Thursday, January 15, 2009

Light Shows

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Yesterday, Paul Lester shared an experience that triggered a memory. A few months ago, we had one of those long days driving to Los Angeles and back. One of the errands was picking up the last vehicle that had been left at a repair shop in LA. That meant that, during the drive home, rather than being in the passenger seat free to indulge in my drive-by photography, I would be behind the wheel and forced to keep my attention on traffic and the road. By the time we got on the road, the sun was low, and it was obvious that we would see a spectacular sunset. Sure enough, a phenomenal light show ensued. This was one of those that wasn’t just a striking sunset. It was a 360 degree light extravaganza. It just kept getting better with every passing minute. I was in serious emotional distress. I desperately wanted to be outside my car with my camera.

The Husband was driving the ‘76 Scout that we had picked up from the shop, late that afternoon, and, in both our minds, there lingered questions about that vehicle’s total reliability. (Indeed, it was ultimately headed for another pit stop with a mechanic closer to Bear Valley Springs who specializes in Scouts.) We both wanted to end the drive and be safely home with the all the questions behind us. As we sailed along the crowded freeway, I knew it wasn’t a good idea to call The Husband on his cell requesting a detour for photographing the gorgeous colors and breathtaking light. He is amazingly indulgent and supportive of my obsession; still, he occasionally puts common sense ahead of photo ops. Go figure.

That put me in an odd position. On one hand, I was fervently hoping nothing would go wrong, the Scout would prove sound, and we would soon have a somewhat nerve-frazzling trip behind us. On the other hand, I desperately wanted to stop and get at least one shot. I toyed with the notion of concocting the need for a bathroom stop at the first service station out there in the desert. That wouldn’t have worked—he would have had one look at the camera in my hand and easily seen through my ruse. While I tried to come up with a convincing reason to stop, The Husband called me.

One of the reasons for our uncertainty over the Scout was the recent discovery that the old gas gauge was less than reliable and the call was an announcement that we would be exiting the freeway for a fuel stop. Yippee! Never mind that it was bitter cold by that time and the wind was howling, I was elated. We pulled off the freeway making our way to the service station, and I began scouting for my best vantage point. (This display was still good for about 180 degrees.) The moment my wheels rolled to a stop at the station, I jumped out of my car and hot-footed it to a spot across the exit road we had just turned off on and beyond the distractions near the station. I had a few seconds to shoot some of the final moments of the light that I had been enjoying for the past hour. Fortunately, the remainder of the drive was uneventful—except that, while the darkenss closed in, my mind’s eye was still full of all that glorious light and color that I had had witnessed.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Life at the Top

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I wouldn't want to live up on one of the ridges surrounding the valley floor, because then I would have to fight the snow and ice on the steep roads during storms. The folks who live up there enjoy stunning views, but they have challenges that I wouldn't enjoy. When out and about driving, I love borrowing their views, and I'm delighted that their presence has resulted in the roads that make my explorations quite doable. There is another bonus for me. When I'm out walking—down here in the flatland, I love looking up at the properties lit by the morning or evening light.

Slow to Change

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I don’t claim to be one who gets a new gadget and masters all the bells and whistles within twenty-four hours. I’m a bit of slow-poke. When I bought the 40D, I had my eye on a short list of key features. I had always found having to look at the top of the camera for ISO when everything else was in the viewfinder an absurd arrangement. Furthermore, I was elated to leave behind that annoying business of being forced to jump from ISO 400 to 800 when I needed just a little more light. The ability to adjust ISO in 1/3 stop increments rather than full stop ones was a major draw. Having schleped the 20D through traffic to Samy’s Cameras far too many times to have the sensor cleaned, I was elated over the notion of a sensor that would clean itself. As for the LCD screen, once I saw a three-inch screen, I knew there was no going back. Those, then, were the main features that had me reaching for the checkbook, and I immediately found that they more than fulfilled my expectations.

Of course there were other features being touted in the sales hype, but they had little impact on my decision. I never even remember how many pixels my camera shoots. That’s often a source of embarrassment because people will ask. You’d think I would learn the number to avoid that awkward moment, but it isn’t that critical to me. Live View wouldn’t have sold me, but I will end up using it occasionally and the improved viewfinder is a welcome change, but neither of those would have convinced me to spend the money. On the other hand, the capability for three combinations of camera settings available on the mode dial not only didn’t sell me, they sat there for months while I ignored the possibilities. I shoot mostly in Manual mode and I wasn’t looking or a change.

