Thursday, July 26, 2007

Returning to Southwest Harbor

When I left Bernard the sun had fallen below the hills and the harbor was in shadow. In about 5 minutes I would pass the spot at the head of Southwest Harbor where I had missed the shot the summer before, but I knew I had missed my last chance to get it this summer. I had followed the principle of not chasing after a preconceived shot and had gone to Bernard and Bass Harbor instead to catch what was given me. My B&B was near, and I was already thinking of the cheese and porter I had purchased earlier. I was eager to look at the evening's catch. I still had a full evening ahead.

As I reached the spot at Southwest I saw another photographer packing up his tripod I stopped and called out, "Have I missed it?" I'm not sure what he replied, but his actions made his answer unnecessary.

Yet, there was still something magical about the way this body of water caught the evening light, and my camera and tripod were already set up before his car pulled away. I had already shot from this spot several times on this trip, so I had a good idea what my options were. The shot above makes it appear wide open and easy to shoot, but foreground bushes and trees, the arrangement of boats, piers projecting from the shore on my right all put severe limitations on my composition, and I didn't have much time left for fine tuning. Somehow I found time to shoot 64 images before low light turned to no light. Perhaps I rushed too much. The previous summer's whipped cream froth at the harbor mouth was missing, but a number of the shots I took managed to make something of the moment.

I wish the big sailboat was not right in the middle. I wish I had a shot that used the double birch in the foreground to frame the scene. I wish I had a few more shots that included the long pier that reaches out into the harbor from just to my left. Lights lined its handrail, and I know they would have added much as they reflected in the water beneath. Once again, this may not be the ultimate answer, but it will serve to remind me to pass this way again next summer, and in the meantime, it manages to catch a bit of the magic of Southwest Harbor, a magical place to go to with a camera.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Harbor Watch (Bass Harbor from Bernard)

As much as I enjoyed the reflection from the harbor in Bernard, I also wanted to capture the cluster of boats and buildings that made the view of Bass Harbor so appealing to me. When I first reached Bernard the rows of fishing boats and sailboats were all turned as if noting my arrival, but in the shifting wind they nodded lazily first toward the open sea, then back toward the inner harbor, sleepy sentries. A woman in desert camouflage and her two children were fishing from the end of the main pier. A ytoung man and his girlfriend loaded empty lobster traps onto a fishing boat and prepared to head out to sea to deposit them by moonlight. Occasionally a boat would pass and the water would rock things gently faster. I tried shooting them all.

I returned to shooting the nodding boats at anchor several times. I struggled much of the evening to resolve that chaos into an image where the elements would read and harmonize. The gaze of the boats helped add a polarity. In some directions I could include as many as 30 or 40 boats watching me.

Of the images I shot there were several candidates, none quite what I was after, but this shot through a 260mm lens comes as close as any. Whether this shot remain my best solution or merely a study for something better next time is unclear to me. It was one of the last shots I took before heading back toward Southwest Harbor past where I had missed the shot the summer before.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Tesnus at Yhgnid

I hope there was a moment when this came on the screen where you said, "What the hell is that?" That's why I wrote the title backward.

I spent several hours debating with myself between this version of the image or another. Everything depends on how far left or right one places the dinghy, and the two images were the best of very different approaches. I chose this, but I'm not at all sure I'm right. Everything depends on where one places the dinghy.

Probably it doesn't matter at all. In any case, whatever I decide tomorrow, I made a decision today and I may never bother to look back.

Dinghy at Sunset

Sunday, July 22, 2007

The Underdocks

The more I shot in Bass Harbor, the more I realized that the beautiful sidelight was the province of one pier only. My shooting trailed off into small objects that happened to catch good light, and I became aware that the only way to shoot a wider canvas was to relocate. Fortunately, directly across the small bay from Bass Harbor is Bernard. From there, my back would be to the sun, and I would be looking head on at sunset-lit Bass Harbor.

