The assignment for the Photo 200A class is food.  Specifically it is to produce a food shot that can be used as either an advertising style shot for a menu or for an editorial style shot as an illustration for an article on food related topics.  After showing a number of examples of food photography and talking generally about approaches, it was time to do a demo in the studios.  Students “volunteered” to bring the food to shoot, I asked only that all parts of the serving be kept separate until we created the shot.  I did not specify what food to bring.

What showed up was chicken with mashed potatoes, corn on the cob, etc.  So I decided to do an editorial style shot with the food in front on a barn.  I intended to do a “green screen” shot but there was too much green in the set up and props, so I used a black background so I could more easily do a luminosity mask and then modify it manually.

Here is a light plot of our set up in the studio:

lighting-diagram-with food

THe camera used was a Canon 5DIII with a 24-70 lens set to 67mm.  THe lights were set up in the following order:

  1.  First I used a medium softbox aimed straight down and placed OVER the food but slightly to the rear.  This gave nice general light and a soft forward shadow.  By itself it was flat but was only the starting place.  It created a nice reflection in the gravy on the potatoes and on the silverware.
  2. The second light was a 7″ reflector with a grid on a back light,  This added some drama and texture to the shot and started to make the elements stand out from one another. It was working but not wrapping around enough so…
  3. The next light was also a 7″ reflector aimed in from the left side to enhance the backlight (2) and bring the back and side lighting together to really enhance texture and detail.
  4.  This left the front shadows somewhat dark and lifeless so I used a 22″ beauty dish placed low and at food level then turned down low to simply add some light back into those shadows.  This could have been done as well with a nice reflector or even a softbox from the same position, but the beauty dish was handy so I used the light.
  5. Finally I notice the food looked good but the table decoration of flowers looked dull and lifeless so I added a snoot from the right side to give them some edgy life.  The snoot kept the light concentrated and off of the rest of the setting. ( It is mistakenly labelled as another #3 — my bad…)

Basically, I placed the lights, starting with the softbox and added in a counter-clockwise pattern around the set.   Except for the base softbox light and the soft fill from the beauty dish I used the harder light from the polished reflectors to better match the “feel” of the sunlight on the background shot I intended to use.

The camera shot was good but the food had needed some “shine” to it and I did not have my glycerin spray handy.  So in Photoshop I added a soft “plastic wrap” filter then using a layer mask, just allowed it to show where I wanted a sense of shine. This yielded the following shot ready for the background..

food demofrom camera

Now it was time to lay in the background.  I used a shot I had of a wonderful old barn on the road into Yosemite from Merced.  Using a luminosity mask I dropped out the black background of the camera shot to reveal the barn and here is that result.

Food demo and barn v1.jpg

Well, that works… but the barn is so interesting on its own that it seemed a little distracting so I decided to apply a lens blur to that layer to simulate a slightly shallower depth of field.  And that gave me this…

Food demo and barn v 2

Stylistically one could play with the mount of simulated Depth of Field, but generally the composited shot does convey the desired narrative.  Including talking my way through the process for the demo, the shot took a little over an hour plus about 1/2 hour of editing.

So now I’m anxious to see what the students turn in.  Oh, BTW, the chicken was delicious!!!

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SD FAIR JUDGING 2019: Part 1

YAY!  Enough about me and back to photo subjects…

April 20 saw a cadre of judges assembling for the tier 1 judging of images for the 2019 Annual International Juried Photo Exhibition at the San Diego Fair.  This year saw the second highest number of submissions EVER – well over 4,000!

The judges had a daunting task at this stage: reduce that initial pile to a little less than 1/3 the number  to then proceed to tier 2 judging where actual prints were evaluated for a final decision on what to hang overall, plus to pick a 1st through 4th in each category, a limited number of Honorable Mentions, and finally the Best of Show.   But first things first.  We assembled in the judging area for coffee and donuts, bagels, etc. were available and where calibrated monitors awaited us and our three-panel sets were  assigned categories and places.

opening greet

The judges gathered early to grab some coffee and a donut or three and catch up since many had not seen each other for a year.  Rarely is a room so packed with incredible photographic and experience as during the judging for the SD Fair.   

We really never know where the coordinator will place us so it is always fun to sometimes find yourself on a panel with other judges you’ve never worked with before.  I like meeting other photographers and photo educators and always feel I come away from these sessions actually learning a little more than I started with.    So quickly, it was time to get into the serious business of making “approve/disapprove for passing on to tier 2” evaluations of our assigned stacks of image files.  Tier 1 is conducted based on viewing on our calibrated computer monitors.

Lee panel

In this panel the judges in the foreground (l-r: Lin Craft, Dave Hinkle, Lee Peterson) are reviewing a submitted image on one of the calibrated monitors.  This is how we see the the submitted images in tier 1 judging.  In the background you can see a few of the other 3-judge panels looking at the images in the categories they were assigned.

As with each Fair for the last several years, I took notes and spoke with other judges to come up with a list of issues we saw commonly among the entrants in the hopes of both explaining some of our decisions and in providing information that will let participants improve their photography for next time or other exhibitions or contests.

Don panel

Sometimes the judges (here l-r: Craig Carlson, Dave Gatley, Don Bartletti) really get into their review and appraisals of submitted images to try to be as objective as possible in selecting the 1/3 or less of the submitted images in their categories to pass on to tier 2 judging.  The same judges will review the submitted prints at the tier 2 stage in part to see if the actual prints live up to the electronic file then to select individual submissions to ribbon awards.

This year produced a longer than usual list of recurring and sometimes maddening issues which surprised us all.  After all, after all this time of reading these critiques, of having so much new technology available and so many educational resources, we would expect things to be getting incrementally better… not incrementally worse.  As always there were enough really outstanding images to allow the staff to put together a good show for the Fair.  But the broader base of images were really fraught with issues.  So lets get right into the list.  I’ve tried to synthesize and condense two pages of notes into something more palatable for readers to absorb.

