Archive for June, 2013

Fickle Fate of Favorite Photo

Tuesday, June 25th, 2013

My most ‘acclaimed’ photo is a good example of the somewhat fickle nature of aesthetic opinion. And furthering the fickleness of this photo, I wouldn’t have captured it at all if Elizabeth hadn’t seen the scene first, taking her own version on the balcony of our Tokyo hotel during a colorful sunset evening last June.

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My first success with it was a 3rd place win in the Around the Cities round of the Amateur Photographer of the Year competition, a contest run by the popular UK magazine Amateur Photographer which draws over a thousand entries a month. Foreshadowing the uneven path this image would take, the judges were almost apologetic in explaining that it was the best of the pictures that met the theme, so they decided against choosing it for first or second place (click on the above image to read the caption, and figure out for yourself why a shack in the woods and a deserted bridge would place in a contest of this theme).

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Belonging to 3 different camera clubs (do not ask), this image ended up in 6 different club competitions. It didn’t win anything 2 of the times. Entered in a theme competition ‘Architecture’, it won an Honorable Mention, meaning it was in the top 25% of entries that night, also qualifying it for the end of the year competition. As shown above, at the end of year competition it was awarded the blue ribbon for digital projected image, and Best In Show.

It had placed 2nd in the other club in a monthly competition for the theme ‘A Different Point of View’ , finally ending up with an Honorable Mention at that club’s end of year competition. I don’t remember now if it was one of the judges who didn’t give it any ribbon, but one of the four monthly competition judges complained that the rectangles in the center of the image were offset, and wasn’t that a shame.  It should be clear at this point that different judges do have different points of view.

Tokyo Balconies on display in Fenton House

Meanwhile, the Royal Photographic Society, which I had joined in the UK and continue to support, is always looking for ways to encourage their non-UK members. It organized an exhibit from the ‘Overseas Chapters’. The US chapter selected my image, making it one of approximately 100 images that spent a month being exhibited at Fenton House, the Royal Photographic Society’s headquarters in Bath. This exhibit is also scheduled to be in London at the Royal Photographic Society Cave from the 11th to 31st of July, so if you are in London this summer, you can see it.

The picture also generated some attention on a photo critique site where I spend some time, called Photosig. Ending up as my second highest scoring image.

Evening Balconies

In one of the club competitions that didn’t go so well, the picture ended up displayed on its side (don’t ask).  I thought it did have some potential in alternative orientation, but the lacy ironwork seemed unbalanced, so I Photoshopped it, copying the top half, pasting and flipping it, positioning it over the bottom half of the photo, and then rotating it 90 degrees.  I actually like the result a lot.  It has a degree of surreality that I think is interesting. And it fixed that judge’s concern about non-symmetric windows. Several other people like it too, and the surreal version of Tokyo Balconies ended up as my 3rd highest scoring image on Photosig, just behind the non-manipulated version.

For those who are following my series on before & after photos, the non-manipulated version of this image is one that spent no time in Photoshop. The original camera RAW image was processed in Lightroom for global exposure, contrast, and color saturation. White Balance was left As Shot..  The color turns out to be a very important aspect of this image. I experimented with black & white, but it just turns out blah. This is essentially what we saw off our hotel balcony at 6:48 PM

ISO 800, f/18, 1/20 sec (there’s a lot to be said for both steady hands and image stabilization)

My Tokyo Hose

Sunday, June 23rd, 2013

Blue Hose Final Version

There is something irresistibly sinuous about a garden hose, exhibiting a natural elegance as it mimics the French curve. I found my Tokyo Hose last summer in trendy Shibuya.

Blue Hose As Captured By the Camera

Always on the lookout for found still lives, this one struck me as almost perfect as originally presented, and I did not ask my subject to make any changes in her pose.  If I had it to do over again, I think I would have moved the bucket, but that turned out to be one of the easier digital darkroom operations. Taken at 17mm and f;8, ensured enough depth of field for the entire image to be adequately sharp.  Perspective was the first fix, easily corrected in Lightroom (Distortion +7, Vertical –30, Horizontal –7, Rotate –0.9), resulting in a square image that looked like it had been taken directly downwards from an impossible position centered over the hose.  This still left me with the unwanted bucket, and some unsightly reflections from the harsh midday sun, so I moved to Photoshop for some outpatient surgery.

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Copying another section of tiles and pasting it over the bucket simplified the image, turning a garden scene into a near-abstract.

The next task was to take care of the unsightly reflections by copying better looking tiles, and pasting them over the ones with the bright reflections. I ended up making 4 patches like this. I created mask layers over 3 of the top 3 tile layers and then brushed black over the mask to blend in the seams.  The hose was the most fiddly part, because it needed to look realistic, but I didn’t have a dark gap to hide a transition.  I also used curve layers, (1, 2, and 3) to correct the exposure and contrast of several of these patches to more closely blend with their neighbors. My final step was to create an empty layer, setting the mode to Overlay, and filling it with neutral gray. This is a quick and easy way to make a Burn & Dodge layer, and it has the advantage of being editable.  Painting on it with a white brush, as I did in the upper left corner, opened up the darker tiles, making them a closer match to the tiles around the hose, and ensuring a symmetric and simple background. 

