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Petersen Museum

Bugatti’s transcendent masterpiece . . .

Cars as tools

I wasn’t a car lover and and never knew any gear heads. After all, aren’t cars tools not treasures? A mindset can change and last week that’s what The Petersen Museum in Los Angeles did for me.

My life with cars

Most young people look forward to learning to drive but that wasn’t my priority. I walked or took buses. Finally, in my early twenties I borrowed my grandfather’s car to get a license. It wasn’t a smooth introduction: my first two cars were stolen! Friends thought my ’63 Olds with a Corvette conversion was cool ‘though to me it was simply hand-me-down practical and I missed it. Can’t recall what the other car was, a clear indication of how little it mattered.

Next I had a 1972 Datsun 240Z because it was cheap and available. Only later did I learn what it neat car it was. By then I had a baby who’d outgrown her carseat bolted to the rear deck. I traded up to what was now called a Nissan 300ZX; it might have been sexy transportation except for diapers, baby toys and bottles. The now three children couldn’t all ride at once!

So I relented buying sensible transportation for my first brand-new car! The Tudor red Honda Accord hatchback was a workhorse, an appliance, and for the very first time I changed my own oil. Yeah, and then realized it was much cheaper to pay the dealer. This was followed by a string of Volvos and more recently by Suburu Outbacks. See a pattern here?

I’ve had but one accident, serious–the other driver was legally blind–yes, really! And one ticket–for a heavy foot! All things considered my life with cars has been utilitarian–until I collided with knowledge last week and fell in love. Cars can be tools AND works of art!



The Petersen Museum full of powerful, engineering marvels, and oh so beautiful!

The Petersen Automotive Museum holds a collection of 300+ vehicles that illustrate the history of cars alongside the many ways in which they mold our culture and introduce cutting edge technology. As if that isn’t enough, the best of them are rolling works of sculpture too. Powerful, engineered to excellence, transcendentally beautiful works of art under jewel lights!

The 100,000 square feet of exhibition space at the Petersen Museum is ever-changing, telling new stories in unique ways. On any day you may not find what was there the day before, having been returned to the vault and replaced with another car treasure. The Petersen collects, preserves, and educates. They made me a convert and, wherever you are on the car spectrum, go visit for yourself for the surprise of it and the sheer beauty.

Looking forward when you’ve lived more than one hundred years!

Happy birthday, Paul Johns at age 102

Happy birthday, Paul Johns at age 102

If you have good genes and reasonable health, your age is just a number.

Marjory Stoneman Douglas, centenarian plus eight

For the last twenty years of her remarkable life, I was special assistant and friend to Marjory Stoneman Douglas who wrote the book on the Florida Everglades, was its feisty Evangelist, earning kudos from presidents, queens and princes! I asked her at the occasion of her 100th birthday celebration, how old she’d think she was if she didn’t actually know and she answered, “Interesting question! Age thirty-five, I’d think.” Now at the time, she was both blind and deaf and couldn’t see the etching of old smiles lined across her face, so she chose the age at which she was most vigorously alive, pursuing goals, writing passionately. She was always a bit embarrassed by the fame and fuss advanced age delivered her though she used it to advance her cause. Born in 1890 she lived purposefully until the age of 108 years–just a number after all! It was my happy privilege to help her navigate the high expectations (her own and those of others) on declining energy through those last years of her life.

Paul Johns, centenarian plus two

We have another centenarian friend, Paul Johns of Iola, Wisconsin, in whom it’s easy to recognize several common traits with Marjory. He celebrates his 102nd birthday today! Paul looks and acts years younger, has a valid driver’s license–no restrictions and a current ham radio operator’s license good for another decade. With enough electronic gear for someone half his age, he stays in touch via email and Facebook. In his nineties he enrolled in technical school to learn how to repair computers. A few years later he designed and still builds arguably the best radio antenna for small, fabric-covered airplanes.

While others struggle with names and memory, our friend seemingly remembers everything. No problem meeting someone he hardly knows; even out of context he’ll call them by name. Engage him in conversation and you’ll learn interesting details from long ago and as recent as yesterday.

Paul Johns is a pilot’s pilot and an engineer’s engineer. An anecdote told by a friend reveals a small detail from a long and amazing life. As a nurse adjusted Paul’s blood pressure cuff, with humble tone he spoke a startling sentence that began, ” When I invented that . . . .”

