Bristlecone Pines Trip is Filling Up!

Just a quick post this time.  The roster for the 2018 Bristlecone Pines trek in July is filling up.  If this is a workshop trip that you might be interested in, go to the Page noted in the banner above for all the details and then drop me an email to get on the roster.

If you know someone who might also be interested, below is a YouTube link to a short promotional video on the trip you can pass on to let them know about the trip.



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The Log for a Promo Video Project


Some of you are getting into video production to add to your professional photography offerings.  As you’ve heard me say here and, in my workshops, video is an entirely new world for most still photographers, even experienced ones.  So, from time to time I’ll let you in on the processes and issues from a real video shoot; and here is one of them.   When things are smooth there is very little of educational value, but when it is more difficult it provides far better resource material for students.

This project was done as a “favor” for a friend to help his father boost his business.  Trust me you’ll be getting requests like this as video becomes more ubiquitous online and in sales and service websites.  But here is the problem you will face: I can tell you from lots of experience, there is an inverse relationship between the price charged for a project and the problems that will come out of the wood work to bite you.

The expensive gigs are planned very carefully, have full professional crews and set help, and even though they are often a lot of work, that planning and help means they tend to go very smoothly.  But as the money fades and parts of the production logistics have to be jerry rigged or corners cut, the problems escalate.  And free projects can often turn out to be the worst nightmares for some or all of the production elements.  Like no other, free projects will demand you be on your toes and ready to get creative with rigging and shooting and lighting and… well all aspects of it.  That’s all on top of the conceptual and aesthetic creativity required to produce good video productions to serve your client’s needs in the first place.  Those are hard on the treasury but great exercises to develop your creativity.

Remember, regardless of the price charged, from $0.05 to $50,000,  once you have agreed to do it at all, your name and reputation is now on the line and you need to give the production 100% of your skills, talents, and energies.  And remember too, this is not YOUR needs to meet, but the client’s.  You may or may not be able to pull a program for your reel from it, but that is irrelevant.  The only relevant thing, as it is in ALL of real commercial photography, is meeting the needs of the client… not yours.

So-o-o-o…  this late in March I shot the video for a series of episodes on barbeque tips and techniques for a delightful gentleman from Mississippi, LaMont Burns.   (Check him out at On his website you can see some of his older videos and it will be obvious why he needed something new.  He has operated his own BBQ restaurants specializing in southern style cooking and BBQ and now has his own proprietary BBQ sauce and marinade.  It was ultimately to promote sales of his product that the planned web site and video channel is designed.  These short 2-5-minute “episodes” are designed to air about every two weeks and provide tips and techniques for BBQ and southern cooking using his own products, of course.

Two “sets/locations” were desired to provide some variety:  one was to be indoors in a kitchen and the other outdoors and a bit more rustic.  This allowed showing the use of both standard appliances like stoves and also a clever indoor-outdoor grill.  But, remember, there was no money for this production.  Period.  So certainly, there was no money for a practical kitchen set on a studio or stage somewhere, so we had to use LaMont’s son’s kitchen.  Real kitchens, unless in a serious mansion, present major challenges as shooting locations: general layout was designed for cooking  and not for photography OF cooking.  The available space and low ceiling for lighting, talent, camera(s), and sound design issues for audio, are just starting issues.  It can go downhill from there.

With vinyl floors and hard cabinet surfaces, the small kitchen for the interior segments was very “live” and echo-y from a sound perspective.  I used a good shotgun mic on a boom very close to him but it still picks up some of the small room’s tinny bounce.  It turned out, however, that “live room” wasn’t anywhere near the audio problem we found when the “quiet back yard” for the exterior shots turned out to back up to a major boulevard and be on the flight path out of a local general aviation airport…  Oh well, if it was all easy anyone could do it, right?

Besides, the subtle “project” creep as it was slowly revealed to me, after I agreed to do a short video for a friend’s dad,  which became 19 segments, should have been an omen that it might not all go stunningly smooth and glitch free.  But every now and then it is important to do a project that pays in smiles and appreciation; it may be hard on the patience and the pocketbook but it is, I think, good for the soul.  If “Karma” is real, sometimes these projects will, I fervently hope, provide a few points in that regard.  And, for a teacher, they can provide some of the best educational “war stories.”

Well most of the time, anyway…  it will remain to be seen if this will turn out to be one of them.  I remain hopeful…   When I looked at some video he already had on his website and it was simply awful, I was relieved; at its worst, the segments we shot are, by comparison at least, awesome.  I’d prefer a more object criteria and evaluation of awesomeness, but, hey, sometimes you grasp at straws and latch on to the good news however you have to find — and spin it.

However, there are lessons to pass along for you guys seeking to move into the video production end of commercial photo work.  Unless you are just doing the incredibly boring but really simple “talking head” sort of project —  you know, where an “expert” presenter, often self-titled, who knows it all, is going to dazzle the viewers with their brilliance and therefore needs nothing but a planted camera (usually a DSLR) and they are good to go — you need help.  And when starting out, believe me you need some experienced and knowledgeable help.  But, with no money for anything there was no money to hire good crew help.  That is enough of a real problem for an experienced producer, but it can be deadly for one just starting out and trying to build their reel and rep.

Whether it is your first production or your ten thousandth one, good quality video has at least three major elements:  first the audio must be clear and understandable, second the lighting must be good and give enhancement and some spatial sense to the set, and then finally, the video itself needs to be sharp and clear and help with the sense of motion and pacing.  If motion isn’t an issue then do a still shoot; if it is, then it becomes the only reason to be doing it as video in the first place.  So learn to use it.