CROPPING.  Every year I hammer away at this point and yet it seems to go unheeded:  it is up to YOU to find the real photo in your photo, to eliminate EVERYTHING that does not contribute to supporting or enhancing the story of that central subject.  Over and over and over again you could see judges doing “finger” cropping of the displayed images discussing how much better and how much more acceptable the final shot would be if the photographer had started in the shooting stage to identify the purpose of the shot, the element in their view that portrayed that purpose or best told its story, then to hone in on the focal point — THE ONE FOCAL POINT) and then, if necessary used editing stage cropping to complete the deal.  Let me be as clear as I know how:


THe good news is that you get to be the artist — the “author” of your visual story.  The bad news is that you and you alone must make the decisions about how best to tell that story.

FOCUSING:  Turn the $@%$^&@ auto-focus OFF.  And if, especially, you are doing a shot, such as, but not limited to, a macro shot, where the subject and composition demands that SOMETHING needs to be sharp, THEN FOCUS ON IT AND USE THE APPROPRIATE DEPTH OF FIELD  to include anything else that should also be presented as sharp.  Come on… this is Photo 100 stuff.

Showing a landscape where peripheral material is more or less in focus but the obvious focal point is soft is not acceptable.  Showing a flower detail where the fascinating detail in the bloom is out of focus but a petal or two somewhere else in the shot is sharp is not acceptable.  Showing a shot where it is not a complete abstract but something in it demands detail but in fact NOTHING is sharp is not acceptable whether it is a result of trying to over-extend the minimal focusing range of the lens or not being able to hold the camera steady, it is simply not acceptable in such a venue as an international juried exhibition.  If your friends think it is the coolest image they’ve ever seen then sell it to them but do not put it in front of experienced professionals and expect a good outcome.

CONCEPT Vs EXECUTION This gets us into the issue of editing and was perhaps the most frustrating and common issue outside of cropping.  Seeing a great concept ruined with sloppy or inadequate or even over-wrought execution is simply maddening for the judges.  Uncommonly mediocre images of uncommon beauty is simply maddening to see.  A great subject diminished by a bad photo is guaranteed to get experienced photographers and educators to dismiss it out of hand.   And given the power of major editing programs such a Photoshop™ and the incredible array of educational resources to learn to use them, not to mention to learn basic aesthetics and composition, there is simply no excuse for not doing it if — IF — one’s images are important to them.

Several of the judges referred to the issue as “Lightroom Dependency Syndrome.”  Despite all hype and advertising and rah-rah articles to the contrary, here is the consistent position of a room full of seasoned professionals:  If you are an event photographer (weddings, festivals, P.J., etc.) or a sports photographer — basically any photographer working in a genre where you need to do minimal editing applied to a huge number of image files — then Lightroom™ is, without a doubt, your best tool of choice.  But… But…  If your task is to wring every speck of enhancement and tweaking of a specific image – whether it concerns contrast or color or brilliance or area tweaking of any sort – then Lightroom should NOT be your final tool. It does not have the power. A good professional workman knows what the proper tool for a given job is AND how to use it.  Yes, you can hammer in a screw but it is not the proper process or tool.  You can use the handle of a screw driver to pound in a nail but it is not the proper process or tool.

Nor should you rely on the hype of the host of more-or-less automatic filters to produce the look of your submitted images.  Those represent someone ELSE’S concepts of how an image can look; being cute and clever and even “different” than normal is not inherently a viable criterion for art.  Art is NOT, NOT, NOT about narration, it is ALWAYS, ALWAYS, ALWAYS about interpretation.

As importantly, it is about the ARTIST’S interpretation; the artist’s efforts and abilities to infuse the final image with that artist’s emotional response to the subject. It is not about how someone else thinks your image might look good.

If you want to have your work taken as serious art in the serious art world, it is not just about what the artist sees; it is predominantly and most importantly about what the artist FEELS when they see what is in front of them.

To see a gorgeously composed landscape filled to overflowing with brilliant colors or special highlight areas or naturally dramatic chiaroscuro presented in an overly flat, crushed dynamic range is just aesthetic, artistic sacrilege.  To have a RAW file like that, where virtually every tone in the scene is captured, provides a perfect foundation stone for the final edited image.  But it should never be taken as the last word on that artist’s interpretation.  After expending the effort required to put you and your camera in some of the most stunning locations on the planet, and then not being willing to learn the tools or give the efforts required to make that final image the very best it can be, is visual blasphemy.

Few things irritated the judges more than this failure of execution of an otherwise gorgeous potential.  Over and over I would hear or think myself, “Oh please, just give me that file to work with!”

So the recommendations for photographers wanting to participate in this level of competition are that you access the many, many available educational resources available all over the place.  Real school programs such as ours at City College and other local, regional, nationally available schools; online resources such as and Youtube among others; printed guides by the library-full… good grief, there is no lack of resources for one to learn to properly use this new technology.

Bottom line: if all you need to create are “I was there” shots for social media or your blog, then none of this matters and you can freely embrace filters and other cutesy tools and technical automation to your heart’s content.  Good for you; you’ll have a lot of fun and you’ll get a ton of “friends” on social media telling you that your work is the greatest contribution to photography since the camera obscura.  But…

If seriously want to put your images in front of serious professionals in a juried exhibition or even in front of serious collectors in a gallery setting, you need to learn to use every possible tool out there so you present your gorgeous view or stunning concept as well as it possibly can be done at the moment.  Or…

…give serious thought to a hobby such as scrap-booking or stamp collecting.


