KING TIDE

One might have thought that there was an international surfing contest at Ocean Beach to explain all the people lined up in the chill (for Southern California) morning along the pier.  But no one was allowed out in the water at all…. Well… with one example appropriate for Californians but more on that in a moment.  It wasn’t surfING that brought them out although the surf was involved.

It was 7:30-ish when I got there.  For the first time in what seemed like weeks the sky was clear and the morning sun was just cresting the ridge of Point Loma with shafts of the golden dawn light coming through the trees and buildings to pick out details of the scene.  The onshore wind filled the air with a slight stinging of cold salt spray.  This was pretty enough but not a condition that would usually bring out all these people plus two TV station trucks!  But here they were, eyes and several gazillion cameras aimed out toward the pier.  What on earth was going on?

It turns out that though you could not yet see it, this weekend has scheduled a special lunar event.  The moon will be full, it will be a perigee as its orbit brings it nearest to the earth (so it will appear bigger and exert more tidal pull), and on Sunday night will be a full lunar eclipse.  Combined with several major storms that have come up from the south west and drenched us with some much-needed rain (at the cost of oversaturating the ground and creating issues of major runoff and mud slides, this morning’s high tide was anticipated to produce something locals call a “King Tide.”  And few places reveal tide height better than the Ocean Beach Pier.

So the breakwater was already lined with people and TV crews when I got there.

crowd at pier for blog

Even with the sun just coming up and a cold salt spray from the onshore wind, the breakwater at the OB pier was lined with people and their cameras.

The incoming waves were washing the underside of the pier with some spray raining down on it so it was closed.  Too bad, there is a great breakfast café out on the pier and you’d have a great view of the action.

pier waves for blog 02

The truth is I’ve seen bigger waves, some that washed completely over the pier.  But those are really rare and even so, this level of wave activity is not common.  Part of the issue is not just the height of them but given the angle and the wind-driven energy, the ferocity of the wave action was immense as it broke on the rocks close to shore.

pier waves 01 for blog

When you looked close you could get a sense of the ferocity of the wave action as the rollers came in from slightly conflicting directions under the pier.  If you got trapped here on your surfboard they might find you washed up ashore without enough hide left to close your eyes.

But, well, this IS California after all.  And it was not just the waves that had people’s attention.  Apparently the wave action washed up a really unusual bit of flotsam from the sea.  For you landlubbers who think that the Mer-folk only contain beautiful women or men that look like Jason Momoa, there, stranded on the beach for all to see, brought up from its watery home, I assume, by the violent wave action, was a more realistic example of marine mer-male pulchritude.  Eat your heart out Aquaman,,,

merman at ob pier for blog

I’ve no idea what to say to add to this shot.  Well maybe to add a question to test your knowledge of eldritch and arcane sea lore.  Would this be a Merman or a Sylkie?  Or something else entirely?  I new hitherto unseen or at least unmentioned creature previous viewers thought best left out of their records…???

Some things are hard to unsee…  However, seeing him brought to mind a question I’ve had since my youth and learning about the ancient seafarers lusting after the, to them, beautiful mermaids that turned out to be dugongs, manatees, and the like.  Have you ever seen a manatee?  If the sailers thought they were beautiful women to lust after, what does that say about the ladies they left behind back in their homes?

Just sayin’…

ADDENDUM:  As I hoped my scientist friend Doctor Jeff came through and identified the species of the creature above as the almost never seen “Phytomacronutrientcaudal Californiensis”

So for those of you scoffers who thought I was making this up, science has once again come to the rescue.  However another theory has been put forth that this is the Karmic-fated reincarnation of the infamous Edward Teach, commander of the armed sloop “Queen Anne’s Revenge” and better known perhaps by his nomme du guerre, Blackbeard the Pirate.

ADDENDUM 2:  I wasn’t there to see it but apparently on Sunday the waves not only washed over the pier they did some major damage to it.

 


 

 

 

 

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The Week Before Christmas

Well here we are, five days from Christmas.  Close to my place the traffic orbiting the two major shopping malls in the area is insane.  The other night it took me 45 minutes to drive about a mile from my grocery store to home.  But the good news is that the weather is mild and typical for San Diego.  So for those shivering in the east and Midwest, just to tweak your attention a bit, here is a shot I took yesterday after taking the RoadTrek out to charge the batteries.