For videos with an on-screen presenter, the fourth requirement is that the on-screen presenter not only really knows their stuff, they need to be used to working in an environment where they may have to re-do some takes and need to be able to stop and start and duplicate the last action and dialogue as perfectly as possible or things will not cut together in edit.  That is a skill set that makes good talent worth their weight in gold on a set and which will ultimately be cheaper as it will save time in shooting and editing.

Each of those elements requires a special skill set on its own.  If you don’t have help, there are so many things to think about, all at the same time, that no matter how good you are, or whether or not you know how to do all of the things needed, the complexity of a real shoot will bite you and things will start to slip through the cracks and require either major editing fixes or perhaps, worse, can’t be fixed at all.

This project was a textbook example of that problem where the infamous Mr. Murphy and his law book was on the set and happily doing his thing.  The presenter, LaMont, was a wonderful guy; warm, approachable, and an incredible cook.  But he was not an experienced on-screen talent.  He really knew the topic and was a “ham” in front of the camera… but that is a very different thing.  For example, when multiple takes or some stops and starts were required, no two takes were anything alike in terms of narration, and without a script supervisor or producer paying attention or worse, as in our case with no script at all but LaMont doing it all as an ad lib delivery, the material presented a virtual nightmare for editing purposes and necessitated time-consuming but careful logging of footage, trying to find and cut sections together that flowed and more or less matched.

There is a reason for rehearsals and it is not for talent to learn their lines; that is something they should come to the set with.  It is for scene blocking and letting the talent and camera ops synchronize movements and expected action.  Again, THIS IS NOT STILL PHOTOGRAPHY!  But the talent arrived the night before and left the morning after so there was no time for rehearsals.  We did it all cold and on the fly.  And in places it shows.  Video is like that; to a much greater extent than stills, small issues find their way into the finished piece for all to see or hear.

This was done as a favor but a student, knowing of the project, asked what it would have cost had it been done “Straight up,” i.e. how should it have been budgeted for a proper quote and proposal?  With the benefit of hindsight, we know the actual times involved so do not have to speculate (though it turned out requiring almost exactly what I expected and would have estimated for out-of-pocket costs to the production company had it been a real gig).  San Diego, in terms of clients’ ideas about rates for any photo or video work is the cheapest, most unprofessional level I’ve seen anywhere in the country.  The rates in Denver in 1990 were far better than here today in 2018.  But it is what it is, and this is where the project took place so we will take some bare-bones low-end rates from this area for our estimates (if you are in New York or L.A. or Dallas, or even Denver, please don’t laugh.  And in any other venue, don’t use these numbers or no one will take you seriously.  In most venues students would charge more than this.)

# Item Rate Time/Qty Total Cost Notes
1 Producer/Director $350/Dy 2.5 Days $   875.00 The common “set boss”
2 “A” Camera Operator $250/Dy 2.0 Days 500.00 DP & 1st Shooter
3 “B” Camera Operator $175/Dy 2.0 days 350.00 2nd Shooter
4 Gaffer/Grip $150/Day 2.0 Days 300.00 Set lighting/equip control
5 Audio Tech $175/Day 2.0 Days 350.00 Set Audio/boom
6 PA $100/day 2.0 Days 200.00 General set help
7 Editor $50/hr 50 hrs 2,500.00 Real editors cost MUCH more
8 Equipment/kit Fees 300.00 Project 300.00 Cam/lights/audio/etc
9 Contingency 10% Expense $ 55.00 Generally 5-10%
10 Travel $.75/mile 141 mi 106.00 SD-Site-SD x 3 trips
11 Misc     .00 No misc was needed
12 Sub Total     $5,536.00 Costs to vid company
13 Profit for Video Co. % subtotal 25% 1,384.00 Fairly low percentage
14 Total Estimate     $6,920.00 A reasonable total bid

Well, those are numbers for a proper-sized crew and approach but with ultra-low-end local rates.  Even so, what was actually available with no budget was one person to be the director/DP/cameraman x2/gaffer/audio tech (that was all me) and a “producer” whose idea and concept it was but who, on set, helped prep the food and run the slate for me.  The “talent” was also the “client” so there is no line item for that though a good experienced spokesperson type talent would have been at least $200 -$500 per day + expenses (but would have saved a lot of editing time).

There is also no charge shown for pre-pre-production meetings and conference calls to set it all up.  Travel time, also not listed, is usually billed at ½ production rates.

Additionally, since I supplied all of the equipment including cameras, lights, and audio gear (#8) nothing actually needed to be rented so if you own your own gear that specific cost is optional for your quotes.  But, and this is important, if you do not put rental costs in your estimates and something breaks during the shoot and you have to then go and rent it, you will end up paying for it out of your own pocket.  A basic rule in corporate/industrials is that once the contract is signed, you cannot go back and ask for more money because you forgot something in the quote.  In this case, it shows a highly discounted rate for money that would normally go into my equipment maintenance account.

I also did my best to drive the two cameras (one for the “master” shots, the other for details and another angle since coverage could not be done single-camera-style to match the master shots) simultaneously by myself thereby defying the basic laws of physics (and with only marginal success at best) but it was a bad plan and the footage reflects it.  I also tried to be the audio tech at the same time.  That was an even worse plan and it definitely reflects it. What I also did not include, foolishly, was production insurance.  Shooting in someone’s ‘normal’ house is a recipe for some major liabilities.  Luckily nothing happened and we escaped disaster; but cooking requires heat and electricity so the potential for a problem is high.