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My apologies for taking space in this blog for a non-photo but personal matter.  But rumors are swirling around that I’m back in the hospital, that the cancer has returned, that I’ve got only a few hours to live until a ghastly demise as the devil comes forth to claim his own… stuff like that.  So please indulge me for what will hopefully be the last time – at least for a while – I have to talk here about my own physical/medical condition.  Spoiler alert: rumor of my imminent demise are thankfully exaggerated… But there was a moment or two… but I’m getting ahead of myself.

As most of you now know, I went in for what turned out to be surgery for colon cancer. That happened over my birthday in early February.  Then when recovered from that I started chemo treatments to make sure any residual cancer cells  from the Stage III cancer, were killed once and for all.  But as many of you know all too well, chemo treatments for cancer are often worse than the cure.  They all are poisons and toxins introduced into the body that will damage and kill ALL cells.  The plan is that they will kill the bad cells off before they have also killed enough good ones to cause permanent damage all the way up to dead.  There is no dancing around it… it is a grim and illogical, often irrational situation.

Alternatives from suggesting “Happy Thoughts” (ala Peter Pan?) to their own potions and elixirs for which they happily charge a “nominal fee” or offer free if you will subscribe to their sites or newsletter.  The web has re-invigorated the time-honored role of “Snake Oil Salesman” offering cures sold under the most scandalous pandering to a desperate person’s fears. (I hope there is a special place in Hell for those people!) For others the right chant, drum beat, powdered roots or fungi or berries or laying on of hands are subtly implied to, as they have done for “countless other sufferers” gone on to “Astonish the medical community” with cures.

Maybe.  But there is never any real, verifiable, statistical data offered or and peer reviewed articles.  I’ve even seen lists of “major medical institutions who have allegedly studied (the recommended treatment)” but upon research those institutions have no such public reports online.  More snake oil.  It was (and now is again) a crap shoot.

I had opted for “oral” chemo with the drug Xeloda, which seemed, statistically, to have far less long lasting debilitating side effects than the standard intravenous infusion approach, plus some nutritional changes.  But there were still risks.  The problem with cancer is, the problem is not just the cancer.  And in my case, something quite rare happened fairly quickly (by about 6 days into the treatment) for which there really is no good predictive model.  I rapidly developed “Stevens-Johnson Syndrome (SJS), a ghastly and often deadly situation where your body reacts to the chemo by basically chemically burning your soft tissue, skin, and mucous membranes both inside and out.  If you do a web search on the syndrome you can read about it and see pictures of severe cases that are not for the faint of heart.  It is frequently fatal after destroying, by chemical burning, important organs and base functions.  It shows how powerfully your own body can turn on itself.

Soooo – it was back to the hospital where they rehydrated me via IV and helped to manage the pain which at times was, shall we say politely, significant.  With the open blisters and sores in my mouth I was on a liquid then soft diet.  That was difficult for a lifetime consummate carnivore… but not as difficult as trying to chew and swallow chunks of “real” food.

After tolerating a soft breakfast and lunch I was told by the “house doctor” that other than for this issue, my tests all showed me to be far healthier than most males of my age or even near my age and thereupon discharged with a sack filled with meds for continuing treatment of the remaining blisters and pain.  So I’m writing this from home and by the start of next week I should be back in action if not fully recovered (estimate of full recovery time from SJS (for survivors) is 6 weeks).

The elephant in the room is what now is to be done vis-à-vis any continuing chemo treatments.  It is clear that I cannot ever injest that chemical into my body again.  OK, but then what?  I’ve no interest in undergoing the IV infusion versions and all of the debilitation that almost always incurs serious debilitation that no one I’ve talked to that has undergone this has ever – EVER — fully recovered from.  So, once again, I do not know what I will do until I hear more data.  So in that sense, I’m back to where I was right after the surgery but with one of my options clearly eliminated the hard way…

I want to thank all of my friends and students who expressed concern over this.  I cannot tell you how much I have appreciated that concern.  And now,  it is my sincere hope that these issues are over and we can get back to the fun stuff – photography and related things.




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Mountain Idyll before the Storm

After my planned trip to Santa Fe fell through, my dear long time friend Brooke Medicine Eagle invited me to come up to a “cabin” where she was staying near Julian. In some deep inner turmoil about my impending decisions re chemo and retirement specifics from City College,  it seemed to me like breathing some clean mountain air was something that would help get my mind off of things and let them percolate to some resolutions in the background.  So I accepted.

The address is back in the surrounding country side where a labyrinth of roads form a maze of home plots, many laid out years and years ago when this area was where wealthy San Diegans build their summer and second homes so they could get away from the city.  But the post office, a few years back, decided EVERY place needed an official address so The Garmin GPS had no trouble getting me right to the entrance.

blog cabin 01

A view of the cabin from the east side looking west.  This shows how beautifully it is nestled into the surrounding environment.  Parking is up the hill to the right of the photo.

When I pulled into the driveway the first time and looked up it was not at all what I expected. To call it a “Cabin” is a massive understatement. It is an incredible mountain home wonderfully nestled in the manzanita, cedar, oak, and ponderosas.  A carefully crafted stone walkway through some flower beds took me to the front door.  Inside was a design I’d not seen in retreats since the late ’40s even including an indoor stone barbeque grill in the kitchen.  The main room was huge, lined with book shelves and with a long banquet table and a nearly walk-in sized stone fireplace complete with swinging pot hook.  A sun porch and an open deck area brought you right into the surrounding forest.  For me, this perfectly combined appealing rustic with just enough modern amenities to make for easy living.  But it got better as I stood there, taking it in.

Quiet and serene with an aura of peace and calm infusing the house and surrounding grounds, this was precisely what my troubled spirit needed. It was late afternoon when I arrived so we sat on the south-facing porch to watch the day draw to a close.  The Cuyamaca mountain range forms a ring to the west and south, and to the east somewhere through the forest would be the ocean in the far distance and San Diego.  But here, the bustle and frenetic energy of the coast was far away and completely filtered out by the trees.