Road Trek at Harbor Island

Here is the San Diego Skyline from Harbor Island on December 19, 2018.  Notice the color of the grass in front of the Roadtrek… and the great lack of snow.   Although this is fun to “tweak” those out shoveling their walks, I confess even after all of the time I’ve been here, it is still hard to really get into the “Christmas Spirit” when it is sunny and 70 degrees out.  (Photo shot with my iPhone)

Over the past week I’ve given finals, made a presentation on Portraiture to a local camera club and been a judge for another, and I’ve finally finished grading (after allowing some late turn-ins who were especially good at pleading a case for mercy) and now am done with the Fall Semester’s homework.  I’m still trying to maintain a plan to go see my old friend in Santa Fe right after Christmas (to avoid the rush of the holiday) but other pressures such as visitors and my remaining un-replaced joints choosing right now to seriously act out are putting that plan in jeopardy.  I’ve heard that if you want to make God laugh, tell Him your plans and I made the mistake of mentioning these travel plans out loud so perhaps it is my own fault.  Honestly, I did not mean them as a challenge to divine creativity…

I cannot have my knee replaced during this break because the recovery period would not allow me to be back in harness in class by the end of January when Spring starts again.  But suddenly my shoulder is seriously acting up and so I just sent a note to the Orthopedic doctor to see if it would be possible to get in right after Christmas to have IT replaced and then, though I’d still be in a sling, I could get around and perform my instructional duties after a few weeks.  I’m not sure how I’ll handle the first couple of weeks since the cat, sympathetic as she may be, is not all that good at being a nurse, but I’ll work it out because anything is better than the past few nights where for the first time in a long time, I’ve managed to max out the 10-point pain scale.  It felt like Grendel was trying to rip my arm off at the shoulder joint.

Pretty soon I’ll have enough metal in me to set off alarms just by getting close to them…

I really did not intend to post anything this week since I did not have any new imagery to show or adventures to relate.  But it turns out that there is something really important I wanted to share.  In researching some quotes for the presentation I mentioned above, I came across this somewhat unrelated quote by Pablo Picasso:

“Do not put off until tomorrow anything you would be willing to die without doing.” 

Wow, that puts a whole new level of seriousness to the issues of procrastination involving things you’d as soon avoid.  But that quote, and some of the Christmas messaging and my own reflection stemming from my planning for dealing with the impending surgeries have conspired to make me want to put this out for everyone to consider. 

If you are surrounded by family or friends that amount to family, give them the best gift of all: your love.  And tell them how much you appreciate having them in your life.  Trust me on this one, when all of your family is “gone to their reward,” and all of your friends are off doing their own thing, and all around you wherever you look are couples obviously enjoying the warmth of each other’s love, you will discover that you can feel the most alone in the midst of a crowd.  It is then you come to appreciate those around you who care for you and about you.  So take the initiative, and while you still can, TELL THEM!  There will come a time in your life when hearing that is a far better gift than any new sports car, jewel bedecked trinket, or even an outlandish Holiday sweater.    

So have a very Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.  OR, if Christmas is not your thing but you do celebrate other holidays during this period, then I also wish the merriest of times for you and my the time be filled with fun, family and friend, and most of all, with love.  When those family or friends are gone, a whole new level of truth will be revealed about the cliché that “it’s just not the same without you.”  Tell ’em while you can.

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Not Quite a Maiden Voyage…

OK, I was really bummed.  My friend Steve Burns invited me to tag along on his Yosemite workshop a weekend about a month ago and I just could not make that work for me.  I’ve been way behind on all of the grading and critiquing for my overly full classes and knew that if I took off for a 4-day trek, much as I really wanted to, I’d end up being a basket case the entire time thinking about all of the work I was not doing.  I was already behind in dealing with specific questions, with the critiques (because my great Blue™ microphone died) and, to be honest, trying to avoid draining the treasury more than necessary after a couple of months of no income on my 10-month-basis contract at school and some other unexpected wasted expenditures with nothing to show for them.  So, sadly, I told him I couldn’t make it.  Waaaaaa…  Sadly, I’m not good at holding my breath till I turn blue.

So I really worked hard during the week at trying to catch up just to get that weight off my shoulders.  It was nose-to-the-grading grindstone; I even gave a test instead of a shooting assignment to provide a little breathing room.  So on Friday, two weeks ago, I was feeling pretty good about where I was with work… and the Roadtrek was just sitting there with its sad eyes, like a dog wanting a table scrap – you now, with that look that only a dog can give you that says they are starving and haven’t eaten in years and their very life is in your hands… or on your fork – THAT look..

Maybe a quick overnighter to boondock in the mountains or desert might not be so awful or irresponsible of me.. I could get some Milky Way shots, maybe do a painting with light shot of the van to get back in practice since next semester I’ll be doing the lighting class again.  Yeah, hey, it was actually school work… sort-a kind-a…  And I haven’t done any real image-making since the Bristlecone Pines workshop early in the summer so was getting a little twitchy around the edges. My spirit had been run through a virtual Cuisinart™ and I was looking but could not “SEE” anything to shoot; my creative fuel tank had been drained by a bullet through its heart.  Maybe a forced infusion of the right surroundings could kick start that image engine into at least some sputtering semblance of life and get me back on track.

Then just when I thought I was caught up and could afford the time for at least an overnight trek on the cheap, my left knee decided it had been too quiet for too long and so decided to act up.  As you might recall my right knee was replaced two summers ago (and now is giving me no problems…YAY!) but it was so awful during the recovery period – a period I could not have handled by myself were it not for my friend, Don, coming out from New England to help – I swore I did not want to even think about going back for the other one.  But that was then… this is now… and the pain that just dropped out of the sky to swallow me in waves of searing “discomfort” (as the doctors like to call it) made me rethink that oath because the new pain was not tolerable.  It was like my knee was being attacked by a dull chainsaw.