But then one day, I stepped outside a friend’s house near twilight, and while I stood mesmerized by the scene in front of me, I became aware that something or someone on my left was watching me. When I turned my head, I was eye to eye (well, he was probably thirty feet away) with a beautiful big buck. I had my usual walkabout lens (the 24-105mm 4f) on the camera—not exactly a wildlife setup—but I was determined to give it a stab. In my excitement, I fumbled frantically with my manual settings and meanwhile the space was made in my brain for a major change in shooting habits. I got a decent shot, but only because the buck was deeply curious and looked me over quite thoroughly before he sprang over the edge of the hill and out of sight.

That evening I got out the manual and investigated custom settings. I now have all three set up for different situations in which I might have little time to make decisions and change a number of camera settings. One of them is set for TV (shutter priority) 1/500, ISO 400 (to provide some leeway) and AI Servo. Already, they have come in handy, and I’m looking forward to the next wildlife encounter—so long as the encounter doesn’t involve one of the mountain lions that have been spotted up here. Canon doesn’t have a custom setting to cover that situation.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Quiet Periods

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The sporadic postings over the last few weeks, remind me that I have been in one of those periods where I don’t have much to say. Rather, nothing that I can justify saying—or think that anyone else would be interested in reading about.

The snow is gone. We have had positively balmy weather compared to what we had before and after Christmas. I finally finished the greeting card project that ate December, but another similar project is ongoing. I have taken on the graphics and advertising department for The Husband’s farrier business. Creating the business cards, thank-you cards, flyers, and postcards, along with various stickers and marketing schemes has kept me busy and it has been a satisfying venture all the way around. The Husband is adding clients, and I enjoy seeing my ideas in print. Can’t beat that.

In the meantime, I don’t find as much time to process photos for posting, and the time that I do have to spend online I tend to spend reading the posts of those who do have something worth saying. One thing that I am still taking time for on most days is photo walks. However, all too often, I complete the basic processing of a photo in ACR with firm intention to post the shot here at the blog, then I wander off to another project. When I browse back through old posts, I see clearly that this is my pattern. I post frequently for a week or so, then I get quiet for a time. I don’t suppose there is anything that I need to do about that.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Down Memory Lane and into a Ditch

Paul Lester and Mark Graf are responsible for taking up a great deal of my time last week. On January 6th, Paul Lester set this all in motion by asking some interesting questions about the subject of all those photos that we never make public. Now, he couldn’t leave well enough alone, but continued to probe this issue until he got Mark Graf stirred up. Finally, Mark followed by challenging his readers to dig through old files and rescue some photos from “picture purgatory”. Naturally, Paul responded with a couple of beautiful shots that I almost certainly would have shown immediately. Irresponsible behavior, if you ask me. Sure, "picture purgatory" is a delightfully descriptive phrase and one that I will long use, but this business of tempting suggestible types to set aside their work and spend valuable time poring over old photos is inexcusable. No conscience, there’s the truth of it. Shameful.

Of course, all their talk got to me, and before I came to my senses I was turning on external drives that don’t always get cranked up and searching old files for lost treasure. Big mistake. Mostly, I realized that the photos I examined frankly are in picture purgatory precisely because they belong there. I did some deleting, but too many were left on those drives. I kept them because I found, repeatedly, that while I wasn’t moved to share the photos, many of them reminded me of a time or a place, and I wasn’t quite ready to let go of the memento. I did enjoy poring over a folder of photos from a shoot of one of our horses that had gone well. Then, I spent far too much time processing a couple of those. I am holding Paul and Mark directly responsible for my failure to meet those deadlines that I had given myself last week.

Dropping all the mock outrage, I will admit that I enjoyed very much the challenge and the trip down memory lane—thanks Paul and Mark (most likely, I wouldn’t have met those deadlines anyway)—and, eventually, I probably will dig out more of those shots to post here. The one that I ultimately chose for this post reminds me of the times spent at various points along the Little Tujunga Wash. This was one of those shots that I had pretty much ignored at the time and had forgotten about. It’s nothing special, but it reminds me of so many of the scenes from the wash and I enjoyed going back in time, for a few moments. Still, in spite of the entertaining trip down memory lane, most of my future time will be spent making more photos. Not because I need to, but because there never are enough, and I am no where close to being done with soaking up the world that I live in.