, rather obviously, a millstone and it is not twenty meters tall, only about one. The camera angle, shooting from the ground nearly straight up, and the inclusion of the trees make it seem much larger at first glance. I call this Abstract But Not Really Abstract. It’s a visual joke, if not a very good one.

Some of these last ones are approaching abstraction. This one probably more than any of the others:

In Clouds and Angles  it’s all about photography. Nobody would paint this picture. It’s a found object which disappears in an instant unless it is captured and viewed. It appears in a singular place in a moment of time. Were it not for me, nobody would ever have seen it – nobody. Does that mean anything? Of course not. Wait . . . no, it does mean something. It means that somebody sat in a car thinking about the sky and the clouds and watching things go by as a little story about the sky and the clouds and the things going by was being scripted in the mind of the observer until the right moment came along when everything converged and the world was set right for a nanosecond and the finger moved of its own accord to freeze the instant for no purpose whatsoever except the stopping, the pause, the memory of the moment of perfection.

Is that abstract enough for you?

You have to be a little bit odd, I think, to be a photographer. I’ve never made any money to speak of from photography. I’d certainly like  to make some money from it, but that doesn’t seem to be in the cards. However, I have made a little money at it and I take it very seriously as an expression of how I see the world, so I call myself a semi-professional photographer. Hey, you can have semi-pro baseball players and golfers, why not semi-professional photographers? Fair is fair. Part of that oddness I mentioned is allowing the mind to romp unfettered through the mountains of optical data flooding the visual cortex to stumble across little meadows of incongruity. I give you GO!

This shot would better fit the abstract label if it were not for the top of the bus at the bottom of the image. I, as the photographer, share a tiny hidden joke with you. There is a thing in Ontario called Go Transit. It’s a combination of bus and train service. The logo is entirely unintelligible – see the little turquoise colored symbol? It’s supposed to read “GO”, but you have to be a calligrapher to figure it out.

Patience, I’m nearly finished.

In This Way Up  we are back at the grain elevator again. We’re nearly all the way to abstract now. The object is not clearly recognisable. This is an assemblage of shapes and colours. It has been Photoshopped beyond all reason. My purpose was, as nearly as possible, to obscure reality under layers of camouflage:

If I’ve done my job well the reality will not be too obvious, unless you are an  employee of the establishment and you travel up and down this precarious ladder frequently. See, there you go. Once the reality is clear, the image loses it’s interest. It’s no longer a mystery. Phooey! I should have stopped while I was ahead.

This last one is neither narrative nor abstract. I might go so far as to call it a visual pun, though not a very good one. What makes it weak is that there is no common phrase “food temple” to match the title of the image:

I had some concept or other in mind as I was working on this image. It may have been a deep thought about the place that food has taken in modern western culture. I might have been thinking about how irritated I am that I can’t go to a meeting or visit with friends or engage in practically any social activity without being compelled to consume food. Really folks, I can’t eat that much. Please stop trying to feed me.

Yeah, that may have been it.

I can’t remember.

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