When it was obvious this annoyance was not just going to pass as a temporary flare-up, I went to the Daktari, who X-Rayed it and pronounced, as if it was going to be a surprise, that it was much worse than the last time it was X-Rayed before the surgery.  Ya think?!?!?

When I mentioned my resistance toward the surgery solution we decided to see if in-joint injections of some cortico-steroids would alleviate the situation.  Even if it was temporary at least it allowed my mind some rest, my body some sleep, and maybe be my brain able to make a more reasoned decision as to what to REALLY do about it.  The good news is that it seems to have worked and at least at the moment, the debilitating pain has subsided to a more or less tolerable level.

Soooo… let me recall… what was I saying about a little trek to road test the RoadTrek?  I’m still hobbling around with a walking stick but hey, I was not planning on a hike up Mt. Whitney.  Nevertheless, although a real camping trip was simply being masochistic (though I recall a coach once giving the brilliant advice to “embrace the pain”), I SOOOO needed to see some non-urban scenery, and after the election nonsense, get the urban engendered political offal out of my nostrils and did still think a small day trip could let me test how the Roadtrek would handle the dirt and washboards.  For example, before I headed into the great postcard scenery,  determining what may need to be secured better, etc., what kind of mileage I could expect and trip-budget for, etc., indeed would the coach handle that sort of pounding when I was still close to rescue?  So I hauled my heavily complaining knee up into the cab  and headed east.  That still is weird for me to say since all of my life in Colorado I headed west out of town into the mountains; but here if you head west you better be a really good swimmer.

A good exemplar back road is the Boulder Creek Road between Julian and Descanso.  Heavy washboarded sections due to heavy traffic moving too fast and inducing wheel-hop on the dirt, plus it also has some nice scenery and overlooks.  It has some great California poppy fields in Spring but this was not Spring.  And Fall had fallen a bit too long ago to expect any real color but that was OK since getting out and hauling a tripod into position seemed more like an exercise in self-abuse than anything likely to result in an image of real value.

RT along Boulder Creek Rd 01

There was an incredibly heavy fog and haze layer looking back toward the west and the ocean.  Along the horizon just over the mountains you can see the fog bank sitting there.  Even here, along the Boulder Creek Road between Julian and Descanso, it seemed clear up close but there was a heavy ultraviolet haze in the air that required some filtering to remove.  And here, in the dirt for the first time, is the “new” camper.  It performed splendidly.   (Shot with Canon S120 Point and Shoot   (c) N. David King)

So how did it do?  I’m pleased to report that the Roadtrek acquitted itself quite well.  A less than secure arrangement of trays I had placed covering the stove revealed themselves fairly quickly, a few loose items in the cabinets will need to be padded or restrained to keep them from banging around, but otherwise that part of the test was a success.  The new brakes were wonderful as was the ride from the all new heavy duty shocks, and most of all, the big block 454 handled even steep pitches as if they weren’t really there.  For all of its size, weight, and extended wheelbase, I was surprised how (relatively) nimble it was and the “draw in” of the rear wheel track was not as pronounced as I anticipated – a good thing.  The only thing I need to get a better handle on is the exact placement of the rounded rear edges and spare tire that I cannot see.  Maybe a back-up camera would be a good investment…???

RT along Boulder Creek Rd 02

This shot is looking east, away from the ocean.  It is clearer but you can still see the haze turning things blue despite a good UV filter.  This is taken on a curve along the road and the red reflection in the side is from a reddish-brown arroyo wall from which this part of the road is cut.  Shot with a Canon S120 Point and Shoot. (c) N. David King

Oh man I really wanted to haul over at several very cool spots and just set up to spend the night — anything to avoid going back to town.  But everytime I got out to take a shot of the van, even with my little  point and shoot, my knee reminded me that all of my pain meds were back at the house and overnighting without them would be a decision I would very likely seriously come to regret.  So, regretfully, I laid the reins over its neck and pointed the Roadtrek’s nose toward town.  And back I came.

So, a couple more tie-downs, some bungees… some time-windows without having to get back to complete already overdue school work… perhaps a better feeling knee… and I am ready beyond the telling to load in some camera gear and head out.  Where? Who cares?

That-a-way…

 

 

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Questions re RoadTrek

Fascinating, after blogging now for a number of years spread out over two blogs (this one and what I call my “rant” blog), two topics have gotten the most emails sent directly to me:  the post(s) on Jim Bowie and his knives, and the recent one on my new (to me) Roadtrek camper/van. I’m not sure what to make of that, so for the moment I’ll just address the questions.

Roadtrek day one pass side 01 for web
I was asked if this is just a typical van conversion or actually a purpose-built motor home. The answer is that it is, technically a conversion but from a factory dedicated to making high end Class B motorhomes.  I think the name “camper van” is really a more accurate and understandable label but not nearly as imposing as “Class B Motor Home.”

