Archive for March, 2013

World’s Most Interesting Coal Stove

Tuesday, March 26th, 2013

Iron Stove

Graufthal’s protestant church contained the most extraordinary heating appliance I had ever seen. An eglise mixte until 1904, an unusual arrangement offering both Lutheran and Roman Catholic services in the same facility. Cold and crumbling, the non-descript, non-ornate, and apparently non-profitable sanctuary looked like it had seen better better times. Elizabeth and I were in the small Alsatian town to see its one tourist attraction: the Troglodyte Houses, or Maison des Rochers (the Rock Houses).

Manufactured by De Dietrich & Cie, a 17th century industrial dynasty that remains in business today, the church’s stove was photographically irresistible. Apparently shut out of the French railroad market after the 1870 German annexation of Alsace, they returned to their historical roots in cast iron and began making consumer durables, including stoves. The somewhat shorter entry mentions specially that their cast iron ovens were produced in nearby Niederbronn. the location appearing on the stove’s door,  after 1848.  The company still makes home heating and cooking appliances, along with industrial equipment.

Elizabeth didn’t come in with me, so I didn’t dawdle, but just snapped a quick shot and left.  That wouldn’t be the first or last time that I failed to fully explore what would turn out to be one of the more visually interesting subjects of a trip. Returning home and reviewing my pictures, I realized that this one might have some potential. I ended up spending far more time in Photoshop than I did in Graufthal.


The lighting was very uneven, with a ray of sunlight falling across the middle of the stove, burning out the highlights on the rusty/shiny metal, while leaving some of the shadows almost pure black. This was more dynamic range than a Canon 50D DSLR can capture in one shot, and I regret not having taken at least 3 bracketed images. Lacking the ability to do an HDR image, I ended up instead spending an afternoon in Photoshop, burning, dodging, masking, and correcting, until I’d ended up with a realistic stove. To balance the composition, I picked up the wall sconce and moved it about a foot to the left.   My day in the digital darkroom resulted in 18 Photoshop layers.

It’s a fascinating thing, and I love the spiraling triangular elements. I’ve never seen a stove like it, and haven’t been able to find anything specific online.

Here’s the before image, showing what the camera saw before processing it in Lightroom and Photoshop:

ISO 1600, 1/30, f/3.5

Garlic Still Life

Saturday, March 23rd, 2013

Garlic Bulb

The truth be told, I have little patience for doing still lives, but I took one of my favorite photographs in a makeshift studio in my backyard in 2011.

The garlic growing experiment turned out to be a great success, providing dozens of medium-sized garlic plants without any significant interference from deer or woodchuck.  The idea of photographing the garlics started with my admiration of the scapes, the elegant gooseneck shape at the top of the stem. Harvesting the bulbs, I found that the underground part of the plant was even more interesting than the top.

Borrowing a very heavy slate that was sitting unused in a neighbor’s yard, I set it on the ground as a natural backdrop for my vegetable portraits.  With indirect sun coming from one side, a white poster board against the fence on the other side provided some fill light.  I set up a tripod, with the arm extending horizontally, to hold my camera still. I’ve got a lovely old Micro-Nikkor 55mm f/2.8 close up lens that I found in mint shape on eBay, which is where I also bought a Nikon lens adaptor for my Canon 50D.

Some photographers have been surprised to learn that this is a High Dynamic Range Image (HDR), or more precisely, it is a TIF that was tonemapped from an HDR image created by combining 3 exposures.  HDR techniques can emphasize the mid-range contrast, greatly enhancing texture, which really enhances the roots in this image.  After processing the image in Photomatix, I removed some spots from the slate in Photoshop.  The conversion to black & white was done in Lightroom.

It clearly works better on matte paper than glossy. I experimented with half a dozen different fine art papers and finally settled on Canson’s Montval Aquarelle, a cold press paper without any optical brighteners. That 310 gsm watercolour paper really makes it pop, giving it some life and dimension.  I like the way the picture comes out on the screen, but I love the way it prints.

How should you clean it?

Friday, March 22nd, 2013

Digital Bellybutton Lint = the substance that collects in your keyboard.

Our 15 Minutes of Google Fame

Sunday, March 17th, 2013



Wandering down a cobbled Nancy street on our way to the medieval Porte de la Craffe, a brightly painted Opel with a strange rig on its roof drove past. Then Elizabeth and I waited over two years for our pictures to appear in Google’s Street View. Street View capture vehicle

At the time, I was aware that a privacy dispute with the government had resulted in a halt to Google’s Street View data collection in Germany, so even though we were in France, it wasn’t a surprise that the Googlewagon had German plates and a .de URL.  Apparently, it had been redeployed in a nearby country where Google was on better terms with the Privacy Commissioner (and it would hardly be the first time during the last 1500 years that Germans had conducted surveillance on the west side of the Rhine).


Most of the faces are obscured by a blurring algorithm, but individuals on the street are certainly recognizable.  I’m wearing a bright red jacket and usually holding a camera up to my face. Elizabeth is in blue jeans and a black jacket.


The vehicle first passed us when Elizabeth was admiring a church door at 68 Grande Rue. I’m visible to her left, taking pictures on the edge of the street as the Googlemobile went past.  Then we headed north on Grand Rue towards the medieval city gates.

The Street View car heading south from Porte de la Craffe

The car passed us several times, taking another set of photos as it drove south, away from the Porte de la Craffe.  Depending upon which way you follow the map, you’ll see different pedestrians, or as in our case, different views of the same people. The photo below is a Google image of me taking the picture above.


You can see these pictures in Google on this link (or bring up Google Maps and search for 68 Grande Rue, Nancy, France). If you are following on Google Street View, take two clicks towards the towers (north) from number 68, turn yourself 180 degrees in front of the gate towers, and you’ll see me just in front of the intersection of Rue Bracconot.  If you look very closely, you can see Elizabeth at the SE corner. If you then return back to number 68, you’ll see a different view of me on the left.  Turn completely around just past 68 and you can take another pass over us.


As soon as we came back from our trip to France, I started looking at Street View to see if our pictures had appeared.  For about a year, the Grande Rue, an important old town tourist street, didn’t appear at all in Street View.  Then the first set of images didn’t include us.  After two years, I’d pretty much given up and hadn’t looked at, but I found this set in January, and as of mid-March, the same shots are still there.  As long as these September 2010 images are current, you should be able to view us either from the link above, or just south of the Porte.


If you’ve never used Street View, its an interesting and sometimes useful toy. Within Google maps, you’ll see a yellow icon of a figurine (it appears in the two images above).  Click on him, and it’ll paint a blue line down all the streets within your current map view that have been photographed . Keep him up and drop him, and you’ll flip into the 360 photographic view that allows you to sort of virtually fly down the street.  Our new townhouse isn’t Street Viewed yet, but Google updated our last street 2 months before we sold out house, and as f this writing, you can clearly see Kirk and my cars in the driveway.

The brain is like a sponge

Saturday, March 16th, 2013

The brain is like a sponge. It can’t absorb anything if it is all dried up