It can fool you.

It can fool you.

The picture. Sometimes, the weather. This picture looks cold. It’s not. I made this picture yesterday. The high was unseasonable. It was 80 degrees. The winds blew, a storm followed and the temperature won’t get above the mid-fifties. For the next four days.

Yippee.

With Mardi Gras Indians Uptown Super Sunday, and St. Joseph’s Night to photograph, colder is better than warmer. Besides, if I get too warm I can start taking layers off. If the day starts out warm, well, nobody wants to see that.

This picture. I really did make it yesterday. It really was 80 degrees. But, the way that I photographed it combined with the post-production it looks and feels cold. Yeah. A picture says a thousand words. These days, you can’t always trust a thousand words.

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Natural experiment.

A natural mood.

An attempt by me to do two things. Or, three.

It’s cold in the swamp today. It was cold and extremely windy last night. That’s what this art is about. You’ve got the bare tree. The kind you see in winter. You’ve got a monochromatic picture because yesterday everything was gray and muddy. Finally, the post production brings you to ice. It covers everything.

No.

We don’t have ice. It is a symbol for winter. The winter that many of you are digging through right now.

I’m trying to stay away from weather pictures. Unless you are very lucky and in the right place, at the right time, weather pictures start looking the same. I wasn’t even going to make pictures yesterday, but I felt the calling. Still, without a lot of help, they looked the same as pictures I made last year. They year before that and…

That’s where all the heavy post production came in.

When I do this sort of stuff, I work until I’ve gone too far, saving versions along the way. When my brain clicks in and I realize that I’ve gone over the top, I save the picture. I go back one version and there it is. The picture of my senses.

That’s the story.

I have a comment about yesterday’s news and those “good” Catholic school boys doing their best to intimidate a Native American Vietnam Vet. I don’t know if it’s because our so-called president has made it okay to be as nasty as you want to be to people who aren’t like you, or if it’s something else. When did it become okay to do something like that? I assume because they attend a Catholic school that they have learned a simple question. “What would Jesus do?” They should think about that and do it.

My take is simple. First transparency. I’m Catholic. I’m not much of one these days. I attended Catholic school from the first grade until I graduated from high school. We were taught by nuns, brothers and priests. I’m pretty sure that if I was in those pictures and videos, the nuns would have cracked my knuckles with a yardstick until they bled. I’m not much for corporal punishment. Even the dogs don’t get yelled at around here. In this case, let me hit them with a yardstick.

That said, I stand with my Native American brother. Yes. I know his name. But, it’s policy of Storyteller not to publish names unless I have permission. I believe that everybody in the pictures and videos should be expelled. That’ll about kill their chances of ever getting into a good university or college. Good. Their lives should be spent saying, “would you like fries with that?” Once that is done, the entire staff of the school should resign. Obviously, they haven’t done their jobs. They can join the boys at the hamburger factory.

Yes. I believe in second chances. I believe in redemption.  After a suitable time, they all should be welcomed back. Maybe fifteen or twenty years.

I never get this angry. This kind of anger isn’t good for anyone. Me. The person with whom I’m angry. The world. But, this was just too much.

Sorry if I offended anybody. At least I didn’t curse a blue streak.

 

 


Into the darkness.

What do you see? At night? When you are alone?

What do you imagine? Late at night? When nobody is around? Do you worry about your bills? About the next day? Maybe even the ultimate thing — dying? Does that make you fearful? Does it scare you? Does it excite you?

I’ve been reading some posts from friends. On Facebook. On Twitter. Even a few on Instagram.

Some are about loneliness. Some are about the long cold night. Some are about a day. Good or bad. Some are just saying good night. Some are about not being able to fall asleep. Some are about having somebody to talk to at 3am. Online.

I have no answers to these questions. Or, the posts.

I have my own late night issues. Mostly, I’m just not a great sleeper. It’s not worry. Even about the great ending. I’ve always reckoned that we all have to pass sometime. I just don’t sleep sometimes.

I have my own ways of dealing with it. When I know I have to get up early, it’s in pill form. Sometimes, it’s just simple carb loading and decline. Sometimes, not wanting to disturb anybody, work helps. Usually, in the studio. Once in a great while, I go outside and look around. I make pictures. At 2 am. Or, 3 am. I’m sure if a neighbor saw me, the local cops would appear asking me what I was doing.

That’s how this picture came to be.

Not sleeping. Walking. Looking. Seeing. Making a picture or two. Let me tell you, things get spooky out there. At about 3 am. In the darkness. Well after dark. Way before dawn.

