Friday, May 15, 2009

Shooting With Handicaps

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I have been doing my best to squeeze in some shooting sessions along with the prep work for the next show. Some of my sessions are spent out in the pasture with one or both of the horses. Since Fadwah’s Lancer recently turned 17, I thought it was appropriate to post this shot of him taken a few days ago.

On these occasions, I am often shooting in undesirable conditions—and that’s by design. To begin with, I often shoot at odd times of day rather than choosing optimum light. I also work without a wrangler, and that means I have to go out there resolved to be patient and make the best of whatever I see. A wrangler would be able to move the horse or horses to the end of the pasture where I have the best possible background. Moreover, the wrangler would be equipped with a some type of prop used to get the animals’ attention, or get their “ears up”. Furthermore, if I am out there with both horses (and without a wrangler), I have to pay close attention that I don’t get underfoot. You really don’t want one of these beasts stepping on your toes, believe me. Horses are amazingly sure-footed. Ask any competitive rider, and that goes for any of the equine sports. But, and it’s a big but, horses don’t count stepping on a human foot as hazardous, so sometimes a foot is stepped on. It smarts. Particularly when they are “horsing around”, I have to fend for myself with no one to stand between me and them to wave arms and send them safely by me. I work with extra caution.

None of this is meant to imply that either of the horses would purposely harm me. Most horses won’t hurt a human on purpose, unless it’s in self-defense. (Of course, in the case of an abused horse, the horse may always be in defensive mode.) The potential for harm with horses such as ours is all about nasty accidents that can happen. These guys are big, strong, and sometimes play rough. I keep my distance when they are excited. People who are strong and agile can take a great deal more chances than I. I have to work within my limitations.

Besides these conditions, I am still lugging the 70-200mm f/2.8 around.
Still, all in all, this setup works wonderfully for me. If I can get a shot or two that I like when working under these less than desirable conditions it only prepares me to deliver better photos when conditions are ideal.

Of course, all this raises the question, Why go to all this fuss? I suppose it’s like any other creative endeavor. You do what you have to do. Over and over we hear the advice to “shoot what you love”. So, there you go. For me, making pictures of horses that please me, and move others besides, is a major reason for owning a camera.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Experimenting with Portraits

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Note: This started out being a post about shooting portraits, but I have to take time to vent over the frustration of translating skin tones to a jpeg for the web. (The sound you hear is made by the steam coming out of my ears.) I have printed this picture and it looks terrific. In the web version, however, the skin tones are something far less than wonderful. Every color correction method I have tried fails to solve the problem. (At least, the one at the main gallery is somewhat better.) Ultimately, I gave up hope and decided to just put up the post and complain. Now, on to the original reason for this post.

For some time, I have been flirting with the notion of taking portraits, but I never seem to follow through. I have had plenty of urging from fellow-bloggers to give it a try and I know that I will have to take a run at it—if only to get it out of my system. There are a number of reasons for my resistance, some of which I have talked about in earlier entries here; but some of the resistance comes from a source that I have never mentioned. I spent over thirty years of my life in Los Angeles living and breathing that particular air of Tinsel Town where “headshots” are central part of the actor’s life. Having experienced both personally and vicariously all the angst surrounding the selection of photographers, the disappointments, and frustrations from those photo shoots, I have some residual feelings about portraits that I have yet to fully resolve. As I’ve said before, I prefer subjects that won’t complain endlessly about “the way my eyes look” or “I don’t think I really have that many wrinkles”; “my nose looks funny”, or “my hair looks fuller than that, don’t you think?”

As I said a few posts ago, I am not anxious when shooting people with their horses. In those cases, the person knows that she (more often than not it is a female horse-owner) is not the star of the shot, and I can help her to focus all her attention on her horse. Of course, there is the need to have two subjects focused when the owner is in the shot, but the horse is the leading character. Even when viewing the pictures, the horse-owner is more apt to be concerned with how the horse looks, than her own hair or nose.

All my angst aside, I recently got an idea to take some shots of that handsome devil, The Husband. By the time the urge struck, it was late evening and we were “losing the light” (that old saw from the location shoot). In a rush, I grabbed the closest camera and realized that I wouldn’t have time to change lenses. It was the 100mm macro or nothing. Both The Husband and I decided “what the heck” and found a spot in the backyard to shoot a few frames. The one above is my favorite and, by the way, The Husband likes it as well. I ended up thinking the macro lens is not a bad choice. Normally, I would have chosen the 70-200mm. Both lenses are f2.8 (a lovely advantage); but I am just not accustomed to the need to zoom with my feet.

Of course, this outing was easy. Because it’s difficult to get a really bad picture of The Husband, I avoided many of the typical problems of portrait shooting. Moreover, I was totally relaxed when shooting since the entire thing was a last-minute whim and there was nothing on it. Still, I may yet do more experimenting with putting people (who don’t have their horses with them) in my photos.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Challenges and Rewards

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Each time I complete one self-assignment, I come up with another one for myself. Not surprisingly, a number of these assignments are connected to the next show coming up June 5. It fascinates me that as soon as I wrap up one job, the act of completion seems to create a space that is then filled by two or three new projects. It’s as if the projects bear fruit, or a little like those wire coat hangers that would multiply in the closet. (By the way, have you noticed that the plastic ones are sterile? They break. Sometimes, they disappear to who-knows-where. But, they don’t multiply. Hmm. Another of those scientific mysteries.)

At any rate, I decided to reflect on tests and ventures that I can wrap my head around and leave coat hanger mysteries to someone with more expertise in the area of closet life. What I know is that every challenge taxes my physical strength and my capacity for facing the unknown. Inevitably, challenges present me with moments when I wonder if it is worth continuing through the stress. Quitting, or not even accepting the challenge in the first place, can be such a tempting alternative. Still, if I see it through to the end—whatever it is, there are always rewards. Even if no one else recognizes the benefits of my having completed the course, the satisfaction of following through is a reward in itself and there is no way to know where that experience will take me.

SoFoBoMo 2008 was such a test for me. The fact that I actually completed a project, then had the courage to post it online (rather than hiding it away and believing that I couldn’t find a way to get it online), was a triumph over doubts. And, that victory over myself has, in turn, led to more risk-taking with my photography.

Over and over in life, the lesson is there to be learned. One step (no matter how small) leads to the next, and that one to the next, and so on until, before long, we look back and see that we have traveled some distance, and that the journey has been filled with discoveries.

Having confronted my doubts in tackling SoFoBoMo last year opened up all sorts of doors for me. Since completing that project, I find that I listen to even more impulses to try new things. The doubts still nag, but their voices have been muted by the little successes along the way—and even by the failures. After all, once you fail, get up brush yourself off and discover that there are no permanent bruises, the next risk isn’t so daunting.

There is no doubt that I will complete my SoFoBoMo 2009 project—somehow, some way. No matter how woefully behind I am this year, I will get it done. After all, I wouldn’t want to miss any steps in my journey.

P.S. That mountain just peeking above the clouds is our Bear Mountain and on the other side of the mountain is home. A trip to Bakersfield last Tuesday gave us an opportunity to enjoy this view.