Paul Johns first learned to fly in 1929 when he was fifteen years old followed by another 66 years of active piloting. In his mid-seventies he built an airplane that he flew into his eighties. Some years ago he was inducted into the Wisconsin Aviation Hall of Fame. Recently he was surprised and delighted by the renaming of Central County Airport near his hometown of Iola, Wisconsin, to be known as Paul Johns Field, an honor from the Central County Flyers and dozens of friends who join him on Fridays for the regionally well-known Lunch at Iola.

How to live to one hundred!

From these two I’ve learned that luck is another name for diligence and productivity. Both Marjory and Paul built purposeful lives that compelled them always onward and upward. Yes, they had luck on their side, but they also persevered through the challenges. Each of them collected a lifetime of unique experiences along with friends of all ages. Marjory never gave up and Paul still lives fully engaged, with a vigorous mind and plans for the future; there’s too much to do and a life to live. It reminds me that life is short no matter how long you live, that there is no do-over, that you’ll regret more what you didn’t do or try than what you tried and failed. Live!

Happy 102nd birthday, Paul! And thank you for these lessons.

 

 

A recent article by Jane Myhra in the Waupaca County Post highlighted select others of his lifetime achievements:

  • piloted the Boeing 314–the Flying Boat or Clipper–for Pan American Airways;
  • set up an instrument training program for Navy pilots in 1939;
  • recorded over 220 Pacific crossings during World War II for the Naval Transport Service, navigating the distance only by following the stars;
  • engineered, designed and built testing equipment to measure sound waves with laser light decades before most of us had even heard of lasers.

This flight really happened and in just this way, but no camera was there to shoot it! Photoshop to the rescue . . .

Photoshop composite

Off-shore flight near Ft. Pierce, Florida

It took eight separate photos composited with lots of lighting and perspective adjustments along with added elements to create the scene after the fact.

Happy Birthday, Photoshop!

This month Photoshop, the most successful image tool in the world, is 25 years old! Creatives everywhere and in nearly every medium use Photoshop for some part of their workflow. Almost everything visual is touched directly or indirectly by Photoshop. It’s not only changed the way images are created but the way we see the world.

Top 10 reasons to love Photoshop and respect those who use it well
  1. Photoshop provides a safety net for when you miss the shot entirely (see above)
  2. Photoshop can improve the shot when what you took isn’t quite what you wanted
  3. Ten real butterflies can look like a thousand—ditto for flowers or bricks or anything else
  4. A single beauty dish and two Speedlights can emulate a much more extensive and expensive setup
  5. Composites can be made to look like they really happened that way (see above)
  6. Photoshop can bring the imaginary to life, as in “anything you can think of you can create”
  7. Your color palette is more or less infinite
  8. Nothing else can do what Photoshop does; there is no real, effective competitor
  9. If an image is a wreck it’s not Photoshop, it’s the user
  10. Photoshop frees the artist to focus on art like nothing else can and do it faster and less expensively.
Modern tools for darkroom tricks

Photoshop tools are analogous to what early photo masters used to develop their images. Ansel Adams anticipated the digital age, calling it electronic, and believed it would be the next major image-making enhancement. Like the dodge, burn, and sponge tools of 19th to 20th century darkrooms, Photoshop offers synonymous digital processes to deliver even greater control to the digital darkroom. The 90% of creative professionals who use Photoshop daily understand that no software replaces imagination and skill. Yet their work is often lumped together with pretenders who get into visual trouble using Photoshop like a hammer!

Photoshop mishaps
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Missing part of left arm

Photoshop-mishaps-2

Fingertips missing

A web search of “Photoshop disasters” will turn up many examples of missing body parts, ridiculously enhanced ones, and deeply disturbing body postures. Such mistakes are unfortunately common like Glamour’s November 2011 cover with Kristen Stewart missing part of her left arm to Vogue’s September 2011 Kate Moss wedding layout including this one of her daughter’s fingertips airbrushed away. Throwing the verb photoshop about—as in, “Did you photoshop that?”—without referencing the quality of the actual image is an insult to those who do it so well that you get the enhancement without shouting the tool.