Of course, in the way of the western-raised folks, we chatted all around any really personal topics at first.  I first met and dated Brooke way, way, way back at The University of Denver in the mid-1960s so we knew and were comfortable together even after all these years and, for both of us, all these miles.  The “cabin” has a large stone fireplace so after dinner we repaired to a place in front if it and continued to chat about pretty much everything imaginable from our various work issues to aliens and crop circles to the state of the world and its future.

The next morning, Brooke had scheduled some phone-based client sessions so I took advantage of the time to wander about the grounds and general area.  Whoever laid out the landscaping did an incredible job of blending the human design ideas into the natural landscape. Here and there were even benches to sit and just soak in the ambient beauty and peace.  It was quiet and serene, but actually filled with life and far from silent.

blog bench

Here is one of several benches scattered around the property to provide places to sit, meditate or just soak in the lovely surroundings.

Some crows were loudly discussing the day’s adventure nearby. A tiny bird chirped a warning at me as I got a little too close to its nest. In the forest out of sight a woodpecker’s tapping announced its search for some tasty insect larvae. Deer tracks, freshly made, dotted the area where they had come to nibble the lush (if not natural) grasses. Next to them in the soft dirt, still not baked dry from recent moisture, was a canid print that could have been a coyote or simply a neighbor’s dog wandering through.

What an idyllic place. I’ve spent much of my life growing up in the forests and mountains and find such places especially comforting and even welcoming as if old spirits looked up, recognized me, and came out to greet me again.  I confess, I was instantly so inappropriately jealous of Brooke for her access to this place where inner turmoil was gently soothed by the quiet singing of the trees in the gentle breeze. And then as that low class sentiment passed, I was grateful for her for sharing it with me.

When slapped in the face with mortality there is nothing so appealing and awe aspiring as the wonder and magic of life in all its forms. And for me, that is especially true of the new spring life like the surrounding riot of colorful blossoms that so very recently were still under a blanket of snow.

blog purple meadow

The wildflowers were everywhere, proudly announcing their return from a winter slumber and ready to brave, for them, a new year. Note the tiny white flowers mixed in among the purple ones.  I’ll have some thoughts and more photos on them a little later in this post.

blog yellow 01

I’m not a botanist or expert on such things so for the most part I had no idea what I was looking at or photographing.  But I had no trouble realizing I’d been privileged to see some spectacular displays of vibrant color including this knock your eyeballs out brilliant yellow… especially against the blaze red of that leaf.  

blog mix verticle.jpg

Here was a natural version of the wild English Gardens I’ve always loved where various types of flowers all mixed together in a perfect display of togetherness.

blog white bunch

I didn’t know it was possible, but here and there were flowers I think are beautiful but domesticated.  But they were scattered in amongst the wildflowers as if this and other clumps had escaped the too restrictive confines of their tended gardens and struck off on their own to explore the wilds surrounding them, meet the neighbors, so to speak,  and simply be free to face whatever life threw at them.  I could only think these were not youngster flowers seeking to be kept safe by the gardener’s ministrations, but older, braver, tougher plants willing to risk it all for a breath of fresh air and freedom.

Blog Small white flowers composite

Back to the little white flowers.  You may have noticed in some of the other photos, scattered all through the other flowers and fighting for space in some of the grassy areas, were these tiny little white flowers.  They were so small that even a small insect landing on them bent their heads down to the ground.  The inset shows them closer and each of those buds is under 1/8 of an inch!  Yet they are as detailed as larger cousins.   I couldn’t believe that were large enough to provide pollen for the insects and bees.  Maybe, I thought to myself, they served another even higher purpose.  When an artist produces a piece they know is good, it gives them pleasure just to look at it.  So maybe the Creator of these flowers made them just to to be able to look down upon them, smile and then laugh at a beautiful creation, well made.

For me, there is no better time to surround yourself with the story and wisdom of new life’s cycle than spring. Here, everywhere you turned or looked up or down, there was the new growth of trees and bushes and the blend of wildflowers and some domestic flowers that had courageously escaped their little caged plots and marched out into the wild and taken root.

blog manzanita

Even the Manzanita, with its incredile red bark, was in full spring bloom!

I had, when leaving the city, at the last minute decided not to take the RoadTrek even though I had loaded it for the trip; and so I drove off leaving my camera gear stowed in it at the ready.  I didn’t remember that oversight until I was almost at the cabin but then there was no going back.  All I had was my phone, an older iPhone 7 and that is what all of the images were shot with.  How frustrating it was not to have my great macro lenses and tilt-shift lenses… For a nano-second or two I thought of not taking any shots at all, but, get real, I could have more easily flown to the moon under my own power than to walk through all of this new life and not at least tried to capture some of it.

blog grey

This plant did not need to festoon itself with garish color, but settled for fine exquisite detail to catch and draw the eye,  This could be inspiration for Zuni styled “petit-point” turquoise jewelry. 

blog deck design

Even the wind-blown debris accumulating on one of the cabin’s porches could not help but arrange itself in an artistic, almost mesmerizing way reminiscent of oriental calligraphy or a pine-needle based-mandala.

Jeff Goldblum’s character in “Jurassic Park” notes that ““Life will find a way. “  These flowers have proven that to be true. They survived, despite their fragile appearance, a harsh winter wrapped safe in the blanket of their mother earth and now, with the cold and dampness and long nights beginning to give way to the warmth of summer, they are lifting their heads again and with their color as their voices, declaring to the world, “I am still here!”

Now with chemo starting next week, it will be my turn to try try to prove it true for me as well.  I can only hope to do it marginally as well.

