Winter Wonderland

It snowed all day yesterday. When we walked over to Paul and Amy Jo’s at about 10am, there was maybe an inch of accumulation, all powdery. The snowfall never got heavy, and the snowflakes never got big. But it snowed all day, so that by nightfall there were about six inches on the ground. But when I went outside to make some photographs, it was strange to see the snow so dry, like powdered sugar.

Rosings Park in Winter

This photo is similar to the publicity shot used to sell the house. Only that shot was taken in early May, and this is taken in mid-December after one of the heaviest snowfalls in years. Though it looks like late afternoon here, it’s actually dark. It’s just a 10-second exposure.

Kris’ parents are coming for a short visit next weekend. If they’d come this weekend, they could have enjoyed our six inches of snow:

Snowy Birdbath

Instead, they’ll get the cold dreary rain we Oregonians are accustomed to. Maybe I’ll warm them up by taking them to Moroccan food.

Finally, here’s a shot of Kris’ outdoor Christmas tree. She borrowed a bunch of outdoor lights from Tiffany to decorate the spruce by the road. It took her about an hour to string the lights, but the effort was worth it. Even I think it’s beautiful. 

Kris' Outdoor Christmas Tree

I like how, if you look closely, you can see that the gutter on the second story is bowing. Sigh. The projects on this house never cease. We were already planning to hire somebody to paint next summer. We might as well have the gutters replaced at the same time. They’ve been causing us woe, and we know it. If we save enough, we can get all of the work done at once.

Update: We have six inches of new snow. It’s resting on top of half an inch of ice and the six inches of old snow below it. That’s a foot of snow and half an inch of ice. Wow.

Found Photo: Patti’s Wedding 1982

While working a future post for Get Rich Slowly, I stumbled upon this photo by chuckp at Flickr. It’s entitled “Patti’s Wedding 1982”. I find it surreal:

The first thing my eye goes to are the power lines, which seem to be toppling in slow motion. Then I go to the children in the weeds. Then the array of cars by the side of the road. It all seems so…strange.

The photo is tagged: Wisconsin, countryside, wedding, guests, presents, highway, truck, station wagon, wedding guests, and landscape. I’d also tag it “alternate universe”.

Lost Post

Last night I wrote a long entry about how tired I am, about how I’ve been run ragged the past couple of weeks by nonstop social engagements. I wrote that I wasn’t going to do anything for the next ten days except for two things already scheduled: Writers Guild this Wednesday and book group on Sunday.

I made a list of all the things I’ve had to neglect because I’ve been too busy. I described how I feel like I’m on the edge, not wholly here.

I spent an hour writing this entry, but I did not save it. Obviously, my computer crashed. A hard crash on a Mac is unusual. This is the third time I’ve had one one this machine since I got it six months ago. But they do happen. And they’re never fun.

The computer crashed because while I was writing that lost entry, I was also creating a short video to post on YouTube:

Those are the MNF kids frolicking at our house last night. In the first clip, they’re eating dinner in the library, mere feet from my precious comics. In the second clip, they’re burning off energy. One of the adults suggested they run around the house, so they are. In the next couple clips, they’re descending on our raspberries like a flock of hungry birds. In the penultimate clip, a couple of the kids are digging in the dirt around Kris’ tomatoes with my weedpopper. And in the last clip, Isabel is attempting to climb onto a chair while Jeff and Emily watch.

These clips are from my new camera. It’s probably no surprise that I’m overanalyzing our upcoming trip to Europe. I’m overthinking everything, and I know it. I had grand plans of taking a carry-on suitcase and a backpack, and not checking any luggage, until Rhonda said, “Aren’t you going to shave?” Drat. I’m still going to take just those two bags, but I’ll have to check the suitcase.

I’ve made a list of things to include in the suitcase, and I’ve begun to acquire those that I don’t yet have. I’m going to use my upcoming backpacking trip as a dry run: I want to be sure I’ve learned to pack light.

Anyhow — one of my new purchases for the trip was a digital camera. I decided I don’t want to lug my SLR equipment around England and Ireland, so I researched digital cameras that met my requirements: ultra-compact with wide-angle lens. There were only two cameras from which to choose: Canon Powershot SD800 IS and the Panasonic DMC-FX01.

Both of these get good reviews, but are not without flaws. The Panasonic is well-made and attractive, but its image quality is sub-par. The Canon, on the other hand, has excellent image quality, but feels like a piece of cheap plastic. Ultimately I chose the Canon. I’ve had it for a few days now, and I must say that I’m pleased with the choice. It really does feel poorly made, but it produces great images. Plus, it’s easy to produce short video clips. (I actually think I could take video up to ten minutes in length, but so far I’ve confined myself to short 30-second clips.)

