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San Diego – Finally, finally…grades for the Spring Semester are all done and submitted. Already one error – mine of course – and I’ll need to submit a grade change next week to make it right. Oh bother (or “pother” to use the correct antique phrase).
Oh well, at least the “monkey work” is done. If you haven’t picked up on it before let me be crystal clear: I HATE grading! I very much enjoy working with students to make their work better… but grading, oh man that is quite another thing. Especially in a California Community College where we have so coddled some that grades are utterly irrelevant or are expected as an entitlement. But that is one of those issues for the other blog and at the moment I’m not up for it.
I understand how the system needs some way to assess progress but I do prefer the workshops where grades are not given or needed. But it is done, along with other monkey work for the system with our 2012-2013 master plan (a totally pointless exercise in defining what we need to meet out objectives since there is no money to actually get any of it). Ah but the budget idiocy also belongs in the other place too…
Boy, it is hard not to get me started on academia… But I will resist it because I’m in a great mood now. Partially because that grading and SLO part is completed and partially because completing it allowed me to sit down and work on a few quick shots I took early in the week. Working with images at any stage of their production always puts me in a good mood since it lets me put some effort into making my own work better.
I went out for a few hours on Tuesday with a friend to get some fresh air, and of course took a camera along. Originally I really had nothing photographic in mind but I did not want to go very far. We went down to OB (“Ocean Beach” for those who don’t know). The sign should read, “Welcome to OB, set your watch back to 1960.” It is one of the world’s great “people watching” spots but I was not moved by that type of image that day.
We walked on the beach under the pier and it was really beautiful. We seemed to be between tidal movements so the water was gorgeous, almost clear, the sky was perfect… so it seemed OK to “limber up” to do one of those idyllic shots to send home so that back where it is raining or the weather is less than wonderful you can make them eat their hearts out. Sort of “I was there” snap shots, so to speak. But even so I wanted to make a statement about what I was seeing. It is not often the water here has an almost Caribbean blue-green look to it so I wanted to contrast the deep colors (sky, water, and sand) and their textures.
This first image was shot with a 17-40mm lens @ 17mm, f8, 1/8000 second, ISO 800. It was OK and served its lightweight purpose. In addition to playing with the composition of sky becoming water becoming sand I wanted to utterly freeze the surf’s action and in doing so I did notice that even though the surf and tide were fairly smooth, as the waves crashed against the pier’s pilings it did create some great action.
Hmmm, maybe there might be something to be found in this…? I switched to a 70-200mm lens for the splash shot and did the shot at 200mm, f8, 1/8000 second at ISO 800 because, again, I really wanted to see the action of the water pounding against the concrete.
When you hear someone who has just looked at your work set it aside and say something like, “That’s nice…” you know there is a problem. And when you say it to yourself then there is REALLY something lacking. The shots did what I wanted technically and composed OK, but there was no fire in their bellies. Decorative enough and pleasant enough but not something to make a wall-hanging shot come alive.
We walked around some tide pools, watched little crabs scurry about, looked at some of the “calligraphy” written by the drying kelp strands washed ashore. I took a couple of perfunctory shots, but none of it resonated with me. Close but no cigar… Maybe it was just me???
So we went down to the main waterfront on the big bay where some of the tall ships are moored as part of the maritime museum. The tourists were thick as fleas on a possum and to me that is always a little off-putting; made even more so by the pan-handlers. I almost did not take a shot but standing at the dock beside the Star of India I was attracted by the patterns of its rigging and sails. I tried a shot amidships but it didn’t seem to fit my vision for a composition. It was interesting in its own way but it lost all sense of place. And once I saw it on the monitor I knew it was lacking that and also lacking in anything beyond pure design.
So I switched lenses to a 8mm-15mm fish-eye and as I walked and looked through it a more extreme design filled with leading lines, prime elements, and interesting color started to emerge. With the ISO at 125, the cleanest speed of my chip, deep depth of field to come from f18 at 1/125 second I adjusted the lens’s focal length for a full frame fisheye (180 degrees) at 15mm.
With camera to one eye (and the other watching my footing on the edge of the dock) I walked back and forth, ducked down, stood on the raised portion of the dock, tried a variety of points of view until things seemed to line up for me in a workable composition then fired from several similar positions.
Looking at the scene and through the viewfinder, the afternoon sun streaming through the sails and sparkling on the water, it was rich but with an outlandish dynamic range it all created a need for careful exposure especially since I did not come prepared to do an HDR. I dropped the contrast in the camera as a start and did a test shot. This one might have some potential. I lowered the contrast another notch.
The RAW file consequently was a little flat in order to capture the greatest tonal range I could but that was exactly what I wanted. Building contrast in post is easy, but flattening it out, trying to recover lost shadows and highlights and remaining realistic or appealing is far more difficult. But using some curves adjustments in Photoshop and then a blended layer with one of Topaz’s plug-in filters gave me the file that “felt” the way it felt to me when I made the shot.
So now, school work nearly over (except for the grade change form) I am free to get prepared for the upcoming shoulder surgery in a couple of weeks. Hopefully I can fill it with some more shooting. And also can then start planning for some summer workshops.