Inventing new ways to work and how we see

If you don’t already know layers and adjustments, healing and warping tools, or filters with smart objects, you’ll be astonished by liquefying content, altering perspectives, relighting and refocusing, rethinking the shot after the fact. And the tech teams at Adobe are always working on wondrous ways to challenge the skill of image artists everywhere.

Anyone can take a photograph but it takes an artful eye to perfect it. If you don’t like the result, blame the artist. It’s time to stop using “photoshop” as a dirty word!

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Merry Christmas from Light Pixie Studio!

This is how Mother Nature decorates our Christmas tree in the central meadow at Richwood Valley. How fortuitous that Mr. Cardinal stopped for a rest between flights to the creek from the forest to take a look around and brighten the winter with red. It’s a Merry Christmas kind of day.

As Light Pixie Studio has developed over these past ten years, the greatest and most unexpected pleasure has come from the stories heard and the clients met. So as not to spoil someone else’s Merry Christmas surprise, I chose not to send Christmas greetings to you until the actual day was past and the gift given. Three months ago I received a Polaroid spoiled with age, one that had been pinned up as a reminder of happy winter scenes and Christmases long ago. My client was a son acting as agent for himself and his siblings. They grew up with the winter scene below just outside their window and–with this as backdrop–merry Christmas memories evolved. Their mother is now a widow living in a smaller home not far away. That Polaroid was her memory link to happy times with husband and young children in the home someone else now owns. I restored the image and added the top of the central tree where the camera cropped it away. Then it was enlarged to life scale and printed on heavy archival cotton rag, framed for their mother’s new home for a renewed Christmas memory of those happy days.

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Light Pixie’s creative fuel

Thank you for making another successful year at Light Pixie Studio. Your visits and comments at the website are valued greatly; they are fuel for my creativity. Your stories are inspiring and your commissions and other purchases always appreciated. Here’s wishing you and yours a wonderful season full of joy and peace! Take time to say thank you, make amends, give with a generous heart, and may you receive your own heart’s desire whatever good thing that may be! Merry Christmas

Chipping Sparrow

Chipping Sparrow’s Punk Hair Day

Punk Hair Day

Nature is moving headlong toward summer. Spring wildflowers are springing forth.  Trees are fully dressed in a million shades of green. Last week we saw a doe nursing her fawn in the open meadow below our windows.  While Mama Chipping Sparrow is out of the nest working for her baby’s breakfast, I happen by to see her insistent chick complaining that it’s time to eat! More formally this infant sparrow is called a host. But today at this early hour, there’s nothing formal about it. Pin feathers akimbo and having a punk hair kind of day, we both stop to study one another.

Babies are beautiful!

As a recent grandmother babies are of renewed interest. And they’re all fascinating no matter their species. So today let’s be reminded of this: baby birds typically leave the nest before they’re ready to fly and once they do they will not typically return to it. This bird is fully feathered except for the tufts of down on the head but continues to depend on parents to bring it food and protect it from predators. It has not yet flown. I watched for many minutes while this little Albert Einstein mimic moved about the branches in front of our porch. Moved is a euphemism where I might just as well have said stumbled, lurched, or jostled headlong.

Good deed for the day!

It’s a myth that avian parents will reject a chick that has human scent on it as they have a very poorly developed sense of smell. If you find a baby bird where it might be trampled underfoot or harmed by a dog or a cat, by all means move it to a bush or branch a few feet off the ground, preferably out of the hot sun. And then watch from a distance but mostly leave it alone. The parents did not likely abandon it and will almost certainly return. In this case Mama Chipping Sparrow appeared suddenly on the downspout with her hard trilling chip warning me away. And there was breakfast in her bill. They eat mostly seeds and some crawling insects but I couldn’t tell what was on the du jour menu.

Chipping Sparrows are kindly birds by habit

These small birds are nice to watch as they are kind to one another by habit. Parents make pair bonds and fathers feed the mothers while they incubate four eggs. Once the young hatch both parents make food runs to sustain their brood. A week and a half later the young leave the nest just as this one did and within three days after that they are capable of weak but sustained flight. The feeding routine will continue for three more weeks as the young grow bigger and stronger. Worn out from the work of it, most parents will be satisfied with having done their duty for this year. Remember they are competent parents and know what to do far better than you. Their decline is because of competition from the Brown-headed cowbird, a nest predator, and not because of a parenting failure.