I spent the rest of my little trek trying to glue the spirit of this place into the pages of my memory banks, to commit to memory the sound of the wind song, and the calmness in my heart of sitting among these brave new flowers marching boldly into their world.  If I can do that then I think, like these tiny and fragile and yet rugged flowers, I can come out of my own “winter” too.  Perhaps not as pretty as they are, but every bit as much alive and ready for the next adventure.


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Anza-Borrego Flower Hunt

At last it was Friday.  No classes, projects weren’t due for grading until the weekend, and my calendar showed no meetings or appointments were scheduled.  Local weather was very “iffy” with showers possible and generally overcast.  Boy I was tired of this gray, wet weather and, worse, had a horrible case of cabin fever.  I grabbed a cup of coffee and had just showered when the phone rang,

To my surprise and delight it was my friend and colleague, Cynthia, and even more to my surprise, she wanted to know if I’d be interested in going to see how the desert flowers were blooming after all of the rain we’d been getting.  My calendar was clear and I recall mentioning in a previous post how the Roadtrek was whimpering and feeling abandoned. in the driveway.  This wasn’t to be a camping trip but still… it was getting OUT OF TOWN!  So after seriously thinking over the idea for about .003 nanoseconds I agreed it was a great idea.

It was great to be finally getting out of town. But by the time we hit Santa Ysabel it was raining, and the sky was dark toward the desert, so we stopped for breakfast.  The sharp wind blowing down from the mountains was not friendly.  Let’s just say that it did not appear likely that we should be overly worried about suffering from heat stroke.

I love the restaurant: it serves some of the best country comfort food I know of so to steel myself for the cold I loaded up on carbs with some incredible biscuits and gravy. By the time we finished the sky had mostly cleared, the wind had died down a little, and we headed on toward Borrego Springs over the Montezuma road through Ranchito… winter home of the Yeti.

Once in the park, It was strange; everything was very green and fresh, more so than I ever recall seeing, but up high at least there were very few flowers in bloom.  In past years I’ve always found the Henderson Canyon Road to be a good place for flowers so we headed in that direction.  I’ve seen this area hip deep in a carpet of yellow daisies on good years but what greeted us was lots of green bushes and plant life but not all that many flowers.  Perhaps we were late and had missed the main bloom but at first glance it seemed to be a pretty poor showing, especially in light of all of the rain.

Roadtrek with Verbena - Mar 2019 - for blog

Though not the riot of hip deep color I have seen before, there were still pockets of flowers, mostly Verbena, that surely were hiding some good compositions.  So we hauled the van over to the road side and hiked out to take a closer look.

Nevertheless, we were able to find several isolated areas with color so we stopped to see if any images were hiding in the bush that we could sneak up on and capture.  I had loaded some serious gear on board the van, but when we arrived, I simply grabbed my trusty little Canon 120S 12 megapixel “point and shoot” to see what was there.  I had expected to then haul out the serious camera if I saw anything but ended up shooting with the little critter for everything.  All of the photographs in this post are shot with that Canon 120S (c) N. David King.

I had once been asked to give a presentation on how a photographer should be able to shoot with anything available.  And certainly, point and shoot cameras and even cell phone cameras were getting better and better.  So once out of the car looking for some compositions, It was a bit “freeing” to leave tripod and heavy stuff in the van and just dance around the shots with this camera that is almost a toy by comparison.  Fortunately, it does allow for full manual operation so that helped quite a bit.

A couple of times I almost went back for the “real” camera, but I keep preaching that the tool that really counts is the one with the hand on the shutter button so we will see how it turns out.  Here are some examples.

Borrego flowers -Mar 2019-verbena 01 for blog

The clouds were providing broken light but definitely added a little drama to the background as the patters played on the hills and desert floor alike.

Borrego flowers -Mar 2019 purple and white boquet for blog

Though the Verbena was the predominate flower in bloom, mixed in with it were other flowers to provide some contrast.

Borrego flowers -Mar 2019 -037 primrose

Here and there were these beautiful little flowers.  I thought they might be a form of Primrose but to be honest have no idea what they are.

Verbena and daisies for blog

At one spot the daisies were growing in the midst of the verbena and provided a beautiful color contrast, especially when the mix was added to the sky.

Cynthia shooting Borrego flowers for blog

I took the shot above and turned around to find Cynthia also focused in on the yellow and purple bouquets.  My blown up knees will not allow me to get up and down as easily and she can do… frustrating.  I’ll bet hers is a killer shot!

When we finished we headed over to Ocotillo Wells to check on Cynthia’s property and to grab something refreshing in the “Iron Door” bar.  Wow… if you want something out of the ordinary, this is the place for you to check out!!!  The denizens were folks that I would bet had some tales to tell.  And many would make some really interesting portraits once they trusted you enough to allow it.  But that would take time and we needed to get back to Carlee’s in Borrego Springs to rendezvous with another friend of Cynthia’s also named David.

Once we met up, he had a map from the rangers as to where the flowers were supposed to be blooming.  One area was a field on the north side of the Salton Sea Highway near the turnoff to Arroyo Salado.  Generally, this area seemed devoid of flowers but sure enough, we pulled into a parking area and there in front of us was a hillside carpeted with Verbena mixed in with some other assorted flowers.

Verbena field near Arroyo Salado for blog

Here, across from Arroyo Salado was this field of Verbena.  The little parking area was filled with cars and people also out enjoying the flowers.

The light was good so we hiked down the hill then up to the carpet of flowers.  Once on top of them it was similar to the clumps we had found near Henderson Canyon… but still worth a shot or two…

verbena Fields for blog 01

Once down among the flowers it was apparent the “Carpet” was not as dense as it appeared from up along the highway.  Nevertheless there were some clumps and from them you can see the fields of verbena in the middle ground.

verbena Fields for blog 02

The light was starting to get really good and bring out the color of the flowers and the surrounding low lying sand dunes.