All in all, a proper quote even in this area should have been about $7,500.00. and up…  almost anywhere else it would have been quite a few notches north of $10,000-$15,000. For the potential 95-100 minutes of programming designed to sell a product nationally.  So even with the rough spots, the “client” got a heck of a deal.

When all of the graphics get done and music bed laid in (also not listed in the expenses spreadsheet above) and pieces edited, I’ll post links to a few of them so you can see what we are talking about.

Meantime, here is the link to a “behind-the-scenes” or “Making of…” video pieced together from stills and video Stephen Burns did will the shoot was going on.






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Book is Completed and Online

Just a short post to share my relief that the book on school shooters is done and online.  I am so glad its over.  THe research took me into some grim places including a few from my own past so it is like a dark cloud now breaking up.

The point of its nearly 300 pages is that as usual, we seem to be employing a knee-jerk response based solely on emotion to try to solve a very complex problem that needs objective, intellectual, critical analysis to quit high centering on symptoms and start focusing on root causes.  I have zero level of expectation that people will take it to heart and no go ballistic when their pet theories are rejected.  The good news is that I rejected those theories from virtually all sides of the spectrum.  As a teacher I have this quaint idea that the lives of students and even of the  shooters ought to be sufficiently important to force us to do the unthinkable… think.

I have a virtually insatiable curiosity and am open to hearing and considering virtually any concept from any quarter.  But I have a ruthless vetting process for those ideas.  BEcause of that I tend to not fall prey that often to Huxley’s assertion that “Humans tend to believe what they tend to prefer.”  There are many modern concepts that, truth be told, I would by far prefer to be true.  THey are often kinder and gentler than others, they are more, to use the current buzz word. sensitive.  But when they fail the vetting process they are, to me, nice ideas unsupported by research, history, logic, et al and are sadly abandoned.  I do not believe solutions to complex issue can be found in simple or simplistic concepts simply because they are stunningly appealing.  In writing this book I have noted many of the offered “solutions” and points of view, assiduously followed that vetting process for them, and, again, sadly rejected most of them despite what would appear on the surface to be actions easier to accomplish than those tough ones I was, in the end, left with.  I followed Sherlock Holmes’s dictum that when you have eliminated the impossible, what remains, regardless of how implausible it may sound, must be the truth.

One reviewer noted that my anger was showing through the writing… and they are right.  I am quite angry that we constantly look for scapegoats, usually identified collectively as those who think differently from us, and assiduously avoid looking in those dark, scary area we ought to look which is at ourselves.  I find that to be intellectually blasphemous in its avoidance of the cognitive capacity with which we are created and given care of our world.   Maybe, I can only hope, a collective wake-up slap might at least start a dialogue and if that dialogue can be a civil one, then perhaps, just maybe, something good will come of it.

I have never held myself out as a writer, but I do believe myself to be a creative person.  Creativity is about careful observation of our world, a broader view but with an almost contradictory focus that connects dots too often unnoticed by others.  It results in a connection of that observation into a tangible result, sometimes visual, sometimes literary, sometimes musical,  but that presents to the audience, by whatever means,  the conclusions of the author.  I was taught, early on, that the real artist is one who does not try to shoehorn every vision into a single media but who can let the subject and the vision determine for them, the proper means of its expression.  In this case, the result of my observations and research into the phenomenon of school shootings was this book.

Anyway, here is the link to my page on the printer’s site where you could order a copy if you like and also a copy of the previous book on the future of professional photography.

I’ll be back soon with the post on the BBQ shoot, I promise.


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A Little Pool in the Desert

No, not THAT kind of pool, the kind with green felt and a bunch of little round balls and multiple pockets for them… that kind of pool.  It turns out that at the site of a long ago abandoned station on a long ago abandoned railroad line in the Anza Borrego desert, is a pool table complete with cues, balls, rack, and questions galore.

 My friend Cynthia had spotted it a week or so earlier and thought we needed to go there and do some photos.  She wanted to have me put on some of my western gear for a shot.  My old and dear friend from back in my college days, Brooke Medicine Eagle, is in the area for a few weeks so she also agreed to put on some of her traditional garb and we decided to do a Cowboy and Indian shoot… sort of a “how the west was lost” kind of surreal and metaphorical shot.

 On the way we stopped in Jacumba Hot Springs for lunch and I introduced Cynthia to the old railroad cars parked there.  Well, of course we had to do some shots there and she produced some really cool shots that I want to share with you.  She did a really mind-bending shot of Brooke in one of the old abandoned cars…

Brooke Train (1 of 1) for blog

Brooke in one of the old train cars near Jacumba Hot Springs. (c) Cynthia Sinclair, All Rights Reserved. Used by permission.

 I’m sorry but the only other model available was me so I grabbed some gear and she also did one of me in the doorway to one of the cars.  I admit I like it.  

David Train sepia 01 for web

Well here’s an crusty old cowpoke in the door to one of the abandoned railroad cars near Jacumba Hot Springs.  Photo (c) Cynthia Sinclair, used by permission.

 We went from there to Ocotillo Wells and then off road to the site of the old station. On the way we drove through the vast wind farm and its giant mills.  As impressive as they are at a distance they are even more so up close.

wind farm

Wind Farm near Ocotillo Wells, Anza Borrego Desert.  (c) N. David King

 When we got to the destination, all that is left is the concrete pad and… the pool table.  So, I got back into character with spurs and smoke pole slung over my shoulder and Brooke got into her buckskins and she and I shot a game of 8-Ball while Cynthia photographed us in this bizarre, outlandish place.

