Tuesday, February 19, 2008

February Challenge, week 2: Yellow

test patches?This set of paint spots on a building across the street from work inspired me to go with yellow for the second week of the February challenge. I figured I'd have no trouble finding at least two other yellow-themed photo opportunities.

I futzed a bit with the composition of this one. I wanted more than just the paint patches, centered in the frame. I decided to try to pull in the yellow of the stairway, visible through the window in the upper right. I also wanted as little perspective distortion as possible, so I needed to shoot pretty much straight on. I liked the drip from one of the patches, and I didn't like the black marquee overhanging at the top left. Thus, I was fairly constrained, but I still like the result. I could do without the reflection of the tree in the window; it adds a jarring textural element, contrasting to the delicious industrial metal texture of the wall. Painting it out might be possible, but I'll live with it.

yellow leashAlthough the paint patches inspired the color choice, I didn't have my camera with me when I saw them. So this is the one I took first. This leash was a lone spot of color on a gray afternoon at the dog park. Just as I prepared to take my picture, the wind gusted and blew the leash into the diagonal loop that you see here. Although it was cold, it makes a nicer composition than it would have made hanging straight down.

I considered a photo of the other spot of yellow nearby, in the snow at the base of the fence. But then I thought better of the idea. What do you think? Should I have used that instead?

yellow squash
My final yellow selection was this spaghetti squash. I bought the squash at the farmers market, from one of the orchardists. I guess they were branching out into vegetables.

A cast iron skillet provides a contrasting background (if not quite large enough) under the warm halogen light of my range hood. After taking the picture, I chopped up the squash, cooked it, and we had it with dinner.

Yellow is a nice sunny, warm color for a cold February week.


Why Blog?

Greg asks "why do we blog?" Well, that's a good question. I started this blog more as a means of self exploration than in the expectation that lots of people would read it. (I'd say that my "stats" bear out that non-expectation.) But a few people did start reading it, especially when I started branching out from my initial "navel-gazing."

So what did I do then?

Actually, what I did then was to stop writing for a while. I think it was just a coincidence -- that I got busy, didn't have time, wasn't getting enough sleep, etc., etc. I think I was running out of things to say within the boundaries I had originally set.

Greg says blogging is about "staying connected." Yes, but it's an odd sort of "connectedness." Connection through my blog is both more personal and less than the sort of connection I get through Flickr. It's more, because I'm revealing more of myself. It's less, because the Flickr community starts with a common interest — taking pictures, and because some of us are able to turn that common interest into human contact (in "meat space," as the idiom has it.)

And, at least to this old-timer, online connection is really no substitute for direct human interaction. Sure, there are some blogs, like Seth Godin's, which I'll read for insight, but there are others that I read because I already have a connection with the writer. Their postings illuminate and strengthen my already existing relationship, and are of interest because of that.

Why do I blog? Partly as a journal, as an experiment in translating my daily experience into writing. Partly to communicate with family and friends. And, partly in the hope that something I say here might resonate with someone I haven't met yet, someone who could be a friend if we only connected.

So, yes, it's about connection. With myself. With you, my friends and family. And maybe, with the world.


Thursday, February 14, 2008

2008 Challenge, Week 3

Main Street
Main Street, Ann Arbor, at night. The holiday lights in the trees add warmth to the winter streetscape. It was about 5F when I took the photo. I'm sure the passersby thought I was nuts.

Ann Arbor has 3 "downtown" areas. Main St. is almost exclusively "town", and has lots of restaurants and arty stores. State St. is a mix of town and gown, with (of course) restaurants, book stores, and clothing stores. South University St. (South U) is very much gown, with businesses targeted mostly at students.

For this shoot, I headed out with tripod and camera, getting downtown a bit before 11. The streets weren't too busy, probably because of the cold more than the lateness of the hour. I set up on the corner, tried to frame to get the tree lights and some interesting buildings, and started shooting. I stopped down to f/22 so that I could use a 2.5 second exposure and get some car light trails. The greater depth of field from the small aperture was also a plus. The camera was set on its minimum ISO setting of 200 to get as long an exposure as possible.

I took several shots from this position, experimenting with when to take it vis-a-vis where the cars were, trying to get the best looking light trails. As you can see, it was windy, and some of the tree branches were whipping back and forth, leaving their own trails.

I moved to a couple of other positions — one further up the street (behind the camera in this shot) and one at the other end of the block. I liked this view the best of the three. As I was walking down the street, I saw a person waiting in front of the the Ark. I quickly set up the tripod and snapped the photo below. I really like the mood.
The Ark


Virtual community becoming real

olive swims upstream
"Web 2.0" is all about online community. But sometimes we want more. We want to meet the real people behind those avatars and icons. A small group of Ann Arbor photographers, first met on Flickr, has been meeting semi-regularly in person. Tonight, a small group of us got together for a "meetup": conversation and photo viewing at Sweetwaters cafe in downtown Ann Arbor.