After one more stop we really needed to head back since Cynthia had some work to get down later that evening and in any case the evening was firmly setting in.

verbena Fields for blog 03.jpg

Coming back over the Montezuma road the dark skies on the western horizon were laced with a beautiful salmon colored light coming from the setting sun over the far-off ocean.  It almost looked like an erupting volcano was hiding just behind the clouds.  It was at once soft and peaceful and at the same time, dramatic.  It was a visually stunning end to a perfect day of shooting.




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Revisiting the Inner Journey

Based on the data I gave in the previous post on an “Inner Journey” I’ve now been slapped in the face by mortality in a way that never had happened before.  I’ve been, in my rambunctious past, in life and death encounters where one’s reactions and application of training meant seeing tomorrow or perishing on the spot.  But those all came on me fast with no real time to contemplate odds or strategies or really anything beyond allowing training and muscle memory/patterning to take over.  But with the current medical/physical issues and the approach of decisions about continuing chemical treatments and the cost/benefits equations at play, there is perhaps too much time and too little hard data available for me and upon which to base a comfortable decision.  I do not play well in a nebulous universe.

I’ve read now an amazing array of “experts,” all contradicting one another, each claiming a miracle cure or approach, some claiming hidden or lost or prohibited knowledge, each happy to take your money to share that with you.  The web has wonderfully reinvented the snake oil salesman and given them a much flashier wagon and stage.  But I’ve also received some wonderful support and shared insights and references from friends most pointing to something that does, across the board, seem to matter a great deal — attitude.

From combat I knew the power of the brain based on bizarre cases of a person receiving little more than a flesh wound but whose brain told them, “You’ve been shot so will die.” and then they did.  But as a contrast were some who were so grievously wounded no one gave them any chance of survival but their brain said, “No way, not me!” and against all odds they survived and went on with their lives.

Attitude has power, far more than we high tech folks tend to think.  But its power exists in both positive and negative spheres of influence.  The Bible says that “…as a man thinks in his heart, so is he.”  We tend to read that in some theological sense dealing with good and evil but I would suggest it goes far beyond that into the physical and psychological as well.  Very often, for good and for ill, our attitudes, our expectations, sometimes the permissions we have given ourselves due to our specific histories and interactions, define, control, and predict our futures.  We succeed at whatever only when we give ourselves permission to do so, i.e. when that success forms the core of our expectations.

Clearly more is at play including one’s real skills and ability.  But without the proper attitude, all of the skill and talent in the world will not be enough, on its own, to let you succeed.  And if you have not given yourself permission to succeed because, for whatever reason however reasonably founded, then you will almost certain fail.  I know some incredibly talented image makers who will never be successful because they have not believed in themselves or worse, have sabotaged themselves and their career with poor choices stemming from, I believe, a continuing refusal to grant themselves permission to be successful because somewhere deep inside they do not believe they deserve it.

One friend just sent me an interesting selection from the Mark Nepo “Book of Awakening.”  I had not heard his name before so of course looked him up.  He is a cancer survivor and has some great comments in that book including one of my favorites: “We need to give up what no longer works and find new ways of being that bring us close to what matters.”

The selection sent to me spoke of the concept that happiness was in the giving not receiving end of our behaviors.  That view echoes not only the approaches of counselors and “gurus” such as Wayne Dyer, Scott Peck, Stephen Covey, etc., his comments about “gaining by giving” resonate with me because in my experience, and with rare exceptions, (and this thread of thought is fairly common in a lot of Native American thinking) the “giving” returns far deeper and more meaningful pleasure than simply receiving something.  And it is true across activity lines.

From my photo business where it was clear that if I worked hard at making the manager or director that hired me look good to his people, I was rewarded with future work with minimal effort on my part.  I was shown once long ago and far away that learning to give physical pleasure brought greater pleasure in return than simply receiving it directly. I’ve seen clearly over the years that I learn more and about more things by trying to teach and share what little I do know than I ever learned just sitting in front of teachers and guides no matter how good they were.

It may seem silly, especially now, but I cannot believe how much internal pleasure I derived when I would sit in a little van I borrowed and was trying to fix up for its owner, look around and see something I had done to improve it, and think about how much, down the road, they would enjoy that new feature.  I could picture them out somewhere in it having a good time getting away and the idea that I had helped in that brought a deeper and broader based sense of pleasure than just anticipating getting to use it myself before the van was returned.

The old cliché about it being better to give than receive seemed ridiculous to a kid at Christmas counting packages under the tree… until you could see the face light up of someone you had managed to get something they really had wanted or needed.  When that light filled your spirit, it was amazing.  It turned out the joy you had helped inspire was the best gift of all.   There was a time in our history, and perhaps now almost dead culture, that knew and understood that. It was, in many ways, core to my Uncle’s ideas and teaching.  But now, in a “Me, me, me” world we seem to have lost sight of it.  Gordon Gecko’s assertion that “greed is good” is what drives us now; and perversely we are wealthier but far the poorer as humans for it.

I disagree with Nepo in the selection (or at least my interpretation of it and maybe this is incorrect being taken out of context since I have not read the entire book) that we need to suffer to understand this concept by giving from that state of suffering.  What I do agree with is the idea expressed there, and in other quotes of his, that fighting the world and trying to bend it to one’s own will is almost guaranteed to fail and result in the very opposite of pleasure; much less any real lasting happiness.

As someone who, in spite of receiving better teaching, spent a lot of energy trying to bend what I saw as BS and madness toward my own view of how things should be, and felt the pain of failure at that enterprise, it has been enlightening to watch myself internally process the newly revealed set of odds for my future and in the process peel off layer after layer of that combative attitude and simply accept what I found around me as its own problem and issue… but is not mine to solve and it is not my place to bend that reality to suit my perspective.  And with each layer removed, I’ve been able to concentrate more on those things that did matter but, more precisely, WHEN they could matter.