Once in Bernard, everything was gleaming in warm sunlight and I was interestingly disoriented and found a whole new range of subjects. Every photographer is always in danger of carrying his experience of a place into the images he shot there. I may recall the sound of the gulls & the waves or feel the tempo of change as I look at my image, but you have no such memory to resonate there. If the photo is intended as a document to jog memory to recall time spent somewhere, that's not a problem. However, if the goal is to capture a mood or experience and convey it whole to others who weren't there, the image needs to be resourceful in calling up sensations to fill out what has been lost in "translation."

Compositionally, this image is not so comfortable as the last, and I do wonder if it works for anyone but me. In framing the shot I wanted to minimize without eliminating the material world. Though I was aware of places where the image meets the edge in ways I would normally consider fussy, this seemed as I took the picture and still seems to me now to be the correct place to cut it. I'm certain one can't get it without caring about the underdocks, or, perhaps, as noted, it is just for me.

Below is a second alternate version of the image. Viewed small the difference will not matter, but it becomes substantial when clicked to full screen. I'd be interested to know if anyone has a preference.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Lobster Traps, Bass Harbor, Maine

The back yard of the enchanting cottage is one kind of underworld, and it took no less will power to extricate myself from its charms than Odysseus needed to escape the power of Circe. While my family and several others indicated it was not to their taste, a few of you suggested it let you step briefly into some grim bit of Grimm - to poke your nose around behind the witches gingerbread oven or walk a bit with a dark elf. Eventually I did move on.

By then the promise of a good sunset was becoming a reality. My plan was to watch it develop in Bass Harbor where I expected excellent sidelight for the next three hours. Reflections in water always open another sort of underworld for me, and we had several discussions at the workshop regarding how much of the reflected original to include or exclude, how much explaining needed to be done. Of course we reached no conclusion except perhaps that each composition will provide its own answer to the question, and too much explaining undervalued the viewer. That bit of wisdom seems to have wide applicability.

In any case, this composition should not cause difficulty. I'm especially intrigued by the odd area to the right of the ladder, back underneath the dock and its bit of daylight double. I can hear Frank Lavelle wisely wondering if that was the shot. Well, maybe, but that's easier to guess at now. When I shot this, the water was flickering, and I don't think I quite believed those under-docks would be so richly visible. My eye was riding the colorful lobster traps over the ripples, and I was wondering if I should be using a video camera. Finally, there are a number of things in this composition that made me select it, of which the drama next to the ladder is but one part.

Bass Harbor was filled with lobster traps, neatly stacked on docks sometimes ten high. I wondered, if the docks were filled, what was in the water? Everything was sleepy here and in my visits between Saturday morning and Monday morning I saw fewer than 4 boats load traps and head out. I had shot trap reflections here the day before after a lousy plate of clams and when the weather was overcast. My shooting interest then was gulls periodically flying into my image to pull a bit of dinner from my canvas. I have a hundred of those that you will probably never see.

This one's for you, Jonathan. I make no promises on the next one.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Enchanting Cottage III

If your idea of enchantment includes a white picket fence, just step out back. It's a whole other world back there. Please excuse if things are not quite in move-in condition.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Enchanting Cottage II

Part of the enchantment is the salty patina achieved by the fine wood shingles, but the cottage is a joker, faithless, and not to be trusted, bedeviled by potions and herbs..

Monday, July 16, 2007

Enchanting Seaside Cottage, 2 Rooms, Furnished

On the way out of Southwest Harbor I looked again around the bay for some recollection of what I'd seen the previous summer - the shot I'd missed. The bay looked gray and flat. I drove out to the shipyard, but I remained disconnected from the place. I turned and headed for Bass Harbor. It was beginning to clear and I thought the orientation of Bass Harbor would provide interesting side lighting as the sun got low in the sky. I had no idea I would be transfixed along the way by the magnificent palace in this photo.