Then there is this legalese:

You may think you’re doing a good deed by “rescuing” a baby bird but in most cases it will do better without you. As a matter of fact, migratory bird laws protect all native wild birds in the US and Canada from possession for any reason, except transportation to a licensed rehabilitator, and that only in the direst of situations. It is against the law no matter how kindly your intentions may be and common sense dictates that, nestling or fledgling, you leave it be.

To learn more about the Chipping Sparrow check out the Cornell Ornithology Lab.

Explorations near Salmon, Idaho

Imagine being a very young child raised by loving parents, suddenly snatched from your mother’s arms to new life among sworn enemies. Imagine losing contact with all you’ve ever known–torn from peace into a harsh and lonely life among Hidatsa captors, the years of hardship only ending when as a young woman you’re sold to a stranger as the prize in a game of cards.

From Captive to Heroine

Kidnapped from her Shoshone childhood Sacajawea became a slave in the Dakotas worth only what her labor bought. Tears would not move her captors’ hearts. Remember, Readers, what you were told of Sacajawea and know that you only learned the smallest part of her remarkable story; she was so much more than an Indian guide and so completely the reason Lewis and Clark survived to succeed in their Discovery Expedition!

Birthplace of Sacajawea

In August 2013 we landed our Husky in Salmon, Idaho. There are still places where you can expect a friendly welcome in the midst of strangers. Pilots in general aviation find generosity everywhere. No matter how big or small the airport, it’s typical to have a comfortable place to rest, a computer terminal, snacks, kindly advice, and most often the use of a free loaner car with a full tank of gas. In Salmon that loaner car took us into the countryside to discover the real Sacajawea, an unlikely heroine of the American west.

Salmon Idyll

Sacajawea Interpretive Center

The Sacajawea Interpretive Center outside of Salmon tells of her capture and then shows you what her native Shoshone culture (known among themselves as the Agaidika, the salmon eaters) was like. You learn that the stranger Toussaint Charboneau who bought her became her great rescuer, making her not just his wife but his full partner as trail scout and guide. She was a clever student, skilled in finding food and herbal medicines, and able to recall the difficult route back into the mountains to Shoshone lands. Her wise negotiations in two Indian languages saved them again and again. The Lewis and Clark party survived the harshest of seasons because of what she knew. And so it was that she found herself back in the summer retreat of her people introduced at campfire as interpreter to a great chieftain whom she recognized as her very own brother.

Sacajawea and the Shoshone Tradition

Shoshone Tradition

 

Long on accomplishments in a very short life

After her homecoming was warmly celebrated among family and while many months passed in gathering supplies, she and her husband Charboneau and their infant son, Pompy, continued the route west with the Discovery Expedition through the upper Columbia basin eventually to the Pacific Ocean. At the age of twenty-five Sacajawea was dead leaving Charboneau heart-broken and truly alone. For when the great journey ended at St. Louis their son went with Meriwether Lewis to be educated and apprenticed according to his parents wishes for his better life.

 

Sacajawea and Pomp

Within the 71 acre Interpretive Center she and her son Pompy are commemorated in this beautiful bronze sculpture by Agnes Vincens Talbot. Standing before the statue below the Beaverhead Range in the Lemhi River Valley surrounded by a garden of natural rock and flowers, it seems a fitting tribute to the little girl returned.

Sacajawea earned her place in American history by overcoming every kind of hardship and bias. She was fortunate in having a good mind for solving life’s thorniest problems and smart enough to give her loving heart to a good man who worked just as hard alongside her. While the full extent of her contributions are not widely known, be one of those who knows and remembers.

[To learn what the modern Agaidika think of Sacajawea, read the essay by Rozina George which evaluates the Lemhi Shoshone qualities in Sacajawea that helped share her culture and knowledge.]

Sacajawea and Pomp

“Sacajawea and Pomp” by Agnes Vincens Talbot

William Clark compared these to the “Pirimids of Egypt”
Lewis and Clark

In our adventuring into the backcountry hills on August 22, 2013, north along the Salmon River to Tower Creek, we discovered these just as the Discovery Expedition did more than two hundred years earlier. Their Shoshone guides led them along old Indian trails eventually toward the Columbia River and the Pacific. Along the way they camped at The Bluffs and the next day started into the hills where the travelers were amazed at sights like this.