Anyway, the questions were focused on what the interior was like since so many home-brew van conversions are, shall we say politely, somewhat unprofessional in execution. Well, this is not that kind of conversion.  The craftsmanship throughout is significant; the Canadian builders took pride in their work.

Yes, it started life as a 1995 Chevrolet G30 (1-ton) extended van with the optional 454 cid (7.4 L) engine installed. It was shipped to Canada where Roadtrek replaced the roof with their heightened aerodynamic version and went to work on the interior fitting everything to the existing rounded interior dimensions. The result of over a dozen patents on design and technology applied to the Chevy resulted, in 1996, with the completed van being brought back and sold in the U.S. where I am now the third owner.

To show it is not a home-brew chop job let me take you on a quick photo tour.  First, here is a shot from the cab toward the back along the driver’s side. A wardrobe closet is behind the driver seat then a propane stove, sink over a set of drawers and cabinets, then under the counter top and hanging microwave oven is the 3-way refrigerator and on back to a sliding-front cabinet that originally housed a TV and VCR but now is my “office” space (the roll-top desk metaphor seemed appropriate) for stowing my computer, printer, external drives, books, manuals, etc.  I know it may be old fashioned, but then I’m an old fashioned guy and I love all of the wood… real wood.

Roadtrek interior-driver side 01

Here is a better look at the galley area.  The 2-burner stove is under the thin cutting board.  Over it is a vent fan.  This shot doesn’t show it but there is storage over the microwave across the entire galley area.

Roadtrek galley

The central floor is sunken fiberglass with a drain to the graywater tank (that I’ve got covered at the moment) for the shower.  Then it raises as it goes back to the sitting/sleeping area where it can be configured as a dinette, two twin beds or one king-sized bed.  Right now it is configured as opposing “couches” with the table low like a coffee table. Over the beds are more storage cabinets.

The other (passenger side is also nicely done.

Roadtrek interior-pasenger side 01
On the Passenger side, there is a lounge (with seatbelt) that makes into a single bed. Behind that is the bathroom and toilet (behind the mirrored door), then a hanging cupboard and then the beds, etc. Under the lounge chair and the bed on this side are more storage compartments. (Under the bed on the driver’s side is the generator, aux batteries, and furnace). Overhead between the storage bins is the coach 110V air conditioner.

Roadtrek sleeping area
This was a premium rig and looking at the cab you can see all of the wood trim that is stained in a golden oak, a fitting look for a rig that was intended as a work van.

Roadtrek looking forward

The captain’s chairs swivel to the rear and there is a swing out table mounted on the outside of the wardrobe closet behind the driver’s chair.  Over the cab are two more flat overhead storage areas accessed by pulling the drawer to the rear then down.  A place for portfolios perhaps…???

Roadtrek overhead storage 01

What is not apparent are the outside storage bins. Or the hatch to access the propane tank and dump connections for gray and blackwater tanks.

So that is my little tour for the moment. I’m still sorting out proper locations for items that will simply live on board as well as for things brought on for a specific trek. I’m sure reality will see some of those initial ideas needing to be revisited but that is part of the fun.

Unfortunately I am now so far behind in school stuff it seems like it will be a long time till I actually get to go play with this. Waaaaa!!!

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“The PHOTO REPORT” – The First Report

Well I promised news of a new project but it took a week or so longer than I anticipated to get it to a place I was comfortable announcing it.  But here goes.  Thanks to an astonishing and generous cooperation and joint sponsorship by the remaining rivals for the photo retail world in San Diego – Nelson Photo and George’s Camera – I’m now actively engaged in the early preproduction phase of the creation of a “magazine” format video show called “The Photo Report.”

Print

A “Magazine” format show is one that is in the broad category of “infotainment,” i.e. one that presents information in an entertaining fashion.  Generally, like the hard copy version of the same name, a TV “magazine” has various recurring segment areas that make up the overall issue – or, in our case, episode.

The first phase of the project is a trial “proof of concept” period to produce five episodes by the end of January 2019.  While those trial episodes may only appear initially on the sponsors’ websites, my blog here, and perhaps YouTube, if successful (meaning the sponsors are happy with the results and wish to continue funding it), the current plan is to parlay those “trial” examples into a weekly series for local TV access.  Each episode will be created to fit into a standard ½ hour / 30-minute time slot (about 23 minutes of program with the remainder for advertising.  Thus far I’ve identified seven types of segments (e.g. photographer’s profiles, equipment introductions and demonstrations, tips & tutorials, photo resources and events, etc.) where two or three segments would be used in each of the larger “themed” episode.  The targeted audience is anyone interested in photography from beginner and student levels up to the working professional, and in all genres of the art and industry. 