Now you are wondering, I think. How is the tree lighted? It’s an urban area. The light comes from a street light. Shining from across the street. With a nice long exposure, I was able to put enough light on the sensor to illuminate the tree. The bare tree. The moody tree. The spooky tree.

In order to get my head in the right place to talk to you, I listened to Spirit. From an album called, “The Family That Plays Together.” For the more youthful of you who read Storyteller, I’m fairly sure you never heard of them. For the folks around my age, you still might  have never heard of them. They were only around for maybe five years. The album that I’m playing was recorded in 1969. Some members left. New players joined the band. Eventually the band splintered into a bunch of other bands. They are like branches of a musical tree.

That was a time.

Creativity burbled up from an underground spring. It carried on through the 1970s. Music changed. Art changed. It changed many people. I changed me. It brought me to where I am today.

Today, everybody is a musician, a photographer, a writer, a chef. That’s okay. But, really? There isn’t enough people to consume all of the new work. Not that they would. Because the new creators want everything right now. They don’t want to pay their dues. To learn. To grow. To practice. To grow some more. They’ll tell you that they don’t need a gatekeeper because the want to keep control of their work.

Seriously? Truth be told, they’d love a gatekeeper. Alas, much of their work doesn’t cut it. It isn’t good enough for mass sales. Make no mistake, sales aren’t everything. But, that’s how you put food on the table. And, sales mean that people are doing something with your work. They are seeing it. They are liking it. They want more. That’s the trick. Do something so well that your readers, fans, viewers, want more.

That.

That is why I work hard every day. Why I do what I do. Everyday.

What about you?

Sure. I get it. Day jobs. Paying the bills. Putting the food on the table.

But.

I hope that you think about your passion daily. After dinner, family time, good night-time to children. I hope that you do whatever you enjoy. It doesn’t have to be taking pictures at 3am. It could be watching a movie to study the cinematics. To look at how light is used. To see beginnings, middles and ends. Just to learn.

Learn. There’s my word for the year. I didn’t think about it. I didn’t force it. It just sort of came.

Apparently, I’ve ingested it. It’s my word for the year. It rises up out of the primordial mists that make up my brain, heart and soul. It’s right where I want it. I don’t think about it. It’s just there. There for whenever I need it.

And, you?


Looking, searching, learning.

Always learning.

That’s what Storyteller is about. That’s what I try to do. It ain’t always easy. You can rile up some people along the way. You ask questions that can’t be answered. I ran into that yesterday.

It was that music thing. The blogger thought that I was offended. I have no idea how he got that idea. Nothing I wrote indicated that. I still don’t understand what he’s doing. The worst thing you can do with certain kinds of interactive events is to impose too many rules. I never really received an answer. I guess I won’t be trying to play along. Oh well. I’m not very good at games anyway.

If I’m writing about it, I guess it bothers me. It does, because the whole idea behind making pictures or blogging is to communicate something to somebody in an understandable fashion. At least, that’s what it means to me. But, I come from a journalism background. Whether you tell a story in words, or in pictures, the basic premise never changes. Tell a story. Clearly.

I fail at doing that as much as the next guy.

Musician Stephen Stills once said that in his early days, when many of his best songs were written, he just wrote them. They sort of came to him. He said that later, he got too cute. He started analyzing his writing as he wrote. We haven’t seen a new, great song for him in years.

That happens to all of us. If you are of a certain age you might think that the late 1960s and 70s were popular and rock music’s best era. You might even listen to those musicians today. They might even be writing new music. Unfortunately, their peak creative time has passed. Very few continue to write as well or easily as they did in their youth.

That also happens to all of us. After working in my archives, I’m convinced that although I’m a much smoother photographer than I was, most of my best work lies behind me. I’m not complaining. It’s the truth. I’m glad I had a time of “best work.” Some never do.

Anyway, I’ll play along with the single word thing since one of you was clear in why she does it. It’s a pretty fair assessment of herself even though I only know her online. My word is learning. I realized that when I started thinking about how and when I stop reading certain blogs. I hope to learn something from everything. Even if it’s only to help me remember what I forgot. When I don’t learn, I move away.

The picture. It is about learning. Learning to use my not so new smart phone. Learning what it can do at night, in the dark. Learning my own limits. Learning what kinds of post production I can do with an image like this one without going too far.

The truth is, I saw the scene and I pushed the button. It took me a while to realize that the design element that helps make the picture for me is two overhead wires.

Post production is minimal. Mostly, I darkened the original picture in order to bring up the details. Sometimes, you do that to hide the noise because the camera’s sensor can’t handle a picture like this. In computational photography, it seems that there is no noise.