The waist of Idaho is formed of sedimentary deposits where harder caprock protects softer limestone creating uneven erosion, odd promontories, and weird shapes. When William Clark explored beyond Tower Rock seeking a passable route through the mountains to the Pacific, he found these formations and wrote in his journal that the shapes reminded him of descriptions of the Egyptian pirimids and his name and spelling have stuck! Clark also wrote that the lead pack horse tumbled backward from the steepness of the terrain on the first morning out. It happened right here.

Salt River Valley

Salt River Valley

Afton, Wyoming, may be small but it’s the biggest little town in the Star Valley

Exhausted Mormon travelers emerged from the Lander Cutoff and settled in the Star Valley to build their futures. At fewer than 2,000 people in the 2010 census, Afton is the largest town among Smoot, Thane, and Etna strung along U.S. Highway 89 south of the Palisades Reservoir. It is ranch country for raising horses and cattle along with the grains to support them in rich pasture land beside the Salt River. Country people, cowboys and cattlemen live side-by-side with newcomers attracted by the pastoral calm of a gorgeous place. There is world class fly-fishing in local streams. The town’s water supply pours out of the world’s largest Intermittent Spring in the crotch of mountain peaks high above the town.

They ride horses, drive cattle, and they build and fly airplanes

The second family vehicle is often a horse trailer, an RV, or an airplane. Seventy-five miles north, the more famous Jackson Hole anchors Grand Teton National Park and the southern entrance to Yellowstone. But here in Afton the day-to-day is working class normal. This is a place where generous people judge your character and may offer you a place to rest or even perhaps their brand new truck to drive for the week. We know because it’s happened to us. Oh, and about those airplanes . . . the Aviat Husky factory occupies a hodge-podge of nondescript buildings which look like war surplus, the Second World War, that is. That’s what takes us to Afton! We fly a Husky A-1C 200 and return each year for its annual inspection.

Afton, Wyoming, on the ramp at KAFO

Afton, Wyoming, on the ramp at the fixed-base, the Afton Municipal Airport (KAFO)

Skilled employees build a world-class bush plane, the Aviat Husky

In 2010 we drove into Afton for the first time to take delivery on our plane. A Husky is a superbly competent little bush plane with excellent performance and short takeoff and landing capability. We tease that we spent our children’s inheritance which isn’t too far from the truth. Imagine then, arriving in a small western town with one main street, armed with an address to which we’d sent our money, and what did we find but a shabby collection of derelict grey buildings hard on the narrow sidewalk. (Since we first saw it, there’s been a makeover and last fall was nicely repainted.) Don’t judge this book by its cover! Inside is a factory employing a few dozen industrious employees who basically hand-build the aircraft. They know each one intimately by the time it’s finished and they take great personal pride in putting a bit of themselves into each one by building it right!

Star Valley and Afton WY

What is it about Afton Wyoming? THIS is what it is!

Afton, Wyoming

The Corral

The best food in Afton comes from the sea!

There are several good restaurants that serve generous fare but the most unexpected, and for our tastes, the most outstanding is Rocky Mountain Seafood run by the colorful Larry and his partner Julie. He’s a retired ship captain and she a harbor master transplanted from Pacific seacoast to interior mountains. And they still have good connections in the coastal fishing industry! The seafood arrives as air cargo and is trucked from Salt Lake City direct to the restaurant, deliciously prepared and on your plate before the tang of fresh salt air has faded. The menu is simple, a mix and match of basic preparations where one type of fish can be switched with another. The whole point is for the flavor and quality of fish to shine rather than indulging a cook’s conceit. If you have a kid’s tastes or don’t like fish, there’s always an excellent steak or Julie’s fine mac ‘n’ cheese. The atmosphere is dockside fish market, casual with sturdy picnic table seating, a diner where you can take your catch home in a sack or have it prepared, seat yourself–among friends or friendly strangers. Don’t look out the windows at majestic western mountains and you just may forget you’re in Wyoming!

Where dreams come true and those dreams can FLY! At the Aviat factory, home of our very own Fire Horse.

And for us there is the added inducement of this, the Aviat Aircraft Company where our very own Husky named Fire Horse was born. They also build the Pitts Special, the renowned competition aerobatic plane, as well as the Eagle II which is available as a kit or factory complete. But we’re partisans for the Husky given our 900′ runway below 200′ cliffs–we need a bush plane!
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It’s hard to photograph a black dog!