It should be interesting juggling topics and equipment demos and introductions to keep two hard-fought rivals both happy.  I was really surprised when Larry and Nancy at Nelson Photo suggested, and David at George’s Camera readily agreed to work together to sponsor this concept.  The good news is, that must mean both see some real value in the concept; but It also means I’ll have to work all the harder to produce something worthy of that openness and cooperation.  For a producer, those are fun challenges to have. 

I’m truly excited by this opportunity and looking forward to getting it seriously underway.  Unfortunately for someone such as myself, for whom patience is not a major strong suit, there is a huge amount of preliminary work to do before even a second of video is captured.  I learned from my days doing corporate, industrial, and training video programming, that success is totally dependent on planning and creating the proper foundations for a given program.  So, anxious as I am to go out and start shooting, I am gritting my teeth and practicing what I preach and only working now on those early pre-production steps.  It is hard to keep my mind focused since I keep seeing footage to do for each episode playing in my mind.

Once the sponsors agree on the topics for the trial episodes, then I’ll identify the onscreen experts and “guests” that will need to be captured and settle on the questions to elicit responses directed toward the specific episode’s theme.  Those preliminary “interviews” will help inform the scripts to make sure there is consistency between the basic host’s (me) narration and the material being presented by the experts.  Then, with that hard data available, we can also identify the equipment, props, and even shooting locations that will be needed for the actual episodes.  Also needed will be the graphics and any animation needed for the intro/roll-ups, outro/end credits, plus the visual-aids needed for the specific episodes and segment topics.

Did I mention that I’m excited by this?  I think this is a cool project and obviously so do the sponsors, but this is a tough market for photographers of all levels.  It is a great place to come and study; it’s a great place to shoot… but it is a miserable venue for revenue purposes as it is, at this point at least, home to rates lower than they were in the Rockies when I left Colorado to come here and teach in January of 2000. 

But win, lose, or draw, this should really be a fun project and I am anxious to get underway.  

I know, I know… patience, David, patience…

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A New Rocinante Jr.

In a sequence of events that still leaves me highly irregular to think about, the little white Westfalia shown in the blog on the Bristlecone Pines trek is no longer part of my future’s plans.  To use a sailing metaphor, that part of the plan was run aground in a fog.  But hey, y’know, sometimes things happen for a reason and this seems to have turned out to be one of them. Some lessons are extraordinarily costly – as was this one – but the flip side is that those expensive lessons (and not always just those economic in cost) often turn out to be the most important and far reaching of life’s lessons providing insight well beyond the obvious items.

When looked back on from a positive perspective, I did also learn a few important things from using the Westy that, as you might have surmised from the blog on my Bristlecone Pines workshop, I really saw initially as an ideal combination travel/production vehicle.  The original “Rocinante,” my 26- foot Coachman, is simply too big to easily get around in and it’s patently insane to try to park at the stores in smaller towns… or sometimes even in larger towns or to conveniently just pull over in the National Parks and scenic byways to grab a shot so there was frequently no option but to drive on by, whining with every foot past a great view.

The little Westy, however, opened my eyes to new possibilities because it went anywhere, parked anywhere, and even as a common daily driver was nearly perfect.  But there was a down side as well.  It was a little small and though it served well as either a travel rig or a production rig, it was not all that ideal as both at the same time.  I put in a solar panel, auxiliary batteries, Thule roof pod, and boosted cell reception, but it didn’t have AC (that was planned as a later install), no power steering (though my shoulders were getting stronger), no bathroom, and because any additional space was based on the pop-up roof, required moving gear up and down to reveal or use the lower bed.  But still, it was very cool, I loved it, and I expected it to be able to make it work just fine until down the road at some point it would go back to the actual owner much improved from when it came into my possession.

But… in the back of my mind, I had once had a friend who had a Roadtrek 190 “Popular” (the model name) Class B rig that they graciously loaned to me to use for a workshop and it was about as perfect as it was possible to be.  Not a family rig by any means, but for one or two people plus gear, it was great and I never forgot how handy it was.  If only the Westy was just a little bit bigger…

So, when the Westy went away into a black hole of abject weirdness, I turned my attention to finding something more like that Roadtrek 190.  The problem is, Roadtreks are one of the “gold standards” of their class and I assumed I could not really afford one, so looked initially at quite a few similar rigs by other manufacturers.  To be honest, none impressed me all that much.  So when a stunningly good deal on a real Roadtrek appeared in Craig’s List I went to see it.  For the price I honestly expected it to be trashed. The photos were great, but I do know what is possible in modern photo editing.  And then I saw it… I was bowled over; it looked like it just rolled off the showroom floor.  So, I put down a deposit on the spot and a week later all of the paperwork was completed and today, it is now mine.

Roadtrek Day One Driver Side 01 for web

The new (to me) Roadtrek 190 “Popular.”  This one is on a 1996 Chevy extended C30 (1-ton) chassis.  It is nearly pristine inside and out and loaded with options and power-everything! The body is 19 feet, bumper-to-bumper for all of the 190 models, but those on the Chevrolet chassis had a longer wheelbase than ones on the Dodge chassis which puts the rear axle further back for less overhang

There are some things I’d like to do to it as I had done to the Westy such as the solar panel installation and the cell reception booster.  But since the economic reality in my post-VW moment has persuaded me as to the wisdom of delaying my retirement plans at school, at least for another semester, there is plenty of time to do all of those things to the Road Trek. And since it starts already with more functionality, mercifully there will be less to do to it.