Trying to desperately avoid Cyrano’s dying revelation of being all things and all in vain, making my work at helping students acquire the tools that will help them attain their own goals seem to be one of the only things I’ve done with my life that really has mattered.  Helping sell one more product through the power of the visuals I could create may contribute to a bank account but in the cosmic scheme of things seems to be largely irrelevant.  It is maddening to have that “epiphany” at a point where I may need to retire and find other ways to use all the stuff pounded into me over the years to provide some meaning and purpose.

That may mean a new path or perhaps just an old one re-purposed to better fit the reality now slapping me in the face.  I don’t know yet.  My mind is still too cluttered and fractured by the surprising events of this year that, perhaps due to my own blindness, seemed to have come out of nowhere to make me question so much of myself, my value if any, my future if any, my own seemingly irrelevant desires and needs, certainly my thinking about future plans and desires and connections seems to be demanding a new — or perhaps just finally a more realistic — perspective.  During a particularly confusing set of interactions I lost some things that were precious to me… and it was deeply enraging.  Now however, I can see those “losses” as perhaps the cosmos working to set me free to get, at this next phase, really serious about my life and what I do with it.  When the boat is listing to the point of capsizing, you may have to let go of the rail to save yourself.

Sitting here at the keyboard, I look around at all of the books on my library’s shelves and the countless words in them.  I treasured them for so long but in truth they are just words on pages.  Sitting there closed on the shelves those words are of no greater value than if all of the pages in all of those books were blank paper.  Their value, if any, exists only in how they have served to teach and inspire the reader of them.  Perhaps we humans are very much like that.  Our value, if any, does not exist in what we know when the covers of our personal book is closed.  In that case whatever is written on our spirits and souls might as well be as blank as the pages in those closed books on the shelves around me.  Our value is created when, and only when, we try to give them back to others so they can find their OWN values from them.

OR… so it seems to me at the moment.  More as it develops.

Meantime I’m planning some photo treks that will take us back on the path this blog was created to walk.   The Camper van in my driveway is calling to me to load some camera gear and head out… that-a-way.  First star to the right and straight on until morning.

But maybe… just maybe… that path is more complex than I ever imagined.  Looking back over my shoulder at the path behind me, that certainly is true.

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Presentation for Portrait Photo Club

Last night (2/18/2019) I was honored to have been asked to give a presentation to the SD Portrait Club; the program director asked if I could talk to them about color – color theory, color management, etc.  That is a very large topic scope and actually takes up a complete semester’s class.  So, I tried to create a “Cliff Notes/Readers Digest” version for them.  I sometimes hate doing that since some important material always is going to get squeezed out or fall through the cracks, but in venues like these it is a necessary risk.

The presentation was on the evening of the President’s Day holiday and it was bitterly cold and damp, plus the heat was off in the Old Balboa Park Firehouse where many of the photo clubs hold their meetings.  But despite all of that it was a lively group with some excellent questions, especially as to how all that techy stuff still played into the world where many editing software advertisers seem to claim that you can ignore it all and fix everything at the edit phase “in post.”

First I set about trying to totally disabuse them of that thought and let them know how crippled they have rendered their editing possibilities with a poorly color managed or set up shot by showing them how the RAW conversion software’s ability to “correct” the file is limited by how far off they are in the first place AND their own skill and eye and trying to return a poorly shot image to a solid starting point for the real editing phase.  Just like film, a sensor may be “panchromatic,” meaning it is sensitive to all colors, it is not EVENLY sensitive to all colors.  Global correction to the file, even if within the limits of the software, do not and cannot address those discrete color biases and uneven sensor responses and sensitivites.  Those can only be solved with very careful exposure settings AND with proper camera profiling that allows for color specific corrections.

So  we first talked about the basics of Color Temperature and Color Balance where it always starts (as it did in the analog realm) before getting into the weeds with Color Management, i.e. calibration and profiling so that one can have a seamless transition from capture to edit to output and/or printing.  I also got their attention when I talked about the environmental influences of editing coming from color contamination in the room or even from reflection of their clothes on the screen.  When absolute accurate color is mandated, as it often is in the commercial realm (and in portraiture where the client’s skin color needs to be accurate and not look like they’ve been underwater for several weeks), those issues become important in a sneaky way.  If the photographer or end user doesn’t care then, of course, it doesn’t matter.  But in the professional world, it is likely your competitor will care and if the client can see the difference your position just dropped a notch or two… or ten.

We talked a bit about the various Color Spaces (sRGB, Adobe RGB, ProPhoto, L*A*B, CMYK) and why it is crtitical for maximum quality output to use the best you have available for work and then know how to properly convert the file to a more crippled color space when  or if mandated by the needs of the output format.

Then we talked about Color Psychology, and how the human system will respond to color automatically and why that can be incredibly important in allowing you to use it to help make your interpretation of your subject all the more clear to the audience. Color alone has a powerful effect on the emotional response of the viewer and the artist needs to understand and control it like any of his “tools.”

Then finally, we talked about color compatibility when it came to things like wardrobe and wardrobe interaction with the location or background.  I showed them how to pick colors from various color “Schemes” sometimes used in the fashion world to put together various ensembles to go with a subject’s basic skin tone and coloring.

All in all it was a highly condensed but fun evening and already I’ve gotten a few “Thank you” emails for it.  I love being able to “give back” some of the stuff pounded into my brain over these many years of practice and image making.  I’ve always contended that teaching is as much an art form as any other and the “rush” that comes from seeing a “student” light up as they “get it” is the equivalent to that from a well wrought piece of art.  So here’s my thanks to the members of that club for their attendance and participation.