If you’ve ever photographed an all black dog, you know the problem. It is almost impossible to capture the texture of fur or to see clearly the interior contours of shape and body. Black is made of all colors and it absorbs light very efficiently. As a result it’s often easier to paint a portrait than to take a quality photograph.

Black dog Janey, an English Cocker Spaniel

Here we have dear Janey, an English Cocker Spaniel whose mission in life is to love Mark and Mary. And in return they love her abundantly. So how can you take a photograph of your black dog? So, how do you polish a black dog?

Polishing a black dog for maximum impact

Dear Janey

Strategies to photograph something furry and black

If you have a studio full of equipment, speed lights, beauty lights, and reflectors you already know what to do. But if your photos of an all-black animal (dog, cat, horse, rabbit or whatever) are indistinct, if the eyes blend seamlessly with the ears, if the fur is flat and you cannot tell if it’s curly or straight, front end from rear, take heart. Simple tools at hand and simple strategies give a much better result.

It’s about the light, beautiful light

Light is key and, in the case of an all-black animal, more is better than less. Plain natural light is more pleasing than onboard camera flash which tends to look harsh and often produces the animal-equivalent of red-eye, fixable but a nuisance. Black guard hairs can be made to shine in sunlight if the angle of light is right. In this case Janey faced into the setting sun seated at a glass table top and beside a broad expanse of lake shore. So the natural sun at late-day and low angle shown directly into Janey’s face at the same time that it reflected up from lake and table top. It was a beautiful light! And Janey’s eyes glisten with lovely catch-lights! Look closely at them and you see the bright western horizon.

Get it right: tips and tricks to photograph a black dog

Newer consumer-level cameras have many features that once were available only on professional models. Prices for these specialized features are now reasonable and competitive. If your camera has selectable modes, choose higher contrast. Use a higher dynamic range. Increase vibrancy to better distinguish blue-black from brown-black from grey-black. Ensure sharp focus with a tripod or set the camera on a level, solid surface. If all else fails, hold your elbows tight into your waist, take a deep breath and hold it while you squeeze the trigger–don’t push or punch.

Polish the black!

Once last thought: I often prefer shallow depth of field–lower f-stop/larger aperture–because an out-of-focus background contributes more abstract color and interesting patterns without distraction. Here the effect isn’t pushed toward a strong bokeh, a Japanese term for blurry background circles. Even if you don’t know the term, you will recognize the technique. It’s popular because it’s a beautifully creative use of light. Show your black animal to advantage. Polish the black!

To see how I solved a similar problem in a different way with two black Labs: see Best Dogs Ever for their painted portrait..

Boscobel Spring

20mm f/8 1/180sec ISO200 with the Canon EF-S17-85mm f/4-5.6 IS USM

The cold, short days of dark winter in southwestern Wisconsin have given way to brighter spring. Light in every sunbeam seems especially welcome.

I’ve been reviewing archives from the spring of 2010. It’s amazing what can slip unnoticed when you’re focused on something else. Two years ago I was interested in reflections and rejected this image in favor of others. Today the pattern of light rays caught my eye for the way they filter through the bare branches of a scrub forest in Wisconsin River bottomland near Boscobel. For every photographer it’s primarily about managing light. In all its forms and nuances it is the main tool. Some of my most memorable images have come from shooting directly into the sun. Lens flare and bokeh gave Light Pixie its name afterall.

Other than the beautiful light, what I like about this photograph are the tender green sprouts and a warming sky on a cold day. And I remember the company I keep.

. . . some wild, some not, tiny violet to massive maple. Small signs of life anticipate warmer days to come. Like the blue Chiondoxa and their more famous brethren, the croci, some emerge directly from the snow. Blood Root with their clasping-hand leaves and the rare, blue-spotted, white violets come next followed by wild plum blossoms and naturalized daffodils, then holding-hands Grape Hyacinth with bold cousin Jane! After the sap run finishes for the maples they wave their blossoms like pompoms seeking attention in the sunshine. This is where we are in southwestern Wisconsin today. I hadn’t intended to do it, but these spring buds and flowers called more loudly than dull deskwork!