Pool Table raw (1 of 1) for web

Brooke and I at the pool table at the site of the Dos Cabezos railroad station in Anza Borrego.  No, this is NOT faked, this pool table is really sitting here, complete with balls, cues, etc..  Photo (c) by Cynthia Sinclair, All Rights Reserved, Used by Permission.

Cynthia was after some unusual shots based on this “out-there” concept and I think they really succeeded.  So much so I may use one, at the suggestion of a close and evil minded friend, for a final exam requiring students to analyze and interpret it.  He is also a professor and I now shudder to think what his own tests are like.  My students have it easy! 

Speaking of surreal, here is a shot of Brook at the pool table.  And I guess I need to restate it, this (other than the toning) is a straight shot and not composited.

brooke at table for blog

Here’s Brooke in a truly surreal shot.  Photo (c) by Cynthia Sinclair, All Rights Reserved.

While we were around the pool table Cynthia also managed to catch this shot of me that I think is sort of a perfect signature “avatar” for me.  I love the texture and tones in the sepia-like print.


David w hat duotone Cynthia Sinclair for web

Portrait of me shot at the site of the Dos Cabezos Station in Anza Borrego. Photo (c) Cynthia Sinclair, All Rights reserved.  Used by Permission.


 And then it was, alas, back to reality.  Bummer.

 In other news…

 After receiving some great feedback I’m now starting the final draft of the book on Making Schools safer.  I really would like to finish it and have it out to print by the end of the month.  It has required some really dark and grim research into, to borrow Conrad’s phrase, “…the heart of darkness.” And I’ll be very glad to finish it and move on.  But I do think the topic and the need to get beyond narrow ideologies and look for both short and long term solutions is of critical importance to us not just as teachers but as a society.  I’ll let you know when it is available so you can judge for yourself.

 And, I’m also starting to hammer together the video I shot over the Spring Break for LaMont Burns concerning cooking tips and techniques using his bespoke BBQ sauce and marinade.  The next blog post will, I think, discuss the issues surrounding that shoot for you guys getting into video.  It was a most interesting production.






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Class Lighting Demo: 02/25/2018

On Monday night we did a demo in the studio to prepare students in the Introduction to Lighting Class on their first product assignment, shooting something that is solid with texture or detail.  I had decided to try two things: first was to ask students to bring in some objects I could tackle “cold” so everyone could see a thought process going on and secondly to light the same set-up in two ways starting with a typical studio multi-light approach and then to also do it as a “painting with light” effort.

Two of the students brought in items, one was an old wood plane and the other a woven fan designed for fanning a fire into life.  Very different items with virtually no relationship to one another so naturally to add some sport to the shoot I decided to shoot them together.  The surface textures were totally different from the woven rough fibers of the fan to the old metal furniture on the plane and its wooden handles oiled and polished from years of use.

In the chaos of my pre-class day I had left my camera at home so had to borrow one from the school checkout room.  When I went to get it the students went ahead and placed the two items together on the surface I had made so when I got back I thought, well, if we can do something with this, it will be interesting…

To make the comparison of approaches more meaningful I put the camera on a camera stand and locked it down so both shots would be essentially identical in composition.  The lens is a Canon 90mm tilt-shift design, so I also was able to describe those types of lenses for the class.  Then it was time to set up and make the shot.

 Since I often start set ups like this with an overhead softbox or light-bank then pick out details with snoots and grids I decided to try to do this whole shot with just the standard 7” silver bowl reflectors on the studio’s grid mounted PHotogenics™ which, aimed from sides and back, worked fine for picking out details but did not create an acceptable fill so I broke down and used a small softbox for fill.

Below is the light plot for this first shot.


Here first is the file out of the camera but with RAW tweaks in ACR™.

Plane and Fan single version from camera.jpg

And here is the finished, cropped and edited shot after a pass through PhotoShop™.  There was a slightly mottled texture in the background I liked but decided I’d take it down to black so that in the near future I can use this shot to show how to drop in a different background and dropping that solid black will be a lot easier.

Plane and Fan Demo v1

Now it was time to do the painting with light version.  I put away the grid-mounted mono-lights and ised a single head with a snoot from a Norman 2000 power pack set.  This allowed me to demo the use of the powerpack lights and also gave me a light I could easily move around the set-up to custom light it with that narrow beam of light.  I thought about using continuous light but decided to keep the class focused, at this point, on using the electronic flash units for their projects.

As I moved around the set-up from side to side but always to the rear,I had a student fire the camera when I had lit an area I liked.  Starting from the screen left side I moved around, shooting from various angles to pick out details and allowing some skimmed light to spill around the front for fill.  To maintain the sense of texture I never fired a shot where the light was aimed at the front of the set-up, only from top, sides, and back.

In all I took about 20 shots to make sure I had it covered but I only used 11 of them for the final assembly.  Assembly is normally easy but our new computers have had a complete re-install of the software and all of my saved templates and actions were over-written plus the workspace was completely at a default setting as was the screen display.  I confess it was confusing and irritating but there were students watching the procedure so rather than just bring it all home I determined to complete it, one way or the other, while they were watching.

So here is the final assemblage after cropping.

Plane and Fan PWL combined 01.jpg

But in looking at it, it now really was starting to have a rich, old timey look to it so I decided to push that.  The modified first version is somewhat desaturated with a warm overtone to it.

Plane and Fan PWL combined desat

Then I completely desaturated it and applied a slightly warm duotone effect to it.

Plane and Fan PWL combined v3 duotone

Personally I prefer the middle one, the one with a slight desaturization.  But a client could decide for themselves which they like. 