Winter glow.

There’s a world. The winter world. It came. It will go.

Like all things in life.

A friend of mine is excited that there are buds on the Japonica trees. The cold weather followed by a bit of warmth forced the buds. She said. Nope. Japonicas start to show buds in late january. They start to bloom in early to mid February. Every year. They are the first flowers to bloom. Every year.

We may still have another cold snap. In New Orleans we have different season than the rest of the world. One is Mardi Gras. Carnival season. There have been years when the temperatures never rose above 30 degrees on Mardi Gras Day. We had rain, which turned into sleet. All day. I can’t tell you if it will happen this year. But, Mardi Gras is very early. We could turn very cold again. Or, not.

That’s not really the point of this.

The real question is, why do you want to rush things? All things happen in their own time. Seasons change. And, change again. As Bob Dylan wrote, borrowing this from Ecclesiastes, and The Byrds made famous, “To Everything There is a Season.”

Remember that.

There is no sense rushing life. It’ll keep happening whether you want it to or not. Enjoy it.

The picture. Aside from seeing the scene and pressing the button, this image is wholly made in the computer. The strong light, the color, the contrast, the hue were added after the fact in post production. I made this picture to be what I saw in my head. The truth is that the light was sort of flat. The clouds were “mushy.” This is a perfect example of the old saying “Don’t take the picture, make the picture.” There are a lot of ways to make the picture.

A bright red Cardinal just tapped on my studio window. I forget if that’s good or bad. But, it just happened. Maybe he knew I was talking about nature. I couldn’t wait. I just Googled it. I found a site called California Psychics. Yeah. I know. They say that a Cardinal is an spiritual messenger. They are like a hinge on a door. The open a spiritual point and are usually associated with good things. Renewal. Change. Growth. Answers to important questions.

It’s gonna be a good day.


Early morning hours.

Like Bart Simpson, I didn’t even know that there is a 5 am. “When did they start that,” Bart asked.  Obviously, I know. I’m rarely up at that time. I like to work into the night. My job has never been anything like 9 to 5. For me, it’s always been work late, sleep late.

Unless.

Some dog needs to go out. And, demands a walk.

Those really early morning walks are not short. The dog who sees things gets all excited. She wants to walk. I’m not excited. I’m lucky to get into coffee into my system. I’m even luckier if I can see straight. And, not fall on my face.

When I do manage, it’s worth it. Wonderful morning light. Especially in winter. Except for right now since everything is bathed in fog. That’ll change in a day. An hour. A few minutes. I know what you’re thinking. I should be working in the foggy soft light. I’d like that. But, can we have a word about Louisiana drivers? You know what I’m about to say. So, I won’t bore you. Even with new laws; people still text, talk on their phones, put their make-up on, tie their ties, eat a donut, or a breakfast burrito. Everything but actually drive. So… in the fog? Not me.

The picture. I enhanced it a little in post production. It didn’t really need much, but I did want you to feel what I saw. Yes. It’s another tree. Trees are about rebirth. Enjoy them for now. I’ll move on. I always do.


New Mexican plains.

I’m not there yet. But, I will be.

I made this picture on New Mexico Route 43. I stopped because the abandoned buildings caught my eye. There was barbed wire fence and a lot of no trespassing signs. Normally, I don’t pay much attention. If somebody stops me I just speak in another language even if I don’t speak much of it. I look confused and that’s the end of it. This is one of those tips that I suggest you never try. Me? I’m fearless with a camera.

For some reason I decided to heed the warning sign. I can’t remember why. Probably, I caught a little motion out of the corner of my eye. And, my warning bells went off.

Anyway.

This is a newer, more gentle way of processing. I’m told it’s more contemporary. When was the last time I ever did something because it was new and contemporary? I don’t care about those things. I’m just experimenting.


Very cold.
Very cold.

The weather turned cold.

I’m not in the habit of wearing winter under garments in the swamp. But, this morning’s dog walk was well below freezing. Well below. I hope to photograph a second line and the postponed first parade of the Carnival Season. The second line starts at noon. That should be okay. But, the Krewe of Joan of Arc doesn’t roll until 7:30 pm. You know what night fall does to cold temperatures. Even though I live in New Orleans, I’m not from here. I have cold weather gear. Many people around this place do not.

The picture. There’s a little experimentation going on here. I’ve been playing with the spatial relation of frames. I’ve been interested in how they can either pull the picture into a box, or, become part of the picture. Obviously, this is the latter.