Click an image for a Lightbox of larger images.

Alpine Chiondoxa might just as well be called Glory UNDER the Snow.

TriBeCa-Triangle Below Canal Street, New York City

Graffiti

I’m working on a new project. Urban Art is its name. Shapes, materials and colors can be inviting without understanding the message or endorsing it. Graffiti happens everywhere in the world, has always happened even in ancient times. Wall scribbles evolved into nuanced shapes, letterplay, wordplay, political opinion, social life, defacement, public spaces, murmurs of discontent, impromptu murals, urban art.

It was first performed with a stick which evolved into more sophisticated tools. The instruments of choice today are spray paint and permanent markers!

There are schools of thought about graffiti and lively art criticism on if or where the line is crossed from art to vandalism. Without the property owner’s consent it’s considered a crime in most countries. New York City has proffered legal graffiti zones on public property which takes the argument out of it, spoiling the fun for some. Yes, it is an art form but it’s also the bane of law enforcement and property owners. It’s political theater and polemics. And worth a second look!

Take a further look below and then tell us what you think and why. Is it Felony Art or Urban DaVinci?

Meatpacking District, Manhattan

Giraffiti

DUMBO-Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass, Brooklyn

The Gangs All Here

DUMBO-Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass, Brooklyn

Birth Explained

DUMBO-Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass, Brooklyn

DUMBO #2

Meatpacking District, Manhattan

Everything is Driven by You

DUMBO-Down Under the Manhattan Bridge, Brooklyn

True Love USA

X-Rated

Even twenty years ago this classic moment would have been essentially lost as there was no easy or reasonable way to recover the lost detail.

Damaged Original Photo

Damaged Original Photo

Restored 1970s Photo

Click for full-size restored image

Without delving into the specifics, in short order with little effort, it was possible to rebuild what was completely lost and to enhance the rest.  It’s almost like being able to return lost youth to a high school moment.

These two young men were smoking their cigarettes in the boys’ restroom at the local high school. If they could speak from the photograph, what would they say? Does it make you wonder what they did with their lives? Would they recognize their long ago selves?

It’s impossible to know for sure but the camera was quite possibly an Instamatic 110, a point and shoot camera with cartridge 35mm film introduced by Kodak in 1972. Suddenly loading and unloading a camera was much easier and the Instamatic was an immediate success. Its popularity opened new markets for the everyman photographer and paved the way for the first digital camera–also by Kodak–in 1975.

We live in the most amazing times. I use a lot of technology and never take it for granted. Yes, it requires staying on top of it:  not just where the hardware is but whether the batteries are charged and you have the latest software and drivers. Technologies that were the products of someone else’s ambition and intellect make it possible for me to look the past in the eye. Thank you to all the innovators whose ideas give life more comfort, value and creative interest!

 

While emphasizing the rocks, I  missed the ghostly ship moored beyond! The Baths at Devil’s Bay, near Spanish Town on Virgin Gorda, British Virgin Islands

The Baths and grottos of Devil

Spectral Ship

It’s risky to take expensive camera equipment to the beach, especially when a swim from boat to shore is required followed by a long hike as the main event of the day. In this case I took a pocket Nikon S8100 in a waterproof bag. This was shot at f/3.5, 1/460 sec., ISO 160. Unfortunately, this little camera, with small size and weight as its big advantages (along with the same lovely cmos chip that Canon uses), doesn’t shoot raw images so after-the-fact jpeg editing options were limited compared to what can be done in raw format.

It was only after I printed the image while checking it with my loupe that I “discovered” the phantom ship perfectly framed in the background. And it begged to be enhanced enough to be discovered more easily. What to do?

Before printing I’d already enhanced saturation of the natural colors in the rocks, sharpened their textures ever so slightly, then somewhat darkened the foreground to separate it from a sun-blasted background. So now I re-opened Photoshop CS5 and took the magnetic lasso tool feathered at 15px from the toolbox to isolate the triangle of too bright light which secreted the sailboat. I added a 15px  quick selection tool to refine the shape and jumped it to a new layer (Command/Control-J), added a curves adjustment to affect only the blue color (clipped to just this one layer), and then dragged the curve downward just enough to define the sailboat.

