With our cold snap the sky is a featureless pewter gray, unusual for us. Usually even our overcast skies are full of layers and gradation. This one looks like a midwestern sky, a single cloud spreading for a thousand miles and pregnant with snow.
What this meant is that Green Lake looked different than I’d ever seen it. The water on the south shore was dead calm, and the bare branches were etched against a soft, textureless reflection of the sky. Typically I gravitate to the denser, chaotic places here. Today the simplicity of the scene drew me in. I made a different kind of photograph than is usual for me.
It was sub-freezing and I was trying to walk quickly to stay warm. But then, a glimpse of a promising patch drew me to the shore, and I would stop and work a small area. I talk about this kind of photography as visceral. I feel it in my body when the photograph is closing in. There is a dual sense of both meditative connection with the landscape, and an anticipatory excitement over the richness of possibility all around me. When I find an area that feels this way, I tend to shoot with small variations in a given spot. It is like using the camera as a sensing element, finding out what is warm or cool by responding with a decision that this moment, over all other moments, is the one, and then feeling what that felt like. Often the first or the last image of such a series is the one that is most whole. The intervening ones sometimes get polluted with self-consciousness about the composition. The first one is the moment that pulled me toward it initially, and my conscious mind didn’t have a chance yet to interfere. The last one is the summation, the letting go shot, everything is in the mix that is going to be, and I’m less invested.
Robin has just started a blog where she talks about issues of attachment and trauma therapy. Be sure to follow the link to the video on today’s post to learn more about what happens in the brain during therapy.
I prepped a file for a client this afternoon. I thought it instructive to show what goes into file prep for publication.
The image the client wanted was a slice of a panoramic. So the first thing I did is go back to the original files that composed the pan (which I shot using a pan base that rotates the camera around the lens nodal point), and recombine them at a higher resolution (the piece would run as a double page spread) using PTGui. This program can make layered psd files, so I was able to make some image overlap corrections in the masks.
The next step I typically take is a levels layer to set my white and black points. I use the Threshold command (Image—Adjustment--Threshold, though I’ve made a shortcut key) to find the blackest and whitest points, and put sample points at those points. In a Levels adjustment layer I set those as my black and white points.
In this case, my problem was too much dynamic range, which I knew would be a problem when I shot this. I wanted to see if my HDR filter would help. I made a copy of the background layer, and used a Photomatix Tone Mapping filter on it. I usually think that HDR filters are too aggressive, but with the filter applied on a duplicate layer, I can adjust the opacity until it looks right. I also masked back areas where it went too far, like the sky.
Since I had shot into the sun, I knew I would have some pixel bloom issues at the high contrast edges. Sure enough, at the edges of the buildings and in the trees I had a blue bloom (why blue? That was new.) My trick for this is this: I zoom into the problem area, usually at 200%. I use Color Picker to choose a color that the bloom should be (like the grey of the building.) I use the brush tool, set the Mode to Color, and then paint over the bloom with a small brush. The bloom magically changes to the color you want.
The bloom in the backlit tree was a harder fix, however. Brushing it changed the color of the trees too much, and the color bloom was too complex to treat this way. Nothing else in the image was blue. I used Select-Color Range and zoomed in and picked a bright blue pixel, and set the fuzziness bar pretty high. Then I made a Hue Adjustment layer and played with the Saturation and Lightness levels until the color matched the surroundings. Voila—blue edged tree leaves gone.
I did the same treatment for a red color bloom around the backlit fallen leaves. I was careful to make sure this did not affect any reds elsewhere in the image that I cared about, which I would mask out if necessary.
I didn’t need to make a global contrast correction with a curve layer. But there were specific image areas that needed attention. I wanted to increase the contrast of the tree’s shadow in the grass, so I made a curve until that looked right (ignoring the effect on the rest of the image), and then used a big brush on the mask layer to erase the effect on any part of the image I didn’t want the look. I did another curve layer for the building faces in shadow that I felt were too flat.