This video ability pleases me more than you know. Look for more YouTube clips in the future!

Busy as a Bzz-Bzz Bee

It’s that time of year when Kris and I spend much of our time outside, working on the yard. We’ve tried to train the cats to prune and plant for us, but mostly they just lay around glowering at birds.

Kris is (jusifiably) proud of her flower beds, and lately she’s been grabbing my camera to take photos. “Post these,” she says when she’s done. Here are some shots from her most recent batch.

[photo of the front border bed, which is filled with colorful flowers]
The front border bed

[photo of a yellow rose]
The ‘Gold Medal’ rose

Kris loves bees. I was impressed that she was able to make some nice hand-held captures of honeybees at work. For example:

[photo of a honeybee flying among the lavendar]
Bee in flight

[photo of honey bee on lavender]
My favorite photo of the bunch

It’s raining today (Sunday), but yesterday we were able to do a lot of yardwork, pruning limbs, mowing lawns, and otherwise fussing over our plants. Very fun.

A Cat Post

I know that all you folks really want to see is cat pictures. To that end, I dug the camera out of its nest last weekend and stalked my children in the yard. First of all, for Lee, who complains that of course she can’t remember Nemo’s name because, after all, I never write about him, here’s a picture of him:

Actually, that’s Max/Meatball/Meathead in the front, looking pretty, and Nemo rolling on the sidewalk in the background. Nemo is in constant motion, which is one reason we don’t have any good shots of him. Nemo likes to bonk people. He actually has a small bald patch on his forehead from bonking all day long. He’s silly.

Oh look. Here’s a real photo of Nemo:

Toto joined us outside, too, so we actually had “family time” (which is what Kris and I have dubbed the strange nexus when all six family members occupy the same space). Doesn’t she look pleased to be with us?

She’s thinking, “I want Auntie Pam.”

In the following photo, you can see Max, Nemo, and Toto all in roughly the same spot. Simon thought this was too good to pass up, and shortly after this image was made, he began to pick his siblings off one-by-one.

First he tackled Meatball. Max was game, but is still rather scared of Simon. He beat a hasty retreat. Next Simon took down Nemo, who squawked and fled. Then, in a surprise move, he charged Toto. At the last moment, he veered off and trotted to the grass. “Psych!” he said. Toto hissed and ran inside. Simon is king of the house. Or is Toto queen?

Later, Oreo the neighbor cat came for a visit. He likes our yard. He considers this his space, a claim that Simon doesn’t much care for.

Max is rather wary of Oreo, and Oreo is wary of him.

Finally, here’s a photo from my mother’s Flickr stream. I’ve cropped it and enhanced the exposure. I think it’s fun.

Silver, the tabby, is Simon’s sibling. And Socks is Meatball’s sibling. We have this same fight in our house, but with a different set of actors.

Yay, cats!

A Letter to a Friend (from Simon)

Dear Nine,

How are you. I am fine. It is cold here now, and even though Dad let me outside yesterday afternoon, I did not like it. I sat on the steps, and when he came out later to get the mail, I went inside. Brother was on the heating pad, or I might have taken it myself. (The heating pad is actually for Sister, because she is old and grouchy. But Sister does not use it because Brother has contaminated it by his presence.)

Mom and Dad tell me that you have a new Sister, too, but that she is pink and fleshy. I am sorry. Is she evil? Your parents are cruel and thoughtless not to have asked your permission. Don’t they understand that cats do not like change? I hope that at the very least they still feed you regularly.

What do you do in South Dakota? Are there squirrels? Are there birds? Are there leaves? There are leaves here, now, and while they are not as tasty as birds, they do have their virtues. (They’re plentiful, for example.) This weekend, Mom and Dad work in the yard. They raked leaves. I helped.

Auntie Tiff came over, too. I like Auntie Tiff. She knows just how to wiggle a stick.

Later in the day, I rescued Brother. He was sitting by the birdbath when he was set upon by Flash. Brother is rather stupid, and cannot cope with Flash alone, so I charged to his aid. It used to be that Flash and I engaged in mind games, and that the outcome was always in doubt. No longer. I have been practicing, and my mind is now so vastly superior that Flash slinks away in fear.

When the yardwork was finished, I summoned Mom to my side and commanded her to carry me inside. She is a good Mom.

It is sad that you are now so far away, friend Nine. I hope that you are not lonely. I hope that your parents feed you well. I hope that you have birds and squirrels to chase. I hope one day to see you again.

Stay warm.

— your friend, Simon Gates


I was moaning to Kris this morning about how awful I feel. “You should sit outside, get some fresh air,” she said. While I can’t say that following her advice has helped me physically, it’s made a world of difference mentally.