Roadtrek day one pass side 01 for web

The Roadtrek from the passenger side showing the factory optional awning.  The deal was incredible and impossible to resist…..  I can hardly wait to get it on the road!

So let me proudly introduce you to Rocinante, Jr., or just “Junior.” That’s its “working” name for the moment.  I have not driven it except to bring it home from up north (it’s too tall for our school parking structures) and to the bay to photograph it, so have not yet discovered what its real name should be.  But I do not want to have to redo the blog, so will delay that for down the road.  For now, with “The Photo Report” project getting underway (I’ll explain that in the next post), a vehicle with room to store lots of gear and still have an open bed, bathroom, etc. the future that was plunged into a very dark place is once again looking better by the moment.

Plus, I’ve just been contacted by a publishing company regarding the creation of interactive student learning aides which sounds fascinating.  So perhaps this new chapter for me will be off to a good start.  I certainly have everything crossable, crossed.  And if I can rebuild the treasury I can revisit turning in the paperwork for my retirement from teaching full time.  I love teaching too much to turn my back on it entirely but maybe its time for some part time work and/or concentrating more on doing seminars and workshops.  A recent department meeting convinced me the State system is the sworn enemy of vocational programs and the use of Community Colleges for anything other than creating fodder for the 4-year schools.  Treasury or not, retirement is sounding better by the day and this new camper is not helping things in that regard.

roadtrek Day One Rear PAss 01 for web

Sorry, the little Canon 120 P&S camera I shot these with got nudged into one of its “artsy modes” unintentionally and that is what is creating the obnoxious haloing in this shot.  But it does show the rear of the van with the double doors that I love and the expensive optional “Continental Kit” spare tire carrier.  In fact this one is filled with options including a microwave, TV connections, even optional sliding overhead storage drawers over the cab.  Yep, I think it will do very nicely!

I’m soooooo deeply drawn to the idea of hitting the road at least for a day or two to recharge my own internal “batteries” and clean some of the dark, ugly funk out of my spirit with the clean air of the mountains or desert.  Unfortunately, this coming weekend will be filled with grading and school stuff plus I’ll be judging at a local photo club event which breaks up the weekend, so there’s no time to try a test trip.  But the following weekend, however, if I can keep a schedule open, then maybe that will be a good opportunity for the shakedown cruise.   We’ll see…

OK, next time after a meeting in a few days I’ll be in a position to tell you about “The Photo Report” project.

 

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FINDING (AND SHOWING) THE FOCAL POINT

At the judge’s panel for the SD Fair we talk a lot about how it is not the judge’s job to find the real photo somewhere inside of the photo that was submitted… it’s the job of the photographer.  But we do not often talk about how that is to be done… how does one determine, for themselves, the proper focal point, i.e. the real “subject” of their photo and then properly present it to the viewing audience (or, in our cases, to the judges) or to their instructors?

Here are some suggestions as to where to start and how to think about doing just that:

  1. Don’t just blaze away because the scene in front of you is pretty and then hope something works – THINK ABOUT IT.  Stop for a moment and really ask yourself, why does this scene resonate with me?  Is there something in it that I’m especially drawn to, that triggers some emotional response in me?  And if so, what is it I or you would like to convey to the viewers?  For example, if you come across a scene where a bright red barn is sitting at the edge of a beautiful field dressed in its brilliant deep spring green attire, what is it that REALLY attracted your eye?  Is it a huge green expanse of texture with a bit of red visual punctuation?  Or is it this fascinating red structure backed by a green complimentary area?  Those are two very different photos.  A photo that simply gives both elements equal attention may be post-card pretty, but is emotionally boring and confusing.

    The better you can relate to and at least internally articulate your response to the scene, the more precisely you can determine what is the primary, driving element in it, the better you can determine what is the real subject and what is simply background and environmental subtext for it.  But to make the photograph really stand out, something – some single element – needs to be allowed to be the major subject… the “focal point.”

    A normal sized photograph is not a large enough visual universe to handle multiple focal points in the way something such as a wall mural might.  Competing areas of interest do not add to an image, they detract from it and from each other and combine in a negative way to make the final collection too busy and too filled with distraction to deal with.  So the goal is clear: simplify.  Think of it this way, if you had to describe the scene and your response to it to a person who could not be there to see or experience that scene, what would you say to them?  THAT is what you need to illustrate with your photograph.  Work at pre-visualizing what the finished photograph should look like and then set about capturing and editing it so that vision for it will also be the result.