I yanked my forester to a halt, grabbed my gear, and began to set up to shoot. As I shot I slowly moved closer. Soon I was shooting from all sides, close up, far back, through doors and windows. I was compulsively drawn to the cottege, and only when I saw certain doom staring back did I draw strength to disengage. Of 262 shots, relatively few were extreme wide-angle like this one, but it may be this shot which best captures the siren's song.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

New Horizons II

That was a heady time a year ago in Southwest Harbor shooting, as I thought through the lessons of that first summer workshop. There was much that drew me back to Southwest Harbor now, but especially on my mind was the shot I missed. Of course, there's nothing worse than looking for some shot. One winds up seeing nothing. One must stop thinking, watch, and take what is given. Midday on my one full day in Southwest Harbor and I had been given listless gray skies, but I had been given hope of some late day clearing. I decided to find a high prospect from which to shoot the harbor while nothing else was possible. The clerk at the wine and cheese shop had proven himself a connoisseur of good stout, so I took his advice on a trail just north of town, and a good cheese for dinner later. I also took another bottle of the tasty stout.

The trail rose steeply and was much rockier than I expected. As I neared the top, it began mounting over boulders. Threatening clouds began brushing me with rain, and I worried about the nasty trip down and how much more slippery things might be if the full storm came my way. If I tripped and fell would anybody pass for the rest of the day? I thought about retreating, but the clouds that threatened rain also beckoned with the promise of images. At least for me, shooting into fog and mist is very uncertain. Sometimes when I think it is too thick for shooting, it turns out perfect, but I've also been surprised at how uninteresting, pale fog can surprise me with passionate images. At other times, the best looking fog has totally failed. Perhaps I need more fog experience. A similar process of reasoning persuaded me ignore my sense of vulnerability and continue across the top of the rocks toward some interesting, low clouds just passing in front of me.

I haven't made up my mind on the series of shots I made up there above Southwest Harbor, so I'd appreciate some honest feelings about this one. It was one of the very last before I turned and headed back down. Just as I did, a dog appeared and licked my hand. Then I heard someone call and two parties of hikers with kids and backpacks and good wishes appeared. We stopped, exchanged talk about our homes and our travels and compared weather news. As stragglers caught up and the crowd grew, I turned and headed off for my next photo destination. The sky had grown a bit lighter.

Friday, July 13, 2007

New Horizons

Even if my failed hard drive caused my Maine photos to be lost forever, the trip was more than worth the time, effort, and cost. Yesterday evening I went out shooting for the first time since getting back from Maine. I returned to one of the sites that I have been shooting repeatedly, but I saw it with new eyes. Part of the credit for this must go to the perceptive comments of the workshop leader, but more often the changes wrought by Frank Lavelle's comments have focused me more clearly and critically on shots I would have taken before. Certainly, my new eyes were in significant part do to shooting alongside 10 other photographers all of whom saw the same sites but differently. However, at least as important in refreshing my vision was the very act of shooting in very different places for two weeks. My strategy of going back and back and back to the same sites won't change, but I'm also now more aware of the value of sometimes varying my diet.

The shot above was not taken last night; it is one of the Maine shots taken at a remarkable antique junk shop that Frank took us to. Next to the day spent shooting people at the July 4th festival, this junk shop was the most difficult shoot. Aisles as tight and sometimes as dark as mine shafts led through mountains of unidentifiable widgets, tools, fabrics, furniture, household clutter, taxidermic survivals and more. Periodically glaring flourescents would cast ugly light across this debris. Even when I found myself intrigued by objects it was tough to find light and space to shoot them as I wanted. I spent too much time arranging a bunch of large pulleys into a still life that was stillborn. I spent less time arranging 50 shovels so they would like like the scales of an animal - another failure. I shot where I could and tried to see more. I never expected to see a landscape in old saws. I wish the shot above had a slightly sharper focus. By the time I took this I was rushing and moved on. Like the previous shots from Maine, it remains at this point unsigned, a work in progress, perhaps, but to me an interesting attempt.