The sun is shining. The birds and the bugs are flitting to and fro. (There are so many insects in flight that the air looks like a thriving insect metropolis.) Everything is green. A warm breeze brings cherry blossoms from the far corner of the yard. The grass is quite tall — I tell myself that perhaps I will mow it tomorrow. The goddamn flicker is still chirp-chirp-chirping, as it has been without ceasing for the past three days. (Kris thinks it must be mating season.) Jays swoop and squawk.

I doze a little. I read a little in The Annotated Anne of Green Gables. When all three cats come to visit at once, I pet each in turn.

I get up and go search for Kris. I find her sitting in the yard, facing her flower beds, as if she were a Queen, and the roses and tulips and herbs her loyal subjects.

“What are you thinking about?” I ask.

“Just flowers and colors and birds and stuff,” she says. “I saw two hummingbirds in the walnut: they were either mating or fighting, I couldn’t tell.”

Something rustles the irises. “Nemo,” we say together. Nemo loves to hide in the irises. They make him feel stealthy.

I think I will spend the rest of the afternoon on the back porch, dozing, and reading, and writing. (With Toto on my lap, apparently, as she’s just jumped up and demanded that I put the computer aside…)

Here’s a recent photo of Simon. I took about twenty at this time, but this is the only one I saved. He kept flopping and rolling and twisting; he wouldn’t sit still. I’m not even sure why I kept this one, but in retrospect, it’s kind of fun:

Wide-Angle Cats

O, rejoice! ye who crave cat photos. I have heard your prayers, and I will provide. Am I not good?

Yes, the sun shone this morning, and its warmth lured me outdoors. With the cats. And the camera. And a wide-angle lens. Simon was none too happy, I’m afraid. After about ten minutes of me shoving the lens in his face (you’ve got to get really close with a wide-angle lens, otherwise you don’t get the photos you want), he started giving me warning yowls. I left him alone and photographed flowers for a while instead.

Nemo, as a Siamese, is restless. It’s difficult to get a photograph of him because he rarely stops moving. However, he did pause for a few moments today to soak up the sun:

Simon, too, is difficult to photograph. He’ll sit still, sure, but not if somebody’s paying attention to him. And pointing a camera at him counts as “paying attention”, which means it’s time to go get some lovin’…

Toto, on the other hand, is happy to sit still. Too bad she’s not photogenic. In her first photo, she looks almost sweet. Almost.

In the second photo, she demonstrates two important photographic principles. First, depth-of-field is influenced by both your distance to the subject and your choice of focal length. Second, film (and, in this case, a digital camera CCD) has a limited dynamic range: photographing a black cat in bright sunlight is never going to work because the camera just can’t capture the range of light.

I took more photos than this, obviously. You can find a few others on my Flickr page.

Rocky Mountain School of Photography

As spring approaches, the photography bug begins to stir inside me. I want to photograph the sunrises. I want to photograph the icy foliage. I itch to get outside. To combat this bug, I spent this weekend at the Rocky Mountain School of Photography “photo weekend” in downtown Portland.

Simon Climbing a Ladder

The Rocky Mountain School of Photography is based in Missoula, Montana. It offers photo weekends — a series of workshops on various photographic topics — throughout the country, as well as various week-long workshops throughout the world. (Workshops this year include trips to South Africa; Victoria, BC; New Zealand; and the Oregon Coast.) The Rocky Mountain School of Photography is best known, however, for its eleven-week summer intensive career training program. (I have a friend who quit her job to do this program; she said it was the best thing she’s ever done. It’s something I’d like to do some day if I can afford it. The program costs $7200!)

The End of the Day

The photo weekends offer a quick taste of their extended content, condensed for hobbyists such as myself. Classes are taught for groups of about fifty students, ranging in skill from novice to professional. Here are the courses that were offered this weekend:

The classes I attended are indicated by italics.

Session One
Photography Basics taught by Susanna Gaunt
Understanding Light taught by Elizabeth Stone
Zone System for Color taught by David Marx

Session Two
Understanding Your Digital SLR taught by David Marx
Creative Techniques in Color taught by Elizabeth Stone
Vacation and Travel Photography taught by Susanna Gaunt

Session Three
Macro Photography taught by Elizabeth Stone
Filters and White Balance taught by David Marx
Sports and Motion taught by Susanna Gaunt

Session Four
Composition taught by Elizabeth Stone
Enhancing Your Digital Images taught by David Marx
Photographing Kids taught by Susanna Gaunt

Session Five
Low Light and Night Photography taught by Elizabeth Stone
Sunrises, Sunsets, and Flowing Water taught by Susanna Gaunt
Printing and E-mailing Your Photos taught by David Marx

Session Six
Group Critique of Student Photos

The classes I attended were a mixed bag. The instructors were certainly knowledgeable — no question of that — but sometimes the subject matter seemed irrelevant (to me) or the presentation ineffective. For example, the Creative Techniques in Color class wasn’t about using color to enhance your photos; it covered infrared photography and multiple exposures and related topics. If I’d realized this in advance, I would have selected a different topic. The Sports and Motion class had potential, but the lecture followed our workbook almost verbatim, and no photographic examples were provided until the very end of the session.