    What makes a photograph – or any art work for that matter – yours and not someone else’s is that it can be only you with your unique combination of history, associations, perspectives, filters, etc. that can give us YOUR take on the scene, not someone else’s.  Art is about interpretation, never about narration.  Under the very best of technology the only way to actually show the viewers the full reality of a scene is to take them there and even then they may react differently than you.  Your job is to help them understand your take on the scene and let them see it from a perspective they may never have thought about, to show them something about that scene they might never have seen on their own, basically your job is to expand their universe through the vehicle of your imagery.  You cannot do that by simply letting multiple elements compete and dilute each other’s power.  Pick the one that most resonates with you, and then work to make that selection clear using the techniques below.

  2. Once you have identified your real subject, remove or at least minimize all distractions. Apart from the subject itself, every other element in the image should either enhance or support the “hero” subject.  If it does not, then get rid of it.  If it competes for attention, get rid of it.  If it is in any way distracting or dilutes the power of the subject, get rid of it.   But since this is not a painting where you can simply leave things out or move them around easily, how does one get rid of those distracting elements.  It is harder, to be sure, for photographers, but it is not impossible.  There are several ways to go about it; here are a few of them to get you started.
    1. Point of View. Sometimes a simple change in angle of view will completely alter the emphasis of a shot and hide or remove the unwanted elements.  Try moving around, drop to the ground, climb up on something, if possible it may be OK to physically move something, but generally it will be up to you to find the best vantage point.  The only thing that is usually true is that to let the viewer see things from a new perspective, that vantage point is rarely from eye level and normal distances.
    2. Focus and Depth of Field. Photography gives us a tool that does not exist in the other arts.  The human eye is constantly refocusing as it scans an area, so we perceive a scene as if it were all in focus.  Our brain allows us to concentrate on certain areas and exclude others from our attention, but everywhere we look we try to bring it into focus.  Consequently, most realistic style paintings show everything in focus and use composition to remove or re-arrange things to tell the story.  But the optics we use, and the human limitation on resolving power combine to let us use the illusion of “Depth of Field.”  That lets us create an image where only the area we want is in focus.  And because of minute pain stimuli in the optic nerve when we try to focus on something that is out of focus (put on someone else’s prescription glasses to “feel” this discomfort) we will tend to concentrate on the parts of a photo that are sharp.  This is a powerful imaging tool for our story telling.  Learn your equipment so that you can use it purposefully and easily.
    3. Tones. In the black and white world tone was all we had to tell our story.  There we learned to use it to lead the eye, to emphasize or de-emphasize elements.  It was important critical learning and one reason I hope foundational training in that film-based media never goes away because almost without exception, those photographers who started their photo education in that analog monochromatic world are better in the end.  Colors have gray value and if they are all the same or close, then color alone will not stop the final image from seeming flat and lifeless.

      Our eyes are drawn to tonal contrasts.  A light area in a dark environment or the opposite, e.g. a dark area on a light environment, will draw our attention and help tell us what is important in the overall scene.  The variations in tone helps the illusion of depth, topography, and form and tells us much about the texture and make-up of a picture element.  Purposefully use those tones to tell your story.  A different and more primitive part of the brain analyses tonal patterns than the part of the brain that analyses color.  So treat it as a separate issue and make it work for you not against you.