We know each other online by our Flickr "handles", such as Boston Wolverine and Capntoo. In person, we become Sam and Dave. We have nothing in common, save our common interest in photography, and that's enough. We will discover other commonalities, and some will become friends while others remain merely acquaintances.

alley noir
After the official meetup, a smaller group of us went photo-walking — looking for possibly interesting subjects on the dark streets of Ann Arbor, and taking pictures of them. In one case, we fortuitously created a photo op. A fellow asked us if we knew where the Alley Bar was. "It's at the other end of that alley." As he walked into the cloud of steam, we snapped frame after frame, hoping that at least one would have a spark of greatness.

photo nuts
One thing I've learned is that most photographers don't mind being photographed. We are each others' willing models. The cliché photo of one photographer taking another's photo, or two taking each other's photos is hard to resist.

In the end, our online community becomes a personal community, which in turn strengthens the online community.


Wednesday, February 13, 2008

2008 Challenge, Week 2


There's a lot of construction happening in our town, despite the glut in the home market due to the economic downturn. I don't know how the builders are going to recoup their expenses any time soon. This picture also illustrates a downside of new construction -- that we lose some of our history with each one. I tried to show this by including the historic bus terminal in the photo. (Other examples of loss include the Frieze building and Anberay apartments.)

This photo was planned, although the planning phase was short. I was driving to work and saw the new building in the morning light. I thought that "new construction" was something about my community. Then I had the idea to contrast the deco bus station with the new building. I knew approximately where I wanted to shoot from to get them both in the frame, so I walked over there on my way to work, and took several shots, bracketing the exposure because of the extreme contrast.

Once I loaded the pictures into my computer, I could see that no single exposure would capture details in both the bright and dark areas. Here are the two original exposures that I chose to use:
Light and dark exposures
The left hand exposure has nice detail and color in the sky and condos, but the bus station is lost in the shadows. The right hand exposure shows the bus station well, but the sky is washed out and details are lost in the new building. So I decided to combine them to get the best of both.

I could have used a "high dynamic range" program to combine them, but the light and dark areas were so cleanly separated, I decided to do it by hand. That involved pasting the darker exposure into a layer over the lighter one and then erasing the bus station, so that the lighter exposure in the bottom layer showed through. You can see this in the left half of the image below. Finally, I used the clone brush to paint out the light pole, sign, and some wires that looked messy against the sky. The painted-out bits are shown in the right half, below.

And, there you have it.


Monday, February 11, 2008

The February Challenge

Our challenge for February is to take 3 photos each week, featuring a different color each week. It's an interesting challenge, which at first seems hard, but once I pick a color, I see it everywhere.

For the first (short) week, I decided on purple because I knew that I could get at least one purple shot from the set for Beauty and the Beast. I've been on the set crew for the Burns Park Players annual production for the past 9 years, and really enjoy it. It's a place where I can be a little creative on my own, and part of a massively creative group effort.

purple set and costume

When I got to the theater, they were also working on the teapot costume, colorfully repainted in pink and purple.

Earlier the same day, I joined a group of Detroit and Ann Arbor area photographers on a "photo safari" around downtown Ann Arbor and the University. A fellow trekker, Sam, had a striking purple streak in her hair. I immediately decided to make that one of my purples.

purple hair

I had several options for my third purple, but decided that this display from the window of American Apparel was the one to go with. There were actually 3 manikins in purple, but I couldn't get a good shot of all three because of the reflections from the glass. I think this one is stronger, anyway.
purple sweater

At first, I was worried about finding my 3 purples, but it was amazing how I started seeing purple everywhere. I was freed from searching for the color and could, instead, focus on the images.


Sunday, February 10, 2008

Photo Challenges

Last year, I gave myself a challenge: to take at least one photograph a day for 365 days, and to post one photograph per day to a Flickr group dedicated to that purpose. I was in this with a number of other people, and knowing that there was a community to whom I was, in at least a loose sense, accountable, helped me keep to my challenge. I finished that challenge in early January, and you can view my 365 photographs, if you wish.

Doing the challenge got me more involved in the process of photography than I had been for years. I started to read photoblogs (see the sidebar for some links), and found more participatory projects. On finishing my 365, I decided to cut back from one photo a day to a photo a week in the "2008 photo challenge." The goal of this challenge is to "document your community," where "community" is left purposely indeterminate.

The first photo I took in 2008 for this challenge documents an Ann Arbor icon.

snow bears - #357 - January 3, 2007

Cuddling snow bears in front of Blimpyburger have become an Ann Arbor icon. The owner rebuilds the snow bears frequently, so we like to keep an eye on them to see what's changed. We had 10 inches of snow on New Year's morning, and here is the result.

Although we are supposed to plan out our photos for the challenge, I have to admit that this one was not planned. I was walking by, saw the snow bears, and took a few shots by the light of the setting sun. I got double duty from this photo, entering it as number 357 in my 365 challenge, and for week 1 in the 2008 challenge.

I've taken a couple other photos of the snow bears. One is another angle on these bears, and the other was taken last winter.

Interestingly, doing this challenge is both easier and harder than the 365 challenge. Because I don't have to take a photo every day, I'm not always carrying my camera, and I tend wait until late in the week to get my weekly shot. I'm also not planning ahead as much as I "should be." That makes this challenge a good opportunity to work on reducing my tendency to leave things to the last minute.

I've also started a separate "February challenge", about which I'll write in my next entry.