There are always decisions to be made in creating or editing an image. Surely when I was standing among the rocks at Devil’s Bay I saw that sailboat and framed it deliberately in the triangle of rock. I could not have missed the perfect and serendipitous shape of rock mirroring the sailboat beyond. So I can’t really call it a lucky accident. But months later after processing thousands of images from two cameras following the shoot, I had totally forgotten it. Where my first edit was to make the rocks the only subject of the scene, now I saw a greater possibility in allowing others to discover as I did twice that there was more beyond!

I considered several things to draw the eye to the sailboat. Some I accepted and others ignored. But it was a self-aware process always focused on what I wanted the viewer to see. As a result of what I decided was most important, I recropped to put the sailboat at precise photo-center and slightly darkened the foreground rocks to emphasize the brighter triangle. Initially I darkened the sky above the rocks; but no matter how subtle that attempt it looked unnatural which ruled out a dark vignette as well. I did slightly frame a lighter edge across the rocks and foreground water, not enough to pull you out of the frame or distract from the central triangle but hopefully enough to build a tunnel of light to pull you further into the frame. The image is still about the rocks but the sailboat is there to be found.

Does it work for you? Use the “please add your comments” box  or link to Facebook to tell me.

Left-half of Panorama
Left-half of Panorama

Right-half of Panorama

Right-half of Panorama

You’re looking straight down into six feet of water at the fuel dock on Stokkoya, Atlantic coastal Norway. The day was overcast and the water, while clear enough, refracted the light to a milky hue.

I like post production work and have developed my own techniques and strategies for getting the most from pictures like this. Let’s walk through some of the steps to producing a useable, crisp panorama of this startlingly beautiful, even tropical looking seabed scene near the Arctic Circle in the North Atlantic.

So how does one go about turning pictures like those above images into this?

Seabed Panorama, Stokkoya, Norway

Seabed Panorama, Stokkoya, Norway

First you need a good image editing program. I use Photoshop CS5 but have some experience with Paint Shop Pro. Rather than emphasize a specific program, there a few general concepts to consider.

  1. Whenever possible shoot in raw format which preserves editing choices for you, the creative mind behind the lens. Always use the highest resolution your camera is capable of achieving — you never know when you’ll take that “once in a lifetime” shot. Always save copies of your unaltered images in two places, at least until you’ve had a chance to sort out the best. As you acquire more skill over time, you may wish to revisit earlier work and you’ll need a clean original.
  2. I carry a small Nikon in my purse and sometimes that’s the only camera available but it has a small 5 MB range in jpeg only. So if you shoot jpegs, remember that it’s a compression format, great for saving space but not as good at making artful, crisp images. The camera decides how your photo should look and permanently disposes of everything else. That means you lose some of the best or only alternatives for improving your picture and that makes you little more than a bystander to your own process. Any change you save to a jpeg image including simply changing the file name triggers additional compression. You may not notice at first but, after a few such cycles, the image becomes pixelated and chunky. Not a good thing at all!
  3. Once you open your image in the editing program, duplicate the layer so you have an easy retreat. Then be fearless in trying things. Stamp new copies to the top of your layer stack whenever you sense that you’re embarking in a new direction and want to leave an escape. Name your layers; it’s amazing how quickly I sometimes forget what I did ten minutes before. You can always delete effects you don’t like from the layer or history panels.

So what did I actually do to these first two pictures?

  1. First, I used the raw editor that ships with Photoshop to tweak all of the following: raised the blacks from 0 to the 50s, as well as contrast and clarity, and somewhat reduced brightness. I didn’t increase vibrance in the left side but did on the right. Both images were open in the editor at the same time so I could adjust them individually but so they matched in overall tone, color, and contrast.
  2. Next I used the on board Photomerge to create the overlapping panorama. I admit to using a small 10px soft-edged clone brush to make a couple of repairs at the seam.
  3. Then I stamped a new layer and changed the blend mode to Soft Light. I tried Overlay first but it was too dense and harsh.
  4. Finally, I applied a slight High Pass filter effect and added a black layer mask to hide everything that the filter sharpened. Here’s where the sharpening magic happens! To bring out selective details (sharpening) I used a small soft-edged brush and, with white as the foreground color, painted details where I wanted them into the panorama.

Photo editing can be done in many different ways. Each of these steps might have been achieved by other means. But this is part of my regular workflow and it works for me!