    4. Color. If the color of a subject is important to its story as you interpret it, then include it; if not… don’t.  But if you do use it, learn the psychological/physiological/emotional impact of color and how it will effect your viewers.  Humans will respond very differently to areas of bright red than to areas of bright green or blue.  Learn those differences and how to use them to help convey your feelings about the subject. Otherwise you may get a response you didn’t intend.
    5. Framing and Cropping. Our photographs present the viewer with a new universe… ours.  Within its borders we are constructing that universe and have both the power and the duty as artists, to include what is needed and exclude what is not.  Pay attention to the subject and how it dominates the attention of the viewer.  Is that being well served by the aspect ratio?  Should it be a panoramic view or a square, for example.  And then, when you think you have it, now carefully go around the edges and borders of that universe looking for anything, no matter how small, that might attract attention or take the viewer’s eye out of the scene… and get rid of it.
  3. Use Composition as the syntax of the language of your visual story. All languages have a syntax to allow users to make sense of the separate elements or “words.”  The language of visuals is no different and for we visual image makers the syntax is found in the composition of the elements. It is way beyond the limitations of a blog entry to cover even this part of our topic in detail but as a photographer, you need to do so.  Here are a few of the high points…
    1. Balance and visual weight. Visual elements have varying amounts of “weight” in any painting or photograph.  Of course, large elements are heavier than small ones other things influence that sense of weight. Dark tones are “heavier” than light tones.  Some colors are heavier than others.  Many lighter areas can balance a larger area just like trying to balance on a kids teeter-totter.  If some overall image is completely balanced it can become static and dead, but if it is too imbalanced it quickly becomes chaotic and unintelligible.  The trick is that perfect state of dynamic tension that is not quite balanced but is not falling apart.  It will do your photography wonders to study the issues of visual balance and weight as it is taught to traditional artists.
    2. Arrangement of space and Elements. The Greeks taught us through long observation that elements arranged based on the “Golden Rectangle” and “Golden Spiral” seem to be more universally appealing than other arrangements.  We have used schemes from Fibonacci numbers to the Rule of Thirds to make it easier for the mathematically challenged among us (like me) to arrange things.  But for every so-called rule, its opposite is also a rule and tells us about achieving specific responses.  We are told for example that placing the subject in a bull’s eye target location create a static unmoving, undynamic results, that has also just told us what to do if that is precisely what we want to say about the subject.  Learn the “rules” but also learn how to then turn them on their head for a previsualized result.  There can be as much power in purposeful bending of the rules as in a slavish adherence to them.
    3. Perspective (Linear and tonal). The use of perspective is an illusion designed to create a simulation of dimension and depth in a flat or two dimensional rendering such as a painting or photograph.  That illusion  via overlap or tone or detail changes as objects are farther and farther from us make us “feel” the depth that was in the real scene.  But for emphasis we can move the appearance of things closer or farther apart once we learn the techniques to do so… hint, hint…
    4. Leading Lines. Leading lines are those implied lines in a photograph that are so powerful as to lead our eyes and attention in specific directions across or through the image.  Without other clues, our written language has taught us how to interpret those since those of us following the Greek and Latin foundations read and write in a left-to-right, top-to bottom fashion.  Think of a typical line chart, say of one’s financials.  We can eliminate the chart legend itself and if the line is higher on the right than on the left we will intuitively see it as going up, generally a positive thing (unless it is a chart of liabilities).  This is so powerful we can not only lead a viewer’s eye into the subject, we can give them a sense of whether they are looking up to it or down on it and with all of the connotative baggage those phrases contain.
  4. Select the right lens to tell your story about your subject. I know we spend a lot of time in classes trying to sell the idea that the tools do not matter, that a good artist can pick up almost any form of tool and make art with it.  And that is at least partially true.  But it is not completely true.  A painter does not try to do everything with one brush because the effect of laying down paint with a particular brush will be different than with another.  So too, if you approach the actual capture of your photographic image with a complete pre-visualization of how it will look in the final print, there may be only one combination of lens and point of view that can achieve that vision.  Your job is to learn how different lenses render objects spatially and how to select the right ones for the work you intend to do.  This will allow you to optically establish the subject’s emphasis and importance as YOU wish, not as you must try to accomplish with a lens and/or camera position that is fighting that goal.
  5. Timing is everything. A photograph captures, usually, a finite period of time and except for purposeful long exposures, generally captures a fraction of a second out of a lifetime of visual experience.  Selecting that fraction of a second out of all of the options is one of the most powerful ways you have to making the image tell your story and perspective as only you can.  Almost every aspect of your capture is susceptible to a change in timing.
    1. Light and Shadow. As the sun moves across the sky, as it hides then peeks out from the clouds, moment by moment the pattern and the color of the tones painted on the scene change.  And not just different times of day but different times of the year see our normal “main” or “key” light – the sun – create different patterns and colors on the environment.  Your job is to learn those patterns and select the time when they best tell your story about your subject.
    2. Action. Anytime real motion is encountered, telling its story through the precise capturing of action is critical. But, unfortunately, it often happens in a fraction of a second shorter than even the capture duration.  That moment in a boxing match when the glove impacts a face, the moment in football when the incoming ball touches the hand of the receiver, the moment the bat collides with the baseball, those are the moments of action that cement the issue of the image’s real subject.  But to capture those predictably cannot be done with a reliance on dumb luck and a fast shutter burst.  You need to so well know and understand the action at hand AND your own reaction times that you can anticipate that desired moment and push the shutter release in time to capture it… shot after shot.  Then you can call yourself a sports photographer and not just a camera operator.
    3. The “Decisive Moment.” Henri Cartier Bresson coined this term primarily applying it to his street photography.  But it applies equally to ALL photos even ones we don’t think of such as landscapes.  Except here in California we do not think much about the landscape itself as moving, but as noted above, the light source is constantly moving and revealing or hiding different elements; the wind may be moving those elements around; in short it is not only the subject’s action itself that impacts our shot timing.  We need to be ready for any of it and understand how it will effect that final image.

Holy Cow, that’s a lot, I know.  And that is, as noted, just hitting the high spots. But if it were easy, there would be a lot more stunningly successful image makers.  Being an artist in any medium is actually a lot of mental and emotional work.  We are, in an important way, visual philosophers — “Ontologists” to be specific; our field is an exploration of the very nature and being of our world.  Our job is to present our findings to our viewers in ways that they can grasp and understand.  We have a lot of tools in our toolbox, but the most important tools are our brain and heart.  As the photographer Skip Cohen wrote, “…we cannot tug at a viewer’s heartstrings if our own hearts are not in it.”  I tell students all the time, forget just trying to photograph what you see.  Technology is so good now the camera can do that without any help from you.

Your job is a lot tougher, it is to photograph what you FEEL, because only you can do that.

 

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