I then made a dodge and burn layer. This I do with virtually all my images, and it’s worth making it a keyboard shortcut. The sequence is Layer—New—Layer, then change the Mode to Overlay, and check the box beneath that says "Fill With Overlay-Neutral Color (50% gray)". You then set your brush to around 10% opacity, make sure your foreground and background colors are black and white (press D). Paint in the layer. Black is a burn, white is a dodge. Pressing X switches the colors.
I still had a problem with the sidewalk, which reflected the sun and was burned out. None of my other corrections solved that area. I had bracketed this image when I shot it, so I grabbed one of those images, and copied the entire image over as another layer. I masked out all but what I needed. I was hoping I could use the tree portion of that image too, but the alignment wasn’t accurate enough for that to work.
I save this layered .psd file in my master file folder. For the client I make a duplicate file (checking the Duplicate Merged Layers Only box). I make a duplicate layer to sharpen, then a levels adjustment layer to change the output to 3 and 252 (you don’t want to give a file with pure black or white to a printer). If everything looks good I merge the layers, and upload the file. Job done.
Robin pointed this out—anyone else catch the juxtaposition in the Sunday New York Times Magazine between the anorexia article, immediately followed by the Style photo by Joel-Peter Witkin, of a size 2 nude woman?
Karen Anderson over on Writer Way is passing around a meme (a word whose heyday has come and gone, in my opinion) on "Five Things You Don’t know About Me." Here are my five.
My brother Cliff in our bedroom, c. 1964, the earliest image in my files.
1). As a child I spent evenings and Sunday afternoons in the darkroom "helping" my father. As with every incipient photographer, the experience of seeing an image magically appear in the developer tray was revelatory. I craved this magic for myself. I must have been 6 or 7 at the time. One day, when he was at work, I trespassed into the sanctum of the darkroom, brought up three trays into the bathroom, and filled them with water. I then went to his secretary in the upstairs hallway, and took out several sheets of writing paper. I slipped the writing paper into the tray, just like I had seen my dad do. Nothing happened! My father wasn’t mad when I told him what I did, and he taught me how it all worked, starting with developing the film that I shot in my Brownie camera. Before long I couldn’t wait for him to come home from work so that he would load the film developing reel (an act of dexterity beyond me at that age), but I could do everything else on my own.
2) I was president of my high school student government. It seems improbable, as I was terribly shy and introverted, but I was also very political at that age. I wrote letters to the paper against the Vietnam war, I was part of a group that emerged from the first Earth Day event in our town, Youth Against Pollution, I started an underground newspaper in high school and I spoke up at school board meetings on student rights. In my senior year I worked on the McGovern campaign, a lost cause in our neck of the woods. I shared a car with my step-brother, who was a Nixon supporter. We had dueling bumper stickers on the back—McGovern on the left side, of course.
3) You know how when you’re driving across the middle of nowhere, like in the bottom of Idaho or the middle of Kansas, and you see a lone bicyclist, 20 miles from the nearest anything, with bulging panniers and wads of rucksacks on the racks, and wonder, what the heck is he doing way out here, and why? That would have been me, pretty much anytime in the 70’s and early 80’s. Home over spring break? Just a 500 mile ride. I’m moving to Idaho, from Minneapolis? Everything I need would fit on the bike. You ride a bike through North Dakota, and you’re treated like a National Geographic special coming through town. I don’t think I ever had to buy a breakfast, or a beer, in that state.
4) I have helped set up and launch fireworks shows. Both big barge shows, and small hand-fired ones. For several years I worked as a pyrotechnician in a crew, where you spend the day filling morters with shells and wiring them up, and then spend hours after the show tearing everything down. The whole point, though, is that big orgasm of the show itself, and you’re at the very center of it. The noise and the light is impossibly loud and brilliant. Fire rains down upon you. It overwhelms any other thought or sensation except the potent power of the dangerous moment. The biggest show I worked on was the Tacoma 4th of July. When a 20" shell launches from 20 feet away, the entire barge recoils.
5) Not only am I a National Public Radio junkie, I’m an NPR game show contestant and talk show guest. I am a failed contestant on "Wait Wait, Don’t Tell Me (The NPR News Quiz)" , which is why I don’t have Carl Kasell on my home answering machine. And in 1995 Robin and I were the featured guests on "Talk of the Nation" on a Valentine’s Day show on personal ads, which is how we had met four years previously. Robin was answering two ads a week in her search for a mate. She answered mine because there were no good ones that week.