Next time we’ll be tackling transparent and translucent products.




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Dear God, not again…

Normally this would be a post for my other blog where I indulge in various rants about topics of philosophical or political nature.  But I’m also a teacher and things that happen in the educational arena are also in my scope of interest.  The shooting on Valentine’s Day at the High School in Florida is certainly an event in the educational arena conspicuous for its violence and horror.  Because many of my fellow academicians know that I support the 2nd Amendment conceptually, they have now wagged their degree wrapped fingers in my face screaming some version of “So how can you still defend any right to own a gun since they are obviously evil and of value only to crazies like this kid who wish to kill their comrades and peers?”

Let me start by saying this post is really designed to help start a discussion.  I make no claim to having the final answer.  I just am absolutely sure none of the knee jerk solutions I hear by pundits or, even less well thought out tropes and memes on Facebook appear to me dispositive or even helpful either.  I confess, I do deeply wish I thought the situation could be reduced to such simple and simplistic thinking since it would be so easy to solve and so logical even I might end up supporting some movement to attack the weapon as if it were actually the sentient actor in these cases.  But I don’t.

I do completely understand the knee-jerk response to such emotionally charged events.  I was stunned at the news.  Kids getting killed at all but especially in such a fashion is never, ever, acceptable.  And we cannot ever allow ourselves as individuals or as a culture to become so jaded that we start to just accept it as “the way it is.” But if a real and lasting solution is to be found, it has got to come from reason not emotion.

Several years ago (2012) in response to another horrific shooting I wrote, in the other blog, my response relative to the 2nd amendment including recommendations for action.  I still stand by that post and suggest you read it for a base line understanding of my thinking at least on a philosophical, conceptual level vis-à-vis the “gun” part of the equation.  Here is a link to that post:

Yes, that post and this one are long ones.  But is this situation, in your mind, sufficiently important to hear out some ideas that go beyond the insipid one-liners?  If not then this cannot, by definition, be all that imporitant to you other than as a chance to show the choir how much you care.  I predict within a little bit there will be one of those “I care more than you do” ribbons dedicated to this issue.  Meantime…

In that post I noted my esperiences growing up in the country with guns readily available and not ever having a gun of mine demand of me that I pick it up and go out to murder anyone.  I know, from my farming and ranching history, lots of people with lots of guns and don’t know a single one who has had one of their guns demand some evil rampage of them.  If you have read that post as suggested there is no reason to re-write the details of that history here.  Suffice it to say I do not think the solution is wrapped up in the guns, per se.

The other side is also high centered on mental health.  I agree that mental health is an issue and one very poorly handled in this country.  But the investigations into these major shootings reveal that thinking these shooters are just certifiably crazy and slipped through the cracks is not supported by the data.  Among the young, and far more common among adults than we’d like to admit, is the presence of bullying and emotional abuse too often leading to serious depression and suicide. I do not wish to downplay the seriousness of that especially when young lives are self-ended… those are tragedies beyond explanation or acceptance.  But it is a different issue than the one facing us for this discussion.

While it is true that over 70% of the shooters have been diagnosed (some post mortem) as “depressed” it is also true that well over 3 million American Adults are considered clinically depressed.  So roughly .00000667% of those depressed people have become the perpetrators of these mass shootings.  The math does not support the contention.  So if it isn’t evil demon-possessed guns or clinical depression that is completely at fault, what might it be?  Remember Holmes’s dictum, “When you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.”

Mental health issues do not stop at the door of depression.  There are other conditions that, in my opinion, are far more at play but just as often ignored… perhaps more so when we try to avoid such serious issues when potentially applied to friends or family.  If we are serious about stopping gun violence we have to also realize, as Senator Marco Rubio suggested, that we must address the other word in that phrase: “violence.”  And the other mental health-related conditions, I would suggest, which allow that violence to happen and appear to run rampant are those of the sociopath and psychopath.

Those mental conditions per se are not new.  Individuals devoid of any empathy for fellow humans or an internal behavioral standard that held their disdain and sometimes hatred for others in check have been around forever.  Some became famous, or infamous if you will, as hired mercenaries and contract killers from the old west to the gangster ridden streets of the early parts of this century.  But there was a difference that is important to put into the discussion:  Billie the Kid never shot a school teacher;  Bonnie and Clyde did not randomly shoot up schools or churches: Machine-Gun Kelly did not target children or innocent bystanders.  They generally did not kill for the sheer pleasure of killing alone.  They avoided collateral damage when possible and killed under orders or directives based on real or perceived wrongs committed against them or their bosses, but only targeted those they saw as responsible.  Accidents happened but they were not the intention.  And it is the intent we need to focus on.

For me, starting with Columbine it has been different.  There had been a few other shootings but that was the first one to really catch my attention, perhaps because I was within a couple of blocks of the event when it happened and my good friend and then CFO for my production company had a nephew that survived when his best friend did not.  I was working on contract with the Denver Police and was privy to much of the after-action data.  The amazing thing is that those kids were so awful at what they were doing, the death toll was not much, much higher.  But what was learned from that episode has been true of every following one:

  • The perpetrator may have been mentally disturbed but was not crazy and indeed was often fairly or highly intelligent.
  • The perpetrators all felt aggrieved in some way by the institution they attacked but expanded that sense of victimhood to well beyond those who actually might have treated them poorly to include guilt by even location based association.
  • The perpetrator planned the event in detail and replayed it over and over, sometimes with elaborate contingency plans including stashed weapons or ammo.
  • Their more common plan was once on site to kill as many as possible as fast as possible then move to the next target-rich area.
  • Most of the time, unless circumstances clearly allowed it, the perpetrator did not expect to survive and in many cases did not want to.
  • The perpetrator left a very visible trail of their planning and preparations often very public. They were not shy about describing their wrath and desire to kill those they held responsible for whatever situation they focused on.  In written notes and letters and on social media their screeds and “manifestoes” were open and available.
  • The perpetrator’s unsocial and antisocial actions and writings formed a history, were known by others, and in a few cases had initiated law enforcement interaction such as home visits or discussions with parents, but NONE of it resulted in preventative action or counseling. This latest one, for example, was in counseling for antisocial behavior but just quit and no follow up was done.
  • The people closest to the perpetrators, including the parents, all saw the signs but no one took any action to stop or even just dissuade them from the plan. Many said they simply didn’t believe it.  The father of one of the Columbine shooters observed the pipe bombs under construction in his garage and said nothing!  Did he think it was a shop project?

Do you see a pattern here?  It is certainly an obvious one.  At least it is obvious to those of us who grew up in a very different culture filled with ethics, values, parental presence and oversight, and an overall environment that refused the victimhood status and accepted complete personal responsibility for our actions.  We were brought up to believe that all – ALL – behaviors had consequences.  Good behavior brought good consequences; bad behavior brought bad consequences.  Period.  Right results came from right thinking.  No excuses and no escape from that existed in the system.  No one supported the idea of actually beating a child but misbehavior was dealt with swiftly and predictably.  A swat on the butt was not seen as a beating but a lesson.  The consequences for bad behavior were not meant to be pleasant but to make one reconsider doing it again.

Right resulted only from right actions.  The ends did not and could not justify the means because you could not logically or ethically achieve good results from bad means.  You could build a beautiful house held together by glorious decoration and strong paint but it would not last and not withstand the storms that would inevitably come its way.

But in this latter half of the 20th century and now into the 21st, we have worked hard to create a culture where actions can be done without responsibility and, more importantly, without consequence.  And by an unfortunate coincidence of technology, we have done that in concert with the most incredibly successful desensitizing and alienation efforts aided and fostered and honed by some of the very technology to which we are becoming addicted.

It started with TV.  McCluhan was famous for his quote “The Media is the Message.”  But he is less well known for a comment of far greater importance.  He noted, in the 50s as TV was gaining traction, that previously all means of information dissemination was a complement to reality.   It expanded or explained or informed but by itself was NOT the reality it revealed.  But television, he held, was rapidly becoming a replacement for reality.

That concept was not lost on the military who proved its accuracy in training programs using video games to desensitize combat troops to help overcome a natural disinclination in most humans against taking another human life.  Once that targeted human is sufficiently dehumanized and demonized, it becomes a lot easier to kill it.

Where once only posters and articles dehumanized the enemy, now on a reality- replacing screen, hordes of them could be thrown at the viewer who felt no angst at mowing them down because, at first, they were not real, the blood and gore was simulated… but then a change started to happen and they were not human “like us”… and then it didn’t matter.  They were simply the “enemy” who has wronged us in some way.

Meantime TV taught kids that the same actor could be “killed” week after week and still come back.  In fact there were several celebrated court cases of young kids killing a friend and expecting them to pop back up like the TV characters had done.  When individuals are still in the pre-adult stage of intellectual development they may not be able to actually process all that is necessary to differentiate between fantasy and reality (true in all things from love to mayhem) and when a pattern of acceptance is set from childhood through adolescence, then as adults all bets are off.

Without constant vigilance by parent oversight to reign that in with continual “teaching” of values and ethics, without the concentrated efforts to establish in that child an internally consistent standard of behavior that conforms to cultural understandings of good and bad, the child’s brain and system will develop along whatever pathway is available and easy.

No one, kid or adult, likes things to be hard; we all gravitate toward the easier solutions and actions.  When a child’s self-serving nature is unconstrained by parents teaching empathy, consideration, and respect of others, and without demonstrating an unpleasant consequence for infractions, the child-becoming-an-adult will follow the easiest path.

And if that easier path is one offered by gangs or TV or video games, if that life is consumed by the social alienation of the cell phone as babysitter where real, human friends are less and less important than pretend friend counts on social media, then why on earth would we not expect horrendous aberrations to appear with increasing frequency?

Mutual respect is lost in a quest for convenience.  Simple but internally registering examples of that started, I believe, with the relaxation of school dress codes.  We were taught as kids that one way we showed respect for events (including performers, etc.) was how we dressed to attend them.  Remember the old cliché of “Sunday, Go-To-Meeting” clothes?  You put on your best clothes to show respect.  Even in our farming/ranching community, we could wear jeans to school but they had to be clean AND PRESSED (and slacks were preferred).  It was a sign of respect for education.

A week ago I went to a major concert and was stunned by the lack of respect displayed through clothing.  I know, it seems like a small thing to those habituated to shorts and flipflops.  But it carries an internal message along with the external one.  The event, to many, was not worth spending extra effort at even getting cleaned and dressed.  So what does that say about one’s valuation of it?  Nothing good.

So I believe the prime mover in these horrific events is a society-wide issue of values and ethics, common courtesy and mutual respect that have been lost, all in the interests of “progress and enlightenment” which I believe has achieved nothing of the sort.  Removing consequences and cultural norm, carrying tolerance to the point of cowardice, is neither progressive nor enlightening.  But it does open the gate wide for unguided child development and leads not to a lessening but an increase in antisocial and violent behavior.  Nevertheless, there is also the issue of choice of tools to carry out those unrestrained violent impulses we have failed to derail.