I’m very happy with the way it turned out. I’m not sure that Japanese hoses are innately more elegant than any other hoses, but to me, this particular bit of blue rubber tube is suggestive, even symbolic, of the Japanese obsession with elegance and form.

Tornado Week

Monday, June 17th, 2013

Jun13-0087

Have you ever had one of those weeks where it seemed like everywhere you looked, there was weather? That’s what it was like last week, with three near misses.

In National Harbor for a business event on Monday, I had just returned to my room when I learned about a tornado warning just a few miles to the south. I could see some very wet people outside, but no obvious violent weather, and it blew over. 2 days later,  Elizabeth arrived for pizza with my co-workers, and we were surprised when our iPhones rang simultaneously. It turned out to be a tornado warning in Ohio. We anxiously watched the storm traversing the county on our phones. The tornadic storm passed a couple miles below our property without any impact, other than what must have been a loud hailstorm on a metal roof.

Tornadic storm approaches from southwest

Pooped after long 2 weeks of business travel, I returned home Thursday afternoon, popped a beer, and took it out to the sidewalk to watch the long-expected not-quite-a-derecho-after-all roll in.  The air had that hot sultry Midwestern feeling of impending meteorological violence. The southwestern sky became darker and darker, taking on an unfortunate greenish color. Halfway through my Heineken, the first few rain drops hit, so I walked inside and turned on the telly.

15 minutes to Armeggedon

In half a beer, my world had gone from a severe thunderstorm warning to you have 15 minutes to find a basement. With a certain urgency, the weatherman showed a dark read warning right across our neighborhood, explaining that although there was no apparent tornado on the ground, everyone between Leesburg and Ashburn Junction (a half mile to the southeast) would be best off to assume cyclonic activity.

Heart of the storm from upstairs window

Not having a basement, and apparently having 15 minutes to think about that, I went upstairs to get my camera. As I watched to the southeast, the visibility dropped from a couple hundred yards, to a hundred feet.  Small hail peppered the outside wall, and the window shook violently a couple of times.  Water poured out of the downspouts, missing the lowest tier of gutter, spewing all over the patio. I walked back downstairs to where the basement door would be if we had one.

Heart of the storm

The lights flickered. The windows rattled. The weatherman explained that the purple spots on the radar were really bad, and he held his left hand over our neighborhood to emphasize the benefit of the basements that nobody underneath his hand actually had. By this point, I’d already weathered the first purple spot, with one more smaller one due to pass over any second.  Milking the moment of doom for another 4 minutes, Storm Team 4 then announced that the tornado warning was lifted for Loudoun county, and was headed north of DC through Montgomery County.  Within 30 minutes, the storm had split into two parallel tornado warning paths, thousands of PEPCO customers were without power (so what else is new?) and small funnel cloud damaged a house in Rockville.

Waves of rain hit as the heart of the storm leaves Loudoun

Wordless

Friday, June 14th, 2013

The endless blue of the sky,

Overwhelms me.

What’s new?

Sunday, June 9th, 2013

I’m tired of ‘breaking news’. 

We should try to fix the news.

Packing Pistons in the Past

Saturday, June 1st, 2013

Southern Airways Martin 404

Propellers powered by a pair of Pratt & Whitney radial piston engines, a 1976 trip to my grandparents included aircraft that had more in common with WWII bombers than with the Bombardier I’ll be boarding on Tuesday. One of a series of small prop planes that constituted the last stage of our Easter or Christmas visits to the Gulf coast, including one especially exciting but only dimly remembered trip in a DC-3, the Southern Airways Martin 4-0-4 pictured above delivered us to what was then a very small Ft Myers airport.

This high school era image (see That 70’s Show) is impossible to date, but I found it in a lackluster set of Florida shots in the same envelope with some Plus-X that could be positively dated to Spring 1976. This was shot on Panatomic X, a surprising and counterproductive choice for a night image, given that it was a low speed film (ASA 32). 

If it was 1976, my SLR would have been a Hanimex Practica with a built in meter, but fully manual settings.  If it was 1977, then it would have been a much sweeter Canon AE-1 with aperture priority automatic shutter.  Both had 50mm f/1.8 lenses.  As is still my wont, I am drawn to airplanes and night shots, so I’m sure that confronted with this classic scene, I did the best I could to hand hold with whatever was loaded in my camera.  35mm film didn’t come with adjustable ISO.

Today’s modern jetport feels less romantic, less exciting, and certainly less innocent than a small regional airport did 35 years ago.  Having long lost most  I no longer feel comfortable standing on an airport tarmac taking pictures of planes (on the assumption that the airport authorities aren’t especially comfortable about me and my camera).

Digitized with my Nikon 35mm film scanner, this underexposed image cleaned up nicely—after some Photoshop surgery to remove the worst of the mildew damage.  It evokes feelings of a different time; a time that was ending as my time as an air traveller began.