I’ve been thinking about how my surroundings affect me. In particular, my office. I moved into it 12 years ago, and devices and objects and debris have been accreting ever since. The disorder has been bothering me for years. But you get busy, and you don’t see stuff after awhile.
I believe that our home environment is an expression of our internal state. I did not like the reflection I was seeing. I want more order in my mind, so perhaps the best place to start was to make order of my surroundings. I’ve just finished a big job on the computer, and it was a perfect moment to start.
Once upon a time I had merely a computer and a printer. In the last decade they’ve bred and reproduced. With the lights off it’s a constellation of green LED’s. Now I have three computers, three scanners, four monitors, four printers, and a gaggle of other things that plug in. Each new addition had been shoehorned into some available surface.
In two days I’ve made a major improvement in structure, cleanliness and functionality. Before, most of the gear sat on a desk I first built 25 years ago. Friends were moving a piano, and built a heavy duty ramp out of 2x4’s and a sheet of plywood. I harvested the ramp and made it into my desk. Now it’s in pieces in the garage, to finish its journey to the landfill. The gear now is organized on Industrial Post modular racks from Storables. The books are on shelves, the labels and paper stocks are in stationary racks. Even my bird's nests of spare cables and wires are stored and organized in clear plastic bins instead of comingled in a desk drawer.
The main goal, though, was to open up some wall space and create a print viewing area. The tall bookcases are gone. Now I have blank wall. I will mount a wall covering of some sort that will accept push pins, I’ll rig some color-corrected Solux lights, and it will be the place I can work on my work in progress.
I described to Robin the bird we were about to see. A Tropical Kingbird has landed in Magnussen Park, and the birding listservs are abuzz with the news. "Oh, a pecho amarillo. We saw those all over Costa Rica." Ask a local there what the name of a bird is, especially if it’s yellow. "Pecho amarillo," they’ll answer. Yellow chest. All yellow birds are pecho amarillos.
But I’d never seen one in North America. I have a bird list. I keep a count, at least on this continent. I try to maintain a humble attitude, in public anyway, about it. I claim to not know how many birds are on my list. I’m above all that. I list, but I don’t care that I list. Yeah, right. It’s really a way to be superiorly snobbish. What did I do the first thing when I got home? I opened up my Excel spreadsheet, with the official ABA list of North American birds, and ticked off Tropical Kingbird (Tyrannus melancholicus) with a checkmark. Come to think of it, I haven’t updated that list to include the 47th AOU supplement of North American birds. They split a couple species (Blue Grouse into Sooty and Dusky the most notable) so I may have an armchair tick coming.
But back to the Kingbird, blown in from who knows where. They’re an occasional vagrant in Washington, usually on the coast. I’ve been wondering when all these storms were going to blow something interesting our way. To see one, and count it on your North American list, one typically heads to Nogales, Arizona, and hope the bird hops across the border. What a treat one landed a mile from my house.
We parked and wandered behind Building 11 at the old Navy base on the north end. I spied some sparrows, and started working through them. Two women, with a spotting scope, headed my way with a quick, hopeful step. "Nope, I’m looking at sparrows. Haven’t seen it." I didn’t need to be any more specific than that. They knew why I was there, I I knew what they came for. From the other direction came another pair of birders. "It flew this way. It’s across the road." A moment later, we spied it, conspicuous on a snag. Thank goodness this is a kind of bird that likes to be seen. I looked at it through a scope. "Yep, there’s the notched tail. I sure wouldn’t have ever seen that on my own. I would have just called it a Western Kingbird." I never find rare birds on my own. The way I find rare birds is I look for suspiciously large groups of birders.
One of the artists from the craft fair next door came by. "What’ya looking at?" A bird that doesn’t belong here, we answered. "How’d you find it.?" Robin explained to him the process of how people find rare birds. "You look at birds and go, usual suspect, usual suspect, usual suspect, wait. That’s different." It was the most concise summary of the process of birdwatching I’d ever heard.