When an immature mind is seeking to perform an event, good or bad, it seeks for the easiest tools with which to carry out the intended deeds.  My referenced previous post demonstrated that in the culture I was raised, we all had guns and had ready access to them.  But our parenting, training, teaching, and consequent ethics and values were completely different and held us in check.  Today we face a world of our own making, one of well intentioned negligence to core issues, one of almost institutionalized irresponsibility and unaccountability for ourselves and our actions.  One where it is always someone ELSE’s fault that we are failing at one thing or another and never, ever, God Forbid, our own fault or a consequence of our own behavior.  While many feel the rage, a few with less restraint than others, feel justified in taking out that rage on those they see as the source of the problem.  They feel helpless, trapped, out of options and solutions.  And they just want to eliminate, i.e. kill as many of those people who have or by association have, done them wrong.

Our society is experiencing what I believe is a great and systemic sickness, an ethics killing disease, a values killing virus, a morals destroying assault on our hearts, minds, and souls wrapped up in the most benign, well intentioned sled load of claptrap to ever roll down our roads.  It flows in large part from the “Do your own thing” thing of my generation.  First it was “Do your own thing but do no harm to others.”  That morphed into Do your own thing and let the others get out of the way.”  That morphed into “Do your own thing but thou shalt not offend anyone else.”  And that has morphed into a place where those who imagine themselves offended now call the shots.

That, of course, means we cannot call out bad behavior because it will make the actor feel bad.  I’m sorry, I think bad actors NEED to feel bad and feel the heat of peer and social derision and contempt for it.  If you grow up in the world of participation trophies and goodies to your entitled self then of course you are going to be mad when you are impacted by the real world and your failure is seen as what it is – a failure – and you are held accountable for it.  If you want adulation get a dog.  If you want to live in a “fair” world never leave your home and hope your mom lives forever.

I think we have let things get so out of control socially and ethically that any complete solution will have to involve compromise by all.  We’ve not proven ourselves to be good at that in the last 30-50 years but it is time to get real and get busy.  We have to address both sides of the “Gun Violence” equation and event history.  We have to address both the issues of guns and the issues of violence or we are just stuffing more goods into that legislative sack than it can hold.

Lets take “guns” first since it is the first word in the phrase.  I still stand by my comments and suggestions for a national training and licensing system found in the referenced post from 2012.  Because it solves all of the issues of background checks, plus issues of competency, plus allows for all citizens to own and carry firearms once the conditions are met I feel it is nearly perfect since it has something to please and something to infuriate all parties.  Now THAT is a good start at a compromise.

But I’ve no illusion it is the complete answer since violence can be carried out in so many ways and on so many levels, addressing guns alone is not a complete answer no matter how good it may feel to many.  Unfortunately, tackling the violence side of the equation will be much more difficult since it means a change in ethical direction of a non-consequence society to one with very well defined and inescapable consequences including consequences for trying to escape the requirements of parenthood.

And that puts our modern society in a horrible bind, caught square between a highly valued, constitutionally enumerated right and another equally valued right, that of individual and, by extension, social right of self-defense.  For all of you wanting an easy, simple answer, I hope you are beginning to see there is no such thing.  There is no “one-size-fits-all” answer.  Guns per se are not the issue as demonstrated by a place like Switzerland where ownership of private arms including military arms is common but shooting sprees tend not to happen.  The difference: the culture and that culture’s values and ethics.  Similarly, we are not Australia, or Scandinavia, or Canada and solutions that may or may not, in the end, prove workable for those cultures will likely not work for ours.  If this is a uniquely American problem, then we need to look for an equally unique American solution.

Chicago and Detroit have the toughest gun laws in the country and the highest homicide by gun rates.  The difference?  Again, I think it is a cultural difference.  But what about normal, common, American locations such as this last incident in Florida, or in Colorado?   How are we, as a society, to protect ourselves against these individuals who seem bent on killing our children?  And how can we do it without overdue violence to our Constitution and founding values?

As I said, I think society as a collection of individuals has a right to defend itself against a threat, especially a threat to its children.  Regardless of what sets these perpetrators into action, there is one more common denominator to add to the list above; most of them chose an AR15 rifle.  Why is that?

Killing a single individual is easy.  Killing a bunch of them is more problematic especially for those will little or poor training in such an activity.  They want to inflict the greatest amount of fear, death and destruction possible in the time they have before being killed by responding law enforcement.

What to do… what to do… what to USE?  AH… again TV has provided an answer:  a real machine gun would be better but they are heavy, hard to use, and illegal.  A real assault rifle like an M16 or full -auto AK47 would do but they too are illegal and very, very, very expensive.  There are other weapons that are more powerful and in trained hands could do a lot more damage than these shooters have managed but they lack the instantly recognizable looks; the scary quality of that silhouette strikes fear far beyond the weapon’s actual abilities to do damage more than other options.  The school shooter is about fear and the AR15 is, to most, a scary looking weapon, so he has gained some points just carrying it even if he never fires the thing.

But a debate about the actual merits of the weapon are simply irrelevant.  What IS relevant is that seems to have become the weapon of choice.  The gun owners’ argument that other weapons share its capabilities is pointless because those are not weapons chosen; the AR15 is.  The NRA argues that the AR15 is a hunting weapon.  Oh get serious.  The rifling, the sights, the grip, the magazines are all designed for combat against human targets.  The civilian version of the round, the .223 is inherently less accurate than the varmint hunters’ choice .222 especially in a platform far better designed for very flat long range shooting. Even better for varmint shooting at long ranges is the 220 Swift and .22-250.  Better still is the 243.  In recommending the .222 I’m showing my ages as that is really no longer the choice of long range varmint shooters and ammo is getting harder to get. the .223 is a cheap and common round but in the AR configuration is still not primarily a hunter design but a combat weapon.