The good news is that this morning I got a call from David Mafucci of Visionary Computer in Lakeville, CT. He had worked his retrieval magic. His computers worked on my hard drive through the night, and I now have my Maine shots restored. In the next week I hope to process some of these as finished images. I have paid the bill but remain indebted to David for his rescue work.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Backup, backup, backup

I had intended to post another people photo yesterday as a follow-up to the shooting image. However, on Tuesday night, as I was copying all of the Maine photos from my travel hard drive to one of my normal drives, the travel drive failed, and I have been grieving the possible loss of 80% of the images I took over the past two weeks. The failed drive is currently with my local computer repair guy who this morning reported a tiny bit of success recovering my images; he was able to grab a handful. I had no heart to post yesterday. I'm posting today in the light of this bit of hope for the sick "patient."

I consider the image above one of the best I made at the workshop. Sadly, all I have left of it is the full resolution jpg copy that I processed for our daily photo review & crit. It happened to be left on the thumb drive I used transfer images to the workshop computer. I've done a bit of recoloring here, but it is not the final I would like to produce. This is a third generation copy of that jpg reduction.

The very best images I took in Maine were taken after the workshop as I shot at my leisure in Southwest Harbor, Bass Harbor, Bernhard, Seawall and along the roads of Mt. Desert Isle. I reviewed these once the night before I left Maine, and I will be deeply saddened if they are lost. Light was perfect, and the post sunset images caught that final night in Southwest harbor were a big part of what drew me back to Maine this year. I had driven by that spot a year ago after I had finished shooting. The water in the harbor was pink and blue and seemed topped with whipped cream. A similar effect was there this year as I returned to my B&B on my last night in Maine, and i knew exactly how I wanted to shoot it.

I'm waiting for the full prognosis on the sick patient. What lesson will I take from this experience?

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Shooting People

Shooting people is tough. The sniper stalks his prey unnoticed and must make settings and compose in an instant. Alternately, he must ensnare his subjects with charm and wit, coaxing them into complicity in the finished composition. In either case, he strives to harmonize foreground and background, include supporting "actors," exclude distractions, determine appropriate depth of field, watch for hot spots that will be blown out, and all before expression or gesture of the primary subject is lost. At all of this I am a rank amateur, a beginner. Too often the prey got away. I'm much better at shooting bottles. This was the greatest challenge I faced at the Rockport workshop. I think most of my colleages at the workshop felt similarly.

Frank LaVelle, our instructor prepared us expertly and then took us to the Thomaston, July 4th festival and parade, a place where people did outrageous things, wore outrageous costumes and expected to be photographed. The best shooting was at the staging before the parade, but it was clear from the moment I began that I needed to think and to use my camera very differently. I'm used to shooting manually, but if I tried to set shutter speed and f-stop for each shot, the shot would be long gone before I ever pulled the trigger. As I had switched to a new camera 2 or 3 weeks before the workshop, I didn't even remember how to switch it to aperture or shutter priority. Once in shutter speed priority, aperture is then set automatically, but one must use exposure compensation to cope with very bright or very dark scenes. This was in the same place as on my old camera, but I'd forgotten where that was. (Heck, until this assignment I didn't understand why anyone would prefer exposure compensation over manual adjustment.) And, of course, one must be aware of aperture to get the desired amount of background blurring or sharpness. I got some quick help from a colleague with a similar camera and was on my way, but with parade staging chaos all around me and new shooting technique, I found myself very quickly in overload.

The real lesson occurred some hours later when I reviewed the 400 or so shots I'd taken. Amazingly, almost all were properly exposed. That does not mean that there were many images I liked. Reviewing them made me aware of pieces of Frank's prep that I had not made use of. I spent much of my time wandering around looking for shots. I engaged lots of people in conversation as directed, but I never went to the next step of moving them around to put them in front of supporting backgrounds and setting up my composition. Only rarely did I spot a supporting background character. In spite of all, I found enough useful images to make a showing at our review crit the next day, and it was reassuring to see that most of my workshop colleagues felt as I did.

Well, that's why I chose this workshop, to stretch me into new territory, and the 4th of July festival was a great place to do it. Since leaving the workshop, I've begun challenging myself occasionally to engage people in my shots, but I'm still happier shooting bottles.