However, the Enhancing Your Digital Images class was worth the price of admission all by itself. That session was fantastic, peeling away some of the mysteries of Photoshop in just two hours. (I now know what Levels are and what the Curves tool is for!) I’ve tried to learn Photoshop from books before, but they just cannot compare to what I learned yesterday. It’s clear to me now that I need to find a Photoshop class at a community college or an art school. (Or, if I can scrape together a thousand bucks, to attend a RMSP workshop on Photoshop in Missoula.)

Opal Creek Pool

One of the things I loved about the weekend were the little tidbits of advice the instructors dispensed here and there. Some of this goes against conventional wisdom, against the stuff photography students hear all the time. For example, we’re told from the start to always have UV/haze filters over our lenses — “It’s better to scratch a $10 filter than to scratch a $1000 lens.” I heard each instructor pooh-pooh this notion. Here, then, is the heart of this entry: little tidbits of advice gleaned from the Rocky Mountain School of Photography photo weekend.

  • If you have a favorite place to photograph, keep going back. Photograph it under different conditions: different times of day, different seasons, etc.
  • Any time you use a filter of any sort, you are compromising quality, losing sharpness. Only use filters when you need them. You paid big money for the glass in your lenses, but the glass (or plastic) in your filters is cheap stuff.
  • If you’re using white balance on your digital camera, the only filters you need are a polarizer and a neutral density filter. Warming and cooling filters are redundant, as those functions are handled by your digital camera’s white balance settings.
  • Student: “Do you use U/V filters?” “No! No! No! Don’t use U/V filters. They’re bad! Haze filters are junk. If you want to cut through haze, put on a polarizer.” Use a lens shade to protect your lens, not a haze filter.
  • Always use a lens shade. It prevents flare. It improves the quality of light. It protects the lens. (Use the lens shade instead of a cheap filter.)
  • If you like water, get a cheap $8 underwater camera from Target, then have the film cross-processed and pushed three stops.
  • Regarding the oft-cited rule that one ought to mostly do photography in the morning and evening (because midday sun is too harsh). “There is no bad light. It’s just a different quality of light.” (Which is not to say that you’re going to get good results photographing architecture at noon, just that you won’t necessarily get bad results.)
  • Learn to use fill flash, especially to provide catchlights in outdoor portraits. A catchlight makes the subject seem more alive.
  • Regarding one of my pet peeves, the ubiquity of the 8×10 format and the difficulty in making 8×12 formats: “I cannot believe that we, as photographers, have not rebelled. 8×10? Please!” A 35mm image is approximately 1.5 x 1 inches, or a 3:2 aspect ratio. This prints full frame on an 8×12. An 8×10 print actually lops off 17% of your image.
  • Most people (including me) use too much sharpening in Photoshop. Sharpening should be subtle. If somebody says to you, “Nice unsharp mask,” you know you’ve used too much.
  • Freezing film retards the aging process.

Though I found parts of the weekend dull and uninteresting, I’m glad I took the workshop. I will be a better photographer for it. (Actually, I’ll be a more efficient photographer — I didn’t actually learn anything to help improve the quality of my images, just to improve my workflow.)

Ella Jumping on Her Bed II

Another keen thing I got from the weekend is that everybody’s photographic sensibilities are different. Sure, there are commonly accepted guidelines for producing photographs that appeal to a broad audience, but each person is always going to have a specific taste. One of the instructors loves to work in the abstract, and is quite fond of photographs that would bore most people to tears. This was a revelation to me. I, too, love to work in the abstract, but I don’t do it often because (a) I don’t have the training and (b) nobody I show the stuff to seems to like it. I like it, but I always figure there’s something wrong with the photos when everybody else blows it off. This weekend made me realize that it’s okay to be different, okay to develop a personal style, okay to to make images that only I like. Images like these:

    Corn Leaf

I’ve never posted the introduction to photography entry I wrote last summer. I finished about 90% of it, but got sidetracked before it was done. Maybe I should work on it so that I can share my (limited) photographic wisdom before spring and summer are upon us.