So lets start with this specific weapon, the civilian AR15 and its variants.  Step number one is is an overarching one to enact the legislation I suggested in that previous post requiring training and registration for all firearms ownership and then, for those who pass that, they can carry anytime anywhere.  That totally eliminates the issue of a well regulated militia.

And it has a good by-product.  To make crime go down the best way is to make it an extremely hazardous occupation and make the law so that when someone decides to step outside the law’s constraints they have also just stepped outside its protection and are fair game or in the old English Law sense, “OUTLAW.”  Surrounded by a well trained, competent, and armed citizenry crime takes on a whole new persona.

Step two is to enact a tariff on the AR15 that puts it WAY out of the hands of normal folks.  And expand enforcement with high fee punishments to those who seek to circumvent the law by constructing their own AR from parts.  The tariff is part of the purchase price and also a fee for currently owned ARs

What about currently owned AR15s?  Simple, to sweeten the pot, make the owners an offer they can’t refuse.  If they claim it is for hunting offer them a swap for a far better .22-250 or .220 Swift hunting rifle (which is less expensive anyway, $600-$800 compared to the AR15 $1,200 – $1,800).  If they claim it is for home defense, then offer them the swap of a tactical shotgun ($500 – $700) which is better for that purpose anyway.  And what about the turned in rifles?  Give them to the military to convert or use for training.  The cost of those swaps is much cheaper than they now pay for new M16s.

And lets face it, if our military turns against us, 5.56 rounds just bounce off of tanks no matter how many magazines you have and they are of precious little use against airpower.  Sorry, find another argument…

Other than make politicians and activists pleased with themselves that they have actually done something, will even this action solve the issues?  I don’t think so.  The truth remains, sadly, that the school shooting phenomenon will not go away until it is addressed socially and psychologically.  Death comes in all sorts of packages and despite some of the idiot tropes on Facebook, a pipe bomb or two could kill as many or more than an AR15 in unskilled hands and do it faster with far more collateral damage.  And they can be made cheaply and quickly.

Here is my personal bottom line.  Violence against innocent humans is an issue not of the tools but of the psyche.  A valueless society is not a safe society.

So in my opinion, if you want to contribute to a real and lasting solution then start exploring ways to reinvest our society with ethics and values; with parents that are actually present and care.  Make society and its individuals responsible for their own actions and for taking action when it is required to derail such an event.  Eliminate turf issues between law enforcement entities and smooth the communication channels so it doesn’t matter where or to whom the alert is issued it can get acted upon quickly.  Teach kids that if they see something, SAY SOMETHING, then DO something; start imposing consequences for behaviors… and I believe this phenomenon will diminish and ultimately go away with or without the weapons issue.

In the meantime, however, here is another action I would support:





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Great Show at City

Friday evening the Photo Program at City College’s Luxe Gallery hosted the opening of the show, “Visions.”  An all female show from a group of working professional women photographers, each showing one piece.  I was an incredible show and if you have a chance, while it is still up, do get down to see it.   We’ve had a number of well attended shows but this was one of the top ones in terms of attendees to the opening.  Simply put, it was PACKED! 

Here is a shot of the crowd in the main part of the gallery. 

visions show crowd

The shoulder to shoulder turn out for the Visions show at San Diego City College’s Luxe Gallery.  It was an incredible turn-out to support the artists and photography. (c) N. David King, shot with iPhone 6

It was great to see that many people come out to support photography and the artists in the show but it did make it hard to actually see all of the work.  I overheard several say they needed to come back when they could properly enjoy the exhibit.  The work ranged from some well thought out imagery to some well printed snap shots but the overall quality was really high – and that is saying a lot for a show with this many entries that was not a curated or juried show. 

So again, if you like and want to support photography and indicate we should be doing more shows like this, it is well worth your time to come down and see it.  The artists will appreciate it and you will enjoy the experience.  You can call the photo lab for times when it is open for viewing: 619-388-3281.

Also do note that responses are already coming in for the Bristlecone Pines trek this coming summer.  Check out the details on the link in the banner above and if this seems like something you’d enjoy doing, for instance joining other photographers to photograph in some of the truly iconic areas shot by the greats including Adams, Weston, Sexton, etc., then do sign up.

And also I want to thank all of you who purchased a copy of my book, “The Future of Professional Photography and Photo Education.”  I was never intended as a commercial project, rather one to help inform our planning at City’s Photo Program and to start a broader discussion on the topic among photographers and educators alike.  I assumed I’d get about 3 sales (it would have been 4 if my mother were still alive) so the level of sales has been truly surprising. 

Equally surprising has been the positive response.  I expected a lot more push-back since it takes on academia generally for its failure to respond to the needs and realities of our discipline and especially hammers SoCal coddled approaches to education which may prepare students for a career as a regular on Romper Room but set them up for and virtually guarantee their failure upon attempted entry into the real world of professional photography.  To be fair, there have been a few disgruntled educators whose sacred cows were shot and eaten openly in the book, but overwhelmingly, working professionals and others in the discipline have been incredibly supportive.  So thank you all.  Here is a direct link to get the book from the printer, Lulu if you’d like to check it out.

Now that the semester is underway, census date has passed, and we can settle into a more or less workable routine, I’ll try to do a better job at keeping this up to date with photos and videos of what all is happening here.




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