Sunday, July 8, 2007

Christina's World (updated)

I can't look at this or yesterday's TODAY'S without lamenting the many shots I missed - not those that my colleagues saw (We all see differently, and that is what makes workshops such as this so incredible) but those I tried to get and botched through rushing and those I walked right by as my logical mind swept past my receptive self. Well, this one seemed too obvious to miss, but, though some classmates shot from here, nobody else shot the house through the graves.

When I'm back home, I'll crop out the power lines. Christina is behind me, perhaps perched on my left shoulder.

Saturday, July 7, 2007

Christina's Gone

No photo could better follow my week-long photo workshop at Rockport (Maine) Multimedia Workshops than this one which I'm titling, "Christina's Gone." I shot it on the fifth day of our workshop on a very special visit to the Wyath Farmstead. I took it on my way down the hill to the small family cemetery where Christina is buried. I chose this workshop because it seemed like it would do most to stretch me into photographing new subject matter. After 4 days of shoots that fulfilled my expectations, coming here brought me home to safe territory.

The house and barns were open to us before regular patrons arrived, and we had permission to go anywhere and rearrange furniture to suit our image-making needs. Like all of the shoots, time was limited. I don't work well under such conditions, and my time in the house always felt rushed; I knew I wanted to spend time outside shooting the property. Normally I have the patience to shoot for 3 or even 4 hours from a single spot. However, when offered the candy store and told I have limited time to pig out, I find myself frantically trying to consume a bit of everything as I explore. When I finally got outside, time had become limited there as well. Under normal circumstances, I would have tried a shot from under one of the wheels of this hay wagon, or I would have shot down the side to catch the partially hidden barn. I would have tried a hundred different angles. The energy of this meadow and the lovely magenta flowers were most welcome, and I have no complaints with what I caught here with its hint of Wyeth's landmark painting.

Photo workshop shoots are always under pressure, not just the pressure of time, but the pressure to produce for an audience of peers. We were asked to present 10-12 images each day. Most photographers are happy if they produce one good photograph a day. It seems that while patience may be my greatest photographic virtue, it is also my greatest photographic weakness. In any case, the figure walking across the field on the way to the harbor is one of my workshop colleagues. There were ten of us in the workshop. We all felt the pressure to varying degrees, and we all presented a mixed bag of images. Well, there was comfort in that, and much of the value of the class was in learning why those weaker images were not working. Frank Lavelle, the workshop leader, is a wonderful photographer and teacher. He is director of photographic education for the Smithsonian and has taught widely. His crits were clear, focused, and humane. His wisdom was always balanced by great humility, and he when he didn't know his own mind, he was quick to say so.

I'll meet you all tomorrow down by Christina's grave.

Sunday, July 1, 2007

The Futile Photo Chase

I'm writing this from the campus of the Maine Photographic Workshop in Rockport, Maine. As I'm outside and running on battery this note may be short. Earlier in the week I woke at 6AM and found my yard filled with fog. That is a call to arms, and after hurrying to dress I decided to make a quick stop at Mt. Tom Pond just three miles from my house to catch a few shots quickly in case the fog lifted. I wanted to make it quick and then head for Straight Farm where the long view of the valley might offer many possibilities. Alas, it is the old syndrome of chasing photos. I should have spent much longer at Mt. Tom. How could I expect a more photogenic scene anywhere? Perhaps it was the hum of the state highway that made me move on, or simply the prospect of a quiet morning at Straight. However, foolishly I snapped just three shots at Mt. Tom and then moved on. Looking at what resulted, I can think of lots of other shooting options that might have kept me snapping for hours. Straight was not nearly so good. In any case, I'm pleased with the single image that resulted, but the lesson remains one I still need to learn.

This image was coverted for posting in Photoshop which tends to wash things out a bit. However, as it is too complicated to follow my usual procedure, I'll just hope for the best. Under current light I can't see the shot which I edited for posting last night. I hope I like it when I see it under better conditions.