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An Inner Journey … Really Inner…

Those of you who know me are aware that despite the teaching and workshop/seminar/presentation events I do, I am at heart a somewhat intensely personal person who keeps personal things, well… personal.  But enough of you around me noticed and asked about an unexpected absence from the scene so it deserves an explanation.  So here is a short post to address those concerns (and my thanks for them).

I was in the hospital from the 30th  with severe stomach cramps and what turned out to be an almost completely blocked colon, where, on February 4th, after pouting enough Colace™ down my gullet to turn Gibraltar into a bowl of rock broth, pumping me up with air like a basketball, stirring my innards with an industrial food processor, I had a laparoscopic colon resection.  I joked with the doctor that he had turned my colon into a semicolon.  Then, stitched, stapled and glued back together, I was having a truly delightful time of it but I confess, I pretty much completely filled up my “fun” quota for the month when, the day after the surgery, I had a sneezing fit.

However, now I’m back, back at school, on the mend, though the incision sites are still sore and put up a fuss when I engage my abdominal muscles, but it is getting better every day.  The hard part is trying to play catch up with classes, especially the two online classes with 40+ students in each one.  I seem to run out of steam a little more easily than normal so I need a few more hours in the day for at least the next week…Oh well, sleep is for weenies…

Now that I’m more or less back on track we’ll get back to more normal entries.  But I wanted my friends who were concerned to know what was happening.


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Last Week Before Spring Semester 2019

It has been a bit frenzied, as it always is, the last week of a long week before the semester starts.  For faculty, in addition to getting materials, plans, etc. ready to roll out next week,  we have a load of meetings ranging from a college-wide convocation to a school-wide meeting to a Department meeting.  All designed to give us the latest on budget issues, campus stuff, and of course the obligatory Rah-rah encouragements that are, apparently, mandatory for such things.  So each was filled with the usual combination of really good information and really boring stuff. 

The good news, for me at least, was that it appears – operative word “appears” which is frighteningly subject to change – that the Dean will let the Lighting Techniques class go ahead even though it does not officially meet the new enrollment requirements and the potential students now trying to work through waivers to get into a class for which they are qualified though have not had out specified requisite courses, are running into a new and completely revamped procedure that is pretty much calculated to avoid the whole issue and send them away in frustration.  Late “adds” are no longer allowed and delays caused by system complexity are not deemed a sufficient rationale to allow the late add when the process drags on past the nominal start date.  So it is a problem with, as usual, the big losers being the students.  Well, and potentially adjunct professors get screwed as well since if a full-time faculty member, like me for instance, has a course cancelled, I am required to bump an adjunct from a course assignment in order to fulfill my contracted amount of workload.  I hate that and feel terrible when it happens.  It happened to me once when I was an adjunct and it utterly destroyed any real economic stability for that semester.  But no one consulted me when designing the system.

On Friday there were a number of presentations given for “Professional Development” points for faculty.  I was part of one given by the “Strong Workforce” committee concerning helping to prepare students for working in the real-world facing them post-graduation.  This particular session, based on the panel, seemed to emphasize the issue from the standpoint of those students in more creative and vocational disciplines.  Perhaps that is because those following the academic pathway toward transfer to a 4-yr school are not seen as quite so vulnerable to the horrors of real-life work… or perhaps there was no interest in revealing to them that some of their chosen academic pathways, enlightening and oh-so-sensitive as they might be, were likely to lead nowhere vis-à-vis meaningful employment, especially in the next 10 +/- years.

We had a very good panel.  All of the faculty participants had a long list of solid real-world experience in their areas plus we were able to bring in a couple of folks now working in those areas to talk about their experiences vis-à-vis what the college can do to better prepare students for entry into that workforce.

careeredpanel_01252019 (1)

(L-R: David Hartig (Commercial photographer and President of SD ASMP), Me, Nicole Vargas (Professor of Digital Journalism), Mike Espar (Professor of Music), Bradford Prairie (Professor of Graphic Arts) and Luis Gomez (Editor at the SD Union-Tribune).

For my own needs and interests, I thought it was an extremely good discussion.  I actually think this panel, slightly expanded, ought to meet regularly to help each other with ideas to share ideas and to make our offerings better prepare students for heading out into the real world.  At the encouragement of the President I’m preparing a proposal for a program restructuring to help students in media and communications better able to get the courses they need and avoid the turf and ego issues we’ve run into in the past.

The disappointment was in the very sparse attendance.  Every faculty member in our areas should have been there.  In fact, I think every faculty member PERIOD should have been there but that is because I do still think one of the major objectives of education is to prepare students to thrive in the real world.  Alas, that opinion apparently dates me and relegates me to some fossil from the past with minimal relevance to today’s world.

As I put in my book, in this impending world defined by a huge “useless” class, i.e. people who, despite even prodigious skills or knowledge or education simply will have no work for them to do, as faculty I think our objectives should be to do all we can to make our students able to be part of the dwindling “useful” class.  And if we are not doing that then how do we justify our positions?

The good news is that when that grim future is being more specifically defined relative to work possibilities, it does appear that there will still remain a constant need for communication, especially visual communication, if for no other reason than marketing of products and services more and more dependent on visually driven material as reading skills (and interest) continue to fall.  So my discipline, commercial photography, both still and video, may turn out to be one of the safer areas to explore.

And yet, not one faculty member from art, graphic art, photography, Television and Film, or Music was there in attendance.  I think that is a travesty.  If trying to determine what we can do in our classrooms to better help our students survive and thrive in the changing “new world” rushing at them is not of sufficient importance to come and spend an hour and a half listening to ideas and suggestions on that topic, then maybe it is time to turn in their educator’s badge.

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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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