As we say around here at this time of year, Happy Mardi Gras.

Now I gotta go buy a king cake. That’s for all day consumption. I also want to find a bag of babies. No, not real humans. The little plastic ones that are baked into a king cake. I have an idea.


Cold weather arrived.
Cold weather arrived.

It came. The cold weather arrived. Temperatures in the low to mid 30s. Rain. Some sleet.

Winter. At least our version of it down in the swamp.

That’s not what I came to discuss. Instead, I want to talk about making an excellent exposure. And exposure that is so good that you don’t have to do any work in post production except to develop the picture. Or, to improve it from an aesthetic point of view.

These days, it’s pretty easy. Adjust your camera to “program” and you are done. The camera does everything. You just point and shoot. Or, you can set the dial to “A,” and you pick the F-stop and the camera picks the shutter speed. Or, you can use the “S” setting. You pick the shutter speed. The camera picks the F-stop. You can add a little more, or less, exposure by setting the dial that controls incremental settings, in thirds of an F-stop.

That’s easy to do. Quite frankly, when I photograph subjects that are moving quickly in relatively consistent light, I use the aperture setting and over expose by 1/3 of an F-stop. I can’t keep stopping to adjust the camera’s settings every few seconds.

When I make pictures of something more static, I usually switch to manual. At least, for exposure controls. Auto focus is generally quicker and more accurate than my old eyes with certain exceptions, of course. Oddly, I’m faster focusing on things that are moving quickly than the camera. It just may be that I anticipate better than software. I don’t know.

Aperture and shutter speed. For beginners, it’s confusing even though it’s really simple math. It’s all fractions and equivalence. Sheesh, even for veteran photographers… we often have to take a second and think about it.

Even though most cameras made today read light very precisely, I’m going to talk in old school terms because I think they are less confusing. Meaning that I understand them. Heh!

Aperture. It’s read in F-stops. It looks like f 2.0 – f 2.8 – f 4 – f5.6 – f 8 – f11 – f 16 – f22. Think of those as fractions. So you are really looking at something like 1/2.0 – 1/2.8 – 1/4 and so on. The bigger number lets in more light through your lens. Keep in mind that f 2.0 or 1/2.0 is much larger than f 22 or 1/22. That’s just fractions… 1/2 is bigger than 1/22.

Shutter speed. Starting at 2 seconds, it is usually shown as 2 sec – 1 sec – 1/2 sec – 1/4 sec – 1/8 sec – 1/15 sec – 1/30 sec – 1/60 sec – 1/125 sec – 1250 sec – 1/500 sec – 1/1000 sec – 1/2000 sec. Those are already written as fractions. A 2 second exposure is much longer than a 1/2000 sec exposure.

A quick note. Usually, anything less than 1/30 of a second can produce a blurred image. However, most modern cameras have compensation for that and you can shoot much slower than you could in the past. You can “hand hold” a camera in the digital age as long as one second and it will produce a sharp image. Sometimes.

If I want to make a picture with a lot of motion in it, but with some sharp areas, I work from 1/8 to 1 second. That’s just me.

Another note. Modern cameras use histograms and light meters to read light. The aperture can be read as something like f7.3 or f9.1. Shutter speeds can be read as something like 1/350 sec or 1/1200 sec.

Putting aperture and shutter speed together. There are all kinds of charts and graphs posted all over the internet to use as cheat sheets. I recommend that you learn this information and keep in your head. But, here’s an example.

I like to work at around an F-stop of 5.6. On a bright overcast day that means something like  f 5.6 @ 1/1000 sec.

But. It could also mean f2.8 @ 1/4000 sec, or f4 @ 1/2000 sec, f8 @ 1/500 sec, or f11 @ 1/250 sec and so on.

Why change the F-stops at all? The wider the aperture (f 2.8) that shorter the depth of field. You increase the chances of a blurred background and making good bokeh, while keeping the subject sharp. At a smaller aperture (f 16) the depth of field increases from the front to the back of the scene. The optimal F-stop for most lenses is f8. I like to work at f5.6 because I want my subject to be sharp, but I want to introduce some separation between the subject and the background. That’s one way of doing that.

How you work is your choice.

I realize that after reading and editing this, it looks very complicated. While it appears to be complex, it isn’t complicated. If you Google using the phrase “camera shutter speed chart,” the math will become much easier because it is visual.

I promise you that knowing, practicing and using this will make you a much better photographer. You will begin to understand light. And, photography is really Greek for “writing with light.”

The picture. F5.6 and focus on the water droplets, letting the background fall as far out of focus as it could.